It took a strong, deep, important photography collection at the Norton to convince Tim Wride to leave the Los Angeles County Museum of Art after 14 years as curator. He joined the Norton staff in November 2011.
“Yes I came because of the strength of the permanent collection here,” Wride says, sitting in the sunny light-filled new lobby of the Norton. “I ran through the list of images that had been donated from private collectors, and also felt I could help add to the collection.”
As the Norton’s William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography, in his eight years Tim Wride has organized 17 exhibitions including Clubs, Joints, and Honky-Tonks: Photographers Experience the Music World; the biennial Rudin Prize for Emerging Photographers (in 2012, 2014, and 2016); and Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades. He coordinated the Norton installations for The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951 (2013); and THE POLAROID YEARS: Instant Photography and Experimentation (2014). Wride also organized Earth Works: Mapping the Anthropocene (2017).
A real delight of his job is adding to the collection, so far he has accrued more than 1,500 works, and commissioned eight artists to create pieces specifically for the Museum.
“I asked myself what are the strengths here and why would I leave Los Angeles. Well after eight years I guess I am a Floridian now and consider myself complicit in the emerging cultural scene. While I curate and add to the collection I am not shaping it, I am beholden to the artists, I take my messages from them. But I am responsible for what comes in and what gets shown.”
The Norton’s impressive prize collection started with a gift by Baroness Jeane von Oppenheim in 1998 with European modern masters Alexander Rodchenko, August Sander and Albert Renger–Patzch. There are examples by Bauhaus principals Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes; and important works by husband-and-wife, Dusseldorf artists Bernd and Hilla Becher. More acquisitions have been acquired by the Photography Committee, the William and Sarah Ross Soter Photo Fund, with images by Danny Lyon, Larry Clark, Bruce Davidson, William Eggelston, Dave Heath and Ralph Gibson. Contemporary work is represented by Sophie Calle, Tacita Dean, Thomas Demand, Gilbert and George, Candida Höfer, Alfredo Jaar, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Jeff Wall, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Pipilotti Rist, and Bill Viola.
“I am always looking for new work, whether it’s online or at obscure sales and auctions at places like Ohio and Nebraska,” he says “since you never know what you will find. I like to look where others aren’t to keep ahead of the pack and go against the market. The internet makes collecting both easier and harder though as so many can be competing. Sometimes themes and ideas keep popping up from what I find for sale and what we have in the collection here. I try and fill in the gaps like I have a divining rod that pulls my attention over to another direction. I am the third photography curator here so I am still building on what was done before and to consolidate the first big gift. We have also grown our Photography committee from six people to 35.”
Wride spends a great deal of time looking at images online, and half a day doing administrative work. But there is nothing like seeing photos in person, so he either goes to see the photos or sends someone in the business who may be closer to where the work is located.
“For example, in terms of a big name work like Ansel Adams landscapes,” says Wide, “there is almost no reason for us to buy one because we can either borrow the best one out there or a donor will gift it to us. I’d rather take that budget and acquire a few other images that strengthen our collection and add to a future show. Time is not always kind as images can look very dated 50 years from now. When looking at an artist’s portfolio I am tough on them because I expect so much.”
When asked how he gets his ideas for future shows Wride says he does his best thinking in his sleep.
“I’ll ask myself a question before I go to bed, then I sleep and wake up with the answer. It comes to me in ideas, not specific images. We have a diverse audience here, it’s maybe 100 different audiences, so the shows have to have different appeal. The ideas drive everything more than the images. If people question ‘why this and not that’ I just say it’s my job and I reserve the right to say what is worthy and what appeals to me. The question ‘Why is that important?’ is the most important because that leads to dialogue and a deeper understanding, I want people to enter a show with their eyes and emotions.”
Tim Wride: Norton’s Photography Curator