Intimate Portraits

The Monterey Museum of Art’s downtown location (pictured) reopened visitors on May 13 after more than a one-year closure. La Mirada will reopen after a five-year closure.

The personal life and varied interests of famed California photographer Ansel Adams will be on display when the Monterey Museum of Art’s La Mirada location reopens for a special exhibition titled Ansel Adams Portraits: By and Of.

The collection of private photos contains “so much personal insight to his life,” says Jeanne Falk Adams, the artist’s daughter-in-law as well as the curator of the exhibit. “He had very interesting friends: poets, writers, benefactors, climbers, musicians. That was his social ecosystem, the culture society of San Francisco and Northern California.”

The exhibit features 110 works, including portraits by and of Adams’ intimate acquaintances, as well as photographic portraits made of him during what Falk Adams describes as “the most creative time in California history.”

The exhibition, curated exclusively for MMA, shares images that will be new to viewers and show that Adams was more than a photographer—he was a pianist, an environmental conservationist, a mountaineer and a family man. It is a rare look at a much lesser-known part of his production, and tells the story of his life: From the time he roamed the sand dunes of San Francisco and became enraptured by California as a youth, to how he became one of the most prominent landscape photographers in the world.

“It was a bit impromptu,” Falk Adams says of the exhibit. When the MMA approached her with the idea, the curator of the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park had been devoting herself to environmental exhibits and felt overwhelmed. But she couldn’t refuse.

La Mirada Cultural Center, located near Monterey Peninsula College, has been closed to daily visitors since 2016. Former museum director Stuart Chase repurposed it as an education center and artist-in-residence program.

“It’s a very lovely setting,” Falk Adams says. “It works really well, it turns out.” The stone adobe was once a private estate. And the roses that fill the garden will be in full bloom during the exhibit. (One reason La Mirada was chosen for this show is that it is easier to apply Covid safety protocols there and entertain guests outdoors.)

“La Mirada has been closed for years, but we open it for special events and exhibits,” says MMA Executive Director Corey Madden, who was hired July 21 after serving as interim for nine months during the pandemic closure. And this exhibit qualifies as special—“these are pieces that are not being seen that often,” Madden adds.

The first thing people will see when they enter is a plaque with an adage from Robert Louis Stevenson that used to hang in Adams’ room.

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