What Happened to that Negative?

The image that Intersections artist Vesna Pavlović created with the deteriorated 8 x 10 negative from the museum archives is mysterious and fascinating to look at. But what happened to it?

Vesna Pavlović, Untitled (Swiss Peasant art exhibition, 1957.4) (2014), 40 x 50 in. Framed archival pigment print. Ed. of 5. Courtesy of the artist and G Fine Art

The installation shots of the Phillips’s 1957 show, Swiss Peasant Art, were taken using large format cellulose triacetate sheet film or safety film (so called because it was less flammable than the previously available nitrate film.) The film captured clear, detailed images but over time the acetate film base shrunk, pulling away from the emulsion and causing bubbles and an effect called channeling. Thankfully, the archives has a full set of 8 x 10 contact prints (created by sandwiching photographic paper and the negative, generating a print the same size as the negative and preserving detail).

Swiss Peasant Art exhibition at the Phillips, June 9-July 2, 1927. This is the print from the deteriorated negative appropriated by Vesna Pavlovic. Photo: The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington DC.

Swiss Peasant Art exhibition at the Phillips, June 9-July 2, 1957. This is the print from the deteriorated negative adapted by Vesna Pavlović. Photo: The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington DC.

Swiss Peasant Art might seem like an unusual show for the Phillips, and it was. Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services—or SITES—the show was called “one of the most heartwarming exhibitions to be seen in Washington in a long time” in a review from The Washington Post. The objects were selected from Appenzell and Toggenburg and focused on the ceremony of Alpenaufzug, the annual upward trek of herds to the springtime mountain pastures. The show included paintings, wooden milk pails, cut brass, a clock, and other decorative items.

Swiss Peasant Art exhibition at the Phillips, June 9-July 2, 1927. Photo: The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington DC.

Swiss Peasant Art exhibition at the Phillips, June 9-July 2, 1957. Photo: The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington DC.

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