KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has obtained one of the country's largest collections of American photography, an estimated $65 million treasure featuring works by more than 900 artists.
The Hallmark Photographic Collection, a roughly 6,500-piece assortment of works owned by Hallmark Cards Inc., has been permanently turned over to the Kansas City museum.
"It's one of the finest holdings of American photography ever put together," said Keith Davis, the longtime director of Hallmark's fine arts program who now also will be curator of photography at Nelson-Atkins. "It's a collection that would be exceedingly hard to duplicate today under any circumstances."
The contents of the Hallmark Collection are widely varied - from 320 works by influential photographer Harry Callahan, believed to be the largest such holding in the world, to images by Alfred Stieglitz, whose images helped photography become recognized as an art.
For a lover of photography it is considered a jewel. There are iconic Life magazine shots and William Wegman's outrageous pictures of dogs taking on human roles. There are works by Andy Warhol, renowned celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz, the legendary Dorothea Lange - the list goes on and on.
A formal price tag has not been put on the value of the collection, but it has been estimated at around $65 million.
Neither Hallmark nor the museum have made public the terms of their agreement. Representatives said only that a "significant portion" of the collection was donated and the balance was purchased with funds from the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.
For Nelson-Atkins, it fills a void. The museum is known for its Asian art, European paintings and modern sculpture, but years ago it closed its space devoted to photography and other works on paper.
"The impact is transforming," museum director Mark Wilson said.
The collection will be housed in the museum's new $350 million Bloch Building, to open next year, and will rotate several times annually, museum spokesman Scott Stuart said. About 30 pieces went on display last week in the Nelson's existing building.
Kansas City-based Hallmark has been collecting fine art since 1949, and its photography collection was started in 1964. In the last 25 years, the holdings have been assembled in more than 60 exhibitions and shown in more than 200 museums around the world.
Davis said Hallmark still owns more than 2,000 pieces of fine art.
On the Net:
Hallmark Cards Inc.: http://www.hallmark.com
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: http://www.nelson-atkins.org