Archive for the 'american photographers' Category



28
Jan
12

Exhibition: ‘Stanley Greene – Black Passport’ at Foam, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates:  16th December 2011  – 5th February 2012

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Many thankx to FOAM for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs: Black Passport © Stanley Greene / NOOR

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“Foam presents Black Passport, a project by and about the American conflict photographer Stanley Greene (New York, 1949). Black Passport shows photos of conflicts and disasters combined with photos of Greene’s  private life. The result is a revealing portrait of a photographer who is addicted to the adrenaline rush of being on the move, but at the same time realises the sacrifices he makes in his personal life. Stanley Greene has photographed in regions such as Chechnya, Iraq, Rwanda and Sudan and is one of the founders of the international photo agency NOOR.

Every day, newspapers and magazines are filled with photos of war, oppression and violence. The photographer that enables us to watch what is happening in the rest of the world from the safety of our own homes, however, usually remains invisible. This is not the case in Black Passport, the biography of war photographer Stanley Greene, which appeared in book form in 2009 and will be exhibited in Foam starting on 16 December. Photos of conflict and disaster regions such as Rwanda, Sudan, Chechnya and Iraq are alternated with photos from the private life of Stanley Greene: photos of Paris and many women. Slide shows will also be presented, interspersed with texts from the book. Greene’s voice resounds through the exhibition space – he is disconcertingly frank:  ‘I think you can only keep positive for eight years. If you stay at it longer than that, you turn. And not into a beautiful butterfly.’

Just as Stanley Greene, visitors to the exhibition are poised between the safety of Western life and the horrors of foreign wars. And it is precisely this juxtaposition that causes these photos to stir us more than the stream of bad-news images that inundate us daily. In addition, Black Passport is a fascinating story about what it is like to be a war photographer. Why does someone choose to be continually confronted with death and misery? Is it an escape from everyday reality and a craving for adventure?

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Short Biography

Stanley Greene has photographed in the former Soviet Union, Central America, Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in publications including Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, Stern and Paris Match. He has won various World Press Awards and in 2004 the W. Eugene Smith Award. Open Wound: Chechnya 1994-2003 was published in 2004 and his book Black Passport in 2009. Greene is one of the founders of the Amsterdam-based international photo agency NOOR.”

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All photographs: Black Passport © Stanley Greene / NOOR

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Foam
Keizersgracht 609
1017 DS Amsterdam
The Netherlands
T: + 31 20 5516500

Opening hours:
Daily from 10 am – 6 pm
Thu/Fri 10 am – 9 pm

Foam website

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25
Jan
12

Exhibition: ‘Diane Arbus’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 18th October 18 2011 – 5th February 2012

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“There are and have been and will be an infinite number of things on earth. Individuals all different, all wanting different things, all knowing different things, all loving different things, all looking different. Everything that has been on earth has been different from any other thing. That is what I love: the differentness, the uniqueness of all things and the importance of life… I see something that seems wonderful; I see the divineness in ordinary things.”

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Diane Arbus. Paper on Plato, senior English seminar, Fieldston School, November 28, 1939

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“I want to photograph the considerable ceremonies of our present because we tend while living here and now to perceive only what is random and barren and formless about it. While we regret that the present is not like the past and despair of its ever becoming the future, its innumerable inscrutable habits lie in wait for their meaning. I want to gather them, like somebody’s grandmother putting up preserves, because they will have been so beautiful.

There are the Ceremonies of Celebration (the Pageants, the Festivals, the Feasts, the Conventions) and the Ceremonies of Competition (Contests, Games, Sports), the Ceremonies of Buying and Selling, of Gambling, of the Law and the Show; the Ceremonies of Fame in which the Winners Win and the Lucky are Chosen or Family Ceremonies or Gatherings (the Schools, the Clubs, the Meetings). Then they are Ceremonial Places (The Beauty Parlor, The Funeral Parlor or, simply The Parlor) and Ceremonial Costumes (what waitresses wear, or Wrestlers), Ceremonies of the Rich, like the Dog Show, and of the Middle Class, like the Bridge Game. Or, for example: the Dancing Lesson, the Graduation, the Testimonial Dinner, the Séance, the Gymnasium and the Picnic, and perhaps the Waiting Room, the Factory, the Masquerade, the Rehearsal, the Initiation, the Hotel Lobby and the Birthday Party. The etcetera.

I will write whatever is necessary for the further description and elucidation of these Rites and I will go wherever I can to find them.

These are our symptoms and our monuments. I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary.”

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Diane Arbus. “American Rites, Manners and Customs,” Plan for a Photographic Project, Guggenheim proposal

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A fabulous posting, with memorable thoughts and photographs! These archetypal images have become deeply embedded in the collective conscience where conscience is pre-eminently the organ of sentiments and representations. The snap, snap, snap of the shutter evinces the flaws of human nature, reveals the presence of a quality or feeling to which we can all relate. As Arbus states, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated. This is why these photographs always capture our attention because we become, we inhabit, we are the subject. They are the flaw in us all. They are legend.

Many thankx to Jeu de Paume 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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Diane Arbus
Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962
1962
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967
1967
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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On Photographs

“They are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they’ll still be there looking at you.”

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Diane Arbus in response to request for a brief statement about photographs, March 15, 1971

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Diane Arbus (New York, 1923–1971) revolutionized the art she practiced. Her bold subject matter and photographic approach produced a body of work that is often shocking in its purity, in its steadfast celebration of things as they are. Her gift for rendering strange those things we consider most familiar, and for uncovering the familiar within the exotic, enlarges our understanding of ourselves.

Arbus found most of her subjects in New York City, a place that she explored as both a known geography and as a foreign land, photographing people she discovered during the 1950s and 1960s. She was committed to photography as a medium that tangles with the facts. Her contemporary anthropology – portraits of couples, children, carnival performers, nudists, middle-class families, transvestites, zealots, eccentrics, and celebrities – stands as an allegory of the human experience, an exploration of the relationship between appearance and identity, illusion and belief, theater and reality.

In this first major retrospective in France, Jeu de Paume presents a selection of two hundred photographs that affords an opportunity to explore the origins, scope, and aspirations of a wholly original force in photography. It includes all of the artist’s iconic photographs as well as many that have never been publicly exhibited. Even the earliest examples of her work demonstrate Arbus’s distinctive sensibility through the expression on a face, someone’s posture, the character of the light, and the personal implications of objects in a room or landscape. These elements, animated by the singular relationship between the photographer and her subject, conspire to implicate the viewer with the force of a personal encounter.

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Biography

Diane Arbus was born in New York City on March 14, 1923, and attended the Ethical Culture and Fieldston Schools. At the age of eighteen she married Allan Arbus. Although she first started taking pictures in the early 1940s and studied photography with Alexey Brodovitch in 1954, it was not until 1955-57, while enrolled in courses taught by Lisette Model, that she began to seriously pursue the work for which she has come to be known.

Her first published photographs appeared in Esquire in 1960 under the title The Vertical Journey. From that point on she continued to work intermittently as a free-lance photographer for Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Show, The London Sunday Times, and a number of other magazines, doing portraits on assignment as well as photographic essays, for several of which she wrote accompanying articles.

During the 1950s, like most of her contemporaries, she had been using a 35mm camera, but in 1962 she began working with a 6×6 Rolleiflex. She once said, in accounting for the shift, that she had grown impatient with the grain and wanted to be able to decipher in her pictures the actual texture of things. The 6×6 format contributed to the refinement of a deceptively simple, formal, classical style that has since been recognized as one of the distinctive features of her work.

She received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and 1966 for projects on “American Rites, Manners and Customs” and spent several summers during that period traveling across the United States, photographing contests, festivals, public and private gatherings, people in the costumes of their professions or avocations, the hotel lobbies, dressing rooms and living rooms she had described as part of “the considerable ceremonies of our present.” “These are our symptoms and our monuments,” she wrote in her original application. “I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary.” 

The photographs she produced in those years attracted a great deal of attention when a selected group of them were exhibited, along with the work of two other photographers, in the 1967 “New Documents” show at the Museum of Modern Art. Nonetheless, although several institutions subsequently purchased examples of her work for their permanent collections, her photographs appeared in only two other major exhibitions during her lifetime, both of them group shows.

In the late 1960s she taught photography courses at Parsons School of Design, the Rhode Island School of Design and Cooper Union and in 1971 gave a master class at Westbeth, the artists cooperative in New York City where she then lived. During the same period she initiated the concept and did the basic research for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1973 exhibition on news photography, “From the Picture Press.”

She made a portfolio of ten photographs in 1970, printed, signed and annotated by her, which was to be the first of a series of limited editions of her work. She committed suicide on July 26, 1971 at the age of forty-eight. The following year the ten photographs in her portfolio became the first work of an American photographer to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale.

In the course of a career that may be said to have lasted little more than fifteen years, she produced a body of work whose style and content have secured her a place as one of the most significant and influential photographers of our time. The major retrospective mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in 1972 was attended by more than a quarter of a million people in New York before it began its tour of the United States and Canada. The Aperture monograph Diane Arbus, published in conjunction with the show has sold over 300,000 copies. Beginning in 2003, Diane Arbus Revelations, an international retrospective organized by The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art travelled to museums throughout the United States and Europe between 2003 and 2006. Major exhibitions devoted exclusively to her work have toured much of the world including, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

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Diane Arbus
Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C. 1967
1967
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Untitled (6) 1970-71
1970-71
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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On Freaks

“There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll go through a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”

“If you’ve ever talked to somebody with two heads you know they know something you don’t.”

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The Gap between Attention and Affect

“You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw. It’s just extraordinary that we should have been given these peculiarities. And, not content with what we were given, we create a whole other set. Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there’s a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you. And that has to do with what I’ve always called the gap between intention and effect. I mean if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic.”

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Other Thoughts

“The thing that’s important to know is that you never know. You’re always sort of feeling your way.”

“Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It’s what I’ve never seen before that I recognize.”

“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”

“For me the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated. I do have a feeling for the print but I don’t have a holy feeling for it. I really think what it is, is what it’s about. I mean it has to be of something. And what it’s of it always more remarkable than what it is.”

“I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

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Diane Arbus
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C. 1966
1966
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963
1963
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963
1963
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Jeu de Paume
1, place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12:00 – 21:00
Wednesday – Friday: 12:00 – 19:00
Saturday and Sunday: 10:00 – 19:00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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22
Jan
12

Exhibition: ‘Vivian Maier: Photographs from the Maloof Collection’ at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Exhibition dates:  15th December 2011 – 26th January 2012

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Another wondrous photographer who needs more recognition! Out of the work I have seen the portraits are the strongest. Some of them feel like precursors to the confronting portraits of women made by Diane Arbus while others offer a more reflective, contemplative examination of human presence. Outstanding.

Many thankx to Alicia Colen for her help and to the Howard Greenberg Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting.

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Vivian Maier
Untitled (portrait of a woman)
date unknown
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Vivian Maier
Untitled
c.1950′s
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Vivian Maier
Untitled
c.1950′s
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Vivian Maier
Untitled
c.1950′s
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

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“Howard Greenberg Gallery is proud to present the recently discovered work of street photographer, Vivian Maier (1926-2009), from the Maloof Collection.

A nanny by trade, Vivian Maier’s street and travel photography was discovered by John Maloof in 2007 at a local auction house in Chicago. Always with a Rolleiflex around her neck, she managed to amass more than 2,000 rolls of films, 3,000 prints and more than 100,000 negative which were shared with virtually no one in her lifetime. Her black and white photographs-mostly from the 50s and 60s-are indelible images of the architecture and street life of Chicago and New York. She rarely took more than one frame of each image and concentrated on children, women, the elderly, and indigent. The breadth of Maier’s work also reveals a series of striking self-portraits as well as prints from her travels to Egypt, Bangkok, Italy, and the American Southwest, among dozens of other international cities.

“My fascination with her story has only grown, as has my involvement with her photographs. It is such an unusual story with no resolution. At first her images are extremely well seen, quality photographs of life on the street, in New York City and Chicago. But as one looks at the body of her work, she reveals her deeper interests. Then one tries to imagine who she was, what motivated her, her personality. It is not everyday that one becomes so involved and even obsessed with a particular photographer,” comments Howard Greenberg.

What little is known about Maier’s life is the result of John Maloof’s extensive research. He discovered her obituary on line in 2009 which was just the beginning of his investigative work. An American of French and Austro-Hungarian extraction, Maier split her time between Europe and the US, returning to NY in 1951. In 1956, she ultimately settled in Chicago where she worked as nanny for more than forty years. For a brief period in the 1970s she worked as a nanny to journalist, Phil Donahue’s children. Towards the end of her life, Maier was supported by the children she had cared for in the early 50s. Unbeknownst to them, one of Maier’s storage lockers (containing her massive group of negatives) was auctioned off due to delinquent payments.

After purchasing the first collection of Maier photographs in 2007, Maloof acquired more from another buyer at the same auction. He has since established the Maloof Collection to promote the work of Vivian Maier and to safeguard the archive for future generations. The archive consists of approximately 100,000 to 150,000 negatives; over 3,000 prints; hundreds of rolls of film; home movies; audio tape interviews, and other items representing roughly 90% of Maier’s work. Through Maloof’s efforts, Vivian Maier’s photographs have been exhibited internationally and have received significant critical attention. In November, Powerhouse Books will publish Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, edited by Maloof with a foreword by Geoff Dyer. John Maloof is also co-producing a documentary about Vivian Maier.

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Vivian Maier
Untitled
c.1950′s
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Vivian Maier
Uptown West, New York, NY, January 26, 1955
1955
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Vivian Maier
Untitled, Chicago, May 16, 1957
1957
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Vivian Maier
New York City, Self-Portrait, September 10th, 1955
1955
© Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Howard Greenberg Gallery
The Fuller Building
41 East 57 Street
Suite 1406
New York, NY 10022
T: 212.334.0010

Gallery Hours:
Tuesday – Saturday
10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Howard Greenberg Gallery website

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16
Jan
12

Exhibition: ‘The Three Graces’ at The Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates: 29th October 2011 – 22nd January 2012

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Many thankx to The Art Institute of Chicago 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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Artist unknown
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
8.9 x 14.7 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Peter J. Cohen

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Artist unknown
Look Pleasant
c. 1910s
Gelatin silver print
8.9 x 8.6 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Peter J. Cohen

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Artist unknown
c. 1910s
Gelatin silver print
11.6 x 6.8 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Peter J. Cohen

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“This exhibition explores the early years of vernacular photography through graceful snapshots of female trios. Displaying more than 500 “found” images the exhibition features photographs of celebrations, vacations, and gatherings of family and friends are taken and kept with the aim of preserving moments in life for future generations. What happens, however, when a snapshot becomes an image “type” – transferred into the hands of a collector and folded into a broader cultural history?

This subject is explored in the Art Institute of Chicago’s The Three Graces - on view October 29, 2011, through January 22, 2012, in the museum’s Photography Galleries 3 and 4. The exhibition, featuring a private collection of more than 500 anonymous images depicting female trios, spans nearly a century of female role-playing for the camera. These mostly American “found” photographs, spanning from the 1890s to the 1970s, collectively reveal a great deal about the evolving ritual of women’s self-presentation, a theme already idealized in Classical culture with depictions of “The Three Graces.”

New York collector Peter J. Cohen, who has spent decades scouring flea markets, shops, and galleries in search of rare amateur photographs, amassed this image collection and gave it its title. Cohen was struck by the frequency of images featuring female trios, and had the wit to identify in them a playful echo of the Greek muses Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia, who are said to personify beauty, charm, and grace in both nature and humanity. Cohen owns some 20,000 anonymous snapshots spanning from the late 19th century until the 1970s. He has organized his mountainous holdings according to many classifications, among them “Double Exposures,” “Up on The Roof,” and “Dangerous Women.”

For Art Institute exhibition coordinator Michal Raz-Russo, who also authored the accompanying book, the “three graces” theme serves as a frame through which to chart shifts and continuities in women’s self-understanding across nearly a century. The 1888 introduction of the Kodak #1 camera and the 1900 debut of the Kodak Brownie made photography immensely popular, with much of the marketing was directed at women. Modern life and leisure in the 1920s coincided with the arrival of smaller cameras, faster film speeds, and automatic exposures; women of the expanding middle class became practiced at self-portraiture while vacationing or camping on their own. Later, in the mid-20th century, a clear convergence can be seen between women’s self-portraits and ideals of womanhood promulgated in films and glossy magazines. Throughout this history, men are clearly at work too, convincing women to participate in erotic poses according to another set of visual models. While the varieties of picturing and self-picturing are complex, The Three Graces demonstrates that women worked to define themselves as social beings through photography.

Visitors to the exhibition can find information on individual snapshots – gleaned from inscriptions and the clues provided by clothing and setting – at a special computer kiosk located in the gallery. Visitors are encouraged to add further information and comments there or online at www.artic.edu/ThreeGraces.”

Press release from The Art Institute of Chicago website

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Artist unknown
c. 1920s
Gelatin silver print
13.5 x 8.3 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Peter J. Cohen

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Artist unknown
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
14.5 x 8.7 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Peter J. Cohen

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Artist unknown
c. 1940s
Gelatin silver print
11.7 x 7 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Peter J. Cohen

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Artist unknown
c. 1940s
Gelatin silver print
12.2 x 7.6 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Peter J. Cohen

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The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603-6404
T: (312) 443-3600

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, 10.30 – 5.00
Thursday, 10.30 – 8.00 (Free Admission 5.00 – 8.00, member-only access to Matisse)
Friday, 10.30 – 8.00
Saturday – Sunday, 10.00 – 5.00
The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.

The Art Institute of Chicago website

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27
Dec
11

Exhibition: ‘After the Gold Rush: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 22nd March, 2011 – 2nd January, 2012

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Many thankx to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 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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Hans Haacke (German, born 1936)
Thank You, Paine Webber
1979
Gelatin silver print and chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010
© Hans Haacke

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Since the early 1970s Haacke has taken on the intertwined political and corporate forces that use cultural patronage as a smokescreen to advance interests that are often antithetical to the vitality of free speech and expression in democracies. Haacke made this work just as the strategy of appropriation – lifting an image out of its original context and re-presenting it in critical fashion - began to make waves in the New York art world of the late 1970s. Like all effective appropriation, it exposes a prior instance of borrowing – in this case, how the investment firm Paine Webber used a documentary photograph to give its annual report the veneer of social concern. The artist then pointedly contrasted it with an image from the same annual report of a beaming trio of executives in a painting-lined gallery. As a counterpoint to the protestor’s signboard, Haacke dropped in text from a different Paine Webber ad campaign to show on whose backs the “risk management” is taking place – a biting indictment, the relevance of which has only increased since the recent economic downturn.
Wall text

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Jeff Wall (Canadian, born 1946)
The Storyteller
1986
Silver dye bleach transparency in light box
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Charlene and David Howe, Henry Nias Foundation Inc., Jennifer and Robert Yaffa, Harriet Ames Charitable Trust, and Gary and Sarah Wolkowitz Gifts, 2006
Image courtesy of the artist © Jeff Wall

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Wall’s staged tableaux straddle the worlds of the museum and the street. His subjects are scenes of urban and suburban disarray that he witnessed firsthand – the kinds of things anyone might see while wandering around a city and its outskirts. Working like a movie director, he restages the scene using nonprofessionals as actors and presents his photographs as color transparencies in light boxes such as those of large-scale public advertisements found at airports and bus stops. The scale and ambition of his pictures – scenes of everyday life shot through with larger intimations of political struggle – equally evoke the Salon paintings of nineteenth century French painters such as Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, which were themselves brazen combinations of canonical and contemporary subjects.

The Storyteller is set in a barren, leftover slice of land next to a highway overpass in Vancouver, where the artist lives. Various groupings of modern urban castaways – perhaps descendants of the Native Americans who occupied the land before the arrival of Europeans – are dispersed around the hillside, a mini-catalogue of art-historical reference. Like the upside-down, half-submerged figure of Icarus in the background of Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, the woman speaking and gesticulating to the two men listening at the lower left becomes the key to unifying the fractured and alienating environment from which Wall’s picture is constructed.
Wall text

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Laurie Simmons (American, born 1949)
Walking Gun
1991
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 1998
© Laurie Simmons

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The early 1990s marked the last moment when a wide swath of women artists responded to the sexism they saw as pervasive in the culture – from the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith to the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Clarence Thomas. A pioneer of set-up photography, Simmons dramatically expanded the scale of her constructed tableaux for a series of spotlighted puppet-like objects perched atop doll legs: revolvers, houses, cameras, and cakes. This armed and dangerous example refers to the old-movie cliché where a man carrying a gun is shown in shadow profile. Here, Simmons offers instead the death-dealing seductress – also familiar from film noir - in monumental miniature, a doll capable of turning on its master at a moment’s notice.
Wall text

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Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American, born 1953)
Todd M. Brooks, 22 Years Old, from Denver, Colorado, $40
1991
Chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1991
Image courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York
© Philip-Lorca diCorcia

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“The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present After the Gold Rush: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection from March 22, 2011, through January 2, 2012, in the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography. Drawn entirely from the Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition features 25 photographs dating from 1979 to the present by 15 contemporary artists.

The exhibition’s title, After the Gold Rush, is taken from a classic 1970 song by Neil Young, whose verses contrast a romanticized past with a present of squandered plenty and an uncertain future. Inspired by the recent political and economic upheavals in America and abroad, this selection juxtaposes new photographs that take the long view of the world’s current condition with prescient works from the 1980s and 1990s that remain startlingly relevant today.

This is the first occasion for the Museum to present recently acquired works by: Gretchen Bender, James Casebere, Moyra Davey, Katy Grannan, Hans Haacke, An-My Lê, Curtis Mann, Trevor Paglen, and Wolfgang Tillmans. Also featured are photographs by: Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Robert Gober, Adrian Piper, Laurie Simmons, Jeff Wall, and Christopher Williams.

After the Gold Rush begins with Hans Haacke’s Thank You, Paine Webber (1979) – the first work by this legendary provocateur of Conceptual art to enter the Metropolitan’s collection. Haacke’s biting photo-diptych is so pertinent to the recent economic downturn that it seems as if it could have been made yesterday. In this work, the artist appropriated images from the investment firm’s annual report to convey his viewpoint that big business provides a veneer of social concern to mask the brutal effects of the “risk management” they offer their clients.

Other works in After the Gold Rush use varying degrees of artifice and photographic realism to reflect on marginalized and repressed voices. Measuring over 14 feet long and presented as a backlit transparency in a light box, The Storyteller (1986) is Jeff Wall’s signature image and is typical of his method. Working from memory, the artist uses nonprofessional actors and real locations to meticulously restage a scene of urban blight that he witnessed in his native Vancouver. Wall plays this photographic verisimilitude against compositions and figural poses indebted to French painters such as Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and Georges Seurat. A comparison of Wall’s Storyteller with Courbet’s Young Ladies of the Village (1852), on view in the Museum’s galleries for Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century European Paintings and Sculpture, reveals parallels: in both, a keenly observed moment of telling social interaction taking place on a sloping landscape. Each artist has combined a daringly modern subject with references to earlier art.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia is another key figure in the development of staged photography. In the early 1990s, the artist created a series of works in response to the political attacks on gays and federal funding of the arts in the U.S. DiCorcia hired male hustlers to pose for their portraits out on the streets – and paid them with grant money he received from the National Endowment for the Arts. At the same moment, a wide swath of women artists addressed issues of sexism and racism: examples of this politically pointed art are represented by Laurie Simmons’ Walking Gun (1991) – a spotlighted puppet of doll legs and a revolver that seems capable of turning on its master at a moment’s notice – and Adrian Pipers 1992 work Decide Who You Are #24 (A Moving Target), which includes a childhood image of Anita Hill as part of a blistering meditation in word and image on racial politics. Such works are missives from a time not so long ago when artists regularly commented on present-day politics and culture through their art. (Because of light sensitivity, this work by Adrian Piper will be on view through Sunday, September 26.)

Although the recently made photographs in After the Gold Rush seem at first glance to be less overtly political than their predecessors, they nevertheless address vital issues about contemporary society. James Casebere’s epic vision of America, Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY) #1, (2009), is based on a tabletop model that the artist spent 18 months building. The photograph shows a suburban subdivision of the kind recently ravaged by the foreclosure crisis, and its sunny sense of “Morning in America” comments ironically on the country’s future prospects. An-My Lê’s similarly sweeping five-part photographic piece Suez Canal Transit, USS Dwight Eisenhower, Egypt (2009) will also be featured. Lê is interested in the way in which U.S. armed forces come into contact with the rest of the world. This major new work – which seems at first to be a straightforward panorama of military might overseas – subtly undercuts the viewer’s expectations to question the current position of the U.S. on the global stage.

Trevor Paglen is a young artist whose works plot the “black world” of covert military operations, from telephoto images of predator drones taken from miles away, to software that follows planes used for the extraordinary rendition of suspected terrorists. Paglen’s 2008 photograph KEYHOLE IMPROVED CRYSTAL from Glacier Point (Optical Reconnaissance Satellite; USA 186) shows the ghostly white streak of an American reconnaissance satellite bisecting star trails above Yosemite’s Half Dome, a rock formation photographed in the 1860s by artists including Carleton Watkins. To make these and other photographs, Paglen collaborated with amateur astronomers who were originally trained by the U.S. government to look out for Soviet satellites during the Cold War, but turned their attention to American surveillance in recent years.

The final piece in After the Gold Rush is a suite of five recently acquired photographs from 2007-2009 by the celebrated photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. The grouping shifts focus from macro to micro: from expansive aerial views of Shanghai and Dubai to close ups that suggest the smallest increments of sustenance and regeneration. Taken together, they evoke the interconnectedness of all things and a grounding of the political in the personal as a way for an engaged yet expressive art.”

Press release from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Adrian Piper (American, born 1948)
Decide Who You Are #24: A Moving Target
1992
Photo-mechanical processes on three panels
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Peter Norton Family Foundation, 1994
© Adrian Piper

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Piper is an artist and a philosophy professor who works in a variety of media, including performance, video, sound pieces, photography, drawing, and writing. She often explores issues of autobiography, racism, and stereotyping. For her 1992 series Decide Who You Are, the artist used a triptych format in which a different appropriated photograph is flanked by an image of the “three wise monkeys” maxim advocating “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil” at left, and at right a photograph of a young girl who, though not identified, is Anita Hill – who had recently been thrust into the spotlight for accusing then-nominee for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harrassment. The verse in the left panel changes in each individual work in the series, while that on the right is unchanging – what the artist once described as “a comprehensive, textbook compendium of commonly invoked litanies of denial and intimidation, from the bland to the vaguely menacing” and “a must for novices and aspiring leaders in business, politics, and culture.”
Wall text

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Christopher Williams (American, born 1956)
3 White (DG’s Mr. Postman) Fourth Race, Phoenix Greyhound Park, Phoenix, Arizona, August 22, 1994
1994
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Charina Foundation Inc. and Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gifts, 2003
© Christopher Williams

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Robert Gober (American, born 1954)
Untitled (Detail from “1978 – 2000″)
2000
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gift, 2002
© Robert Gober

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James Casebere (American, born 1953)
Landscape with Houses (Dutchess County, NY) #1
2009
Chromogenic print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2011
© James Casebere

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Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Oriental Pearl
2009
Inkjet print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010
Image courtesy the artist and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
© Wolfgang Tillmans

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
T: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.*
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.*
Sunday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.*
Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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24
Dec
11

Exhibition: ‘Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs’ at the The Denver Art Museum (DAM)

Exhibition dates:  25th September 2011 – 1st January 2012

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Many thankx to The Denver Art 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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Robert Adams
Burning oil sludge, north of Denver, Colorado
1973-1974
Gelatin silver print
Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

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Robert Adams
North of Keota, Colorado
1973 printed 1989
Gelatin silver print
Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

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Robert Adams
Mobile home park, north edge of Denver, Colorado
1973-1974
Gelatin silver print
Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

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“The Denver Art Museum (DAM) is the first U.S. venue for Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs. The exhibition features more than 200 black-and-white photos spanning Adams’s 45-year career, showcasing the artistic legacy of the American photographer and his longstanding engagement with the contemporary Western landscape. Adams lived and worked in Colorado for nearly 30 years. Many of his most acclaimed images were taken in the Rocky Mountain region and will strike a familiar chord with visitors. The exhibition, organized by the Yale University Art Gallery, will be on view September 25, 2011 – January 1, 2012 in the museum’s Gallagher Family Gallery.

“We’re excited to host the work of one of the foremost photographers of our time,” said Eric Paddock, the DAM’s curator of photography. “Robert Adams’s striking yet quiet photos provoke thought about current economic, political and environmental issues Westerners confront every day. We think visitors will see something very familiar in his work.”

Since becoming a photographer in the mid-1960s, Adams has been widely regarded as one of the most significant and influential chroniclers of the American West. Adams’s photographs and writing insist that the realities of everyday landscapes are as beautiful as idealized scenes from nature. They ask questions about the ways people change and interact with nature, and what it means to live simply and quietly in today’s world. This commitment earned Adams prominence in photography’s “New Topographics” movement of the late 20th century and lends authority to his ongoing work. His photographs of Colorado suburban growth and clear cut forests in the Pacific Northwest, for example, express shock at mainstream social and economic values.

“The Denver Art Museum is pleased to be the first U.S. venue for The Place We Live, showcasing our continued commitment to our photography program,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the DAM. “Colorado has a rich photography history and we’re excited to have visitors engage with these artworks that provide a narrative to the American experience and take a fresh look at their surroundings.”

Featuring more than 200 gelatin silver prints, The Place We Live weaves together four decades of Adam’s work into a cohesive, epic narrative of American experience in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Each of the photographer’s major projects is represented, from early pictures of quiet buildings and monuments erected by prior settlers of his native Colorado to his most recent images of forests and migratory birds in the Pacific Northwest.

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Biography

Born in Orange, N.J., in 1937, Robert Adams moved with his family from Madison, Wis., to Denver, Colo., at the age of 15. He earned a doctorate degree from the University of Southern California and, intent on pursuing an academic career, returned to Colorado in 1962 as an assistant professor of English at Colorado College. Disturbed by the rapid transformation of the Colorado Springs and Denver areas, Adams began photographing a landscape transformed by tract housing, highways, strip malls and gas stations. “The pictures record what we purchased, what we paid and what we could not buy,” Adams wrote. “They document a separation from ourselves, and in turn from the natural world that we professed to love.” Since 1997, he has lived and worked in Oregon.”

Press release from The Denver Art Museum

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Robert Adams
Lakewood, Colorado
1968-1971
Gelatin silver print
Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

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Robert Adams
Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado
1969
Gelatin silver print
Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

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Robert Adams
Denver, Colorado
ca. 1970
Gelatin silver print
Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

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Robert Adams
Longmont, Colorado
1973-1974, printed 2007
Gelatin silver print
Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

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Robert Adams
Eden, Colorado
1968
Gelatin silver print
Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

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The Denver Art Museum
Civic Center Cultural Complex
located on 13th Avenue between Broadway and Bannock in downtown Denver

Opening hours:
Monday Closed
Tuesday – Thursday 10 am- 5 pm
Friday 10 am – 8 pm
Saturday – Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

The Denver Art Museum website

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21
Dec
11

melbourne’s magnificent nine 2011

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Here’s my pick of the nine best exhibitions in Melbourne (with excursions to Bendigo and Hobart thrown in) that appeared on the Art Blart blog in 2011. Enjoy!

Marcus

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1/ Sidney Nolan: Drought Photographs at Australian Galleries, Melbourne, March 2011

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Sidney Nolan
Untitled (calf carcass in tree)
1952
archival inkjet print
23.0 cm x 23.0 cm

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This was a superb exhibition of 61 black and white photographs by Sidney Nolan. The photographs were shot using a medium format camera and are printed in square format from the original 1952 negatives.

The work itself was a joy to behold. The photographs hung together like a symphony, rising and falling, with shape emphasising aspects of form. The images flowed from one to another. The formal composition of the mummified carcasses was exemplary, the resurrected animals (a horse, for example, propped up on a fifth leg) and emaciated corpses like contemporary sculpture. The handling of the tenuous aspects of human existence in this uniquely Australian landscape wass also a joy to behold. Through an intimate understanding of how to tension the space between objects within the frame Nolan’s seemingly simple but complex photographs of the landscape are previsualised by the artist in the mind’s eye before he even puts the camera to his face.

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2/ Bill Henson at Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, March – April 2011

This was an exquisite exhibition by one of Australia’s preeminent artists. Like Glenn Gould playing a Bach fugue, Bill Henson is grand master in the performance of narrative, structure, composition, light and atmosphere. The exhibition featured thirteen large colour photographs printed on lustre paper (twelve horizontal and one vertical) – nine figurative of adolescent females, two of crowd scenes in front of Rembrandt paintings in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg (including the stunning photograph that features ‘The return of the prodigal son’ c. 1662 in the background, see below) and two landscapes taken off the coast of Italy. What a journey this exhibition took you on!

Henson’s photographs have been said by many to be haunting but his images are more haunted than haunting. There is an indescribable element to them (be it the pain of personal suffering, the longing for release, the yearning for lost youth or an understanding of the deprecations of age), a mesmeric quality that is not easily forgotten. The photographs form a kind of afterimage that burns into your consciousness long after the exposure to the original image has ceased. Haunted or haunting they are unforgettable.

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Bill Henson
Untitled
2009/10
CL SH767 N17B
Archival inkjet pigment print
127 x 180 cm
Edition of 5

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3/ Networks (cells & silos) at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield, February – April 2011

This was a vibrant and eclectic exhibition at MUMA, one of the best this year in Melbourne. The curator Geraldine Barlow gathered together some impressive, engaging works that were set off to good effect in the new gallery spaces. I spent a long and happy time wandering around the exhibition and came away visually satiated and intellectually stimulated. The exhibition explored “the connections between artistic representation of networks; patterns and structures found in nature; and the rapidly evolving field of network science, communications and human relations.”

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Installation photograph of one of the galleries in the exhibition NETWORKS (cells & silos) at the newly opened Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) with Nick Mangan’s Colony (2005) in the foreground

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4/ Monika Tichacek, To all my relations at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Richmond, May 2011

This was a stupendous exhibition by Monika Tichacek, at Karen Woodbury Gallery. One of the highlights of the year, this was a definite must see!

The work was glorious in it’s detail, a sensual and visual delight (make sure you click on the photographs to see the close up of the work!). The riotous, bacchanalian density of the work was balanced by a lyrical intimacy, the work exploring the life cycle and our relationship to the world in gouache, pencil & watercolour. Tichacek’s vibrant pink birds, small bugs, flowers and leaves have absolutely delicious colours. The layered and overlaid compositions show complete control by the artist: mottled, blotted, bark-like wings of butterflies meld into trees in a delicate metamorphosis; insects are blurred becoming one with the structure of flowers in a controlled effusion of life.

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Monika Tichacek
To all my relations (detail)
2011

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5/ American Dreams: 20th century photography from George Eastman House at Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria, April – July 2011

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Diane Arbus
Untitled (6)
1971

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This was a fabulous survey exhibition of the great artists of 20th century American photography, a rare chance in Australia to see such a large selection of vintage prints from some of the masters of photography. If you had a real interest in the history of photography then you hopefully saw this exhibition, showing as it is just a short hour and a half drive (or train ride) from Melbourne at Bendigo Art Gallery.

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6/ Time Machine: Sue Ford at Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Victoria, April – June 2011

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Sue Ford (1943–2009)
Self-portrait 1976
1976
from the series Self-portrait with camera (1960–2006)
selenium toned gelatin silver print, printed 2011
24 x 18 cm
courtesy Sue Ford Archive

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This beautifully hung exhibition flowed like music, interweaving up and down, the photographs framed in thin, black wood frames. It featured examples of Ford’s black and white fashion and street photography; a selection of work from the famous black and white Time series (being bought for their collection by the Art Gallery of New South Wales); a selection of Photographs of Women - modern prints from the Sue Ford archive that are wonderfully composed photographs with deep blacks that portray strong, independent, vulnerable, joyous women (see last four photographs below); and the most interesting work in the exhibition, the posthumous new series Self-portrait with camera (1960-2006) that evidence, through a 47 part investigation using colour prints from Polaroids, silver gelatin prints printed by the artist, prints made from original negatives and prints from scanned images where there was no negative available, a self-portrait of the artist in the process of ageing.

Whether looking down, looking toward or looking inward these fantastic photographs show a strong, independent women with a vital mind, an élan vital, a critical self-organisation and an understanding of the morphogenesis of things that will engage us for years to come. Essential looking.

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7/ The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart, August 2011

My analogy: you are standing in the half-dark, your chest open, squeezing the beating heart with blood coursing between your fingers while the other hand is up your backside playing with your prostrate gland. I think ringmeister David Walsh would approve. My best friends analogy: a cross between a car park, night club, sex sauna and art gallery.

Weeks later I am still thinking about the wonderful immersive, sensory experience that is MONA. Peter Timms in an insightful article in Meanjin calls it a post-Google Wunderkammer, or wonder chest. It can be seen as a mirabilia – a non-historic installation designed primarily to delight, surprise and in this case shock. The body, sex, death and mortality are hot topics in the cultural arena and Walsh’s collection covers all bases. The collection and its display are variously hedonistic, voyeuristic, narcissistic, fetishistic pieces of theatre subsumed within the body of the spectacular museum architecture …

Spectatorship and their attendant erotics has MONA as a form of fetishistic cinema. It is as if what Barthes calls “the eroticism of place” were a modern equivalent of the eighteenth century genius loci, the “genius of the place.” The place is spectacular, the private collection writ large as public institution, the symbolic power of the institution masked through its edifice. The art become autonomous, cut free from its cultural associations, transnational, globalised, experienced through kinaesthetic means; the viewer meandering through the galleries, the anti-museum, as an international flaneur. Go. Experience!

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Corten Stairwell & Surrounding Artworks
February 2011
Museum of Old and New Art – interior
Photo credit: MONA/Leigh Carmichael
Image Courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

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8/ John Bodin: Rite of Passage at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond, August – September 2011

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John Bodin
I Was Far Away From Home
2009
Type C print on metallic paper
80 x 110cm

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The photographs become the surface of the body, stitched together with lines, markers pointing the way – they are encounters with the things that we see before us but also the things that we carry inside of us. It is the interchange between these two things, how one modulates and informs the other. It is this engagement that holds our attention: the dappled light, ambiguity, unevenness, the winding path that floats and bobs before our eyes looking back at us, as we observe and are observed by the body of these landscapes.

One of the fundamental qualities of the photographs is that they escape our attempts to rationalize them and make them part of our understanding of the world, to quantify our existence in terms of materiality. I have an intimate feeling with regard to these sites of engagement. They are both once familiar and unfamiliar to us; they possess a sense of nowhereness. A sense of groundlessness and groundedness. A collapsing of near and far, looking down, looking along, a collapsing of the constructed world.

Like the road in these photographs there is no self just an infinite time that has no beginning and no end. The time before my birth, the time after my death. We are just in the world, just being somewhere. Life is just a temporary structure on the road from order to disorder. “The road is life,” writes Jack Kerouac in On the Road.

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9/ Juan Davila: The Moral Meaning of Wilderness at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Caulfield, August – October 2011

Simply put, this was one of the best exhibitions I saw in Melbourne this year.

I had a spiritual experience with this work for the paintings promote in the human a state of grace. The non-material, the unconceptualizable, things which are outside all possibility of time and space are made visible. This happens very rarely but when it does you remember, eternally, the time and space of occurrence. I hope you had the same experience.

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Juan Davila
Wilderness
2010
© Juan Davila, Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art

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10/ In camera and in public at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, September – October 2011

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Kohei Yoshiyuki
Untitled
1971
From the series The Park
Gelatin Silver Print
© Kohei Yoshiyuki, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

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Curated by Naomi Cass as part of the Melbourne Festival, this was a brilliant exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne. The exhibition explored, “the fraught relationship between the camera and the subject: where the image is stolen, candid or where the unspoken contract between photographer and subject is broken in some way – sometimes to make art, sometimes to do something malevolent.” It examined the promiscuity of gazes in public/private space specifically looking at surveillance, voyeurism, desire, scopophilia, secret photography and self-reflexivity. It investigated the camera and its moral and physical relationship to the unsuspecting subject.

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11/ The Mad Square: Modernity in German Art 1910 – 37 at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, November 2011 – March 2012

This is one of the best exhibitions this year in Melbourne bar none. Edgy and eclectic the work resonates with the viewer in these days of uncertainty: THIS should have been the Winter Masterpieces exhibition!

The title of the exhibition, The mad square (Der tolle Platz) is taken from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting of the same name where “the ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period.” The exhibition showcases how artists responded to modern life in Germany in the interwar years, years that were full of murder and mayhem, putsch, revolution, rampant inflation, starvation, the Great Depression and the rise of National Socialism. Portrayed is the dystopian, dark side of modernity (where people are the victims of a morally bankrupt society) as opposed to the utopian avant-garde (the prosperous, the wealthy), where new alliances emerge between art and politics, technology and the mass media. Featuring furniture, decorative arts, painting, sculpture, collage and photography in the sections World War 1 and the Revolution, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic, Metropolis, New Objectivity and Power and Degenerate Art, it is the collages and photographs that are the strongest elements of the exhibition, particularly the photographs. What a joy they are to see.

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Albert Renger-Patzsch
Harbour with crane
c.1927
gelatin silver photograph
printed image 22.7 h x 16.8 w cm
Purchased 1983

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14
Dec
11

Review: ‘The mad square: Modernity in German Art 1910 – 37′ at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th November 2011 – 4th March 2012

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This is one of the best exhibitions this year in Melbourne bar none. Edgy and eclectic the work resonates with the viewer in these days of uncertainty: THIS should have been the Winter Masterpieces exhibition!

The title of the exhibition, The mad square (Der tolle Platz) is taken from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting of the same name where “the ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period.” The exhibition showcases how artists responded to modern life in Germany in the interwar years, years that were full of murder and mayhem, putsch, revolution, rampant inflation, starvation, the Great Depression and the rise of National Socialism. Portrayed is the dystopian, dark side of modernity (where people are the victims of a morally bankrupt society) as opposed to the utopian avant-garde (the prosperous, the wealthy), where new alliances emerge between art and politics, technology and the mass media. Featuring furniture, decorative arts, painting, sculpture, collage and photography in the sections World War 1 and the Revolution, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic, Metropolis, New Objectivity and Power and Degenerate Art, it is the collages and photographs that are the strongest elements of the exhibition, particularly the photographs. What a joy they are to see.

There is a small 2″ x 3″ contact print portrait of Hanna Höch by Richard Kauffmann, Penetrate yourself or: I embrace myself (1922) that is an absolute knockout. Höch is portrayed as the ‘new women’ with short bobbed hair and loose modern dress, her self-image emphasised through a double exposure that fragments her face and multiplies her hands, set against a contextless background. The ‘new women’ fragmented and broken apart (still unsure of herself?). The photograph is so small and intense it takes your breath away. Similarly, there is the small, intimate photograph No title (Man on Stage) (c.1927) by Irene Bayer (see below) that captures performance as ‘total art’, a combination of visual arts, dance, music, architecture and costume design. In contrast is a large 16 x 20″ photograph of the Bauhaus balconies (1926) by László Moholy-Nagy (see below) where the whites are so creamy, the perspective so magnificent.

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Irene Bayer
No title (Man on stage)
c.1927
gelatin silver photograph
printed image 10.6 h x 7.6 w cm
Purchased 1983
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

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No title (Metalltanz) (c.1928-29) by T. Lux Feinenger, a photographer that I do not know well, is an exceptional photograph and print. Again small, this time dark and intense, the image features man as dancer performing gymnastics in front of reflective, metal sculptures. The metal becomes an active participant in the Metalltanz or ‘Dance in metal’ because of its reflective qualities. The print, from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is luminous. In fact all the prints from the Getty in this exhibition are of the most outstanding quality, a highlight of the exhibition for me. Another print from the Getty that features metal and performance is Untitled (Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet) by T Grill c.1926 – 27 (see below) where the spiral costume becomes an extension of the body, highlighting its form. Also highlighting form, objectivity and detachment is a wonderful 3 x 5″ photograph of the New Bauhaus Building, Dessau (1926) by Lucia Moholy from the Getty collection, the first I have ever seen in the flesh by this artist. Outstanding.

Following, we have 4 photograms by Lucia’s husband, László Moholy-Nagy which display formalist experimentation “inspired by machine aesthetic, exploring a utopian belief that Constructivism and abstract art could play a role in the process of social reform.” Complimenting these photograms is a row of six, yes six! Moholy-Nagy including Dolls (Puppen) 1926-7 (Getty), The law of the series 1925 (Getty), Lucia at the breakfast table 1926 (Getty), Spring, Berlin 1928 (George Eastman House), Berlin Radio Tower 1928 (Art Institute of Chicago) and Light space modulator 1930 (Getty). All six photographs explore the fascinating relationship between avant-garde art and photography, between they eye and perspective, all the while declaiming what Moholy-Nagy called the “new vision”; angles, shadows and geometric patterns that defy traditional perspective “removing the space from associations with the real world creating a surreal, disjointed image.” This topographic mapping flattens perspective in the case of the Berlin radio tower allowing the viewer to see the world in a new way.

Finally two groups of photographs that are simply magnificent.

First 8 photographs in a row that focus on the order and progressive nature of the modern world, the inherent beauty of technology captured in formalist studies of geometric forms. The prints range from soft pictorialist renditions to sharp clarity. The quality of the prints is amazing. Artists include the wonderful E. O. Hoppé, Albert Renger-Patzsch (an outstandingly beautiful photograph, Harbour with cranes 1927 that is my favourite photograph in the exhibition, see below), Two Towers 1937-38 by Werner Mantz and some early Wolfgang Sievers before he left Germany for Australia in 1938 (Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany 1933, see below). These early Sievers are particularly interesting, especially when we think of his later works produced in Australia. Lucky were many artists who survived in Germany or fled from Nazi persecution at the last moment, including John Heartfield who relocated to Czechoslovakia in 1933 and then fled to London in 1938 and August Sander whose life and work were severely curtailed under the Nazi regime and whose son died in prison in 1944 near the end of his ten year sentence (Wikipedia).

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Albert Renger-Patzsch
Harbour with crane
c.1927
gelatin silver photograph
printed image 22.7 h x 16.8 w cm
Purchased 1983
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

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Wolfgang Sievers
Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany
1933
gelatin silver photograph
27.5 h x 23.0 w cm
Purchased 1988
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

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August Sander. Now there is a name to conjure with. The second magnificent group are 7 photographs that are taken from Sander’s seminal work People of the 20th Century. All the photographs have soft, muted tones of greys with no strong highlights and, usually, contextless backgrounds. The emphasis is on archetypes, views of people who exist on the margins of society – circus performers, bohemians, artists, the unemployed and blind people. In all the photographs there is a certain frontality (not necessarily physical) to the portraits, a self consciousness in the sitter, a wariness of the camera and of life. This self consciousness can be seen in the two photographs that are the strongest in the group - Secretary at West German radio in Cologne, 1931 and Match seller 1927 (see below).

There is magic here. Her face wears a somewhat quizzical air – questioning, unsure, vulnerable – despite the trappings of affluence and fashionability (the smoking of the cigarette, the bobbed hair). He is wary of the camera, his face and hands isolated by Sander while the rest of his body falls into shadow. His right hand is curled under, almost deformed, his shadow falling on the stone at right, the only true brightness in this beautiful image the four boxes of matches he clutches in his left hand: as Sander titles him ironically, The Businessman.

Working as I do these days with lots of found images from the 1940s – 60s that I digitally restore to life, I wonder what happened to these people during the dark days of World War 2. Did they survive the cataclysm, the drop into the abyss? I want to know, I want to reach out to these people to send them good energy. I hope that they did but their wariness in front of the camera, so intimately ‘taken’ by Sander, makes me feel the portent of things to come. How differently we see images armed with the hindsight of history!

In conclusion, this is a fantastic exhibition that will undoubtedly be in my top ten of the year for Melbourne in 2011.

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Many thankx to Michael Thorneycroft for his help and The National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the accredited photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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August Sander
Match seller
1927
from the portfolio People of the 20th century, IV Classes and Professions, 17 The Businessman

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Robert Wiene, Director
German 1873 – 1938
Still from from the Cabinet of Dr Caligari
1919
5 min excerpt, 35mm transferred to DVD, Black and White, silent, German subtitles
Courtesy Transit Film GmbH
Production still courtesy of the British Film Institute and Transit Film GmbH

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Felix H Man
German 1893 – 1985
Luna Park
1929
gelatin silver photograph
18.1 x 24cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased, 1987
© Felix H Man Estate

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Hannah Höch
German 1889 – 1978
Love
1931
from the series Love
photomontage
21.8 x 21.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased, 1983

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Hannah Höch made some of the most interesting Dada collages and photomontages, including Love, an image of two strange composite female. Höch’s technique of pasting images together from magazine clippings and advertisements was a response to the modern era of mass media, and a way of criticising the bourgeois taste for ‘high art’. In many of her works, Höch explores the identity and changing roles of women in modern society.

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“The Mad Square takes its name from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting which depicts Berlin’s famous Pariser Platz as a mad and fantastic place. The ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period. The ‘square’ can also be a modernist construct that saw artists moving away from figurative representations towards increasingly abstract forms.

The exhibition features works by Max Beckman, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, Kurt Schwitters and August Sander. This group represents Germany’s leading generation of interwar artists. Major works by lesser known artists including Karl Hubbuch, Rudolf Schlichter and Hannah Höch are also presented in the exhibition in addition to works by international artists who contributed to German modernism.

The Mad Square brings together a diverse and extensive range of art, created during one of the most important and turbulent periods in European history, offering new insights into the understanding of key German avant‐garde movements including – Expressionism, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism, and New Objectivity were linked by radical experimentation and innovation, made possible by an unprecedented freedom of expression.

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World War 1 and the Revolution

The outbreak of war in 1914 was met with enthusiasm by many German artists and intellectuals who volunteered for service optimistically hoping that it would bring cultural renewal and rapid victory for Germany. The works in this section are by the generation of artists who experienced war first hand. Depictions of fear, anxiety and violence show the devastating effects of war – the disturbing subjects provide insight into tough economic conditions and social dysfunction experienced by many during the tumultuous early years of the Weimar Republic following the abdication of the Kaiser.
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Dada

The philosophical and political despair experienced by poets and artists during World War 1 fuelled the Dada movement, a protest against the bourgeois conception of art. Violent, infantile and chaotic, Dada took its name from the French word for a child’s hobbyhorse or possibly from the sound of a baby’s babble. Its activities included poetry readings and avant‐garde performances, as well as creating new forms of abstract art that subverted all existing conditions in western art. Though short‐lived, in Germany the Dada movement has profoundly influenced subsequent developments in avant-garde art and culture. The impact of the Dada movement was felt throughout Europe – and most powerfully in Germany from 1917 – 21.
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Bauhaus

The Bauhaus (1919‐33) is widely considered as the most important school of art and design of the 20th century, very quickly establishing a reputation as the leading and most progressive centre of the international avant‐garde. German architect Walter Gropius founded the school to do away with traditional distinctions between the fine arts and craft, and to forge an entirely new kind of creative designer skilled in both the conceptual aesthetics of art and the technical skills of handicrafts. The Bauhaus was considered to be both politically and artistically radical from its inception and was closed down by the National Socialists in 1933.
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Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic

Having emerged in Russia after World War I, Constructivism developed in Germany as a set of ideas and practices that experimented with abstract or non-representational forms and in opposition to Expressionism and Dada. Constructivists developed works and theories that fused art and with technology. They shared a utopian belief in social reform, and saw abstract art as playing a central role in this process.
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Metropolis

By the 1920s Berlin has become the cultural and entertainment capital of the world and mass culture played an important role in distracting a society traumatised by World War 1, the sophisticated metropolis provided a rich source of imagery for artists, it also come to represent unprecedented sexual and personal freedom. In photography modernity was emphasised by unusual views of the metropolis or through the representation of city types. The diverse group of works in this section portray the uninhibited sense of freedom and innovation experienced by artists throughout Germany during the 1920s.
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New Objectivity

By the mid 1920s, a new style emerged that came to be known as Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity. After experiencing the atrocities of World War 1 and the harsh conditions of life in postwar Germany, many artists felt the need to return to the traditional modes of representation with portraiture becoming a major vehicle of this expression, with its emphasis on the realistic representation of the human figure.
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Power and Degenerate Art

After the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933 modern artists were forbidden from working and exhibiting in Germany, with their works confiscated from leading museums and then destroyed or sold on the international art market. Many avant‐garde artists were either forced to leave Germany or retreat into a state of ‘inner immigration’.

The Degenerate art exhibition, held in Munich in 1937, represented the culmination of the National Socialists’ assault on modernism. Hundreds of works were selected for the show which aimed to illustrate the mental deficiency and moral decay that had supposedly infiltrated modern German art. The haphazard and derogatory design of the exhibition sought to ridicule and further discredit modern art. Over two million people visited the exhibition while in contrast far fewer attended the Great German art exhibition which sought to promote what the Nazis considered as ‘healthy’ art.

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T Grill
Untitled (Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet)
c.1926 – 27
gelatin silver print
22.5 x 16.2cm
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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August Sander
German 1876 – 1964
Secretary at West German radio in Cologne
1931, printed by August Sander in the 1950s
from the portfolio People of the 20th century, III The woman, 17 The woman in intellectual and practical occupation
gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 22.0cm
Die Photographische Sammlung /SK Stiftung Kultur, August Sander Archiv, Cologne (DGPH1016)
© Die Photographische Sammlung /SK  Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

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Timeline

1910

  • Berlin’s population doubles to two million people

1911

  • Expressionists move from Dresden to Berlin

1912

  • Social Democratic Party (SPD) the largest party in the Reichstag

1913

  • Expressionists attain great success with their city scenes

1914

  • World War I begins
  • George Grosz, Oskar Schlemmer, Otto Dix, Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann and Franz Marc enlist in the army

1915

  • Grosz declared unfit for service, Beckmann suffers a breakdown and Schlemmer wounded

1916

  • Marc dies in combat
  • Dada begins at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich

1917

  • Lenin and Trotsky form the Soviet Republic after the Tzar is overthrown

1918

  • Richard Huelsenbeck writes a Dada manifesto in Berlin
  • Kurt Schwitters creates Merz assemblages in Hanover
  • Revolutionary uprisings in Berlin and Munich
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and flees to Holland
  • Social Democratic Party proclaims the Weimar Republic
  • World War I ends

1919

  • Freikorps assassinates the Spartacist leaders, Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg
  • Bauhaus established in Weimer by Walter Gropius
  • Cologne Dada group formed
  • Treaty of Versailles signed

1920

  • Berlin is the world’s third largest city after New York and London
  • Inflation begins in Germany
  • National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) founded
  • Kapp Putsch fails after right‐wing forces try to gain control over government
  • First International Dada fair opens in Berlin

1921

  • Hitler made chairman of the NSDAP

1922

  • Schlemmer’s Triadic ballet premiers in Stuttgart
  • Hyperinflation continues

1923

  • Hitler sentenced to five years imprisonment for leading the Beer Hall Putsch
  • Inflation decreases and a period of financial stability begins

1924

  • Hitler writes Mein Kampf while in prison
  • Reduction of reparations under the Dawes Plan

1925

  • New Objectivity exhibition opens at the Mannheim Kunsthalle
  • The Bauhaus relocates to Dessau

1926

  • Germany joins the League of Nations

1927

  • Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis released
  • Unemployment crisis worsens
  • Nazis hold their first Nuremburg party rally

1928

  • Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The threepenny opera premieres in Berlin
  • Hannes Meyer becomes the second director of the Bauhaus

1929

  • Street confrontations between the Nazis and communists in Berlin
  • Young Plan accepted, drastically reducing reparations
  • Stock market crashes on Wall Street, New York
  • Thomas Mann awarded the Nobel Prize for literature

1930

  • Resignation of Chancellor Hermann Müller’s cabinet ending parliamentary rule
  • Minority government formed by Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Centre Party
  • Nazis win 18% of the vote and gain 95 seats in the National elections
  • Ludwig Miles van der Rohe becomes the third director of the Bauhaus
  • John Heartfield creates photomontages for the Arbeiter‐Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ)

1931

  • Unemployment reaches five million and a state of emergency is declared in Germany

1932

  • Nazis increase their representation in the Reichstag to 230 seats but are unable to form a majority coalition
  • Miles van der Rohe moves the Bauhaus to Berlin
  • Grosz relocates to New York in as an exile

1933

  • Hindenberg names Hitler as Chancellor
  • Hitler creates a dictatorship under the Nazi regime
  • The first Degenerate art exhibition denouncing modern art is held in Dresden
  • Miles van der Rohe announces the closure of the Bauhaus
  • Nazis organise book burnings in Berlin
  • Many artists including Gropius, Kandinski and Klee flee Germany
  • Beckmann, Dix and Schlemmer lose their teaching positions

1934

  • Fifteen concentration camps exist in Germany

1935

  • The swastika becomes the flag of the Reich

1936

  • Spanish civil war begins
  • Germany violates the Treaty of Versailles
  • Olympic Games held in Garmisch‐Partenkirchen and Berlin
  • Thomas Mann deprived of his citizenship and emigrates to the United States

1937

  • German bombing raids over Guernica in Spain in support of Franco
  • The Nazi’s Degenerate art exhibition opens in Munich and attracts two million visitors
  • Beckmann, Kirchner and Schwitters leave Germany
  • Purging of ‘degenerate art’ from German museums continues 1

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László Moholy-Nagy
Bauhaus Balconies
1926
Silver gelatin photograph

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John Heartfield
German 1891 – 1968
Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and spouts rubbish
1932
from the Workers Illustrated Paper, vol 11, no 29, 17 July 1932, p 675
photolithograph
38.0 x 27.0 cm
John Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste zu Berlin
Photo: Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Kunstsammlung, Heartfield 2261/ Roman März
© The Heartfield Community of Heirs /VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

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John Heartfield’s photomontages expose hidden agendas in German politics and economics of the 1920s and 30s. This image was published six months before the National Socialist Party came to power, and shows Hitler with a spine made of coins and his stomach filled with gold.  The caption says that he ‘swallows gold’, alluding to generous funding by right-wing industrialists, and ‘spouts rubbish’.

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Max Beckmann
German 1884 – 1950
The trapeze
1923
oil on canvas
196.5 x 84.0 cm
Toledo Museum of Art
Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey
Photo: Photography Incorporated, Toledo

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1. Timeline credit: Chronology compiled by Jacqueline Strecker and Victoria Tokarowski from the following sources:

Catherine Heroy ‘Chronology’ in Sabine Rewald, Glitter and Doom: German portraits from the 1920s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, exh cat, 2006, pp. 39‐46.

Anton Kaes, Martin Jay and Edward Dimendberg, eds, ‘Political chronology’, The Weimar Republic sourcebook, Berkely 1994, pp. 765‐71.

Jonathan Petropoulos and Dagmar Lott‐Reschke ‘Chronology’ in Stephanie Barron, ‘Degenerate Art’: the fate of the avant‐garde in Nazi Germany, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, exh cat, 1991, pp. 391‐401.

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NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours
10am – 5pm. Closed Tuesdays.

National Gallery of Victoria website

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30
Nov
11

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: The Sky’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 26th July 26 – 4th December 2011

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Many thankx to Melissa Abraham for her help and to the J. Paul Getty 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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John Divola (American, born 1949)
Untitled
Zuma Series
1977
Chromogenic print
24.8 x 30.4 cm (9 3/4 x 11 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Michael and Jane Wilson
© John Divola

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Col. Henry Stuart Wortley (British, 1832 – 1890)
The Day is Done, and the Darkness Falls from the Wings of Night.,
about 1862
Albumen silver print
29.5 x 35.2 cm (11 5/8 x 13 7/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Dorothea Lange
Full Moon, Southwestern Utah
1953
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 15.3 cm (6 1/8 x 6 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of the John Dixon Collection
© Oakland Museum of California, the City of Oakland

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“The J. Paul Getty Museum presents In Focus: The Sky, a thematically-installed exhibition of permanent collection photographs, on view at the Getty Center from July 26 – December 4, 2011.

“The sky has fascinated and challenged photographers since the invention of the medium,” said Anne Lyden, associate curator, Department of Photographs, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and curator of the exhibition. “This exhibition showcases a wide range of approaches to capturing the many moods and effects of the sky – things we usually take for granted.”

The selection of 22 artworks provides visitors with an opportunity to explore the Getty Museum’s world-renowned photographs collection through the pictorial subject of the sky, with the works loosely organized under four different themes: urban skies, clouds, dark skies, and colorful skies.

The exhibition features photographs by artists such as: Ansel Adams, John Divola, André Kertész, Joel Meyerowitz, Alfred Stieglitz, and Carleton Watkins, among others. The Getty’s collection includes exemplary objects that demonstrate both technological and aesthetic innovations in photography. Among the different processes highlighted are daguerreotypes, albumen silver prints, palladium prints, platinum prints, and more contemporary inkjet prints.

One of the most well-known works in the exhibition is Ansel Adams’ Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, (negative made November 1, 1941; printed December 16, 1948). Traveling by car through New Mexico, Adams was inspired by light from the setting sun illuminating crosses in the graveyard at the side of the road. By carefully considering the composition, visualizing the printed image before creating the photograph, understanding the required exposure needed in response to the available light, and exerting a certain degree of control in the printing process so that detail and shadows were retained, Adams succeeded in capturing the fleeting moment when the sun was setting and the bright moon appeared in the darkening sky.

The summer sky of Cape Cod features in Meyerowitz’s photograph Fence, Truro, negative 1976; printed 1992. Having recently acquired a large view camera, Meyerowitz spent two summers recording the structures and light of the coastal area that ultimately resulted in the 1978 book, Cape Light. Noting the shifting shadows as they played across the picket fence, his use of color aptly describes the very subject of light itself.

Included in the exhibition is a selection from John Divola’s Zuma Beach series. In the fall of 1977, after discovering an abandoned lifeguard headquarters at Zuma Beach, California, Divola began visiting the site mornings and evenings to photograph. Bringing paints, using flash, and depending on the Pacific Ocean and the ever-changing sky for a dramatic backdrop, he created spontaneous scenes in this seaside theater.

Also on view is a small group of three photographs by Alfred Stieglitz. From 1922 to 1934, Stieglitz photographed clouds and created a series of abstract configurations which reflected the fluctuation of his subjective state. By simply titling each piece Equivalent, he invited an open reading of the images and their content.

In Focus: The Sky is the ninth installation of the ongoing In Focus series of exhibitions, thematic presentations of photographs from the Getty’s permanent collection.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894 – 1985)
The Lost Cloud, New York
negative 1937; print 1970s
Gelatin silver print
24.8 x 16.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Estate of André Kertész

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Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864 – 1946)
Songs of the Sky
1924
Gelatin silver print
11.7 x 9.2 cm (4 5/8 x 3 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© J. Paul Getty Trust

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Joel Meyerowitz (American, born 1938)
Fence, Truro
negative 1976; print 1992
Chromogenic print
59.7 x 47.3 cm (23 1/2 x 18 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Nancy and Bruce Berman
© Joel Meyerowitz, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, NY

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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24
Nov
11

Exhibition: ‘W. Eugene Smith – Photographs A retrospective’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 27th August – 27th November 2011

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This man is legend. He created some of the most memorable and moving photographs in the history of the medium. Once seen, for example his seminal photograph Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath (1971), they are never forgotten. Look at the photographs below, really look deeply at them. The compositions are flawless, peerless. Smith’s use of chiaroscuro makes his images sing and flow, like a Bach fugue. In spite of everything, “in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through that day, I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it.”

Through that courage he left us a body of work that will live forever as masterpieces of the art of photography. Applause.

Many thankx to the Martin-Gropius-Bau 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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W. Eugene Smith
Dance of the Flaming Coke
1955
Gelatin silver print
20.6 x 33 cm
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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W. Eugene Smith
Untitled
1955
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 34 cm
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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W. Eugene Smith
Albert Schweitzer, Aspen, Colorado
1949
Gelatin silver print
24.7 x 33.2 cm
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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W. Eugene Smith
Steel Mill Worker, Pittsburgh
1955
Gelatin silver print
15.1 x 21.5 cm
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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W. Eugene Smith
Guardia Civil, Spain
1950
Gelatin silver print
25.1 x 32.1 cm
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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W. Eugene Smith
The Wake
1950
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 33.1 cm
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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“W. Eugene Smith, who was born in 1918 in Wichita, Kansas, and died in 1978 in Tucson, Arizona, first made a name for himself as a politically and socially committed photojournalist in the USA in the 1940s. Many of his photographic reports appeared in Life, the leading picture magazine that had been launched in New York in 1936. Smith saw in photography more than just an illustration to a text and had often asked editors for a greater say in the composition of a photo-essay. His painstakingly researched and emotionally moving features set new standards of photojournalism in the 1940s and 1950s.

Smith had begun to take photographs as a fifteen-year-old, having been inspired by his mother, a keen amateur photographer. In 1936, following the suicide of his father as a result of the Great Crash, Smith initially enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. But he dreamed of becoming a photographer and moved to New York, where he attended the New York Institute of Photography. He embarked on his professional career in 1937 as a photo reporter for Newsweek.

A year later he began to work as a freelance for the Black Star Agency, and his pictures appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Collier’s, Time and Life. With Life he was to have a close association that went on for years.

When the USA found itself at war at the end of 1941 Smith initially took propaganda shots for the magazine Parade to support the American troops. Then, as a correspondent for Flying magazine, he took part in reconnaissance flights, taking photos from the air. In 1944 he was back on the staff of Life – this time as a war correspondent – documenting the battle of Saipan and the American landings on the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In the course of the fighting the style of his photos changed. Instead of being gung ho they tended to focus on the terrible sufferings of the civilian population and were shot in a way that involved the viewer emotionally. On 22 May 1945 Smith himself was seriously injured, forcing him to submit to a series of operations that went on until 1947.

His new lease of life was symbolized by the first photograph he took after his wound. A Walk to Paradise Garden depicts his two youngest children walking towards a sun-bathed clearing. “While I followed my children into the undergrowth and the group of taller trees – how they were delighted at every little discovery! – and observed them, I suddenly realized that at this moment, in spite of everything, in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through that day, I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it.” (1954)

After his recovery he went back to work for Life again. Documentary features showing the dedicated work of ordinary people were particularly popular with readers. In The Country Doctor (1948) he accompanied a young country doctor from the Denver area on his rounds for several weeks. His report Nurse Midwife (1951) on the black midwife Maud Callen was produced against a background of racial discrimination and the brazen activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the Deep South. In developing the prints Smith adjusted the lighting so as to enhance the emotional atmosphere – during a birth, for example – and so arouse sympathy for the selfless efforts of the midwife. His social commitment, however, did not always meet with approval, as in the case of the unpublished report (1950) on the re-election campaign of Clement Attlee, the candidate of the British Labour Party.

Life intended the report to strengthen indirectly the position of the Conservatives by presenting the results of Attlee’s nationalization policies in a critical light. Smith’s coverage, however, aroused sympathy for Attlee’s programme and the candidate himself. Smith had more success with his Spanish Village feature (1951). He wanted to convey an impression of living conditions under a fascist regime. After obtaining the necessary shooting permission, he spent two months studying the Spanish countryside before finally selecting a remote village in the Estremadura as his subject. Not a few of the photographs, with their chiaroscuro and clearly structured composition, are reminiscent of classical paintings and convey by means of this stylistic device a sense of the hardships but also the beauty of life there.

Smith’s feature on the work of Albert Schweitzer in Lambaréné was to be his last for Life whose refusal to give him a say in the selection and layout of pictures had become unacceptable, and he left the periodical after the appearance of his photo essay Albert Schweitzer – Man of Mercy in November 1955.

A career alternative offered itself in the shape of membership of Magnum, the photographers’ agency founded in 1947. Stefan Lorant commissioned Smith to do an extensive feature on the city of Pittsburgh and its iron foundries, which occupied him for the next few years and nearly exhausted his financial and personal resources. Instead of the 100 prints agreed with Lorant, there arose 13,000 shots out of which he wanted to compose an essay which would be entirely in line with his convictions. In 1958 88 photographs were published in Popular Photography’s Annual Guide, although the essay never appeared in its entirety.

In 1957 Smith, who was known for his excessive devotion to his work, had left his family and moved to 821 Sixth Avenue in New York. The house was visited and used for rehearsals by many well-known jazz musicians, and Smith, who was a passionate music lover, photographed and documented this creative milieu over the next few years, while also keeping an audio record on 1,740 tapes, which were only discovered among his posthumous effects in 1998. At the same time he photographed street scenes from his window while also working on the construction of a psychiatric clinic in Haiti.

In 1961 a commission from the Cosmos PR Agency to photograph the company Hitachi Ltd. took Smith to Japan for a year. This was followed in 1963 by a book which contrasted modern Japan with its deeply rooted traditions. A decade later he again turned to the forced modernization of Japan and its grave consequences with a shocking series about the Minamata epidemic which had been triggered by the environmental pollution caused by the chemical concern Chisso, which had discharged mercurial waste into the sea near the town of Minamata. The Committee for the Defence of the Victims hired Smith to document the human and ecological dimensions of the catastrophe, and the photographer, who threw himself heart and soul into the project, moved with his second wife, Aileen Mioko Smith, to Minamata. In the course of his researches he was beaten up by company security guards and severely injured. The pictures he took, which appeared in Life and his book Minamata: A Warning to the World largely contributed to publicizing the scandal.

By the early 1970s Smith’s photographic work was attracting the attention of museums. His photo A Walk to Paradise Garden had already been selected by Edward Steichen as a symbolic climax to the exhibition The Family of Man (1955), but it was not until 1971 that the first retrospective Let Truth Be the Prejudice was held in the Jewish Museum in New York. In 1977 Smith, by this time seriously ill, moved to Tucson, Arizona, to take up a teaching post at the university there in what was to be the last year of his life.”

Text from the Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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W. Eugene Smith
Dr. Ernest Ceriani Following the Loss of a Mother and Child During Childbirth
1948
Gelatin silver print
28 x 20.2 cm
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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W. Eugene Smith
Untitled
1954
33.5 x 23.6 cm
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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W. Eugene Smith
The Spinner
1950
Gelatin silver print
32.4 x 23 cm
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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W. Eugene Smith
Maude – Delivery
1951
32.7 x 25 cm
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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W. Eugene Smith
Untitled
1954
Gelatin silver print
34.6 x 25.2 cm
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: W. Eugene Smith Archive / Gift of the artist
© The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, courtesy Black Star, Inc., New York

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Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘The Songs of Eternity’ 1994

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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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