In February, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) announced that noted radiologist and art collector Dr. H. Russell Albright ’56 had bequeathed his extensive and important photography collection to the museum, and left a fund to create an endowment in support of the museum’s Department of Photographs.
The 1956 Ozarks graduate who died in 2017 had a long and significant relationship with NOMA, filling many roles over the span of 30 years, ranging from trustee to longtime fellow.
“Russell Albright was generous and influential in his involvement with the museum during his lifetime, and his devotion to collecting served as a model for others in our community,” says Susan Taylor, Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of NOMA. “His collection will serve as the core of contemporary photography at NOMA and the accompanying endowment fund will ensure that his legacy at the museum will live on.”
Born in Little Rock, Ark., Albright attended the University of Arkansas Medical School after graduating from Ozarks. After a stint in the Navy Medical Corps, he moved to New Orleans in the 1960s where he did his residency at Ochsner Foundation Hospital. He ultimately joined his former radiology resident colleague from Ochsner, Abner M. Landry, Jr. M.D., and together founded Landry-Albright Radiology Group, Inc. at Mercy Hospital in 1968.
Along with long-time partner Michael Myers, Albright began collecting contemporary photographs in 1988. By 1991, he had amassed a collection vast enough to produce a major exhibition at NOMA, entitled “Altered Truths: Contemporary Photography from the Michael Myers/Russell Albright Collection.” A second exhibition, titled “Recent Appearances,” comprised of a completely different selection from the collection, followed in 1998.
Albright always intended for his collection to permanently reside at NOMA. For that reason, he often collected works that would allow NOMA to tell a fuller history of photography. As he put it, he sought out photographs that “I don’t necessarily love, but that I respect, that I feel are important, that should be available to people in this community, and that should be preserved.”
With his bequest to NOMA, Albright gave almost 400 works to the museum, more than 350 of which were photographs. Of these, the majority are by acknowledged contemporary masters such as Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Nan Goldin, and Thomas Ruff, and the collection also includes a smaller group of excellent prints by earlier 20th Century artists such a Man Ray, Brassaï, and Doris Ulmann. Additionally, substantial and generous works were gifted to the modern and contemporary art department, the decorative arts department, and the African art department.
“Russell Albright’s eye was incredibly discerning, a trait that is visible across his collection, be it in his selection of a rich modernist print from the 1930s or a powerful contemporary photograph” says Russell Lord, NOMA’s Freeman Family Curator of Photographs. “Albright never shied away from adventurous or even controversial images, amassing a collection that is as critical as it is beautiful.”
In addition to the gift of works of art, Albright left a fund to be devoted to the photography department’s activities. As with the collection he bequeathed, the fund will have a significant impact on NOMA’s presentation and interpretation of the history of photography in perpetuity.
Albright died on Oct. 29, 2017, in New Orleans at the age of 83.