UBS Gifts Photographs of US Landscapes to the National Gallery of Art

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Black and white photo of man and boy running across open field to small cabin.
Arthur Rothstein, Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, (1936). National Gallery of Art, Washington/Gift of the UBS Art Collection

In the 1990s, curator John Szarkowski was tapped by PaineWebber’s CEO Donald Marron to amass a collection of photography for the stock brokerage firm’s art holdings. Szarkowski, who died in 2007 and was the former director of photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), dedicated years to selecting images that told a story of land use across America. Now, 166 of the photographs—which joined the art collection of UBS when PaineWebber was acquired by the Switzerland-based global financial services firm in 2000—will find a new home at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The gift marks the largest-ever donation of artwork from UBS to an individual museum. With free admission and expertise in the field of photography, the National Gallery is “positioned to preserve this visual record of our country’s unique landscape for generations to come, exhibiting these works in context and providing access for research,” said Mary Rozell, global head of the UBS Art Collection, in a statement.

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Spanning the 19th and 20th Centuries, the donated images depict American landscapes through diverse lenses emphasizing environmental transformations and the impact of railroad and mining industries. The effects of human habitation, for example, can be seen through the images of Terry Evans and Emmet Gowin; while works from Western expeditionary photographers like Charles Savage capture scenes of vast deserts and rocky mountains in the late 1800s.

Black and white photo of canoe on lake Black and white photo of canoe on lake
Henry Hamilton Bennett, Lower Jaws, Dells of the Wisconsin, (1903). National Gallery of Art, Washington/Gift of the UBS Art Collection

Historic images from the Farm Security Administration

The collection notably showcases images from the Farm Security Administration’s photography program, which hired photographers in the 1930s and 1940s to capture the struggles of rural American life. Highlights include Arthur Rothstein’s iconic 1936 depiction of a farmer and his children running through a dust storm in Oklahoma and a 1938 photograph by Dorothea Lange showcasing the effects of power farming in the Texas Panhandle.

The gift represents just a small portion of the vast art holdings of UBS, which owns more than 30,000 paintings, photographs, works on paper, sculptures and videos. UBS has been adding to its art collection since the 1960s, with much of its work amassed via mergers and acquisitions of financial institutions like PaineWebber, Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corporation. In addition to acting as the global lead partner of Art Basel, the firm showcases its artwork through exhibitions at the New York-based UBS Art Gallery and loans to museums like the MoMA and Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Its donation to the National Gallery will offer images from 96 artists—75 of whom are either new to or underrepresented in the museum’s 22,000-piece photography collection. “This wonderful gift from UBS adds important work to the National Gallery’s photography collection that will allow us to explore how artists have viewed our use of and relationship to the land over the last 160 years,” said Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs at the National Gallery, in a statement.

UBS Makes a Major Gift of American Landscape Photography to the National Gallery of Art

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