St. Petersburg, Fla.–Building the Panama Canal—Photographs by Ernest Hallen, on view from Saturday, July 26, through Sunday, November 9, in the second-floor Works on Paper Gallery, reveals a fascinating story. This technological marvel changed the world’s system of transportation and would have far-reaching economic and political implications. The canal, an impressive achievement completed in 1914, also became a lightning rod. The works in this exhibition date from 1904 to 1915.
Curatorial Assistant Sabrina Hughes is the curator of Building the Panama Canal. The Margaret Acheson Stuart Society is the Major Sponsor of all Museum exhibitions and educational programs. Bill Edwards Presents, Inc. is the 2014 Exhibition Title Sponsor, and the Tampa Bay Times is the Media Sponsor.
The approximately 50 photographs by Ernest “Red” Hallen (1875–1947) in this show observe the Panama Canal’s Centennial and focus on the dramatic changes to the area during its construction. In 1907, Hallen, at 32, was appointed the official photographer by the Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC), the American administrative body overseeing the canal. He went on to produce more than 16,000 images during his 30-year career. Until his retirement in 1937, his photographs were the primary means by which Americans and the world experienced this engineering feat. Many were published in magazines and newspapers.
Images of the Culebra (Snake) Cut or Gaillard Cut, the project’s most dangerous and labor intensive segment, comprise the bulk of Hallen’s work in the MFA’s holdings. Engineers and workers carved out a valley through the Culebra mountain ridge linking Gatun Lake and the Gulf of Panama and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Landslides endangered the lives of workers, damaged equipment, and delayed progress. It was a Herculean endeavor.
In addition, there are photographs of the construction of the Gatun, Miraflores, and Pedro Miguel Locks, which raise and lower ships between the main elevation of the canal and sea level. Photographs of the tugboat Gatun, the first to traverse the Gatun Locks on September 26, 1913, and celebrating spectators demonstrate the excitement surrounding this moment. The rushing water in images of the Gatun Spillway Dam conveys the monumental human attempt to corral the forces of nature.
Hallen’s images also capture changes in Panama City during this era. Notable examples are two photographs of North Avenue, before and after paving in 1907. He turned his camera to ruins of Old Panama, the first European settlement on the Pacific, founded in 1519, and to Taboga Island, which housed the ICC’s hospital and clubhouse.
These photographs not only document history, but are also striking in their own right. When the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented an exhibition of Hallen’s photographs in 1976, then Assistant Curator of Photography Dennis Longwell wrote that “in their blunt, rough beauty, they offer in abundance a gift unique to photographs: the magic that permits us to see again what has been hidden from our eyes—in this case by earth, water, and time.”
MoMA has a selection of Hallen’s photography in its collection. His images are also housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the Library of the United States Military Academy, West Point, as well as now at the MFA.
Building the Panama Canal is the fifth project spotlighting The Ludmila Dandrew and Chitranee Drapkin Collection. The Museum began collecting photography in the early 1970s, before many museums had the foresight to recognize the medium’s value. The collection has grown in number and stature over the years. The recent, generous donations by Ludmila and Bruce Dandrew and Chitranee and Dr. Robert L. Drapkin have taken the MFA’s photography holdings, now the largest in a Southeastern art museum, to an entirely new level.
Gallery Talk by Curatorial Assistant Sabrina Hughes on Building the Panama Canal—Photographs by Ernest Hallen
Opening Weekend: Sunday, July 27, 3 p.m. Free with MFA admission
Sabrina Hughes has already made an enormous difference at the MFA, assisting with nearly all exhibitions and curating a number of photography shows, including this new one. She has also curated Pleasure Grounds and Restoring Spaces—Photographs of our National Parks and Picturing a New Society: Photographs from the Soviet Union 1920s-1980s, which made the cover of Creative Loafing. She was the co-curator of Forever in a Moment: Nineteenth-Century Photographs of Egypt and Sitter and Subject in Nineteenth-Century Photography.
Ms. Hughes brought a strong background in photography to the MFA. She concentrated on the art form in her graduate program at the University of South Florida, Tampa, where she received her MA in art history, as well as her BA in humanities. She received the USF Outstanding Thesis Award in 2009-2010. She has taught courses in the history of photography, as well as many other subjects, at the Art Institute of Tampa and USF. Her scholarly article, “Imag(in)ing Paris for Posterity,” will appear in a forthcoming issue of Future Anterior, Columbia University’s prestigious architecture journal.
ABOUT MY GENERATION: YOUNG CHINESE ARTISTS
This compelling exhibition looks at the new generation of artists who have emerged in mainland China since 2000, a period marked by increased openness to the West and greater experimentation. The Chinese art scene has exploded with more than 400 galleries and 700 new museums opening in the last four years alone.
Installations, video, photographs, paintings, drawings, and mixed-media works by 27 artists are on view through Sunday, September 28. Sun Xun has created a site-specific installation, The Image Library, for the MFA. The curator, New York-based art critic Barbara Pollack, interviewed more than 100 young artists from every region of China in preparing the exhibition.
The works are divided between the MFA and the Tampa Museum of Art, creating a cultural corridor across the bay. A $20 combo ticket, providing admission to both museums, can be purchased at the welcome desks or online by going to www.fine-arts.org. The landmark catalogue, with striking reproductions of all the works in the exhibition, is available in the Museum Store for $29.95.
ABOUT THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
The MFA at 255 Beach Drive N.E. has a world-class collection, with works by Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, Morisot, Cézanne, Rodin, O’Keeffe, and many other great artists. Also displayed are ancient Greek and Roman, Egyptian, Asian, African, pre-Columbian, and Native American art. The photography collection is one of the largest and finest in the Southeast. The galleries, The Junior League Great Hall, and the Marly Room in the original building were recently renovated, completely transforming the experience of the art on view.
Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, until 8 p.m. on Thursday, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is only “5 after 5” on Thursday. Regular admission is $17 for adults, $15 for those 65 and older, and $10 for students seven and older, including college students with current I.D. Children under seven and Museum members are admitted free. Groups of 10 or more adults pay only $12 per person and children $4 each with prior reservations. For more information, please call 727.896.2667 or visit www.fine-arts.org.