Physically and intellectually interactive, a significant number of prints and photographs are both objects and subjects of play. Playing cards, for example, were among the very first works produced in the fifteenth century with the newly invented technology of prints, and other sorts of games quickly followed. Photography developed along with the growth of increased leisure time in the nineteenth century and has long been associated with play, whether pursued as a recreational activity or applied to visual games or collectible mementos. While many of the works in the exhibition engage the viewer through physical interaction or moving parts, others involve a more cerebral sense of play, challenging and questioning assumptions about what the viewer is seeing.

Drawing from a broad range of works in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs—including stereo views, a kite, paper dolls, and visual word games—the exhibition explores the long and varied tradition of how works on paper not only participated in but actively facilitated conditions of playfulness.


a photograph of two people in a sunlit meadow ,with a mountain range looming in the bacground is dotted with drops of paint. The bright colors are faded and look almost part of the scene; so drops of color seems to float down from the sky on the subjects.
Sebastiaan Bremer (Dutch, born 1970). To Joy: Nature's Bosom. Archival inkjet print with hand painting and collage, 2012. Library purchase
In a black and white stereoscopic photograph pair a figure is shown in the distance raising their arms before a tower of smoke on a grassy hillside, larger hills in the distance just barely visible through mist
Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904). Devil's Tea Kettle. Albumen silver print, ca. 1867 – 1871. Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views
An 1885 albumen silver print of baseball player Joe Mulvey shows him crouching to catch an incoming ball
George Edwin Gray (American, 1855-1936). Joe Mulvey. Albumen silver print, ca. 1885. Albert G. Spalding Collection of Early Baseball Photographs
An 1885 albumen silver print of baseball player Jim Fogarty turning, one leg outstretched, and throwing a ball in the air.
George Edwin Gray (American, 1855-1936). Jim Fogarty, Philadelphia Quakers. Albumen silver print, ca. 1885. Albert G. Spalding Collection of Early Baseball Photographs

More Exhibitions

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    Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

    Discover how the Arctic has been a source of intrigue and fascination for centuries through historic and contemporary images.