Arthur Tress photography archive to Stanford Libraries; Tress Spotlight exhibition launched

April 3, 2019
Arthur Tress

Arthur Tress. "Boy in flood dream, NY" (1971)
Gelatin silver print, 10" x 10.5"
Copyright Arthur Tress

Master photographic story teller Arthur Tress (b. 1940), long known for his dream imagery, visual tableaus of gay eros, and staged performances of toys and found objects, will place his photographic archive with Stanford Libraries. Widely published and exhibited, Tress’s career spans more than five decades and encompasses an imaginatively varied photographic practice. One of the most renowned and innovative photographers of his generation, Tress’s work explores a world that is rich with implication and fantasy. Continually seeking what he refers to as “the hidden life of the imagination,” Tress embraces accident and chance, creating beautifully composed works that can be both playful and threatening. In 2016 Stanford Libraries received the first in a continuing series of installments that will form the Arthur Tress photography archive. Through the generosity of several donors, including Jon and Ellen Vein, Trixy Castro, David Knaus, and several others, to date the Libraries have received over 2,300 gelatin silver and Cibachrome prints by Tress.

The first of these gifts has been digitized and launched as the Arthur Tress Photograph Collection: A Stanford Libraries Special Collections Exhibition, one of a growing suite of online “Spotlight” exhibitions produced by the Libraries that now includes several photography collections, notably the Andy Warhol Photography Archive Contact Sheets: 1976 – 1987, Herbert Matter: Modernist Photography and Graphic Design, The Bob Fitch Photography Archive Movements for Change, and others. Ninety additional black and white images will be added to the Tress site in early spring. The recent 2018 gifts are now being surveyed for works to expand the Spotlight exhibition into Tress’s color series, such as the “Teapot Opera,” “Requiem for a Paperweight,” and perhaps most importantly, “Hospital.” For this series Tress entered a long closed hospital on New York City’s Welfare Island (aka Roosevelt Island), constructed room-sized installations using abandoned medical equipment, spray painted the equipment and rooms with bright colors, and then photographed the results. Created in the mid-1980s during the AIDS epidemic that ravaged that city, Tress’s elaborately colored hospital photographs create a fevered, yet desolate fantasy world.

Tress’ photographs are widely collected privately and publicly, and are housed in the permanent collections of The Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art and many others.

Although only recently arrived on campus, works from the Tress archive have already been shown in several photography courses (ARTSTUDI 170, Photo 1-Black & White; ARTSTUDI 171, Photo 1-Digital; ARTSTUDI 275, Photo 2-Digital 2; and ARTSTUDI 286-Portrait Photography), as well as ARTHIST 246N, Pacific Dreams: Art in California, and PWR 1GO: Writing & Rhetoric 1: Art, Writing, and Performance: The Rhetoric of Visual Analysis.

Works will be made available for exhibition loan to institutions by submitting a formal loan request to Special Collections, Stanford Libraries.

The Tress commitment is the first received by the Libraries as part of the recently launched Stanford Libraries Photography Initiative, which will focus on the acquisition of photographers’ archives. Mark Ruwedel, noted American Western landscape photographer whose works bear the traces of the great 19th century Western photographers, the 1970s New Topographics photographers, Earthworks artists such as Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, and the conceptual works of Richard Long, has also committed his archive to Stanford Libraries.

[See blog post on Arthur Tress's comments on the placement of his archive with Stanford Libraries.]