One giant leap for photography: The Met Museum explores moon as muse in new exhibition

One giant leap for photography: The Met Museum explores moon as muse in new exhibition

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon, uttered arguably one of the most famous statements in world history and, alongside the Apollo 11 crew, propelled the U.S. to the finish line of a contentious space race.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of that “giant leap for mankind,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art is presenting “Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography” through September 22. The exhibition brings together 130-years of space memorabilia, including artistic renderings of the moon, lunar photography, films, video art, astronomical instruments and cameras used by Apollo astronauts.

According to curators, the goal is to show how that singular moment expanded the boundaries of possibility and continues to inspire artists and technological advancements.

“The moon has long been a nearly universal source of fascination and inspiration,” said Max Hollein, director of the Met, in a statement. “This exhibition shows us how photography introduced new dimensions to its documentation and interpretation and explores the tremendous impact that the 1969 moon landing had on artists of the time — the lasting effects of which still resonate today.”

Highlights of the show include two newly discovered lunar daguerreotypes from the 1840s, which curators believe to be the earliest existing images of the moon. Works from Warren De la Rue, Lewis Morris Rutherfurd and John Adams Whipple — pioneers in space photography — will also be on display, as will a lengthy photographic atlas created by the Paris Observatory. “Apollo’s Muse” marks the first time the work will be presented in its entirety.

Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. The Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible.
Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. The Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible.

The exhibition will also present a disparate body of famous works, contextualized according to how the moon served as a powerful inspiration.

“The show will explore the use of the camera to create fanciful depictions of space travel and life on the moon, including George Méliès’s original drawings for his film “A Trip to the Moon” (“Le Voyage dans la lune,” 1902) and a large selection of “paper moon” studio portraits from the early 20th century,” curators announced in a statement. “Also featured will be artists’ evocations of the otherworldly effects of moonlight, including major works by German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich and American Pictorialist photographer Edward Steichen.”

The museum has planned a roster of events themed around the exhibition, including talks with curator Mia Fineman and research assistant Virginia McBride; opportunities to see the moon through provided telescopes on the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden; and performances “inspired by the moon, celestial bodies and lunar landscapes.”

Learn more about the exhibition on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.

Top Image: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission. Photo: NASA.