Edward Steichen did things backwards. He became a commercial artist at age 44, after succeeding as an art photographer. Most artists start with advertising and fashion and portraits, until they get recognized for their ‘fine’ art.
The Whitney show challenges the notion of commercial and high art being separate and unequal. With their recent gift of Steichen works from the 1920s and 1930s, this small exhibit shows how the Steichen Pictorialist sensibility carries over into his work for hire. His trademark atmospherics and beautiful ambiguity are evident in this ‘celebrity’ photo of Lynn Fontaine, called Strange Interlude from 1928.
The Modernist aesthetic of clarity and highly-contrasted light and shadow are all over this wonderfully linear abstraction of forks, knives, and spoons–for an ad for Gorham Silver, 1929. Look at how voluptuous the bowls of the spoons are against all that verticality. What a fun addition to any kitchen, and I don’t mean the silverware.
Once again, Paxton predates the other work, this time by 20 years. But unfortunately, what also hasn’t changed is the woman-as-beautiful-object available for consumption. That would take another fifty years for the change-dialogue to even start.
But that’s a story for another day.