The fantasies and realities of flight and space exploration depicted through art and photography go on display in Los Angeles’ Autry National Center’s new Skydreamers exhibition, slated to open April 29.
The exhibit includes approximately 150 items, principally original high-quality photographs, as well as works on paper, paintings, posters, and memorabilia drawn primarily from the extensive collection of flight and space material in the Stephen White collection.
“When the Autry agreed to showcase the Skydreamers exhibition, I envisioned an exhibition that traced the beginnings of flight through the aviation period and into an exploration of the greater universe, but as the selection process evolved and the sections began to sort themselves out through the works, more complex issues evolved. These issues went far beyond the original intent of the exhibition,” said Stephen White, exhibition originator and curator.
Artistic works in Skydreamers will showcase the inception of human flight in the early 1780s when the Montgolfier Brothers captured the popular imagination with their development of a balloon that would ascend over the city of Paris. In addition to artistic renditions of the event, a balloon craze seized Paris. Balloon hats, dresses, furniture, and other items became the rage.
Once airplanes appeared on the horizon, artists were attracted to the shapes, forms, and perspectives aviation offered. Photography, barely out of its infancy, became the preferred medium of artists such as Alfred Stieglitz, Margaret Bourke-White, and abstract photographer Aaron Siskind. As flyers forged new frontiers, photographers and moviemakers were there with their own odd machines, capturing their goggled faces and triumphant smiles. Contemporary artistic interpretations of space by artists including Sharon Harper, Michael Light, David Malin, Michel Benson, Jennie Okun, Robert Weingarten, and others will also be on display.
The fascination with aerial pursuits led to the popularization of aviation heroes in song, stamps, postcards, and many other forms of mass media. Films were made about flight. Books for children, such as Captain Wilbur Lawton’s The Boy Aviator’s Polar Dash, featured heroes who used aviation to solve mysteries or travel the world. Air meets and competitions drew enormous crowds. Thomas Baldwin, daredevil trapeze artist, captivated crowds by being the first to parachute from a balloon in 1885. Imagery of Southern California’s contributions will be recognized with the first balloon ascension in California around 1871, and the first aviation meet in America held at Dominguez Hills near Los Angeles in January 1910. Photos from various other air meets will also be included.
Various achievements in the progress of flight will be highlighted through photographs of early fliers and planes as well as those of the first flight across the United States by Cal Rodgers in 1911 and Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight. A number of 19th-century telescopic findings captured for scientific study will be incorporated. Aerial photographs of active battlefields, cities, and atomic explosions will lead into space photography including the crowning achievement— a photograph of the earth taken from the moon. Plus, Voyager 1 images of the “pale blue dot” give visitors a chance to see Earth in perspective with the rest of the universe. This will be complemented by images of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, leading up to the final image of the 2004 Hubble Telescope’s Ultra-Deep Field, the deepest image of the universe ever taken, on view in a darkened area of the exhibition.
The exhibition and a fully illustrated exhibition catalogue will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1910 Dominguez Hills air meet. In addition to the objects from the Stephen White collection, the exhibition will include items from institutions, private collectors, and artists.
Stephen White has been involved with photography since he opened one of the first galleries in the United States devoted to fine art and historical photography in 1975. The Stephen White Gallery remained open until 1990, when he sold his entire collection and inventory to a Japanese museum. Since 1990, White has worked privately collecting and selling photography. He has done three major museums exhibitions prior to Skydreamers, each one exclusively or primarily from his own collections. He has published numerous photographic catalogues and books, and was the founding president of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers in 1979. He resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Mus.
The Autry National Center, formed in 2003 by the merger of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage with the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Women of the West Museum, is an intercultural history center dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West. Located in Griffith Park, the Autry’s collection has more than 500,000 pieces of art and artifacts, which includes the collection of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian.
For more information: theAutry.org