There was a whole collection made: Photography from Lester and Betty Guttman

September 22–December 30, 2016

Clockwise from top: Man Ray, Untitled [Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, Paris], 1922; Hannah Höch, Photomontage (Foto-Montage), ca. 1935; Adam Fuss, ["Sunflower"] AFN204, 1992; and Gustave Le Gray, Bring on the Water, 1856.

Lester and Betty Guttman were avid collectors and companions in life who together built an extraordinary collection of photography. Over a lifetime of close looking with passion and joy, they attentively acquired an expansive collection of great photographs that span the very earliest days of the medium to the near-present day.

There was a whole collection made mines the Estate of Lester and Betty Guttman’s 2014 gift of 830 photographic works by 414 artists to the Smart Museum. It introduces this new resource to scholars and the public.

The exhibition presents several hundred works—from rare vintage prints to contemporary classics—organized in thematic clusters that reflect the Guttmans’ shared commitment to humanist values, including sections on the natural and built world; photographic experimentation; documentary; living with art; portraiture; and the corollary “fifteen minutes of fame,” which features portraits of famous and not-so-famous people by other famous, and not-so-famous photographers.

The exhibition’s title is taken from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (1914). Stein is the subject of several photographs in the Guttman collection. 

About the Guttmans

The Guttmans were married for 50 years and worked together at Argonne National Laboratory, where Lester Guttman (1919–2006) was a senior scientist and editor of the Journal of Applied Physics and Betty Guttman (1922–2014) was a technical librarian. Betty was also an alumna of the University of Chicago (SB 1943) and the couple were longtime Hyde Park residents. While photography was just one of their shared pursuits—they were also patrons of art and music in Chicago and, as amateur mycologists, co-edited the journal McIlvainea—they enjoyed the deep pleasure of living amongst their art. 


William Henry Fox Talbot, David Octavius Hill, Hannah Höch, Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, Brassaï, Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus, Malick Sidibé, Chuck Close, Carrie Mae Weems, and many others. 


There was a whole collection made will be accompanied by a fully illustrated multi-author catalogue published by the Smart Museum and distributed by the University of Chicago Press.

“There was a whole collection made. A damp cloth, an oyster, a single mirror, a manikin, a student, a silent star, a single spark, a little movement and the bed is made.”

—Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons, 1914