Through Feb. 1, LACMA is showing a first glimpse of the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon collection, about 65 prints from the 3500 recently acquired. What's on view is encouraging. The current selection is so suavely balanced and cosmopolitan that it more resembles a curator's dream acquisitions than the purchases of regular mortals. A press release said the Vernons concentrated on West Coast artists. You wouldn't known it from this show. This is almost a textbook history of photography, the only trace of idiosyncrasy being a taste for Czech and Hungarian modernists. The works are all black and white, no daguerreotypes, nothing much bigger than a mammoth plate Watkins; British, Continental, and American. Chronologically they range from an unusually interesting 1841 Talbot Lace to an even more amazing, and smaller, Harry Callahan of weeds in snow. The current selection was evidently chosen to emphasize familiar masterworks (from Hill and Adamson's Newhaven Fisherman to Ansel Adams' Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.)
The big question is what incremental benefit this acquisition gives Los Angeles audiences, given the massive collection and exhibition program at the Getty. The Vernon estate was a major lender to the Getty's Edward Weston show last summer. Considering the scope of the Getty's Weston collection, that says something. One artist never shown at the Getty, to my knowledge, is Lewis Carroll. The single Lewis Carroll print here, Xie Kitchin with Bucket and Spade, is an uncanny precursor to Henry Darger's "Bucket Girl" (an Everychild who turns up repeatedly in Darger's oeuvre, always holding the same pail and always looking oblivious to the atrocities engulfing her). Someone must be planning a Lewis Carroll / Darger show, right?