Avant-Garde Persuasion: The Photographs of Harold Haliday Costain
On view at the Bruce Museum from March 2 through May 26, 2013, Avant-Garde Persuasion: The Photographs of Harold Haliday Costain is the first monographic exhibition devoted to the artist in recent years. A local photographer who lived and worked in Scarsdale, NY from 1923 until 1975, Costain was prolific and successful throughout his career, winning numerous prestigious awards.
Drawn primarily from the permanent collection at the Bruce Museum and supplemented by works from the Keith de Lellis Gallery in New York City, the exhibition showcases a selection of Costain’s industrial, architectural, and still-life photographs from the 1930s and 1940s. Costain was part of a generation of artist-photographers who launched their careers in the commercial field. Working in the company of such noted artists as Margaret Bourke-White, Charles Sheeler, Clarence H. White, Anton Bruehl, Paul Outerbridge, and Edward Steichen, Costain fused distinctly American subject matter with a modernist aesthetic.
Avant-Garde Persuasion also highlights the unique role of the photograph at the very moment that Costain entered the profession in the 1920s, a time when photographic print advertising was in its golden age. In place of paintings, drawings, and prints, the photograph was ideally suited to the realm of advertising in its capacity to persuade vast audiences, while enabling artists to experiment with avant-garde techniques.
Costain similarly employed a wide range of modernist strategies designed to promote American industries, products, and consumer lifestyles. His photographs were often commissioned by and featured in important periodicals such as Fortune, Life, Town & Country, House & Garden, and Country Life, among many others. Several of these magazines are included alongside the photographs in the exhibition to show how the trajectory of his career was shaped by the needs and opportunities of mass media publications.
Avant-Garde Persuasion is curated by Margarita Karasoulas, the Museum’s 2012-2013 Zvi Grunberg Resident Intern, and is accompanied by a digital catalogue and film series.
Film Series for Avant-Garde Persuasion
Wednesday, April 24, 10:30-12:30. American Photography: A Century of Images: This PBS documentary on “The Developing Image, 1900-1934” and “The Photographic Age, 1935-1959” provides a synopsis of the history of photography in addition to describing the photograph’s relationship to advertising and the explosion of mass media in the 1930s.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 10:30-12:00. Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye: Provides an overview of Alfred Stieglitz’s career, the Pictorialist movement, and the artist’s role in shaping the formal and aesthetic parameters of modernist photography in the early twentieth-century.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 10:30-12:15. Manhatta: An early, pioneering film (1921) by photographers Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler that documents the rapidly changing Manhattan cityscape. This film clip will underscore Costain’s work as a cinematographer and still photographer in the fledgling motion picture industry in the early 1920s.
America & Lewis Hine: Examines Lewis Hine’s role in the development of documentary photography in America as well as his industrial photographs and work portraits of the 1920s and 1930s.
Edward Steichen: Masters of Photography: A filmed interview with Edward Steichen that focuses on his career in fine art and commercial advertising photography. Steichen knew of Costain’s work and selected one of his photographs for inclusion in the prestigious U.S. Camera Annual (1939).
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 10:30-12:00. Norman Rockwell: Painting America. Costain was a close friend and colleague of Rockwell’s when they studied together at the Art Students League in New York, and he famously photographed the artist in his New Rochelle home and studio. This film will highlight the interrelationships and differences between both artists’ work in commercial art and advertising.