A new museum devoted to the life’s work of George Daniell opens this week to celebrate the work of the prominent photographer, who captured gay themes, glamorous celebrities, and also scenes of everyday life in pre-and-post war America.
The opening of the Daniell museum on Wednesday, April 3 is timed to coincide with Miami Beach Pride Week, because of his famous series along those themes, but in addition, it also coincides with the rebranding of South Beach’s World Erotic Art Museum into what its backers hope will become a multi museum and important American art institution.
“We are going to be known as the ‘Wilzig Museum,’ but in time we hope to be referred to simply as ‘The Wilzig,’ much as the Smithsonian Institution is simply known as ‘The Smithsonian,’” says Helmut Schuster, director of the new museum.
He is also director of the “Naomi Wilzig Collection,” which was formerly known as the World Erotic Art Museum, or WEAM, which houses Wilzig’s famed collection of erotic fine art.
The other institutions currently in the building include a collection from erotic art from Humboldt University in Berlin, and also the Kinsey Institute, which is devoted to famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.
Talks are underway to add two more international museums, which will bring the number of collections housed there to six by 2020.
Although Schuster declined to reveal any details on these museums, he says that an announcement will be coming this fall, with the opening of one set to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach in December.
Wilzig founded WEAM in 2005 and, just before her death 10 years later at the age of 80, had decided that part of her collection should be shipped to Humboldt where it is now on display in Berlin.
“This left Naomi’s family with a dilemma. We had a building that was almost empty, so they decided to dedicate the building to art that was in keeping with Naomi’s collection,” says Schuster.
The family’s bet has paid off, says Schuster, noting that last week saw a record 1,000 people in one day coming to view Wilzig’s collection.
The Daniell museum is designed to showcase the full collection of photographs and artwork by the photographer, whose works in pre-and-post-war America were featured in major magazines, including “Time,” “Life” and “Esquire,” and was also displayed in the Smithsonian, MoMa and the Chicago Institute of Art.
Born in 1911, Daniell trained as a painter at Yale University and later at Arts Students League in New York, where he first began working as a freelance photographer.
Among his renowned subjects were his friends such as John Marin, Beatrice Abbot and Tennessee Williams. He also developed a lasting friendship with Georgia O’Keefe of whom he took a series of intimate portraits while visiting her Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.
He traveled across the country and then the world with his camera, taking a series of black-and-white photographs of the young Sophia Loren, and Audrey Hepburn on the set of “War and Peace.” Among the most famous of these is one of Audrey Hepburn posed under a chandelier, which sold in auction at Christies for 20,000 pounds, says Schuster. Other celebrity portraits of his on display in the museum include Henry Fonda, Anita Ekberg, and many others.
Daniell also came out in the 1930s as gay “before it was common,” notes Schuster, took many erotic photographs, and it is this facet that dovetails well with Wilzig’s mission, he notes. (Among these nudes is a portrait of Robert De Niro’s, father, an abstract expressionist painter that came out as gay shortly after the actor was born.
But Danielle also was famous for his photographs of everyday life, such as one taken in the 1930s, of a woman reading the New York Times on the Staten Island ferry. “His work shows both the glamour and the grit of yesteryear,” says Schuster, who discovered the photographer’s work several years ago, after purchasing a few pieces for Wilzig’s collection.
“What is very special about the Daniell’s collection is that it is still together, which is unusual. We have a special display where you can follow the artist’s life through his photographs, drawings, and paintings, to see how his style evolved,” says Schuster.
“We have the entire 3,500-work collection, but we will be holding some back, and we will be changing the exhibit from time to time so there will be lots of surprises in the future,” he added.
The George Daniell Museum grand opening will take place Wedensday, April 3, from 6 p.m. to midnight at the Wilzig Museum Building, 1205 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, Fla. 33139. It will feature music by DJs Andres Aguirre and Mayra Jaimes, an open bar, food and access to the museum galleries. The event is free.