If Houston seemed just a little bit more photogenic than usual last week, that might be because by mayoral proclamation June 23 was officially declared Anne Wilkes Tucker Day throughout the city.
In 1976, Tucker was initially hired to establish the department of photography. Now after 39 years at the Museum of Fine Arts, she is set to retire at the end of the month. But the MFAH, collectors, donors, artists and Anne fans didn’t intend to let her go without marking her legacy by partying down.
But the MFAH, collectors, donors, artists and Anne fans didn’t intend to let her go without marking her legacy by partying down.
Yet it’s Houston art lovers who are the ones receiving the best presents in honor of Tucker’s life in photography: the new exhibition In Appreciation: Gifts in Honor of Anne Wilkes Tucker, the coming Anne Wilkes Tucker Photography Study Center, with funds provided by Stanford and Joan Alexander, and the Anne Wilkes Tucker Young Photographers Endowment.
Tucker has been a vital force in building the MFAH photography department practically from scratch, turning the 141 images photographs owned by the museum when she began her tenure into world class and renowned collection of 30,000 works. With the opening of the In Appreciation exhibition her friends, family, admirers and photo-philes all came together to celebrate her accomplishments.
“Anne was global before it was fashionable, universal before anyone wrote about it,” MFAH director Gary Tinterow of Tucker said in announcing the new center. “Anne is a truly great individual, an institution, and most proper institutions require a physical structure, a monument.”
More than 300 guests paid tribute to Tucker and view the new exhibit, which displays selections from the more than 150 works given to the museum in her honor. Among the highlights are a large print of Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants (1955); Nan Goldin’s multimedia Ballad of Sexual Dependency; a unique Man Ray photomontage from around 1926 and a photograph by the medium’s inventor William Henry Fox Talbot from October 1840, which is the earliest firmly dated photograph in the MFAH collection.
During a cocktail reception in Cullinan Hall, where images from Tucker’s tenure were projected onto the walls and guests nibbled on light bites from City Kitchen, Malcolm Daniel, Tucker’s successor, announced the creation of the young photographers endowment in her honor which will be used for the purchase of works by photographers under 40 who are not yet represented in the museum’s collection.
Daniel promised the endowment would help the museum continue in the “spirit of what Anne has done.”
When Tucker took the podium, she did not dwell on her own accomplishments— the over 40 exhibitions she has organized or co-organized, including the recent War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath— but instead spent many minutes thanking the artists and colleagues she worked with for those 39 years.
She also told of some of the “extraordinary experiences” she’s had along the way, like the time in 1985 when her hotel room was bugged when she traveled to communist Czechoslovakia or an exhibition or the curious incident of the late catalog printing caused by an escaped circus elephant storming into the printing bindery.
“On June 30, the hardest thing I will do is turn in my badge,” she concluded. “For 39 years I’ve had the run of this facility, every corner of it at all the hours of day and night. There have been times when I’ve been here 24, 36 hours straight. Now I’m giving up the key to my second home. I’m ready but it will be hard.”
The Tucker badge may be retired but the exhibition runs to Oct. 11, while her influence will likely linger for another 39 years and beyond.
Among those on hand to salute Tucker were Joan and Stanford Alexander, Michael Zilkha, Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, Julie Alexander, Leslie and Brad Bucher, Mariquita Masterson, Hiram Butler, Jereann Chaney, Clare Glassell, Kathy and Marty Goossen, William J. Hill, Jim Malone, Nancy and John Parsley, Sara Morgan, Jeanie Kilroy Wilson and Wallace S. Wilson.