Archive for the 'American' Category

19
Oct
14

Exhibition: ‘Ray K. Metzker: One and Only: Unique photographs and works on paper’ at the Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

Exhibition dates: 4th September – 25th October 2014

 

Vale Ray K. Metzker. An artist who made difference.

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The one and only Ray K. Metzker has made his last photograph, passing away recently at the age of 83.

RESPECT. That is the word that springs to mind when I think of this artist. I utterly respect this man’s work for its integrity, vision, experimentation and intensity. He was committed to discovering the potential of black and white photography. In images that challenge our perception of what photography is, what photography can do, and what realities it can depict, Metzker produced sublimely beautiful and evocative images that were distinctly his own. They are formidable photographs. You cannot mistake his work for that of any other artist.

His handling of line and light is that of a master. His understanding of angle, camera placement, composition, composites, multiple-exposure, superimposition of negatives, juxtapositions of two images, solarization and other formal elements AS A MEANS TO AN END are all superlative. He does not use these elements because they are gimmicky or fashionable but because they are an inherent part of his vocabulary as an artist. They help him produce avant-garde images that talk about the things he wants to talk about. Nothing is superfluous. Everything is focused, intense and passionate. A passionate engagement with reality.

Metzker’s drawing with light surely comes from an enlightened mind. Magical. Wonderful. And so another light passes…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

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Many thankx to the Laurence Miller Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery.

 

“It is with great sadness that Laurence Miller Gallery announces the death of Ray K. Metzker. Ray passed away early this morning at the age of 83, after a long illness.

Ray K. Metzker had quietly been making extraordinary photographs for the better part of six decades. Today, he is recognized as one of the great masters of American photography, a virtuoso who has pursued his chosen medium passionately for fifty years. Metzker was born in 1931 in Milwaukee and attended the Institute of Design, Chicago – a renowned school that had a few years earlier been dubbed the New Bauhaus – from 1956 to 1959. He was thus an heir to the avant-garde photography that had developed in Europe in the 1920’s. Early in his career, his work was marked by unusual intensity. Composites, multiple-exposure, superimposition of negatives, juxtapositions of two images, solarization and other formal means were part and parcel of his vocabulary. He was committed to discovering the potential of black and white photography during the shooting and the printing, and has shown consummate skill in each stage of the photographic process. Ray Metzker’s unique and continually evolving mastery of light, shadow and line transform the ordinary in the realm of pure visual delight.”

Text from the Laurence Miller Gallery

 

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Untitled, family home outside Milwaukee, 1957 (#1)' 1957

 

Ray K. Metzker
Untitled, family home outside Milwaukee, 1957 (#1)
1957
Multiple exposure gelatin silver print
7 ¾ x 9 5/8”
Stamp Signature on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Untitled, Chicago, February 1959 (#1)' 1959

 

Ray K. Metzker
Untitled, Chicago, February 1959 (#1)
1959
Multiple exposure gelatin silver print,
7 ¾ x 9 5/8”
Stamp Signature on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

Ray K. MetzkeR. 'Untitled multiple print, 69 KC-MX' 1969

 

Ray K. Metzker
Untitled multiple print, 69 KC-MX
1969
Gelatin silver print,
6 ¾ x 8 5/8”
Signed on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Chicago, Multiple exposure' 1958

 

Ray K. Metzker
Chicago, Multiple exposure
1958
Gelatin silver print,
7 3/8 x 7 ½”
Signed and inscribed “Unique” on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Strip Tease #11' c. 1968

 

Ray K. Metzker
Strip Tease #11
c. 1968
Gelatin silver print,
2 ½ x 20 ½”
Stamp signature on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Atlantic City, 1966 (66 FD-2)' 1966

 

Ray K. Metzker
Atlantic City, 1966 (66 FD-2)
1966
Gelatin silver print,
6 x 6”
Signed on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

 

“Esteemed as a photographer, Ray Metzker’s creative practice was nevertheless unbounded by the conventional borders of the medium. Metzker sought out methods that allowed him access to the full potential of photography as an art form. He continually explored the medium’s untapped possibilities; at various times embracing the roll of film as a single picture, using the prints as building blocks for composite works, and even setting aside the camera to explore the expressive potential of the developing process itself.

Nowhere is his spirit of creative curiosity more evident than in the unique, non-editioned works that he crafted at every stage in his career. These one of a kind pieces are the focus of our new exhibition, many of them shown here for the first time.

A broad range of techniques and sensibilities are on display in this group of pictures. Even in some of the earliest pictures, dating from 1957, objects have been dissolved past the point of recognition leaving form and light as the subject. The world that comes back into focus later in the exhibition is often the natural one, as in his photograms from the 1990s where ghosts of leaves are traced onto the paper itself. Towards the end of the show’s chronology there are light-drawn “landscapes” where wind whipped clouds and darkened horizons rise up not out of a camera’s aperture but from light and the darkroom’s chemicals alone. There is an elemental quality to these later works: they seem to be striving to depict an essence more than an image.

Some of the most revealing works included are the pieces that employ only cut and folded paper. Metzker was always a very material photographer, as his darkroom manipulations attest, and in these works it is as if concerns of photographic exposure have fallen away and he is directly arranging light and shade in this most tactile of ways.

It is notable that the spirit of playful invention is unflagging across the six decades of work collected for this exhibition. There is an impassioned curiosity on display that seems continually refreshed by the act of making. It tells us a great deal about his conception of photography that, in a medium known for reproduction, Metzker never stopped making unique, non-reproducible works. An edition of one if you will, like the man himself.

On the occasion of Ray’s 83rd birthday, Laurence Miller Gallery invites you to experience more than three dozen of his one of a kind works, showing us that seeing is a unique act of creation.”

Jacob Cartwright

Text from the Laurence Miller Gallery website

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Untitled light drawing' 1996

 

Ray K. Metzker
Untitled light drawing
1996
Gelatin silver print,
4 x 5”
Signed on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Untitled light drawing' 1996

 

Ray K. Metzker
Untitled light drawing
1996
Gelatin silver print,
10 ¾ x 13 ¼”
Signed on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Untitled light drawing' 2007

 

Ray K. Metzker
Untitled light drawing
2007
Gelatin silver print,
11 x 13 ½”, mounted
Signed and dated on mount recto
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

 

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Untitled light drawing' 1996

 

Ray K. Metzker
Untitled light drawing
1996
Gelatin silver print,
15 x 19 ½”
Signed on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Strip Tease #68' c. 1966

 

Ray K. Metzker
Strip Tease #68
c. 1966
Gelatin silver contact print,
30 ¾ x 1 1/8”
Stamp signature on verso
Copyright the Estate of Ray K. Metzker, Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery

 

 

Laurence Miller Gallery
20 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
T: 212.397.3930

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sat 11 am – 5.30 pm

Laurence Millery Gallery website

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17
Oct
14

Review: ‘Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 8th July – 19th October 2014

Curator: Paul Martineau is associate curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

 

Never the objective camera, always a mixture of spirit and emotion

Minor White and Eugène Atget. Eugène Atget and Minor White. These two photographers were my heroes when I first started studying photography in the early 1990s. They remain so today. Nothing anyone can say can take away from the sheer simple pleasure of really looking at photographs by these two icons of the art form.

I have waited six years to do a posting on the work of Minor White, and this exhibition is the first major retrospective of White’s work since 1989. This posting contains thirty seven images, one of the biggest collections of his photographs available on the web.

What drew me to his work all those years ago? I think it was his clarity of vision that so enthralled me, that showed me what is possible – with previsualisation, clear seeing, feeling and thinking – when exposing a photograph. And that exposing is really an exposing of the Self.

Developing the concept of Steiglitz’s ‘equivalents’ (where a photograph can stand for an/other state of being), White “sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths… Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle. When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph.” (MB) The capturing of these liminal moments in the flux of time and space is such a rare occurrence that one must be patient for the sublime to reveal itself, if only for a fraction of a second.

Although I cannot view this exhibition, I have seen the checklist of all the works in the exhibition. The selection is solid enough covering all the major periods in White’s long career. The book is also solid enough BUT BOTH EXHIBITION AND BOOK ARE NOT WHAT WE REALLY WANT TO SEE!

At first, Minor White photographed for the individual image – and then when he had a body of work together he would form a sequence. He seemed to be able to switch off the sequence idea until he felt “a storm was brewing” and his finished prints could be placed in another context. It was only with the later sequences that he photographed with a sequence in mind (of course there is also the glorious fold-out in The Eye That Shapes that is the Totemic sequence that is more a short session that became a sequence). In his maturity Minor White composed in sequences of images, like music, with the rise and fall of tonality and range, the juxtaposition of one image next to another, the juxtaposition of twenty or more images together to form compound meanings within a body of work. This is what we really need to see and are waiting to see: an exhibition and book titled: THE SEQUENCES OF MINOR WHITE. I hope in my lifetime! **

How can you really judge his work without understanding the very form that he wanted the work to be seen in? We can access individual images and seek to understand and feel them, but in MW their meaning remains contingent upon their relationship to the images that surround them, the ice/fire frisson of that space between images that guides the tensions and relations to each other. Using my knowledge as an artist and musician, I have sequenced the first seven images in this posting just to give you an idea of what a sequence of associations may look like using the photographs of Minor White. I hope he would be happy with my selection. I hope I have made them sing.

Other than a superb range of tones (for example, in Pavilion, New York 1957 between the flowers in shadow and sun – like an elegy to Edward Weston and the nautilus shell/pepper in the tin) the size, contrast, lighter/darker – warmer/cooler elements of MW’s photographs are all superb. These are the first things we look at when we technically critique prints from these simple criteria, and there aren’t many that pass. But these are all well made images by MW. He was never Diogenes with a camera, never the objective camera, he was always involved… and his images were printed with a mixture of spirit and emotion. Now, try and FEEL your response to the first seven images that I have put together. Don’t be too analytical, just try, with clear, peaceful mind and still body, to enter into the space of those images, to let them take you away to a place that we rarely allow ourselves to visit, a place that is is out of our normal realm of existence. It is possible, everything is possible. If photography becomes something else -then it does -then it does.

Finally, I want to address the review of the book by Blake Andrews on the photo-eye blog (October 6, 2014). The opening statement opines: “Is photography in crisis again? Well then, it must be time for another Minor White retrospective.” What a thrown away line. As can be seen from the extract of an interview with MW (published 1977, below), White didn’t care what direction photography took because he could do nothing about it. He just accepted it for what it is and moved with it. He was not distressed at the direction of contemporary photography because it was all grist to the mill. To say that when photography is in crisis (it’s always in crisis!) you wheel out the work of Minor White to bring it back into line is just ridiculous… photography is -what it is, -what it is.

Blake continues, “Minor White was a jack-of-all-styles in the photo world, trying his hand at just about everything at one time or another. The plates in the book give a flavor of his shifting – some might say dilettantish – photo styles.” Obviously he agrees with this assessment otherwise he would not have put it in. I do not. Almost every artist in the world goes on a journey of discovery to find their voice, their metier, and that early experimentation is part of the overall journey, the personal and universal narrative that an artist pictures. Look at the early paintings of Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko in their representational ease, or the early photographs of Aaron Siskind and how they progress from social documentary to abstract expressionism. The same with MW. In this sense every artist is a dilettante. Every photograph is part of his journey as an artist and has value in an of itself.

And I don’t believe that his mature voice was “internalized, messy, and deliberately obtuse,” – it is only so to those that do not understand what he sought to achieve through his images, those who don’t really understand his work.

Blake comments, “Twenty-five years later White’s star is rising again. One could speculate the reasons for the timing, that photography is in crisis, or at least adrift, and in need of a guru. But the truth is photography has been on the therapist’s couch since day one, going through this or that level of doubt or identity crisis. Is it an art? Science? Documentation? Can it be trusted? When Minor White came along none of these questions had been resolved, and they never will. But every quarter century or so it sure feels good to hang your philosopher’s hat on something solid. Or at least someone self-assured.”

Every quarter of a century, hang your philosophers hat on something solid? Or at least someone self-assured? The last thing that you would say about MW was that the was self-assured (his battles with depression, homosexuality, God, and the aftermath of his experiences during the Second World War); and the last thing that you would say about the philosophy and photographs of MW is that they are something solid and immovable.

For me, the man and his images are always moving, always in a constant state of flux, as avant-garde (in the sense of their accessing of the eternal) and as challenging and essential as they ever were. Through his work and writings Minor White – facilitator, enabler – allowed the viewer to become an active participant in an aesthetic experience that alters reality, creating an über reality (if you like), one whose aesthetics promotes an interrogation of both ourselves and the world in which we live.

“There are plays written on the simplest themes which in themselves are not interesting. But they are permeated by the eternal and he who feels this quality in them perceives that they are written for all eternity.”

Constantin Stanislavsky, (1863 – 1938) / My Life in Art.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

** The Minor White Archive at Princeton University Museum of Art has a project called The Minor White Archive proof cards: “The ultimate goal of this project is a stand-alone website dedicated to the Minor White Archive, and the completely scanned proof cards represent significant progress to this end. The website will be an authoritative source for the titles and dates of White’s photographs. All of the scanned proof cards will be available on the website so that users can search the primary source information as well as major published titles. Additionally, the website will include White’s major published sequences, with additional sequences uploaded gradually until the complete set is online. Eventually, the hope is to have subject-term browsing available, adding another access point to the Archive.”

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Many thankx 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.

 

 

“Self-discovery through a camera? I am scared to look for fear of discovering how shallow my Self is! I will persist however … because the camera has its eye on the exterior world. Camera will lead my constant introspection back into the world. So camerawork will save my life.”

“When you try to photograph something for what it is, you have to go out of yourself, out of your way, to understand the object, its facts and essence. When you photograph things for what ‘Else’ they are, the object goes out of its way to understand you.”

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Minor White

 

 

When Paul Martineau, an associate curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, was collecting photographs for a new retrospective of Minor White’s photography, he discovered an album called The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors. Only two copies of the volume were produced, each containing thirty-two images of Tom Murphy, Minor’s student and model. “It’s a visual love letter: he only created two, one given to Tom and one for him,” Martineau told me.

Martineau’s show, Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit, is the first major retrospective of White’s work since 1989. White was born in Minneapolis, in 1908, took photographs for the Works Progress Administration during the nineteen-thirties, and served in the Army during the Second World War. He kept company with Ansel Adams, Alfred Steiglitz, and Edward Steichen, and, in 1952, he helped found the influential photography magazine Aperture. Martineau said that, while the Getty retrospective “comes at a time when life is rife with visual imagery, most of it designed to capture our attention momentarily and communicate a simple message,” White aimed to more durably express “our relationships with one another, with the natural world, with the infinite.” White believed that all of his photographs were self-portraits; as Martineau put it, “he pushed himself to live what he called a life in photography.”

 

 

Minor White. 'Vicinity of Rochester, New York' 1954

 

Minor White 
Vicinity of Rochester, New York
1954
Gelatin silver print
18.4 x 23.2 cm (7 1/4 x 9 1/8 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Stony Brook State Park, New York' 1960

 

Minor White 
Stony Brook State Park, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1960

 

Minor White 
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York' 1957

 

Minor White 
The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 25.1 cm (9 5/8 x 9 7/8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Haags Alley, Rochester, New York' 1960

 

Minor White
Haags Alley, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Tom Murphy, San Francisco, California' 1948

 

Minor White
Tom Murphy, San Francisco, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
12.5 x 10 cm (4 15/16 x 3 15/16 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1958

 

Minor White 
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
26.7 x 29.2 cm (10 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

“Controversial, misunderstood, and sometimes overlooked, Minor White (American 1908-1976) pursued a life in photography with great energy and ultimately extended the expressive possibilities of the medium. A tireless worker, White’s long career as a photographer, teacher, editor, curator, and critic was highly influential and remains central to understanding the history of photographic modernism. Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit, on view July 8 – October 19, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center is the first major retrospective of his work since 1989.

The exhibition includes never-before-seen photographs from the artist’s archive at Princeton University, recent Getty Museum acquisitions, a significant group of loans from the collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, alongside loans from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Portland Art Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also featured is White’s masterly photographic sequence Sound of One Hand (1965).

“Minor White had a profound impact on his many students, colleagues, and the photographers who considered him a true innovator, making this retrospective of his work long overdue” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “The exhibition brings together a number of loans from private and public collections, and offers a rare opportunity to see some of his greatest work alongside unseen photographs from his extensive archive.”

One of White’s goals was to photograph objects not only for what they are but also for what they may suggest, and his pictures teem with symbolic and metaphorical allusions. White was a closeted homosexual, and his sexual desire for men was a source of turmoil and frustration. He confided his feelings in the journal he kept throughout his life and sought comfort in a variety of Western and Eastern religious practices. This search for spiritual transcendence continually influenced his artistic philosophy.

Early Career, 1937-45

In 1937, White relocated from Minneapolis, where he was born and educated, to Portland, Oregon. Determined to become a photographer, he read all the photography books he could get his hands on and joined the Oregon Camera Club to gain access to their darkroom. Within five years, he was offered his first solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum (1942). White’s early work exhibits his nascent spiritual awakening while exploring the natural magnificence of Oregon. His Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley) (1941) uses a split-rail fence and a coil of barbed wire to demonstrate the hard physical labor required to live off the land as well as the redemption of humankind through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

During World War II, White served in Army Intelligence in the South Pacific. Upon discharge, rather than return to Oregon, he spent the winter in New York City. There, he studied art history with Meyer Shapiro at Columbia University, museum work with Beaumont Newhall at the Museum of Modern Art, and creative thought in photography with photographer, gallerist, and critic Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946).

Midcareer, 1946-64

In 1946, famed photographer Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) invited White to teach photography at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) in San Francisco. The following year, White established himself as head of the program and developed new methods for training students. His own work during this period began to shift toward the metaphorical with the creation of images charged with symbolism and a critical aspect known as “equivalence,” meaning an image may serve as an idea or emotional state beyond the subject pictured. In 1952, White co-founded the seminal photography journal Aperture and was its editor until 1975.

In 1953, White accepted a job as an assistant curator at the George Eastman House (GEH) in Rochester, New York, where he organized exhibitions and edited GEH’s magazine Image. Coinciding with his move east was an intensification of his study of Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, and the I Ching. In 1955, he began teaching a class in photojournalism at the Rochester Institute of Technology and shortly after began to accept one or two live-in students to work on a variety of projects that were alternately practical and spiritually enriching. During the late 1950s and continuing until the mid-1960s, White traveled the United States during the summers, making his own photographs and organizing photographic workshops in various cities across the country.

By the late 1950s, at the height of his career, White pushed himself to do the impossible – to make the invisible world of the spirit visible through photography. White’s masterpiece – and the summation of his persistent search for a way to communicate ecstasy – is the sequence Sound of One Hand, so named after the Zen koan which asks “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

“White’s sequences are meant to be viewed from left to right, preferably in a state of relaxation and heightened awareness,” says Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “White called on the viewer to be an active participant in experiencing the varied moods and associations that come from moving from one photograph to the next.”

Late Career, 1965-76

In 1965, White was appointed professor of creative photography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he developed an ambitious program in photographic education. As he aged, he became increasingly concerned with his legacy, and began working on his first monograph, Mirrors Messages Manifestations, which was published by Aperture in 1969. The following year, White was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and he was the subject of a major traveling retrospective organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1971.

Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing until the early 1970s, White organized a series of groundbreaking thematic exhibitions at MIT – the first of which served as a springboard for forming the university’s photographs collection. In 1976, White died of heart failure and bequeathed his home to the Aperture Foundation and his photographic archive of more than fifteen thousand objects to Princeton University. The exhibition also includes work by two of White’s students, each celebrated photographers in their own right, Paul Caponigro (American, born 1932) and Carl Chiarenza (American, born 1935).

“An important aspect of Minor White’s legacy was his influence on the next generation of photographers,” says Martineau. “Over the course of a career that lasted nearly four decades, he managed to maintain personal and professional connections with hundreds of young photographers – an impressive feat for a man dedicated to the continued exploration of photography’s possibilities.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Minor White. 'Navarro River, California' 1947

 

Minor White 
Navarro River, California
1947
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 45.7 cm (14 x 18 in.)
Lent by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Nude Foot, San Francisco, California' Negative, 1947; print, 1975

 

Minor White 
Nude Foot, San Francisco, California
Negative, 1947; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5 cm (9 x 12 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Pavilion, New York' 1957

 

Minor White 
Pavilion, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
22.5 x 29.5 cm (8 7/8 x 11 5/8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley)' 1941

 

Minor White
Cabbage Hill, Oregon (Grande Ronde Valley)
1941
Gelatin silver print
18 x 22.9 cm (7 1/16 x 9 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Self-Portrait, West Bloomfield, New York' 1957

 

Minor White
Self-Portrait, West Bloomfield, New York
1957
Gelatin silver print
17.8 x 20.6 cm (7 x 8 1/8 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Interview with Minor White

Q. How would you like to see photography develop?

A. It makes absolutely no difference what I want it to do. It’s going to do what it’s going to do. All I can do is stand back and observe it.

Q. What don’t you want it to do?

A. That doesn’t make any difference either, It’ll do that whether I want it to or not!

Q. Surely , you’ve got to have some feelings?

A. In one sense I don’t care what photography does at all. I can just watch it do it. I can control my photography, I can do what I want with it  – a little. If I can get into  contact  with something much wiser than myself , and it says get out of photography , maybe I would. I hesitate to say this because I know its going to be misunderstood. I’ll put I this way  – I’m trying to be in contact with my Creator when I photograph. I know perfectly well its not possible to do this all the time, but there can be moments.

Q. Do you see anything in contemporary photography that distresses you?

A. What ever they do is fine.

Q. Is there any work that you are particularly interested in?

A. What ever my students are doing.

Q. There seems to be a passing on of certain sets of ideas and understandings. Do you feel yourself to be an inheritor of a set of ideas or ideals?

A. Naturally. After all I have two parents, so I inherited some thing.  I’ve had many spiritual fathers for example. The photographers who I have been influenced by for example. There have been many other external influences. Students have had an influence. In a sense that’s an inheritance. After a while we work with material that comes to us and it becomes ours, we digest it. It becomes energy and food for us, its ours . And then I can pass it on to somebody else with a sense of responsibility and validity. I am quoting it in my words, it has become mine and that person will take it from me – just as I have taken it from people who have influenced me. Take what you can use, digest it, make it yours, and then  transmit it to your children or your students.

Q. It’s a cycle?

A. No, it’s a continuous line. Not a cycle at all.

.
Interview by Paul Hill and Thomas Cooper of Minor White, published in 3 parts in the January, February and March editions of Camera 1977.

 

Minor White. 'Point Lobos, California' 1948

 

Minor White 
Point Lobos, California
1948
Gelatin silver print
16.8 x 19.5 cm (6 5/8 x 7 11/16 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'San Francisco, California' 1949

 

Minor White
San Francisco, California
1949
Gelatin silver print
18.5 x 18.7 cm (7 5/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Vicinity of Dansville, New York' Negative, 1955; print, 1975

 

Minor White 
Vicinity of Dansville, New York
Negative, 1955; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5 cm (9 x 12 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White Images in the bound sequence 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors'

 

(top)
Minor White
Images 9 and 10 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
Gelatin silver prints
9.3 x 11.8 cm; 11.2 x 9.1 cm
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

(bottom)
Minor White
Images 27 and 28 in the bound sequence The Temptation of Saint Anthony Is Mirrors
1948
Gelatin silver prints
5.3 x 11.6 cm; 10.6 x 8.9 cm
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Rochester, New York' 1963

 

Minor White 
Rochester, New York
1963
Gelatin silver print
9.2 x 7.3 cm (3 5/8 x 2 7/8 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit book

Controversial, eccentric, and sometimes overlooked, Minor White (1908-1976) is one of the great photographers of the twentieth century, whose ideas and philosophies about the medium of photography have exerted a powerful influence on a generation of practitioners and still resonate today. Born and raised in Minneapolis, his photographic career began in 1938 in Portland, Oregon with assignments as a “creative photographer” for the Oregon Art Project, an outgrowth of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

After serving in World War II as a military intelligence officer, White studied art history at Columbia University in New York. It was during this period that White’s focus started to shift toward the metaphorical. He began to create images charged with symbolism and a critical aspect called “equivalency,” which referred to the invisible spiritual energy present in a photograph made visible to the viewer and was inspired by the work of Alfred Stieglitz. White’s belief in the spiritual and metaphysical qualities in photography, and in the camera as a tool for self-discovery, was crucial to his oeuvre.

Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit (Getty Publications, 2014) gathers together for the first time a diverse selection of more than 160 images made by Minor White over five decades, including some never published before. Accompanying the photographs is an in-depth critical essay by Paul Martineau entitled “‘My Heart Laid Bare': Photography, Transformation, and Transcendence,” which includes particularly insightful quotations from his journals, which he kept for more than forty years.

The result is an engaging narrative that weaves through the main threads of White’s work and life – his growth and tireless experimentation as an artist; his intense mentorship of his students; his relationships with Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, and Ansel Adams, who had a profound influence on his work; and his labor of love as cofounder and editor of Aperture magazine from 1952 until 1976. The book also addresses White’s life-long spiritual search and ongoing struggle with his own sexuality and self-doubt, in response to which he sought comfort in a variety of religious practices that influenced his continually metamorphosing artistic philosophy.

Published here in its entirety for the first time is White’s stunning series The Temptation of Anthony Is Mirrors, consisting of 32 photographs of White’s student and model Tom Murphy made in 1947 and 1948 in San Francisco. White’s photographs of Murphy’s hands and feet are interspersed within a larger group of portraits and nude figure studies. White kept the series secret for years as at the time he made the photographs it was illegal to publish or show images with male frontal nudity. Anyone making such images would be assumed to be homosexual and outed at a time when this invariably meant losing gainful employment.

Other works shown in this rich collection are White’s early images of the city of Portland that depict his experimentations with different styles and nascent spiritual awakening; his photographs of the urban streets of San Francisco where he lived for a time; his elegant images of rocks, sandy beaches and tidal pools in Point Lobos State Park in Northern California that are an homage to Edward Weston; and the series The Sound of One Hand made in the vicinity of Rochester, New York where he also taught classes at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and curated shows at the George Eastman House (GEH). Paul Martineau describes this iconic series as “White’s chef d’oeuvre, the work that is the summation of his persistent search or a way to communicate ecstasy.” Among the eleven images in the Getty collection are Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, and Pavilion, New York.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Minor White. '"Something Died Here," San Francisco, California' 1947

 

Minor White 
“Something Died Here,” San Francisco, California
1947
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 17.5 cm (9 x 6 7/8 in.)
The Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Minor White
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Dodd Building, Portland, Oregon' c. 1939

 

Minor White 
Dodd Building, Portland, Oregon
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 26.7 cm (13 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)
Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration

 

Minor White. 'San Mateo County, California / Leonard Nelson, Vicinity of Stinson Beach, Marin County, California, November 1947' 1947

 

Minor White 
San Mateo County, California / Leonard Nelson, Vicinity of Stinson Beach, Marin County, California, November 1947
1947
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 50.8 cm (12 x 20 in.)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ralph M. Parsons Fund
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Lily Pads and Pike, Portland, Oregon' c. 1939

 

Minor White 
Lily Pads and Pike, Portland, Oregon
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
34 x 26.8 cm (13 3/8 x 10 9/16 in.)
Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services

 

Minor White. 'Design (Cable and Chain), Portland, Oregon' c. 1940

 

Minor White 
Design (Cable and Chain), Portland, Oregon
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 25.8 cm (13 5/16 x 10 3/16 in.)
Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration

 

Minor White. 'Peeled Paint, Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White 
Peeled Paint, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
31.1 x 22.9 cm (12 1/4 x 9 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Empty Head, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1962

 

Minor White
Empty Head, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1962
Gelatin silver print
30 x 23 cm (11 13/16 x 9 1/16 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Burned Mirror, Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White 
Burned Mirror, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 22 cm (12 x 8 11/16 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Essence of Boat, Lanesville, Massachusetts' 1967

 

Minor White 
Essence of Boat, Lanesville, Massachusetts
1967
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 23.8 cm (12 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Ivy, Portland, Oregon' Negative,1964; print, 1975

 

Minor White 
Ivy, Portland, Oregon
Negative,1964; print, 1975
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 30.5 cm (9 x 12 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1960

 

Minor White 
72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1960
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 24.1 cm (12 x 9 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Moencopi Strata, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah' 1962

 

Minor White 
Moencopi Strata, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
1962
Gelatin silver print
32.7 x 24.1 cm (12 7/8 x 9 1/2 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York' 1958

 

Minor White 
Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 25.1 cm (9 5/8 x 9 7/8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Notom, Utah' 1963

 

Minor White 
Notom, Utah
1963
Gelatin silver print
39.4 x 31.1 cm (15 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Gloucester, Massachusetts' 1973

 

Minor White
Gloucester, Massachusetts
1973
Gelatin silver print
21.6 x 29.2 cm (8 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.)
Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Batavia, New York' 1958

 

Minor White
Batavia, New York
1958
Gelatin silver print
34 x 20.3 cm (13 3/8 x 8 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. 'Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York' 1959

 

Minor White 
Night Icicle, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, New York
1959
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 23 cm (12 x 9 1/16 in.)
Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

Minor White. '203 Park Ave., Arlington, Massachusetts' 1966

 

Minor White
203 Park Ave., Arlington, Massachusetts
1966
Gelatin silver print
34.3 x 12.7 cm (13 1/2 x 5 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

gm_34199701-WEB

 

Minor White 
Easter Sunday, Stony Brook State Park, New York
1963
Gelatin silver print
23.7 x 9.2 cm (9 5/16 x 3 5/8 in.)
Promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum
© Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

Minor White. 'Mission District, San Francisco, California' 1949

 

Minor White 
Mission District, San Francisco, California
1949
Gelatin silver print
33.8 x 9.5 cm (13 5/16 x 3 3/4 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University

 

 

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

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

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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09
Oct
14

Exhibition: ‘Sharp, Clear Pictures: Edward Steichen’s World War 1 and Condé Nast Years’ at The Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 13th October 2014

 

Brave man, hanging over the side of a rickety biplane at 15,000 feet taking aerial photographs during World War One but just look at the images he brought back, especially the hellish Untitled (Vaux) (1918-19, below). I’m still not that convinced by his portraiture. The technical proficiency is magnificent (lighting, set, costume) but they are just too styled for me – the cat in the top left corner of Noel Coward (1932, below), the bowler hat of Charles Chaplin (1931, below) and the double shadow of Fred Astaire in Funny Face (1927, below) coupled with bands of light/dark and tons of “atmosphere” (certainly not sharp and clear!) which echo the mannerisms of Pictorialism. I see little modernist aesthetics and advertising tactics in these photographs. They are beautiful but they leave me unengaged. I much prefer the advertising photography in the next posting, much more angular and modern. You will have to wait and see what it is!

Marcus

.
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.

 

“At the start of World War I in 1914, Edward Steichen was a pioneering champion of art photography – catapulting to fame as a leading member of the Photo Secessionists and as cofounder of the trailblazing magazine Camera Work. Yet by the early 1920s, Steichen had rejected the soft focus, dreamy landscapes and portraits of his early years in favor of realist photographs made for informational purposes or popular consumption. This turning point was first marked by his role in World War I as chief of the Photographic Section of the American Expeditionary Forces from 1917 to 1919; and was fully realized in his subsequent work as lead photographer at Condé Nast publications from 1923 to 1937.

While on military duty, Steichen helped adapt aerial photography for intelligence purposes, implementing surveillance programs that had a lasting impact on modern warfare. He later reflected: “The wartime problem of making sharp, clear pictures from a vibrating, speeding airplane ten to twenty thousand feet in the air had brought me a new kind of technical interest in photography… Now I wanted to know all that could be expected from photography.” Steichen began to value photography’s capacity to transmit and encode information, and he soon proved his savvy as a collaborator and producer rather than a solitary auteur – new skills that enabled his subsequent groundbreaking career in magazines. Upon his return to New York in 1923, Steichen joined Condé Nast publications, creating iconic fashion photographs and celebrity portraits for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Over a period of nearly 15 years he created images that redefined the field through their clever use of modernist aesthetics and advertising tactics, becoming an influential impresario who promoted photography as a mass-media tool.

Focusing on rarely seen Steichen photographs drawn from the Art Institute’s collection, this exhibition includes a unique album of over 80 World War I aerial photographs assembled and annotated by Steichen himself as well as a group of iconic glamour portraits and fashion photographs done for Condé Nast, featuring notable figures such as Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, and Gloria Swanson.”

Text from The Art Institute of Chicago website

 

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A. 'Bomb Dropped From Airplane' 1918

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A.
Bomb Dropped From Airplane
1918
Gelatin silver print, from loose-leaf album of aerial photographs from the Photographic Section, Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, World War I
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of William Kistler
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A. 'In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces' September 7, 1918

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A.
In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces
September 7, 1918
Gelatin silver print, from loose-leaf album of aerial photographs from the Photographic Section, Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, World War I
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of William Kistler
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A. 'In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces' (detail) September 7, 1918

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A.
In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces (detail)
September 7, 1918
Gelatin silver print, from loose-leaf album of aerial photographs from the Photographic Section, Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, World War I
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of William Kistler
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A. 'Concrete landing platform for airplanes at Puxieux (each strip about 50 ft. wide by 250 ft long), crescent shape mass was formed by the pile of broken concrete when the platform was removed, altitude 15,000 ft.,' August 23, 1918

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A.
Concrete landing platform for airplanes at Puxieux (each strip about 50 ft. wide by 250 ft long), crescent shape mass was formed by the pile of broken concrete when the platform was removed, altitude 15,000 ft.,
August 23, 1918
Gelatin silver print, from loose-leaf album of aerial photographs from the Photographic Section, Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, World War I
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of William Kistler
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A. 'Concrete landing platform for airplanes at Puxieux (each strip about 50 ft. wide by 250 ft long), crescent shape mass was formed by the pile of broken concrete when the platform was removed, altitude 15,000 ft.,' (detail) August 23, 1918

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A.
Concrete landing platform for airplanes at Puxieux (each strip about 50 ft. wide by 250 ft long), crescent shape mass was formed by the pile of broken concrete when the platform was removed, altitude 15,000 ft., (detail)
August 23, 1918
Gelatin silver print, from loose-leaf album of aerial photographs from the Photographic Section, Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, World War I
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of William Kistler
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A. 'Untitled (Vaux)' 1918/19

 

Photographic Section, U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and Major Edward J. Steichen, A.S.A.
Untitled (Vaux)
1918-19
Gelatin silver print, from loose-leaf album of aerial photographs from the Photographic Section, Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, World War I
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of William Kistler
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Steichen. 'Mary Duncan in "Lilly,"' 1931

 

Edward Steichen
Mary Duncan in “Lilly”
1931
The Art Institute of Chicago, bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

“Throughout his extensive career, famed photographer Edward Steichen (1879-1973) championed photography’s multiple roles – from his earliest efforts to promote American photography as an equal among the modern fine arts, to his groundbreaking work for the magazine industry. A new exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, Sharp, Clear Pictures: Edward Steichen’s World War I and Condé Nast Years, on view from June 28 – September 28, 2014, in Galleries 1-4, examines a crucial period in Steichen’s career, when he rejected the painterly Pictorialist aesthetic of his early years in favor of a straight, information-based approach. This turning point was first signaled by Steichen’s role in World War I, as chief of the Photographic Section of the American Expeditionary Forces from 1917 to 1919, and was fully realized in his work as lead photographer at Condé Nast Publications from 1923 to 1937.

Focusing on rarely seen Steichen photographs drawn from the Art Institute’s collection, this exhibition includes a unique album of over 80 World War I aerial photographs assembled and annotated by Steichen himself as well as a group of iconic glamour portraits and fashion photographs done for Condé Nast, featuring such early Hollywood royalty as Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson, as well as key historical figures like Winston Churchill.

Prior to WWI, Edward Steichen was a pioneering champion of art photography – he had a leading reputation in the Photo Secession movement in New York, and, along with his mentor Alfred  Stieglitz, had cofounded its trail-blazing fine-art journal Camera Work. Together, they opened the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, later 291, which first presented Picasso, Bråncusi, and a range of progressive photographers to the American public. In 1906, seeking a change, Steichen moved to Voulangis, France, with his family, where he immersed himself in European modern art. They remained there until the outbreak of the war in 1914, when, under the threat of advancing German troops, they fled home to the United States.

In July 1917, Steichen entered active duty with the goal of becoming “a photographic reporter, as Mathew Brady had been in the Civil War,” but he quickly abandoned this romantic notion to help implement the newest weapon of war – aerial photography. While on military duty, Steichen helped adapt aerial photography for intelligence purposes, implementing surveillance programs that had a lasting impact on modern warfare. He later reflected: “The wartime problem of making sharp, clear pictures from a vibrating, speeding airplane ten to twenty thousand feet in the air had brought me a new kind of technical interest in photography… Now I wanted to know all that could be expected from photography.” Steichen began to value photography’s capacity to transmit and encode information, and he soon proved his savvy as a collaborator and producer rather than a solitary auteur – new skills that enabled his subsequent groundbreaking career in magazines.

Following his military discharge in 1919, Steichen returned to Voulangis, where for a period of three years he created work that embraced clear focus, close cropping, and other techniques of modernist photography. Upon his return to New York in 1923, Steichen joined Condé Nast Publications, creating iconic fashion photographs and celebrity portraits for Vogue and Vanity Fair. In undertaking this challenging endeavor, the organizational and technical skills Steichen gained during his time in the military and in Voulangis proved invaluable.

Steichen championed the cultural and economic potential of celebrity, fashion, and advertising photography, creating images that became the foundation for contemporary magazine photography. Over a period of nearly 15 years he created images that redefined the field through their clever use of modernist aesthetics and advertising tactics, becoming an influential impresario who promoted photography as a mass-media tool.”

Press release from The Art Institute of Chicago website

 

Edward Steichen. 'Self-Portrait with Brush and Palette' 1902

 

Edward Steichen
Self-Portrait with Brush and Palette
1902
The Art Institute of Chicago, Alfred Stieglitz Collection
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Steichen. 'Mary Pickford' 1924

 

Edward Steichen
Mary Pickford
1924
The Art Institute of Chicago, Bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Steichen. 'Fred Astaire in Funny Face' 1927

 

Edward Steichen
Fred Astaire in Funny Face
1927
The Art Institute of Chicago, Bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Steichen. 'Noel Coward' 1932

 

Edward Steichen
Noel Coward
1932
The Art Institute of Chicago, bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Steichen. 'Charles Chaplin' 1931

 

Edward Steichen
Charles Chaplin
1931
The Art Institute of Chicago, Bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Steichen. 'Lily Pons' 1932

 

Edward Steichen
Lily Pons
1932
The Art Institute of Chicago, bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Steichen. 'Winston Churchill' 1932

 

Edward Steichen
Winston Churchill
1932
The Art Institute of Chicago, Bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Steichen. 'Greta Garbo and John Gilbert' 1928

 

Edward Steichen
Greta Garbo and John Gilbert
1928
The Art Institute of Chicago, bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House
© 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

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
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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03
Oct
14

Exhibition: ‘A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York Part 2

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 2nd November 2014

The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor

Curators: Organized by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator, with Lucy Gallun, Assistant Curator, Department of Photography

 

Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish four of the photographs in the posting. The rest of the images were sourced from the Internet in order to give the reader a more comprehensive understanding of what this exhibition is actually about – especially if you are thousands of miles away and have no hope of ever seeing it!

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The exhibition is divided into 6 themes each with its own gallery space:

1. Surveying the Studio

2. The Studio as Stage

3. The Studio as Set

4. A Neutral Space

5. Virtual Spaces

6. The Studio, from Laboratory to Playground

 

 

A Neutral Space

Harry Callahan (American, 1912–1999) 'Eleanor' 1948

 

Harry Callahan (American, 1912–1999)
Eleanor
1948
Gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 3 1/4″ (11.4 x 8.3 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cala Leaves' 1932

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cala Leaves
1932
Gelatin silver print
9 9/16 x 7 9/16″ (24.3 x 19.2 cm)
Gift of Paul F. Walter

 

Richard Avedon (American, 1923-2004) 'Carl Hoefert, unemployed blackjack dealer, Reno, Nevada', from the series 'In the American West' August 30, 1983

 

Richard Avedon (American, 1923-2004)
Carl Hoefert, unemployed blackjack dealer, Reno, Nevada, from the series In the American West
August 30, 1983
Gelatin silver print, printed 1985
47 1/2 x 37 1/2″ (120.6 x 95.2 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'David Wojnarowicz' 1981

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Wojnarowicz
1981
Gelatin silver print
14 x 14″ (35.6 x 35.6 cm)
The Fellows of Photography Fund

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Pascal (Paris)' 1980

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Pascal (Paris)
1980
Gelatin silver print
14 5/8 x 14 11/16″ (37.1 x 37.3 cm)
Gift of David Wojnarowicz

 

Valérie Belin (French, born 1964) 'Untitled' from the series 'Mannequins' 2003

 

Valérie Belin (French, born 1964)
Untitled from the series Mannequins
2003
Gelatin silver print
61 x 49″ (154.9 x 124.5 cm)
Purchase

 

Laurie Simmons (American, born 1949) Allan McCollum (American, born 1944) 'Untitled' from the series 'Actual Photos' 1985

 

Laurie Simmons (American, born 1949)
Allan McCollum (American, born 1944)
Untitled from the series Actual Photos
1985
Silver dye bleach print
9 5/16 x 6 5/16″ (23.7 x 16.1 cm)
Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Fund

 

Josephine Meckseper (German, born 1964) 'Blow-Up (Michelli, Knee-Highs)' 2006

 

Josephine Meckseper (German, born 1964)
Blow-Up (Michelli, Knee-Highs)
2006
Chromogenic color print
78 5/8 x 62 5/8″ (199.7 x 159.1 cm)
Fund for the Twenty-First Century

 

Virtual Spaces

Christian Marclay (American and Swiss, born 1955) 'Allover (Genesis, Travis Tritt, and Others)' 2008

 

Christian Marclay (American and Swiss, born 1955)
Allover (Genesis, Travis Tritt, and Others)
2008
Cyanotype
Composition and sheet: 51 1/2 x 97 3/4″ (130.8 x 248.3 cm)
Publisher and printer: Graphicstudio, University of South Florida, Tampa
Acquired through the generosity of Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen

 

Thomas Ruff (German, born 1958) 'phg.06' 2012

 

Thomas Ruff (German, born 1958)
phg.06
2012
Chromogenic color print
100 3/8 x 72 13/16″ (255 x 185 cm)
Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/ London

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Rayograph' 1923

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Rayograph
1923
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 x 7″ (23.9 x 17.8 cm)
Purchase

 

György Kepes (American, born Hungary. 1906-2001) 'Abstraction - Surface Tension #2' c. 1940

 

György Kepes (American, born Hungary. 1906-2001)
Abstraction – Surface Tension #2
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
14 x 11 1/8″ (35.6 x 28.3 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

The Studio, from Laboratory to Playground

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Pure Energy and Neurotic Man' 1941

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Pure Energy and Neurotic Man
1941
Gelatin silver print, printed 1971
19 1/8 x 15 1/2″ (48.6 x 39.3 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Cadenza' 1940

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Cadenza
1940
Gelatin silver print, printed 1971
17 7/8 x 15″ (45.4 x 38.2 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Focusing Water Waves, Massachusetts Institute of Technology' 1958-61

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Focusing Water Waves, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1958-61
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 x 7 15/16″ (16.7 x 20.1 cm)
Gift of Ronald A. Kurtz

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Wave Pattern with Glass Plate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology' 1958-61

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Wave Pattern with Glass Plate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1958-61
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 x 7 9/16″ (16.7 x 19.2 cm)
Gift of Ronald A. Kurtz

 

Heinz Hajek-Halke (German, 1898-1983) 'Embrace (Umarmung)' 1947-51

 

Heinz Hajek-Halke (German, 1898-1983)
Embrace (Umarmung)
1947-51
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 x 11 3/8″ (39.7 x 29.0 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) 'Lead Falling in a Shot Tower' 1936

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990)
Lead Falling in a Shot Tower
1936
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 x 9 1/2″ (19.3 x 24.2 cm)
Gift of Gus and Arlette Kayafas

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) 'Bouncing Ball Bearing' 1962

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990)
Bouncing Ball Bearing
1962
Gelatin silver print
9 9/16 x 7 11/16″ (24.3 x 19.5 cm)
Gift of Gus and Arlette Kayafas

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) 'This is Coffee' 1933

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990)
This is Coffee
1933
Gelatin silver print
9 7/8 x 12 7/8″ (25.1 x 32.7 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Sand Curtain (Sandvorhang)' 1983

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Sand Curtain (Sandvorhang)
1983
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Sand Stairs (Sandtreppe)' 1975

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Sand Stairs (Sandtreppe)
1975
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Rubber Motor (Gummimotor)' 1983

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Rubber Motor (Gummimotor)
1983
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Sand Cone (Sandkegel)' 1984

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Sand Cone (Sandkegel)
1984
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Sand Pillar (Sandturm)' 1987

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Sand Pillar (Sandturm)
1987
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Sand (Sand)' 1988

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Sand (Sand)
1988
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Umbrella (Schirm)' 1989

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Umbrella (Schirm)
1989
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Barrel (Fass)' 1985

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Barrel (Fass)
1985
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Carriage (Wagen)' 1982

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Carriage (Wagen)
1982
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938) 'Tube (Schlauch)' 1982

 

Roman Signer (Swiss, born 1938)
Tube (Schlauch)
1982
Super 8 film transferred to video (color, silent)
Approximately 2 min.
Committee on Media Funds

 

Roman Signer (b. 1938 in Appenzell, Switzerland) is principally a visual artist who works in sculpture, installations photography, and video. Signer’s work has grown out of, and has affinities with both land art and performance art, but they are not typically representative of either category.It is often being described as following the tradition of the Swiss engineer-artist, such as Jean Tinguely and Peter Fischli & David Weiss.

Signer’s “action sculptures” involve setting up, carrying out, and recording “experiments” or events that bear aesthetic results. Day-to-day objects such as umbrellas, tables, boots, containers, hats and bicycles are part of Signer’s working vocabulary. Following carefully planned and strictly executed and documented procedures, the artist enacts and records such acts as explosions, collisions, and the projection of objects through space. Signer advocates ‘controlled destruction, not destruction for its own sake’. Action Kurhaus Weissbad (1992) saw chairs catapulted out of a hotel’s windows; Table (1994) launched a table into the sea on four buckets; Kayak (2000) featured the artist being towed down a road in a canoe. In documenta 8 (1987), he catapulted thousands of sheets of paper into the air to create an ephemeral wall in the room for a brief, but all the more intense moment. As the Swiss representative at the Venice Biennale in 1999, he made 117 steel balls fall from the ceiling on to lumps of clay lying on the ground. Many of his happenings are not for public viewing, and are only documented in photos and film. Video works like Stiefel mit Rakete (Boot with Rocket) are integral to Signer’s performances, capturing the original setup of materials that self-destruct in the process of creating an emotionally and visually compelling event. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

 

Kiki Smith (American, born Germany 1954) 'My Secret Business' 1993

 

Kiki Smith (American, born Germany 1954)
My Secret Business
1993
Lithograph
23 9/16 • 18 1/8″ (59.8 • 46 cm)
Gift of Howard B. Johnson

 

Adrian Piper (American, born 1948) 'Food for the Spirit #2' 1971, printed 1997

 

Adrian Piper (American, born 1948)
Food for the Spirit #2
1971, printed 1997
Gelatin silver print
14 9/16 x 15″ (37 x 38.1 cm)
The Family of Man Fund

 

Adrian Piper (American, born 1948) 'Food for the Spirit #8' 1971, printed 1997

 

Adrian Piper (American, born 1948)
Food for the Spirit #8
1971, printed 1997
Gelatin silver print
14 9/16 x 14 15/16″ (37 x 38 cm)
The Family of Man Fund

 

Adrian Piper (American, born 1948) 'Food for the Spirit #14' 1971, printed 1997

 

Adrian Piper (American, born 1948)
Food for the Spirit #14
1971, printed 1997
Gelatin silver print
14 9/16 x 15″ (37 x 38.1 cm)
The Family of Man Fund

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) 'Indian Club Demonstration' 1939

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990)
Indian Club Demonstration
1939
Gelatin silver print
13 x 10″ (33.0 x 26.0 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) 'Bobby Jones with an Iron' 1938

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990)
Bobby Jones with an Iron
1938
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 x 11 1/2″ (24.4 x 29.2 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

John Divola (American, born 1949) 'Untitled' from the series 'Vandalism' 1974

 

John Divola (American, born 1949)
Untitled from the series Vandalism
1974
Gelatin silver print
7 1/16 x 7 1/16″ (18.0 x 18.0 cm)
Purchase

 

John Divola (American, born 1949) 'Untitled' from the series 'Vandalism' 1974

 

John Divola (American, born 1949)
Untitled from the series Vandalism
1974
Gelatin silver print
7 x 7″ (17.9 x 17.9 cm)
Purchase

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland 1924) 'Boston' (detail) March 20, 1985

 

Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland 1924)
Boston (detail)
March 20, 1985
Color instant prints (Polaroids) with hand-applied paint and collage
each 27 3/4 x 22 1/4″ (70.3 x 56.4 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Polaroid Corporation

 

Anna Blume (German, born 1937) Bernhard Blume (German, born 1937) 'Kitchen Frenzy (Küchenkoller)' (detail) 1986

 

Anna Blume (German, born 1937)
Bernhard Blume (German, born 1937)
Kitchen Frenzy (Küchenkoller) (detail)
1986
Gelatin silver prints
Each 66 15/16 x 42 1/2″ (170 x 108 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of the Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Monday, 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website

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02
Oct
14

Exhibition: ‘A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York Part 1

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 2nd November 2014

The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor

Curators: Organized by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator, with Lucy Gallun, Assistant Curator, Department of Photography

 

A bumper two part posting on this fascinating, multi-dimensional subject: photographic practices in the studio, which may be a stage, a laboratory, or a playground. The exhibition occupies all MoMA’s six photography galleries, each gallery with its own sub theme, namely, Surveying the Studio, The Studio as Stage, The Studio as Set, A Neutral Space, Virtual Spaces and The Studio, from Laboratory to Playground.

The review of this exhibition “When a Form Is Given Its Room to Play” by Roberta Smith on the New York Times website (6th February 2014) damns with faint praise. The show is a “fabulous yet irritating survey” which “dazzles but often seems slow and repetitive.” Smith then goes on to list the usual suspects: “And so we get professional portraitists, commercial photographers, lovers of still life, darkroom experimenters, artists documenting performances and a few generations of postmodernists, dead and alive, known and not so, exploring the ways and means of the medium. This adds up to plenty to see: around 180 images from the 1850s to the present by some 90 photographers and artists. The usual suspects here range from Julia Margaret Cameron to Thomas Ruff, with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Lucas Samaras, John Divola and Barbara Kasten in between.” There are a few less familiar and postmodern artists thrown in for good measure, but all is “dominated by black-and-white images in an age when colour reigns.” The reviewer then rightly notes the paucity of “postmodern photography of the 1980s, much of it made by women, that did a lot to reorient contemporary photo artists to the studio. It is a little startling for an exhibition that includes so many younger artists dealing with the artifice of the photograph (Ms. Belin, for example) to represent the Pictures Generation artists with only Cindy Sherman, James Casebere and (in collaboration with Allan McCollum) Laurie Simmons” before finishing on a positive note (I think!), noting that the curators “had aimed for a satisfying viewing experience, which, these days, is something to be grateful for.”


SOMETHING TO BE GRATEFUL FOR… OH, TO BE SO LUCKY IN AUSTRALIA!

Just to have the opportunity to view an exhibition of this quality, depth and breadth of concept would be an amazing thing. Even a third of the number of photographs (say 60 works) that address this subject at any one of the major institutions around Australia would be fantastic but, of that, there is not a hope in hell.

Think Marcus, think… when was the last major exhibition, I mean LARGE exhibition, at a public institution in Australia that actually addressed specific ISSUES and CONCEPTS in photography (such as this), not just putting on monocular exhibitions about an artists work or exhibitions about a regions photographs? Ah, well… you know, I can’t really remember. Perhaps the American Dreams exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery, but that was a GENERAL exhibition about 20th century photography with no strong investigative conceptual theme and its was imported from George Eastman House.

Here in Australia, all we can do is look from afar, purchase the catalogue and wonder wistfully what the exhibition actually looks like and what we are missing out on. MoMA sent me just 10 images media images. I have spent hours scouring the Internet for other images to fill the void of knowledge and vision (and then cleaning those sometimes degraded images), so that those of us not privileged enough to be able to visit New York may gain a more comprehensive understanding of what this exhibition, and this multi-faceted dimension of photography, is all about. It’s a pity that our venerable institutions and the photography curators in them seem to have had a paucity of ideas when it comes to expounding interesting critiques of the medium over the last twenty years or so. What a missed opportunity.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish six of the photographs in the posting. The rest of the images were sourced from the Internet. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Surveying the Studio

Bruce Nauman (American, born 1941) 'Composite Photo of Two Messes on the Studio Floor' 1967

 

Bruce Nauman (American, born 1941)
Composite Photo of Two Messes on the Studio Floor 
1967
Gelatin silver print
40 1/2″ x 10′ 3″ (102.9 x 312.4 cm)
Gift of Philip Johnson

 

Uta Barth (American, born 1958) 'Sundial (07.13)' 2007

 

Uta Barth (American, born 1958)
Sundial (07.13)
2007
Chromogenic color prints
each 30 x 28 1/4″ (76.2 x 71.8 cm)
The Photography Council Fund

 

Geta Brâtescu (Romanian, born 1926) 'The Studio. Invocation of the Drawing' (L'Atelier. Invocarea desenului) 1979

 

Geta Brâtescu (Romanian, born 1926)
The Studio. Invocation of the Drawing (L’Atelier. Invocarea desenului)
1979
Gelatin silver prints with tempera on paper
33 1/16 x 27 9/16″ (84 x 70 cm)
Modern Women’s Fund

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Laboratory of the Future' 1935

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Laboratory of the Future
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7″ (23.1 x 17.8 cm)
Gift of James Johnson Sweeney

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Cactus and Photographer's Lamp, New York' 1931

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Cactus and Photographer’s Lamp, New York
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 6 5/8″ (23.5 x 16.6 cm)
Gift of Samuel M. Kootz

 

 

“Bringing together photographs, films, videos, and works in other mediums, A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio examines the ways in which photographers and artists using photography have worked and experimented within the four walls of the studio space, from photography’s inception to today. Featuring both new acquisitions and works from the Museum’s collection that have not been on view in recent years, A World of Its Own includes approximately 180 works, by approximately 90 artists, such as Berenice Abbott, Uta Barth, Zeke Berman, Karl Blossfeldt, Constantin Brancusi, Geta Brătescu, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Jan Groover, Barbara Kasten, Man Ray, Bruce Nauman, Paul Outerbridge, Irving Penn, Adrian Piper, Edward Steichen, William Wegman, and Edward Weston.

The exhibition considers the various roles played by the photographer’s studio as an autonomous space; depending on the time period, context, and the individual motivations (commercial, artistic, scientific) and sensibilities of the photographer, the studio may be a stage, a laboratory, or a playground. Organized thematically, the display unfolds in multiple chapters. Throughout the 20th century, artists have explored their studio spaces using photography, from the use of composed theatrical tableaux (in photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron or Cindy Sherman) to neutral, blank backdrops (Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe); from the construction of architectural sets within the studio space (Francis Bruguière, Thomas Demand) to chemical procedures conducted within the darkroom (Walead Beshty, Christian Marclay); and from precise recordings of time and motion (Eadweard Muybridge, Dr. Harold E. Edgerton) to amateurish or playful experimentation (Roman Signer, Peter Fischli/David Weiss). A World of Its Own offers another history of photography, a photography created within the walls of the studio, and yet as groundbreaking and inventive as its seemingly more extroverted counterpart, street photography.”

Text from the MoMA website

 

The exhibition is divided into 6 themes each with its own gallery space:

1. Surveying the Studio

2. The Studio as Stage

3. The Studio as Set

4. A Neutral Space

5. Virtual Spaces

6. The Studio, from Laboratory to Playground

 

The Studio as Stage

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955) 'Untitled' 1941

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled
1941
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8″ (19.2 x 24.4 cm)
Anonymous gift

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936) 'Auto Polaroid' 1969-71

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936)
Auto Polaroid
1969-71
Eighteen black-and-white instant prints (Polapan), with hand-applied ink
each 3 3/4 x 2 15/16″ (9.5 x 7.4 cm)
overall 14 5/8 x 24″ (37.2 x 61 cm)
Gift of Robert and Gayle Greenhill

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936) 'Auto Polaroid' 1969-71 (detail)

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936) 'Auto Polaroid' 1969-71 (detail)

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936) 'Auto Polaroid' 1969-71 (detail)

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936)
Auto Polaroid (details)
1969-71
Eighteen black-and-white instant prints (Polapan), with hand-applied ink
each 3 3/4 x 2 15/16″ (9.5 x 7.4 cm)
overall 14 5/8 x 24″ (37.2 x 61 cm)
Gift of Robert and Gayle Greenhill

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879) 'Madonna with Children' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
Madonna with Children
1864
Albumen silver print
10 1/2 x 8 5/8″ (26.7 x 21.9 cm)
Gift of Shirley C. Burden

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879) 'Untitled (Mary Ryan?)' c. 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
Untitled (Mary Ryan?)
c. 1867
Albumen silver print
13 3/16 x 11″ (33.5 x 27.9 cm)
Gift of Shirley C. Burden

 

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910) Adrien Tournachon (French, 1825-1903) 'Pierrot Surprised' 1854-55

 

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910)
Adrien Tournachon (French, 1825-1903)
Pierrot Surprised
1854-55
Albumen silver print
11 1/4 x 8 3/16″ (28.6 x 20.8 cm)
Suzanne Winsberg Collection. Gift of Suzanne Winsberg

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984) 'Untitled' 1929

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Untitled
1929
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 x 6 1/2″ (16.7 x 16.5 cm)
Gift of Robert Shapazian

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg. 1879-1973) 'Anna May Wong' 1930

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg. 1879-1973)
Anna May Wong
1930
Gelatin silver print
16 9/16 x 13 7/16″ (42.1 x 34.1 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Cindy Sherman (American, born 1954) 'Untitled #131' 1983

 

Cindy Sherman (American, born 1954)
Untitled #131
1983
Chromogenic color print
35 x 16 1/2″ (89 x 41.9 cm)
Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Fund

 

The Studio as Set

Barbara Kasten (American, born 1936) 'Construct I-F' 1979

 

Barbara Kasten (American, born 1936)
Construct I-F
1979
Color instant print (Polaroid Polacolor)
9 1/2 x 7 1/2″ (24.0 x 19.0 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Wendy Larsen

 

Barbara Kasten (American, born 1936) 'Construct NYC 17' 1984

 

Barbara Kasten (American, born 1936)
Construct NYC 17
1984
Silver dye bleach print
29 3/8 x 37 1/16″ (74.7 x 94.1 cm)
Gift of Foster Goldstrom

 

James Casebere (American, born 1953) 'Subdivision with Spotlight' 1982

 

James Casebere (American, born 1953)
Subdivision with Spotlight
1982
Gelatin silver print
14 13/16 x 18 15/16″ (37.6 x 48.1 cm)
Purchase

 

Francis Bruguière (American, 1879-1945) 'Light Abstraction' c. 1925

 

Francis Bruguière (American, 1879-1945)
Light Abstraction
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
9 15/16 x 7 15/16″ (25.2 x 20.2 cm)
Gift of Arnold Newman

 

Paul Outerbridge (American, 1896-1958) 'Images de Deauville' 1936

 

Paul Outerbridge (American, 1896-1958)
Images de Deauville
1936
Tri-color carbro print
15 3/4 x 12 1/4″ (40 x 31.1 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Ralph Seward Allen

 

Elad Lassry (Israeli, born 1977) 'Nailpolish' 2009

 

Elad Lassry (Israeli, born 1977)
Nailpolish
2009
Chromogenic color print
14 1/2 x 11 1/2″ (36.8 x 29.2 cm)
Fund for the Twenty-First Century

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Monday, 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website

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26
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Rothko to Richter: Mark Making in Abstract Painting from the Collection of Preston H. Haskell’, Class of 1960 at the Princeton University Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 5th October 2014

 

Think about the big 4 colours:  Red Green Blue Yellow – and then there are the browns, the purples, magenta, cyan etc etc… Then have a look at the Gerhard Richter (Abstract Painting (613-3), 1986 below) in that light. A great colourist – but very reliant on the big four. Now compare him to Helen Frankenthaler (Belfry, 1979 below) – with this artist it’s a sort of a green, a sort of a red. And she used that palette in her watercolours as well.

They are both certainly aware of the presence of something else. I don’t know if Helen Frankenthaler would say that, and Gerhard Richter certainly wouldn’t, but there is an energy that is not human in the work of both of these artists. My benchmark in photography has always been the first Paul Caponigro exhibition which was called “In the presence of …” : hardly the vibrancy or the zietgeist of R and F, but he had it right in front of his camera.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Princeton University Art Museum for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Frank Stella. 'Double Scramble' 1978

 

Frank Stella
Double Scramble
1978
Oil on canvas
174.9 x 350.5 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Josef Albers. 'Study for Homage to the Square' 1964

 

Josef Albers
Study for Homage 
to the Square
1964
Oil on paper
30.8 x 33.3 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Study for Homage to the Square reveals a great deal about the series that has done more than any other to establish Josef Albers’s reputation in the United States. More than one thousand Homages to the Square exist, some paintings, others prints. Launched in 1950, the series forecasts many of the key concerns of the 1960s, including seriality and repetition. In its predilection for regular shapes and methodical compositions, as well as spatial and chromatic illusionism, Homage to the Square also lays the foundation for that decade’s romance with geometric abstraction. Importantly, Homages to the Square are rooted in interwar Constructivism. Albers spent more than ten years at the Bauhaus, from 1920 to 1933, experimenting with glass, typography, furniture design, photography, printmaking, and painting. There he was weaned on the insights of artists like Piet Mondrian and fellow teachers Laslo Moholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius. Albers also played an important role in transmitting European modernism to a younger generation of American artists, first at Black Mountain College, where he taught between 1933 and 1949, and then at Yale, where he was an instructor from 1950 to 1958.1

Each work in the Homage to the Square series conforms to one of four formats, all based on nested squares. What distinguishes one format from another is the mathematical ratio governing the intervals between the squares.2 Within this standardized program, however, Albers extracts incredible variety. The squares are rendered in a range of hues that vary in their degree of brightness and saturation, creating “optical reversals” that cause some squares to project and others to recede. Albers once described the Homage to the Square series as a stage on which color might “act.”3 While individual works experiment with different “color climates,” the cycle in its entirety explores the “relational” character of color.4 Color, Albers believed, is one of the most mutable, contingent, even deceptive phenomena in the world: any one color is invariably affected by the colors around it, altering its identity and manipulating perception in the process.5 What we see is never what we see in the Homage to the Square cycle. The paint handling in Study is much looser than in other works from the series, whose smooth, fastidious surfaces are free of what Albers called “hand-writing,” by which he meant texture, impasto, and visual incident.6 However, the very informality of this smaller piece underscores an often overlooked feature of the series as a whole: the gentle, imprecise edges separating one square from another. In finessing the boundaries between shapes, Albers also finessed the boundaries between colors, investing his works with maximum visual intensity. KB

 

1 Richard Anuszkiewicz studied with Albers at Yale between 1953 and 1955.

2 See Werner Spies, Josef Albers (New York: Abrams, 1970), pp. 48-50.

3 See Sewell Sillman, Josef Albers: Paintings, Prints, Projects (New York: Clarke and Way / Associates in Fine Arts, 1956), p. 36.

4 See Spies, Josef Albers, 44. In 1963, Albers published the important Interaction of Color.

5 In this respect, Albers sought to exploit the “discrepancy” between “physical fact” and “psychic effect.” See Hal Foster, “The Bauhaus Idea in America,” in Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, ed. Achim Borchardt-Hume (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 99.

6 Kynaston L. McShine, Josef Albers: Homage to the Square (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1964), n.p. In the same publication, Albers describes his painting technique, which involved applying paint directly from the tube with a palette knife in one thin, even coat to create a “homogenous” “paint film.”

 

Robert Motherwell. 'Untitled (red)' 1972

 

Robert Motherwell
Untitled (red)
1972
Acrylic on canvas
182.6 x 137.3 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Willem de Kooning. 'Untitled (Woman)' 1965

 

Willem de Kooning
Untitled (Woman)
1965
Oil on paper
73.7 x 58.4 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Willem de Kooning. 'Untitled (Woman)' (detail) 1965

 

Willem de Kooning
Untitled (Woman) 
(detail)
1965
Oil on paper
73.7 x 58.4 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Woman II and Untitled (Woman) attest to de Kooning’s pursuit of fluidity and irresolution. Over the course of the 1960s, he altered his materials so as to facilitate his protracted editing process and increase the speed, vitality, and fluency of his brushwork – smooth supports reduced drag while safflower oil and kerosene slowed the drying time of his paints. As de Kooning said in 1960, “I was never interested . . . [in] how to make a good,” as in a perfect, finished “painting.” “I didn’t want to pin it down at all.”

 

Helen Frankenthaler. 'February's Turn' 1979

 

Helen Frankenthaler
February’s Turn
1979
Oil on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Helen Frankenthaler. 'Belfry' 1979

 

Helen Frankenthaler
Belfry
1979
Acrylic on canvas
208.4 x 219.7 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

An intriguing paradox lies at the heart of Helen Frankenthaler’s work. In 1952 the artist started to create paintings that were gestural in appearance but not in fact. Thanks to a novel technique called staining, in which paint is poured onto canvas, Frankenthaler made marks that mimicked the sweeping strokes of Abstract Expressionism but indexed neither her hand nor her distinctive personality. Insofar as she minimized the role of will, choice, and subjectivity, Frankenthaler heralded a paradigm shift in postwar painting, breaking with Abstract Expressionism and planting a wedge between gesture and hand, art and artist. Frankenthaler’s technique, which evolved over time to include implements as unconventional as rags, mops, basters, sponges, squeegees, and windshield wipers,1 also has bearing on the equally paradoxical space of her paintings. In one respect, Frankenthaler strove to acknowledge, through the very act of painting, the feature that distinguishes painting from every other medium – flatness.2 This she did by thinning her paint and applying it to unprimed canvas, allowing the paint to penetrate the fabric. What results is not only a flat surface that reiterates the flat support on which it resides but also an image that is identified exactly with its ground. At the same time,

Frankenthaler’s work generates undoubtedly atmospheric effects. As the artist said in 1971, “Pictures are flat and part of the nuance and often the beauty or the drama that makes a work, or gives it life … is that it presents such an ambiguous situation of an undeniably flat surface, but on it and within it an intense play and drama of space, movements, light, illusion, [and] different perspectives.”3 Belfry and February’s Turn, both from the midpoint of Frankenthaler’s career, rely on just such an ambiguous sensation of space and depth. In their case, however, this ambiguity is exacerbated by the intrusion of marks that contradict the illusion of “aerated” flatness.4 Take the anomalous, almost gratuitous brushstroke in the center right of Belfry, for instance, or the beige clump and the area of black impasto in February’s Turn, all of which lie obstinately on the surface of otherwise dyed canvases.

These marks very clearly qualify as painterly touches. As such, they introduce a degree of materiality to Frankenthaler’s mostly disembodied paintings and recall traditional Abstract Expressionism. Belfry and February’s Turn likewise exemplify a theme that concerned Frankenthaler from the very beginning of her career: landscape. Although abstract, these paintings evoke, through format, palette, and composition, the environments in which the artist lived and traveled, including the waterfront property she bought in Connecticut in 1978 and the arid, sunburned deserts of Arizona, which she visited in 1976 and 1977. KB

 

1 Susan Cross, “The Emergence of a Painter,” After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956-1959 (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1998), p. 41.

2 See, for instance, Clement Greenberg’s, “Modernist Painting [1960-65],” in Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 754-60.

3 Cindy Nemser, “Interview with Helen Frankenthaler,” Arts Magazine 46 (November 1971), p. 54.

4 John Elderfield, Frankenthaler (New York: Abrams, 1989), 66, 255. See also E. A. Carmean, “On Five Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler,” Art International 22, No. 4 (1978): pp. 28-32; and Karen Wilkin, Frankenthaler: The Darker Palette (Savannah, GA: Savannah College of Art and Design), 1998.

 

Paul Caponigro. 'Monument Valley, Utah' 1970

 

Paul Caponigro
Monument Valley, Utah
1970
From Portfolio II
Gelatin silver print

 

Paul Caponigro. 'Rock Wall, Connecticut' 1959

 

Paul Caponigro
Rock Wall, Connecticut
1959
Gelatin silver print

 

Gerhard Richter. 'Abstract Painting (613-3) 1986

 

Gerhard Richter
Abstract Painting (613-3)
1986
Oil on canvas
260.7 x 203 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Few artists have tackled the subject of painting with more self-consciousness, with greater sensitivity to the history, dilemmas, and possibilities of the medium, than Gerhard Richter. For the last five decades, Richter has explored the very nature of painting with and in paint, making his an especially reflexive enterprise. In many ways, contradiction defines his prolific body of work, as does diversity, whether of mode, style, technique, or content. A student of two very different art academies, one in Dresden and the other in Düsseldorf, where he trained with Joseph Beuys, Richter was weaned on Eastern European Social Realism as well as Western Pop and Fluxus. His earliest mature canvases, from the early 1960s, consist of blurry renditions of mostly ready-made photographs representing subjects both banal and chilling, from automobiles and Nazi officials to military aircraft and aerial cityscapes. By 1966, Richter had begun to experiment with abstraction. To this day, he still alternates between objective and nonobjective painting.

The groundwork for pieces like Abstract Painting (613-3) was laid in the early 1970s, when Richter began a series of nonrepresentational paintings based on photographic enlargements of brushstrokes.1 Because they depict, in a highly illusionistic manner, reproductions of otherwise abstract marks, such paintings confuse the handmade and the technological, the original and the copy. Richter continued to duplicate brushstrokes until 1980, when he started to make actual abstract paintings, albeit in unconventional ways.2 Abstract Painting (613-3) exemplifies the technique for which Richter is recognized today, one in which editing, subtraction, and cancellation play crucial roles.3 Here as elsewhere, the artist fleshed out a preliminary composition with ordinary brushes. As it was drying, he covered the hard edge of a squeegee with paint and dragged it across the surface of the canvas, an action that blended some layers but removed others, thereby revealing what was previously concealed.4 The resulting works are tapestries of abrasions and palimpsests, heterogeneous fields of visual incident. Discontinuity is particularly evident in Abstract Painting (613-3), due to variations in the directionality of paint, the combination of cool and warm hues, and the presence of a vertical seam near the middle of the canvas. To the extent that it cedes some control to chance and introduces the specter of mechanicity, Richter’s process “muffles singular signs of personal expression”5 and trades existential drama for moderation, unlike the gestural, virtuosic canvases his paintings superficially resemble. As with many of his abstractions after 1980, Abstract Painting (613-3)’s palette is bright and sumptuous in appearance but not necessarily in tone.6 For Richter, color does not signify “happiness,” he once said, but instead a “tense” or “artificial” “cheeriness” associated with “gritted teeth.”7 KB

 

1 See Robert Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002), 53, pp. 68-69.

2 These new abstractions coincided with a revival of Expressionism, called Neo-Expressionism, in the United States and Europe, a tradition from which Richter felt alienated and to which his works stand in pointed contrast. See “MoMA Interview with Robert Storr, 2002,” in Gerhard Richter: Writings, 1961-2007, ed. Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (New York: D.A.P., 2009), p. 428.

3 See ibid., pp. 71–74.

4 Richter’s squeegees are essentially long pieces of rectangular plastic, often as wide as his canvases, to which handles are attached. While abrading a surface with the squeegee, Richter will sometimes use a brush or a knife to further blend and scrape. See Gerhard Richter Painting, directed by Corinna Belz (Berlin: Zero One Film, 2011), dvd.

5 Hal Foster, “Semblance According to Gerhard Richter,” Raritan 22 (Winter 2003): 160. See also Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter: Abstract Paintings 2009 (Cologne: Walther Kônig, 2009), 89, 95. Richter does not always agree with this reading of his work. See “Interview with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, 1986,” in Gerhard Richter: Writings, p. 180.

6 The stringent quality of this and other abstractions by Richter is due as much to his predilection for bright, sharply contrasting colors as it is to his avoidance of earth tones.

7 See “Interview with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, 2004,” p. 489.

 

Gerhard Richter. 'Abstract Painting (613-3)' 1986 (detail)

 

Gerhard Richter
Abstract Painting (613-3) (detail)
1986
Oil on canvas
260.7 x 203 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Extract from MARK, MAKER, METHOD by Kelly Baum

The paintings in Rothko to Richter narrate a history of postwar art whose greatest points of tension and most important moments of breakthrough revolve around facture, from the Latin facere, meaning “to make.”3 Together they demonstrate a fundamental fact: when painting’s prerogatives change, so too do its procedures. Focusing on select works from the Haskell Collection, this essay explores the nature of marks and mark-making in abstract painting after World War II. In the case of the artists seen here, mark-making was an activity of incredible consequence. The success or failure of any one painting might rest on something as elementary as the choice between oil paint and acrylic paint or a brush and a palette knife. It might depend on the difference between staining and smearing, between choppy strokes and fluid swipes, or between painting dry-on-dry and wet-on-wet.

With this in mind, my essay examines how and what marks signify within a single artist’s work as well as in postwar painting as a whole. How do shifts in the way marks are made signal broader shifts in artistic practice? What are the different, often competing logics of mark-making at any given moment? How do marks reflect or, alternately, disavow the impact of mass media, technology, and photomechanical reproduction in the mid- to late twentieth century? Such an investigation is premised on a particular understanding of the word “mark.” First and foremost, “mark” is a product as well as a process – more specifically, it is an end that cannot be separated from its means. Marks are also structural – as well as vocal – components of any given painting. Not only do they reveal a great deal about a painting’s meaning, they also shape that meaning, give it form and substance, for the viewer. For the purposes of this essay, then, I consider the mechanics of mark-making to be socially, physically, symbolically, and historically important.

Marks are the constituent feature, the backbone, of painting. A painting may be comprised of hundreds, if not thousands, of marks. In most cases, these marks are made in paint, on a support, by the hands of an artist. Even when those hands wield an implement – a brush or palette knife, for example – a physical connection still obtains between artist and mark.4 (What are implements like these, after all, but prostheses that extend the hand’s reach and capability?) Many of the artists in Rothko to Richter exploit this very character of the mark. In their paintings, a direct, transparent relationship exists between mark and method, a one-to-one correspondence between every stroke of paint and every movement of the artist’s hand. Here mark and method are tautological: the former records the latter. However, not every artist in Rothko to Richter subscribes to this approach. Several developed techniques designed to depersonalize the act of mark-making, to literally divorce the mark from the artist’s hand. Some even went so far as to erase the traces their tools left behind, effacing marks as soon as they were created. Instead of flaunting the process by which their paintings were produced, these artists dissimulated.

Dominating the Haskell Collection are Abstract Expressionist painters and their counterparts in Europe, including Appel, de Kooning, Goldberg, Kline, Riopelle, Rothko, and Tworkov.5 To varying degrees, these artists prized immediacy, virtuosity, and expression. Autographic gestures play a key role in their paintings.6 Such marks constitute a kind of painterly handwriting that indexes the artist’s distinct will, personality, and psychological state – his or her very self.

Etymologically, “gesture” derives from the Medieval Latin gestura, meaning “to carry.” In its original form, gesture denoted bearing – that is, the manner in which human beings deport themselves physically. It was also affiliated with rhetoric: in the past, gesture delineated a set of “bodily movements, attitudes, expression of countenance” intended to “giv[e] effect to oratory.”7 Gesture was a supplement to speech, a kind of accent or embellishment, in other words. All such connotations are relevant to the Expressionist canvases in the Haskell Collection: for artists like Goldberg and Kline, gestures were overtures, forms of communication that served to address viewers directly and invite them to participate in a subjective exchange. Gesturing involved gesticulating in the sense we understand that word today. In Appel’s Dans la Tempête (1960) or de Kooning’s Woman II (1961), for instance, the artist’s hand, wrist, and arm – sometimes his entire body – are marshaled so as to externalize otherwise private impulses, instincts, and passions. The affective power of such gestures was in direct proportion to their muscularity, fluidity, and dynamism, traits enthusiastically embraced by American and European Expressionists, who equated intensity of spirit with intensity of brushwork.

As art historian Meyer Schapiro astutely argued in 1957, the new emphasis on gesture among abstract painters of the postwar generation precipitated concomitant changes in technique. “The consciousness of the personal and spontaneous” in painting, Schapiro wrote, “stimulates the artist to invent devices of handling, processing, surfacing, which confer to the utmost degree the aspect of the freely made. Hence the great importance of the mark, the stroke, the brush, the drip, the quality of the substance of paint itself, and the surface of the canvas as a texture and field of operation.”8 This holds true of Appel’s Dans la Tempête (1960), de Kooning’s Untitled (Woman) (1965), Goldberg’s The Keep (1958), and Kline’s Untitled (1960), among other works, whose richly impastoed surfaces and bold, impetuous brushwork register not only heightened emotion but also the presence of the artist.

If Schapiro championed these paintings as enthusiastically as he did, it was because they represented, in his view, the “last hand-made personal objects within our culture.”9 Insofar as Rothko’s and de Kooning’s canvases preserved increasingly obsolete methods of fabrication, privileging manual over industrial forms of production, they “affirmed the individual in opposition to the contrary qualities of the ordinary experience of working and doing.”10 For Schapiro, the importance of painters like Goldberg and Tworkov lay precisely in their efforts to humanize art at a moment when the subject was under assault from the dehumanizing forces of science, technology, and mass media. In his view, Abstract Expressionism represented the last bastion of freedom and individuality in an increasingly homogenous, mechanized world, a bulwark against the intrusion of standardization into every walk of life.

However, by the late 1950s, when Schapiro made this claim, a sea change was already well under way in the world of art. Even then, a younger generation of artists, represented by Rauschenberg and Stella, was beginning to embrace at the level of technique the very shifts in society and subjectivity that Schapiro and the Abstract Expressionists decried. As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, increasing numbers of artists would cease to identify either physically or emotionally with their canvases. Simultaneously, they began to align painting with fabrication, deriving insight from the fields of design and engineering. Gradually, the taste for “the machine-made, the impersonal, and reproducible,” likewise “an air of coolness and mechanical control,” would infiltrate art, heralding a break with Abstract Expressionism.11

 

3 Sometimes reduced to “texture,” facture designates the way a work of art has been made and the manner in which its material components have been manipulated.

4 As much as possible, I have tried to avoid falling into the all-too-common trap of fetishizing the painted mark. Although much can be learned about a painting by deciphering the marks that comprise it, the mark is often conflated with something more problematic, the artist’s touch, a supposed symbol of singularity and authenticity that is inextricably related to the work’s exchange value and its status as a commodity on the market.

5 For more information on Expressionism in Europe, see Serge Guilbaut, “Disdain for the Stain: Abstract Expressionism and Tachisme,” in Abstract Expressionism: The International Context, ed. Joan Marter (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007).

6 As Michael Leja argues, this was a historically, culturally, and ideologically specific self that invested great importance in “irrationality” and reflected new knowledge about the human mind, psyche, and condition. See his Reframing Abstract Expressionism: Subjectivity and Painting in the 1940s (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 2-9, pp. 36-41. See also Ann Eden Gibson, Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997).

7 Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “Gesture,” http://www.oed.com/search?searchType=dictionary&q=gesture&_searchBtn=Search.

8 Meyer Schapiro, “Recent Abstract Painting (1957),” in Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries (New York: George Braziller, 1978), p. 218.

9 Ibid., p. 217.

10 Ibid., p. 218.

11 Ibid., p. 219. As Schapiro notes, if science and engineering were “distasteful” to the Abstract Expressionists, it was due largely to the role they played in World War II and the Holocaust.

 

Franz Kline. 'Untitled' 1960

 

Franz Kline
Untitled
1960
Brush and oil on canvas
47 x 45.1 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Hans Hofmann. 'Composition #3' 1952

 

Hans Hofmann
Composition #3
1952
Oil on canvas
76.8 x 61.3 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Hans Hofmann. 'Midday' 1956

 

Hans Hofmann
Midday
1956
Oil on canvas
46.4 x 35.9 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Hans Hofmann is generally associated with the New York School, but he actually belongs to an earlier generation of artists based in Europe. Indeed, Hofmann witnessed firsthand the invention of abstraction while living in Paris from 1904 to 1914. Between 1933 and 1958, he would impart the lessons of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso as well as those of Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian to the students who attended his art schools in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts.1 Later in life, after the works in the Haskell Collection were made, Hofmann helped broker the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism, a movement that shared his more recent predilection for restraint, objectivity, and pictorial problem-solving.2

Hofmann was never wedded to any one approach to painting. Indeed, “diversity” was in many respects his signature style. Before the late 1940s, he produced paintings of abstracted interiors, still lifes, landscapes, and figure studies, all of which bear the imprint of Cubism and Fauvism. By 1950, however, his paintings were reliably abstract: no, or almost no, recognizable content remained. Characterized by radiant luminosity, brilliant color contrasts, and tactile surfaces, Composition #3 and Midday were created just a few years before the artist closed his two schools, a moment that coincided with his critical recognition as a painter. Color serves a structural role in both paintings, generating form and defining space. In Composition #3, paint is added and subtracted, sometimes ferociously, with implements ranging from fingertips and spatulas to thick brushes and sharp paintbrush handles, all of which register clearly on the canvas. Clement Greenberg could have been describing this work when he wrote, “Klee and Soutine were perhaps the first to address the picture surface consciously as a responsive rather than inert object, and painting itself as an affair of prodding and pushing, scoring and marking, rather than of simply inscribing or covering. Hofmann has taken this approach further, and made it do even more.”3 For its part, Midday exemplifies Hofmann’s distinctive brand of “grandiose Pointillism,” a manner adopted around 1954.4 Covered in a dense crust of paint, the work is made of staccato brush marks that extend from edge to edge, resulting in an atomized, decomposed surface whose impasto projects into space.5 Midday’s resemblance to a mosaic is more than coincidental: in 1950 and 1956, Hofmann received commissions to create monumental mosaics for public spaces. KB

 

1 On the ways in which Hofmann divests the tradition of abstraction embodied by Mondrian and Kandinsky of its social and utopian aspirations, see Sam Hunter, “Introduction,” in Hans Hofmann, ed. James Yohe (New York: Rizzoli, 2002), pp. 15-16.

2 Like many of his contemporaries in Europe and the United States, Hofmann often linked the creation of art to spirituality, on the one hand, and to the artist’s personal temperament, on the other. However, these priorities were far less pronounced in his work than in that of artists such as Mondrian and Rothko. Hofmann’s concern was more for the mechanics – the grammar – of art. Ibid., p. 16, 20.

3 “Hans Hofmann [1958],” in Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), p. 195.

4 Hunter, “Introduction,” p. 29.

5 On the art historical importance of Hoffmann’s “fat” surfaces, which contribute to the perception of his pictures as “objects,” see Clement Greenberg, Hofmann (Paris: G. Fall, 1961), p. 32, 34.

 

Hans Hofmann. 'Midday' 1956 (detail)

 

Hans Hofmann
Midday (detail)
1956
Oil on canvas
46.4 x 35.9 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

IN THE WAKE OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM by Hal Foster

This selection from the Haskell Collection focuses on Abstract Expressionism and its aftermath and, as such, provides an occasion to reflect on the fate of these two terms, abstraction and expression, in the advanced painting of this period. I want to do so briefly here, one term at a time.

In Western painting at least since Rembrandt, we look for expression, first and foremost, in brushwork, especially brushwork that exceeds the task of representation, brushwork that appears as gesture. Gesture in excess of representation tends to be read as the mark of the artist, not only of his distinctive touch but of that touch at a particular moment. We thus take gesture to be singular, original, authentic, in a word, individual – an indication, perhaps, of the very subjectivity of the artist at that instant in time. Now, what happens to this set of associations when we jump two hundred and fifty years, from Rembrandt to Van Gogh (to stay on a Dutch axis), and then move fifty years further, from Van Gogh to Willem de Kooning (who is represented in the Haskell Collection by two oil studies for his great Woman paintings)? In what ways do these associations, these conventions (for that is what they are), come under pressure?

Pitched in this way, the question is too general; so consider the works in the Haskell Collection produced by 1960 or so by Karel Appel, Michael Goldberg, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Jack Tworkov. Can we agree that, in each case, the artist appears to believe in his gesture as defined above, that is, as a bearer of a uniquely subjective touch? All of these pieces, even when not large, conceive the picture as an “arena” for “action” (per the famous account of Abstract Expressionism given by the critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952).1 At the same time, this action is always qualified by calculation: note, for example, how Hofmann minds the edges of his canvases; and this gesture is sometimes willful: note, for instance, how Goldberg seems a little forced in his painterly attack.

Once reiterated, a gesture, whether within one painting or from one painting to another, becomes a performance (not simply an action) as well as a sign (not simply an expression), and in this way it becomes divided from the very presence that it appeared to register in the first place. Jackson Pollock struggled with this conundrum – it was one factor that led to his partial return to figuration as early as 1951 – and we can sense this struggle in some of the works in the Haskell Collection, too (I see it in the Riopelle, among others). This problem of the reiteration of gesture is compounded by the greater difficulty of the repetition of style, that is, the repetition of the set of conventions that is Expressionism. For if de Kooning, Pollock, and friends worked in the wake of German Expressionism, so their followers labored in the aftermath of Abstract Expressionism; thus they were belated Expressionists, in effect, twice over. As gesture came under existential pressure and Expressionism under art historical pressure, they could not help but see that the former might not be as singular, nor the latter as original, as they had once thought.2

Note what occurs after 1960, in part in response to this predicament, in the Color Field painting of Helen Frankenthaler, Paul Jenkins, and Morris Louis: gesture becomes muted, and the paint is loosened from the brush. Letting paint flow is what Frankenthaler learned from the drip paintings of Pollock, and what Louis and others learned from Frankenthaler (they exploited the new fluidity of acrylics here). And yet, however liberated, this paint speaks less of the expressive presence of the painter than of the material conditions of the painting – the fact that acrylic paint runs, mixes, responds to gravity, and stains the canvas (if it is not gessoed) in such a way that its weave becomes apparent and its flatness is foregrounded. “Flatness and the delimitation of flatness”: according to the critic Clement Greenberg, these are, respectively, the essential attribute of painting in general and the distinctive capability of abstract painting in particular.3 In this respect, see how Louis, in the 1962 painting in the Haskell Collection, lets his long bands of paint develop in a way that declares not only the vertical hang of the painting but also its flat surface; here the physical characteristics of paint, color, and canvas are the sole subjects. Indeed, the painting seems to be produced as though by gravity alone, as though it were almost automatic; in comparison with Abstract Expressionism, the expressivity of the artist is here suppressed.

Such is the lesson that Frank Stella took from Louis in paintings like Double Scramble (1978) – a late example of work initiated in the mid-1960s. The critic Michael Fried termed such compositions “deductive structures” because they seemed to derive strictly from the rectangle of the support and the width of the stretcher, that is, they were deduced from the given structure of the painting alone.4 Here we are even further from the expressivity of Abstract Expressionism than we were with Louis: the composition seems to draw itself. Expressivity appears to return in the abstractions of Gerhard Richter, who is also represented in the Haskell Collection, yet the victory is a Pyrrhic one: like his  canvases, his gestures are so numerous and so reiterative that they seem to cancel one another out and so to nullify as much as to register any expressive self.

Like expression, abstraction also comes under pressure during the period surveyed by the Haskell Collection. Although presented in transcendental terms by pioneers of abstract painting such as Wassily Kandinsky in the 1910s, it was largely drained of this metaphysics by the 1960s, to the point where Stella could describe his work in the most positivist of terms: “What you see is what you see.”5 At the same time, abstraction was still endowed with great consequence for art history in general. In 1936, when the curator Alfred H. Barr Jr. presented his famous diagram of “Cubism and Abstract Art” for his show of that title at the new Museum of Modern Art in New York, abstraction served as the through-line of twentieth-century art, one that Greenberg made not only coherent but also ineluctable through his narrative of the progressive self-refinement of “modernist painting.” This story provided continuity as well as goal to twentieth-century art: “I cannot insist enough,” Greenberg wrote in “Modernist Painting” (1961), “that Modernism has never meant, and does not mean now, anything like a break with the past.”6

However, this story soon hit a large bump in the road. As abstract painting focused evermore on its own materiality, its status as an object became impossible to avoid; clearly the next step, it seemed to some avant-gardists, was to dispense with paintings altogether and to produce objects instead. Greenberg already glimpsed this heretical possibility with Stella, and this is why he never included Stella in his canon. Even if Fried still regarded Stella as the exemplar of “modernist painting,” for others, such as his close friend Carl Andre, Stella was on the other side, their side, the side of the Minimalist object as defined by the artist-critic Donald Judd. At this point, then, a “deductive structure” by Stella could be read – was read – as pure painting by some and as specific object by others.

This ambiguous status of abstract painting – as both transcendental force and mere thing, as both full and null – was already glimpsed in its first years. For example, for Kazimir Malevich, the monochrome, in its ideality, pointed to a world beyond this one; for his compatriot Aleksandr Rodchenko, however, the monochrome, in its materiality, underscored that this world was the only one we have. (At times these poles switched their charge: for some artists, transcendental abstraction suggested an emptying out of painting, a sort of Zen nullity of its own, while for others, mundane abstraction suggested a thingly presence, a fullness of its own, but the ambiguous status remained constant.) The paradox of abstraction as both full and null returns in the period surveyed by the Haskell Collection: the canvases by Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and others clearly hold to the metaphysical power of abstract painting, whereas the paintings by Richter, Stella, and others manifestly do not.

Abstract painting was challenged by more than its own objecthood; it also faced an external threat, one that was even more grave. This problem runs back to its early days too, for abstraction emerged, circa 1912 – 13, along with two other avant-garde inventions, the collage and the readymade, which brought the mass-media image and the mass-produced object into the frame of high art. For many artists and critics, abstract painting was all the more important for the stout resistance it offered to these troublesome incursions (this is certainly what Greenberg believed), yet it could not fend off such mediation forever, and in the 1950s and 1960s it mostly gave up.7 De Kooning, for example, used bits of collage in his Woman series, and Robert Rauschenberg, who is also represented in the Haskell Collection, added massive amounts of mediated images to his paintings.8 By the time of Richter, such mediation is fully folded into painting: almost from the start of his career, he has moved back and forth between abstract paintings and figurative ones based on photographs (both appropriated and his own); moreover, as suggested above, his abstract paintings appear mediated in their own ways. And this always-already mediated condition is the very point of departure of the spectacular paintings by Jack Goldstein in the Haskell Collection: however abstract they appear, they are worked up entirely from appropriated images. At this point the categories of abstraction and expression are transformed beyond recognition.9

 

1 Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters,” Art News 51 (December 1952).

2 As represented in the Haskell Collection, some artists, such as Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell, carried on as if these problems didn’t matter much.

3 Clement Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism,” Art International 25 (October 1962), p. 30.

4 Michael Fried, Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella (Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, 1965).

5 Frank Stella, quoted in Bruce Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd,” Art News 65 (September 1966), p. 59.

6 Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” Arts Yearbook 4 (1961), p. 108.

7 It is not clear how opposed abstraction was to these other forms in the first place. For example, a monochrome or a grid painting is already a kind of readymade, and as soon as paint comes from an industrial tube, it is a sort of readymade too.

8 De Kooning was rarely fully abstract; Greenberg comments on his “homeless representation” in “After Abstract Expressionism,” p. 25.

9 These complications continue in the current work of Wade Guyton, Amy Sillman, Christopher Wool, and many others; indeed, they are largely what sustain advanced painting in the present.

 

Karel Appel. 'Dans la Tempête' 1960

 

Karel Appel
Dans la Tempête
1960
Oil on canvas
88.9 x 115.9 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Karel Appel. 'Dans la Tempête' (detail) 1960

 

Karel Appel
Dans la Tempête (detail)
1960
Oil on canvas
88.9 x 115.9 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

“We live always in a tremendous chaos,” Karel Appel stated to an interviewer in 1986, “and who can make the chaos positive anymore? Only the artist.”1 Registering, but also redeeming, social, political, and psychic conflict was an ethical imperative for Appel, who came of age as an artist in the 1940s. Appel witnessed firsthand the brutalization of human beings by war, prejudice, deprivation, and occupation, and he sought to visualize these experiences through art. His canvases are ravaged, quite literally, by brushes, palette knives, and fingers. Choked by thick layers of impasto, their surfaces are as agitated as the animals and figures the paintings depict. Form, color, content, and technique all serve as corollaries to the period of profound turmoil in which Appel worked. Importantly, the artist’s approach to historical trauma was dialectical. The devastation of pre- and postwar Europe, he believed, was a tabula rasa making possible the rebirth of both art and human beings.2

Appel was a founding member of Cobra (1948-51), a group of Expressionist painters from Amsterdam, Brussels, and Copenhagen. Appel shared with other Cobra artists an appreciation for the art of the untutored, including children and the mentally ill, whose supposed alienation from Western, classical tradition granted them privileged access to the wellsprings of creativity: fantasy, passion, and instinct.3 Believing that society had been betrayed by logic and science, Appel turned to the irrational for inspiration. His predilection for the primal aligned him with Jean Dubuffet and Art Brut, an association formalized by his appearance in French critic Michel Tapié’s 1952 exhibition Un Art autreDans la Tempête was painted in 1960, three years after Appel relocated temporarily to New York, where he socialized with Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Upon arriving in Manhattan, Appel was struck not only by the spontaneous, improvisatory spirit of jazz but also by the city’s “unfinished quality.”4 He subsequently sought to translate this contingency into paintings like Dans la Tempête. Trapped in a state of arrested development, this work also demonstrates Appel’s longstanding fascination with the “creaturely,” that is, with the reduction of humans to the condition of animals.5 Here as elsewhere, the artist elides the one and the other, manufacturing from their cross-pollination a grotesque bestiary of mutants whose anatomical deformations evoke distress. Much as Appel blends pigment by painting wet-onwet, so too does he blur the boundaries between things and the grounds they inhabit: permeability trumps both spatial and physical integrity, as seen in Dans la Tempête, where a yellow zoomorphic shape at the left and a barely legible demi-human at the right thrash amongst swirls of paint.6 KB

 

1 Sam Hunter, “Karel Appel in the Spirit of Our Time,” Arts Magazine 62 (January 1988), p. 60.

2 Hal Foster, “Creaturely, Cobra,” October 141 (Summer 2013), p. 7.

3 See Karel Appel, Psychopathological Notebook: Drawings and Gouaches, 1948-1950 (Bern: Gachnang and Springer, 1999).

4 Hunter, “Karel Appel,” p. 62.

5 Foster, “Creaturely, Cobra,” pp. 6-8.

6 Appel described his work from 1955 to 1960 as “nightscapes” that merge “paysage” and “visage.” Helena Kontova and Giancarlo Politi, “Karel Appel,” Flash Art, no. 134 (May 1987), p. 53.

 

Jack Tworkov. 'Bond' 1960

 

Jack Tworkov
Bond
1960
Oil on canvas
154.9 x 91.4 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Jack Tworkov. 'Bond' 1960 (detail)

 

Jack Tworkov
Bond
(detail)
1960
Oil on canvas
154.9 x 91.4 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Jean Dubuffet. 'Mire G119' 1983

 

Jean Dubuffet
Mire G119
1983
Acrylic on paper
135.7 x 99.5 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Modularity, seriality, and repetition – three of his main concerns here – ground us firmly in modernity, in the realm of synthetics and industrial production. Importantly, the title of the series, Mires, has both televisual and physiological connotations: it is French for “test pattern” (a signal used to calibrate television sets), but it also means “sight” as well as “aim,” as in “the sense of focusing sight on a point in an unlimited continuum.” Instead of the visionary, then, the Mires address vision itself. As the artist once wrote, the Mires “represent the spectacles that are offered to our eyes,” by which he meant the myriad optical enticements that bombard viewers in the form of signs, displays, and advertisements. Following from this, we might say that Dubuffet sought in works like Mire G119 to fashion an artistic equivalent for the “mobile,” “dynamic,” “impulsive,” and wholly mediated character of vision in the late twentieth century. KB

 

Richard Diebenkorn. 'Untitled (Ocean Park)' 1983

 

Richard Diebenkorn
Untitled (Ocean Park)
1983
Acrylic, gouache, crayon, and pasted paper on paper
96.2 x 63.5 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Paul Jenkins. 'Phenomena Spanish Cape' 1975

 

Paul Jenkins
Phenomena Spanish Cape
1975
Acrylic on canvas
86.7 x 86.7 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Although his paintings seem to share a great deal with those of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, Paul Jenkins never counted himself a member of the Color Field school – or indeed, of any school at all. Jenkins moved to New York in 1948, during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, but relocated to Paris just five years later, joining an artistic community that included Joan Mitchell, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Michel Tapiés, and Wols. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Jenkins absorbed a dizzying array of writing on matters ranging from art and magic to psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism.1 From this heady brew, he developed a distinctly mystical art that sought to make the invisible visible. The role of the artist, Jenkins believed, was to serve as a conduit, or “medium,” through which memories, emotions, and experiences passed directly onto canvas.2

In 1959-60, Jenkins’s work took a dramatic turn: after visiting a small port on the northeast coast of Spain, near the Cap de Creus, he began to prioritize fluidity as both a style and a concept, a decision that led him to experiment with water-based acrylic. Method played a crucial role in creating the effect of flux that Jenkins sought. In Phenomena Spanish Cape paint is poured directly onto the canvas from a can or watering pot, allowing for continuous, uninterrupted shapes to emerge.3 The downward flow of paint was hastened by gravity but controlled by the artist, who tilted the support right and left, up and down, to encourage the medium in one direction or another. Jenkins used water to mute or lighten tones and ivory knives, which left no discernible trace on the canvas, to spread the paint as it pooled.4 The result is a paradox: a painting born of the artist but from which all evidence of his hand—his labor – has been effaced. Phenomena Spanish Cape suggests expansion, radiation, and suspension. Evoking eddies, clouds, and tides, the sheets of color seem to swell and drift like the natural events whose appearances they distill.5 We might also recognize in the work’s composition – with its veils of color that project out from a dominant red mass into areas of white-primed canvas – an aerial view of a peninsula, perhaps the Spanish cape referenced in the title. In all of Jenkins’s paintings after 1960, the title of the work is prefaced by the word “phenomena,” meaning an event of spiritual and subjective import, a snapshot of “ever-changing reality” objectified on canvas.6 KB

 

1 For more on Jenkins’s spiritual and intellectual background, see Albert Elsen, Paul Jenkins (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1973), pp. 20-21, p. 35, 46, 67.

2 Ibid., p. 19.

3 Ibid., p. 56. Jenkins first experimented with pouring paint in 1953-54.

4 For more on the artist’s technique and materials, which he honed, quite literally, to a science, see ibid., pp. 65-76.

5 On the role of nature in his work, see Jean Cassou, Jenkins (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1963), pp. 13-14.

6 Ibid., p. 6.

 

Mark Rothko. 'Untitled' 1968

 

Mark Rothko
Untitled
1968
Oil on paper laid down on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Mark Rothko. 'Untitled' 1968 (detail)

 

Mark Rothko
Untitled (detail)
1968
Oil on paper laid down on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

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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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