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Masterpieces & Curiosities: Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage

November 16, 2015 @ 11:00 am - 5:45 pm

South Street Seaport Museum
Announces Participation in
Masterpieces & Curiosities:
Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage
at the Jewish Museum

South Street Seaport Museum announces their participation in the exhibition Masterpieces & Curiosities: Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage running until February 14, 2016 at the Jewish Museum.
The museum showcases an acclaimed work by the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) as part of a series of exhibitions focused on individual works from the Jewish Museum’s world-renowned collection. An exact model of the Kaiser Wilhelm II, on loan from the South Street Seaport Museum, is a highlight of the exhibition.

Stieglitz’s enduring and much-reproduced 1907 photogravure of steerage-class passengers aboard the ocean liner Kaiser Wilhelm II has often been regarded as evidence of the poor conditions under which many immigrants arrived in America, but in fact was taken on a voyage from the United States to Europe. As such, it is a document of people who were likely denied entry to the United States. Stieglitz considered the work to be his greatest triumph in a long, illustrious career as a photographer, stating later in life, “If all my photographs were lost, and I’d be represented by just one, The Steerage, I’d be satisfied.”

The fifth show in the Masterpieces & Curiosities series, Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage demonstrates the artist’s ceaseless promotion of the image, from its reproduction in Camera Work, Stieglitz’s high-minded art journal, to popular magazines such as Vanity Fair. The exhibition also features Stieglitz’s own account of its creation, which he recorded for posterity in 1942.

The discrepancy in experience between those, like Stieglitz, traveling in first-class, and those in steerage, is further explored through a variety of objects. An exact model of the Kaiser Wilhelm II, on loan from the South Street Seaport Museum, demonstrates the sheer scale of this impressive ocean liner, which was one of the biggest and fastest vessels of its day. Vintage postcards depicting the lavish German Baroque Revival interiors demonstrates the grandeur of its first-class cabins. By contrast, Edward A. Steiner’s On the Trail of the Immigrant, published in 1906, provides an unsparing account of the wretched steerage conditions aboard the same ship.

Despite the actual circumstances of its creation, by the mid-twentieth century The Steerage came to be viewed as the quintessential image of immigrants en route to America. The writer Alfred Kazin published The Steerage as the frontispiece to A Walker in the City, his 1951 memoir about growing up in Brooklyn, the son of poor Jewish immigrants. “I imagined my mother as the woman who stands on a lower level draped in a towel, facing away,” he later explained. “My mother seemed to be frozen forever on that lower deck.” The image continues to resonate on a personal level, especially with Jewish Americans, who often mistake the same figure in the foreground for a Jewish man mid-prayer (at a quick glance, the striped cloth looks like a tallit, or prayer shawl). Perhaps for this reason above all, The Steerage has become, quite literally, the textbook image for Jewish immigration: it appears on the cover of The Columbia History of Jews & Judaism in America, published in 2008.

Born in 1864 in Hoboken, New Jersey, to German Jewish immigrant parents, Alfred Stieglitz moved with his family to Berlin in 1881. While in Berlin, he started to experiment with photography, becoming adept at its technical processes. Returning to New York in 1890, Stieglitz began photographing the changing urban environment, focusing on the people, building, and industry that had yet to be accepted as subjects of artistic photography. Stieglitz helped found the Camera Club of New York in 1896, and in 1903 inaugurated the journal Camera Work, which published technical articles, essays on aesthetics, literature, criticism, and theories of modern art. Alfred Stieglitz’s Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, founded with Edward Steichen in 1905, and better known as 291 for its Fifth Avenue location, was the first in the United States to show the work of European modernist artists including Matisse, Cezanne, and Picasso. Stieglitz also championed photography as a fine art – his own as well as that of others – long before it gained such recognition in America. Through 291 and Camera Work, Stieglitz supported the work of American modernists such as Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Elie Nadelman, Max Weber, Paul Strand, Charles Demuth, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Masterpieces & Curiosities: Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage is curated by Rebecca Shaykin, Leon Levy Assistant Curator, the Jewish Museum. The Masterpieces & Curiosities series was organized by Jens Hoffmann, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs, the Jewish Museum, and coordinated by Daniel S. Palmer, Leon Levy Assistant Curator.

Public Program
Rebecca Shaykin will speak about the process of organizing Masterpieces & Curiosities: Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage on Tuesday, December 8 at 2:00pm. She will be joined by William Roka, Operations Assistant at the South Street Seaport Museum and an independent scholar whose research focuses on the history of transatlantic travel and ocean liners in the early 20th century.

Masterpieces & Curiosities: Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage is made possible by an anonymous donation in memory of Curtis Hereld and the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Exhibition Fund. Additional support is provided by the Leon Levy Foundation.

Located on Museum Mile at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, the Jewish Museum is one of the world’s preeminent institutions devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary, offering intellectually engaging and educational exhibitions and programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Museum was established in 1904, when Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated 26 ceremonial objects to The Jewish Theological Seminary as the core of a museum collection. Today, the Museum maintains a collection of over 30,000 works of art, artifacts, and broadcast media reflecting global Jewish identity, and presents a diverse schedule of internationally acclaimed temporary exhibitions.

The Jewish Museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, New York City. Museum hours are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, 11am to 5:45pm; Thursday, 11am to 8pm; and Friday, 11am to 4pm. Museum admission is $15.00 for adults, $12.00 for senior citizens, $7.50 for students, free for visitors 18 and under and Jewish Museum members. Admission is Pay What You Wish on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm and free on Saturdays. For information on the Jewish Museum, the public may call 212.423.3200 or visit the website at www.thejewishmuseum.org.

South Street Seaport Museum is a non-profit cultural institution located in the heart of the historic South Street Seaport district in New York City. Founded in 1967, the South Street Seaport Museum preserves and interprets the history of New York as a great port city. Designated by Congress as America’s National Maritime Museum, the Museum houses galleries and performance spaces, working nineteenth century print shops, a maritime library, a maritime craft center, and a fleet of historic vessels that all work to tell the story of “Where New York Begins.”



November 16, 2015
11:00 am - 5:45 pm
Event Category:


The Jewish Museum
1109 5th Ave
New York, New York 10128

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