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Contemporary Artist David Hartt Explores Olana’s Historic Photography Collection

Contemporary Artist David Hartt Explores Olana’s Historic Photography Collection

Famed 19th Century Landscape Painter Frederic Church was an Early and Avid Collector of Photographs

HUDSON, NY – The Olana Partnership announced that the special exhibition, Terraforming: Olana’s Historic Photography Collection Unearthed, will open at Olana State Historic Site on May 14. The exhibition focuses on Olana’s remarkable trove of nearly 5,000 19th century photographic prints, collected by the artist Frederic Church between 1850 and 1900. Until now, this nationally significant and intact photography collection has been little-known and unseen by the public.

“The Olana Partnership is thrilled to bring Olana’s major collection of 19th century photography into public view and to partner with artist David Hartt to examine a theme that addresses the power of Church’s vision for Olana,” said Sean Sawyer, Washburn & Susan Oberwager President of The Olana Partnership.

In Terraforming, artist and guest curator David Hartt reflects on the ways in which human culture and activity shape the land, eroding the boundary between human construction and the natural world, just as Frederic Church did in creating the 250-acre earthwork that is Olana. Through Hartt’s selection of historic photographs from Olana’s vast collection, the exhibition also explores what this global photographic collection tells us about Church’s painting practice, travels, and ways of knowing and collecting the world.

An installation of 48 original photographs within Olana’s Sharp Family Gallery will include original and historically significant works by pioneering early photographers, including Eadweard Muybridge, William James Stillman, and Claude-Joseph Désiré Charnay. Throughout Frederic Church’s 250-acre designed landscape, visitors will discover 6 large-scale reproductions of historic photographs in locations chosen by David Hartt. The exhibition includes two new works by Hartt: a site-specific bronze sculpture to be installed outdoors in Olana’s historic fern garden, and a site-specific tapestry to be hung indoors in Olana’s main house.

“David Hartt’s curation of Frederic Church’s photography collection reveals Church’s apparent fascination the interactions of human and natural forces in the landscape globally, and how he captured this through his shaping of the land at Olana,” said Allegra Davis, Associate Curator with The Olana Partnership. “David’s new site-specific artworks explore one aspect of how Church sought to bring the world home to Olana through the creation of a fern garden inspired by the tropical landscape of Jamaica.”

Olana’s historic collection contains over 5,000 nineteenth-century photographs collected by Frederic Church and is a treasure trove of early photography. Church’s collection centers around nearly 2,000 travel photographs that span the continents and represent the full spectrum of his era’s new photographic technologies. This unique collection survives today as one of the largest intact photography collections assembled during the nineteenth century in the United States, yet aspects of this collection also remain mysterious. About half of the photographs are not yet attributed, and the majority have never been publicly exhibited.

David Hartt is an Associate Professor in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. His work unpacks the social, cultural, and economic complexities of his various subjects and explores how historic ideas and ideals persist or transform over time. His solo exhibitions include The Histories at The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, Coloured Garden at The Glass House (currently on view), New Canaan, Connecticut and the group exhibition, Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. His work is also featured in the public collections of several museums including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

TERRAFORMING: Olana’s Historic Photography Collection Unearthed was curated by Artist David Harrt, Will Coleman, The Olana Partnership’s former Director of Collections & Exhibitions, and Allegra Davis, Associate Curator, The Olana Partnership, with support from Ida Brier, Archivist/Librarian, The Olana Partnership. The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. The exhibition opens on May 14 and will be on view through October 29, 2023. For tickets and additional information, visit OLANA.org/terraforming.

This exhibition has been made possible by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, support from the donors to The Olana Partnership’s Novak-Ferber Exhibitions Fund, and in-kind contributions by the NYS Bureau of Historic Sites, Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. Support for the associated publication has been provided by the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. General support for The Olana Partnership’s programs is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.


About Olana and The Olana Partnership: Olana is the masterwork of Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), the preeminent American artist of the mid-19th century and the most important artist’s home, studio, and designed landscape in the United States. Church designed Olana as a holistic environment integrating his advanced ideas about art, architecture, landscape design, and environmental conservation. Olana’s 250-acre artist-designed landscape with five miles of carriage roads and a Persian-inspired house at its summit embraces unrivaled panoramic views of the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains and welcomes more than 170,000 visitors annually. The landscape is open for guided touring, and reservations are highly recommended. The landscape is open daily 8 AM-sunset.  Olana State Historic Site, administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, is a designated National Historic Landmark and one of the most visited sites in the state. The Olana Partnership is the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit cooperative partner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation at Olana State Historic Site.


Sep 03 2023


11:00 am - 3:30 pm
Olana State Historic Site


Olana State Historic Site
5720 NY-9G, Hudson, NY 12534
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