“Maine, 2016” Photo by Judy Glickman Lauder/courtesy of Maine Jewish Museum

Sometimes we don’t find out what artists themselves collect until they die. Andy Warhol, it turned out, was an obsessive amasser of cookie jars, eclectic furniture, jewelry and Native American artifacts. Other times they are quite public about their collecting habits, such as Jeff Koons, who loves Old Master and 19th-century paintings, or Damien Hirst, who owns Picassos, Warhols and Bacons.

But it is rare to have the opportunity to so directly see how the items that an artist collects have informed his or her own work. This is the case with two shows currently on view in Portland: “Presence: The Photography Collection of Judy Glickman Lauder” at the Portland Museum of Art (through Jan. 15), and “Following the Light: Photographs by Judy Glickman” at the Maine Jewish Museum (through Oct. 27). It’s a pairing that provides a very special treat.

The PMA show is a powerhouse that culls Maine photographer and philanthropist Glickman Lauder’s generous bequest of over 600 photographs, pulling some of the medium’s most iconic images and mixing it with work by lesser-known photographers. Interestingly, it is not the famous photos that are the hits for me.

There is no question that the familiar images are still powerful. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother (Florence Owens Thompson), Nipomo, California” will still break your heart. Lewis Hine’s “Power House Mechanic” is a paean to both the innate dignity of American laborers and a modern equivalent to Michelangelo’s veneration of male beauty. Gordon Parks’ “American Gothic (Portrait of Ella Watson, Washington, D.C.)” still dares you to call this Black woman with the defiant stare “unequal” or not an American.

All these subjects emanate the essential quality of the show’s title. But other images seem to pack an even heftier punch for their unfamiliarity; the fact that they take you by surprise adds to their impact. We can’t help but marvel at how they escaped our notice – or exposure through wider exhibition – for so long. One such image is “The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing, Crowds Wait Along the Funeral Route, Birmingham, Alabama” by Danny Lyon.

An outspoken chronicler of the Civil Rights Movement, Lyon captures a woman looking at the camera whose expression has a presence that feels like a very personal confrontation. It is an explosively volatile mixture of fury, outrage, profound hurt, grief and betrayal that seems to summon centuries of mistreatment and discrimination right up to the surface.

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Norman Seeff (United States, born South Africa, born 1939), “Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, New York,” 1969, archival pigment print, 15 x 22 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine, Promised Gift from the Judy Glickman Lauder Collection, 1.2016.1. Image courtesy Luc Demers. © Photograph by Norman Seeff

This photograph is part of a section titled “Labor, Justice and Dignity,” which is the most emotionally wrenching in the exhibition. But there are plenty of lighter moments, including Mario Giacomelli’s irresistibly joyous photos of priests whirling and dancing in the snow; the youthful insouciance of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe in Norman Seeff’s portrait of their friendship; Isak Dinesen’s slyness and wisdom in Richard Avedon’s portrait of the Danish “Out of Africa” author.

There are also instances of almost excruciating interiority. Diane Arbus’s image of painter Agnes Martin feels almost invasive in the way it pierces Martin’s privacy to capture her reticence and vulnerability, especially when we take Martin’s struggles with mental illness into account. You almost want to look away in embarrassment.

As a collector, we can see Glickman Lauder’s fondness for slightly surreal scenes, something that also inhabits a few images at the Jewish Museum exhibit. For instance: Paul Fusco’s 1968 “Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train, Harmans, Missouri,” an image of a family, sons stripped to their shorts, standing in line at attention by railroad tracks. Why are the boys half naked? Or there is Verner Zevola Reed III’s “Brunswick Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts” of 1957, depicting a table of patrons in the hotel’s tearoom enjoying a concert in their Sunday best while rubble piles up outside the door (the hotel was being demolished to accommodate a new office building).

PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST

It’s images like this that are most interesting because they seem to point to the evolution of Glickman Lauder’s own eye as a photographer. Glickman Lauder has shot black-and-white film and developed it in the darkroom for some 40 years. But at the Jewish Museum’s “Following the Light,” planned to run at the same time as the PMA exhibit, we see her digital color photography, which marks a significant shift. “With a sense of inner presence, the purity of color itself and its deepest shadows,” she explains in her statement, “I am stepping into the light, into the image itself.”

We see her literally “stepping into the light” in the sense that her reflection or her shadow appears somewhere in most every picture. Sometimes it’s quite subtle, adding a Where’s Waldo sort of archness to the images. Yet this device also feels confident, affirming Glickman Lauder’s stature as an artist in her own right.

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Judy Glickman Lauder, “New York, 2014” Image courtesy of Maine Jewish Museum

To see these works within the context of the PMA’s “Presence” exhibition is fascinating. Grids and rectangles – whether clear or abstracted – in photos like “New York, 2014” or “New York, 2020” relate to images at the PMA by Mary Alpern, who photographed intimate moments in a strip club through the club’s bathroom window grid across from her studio. The illicitness of Alpern’s shots also seems to suffuse Glickman Lauder’s “London, England, 2015,” a picture of the window of what appears to be a sex shop, though Glickman Lauder’s many degrees funnier and flirtier.

The image of buildings in “Helsinki, Finland, 2013” recalls various architectural images at the PMA show. Glickman Lauder’s sense of color in several photos, especially those artificially lit or those that linger in the orangey-gold light of sunset, feels akin to the woozy, glowing half-light of Nan Goldin’s bedroom scenes at the PMA, though sans the sexual charge.

Judy Glickman Lauder, “Bilbao, Spain, 2015” Image courtesy of Maine Jewish Museum

The severe cropping of a photograph like “Bilbao, Spain, 2015” at the Jewish Museum feels synchronous with Ruth Bernhard’s gorgeous nude, “Triangles” of 1946 at the PMA.

The artist has long had a penchant for shooting into reflections that confuse our reading of an image, something that happens again and again at “Following the Light.” “Maine, 2016” is a picture of a picture – namely, I believe, William Wegman’s “Sent” triptych, three Polaroids set side-by-side to show his signature Weimaraners sitting in a canoe. The glare of the glass into which she is shooting reflects Glickman Lauder’s own shadow. Yet the whole scene – Wegman work, glare and artist’s shadow – appears flat, as if everything is on a single plane, even though we know rationally that this cannot be true.

Judy Glickman Lauder, “Florida, 2018” Image courtesy of Maine Jewish Museum

“Florida, 2018” is a mass of reflections that includes a reproduction of the Mona Lisa that appears to be inside a shop window, a security guard next to her. The glass reflects the low stucco buildings across the street and a line of palm trees. Taking in this image, our eyes ricochet between what we think is foreground and background, inside and outside.

This preoccupation clearly stemmed from her upbringing. At the PMA, there is a photograph of Glickman Lauder’s mother, Louise Weinstein Ellis, taken by Glickman Lauder’s father, Dr. Irving Bennett Ellis – an award-winning photographer. It is actually two portraits spliced together – one laughing, cigarette in hand, the other more reflective and serious. We see the same sort of confusion of foreground and background here.

Judy Glickman Lauder (United States, born 1938), “Café Istanbul,” circa 2002, gelatin silver print, 24 x 30 1/2 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine, Promised Gift from the Judy Glickman Lauder Collection, 5.2007.2. Image courtesy Luc Demers © Judy Glickman Lauder Collection

We also see it in Glickman Lauder’s confounding black-and-white photograph titled “Café Istanbul” (2002) at the PMA. Helpless to figure it out, I asked the show’s curator, Dr. Anjuli Lebowitz, how Glickman Lauder achieved it. I don’t want to spoil the mystery, so I won’t say. What I will mention, however, is that even after Lebowitz’s explanation, the picture continued to play games with my brain and my perception.

In none of this do I want to imply Glickman Lauder’s work is derivative. It is not. But we can see how certain elements and qualities in the work of the photographers she has collected lodged in her memory banks. This can illuminate Glickman Lauder’s own predilections for subject matter, light and color, at the same time that we can intuit how these predilections might emerge in her own work, albeit in a fresh, wholly original way.

Jorge S. Arango has written about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at: [email protected] 


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