Abstract

“In the beginning was virgin land and America was promises.”2 So began the text panel located in the opening panorama of the photo exhibition Road to Victory: A Procession of Photographs of the Nation at War that the Museum of Modern Art organized in 1942 and circulated between 1943 and 1945. Years before Edward Steichen became curator of photography at MoMA and organized the global blockbuster exhibition The Family of Man, he combed government, press, and corporate archives to select the photographs for Road to Victory, his first curatorial project at the museum. Encircling the opening text were large photographic panels of picturesque landscapes, stern Native Americans, and a few buffalo. The largest panel—of pristine mountain valleys—was sixteen by twelve feet, making the viewer about the same height as the three portraits of Native Americans. Exhibition designer Herbert Bayer, recent Austrian émigré and former Bauhaus master, removed the walls from the second floor of the museum, using the large-scale photographs to structure the exhibition architecturally. Arranged in a semicircle, these opening panels welcomed the viewer and urged him to follow the curve into the exhibition.

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