BOSTON — A new exhibit, "The High Art of Photographic Advertising: The 1934 National Alliance of Art and Industry Exhibition," will open today in the Baker Library | Bloomberg Center lobby on the Harvard Business School (HBS) campus in Boston. Organized by the Baker Library Historical Collections, part of the School's Knowledge and Library Services, the exhibit will run until October 9, 2010.
This stunning collection of photographs, featuring 125 of the 250 works originally displayed in a 1934 exhibit in New York City sponsored by the National Alliance of Art and Industry (NAAI) and the Photographic Illustrators, Inc., represents perceptions about photography's artistic, commercial, and cultural significance at a time when photography had recently become the medium of choice for most print advertising. At this point in history, a new generation of photographers with a modernist sensibility, including Margaret Bourke-White and Edward Steichen, were pursuing commercial photography as both an artistic endeavor and a profession. The wave of enthusiasm that greeted their work led to exhibitions around the United States that brought attention to their images in the context of a fine art setting. This marks the first time the NAAI collection has been on display to the public.
The original collection brought together some of the finest examples of current commercial photography. Documentary, public relations, and advertising photographs were at the heart of the exhibit. In the midst of the Great Depression, advertisers wanted the camera to project an image of confidence in both the production and sale of consumer goods.
"Visitors to this exhibit will have a chance to see magnificent works created by the top artistic and commercial photographers of 1920s and 30s," said exhibit curator Melissa Banta, "This was a rich period of experimentation in photography when artists were pushing the boundaries between art and advertising. This is a unique opportunity to see superb examples of what they accomplished."
On display in the gallery of New York's 30 Rockefeller Plaza more than 75 years ago were works by 50 artists whose images revealed the geometric beauty of factories and production lines and celebrated American industrial insight. Other images included product advertisements that promoted national brand-name recognition.
After its run in New York, the NAAI exhibition traveled to Chicago. In 1935, a select group of photographs from the show were given to HBS, contributing to the School's effort to enhance photographic collections already available for exhibition, research, and classroom use. The exhibition's themes of industry and advertising were of particular interest to Harvard Business School, where marketing had been in the curriculum since 1914. In 1932, the first full course in advertising, titled Advertising Problems and taught by then-Associate Professor Neil Borden, offered an intensive study of the place and function of advertising in business administration.
At this time, artistic standards in advertising were already recognized at Harvard Business School through the establishment of the Harvard Advertising Awards. Created in 1924 with a donation from Edward W. Bok, former editor of the Ladies' Home Journal, these awards were given annually to recognize distinguished advertising work in North American newspapers and magazines.
In the 1980s, HBS placed the NAAI collection on deposit in Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum. In 2008, the collection returned to the newly renovated Baker Library | Bloomberg Center. The move was one part of a multiyear initiative of the Historical Collections Department to identify, catalog, and preserve its rich photographic collections and make them accessible to business school communities and scholars across disciplines.
For more information on the "The High Art of Photographic Advertising:The 1934 National Alliance of Art and Industry" Exhibition, visit the Baker Library Historical Collections Website.