30
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective’ at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 29th June – 3rd October 2012

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“For outness is but the feeling of otherness (alterity) rendered intuitive, or alterity visually represented.”

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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In her most famous series, Beach Portraits (1992-2002), juveniles stare at the camera in a moment passif, caught by the camera between states – youth / adulthood, knowing / unknowing, Self / Other. Shot from a low perspective, lit by fill flash and with little contextual detail, the subjects exhibit – and I use the term advisedly – vulnerability, awkwardness (in the body and self), languidness of pose and bravuro self confidence that belies their beautiful alterity. These adolescents are not at one with themselves they are unsure of their place in the world. Dijkstra documents this uncertainty and enlarges it, blowing the photographs up to huge scale so that the viewer can examine every crevice of the persona in minute detail, their alterity visually represented.

Max Weintraub notes that Dijkstra has produced, “a set of carefully balanced compositions defined by the central, monumental presence of her youthful subjects. The classical simplicity of Dijkstra’s photographs focuses the viewer’s attention on the subtle particulars: the teens’ gawky, angular bodies, ill-fitting swimsuits and awkward postures… Her subjects hover somewhere between the receding past of their childhood and an unknown future. And while the identity of her subjects remain anonymous – each beach photograph is only identified by date and location – when viewed together a collective body emerges, one that stirs restlessly between the last physical and emotional trappings of youth and the social and psychological pressures of pending adulthood. The individuals depicted are so powerfully distinct that the effect of seeing these portraits en mass is symphonic, and the images begin to collectively hum with the sounds of the construction of self – its awkwardness, its uncertainty and above all, its heartbreakingly tender beauty.”

What a great piece of writing.

It is also interesting to observe that her own self portrait (Self Portrait, Marnixbad, Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 19, 19911991, below) is only printed at 35 x 28 cm whereas images from the Beach Portraits are printed at 117 x 94 cm. Surrounded by ceiling, floor and wall tiles Dijkstra is enclosed, minute within the frame. The photographer recedes into the background, even more vulnerable and less “visible” than her monumental models of innocence. Other series continue the artist’s investigation into themes of time and change to greater or lesser effect. The Olivier series is a very powerful body of work that documents the loss of youthful innocence and the military socialisation of a young mind, evidenced by the look in Olivier’s eyes and the change in his outward appearance. As the press release states, “the Olivier series (2000-03) follows a young man from his enlistment with the French Foreign Legion through the years of his service, showing his both physical and psychological development into a soldier.”

“In contemporaneous works, including portraits of new mothers after giving birth, and photographs of bullfighters immediately after leaving the ring, Dijkstra sought subjects whose physical exhaustion diminished the likelihood of an artificed pose… Later, Dijkstra took portraits of new initiates to the Israeli army, photographing female soldiers in their uniforms after induction and then again in their civilian dress, as well as male soldiers directly after military exercises,” states the Guggenheim website.

Basically, this time line of change is a version of the old before and after shot, used throughout the history of photography – from the documentation of the changes in Dr Barnado’s children in the 1870s to the “scientific” use of photography to document the science of physical fitness and the commodification of the body in the ‘Before and After’ bodybuilding photographs from the 1930s, the 1950s and from the contemporary era.

To conclude, the strongest work is where the artist gives the photographs a greater depth of field and adds a narrative element by adding a background to the images. The work with contextless backgrounds is too derivative of say, Thomas Ruff, who I think does it better, more frontally, more confrontingly than Dijkstra does.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Rineke Dijkstra
Coney Island, N.Y., USA, June 20, 1993

1993
Chromogenic print
117 x 94 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Dubrovnik, Croatia, July 13, 1996
1996

Chromogenic print
117 x 94 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 24, 1992
1992

Chromogenic print
117 cm x 94 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26, 1992
1992
Chromogenic print
117 x 94 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Installation view of the Beach Portraits (1992-2002) series from the exhibition Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

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Rineke Dijkstra
Self Portrait, Marnixbad, Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 19, 1991
1991

Chromogenic print
35 x 28 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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“From June 29 to October 3, 2012, the Guggenheim Museum will present Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, an extensive midcareer survey and the first major exhibition of the artist’s work organized by a North American institution. It is the most comprehensive museum exhibition of the artist’s oeuvre to date. Dijkstra, born in Sittard, the Netherlands, in 1959, has developed an international reputation as one of the most highly regarded photographers of her generation. The exhibition will include representative examples from the most significant bodies of work she has created over the past twenty years.

Since the early 1990s, Rineke Dijkstra has produced a complex body of photographic and video work that offers a contemporary take on the genre of portraiture. Her large-scale color photographs of young, typically adolescent subjects recall 17th-century Dutch painting in their scale and visual acuity. The minimal contextual details present in her photographs and videos encourage us to focus on the exchange between photographer and subject and the relationship between viewer and viewed.

Dijkstra works in series, creating groups of photographs and videos around a specific typology or theme. In 1992, she started making portraits of adolescents posed on beaches from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Poland and Ukraine. Shot from a low perspective, the subjects of the Beach Portraits (1992-2002), poised on the brink of adulthood, take on a monumental presence. In contemporaneous works, including portraits of new mothers after giving birth and photographs of bullfighters immediately after leaving the ring, Dijkstra sought subjects whose physical exhaustion diminished the likelihood of an artificial pose.

Dijkstra has also photographed individuals repeatedly over the course of several months or years. Her ongoing Almerisa series began in 1994 with a single photograph of a young Bosnian girl at a Dutch refugee center for asylum seekers and has grown as Dijkstra continued to photograph her regularly for more than a decade as she became a young woman with a child of her own. The outward signs of her transition into adulthood and her integration into mainstream Dutch culture reveal themselves incrementally over the course of many years. Similarly, the Olivier series (2000-03) follows a young man from his enlistment with the French Foreign Legion through the years of his service, showing his both physical and psychological development into a soldier. Later, Dijkstra took portraits of new initiates to the Israeli army, photographing female soldiers in their uniforms after induction and then again in their civilian dress, as well as male soldiers directly after military exercises.

For several years beginning in 1998, Dijkstra photographed young people, often in groups, posed in the lush landscapes of public parks. In contrast to the neutral backgrounds against which many of her subjects are pictured, the richness of the park settings lends these works a greater depth of field and adds a narrative element.

More recently, Dijkstra has built upon her revelatory work in video from the mid-1990s. In The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mystery World, Zaandam, NL (1996-97) and The Krazyhouse (Megan, Simon, Nicky, Philip, Dee), Liverpool, UK (2009), Dijkstra filmed teenage habituées of local clubs dancing to their favorite music. Presented as multichannel video installations, these works showcase their subjects’ teen personas and methods of self-expression, revealed in how they style themselves and in the movements of their bodies. Two video works made in 2009 at Tate Liverpool expand the artist’s interest in the empathic exchange between photographer and subject to include the affective response to artworks. In I See a Woman Crying (Weeping Woman) (2009), a group of schoolchildren engage with art, discussing their perceptions of and reactions to a work by Pablo Picasso, while Ruth Drawing Picasso (2009) shows a girl pensively sketching a masterwork.”

Press release from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum website

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Rineke Dijkstra
Olivier, The French Foreign Legion, Camp Raffalli, Calvi, Corsica, June 18, 2001
2001

Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Installation view of the Olivier (2000-03) series from the exhibition Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

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Rineke Dijkstra
Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, May 8, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
90 x 72 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Amy, The Krazyhouse, Liverpool, England, December 22, 2008
2008

Archival inkjet print
96.5 x 75 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
The Buzz Club, Liverpool, England, March 3, 1995
1995

Chromogenic print
110 x 88.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Rineke Dijkstra
Omri, Givatti Brigade, Golan Heights, Israel, March 29, 2000
2000
Chromogenic print, 140 x 112.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Avenue (at 89th Street)
New York

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, Friday 10 am – 5.45 pm
Saturday 10 am – 7.45 pm
Thursday closed

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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