Archive for the 'Berlin' Category

16
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered’ at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 4th April – 24th August 2014

 

It takes guts and moral fortitude to continue photographing the city that you live in even as the state that controls that city and country conspires against you. It takes talent to produce memorable images of urban poverty, to record for posterity communities that would soon vanish forever under the weight of a malignant form of madness, of genocide.

Vishniac was the only one not concerned with ego. He went out there and got the job done where no one else did. He produced thoroughly modern images of an ancient culture on the verge of destruction. He knew the danger and yet he still took the photos. Courage and fortitude, and in the end the luck to escape the Holocaust himself.

You can’t look at these images without a sense of regret and sadness – at the stupidity of humanity, of the egos of men, and the waste of millions of lives. One name says it all: Ernst Kaufmann. Standing on a pile of rocks, wearing wooden clogs, this man with the wavy hair looks down into the camera and he will ever be thus – young, handsome, alive in the moment that the photograph was taken.

Ernst Kaufmann was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. He was arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Jewish Historical Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Lots more images can be found on the excellent Roman Vishniac Archive website.

 

 

ICP_Vishniac_pressimage_1-DETAIL

 

Roman Vishniac
Recalcitrance, Berlin (detail)
1926
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered brings together four decades of work by an extraordinarily versatile and innovative photographer for the first time. Vishniac (1897-1990) created the most widely recognized and reproduced photographic record of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. These celebrated photographs were taken on assignment for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the world’s largest Jewish relief organization, from 1935-38, yet this exhibition follows the photographer’s long and accomplished career from the early 1920s through the 1950s. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered introduces a radically diverse body of work – much of it only recently discovered – and repositions Vishniac’s iconic photographs of Eastern European Jewry within a broader tradition of 1930s social documentary photography.

More than any other photographer, Roman Vishniac’s images have profoundly influenced contemporary notions of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Vishniac created the most widely recognized and reproduced photographic record of that world on the eve of its annihilation, yet only a small fraction of his work was published or printed during his lifetime. Known primarily for this poignant record, Vishniac was in fact a remarkably versatile and innovative photographer. His body of work spans more than five decades, ranging from early engagements with European modernism in the 1920s to highly inventive color photomicroscopy in the 1950s and ’60s.

Born in 1897 to an affluent Russian-Jewish family, Vishniac was raised in Moscow, where he studied zoology and biology. He immigrated to Berlin in 1920 in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. As an amateur photographer he took to the streets, offering witty and wry visual commentary on his adopted city while experimenting with new approaches to framing and composition. As Vishniac documented the Nazi rise to power, foreboding signs of oppression soon became a focal point of his work. In 1935, he was commissioned by the European headquarters of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) – the world’s largest Jewish relief organization – to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Vishniac’s four years of work on the project yielded the celebrated images that have largely defined his photographic legacy.

Arriving in New York on New Year’s Day 1941, Vishniac opened a portrait studio, working to make ends meet by documenting American Jewish communal and immigrant life, while establishing himself as a pioneer in the field of photomicroscopy. In 1947, he returned to Europe and documented Jewish Displaced Persons’ Camps, the efforts of Holocaust survivors to rebuild their lives, emigration and relief efforts, and the ruins of Berlin.

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is a comprehensive reappraisal of Vishniac’s total photographic output, from his early years in Berlin through the postwar period in America. The exhibition is drawn from the Roman Vishniac archive at ICP and serves as an introduction to this vast assemblage comprising more than 30,000 objects, including recently discovered vintage prints, rare moving film footage, contact sheets, personal correspondence, and exhibition prints made from his recently digitized negatives.

 

Berlin Street Photography, 1920s-30s

Vishniac immigrated to Berlin in 1920, shortly after the formation of the Weimar Republic. He and his wife Luta settled in the Wilmersdorf district, home to a large community of affluent Russian-Jewish expatriates. Berlin in the 1920s was the epitome of a modern city: cosmopolitan, loud, vibrant, diverse, and full of recent immigrants. Already an accomplished amateur photographer, Vishniac joined several of the city’s ubiquitous camera clubs. Armed with his Rolleiflex and Leica, he took to the streets, creating astute, often humorous observations of his adopted city.

Vishniac’s interest in photography had begun during his childhood in Russia; many Russian Jews owned photography shops and studios, and Vishniac’s family encouraged his pursuits. In Berlin, his perspective as an outsider contributed to his inventive and dynamic images of life in the city, and marked his transformation from amateur hobbyist to accomplished street photographer. His best, most intimate photographs were often taken in his own neighborhood, where he built a fully equipped photo-processing lab in his apartment.

Vishniac took full advantage of the city’s manifold resources, improving his technique and experimenting with modernist and avant-garde approaches to framing and composition – hallmarks of Weimar Berlin. This prodigious body of early work became increasingly influenced by European modernism as he captured the buzzing day-to-day life of the city: streetcar drivers, municipal workers and day laborers, marching students and children at play, bucolic park scenes and the intellectual café life of the bustling metropolis that was, in Vishniac’s words, “the world’s center of music, books, and science.”

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin]' late 1920s - early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac
[Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin]
late 1920s – early 1930s
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. 'People behind bars, Berlin Zoo' Early 1930s (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
People behind bars, Berlin Zoo
Early 1930s (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

The oldest and most renowned zoo in Germany, the Zoologische Garten was a popular gathering place for Berlin’s middle- and upper-class Jewish community before World War II. Many affluent Jewish families, including the Vishniacs, were shareholders. Beginning in 1933, the zoo began to force out Jewish board members. In 1938, a sign reading “Juden unerwünscht” (Jews Unwanted) was displayed at the entrance to the zoo and in early 1939 Jews were denied entry entirely. In Vishniac’s photograph of the zoo’s famous polar bears, it appears that the visitors, and not the animals, are in a cage.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boys admiring a motorcycle, Brandenburg, outskirts of Berlin]' 1929 - early 1930s (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boys admiring a motorcycle, Brandenburg, outskirts of Berlin]
1929 – early 1930s (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Nazi Rise to Power in Germany, 1933-38

“I grew up in Berlin with a pervasive sense of danger and dread combined with a perceived obligation not to show fear. I was aware of personal danger and knew that whatever happened to me, my parents could offer no protection or help. That was everyday life.”

Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Vishniac’s development as a professional photographer coincided with the Nazi rise to power and the establishment of the Third Reich. Widespread antisemitism and the implementation of increasingly restrictive measures against Jews became daily realities. Vishniac documented the ominous changes he encountered, photographing campaign posters, swastika banners, phrenology shops, and marching Nazi soldiers. Following Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in 1933, the government relentlessly pursued those artists and intellectuals not in line with the Reich’s values. Berlin’s cosmopolitan vivacity was soon drained of its intellectual and cultural capital. Once-vibrant neighborhoods became ruled by fear; anyone considered an opponent of the Nazi government could be sent to Dachau, a concentration camp established in 1933 outside Munich.

Many photographers suffered from the Nazi policies; the Schriftgesetz (Editorial Act) of November 1933 forced anyone working in publishing – photographers included – to provide proof of Aryan heritage. In 1934, the Deutsche Presse (German Press) published a list of authorized Aryan photographers whose work aligned with the Nazi party. Jews were forbidden to take photographs on the street. In spite of these restrictions, Vishniac tenaciously documented Berlin’s rapid acclimation to Nazi policy. To avoid suspicion, he often used his young daughter Mara as a prop, snapping seemingly innocuous pictures of her in front of advertising columns and shop windows festooned with Nazi propaganda.

These symbols of oppression formed the quotidian backdrop of Vishniac’s Germany, a fact to which the ubiquity of Nazi flags, banners, and posters in his later Berlin photographs testify. Capturing the spread of Nazi ideology on Berlin’s streets, Vishniac’s images embodied his own marginalization – and endangerment – as both a photographer and a Jew.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Recalcitrance, Berlin' 1926

 

Roman Vishniac
Recalcitrance, Berlin
1926
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Vishniac's daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler that reads "The Marshal and the Corporal: Fight with Us for Peace and Equal Rights," Wilmersdorf, Berlin]' 1933

 

Roman Vishniac
[Vishniac’s daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler that reads “The Marshal and the Corporal: Fight with Us for Peace and Equal Rights,” Wilmersdorf, Berlin]
1933
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Street scene with a swastika flag on a storefront (at left), Berlin]' c. 1935-36 (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
[Street scene with a swastika flag on a storefront (at left), Berlin]
c. 1935-36 (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Vishniac often positioned himself in doorways or building foyers in his Berlin street photography, documenting daily life as a removed observer. This image reveals multiple layers of time in one shot: the car positioned alongside the horse-drawn wagon, bicyclists speeding by as pedestrians young and old navigate the cobblestones and pavement, against the backdrop of a rapidly modernizing metropolis. Only upon closer examination do our eyes move to a swastika flag blowing in the wind above the horses, a common site on most Berlin streets by 1935.

 

 

German-Jewish Relief and Community Organizations, Berlin, mid- to late 1930s

Prior to Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933, Jewish social service organizations in Germany primarily served Eastern European Jews, the majority of whom were less cosmopolitan, assimilated, and affluent than their German-born coreligionists. The Nazi regime recognized no such distinction, however, and their rise to power drastically affected almost every Jew living in Germany. As Germany’s Jewish population was gradually excluded from both social and economic life, many came to depend upon a Jewish social structure that was originally intended to look outward but quickly expanded to serve the growing needs of the community.

In 1933, German-Jewish groups unified into the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden (Central Organization of German Jews), an umbrella organization intended to ameliorate the effects of Nazi racial policy. Between 1933 and 1938, subsidiary and affiliate organizations created Jewish education and healthcare systems and instituted a welfare system for Jews facing impoverishment. Zionist and other youth organizations flourished under the exclusionary policies of the Nazis, helping would-be émigrés learn the agricultural and vocational skills needed to build new lives in Palestine and elsewhere. The Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural Association) was established in response to restrictions placed on Jewish artists. Vishniac and his family were among its 70,000 members and regularly attended lectures and performances. Vishniac was also a member of T’munah, a Jewish photographic group founded in 1934 in response to the exclusionary policies of “Aryan” camera clubs.

As restrictions on photographers increased, Vishniac was commissioned to document the work of several Jewish community and social service organizations in Berlin. This fascinating body of work is largely unknown, but it helped establish his reputation in Jewish philanthropic circles, leading to major commissions from a wide range of Jewish relief and community organizations from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Drawer of freshly farmed eggs, Gut Winkel, a training farm for German-Jewish youth hoping to emigrate to Palestine, Spreenhagen in der Mark, Brandenburg, Germany]' c. 1938

 

Roman Vishniac
[Drawer of freshly farmed eggs, Gut Winkel, a training farm for German-Jewish youth hoping to emigrate to Palestine, Spreenhagen in der Mark, Brandenburg, Germany]
c. 1938
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Preparing food in a Jewish soup kitchen, Berlin]' mid- to late 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac
[Preparing food in a Jewish soup kitchen, Berlin]
mid- to late 1930s
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Jewish Life in Eastern Europe, ca. 1935-38

In 1935, Roman Vishniac was hired by the European headquarters of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) to document impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Photographic images offered limitless, affordable reproducibility, and could be used in slide lectures, brochures, appeals, and annual reports throughout America and Western Europe. Vishniac’s images played a crucial role in communicating the AJDC’s message, and they would ultimately become the last extensive photographic record by a single photographer of Jewish communities that had existed for centuries.

The majority of Vishniac’s published photographs of Eastern Europe depict privation. Many others illustrate the philanthropic activities of the AJDC such as children’s camps, free loan societies, soup kitchens, schools, and health organizations. And while Vishniac is often associated with images of rural villages and small towns, or shtetlach, most of his photographs record urban poverty in major cities like Warsaw, Krakow, and Lodz. His work for the AJDC echoes the contemporaneous projects of American photographers like Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Arthur Rothstein, and Walker Evans. In the same years that the Farm Security Administration sent photographers to the American South and West to document those affected by drought, depression, and migration, Vishniac was sent east by the AJDC. Today, his work stands alongside the best social-documentary photographers of his era. His unpublished work imparts a much more complex and nuanced perspective on Eastern European Jewish life, and reveals a much more versatile – and modern – artist.

That Vishniac was commissioned to document the most impoverished Jews is significant, as is the fact that he often chose the most traditional and observant Jews as subjects, to amplify the contrast between Ostjuden, or Eastern Jews, and the more assimilated Western Jews who would be viewing the images. It was only after the Holocaust, when the communities he had so poignantly depicted were annihilated, that his body of work came to symbolize the vanished world of Eastern Jewry.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Eastern Europe]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Eastern Europe]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Eastern Europe]' (detail) c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Eastern Europe] (detail)
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boy with kindling in a basement dwelling, Krochmalna Street, Warsaw]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boy with kindling in a basement dwelling, Krochmalna Street, Warsaw]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stenciled flowers above her head, Warsaw]' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac
[Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stenciled flowers above her head, Warsaw]
c. 1935-37
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Werkdorp Nieuwesluis Agrarian Training Camp, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands, 1939

As the plight of German Jews became increasingly dire throughout the 1930s and many Jewish families attempted to send their children to safety in neutral countries, many young German Jews, including Vishniac’s children Wolf and Mara, joined a large number of Zionist organizations. With the British government maintaining strict immigration quotas, hundreds of young German Jews planning to go to Palestine and waiting to obtain visas were sent to the Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, a Zionist agrarian youth training complex, or hachschara, in the Netherlands. Established in 1934 by the Foundation for Jewish Labor on land donated by the Dutch government, the Werkdorp taught young, urban Jews farming, animal husbandry, construction, and other unfamiliar skills they would need as pioneers in Palestine.

In 1939, Vishniac was sent by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) to document the Werkdorp’s activities. Vishniac photographed the capable young men and women as idealized, heroic Zionist pioneers, lifting heavy stones, constructing scaffolding, and tugging on rope. The images bear a striking resemblance to heavily circulated halutz (Zionist pioneer) photography made in Palestine in the 1930s, and demonstrate Vishniac’s versatility: here is an ambitious, accomplished series in a style that is radically different from his earlier work, and perfectly suited to his athletic, industrious subjects. Shot from a low vantage point, the Werkdorp images juxtapose clear skies and strong silhouettes to form vigorous, balanced compositions. Young, healthy bodies play off the clean, rhythmic geometry of the construction sites in a manner that is also reminiscent of the Russian Constructivist photographer Rodchenko, whose work would certainly have been familiar to Vishniac.

In March 1941, Nazi SS officers ordered the evacuation of the camp, and most of its inhabitants were sent to transit camps, including Westerbork. Out of 315 Werkdorp residents in May 1940, 175 were killed in concentration camps in the east.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Zionist youth building a school and foundry while learning construction techniques, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Zionist youth building a school and foundry while learning construction techniques, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Vishniac’s Werkdorp images did not include any caption information on the few existing prints of the work, and were thus difficult to identify. A small, 2¼-inch-square contact print of three young men wearing wooden clogs provided a vital clue that facilitated the attribution of this larger body of Werkdorp material, with the assistance of curators at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. This is the only known example of a professional photographer documenting this Dutch Zionist agrarian training camp.

Ernst Kaufmann was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. He was arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Willy Lefkowitz and Martin Grünpeter constructing a foundry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939 (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
[Willy Lefkowitz and Martin Grünpeter constructing a foundry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939 (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Willy Lefkowitz, left, was forcibly removed from the Werkdorp when it was closed by the Nazis in 1941. Lefkowitz, along with the majority of the Werkdorp’s remaining inhabitants, was sent to the Westerbork Transit Camp in northeastern Netherlands, a site where Dutch Jews and Roma were assembled during World War II prior to their deportation to Nazi extermination camps in the east. Of the 107,000 people who passed through Westerbork – among them Anne Frank and her family – only 5,200 survived, including Lefkowitz, who immigrated to the United States. He is believed to have died in Brooklyn in 2001. Martin Grünpeter, right, a German Jew born in 1914, survived World War II and immigrated to Palestine.

 

 

Travel, Refuge, and Internment in France: Paris, Nice, and Marseille, ca. 1939

From April to September 1939, Vishniac worked as a freelance photographer based in France while his family struggled to secure exit visas to the U.S. (his children had been sent to safety in Sweden). In the interwar years, France had welcomed Jews from across Europe. By 1939, as Jews fleeing Nazi rule brought the Jewish population in France to over 300,000, an increasingly conservative and nationalist government sought to limit immigration. Detention camps for Jews were established in southern France.

During this time, Vishniac was commissioned by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and the Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor (ORT) to photograph and film an ORT vocational training school for Jewish refugees near Marseille. Vishniac’s parents had relocated to Nice in 1937, and while visiting them, he took playful, spontaneous photographs of Riviera beach life, a stark contrast to the intense and machine-focused ORT images that were to be his final photographic assignment for the AJDC until his return to Europe in 1947.

In late 1939, after entrusting a large selection of his negatives to his friend Walter Bierer in Paris, Vishniac was arrested and imprisoned at the Camp du Ruchard internment camp. Held for three months, he wrote desperate letters to family, friends, and the staff of the AJDC, describing the dismal conditions and pleading for assistance. Following his release, secured through the efforts of his wife, Vishniac waited in France while his family worked to obtain exit visas, with assistance from the AJDC. Vishniac reunited with Luta, Wolf, and Mara in Lisbon, and the family sailed for America on the S.S. Siboney in December 1940, arriving in America on New Year’s Day 1941.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Beachgoers in the afternoon, Nice, France]' c. 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Beachgoers in the afternoon, Nice, France]
c. 1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Students learning metalwork techniques, Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor (ORT), Marseille]' 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Students learning metalwork techniques, Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor (ORT), Marseille]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

YIVO Exhibitions in New York, January 1944 and January 1945

In 1944 and 1945, as World War II raged in Europe, Vishniac staged two large exhibitions at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, presenting his commissioned work from Eastern Europe to an American audience.

Founded in 1925 as the Yiddish Scientific Institute in Wilno, Poland, YIVO was created to preserve, research, and promote Eastern European Jewish culture and history during a period of rapid modernization and immigration. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the organization was reestablished in New York in 1940 as the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, at 55 West 123rd Street, while a group of brave and dedicated archivists in Wilno worked to rescue precious material in defiance of Nazi orders.

Vishniac’s first exhibition at YIVO, Pictures of Jewish Life in Prewar Poland, opened in January 1944 and focused on urban Jewish life, with a large selection of images from Lublin, Warsaw, and Wilno. The second exhibition, Jewish Life in the Carpathians, opened in January 1945, and featured photographs of Jewish farming communities in the Carpathian Mountains, and yeshivas and religious life in Galicia.

The largely Yiddish-speaking audience in New York viewed images of their communities of origin just as those communities were being destroyed, a fate the viewers were virtually powerless to stop. As word of the destruction of Eastern European Jews spread across the Atlantic, Vishniac’s photographs – originally intended to call attention to the privation of living Eastern European Jews – began to be seen as “documents of a lost epoch,” as phrased in the exhibition text at YIVO. These exhibitions signaled the first major shift in the contextualization of Vishniac’s work: from documentary assignments to bolster relief efforts in the late 1930s to images capturing a world on the brink of annihilation.

The YIVO exhibition boards, labeled in both English and Yiddish utilizing an innovative, Bauhaus-inspired typography that originated in interwar Wilno, are now in the collection of ICP and are being displayed as a group for the first time since the original exhibitions.

Today, YIVO continues to advance the study of Eastern European Jewish cultural heritage, and houses an archive of more than 24 million artifacts.

 

“The Face of America at War”: New York, 1941-44

The recent discovery of Vishniac’s unsuccessful 1944 application for a Guggenheim Fellowship sheds new light on a group of more than 200 negatives from the early 1940s that had previously appeared to be unrelated. Printed and exhibited here for the first time, these images show the impact of war rationing on shoppers at the Washington Market, the war relief efforts of New York’s Chinese-American community, women’s entrance into the industrial workforce and the military, the carousing of off-duty soldiers in Central Park, and the impact of war on the lives of New Yorkers. Vishniac’s Guggenheim proposal described a “photographic series portraying the face of America at war,” and this diverse yet cohesive group of images was likely submitted as a sample portfolio with his application, the beginnings of a project never completed for want of funding. His extraordinary, extensive series on Chinatown, reminiscent of his photographs of urban Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, depicts a neighborhood that is both separated from and integrated into the fabric of the larger city, reflective of Vishniac’s own efforts to navigate yet another new, adopted home as an outsider. The images capture the “objectivity” of “un-posed” journalistic photography, in the words of one recommender, and have a great deal in common with fellow Jewish émigré Robert Frank’s Guggenheim-funded project, The Americans, made a decade later.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Sisters Marion, Renate, and Karen Gumprecht, refugees assisted by the National Refugee Service (NRS) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), shortly after their arrival in the United States, Central Park, New York]' 1941

 

Roman Vishniac
[Sisters Marion, Renate, and Karen Gumprecht, refugees assisted by the National Refugee Service (NRS) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), shortly after their arrival in the United States, Central Park, New York]
1941
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Customers waiting in line at a butcher's counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York]' 1941-44

 

Roman Vishniac
[Customers waiting in line at a butcher’s counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York]
1941-44
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn]' 1949

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn]
1949
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Berlin in Ruins, 1947

In 1947, Vishniac returned to Europe as an American citizen, hired by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and United Jewish Appeal (UJA) to document relief efforts in Jewish Displaced Persons’ Camps. While on assignment, Vishniac visited Berlin, where he created a bleak and poignant record of the destroyed city that had been his home for twenty years. Focusing on West Berlin, he took intimate photographs of his former Wilmersdorf neighborhood, now reduced to ruins. The same locations that had thrummed with life in his street photography from the Weimar era are suffused with a haunting silence in his 1947 photographs. One photograph reveals the crumbling and mangled platform that had once been Vishniac’s living room. Other images capture the tentative steps of a city emerging from devastation: children walking hand-in-hand and playing amidst the ruins, flowers growing through the rubble, and hairdressers once more advertising their services. Together, these pictures, which have not been previously printed or exhibited, constitute a unique and highly personal contribution to the documentation of postwar life in Berlin.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boy standing on a mountain of rubble, Berlin]' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boy standing on a mountain of rubble, Berlin]
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. 'The streets are free of brown batallions!, Berlin' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
The streets are free of brown batallions!, Berlin
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Refugees and Displaced Persons’ Camps, Germany and France, 1947

In the aftermath of World War II, the Allied nations had initially expected the repatriation of displaced refugees to take six months. Most Jewish refugees, however, no longer had communities or family to which they could return, presenting a unique challenge. Following the 1945 Harrison Report, the Allies considered Jewish survivors a distinct group, to be housed in exclusively Jewish camps and aided in eventual emigration. By mid-1947, 250,000 Jews lived in Displaced Persons’ Camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Officially administered by the United Nations, the primary aid, support, and administration for the DP Camps came from Jewish charitable organizations, most notably the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC). In France, Jewish organizations ran DP Camps privately, housing nearly 40,000 refugees. Despite difficult conditions and profound trauma, Jewish life soon flourished in the camps, as families reunited and formed anew.

Commissioned by the AJDC and the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), Vishniac traveled to various DP Camps in 1947, documenting a broad range of relief programs, including food distribution centers, visa application lines, occupational training, and health services. Other images record children’s camps, religious and cultural events, and refugee reunions. Wired back to America, Vishniac’s images helped publicize the plight of homeless and stateless Jewish refugees, raising funds and increasing the pressure on Britain and the U.S. to open their doors to survivors.

Spurred by these cultural and educational programs and the emerging Zionist youth movement, survivors soon rallied against British restrictions on immigration to Palestine. Following the Declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, and the American Displaced Persons Act of 1948, most Jews left DP Camps for Israel or the United States. By 1952, almost all DP Camps had closed.

Maya Benton, Curator at the International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Holocaust survivors and American relief worker, probably Schlachtensee Displaced Persons' Camp, Zehlendorf, Berlin]' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
[Holocaust survivors and American relief worker, probably Schlachtensee Displaced Persons’ Camp, Zehlendorf, Berlin]
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Holocaust survivors gathering outside a building where matzoh is being made in preparation for the Passover holiday, Hénonville Displaced Persons' Camp, Picardy, France]' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
[Holocaust survivors gathering outside a building where matzoh is being made in preparation for the Passover holiday, Hénonville Displaced Persons’ Camp, Picardy, France]
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

 

 

Jewish Historical Museum
Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1
1011 PL Amsterdam

Opening hours:

Jewish Historical Museum website

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31
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘Knud Lonberg-Holm: The Invisible Architect’ at Ubu Gallery, New York Part 2

Exhibition dates: 6th May – 30th September 2014

 

The second part of this posting about the work of architect Knud Lonberg-Holm. “Backside-views of buildings and fire escapes, rather than historicist ornamental facades, are presented in their “unselfconscious beauty” in opposition to traditional, pictorialist architectural photography.” You only have to look at the photographs of the city by Alfred Stieglitz or Berenice Abbott taken at around the same time to notice the difference – less romantic, more “modern” in their geometry and form.

If it weren’t for the shock of seeing 1920s cars at the bottom of some of the images (for example, Detroit, Rear Façade of a Hotel, 1924 below) you could almost believe that they had been made 40 years later, around the time of Bernd and Hilla Becher. These photographs are monumental, industrious but are tinged with humanity – the billboards, cars, people and advertising signs that hover at the bottom or in the deep shadows of the image. Then look at the tonality and atmosphere of the images, including the vibration of light in the two Dazzlescapes (New York, Madison Square and New York, Times Square, both 1923 below).

I don’t think I have ever seen a better collection of images of city architecture.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to Ubu Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I’ve always been annoyed by rummaging through the past; the future interests me much more.”

.
Knud Lonberg-Holm

 

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition' West elevation 1922

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition
West elevation
1922
Vintage photograph mounted on board
9 1/8 x 3 5/8 inches (23.2 x 9.2 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition' West view axonometric 1922

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition
West view axonometric
1922
Vintage photograph mounted on board
8 7/8 x 4 5/8 inches (22.5 x 11.7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Equity Trust Building - Oblique View' 1923

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Equity Trust Building – Oblique View
1923
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 41
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 3/8 x 3 1/4 inches (11.1 x 8.3 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Woolworth Building - Oblique View' 1923

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Woolworth Building – Oblique View
1923
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 40
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches (10.8 x 8.3 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition' Side elevation with Tribune sign visible 1922

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition
Side elevation with Tribune sign visible
1922
Vintage photograph mounted on board
9 1/8 x 4 7/8 inches (23.2 x 12.4 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition' Preliminary side elevation 1922

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Design for the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition
Preliminary side elevation
1922
Photograph mounted on board
9 x 4 5/8 inches (22.9 x 11.7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

 

“Throughout the 1920s, he traveled to other American cities like Chicago and New York City, where, with a 35-millimeter handheld Leica, he took worm’s-eye views and extreme close-ups of skyscrapers, the back sides of buildings, fire escapes, billboards, and dazzling “lightscapes,” ignoring – for the most part – the facades of the buildings. Some of these images would appear, uncredited, in Erich Mendelsohn’s 1926 publication Amerika: Bilderbuch eines Architekten, the first book on the “International Style” in American architecture. (Only in an expanded, later edition from 1928 is Lonberg-Holm credited for 17 of the images.)

Soon the photographs cropped up in design and architecture journals in Holland, Germany, and Russia. “They received acclaim for being progressive and dynamic presentations of technology, commerce, and urbanization,” says Adam Boxer, founder and owner of Ubu Gallery. “To expose Lonberg-Holm’s role as photographer means one can situate him in his deserved role – a pioneer of New Photography.” As a correspondent for the avant-garde, having his images and writings appear in radical European Modernist reviews – such as the Functionalist-Constructivist Swiss bulletin ABC Beitrage zum Bauen (Contributions on Building) and the Dutch i10 – were of crucial importance, since they circulated amongst members of the European vanguard. By the 1930s, however, Lonberg-Holm had given up architecture for marketing research, and his photographs, never signed or dated, no longer circulated. …

Lonberg-Holm also questioned how architecture was practiced and he pioneered the idea of the life cycle of a building. Decades before William McDonough discovered cradle-to-cradle thinking, Lonberg-Holm had been trying to put across the concept that all buildings, like all organisms, are subject to a life cycle, as predictable and as inevitable as the cycles in nature. “The building cycle involves research, design, construction, use, and elimination – and repeat,” wrote an editor in the January 1960 issue of Architectural Forum. “One of Lonberg-Holm’s chief contentions is that design that anticipates the cycle as a whole makes each succeeding step more rational and easier… Lonberg-Holm’s principle, ‘Anticipate remodeling in the initial design,’ carries a corollary, which might be put this way, in keeping with the very important principle of design articulation: ‘Design each “system” in the building – the structural system, the heating or the air-conditioning system, the wiring, the plumbing, etc. – to be self-contained for easy assembly, with interconnections to other systems held to a minimum and made easy to alter.'”

Extract from Paul Makovsky. “The Invisible Architect of Invisible Architecture,” on the Metropolis website [Online] Cited 18/07/2014

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit
1924
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 67
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches (10.8 x 8.3 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit, Rear Areaway' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit, Rear Areaway
1924
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 91
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (11.4 x 8.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

During the 1920s, Lonberg-Holm traveled to American cities like Detroit, Chicago, and New York. With his 35-millimeter Leica camera, he took extreme close-ups of skyscrapers (such as this rear view Detroit Hotel, above), the back sides of buildings, fire escapes, billboards, and dazzling nighttime views.

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit
1924
variant cropping reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 21
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (11.1 x 8.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Detroit, Rear Façade of a Hotel' 1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Detroit, Rear Façade of a Hotel
1924
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 89
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 3 3/8 inches (11.4 x 8.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Chicago, Skyscraper of the Second Period' c. prior to 1926

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Chicago, Skyscraper of the Second Period
c. prior to 1926
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 77 (right)
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (11.1 x 8.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

KLH_18_HR-WEB

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Chicago, 2 Skyscrapers
c. prior to 1926
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 75
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (11.4 x 8.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm: The Invisible Architect

Lonberg-Holm was the first architect in my knowledge to talk about the ultimately invisible architecture. In 1929, when I first met him, he said the greatest architect in history would be the one who finally developed the capability to give humanity completely effective environmental control without any visible structure and machinery. Thus we have in our day an unsung Leonardo of the building industry, whose scientific foresight and design competence are largely responsible for the present world-around state of advancement of the building arts.

.
Buckminster Fuller, 1968

 

The historical documents in this collection represent a hitherto unexplored aspect of the influence of European modernist architects – specifically, those who emigrated to the United States early and voluntarily, before the rise of fascism necessitated the wholesale evacuation of the European avant-garde. The seemingly disparate archive of photographs, drawings, diagrams and correspondence can be grouped around a unifying theme: the realization of the avant-garde ambition of integration and control of architectural production through industrialization; and around a central figure: the architect Knud Lonberg-Holm. The documents bear witness to a complex history that is not easily tracked elsewhere. This is due, in part, to the fact that they bridge two continents, and in part because they unveil processes of reform, such as the scientific conversion of the institutions of architectural practice and the transformation of the project, that were aimed at the most mundane level of building, not at exceptional structures. Moreover, the documents show this professional and anonymous destiny together in line with inversely artistic and revolutionary origins. Thus, the archive documents a phenomenon of cultural disappearance, bringing missing substance to the link between the Americanism of the European avant-garde and the history of modern architecture in the United States.

A native of Denmark, which he leaves in 1923 for the United States, Knud Lonberg-Holm (1895-1972) is the emblematic figure of this disappearance. Initially considered a “pioneer of modern architecture” by the anthropologists of the 1920s, and even held representative of “the space-time conception” by Henry Russell Hitchcock, his true contributions will be ever more unacknowledged as they become more fundamental. First of the modernist émigrés in the United States, he becomes the obliged correspondent for the European avant-garde, in particular for the De Stijl group and also the Berlin Constructivists, with whom he was closest. He was a contributor to both ABC and i10, a member of ASNOVA, a collaborator of Buckminster Fuller, and also the American delegate to CIAM with Richard Neutra. His experiments with photography in the early 1920s (diffused widely by J.J.P. Oud, Moholy-Nagy, Erich Mendelsohn, and others) were received with critical success in Europe and the USSR. This is due as much to the revolutionary use of extreme viewpoints from below and above, as to the renewal of the iconographic sources of modernism: the substitution of the imagery of the grain elevators and the “balancing of the masses,” for an aesthetic of structure and tension gleaned from the metallic skeletons of unfinished skyscrapers. In Lonberg-Holm, this aesthetic schism is accompanied by a renouncement of the project – a sort of Duchampian abandonment of the traditional identity of the architect, which intervenes at the moment he arrives in his work at a controlled resolution of the opposing influences of rationalism and neo-plasticism, for example in the McBride Residence project of 1926.

Lonberg-Holm’s institutional itinerary begins at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1924-1925, where he introduces a basic design course similar to that of the Soviet Vkhutemas. Moving to New York in 1929, he enters the organization of the F.W. Dodge publishing corporation, initially at the journal The Architectural Record, where he devises both content and format, and then as the head of the research department of Sweet’s Catalog Service, the indispensable architect’s handbook of building products. The reorganization of Sweet’s Catalog, perhaps Lonberg-Holm’s most tangible contribution to modern architectural production in America, gives substance to his doctrinaire activity of the 1930s, concerned with urban obsolescence, cycles of production, and information theory. In collaboration with Czech designer Ladislav Sutnar, Sweet’s Catalog becomes a complete oeuvre of industrial and plastic organization. Its critical and enduring importance in the process of architectural production makes it an implemented avant-garde project, at an appreciable scale, and testament to Lonberg-Holm’s heretofore-unacknowledged influence on the development of a truly modern American architecture.

Marc Dessauce, 2003

 

Marc Dessauce (1962-2004) was an architectural historian who lived and worked in NYC and Paris. His research, exhibitions, and writings focused on the foundations of both American and European avant-garde architecture in the twentieth century. Marc assembled this arhive between 1986 and 1995 when he was a PhD candidate at Columbia University in the department of Art History. His book The Inflatable Moment: Pneumatics and Protest in ’68, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 1999.

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'New York, Madison Square' 1923

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
New York, Madison Square
1923
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 31
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches (10.5 x 8.3 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'New York, Times Square' 1923

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
New York, Times Square
1923
Reproduced in Erich Mendelsohn’s Amerika, p. 6
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/4 x 3 3/8 inches (10.8 x 8.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Amerika: Bilderbuch eines Architekten

Seventeen of Lonberg-Holm’s photographs appeared uncredited in Erich Mendelsohn’s 1926 book, a very influential volume on modern American architecture. Only in a later, expanded edition was Lonberg-Holm given credit. El Lissitzky was so impressed with Amerika that he said the volume “thrills us like a dramatic film. Before our eyes move pictures that are absolutely unique. In order to understand some of the photographs you must lift the book over your head and rotate it.”

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Sweet's Display Exposition des Techniques Américianes de l’Habitation et de l'Ubranisme (Information 1, 2, 3)' Paris, Grand Palais, June 14-July 21, 1946

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Sweet’s Display
Exposition des Techniques Américianes de l’Habitation et de l’Ubranisme
(Information 1, 2, 3)
Paris, Grand Palais, June 14-July 21, 1946
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 1/8 x 7 1/4 inches (18.1 x 18.4 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Sweet's Display Exposition des Techniques Américianes de l'Habitation et de l'Ubranisme (Biblioteque SS)' Paris, Grand Palais, June 14-July 21, 1946

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Sweet’s Display
Exposition des Techniques Américianes de l’Habitation et de l’Ubranisme
(Biblioteque SS)
Paris, Grand Palais, June 14-July 21, 1946
Vintage gelatin silver print
7 1/8 x 7 1/8 inches (18.1 x 18.1 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

A diagram from Development Index

 

A diagram from Development Index illustrating the interrelations of cultural and social factors, which Lonberg-Holm and Larson considered necessary to the practice of design. The index was a screening system intended to manage incoming and outgoing streams of data.

Larson and Knud Lonberg-Holm later collaborated on the idea of a “Development Index” – a systems-thinking approach and research tool that studied the interaction of human activity, environmental relations, and communications with the idea to improve the built environment. It was an attempt to manage information flow and, in a pre-Internet sort of way, provide relevant data through a centralized system, using what was then state-of-the-art media such as microfilm, microfiche, and electronics.

 

Wendingen "Skyscraper as a solution of the Housing Problem" No. 3, 1923

 

Wendingen
“Skyscraper as a solution of the Housing Problem”
No. 3, 1923
Paperbound volume
12 7/8 x 13 inches (32.7 x 33 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

'Shelter' Cover design by Knud Lonberg-Holm April 1938

 

Shelter
Cover design by Knud Lonberg-Holm
April 1938
Magazine cover
11 x 9 inches (27.9 x 22.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

'Shelter now' Cover design by Knud Lonberg-Holm Vol. 2, No. 4, May 1932

 

Shelter now
Cover design by Knud Lonberg-Holm
Vol. 2, No. 4, May 1932
Magazine cover
12 x 9 inches (30.5 x 22.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

The cover of a catalog for 'Multi-Measure Metal Enclosures'

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm with Latislav Sutnar
Multi-Measure (MM) Metal Enclosures
c. 1942-1944
Cover of catalog
11 x 8 1/2 inches (27.9 x 21.6 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

The cover of a catalog for Multi-Measure Metal Enclosures, Inc., designed with Ladislav Sutnar between 1942 and 1944. Lonberg-Holm collaborated with architect C. Theodore Larson at F.W. Dodge Corporation’s Sweet’s Catalog division to develop a systematic approach to organizing the information needed by the building industry. When graphic designer Ladislav Sutnar later joined him, they radically altered the way business information was streamlined, designed, and packaged, becoming pioneers of “information design” along the way.

 

i10 "America, Reflections" (by Knud Lonberg-Holm) No. 15, October 20, 1928

 

i10
“America, Reflections” (by Knud Lonberg-Holm)
No. 15, October 20, 1928
Paperbound volume
11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches (29.8 x 21 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Lonberg-Holm’s 1928 essay on America for i10 – focused on the country’s obsession with time and efficiency – shows that the fields of communications, the car industry, elevators, railways, and the movie industry were more important to him. He wrote: “Time-study is a profession. And a highly paid profession. What the [Saint] Peters church was for the European Renaissance, Henry Ford’s assembly line is for America of today. The most perfect expression for a civilization whose god is efficiency. Detroit is the Mecca of this civilization. And the pilgrims come from all over the world to meditate before this always-moving line.”

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Photograph of "Modern Architecture" at Fifth Avenue' c. 1923-1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Photograph of “Modern Architecture” at Fifth Avenue
c. 1923-1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (11.4 x 7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Automobile Plant Detroit' 1931

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Automobile Plant
Detroit, 1931
Vintage gelatin silver print
5 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches (13.3 x 10.8 cm)
Titled on verso
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Photograph of Longberg-Holm' c. 1923-1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Photograph of Longberg-Holm
c. 1923-1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (11.4 x 7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. '48th Street/St. Nicholas Church scaffolding' c. 1923-1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
48th Street/St. Nicholas Church scaffolding
c. 1923-1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches (11.4 x 7 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm. 'Photograph of Antenna' c. 1923-1924

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Photograph of Antenna
c. 1923-1924
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (11.4 x 8.9 cm)
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Note from Iwao Yamawaki to Knud Lonberg-Holm Dessau, July 9, 1931

 

Note from Iwao Yamawaki to Knud Lonberg-Holm
Dessau, July 9, 1931
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm Iwao Yamawaki (attributed) 'Knud & his wife Ethel outside of Bauhaus' 1931

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm
Iwao Yamawaki (attributed)

Knud & his wife Ethel outside of Bauhaus
1931
Vintage gelatin silver print
4 3/8 x 3 3/8 inches (11.1 x 8.6 cm)
Dated & inscribed on verso
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

This photo, attributed to the Japanese Bauhaus-trained photographer Iwao Yamawaki, shows Lonberg-Holm and his wife, Ethel (who later became an art director for J. Walter Thompson advertising agency), at the Bauhaus in 1931. A friend of Bauhaus instructors László Moholy-Nagy, Josef Albers, Hannes Meyer, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe, Lonberg-Holm taught the first foundational course based on the Bauhaus model at the University of Michigan in 1924.

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm (1895-1972)

 

Knud Lonberg-Holm (1895-1972), an overlooked but highly influential Modernist architect, photographer, and pioneer of information design
The Knud Lonberg-Holm Archive from the Marc Dessauce Collection; Courtesy Ubu Gallery, New York

 

 

Ubu Gallery
416 East 59th Street
New York 10022
Tel: 212 753 4444

Opening hour:
Monday – Friday 11 am – 6 pm

Ubu Gallery website

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20
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Wols Photographer. The Guarded Look’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 22nd June 2014

 

Some familiar images that were also seen in the posting Wols’ Photography: Images Regained are complimented by 5 new ones. The two portraits of the artist Max Ernst are eerie (is that a suitable word for a portrait that is strong and unsettling?) and perceptive, Wols responsive to the status of his sitter as a pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

.
Many thankx to the Martin-Gropius-Bau for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Art Informel

The term Art Informel was originated by the French critic Michel Tapié and popularized in his 1952 book Un Art autre (Another art). A Parisian counterpart of Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel emphasized intuition and spontaneity over the Cubist tradition that had dominated School of Paris painting. The resulting abstractions took a variety of forms. For instance, Pierre Soulages’s black-on-black paintings composed of slashing strokes of velvety paint suggest the nocturnal mood of Europe immediately after the war.

 

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Still life - dining table]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Still life – dining table]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Nicole Bouban' Autumn 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 to 1937

 

Wols
Nicole Bouban
Autumn 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 to 1937
© Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Pavilion de l'Elegance - Creating a home with Alix (Germaine Krebs)]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Pavilion de l’Elegance – Creating a home with Alix (Germaine Krebs)]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Germaine Émilie Krebs (1903-1993), known as Alix Barton and later as “Madame Grès”, relaunched her design house under the name Grès in Paris in 1942. Prior to this, she worked as “Alix” or “Alix Grès” during the 1930s. Formally trained as a sculptress, she produced haute couture designs for an array of fashionable women, including the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Dolores del Río. Her signature was cut-outs on gowns that made exposed skin part of the design, yet still had a classical, sophisticated feel. She was renowned for being the last of the haute couture houses to establish a ready-to-wear line, which she called a “prostitution”.

The name Grès was a partial anagram of her husband’s first name and alias. He was Serge Czerefkov, a Russian painter, who left her soon after the house’s creation. Grès enjoyed years of critical successes but, after Grès herself sold the business in the 1980s to Yagi Tsucho, a Japanese company, it faltered. In 2012, the last Grès store in Paris was closed. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Swiss Pavilion - Wire Figure]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Swiss Pavilion – Wire Figure]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

“Wolfgang Schulze, known as Wols, was born in Berlin in 1913. As a painter and graphic artist he is considered to have been an important trailblazer of Art Informel. For the first time the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin is presenting the largely unknown photographic oeuvre of Wols. These works foreshadow his development in the direction of non-representational art.

Wols grew up in Dresden, where he had an early encounter with photography as a profession through his attendance at a course in the studio of the Dresden photographer Genja Jonas. In 1932, after a brief sojourn in the milieu of the Berlin Bauhaus – then in the process of breaking up – the young Wols set off for Paris to realize his artistic ambitions.

Soon he was involved with the local Surrealists and made the acquaintance of other personalities in the theatrical, literary and art scenes. In this period Wols was mainly active as a photographer. In 1937 his works were exhibited for the first time in the prestigious Parisian Galérie de la Pléiade, which established his reputation as a photographer. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Wols. One of his commissions was to document the Pavillon de l’Elégance at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris.

At the same time he produced striking multiple black-and-white portraits of personalities such as Max Ernst, Nicole Boubant or Roger Blin. Over the years Wols’ imagery became increasingly radical. The representational motifs gradually acquired a more abstract dimension and forced the viewer to see the objects represented in a new light. In particular, an extraordinary set of photograms confirms his interest in replacing representational motifs with non-representational ones. Transferred to painting, this trend would later make him a pioneer of Art Informel.

Immediately after the outbreak of the Second World War Wols spent over a year in various internment camps in the south of France. In this period he turned more to watercolours, most of which were lost while he was fleeing from the Nazis.

Living in straitened circumstances Wols fought a losing battle with alcoholism and poor health. In 1951, as a result of his weakened physical condition, he died of food poisoning in Paris at the early age of 38. After his death, Wols’ work was displayed at the first three documenta exhibitions in Kassel (1955, 1959, 1964) and, in 1958, at the Venice Biennale. On 27 May 2014 he would have been 101.

The show covers all of his photographic work, including multiple portraits of famous artists, actors and writers, photographs of the “Pavillon de l’Élégance”, numerous still lifes, and many hitherto unknown motifs. The exhibition has been curated by the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, where this unique collection will be kept and systematically catalogued.”

Press release from Martin-Gropius-Bau website

 

Wols. 'Max Ernst' Fall 1932 - October / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols
Max Ernst
Fall 1932 – October / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Max Ernst' Fall 1932 - October / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols
Max Ernst
Fall 1932 – October / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

“Wols permanently settled in Paris in 1933, producing his first paintings but also working as a photographer. His photographic work of this period showed the clear influence of Surrealism. In 1936, he received official permission to live in Paris with the help of Fernand Léger; as an army deserter, Schulze had to report to the Paris police on a monthly basis. In 1937, the year in which he adopted his pseudonym WOLS, his photographs began to appear in fashion magazines such as Harper’s BazaarVogueFemina as well as Revue de l’art. Many of these photographs anticipate the displays at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme held in Paris in the following year, in which much use was made of mannequins.

At the outbreak of World War II Wols, as a German citizen, was interned for 14 months in the notorious Les Milles camp – together with some 3500 other artists and intellectuals. He was not released until late 1940. After his release Wols moved for two years to Cassis, near Marseille, where he struggled to earn a living. The occupation of Southern France by the Germans in 1942 forced him to flee to Dieulefit, near Montélimar, where he met the writer Henri-Pierre Roché, one of his earliest collectors. He spent most of the war trying to emigrate to the United States, an unsuccessful and costly enterprise that may have driven him to alcoholism.

After the war Wols returned to Paris where he met Jean-Paul Sartre, Tristan Tzara and Jean Paulhan. He started to paint in oils in 1946 at the suggestion of the dealer René Drouin, who showed 40 of his paintings at his gallery in 1947. The same year Wols began to work on a number of illustrations for books by Paulhan, Sartre, Franz Kafka and Antonin Artaud. He fell ill but lacked the money to go to hospital, and throughout 1948 he worked largely in bed on these illustrations. In 1949 he took part in the exhibition Huit oeuvres nouvelles at the Galerie Drouin, along with Jean Dubuffet, Roberto Matta, Henri Michaux and other artists with whom he had a stylistic affinity.

Undergoing treatment for alcoholism, he moved to the country at Champigny-sur-Marne in June 1951. His early death later that year from food poisoning helped foster the legendary reputation that grew up around him soon afterwards. His paintings helped pioneer Art informel and Tachism, which dominated European art during and after the 1950s as a European counterpart to American Abstract Expressionism. Influenced by the writings of the philosopher Lao Tzu throughout his life, Wols also wrote poems and aphorisms that expressed his aesthetic and philosophical ideas.”

Text from the Weimar blog 2010

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Flea Market]' Autumn 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols
Untitled [Paris – Flea Market]
Autumn 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Palisade]' Fall 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 - August 1939

 

Wols
Untitled [Paris – Palisade]
Fall 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 – August 1939
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Eiffel Tower]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Paris – Eiffel Tower]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Still Life - Grapefruit]' 1938 - August 1939

 

Wols
Untitled [Still Life – Grapefruit]
1938 – August 1939
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Self Portrait with Hat' 1937/38

 

Wols
Self Portrait with Hat
1937/38
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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18
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Wols: Cosmos and Street’ at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 14th February – 26th May 2014

 

How lucky we are!

Two consecutive postings on the German artist Wols (a pseudonym for Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze May 27, 1913, Berlin – September 1, 1951, Paris), who is today considered a pioneer of Lyrical Abstraction – a type of abstract painting related to Abstract Expressionism undertaken in the post-war years by mainly French artists. He is also considered to be one of the most influential artists of the Art Informel and Tachisme movements. Both movements were opposed not only to Cubist and Surrealist movements that preceded it, but also to geometric abstraction (or “cold abstraction”).

Lyrical abstraction represented an opening to personal expression: Wols was not only a painter and photographer but he also wrote poems and aphorisms and studied the philosophy of Lao Tzu. This fascinating exhibition connects Wols’s photography, drawing and painting, and argues that his art forms (in)formed each other. The number of artists that have successfully worked in both mediums is limited, but as Wols shows they are not, and never have been, mutually exclusive.

The great sadness is that Wols was another talented artist who died young, at the age of just 38 – collateral damage of the conflagration that was the Second World War. He was an army deserter when he moved to Paris and was interned for 14 months at the start of the war, only to be released to live near Marseilles in 1940. The occupation of Southern France by the Germans in 1942 forced him to flee and he spent most of the rest of the war trying unsuccessfully to escape to America. During this time his alcoholism developed, an addiction that caused poor health and which, along with food poisoning, was ultimately to cost him his life.

His photographs have a chthonic darkness. They inhabit a tenebrous reality, a shadowy underworld. Just look at Untitled (Cobblestone) (1932-1942, below) and observe how the dampness of the water seems to have the viscosity of congealed blood. During his internment he produced, as the press release states, “some of the strangest, most intricate and beautiful drawings of modern times.” They possess a certain, undefinable magic, filled as they are with amorphous animals and plants, filled with amour, a secret love. And finally his paintings – shattering, disturbing, bloody, hairy, earthbound and cerebral, homologous to wiring looms of the mind and/or the molecular structure of atoms – circling and popping and fizzing and scrapping their way into existence… creating an expanded conception of space and time that is both micro (cellular) and macro (celestial).

Wols has to be one of the most interesting artists of the 20th century and, elementally, one of its greatest. Such a pity that he died so young.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog
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Many thankx to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía for allowing me to publish the photographs and art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image

 

 

Wols. 'Untitled' 1932-1941

 

Wols
Untitled
1932-1941
Silver gelatin print
14.9 x 18.2 cm
Kunsthaus Zurich

 

Wols. 'Untitled' Nd / 1976

 

Wols
Untitled
Nd / 1976
Silver gelatin print
18.7 x 24 cm
Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, Stuttgart

 

Wols. 'Pepona doll on the cobbles' 1938-39

 

Wols
Pepona doll on the cobbles
1938-39
Silver gelatin print
23 x 17 cm
Acquisition 2004
Centre Pompidou, Paris
National Museum of Modern Art/Centre for Industrial Creation

 

Wols. 'Untitled (Cobblestone)' 1932-1942 / 1976

 

Wols
Untitled (Cobblestone)
1932-1942 / 1976
Gelatin silver print
18.7 x 24 cm
Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, Stuttgart
© VEGAP, Madrid, 2014

 

 

“Wols is one of the most intriguing figures in 20th-century art. Born Otto Wolfgang Schulze into an upper middle class family in Berlin, he broke with Germany as the Nazis were coming to power, changed his name to Wols, and lived the rest of his life in France. During the 1930s he was best known as a photographer. The outbreak of the Second World War changed everything. As the citizen of a hostile country, Wols was continuously displaced from one French domicile, prison or internment camp to another. In these precarious conditions he started to draw in earnest, often by candlelight, lying on his bunk. In the harshness of the camps he developed the alcohol-dependency which contributed to his early death in 1951. At the same time he produced some of the strangest, most intricate and beautiful drawings of modern times.

Wols: Cosmos and Street does not attempt a survey of Wols’s work, nor a retrospective with a chronological structure. A significant aspect of Wols’s practice was that he did not title or date his works. Titles, somewhat over-poetic, were added later by his wife Gréty, and by friends such as the writer Henri-Pierre Roché. Instead, the exhibition presents his work in terms of two distinct kinds of ‘graphism': one of the light (photography) and one of the line (drawing). It is true that in chronological terms photography came earlier in Wols’s life and was adopted partly for contingent reasons of making a living. He was intermittently a professional photographer but remained always a ‘poetic’ photographer with a inimitable eye.

In the exhibition title, “Street” stands for the everyday, earthbound, nitty-gritty human world revealed in Wols’s photographs. “Cosmos” stands for Wols’s exquisite drawings creating a vision of universal energy expressed in fluid constructs of biological and organic forms. The public is invited to come very close to Wols’s pictures, to peer into them and savour the details of their forms, the refined articulation of even the minutest mark.

During and after the Second World War Wols’s graphic work became increasingly abstract. Its difference from the crystalline and geometric end of the spectrum of abstraction, which is often identified with cosmological speculation, and informed much of kinetic art, could hardly be more marked. Wols’s creations are earthbound, biological, hairy and visceral, but they are no less a model of the universe. Tendencies in art which may have been mutually hostile at the time of their inception can now be seen to be two streams which converging in the desire to find a visual language which could encompass the hugely expanded conception of space and time that has come with the discoveries of modern science.

In its immediate context Wols’s work represents the turning of the Parisian surrealism of the 1930s towards the existentialism of the postwar years, towards l’art brut, l’art informel, and to artists like Fautrier, Dubuffet, Giacometti, and eventually Tinguely and Takis. A new conception of space is struggling to be born among those artists, which was in some ways foreseen in Wols’s works of the 1940s, where a gradual transformation takes place of a terrestrial into a cosmic space.

In 1945 the Parisian art dealer, René Drouin, proposed to Wols that he experiment with painting in oils on canvas. Drouin provided the necessary materials, encouraging Wols to work on a larger scale than he could achieve with watercolour on paper. Wols was philosophically and constitutionally against Drouin’s idea. Paintings in oil on canvas, he would say, “involve too much ambition and gymnastics. I am opposed to both.” Nevertheless, he began to produce oil paintings in 1947. It is as if Wols made paintings by attacking painting itself, an intensely individual position that artist Georges Mathieu at the time described as “shattering, disturbing and bloody.”

It is impossible to ignore the impression of ferocity that Wols’s oil paintings produce at their most audacious. Yet it was not through a simplistic ‘attack’ that Wols achieved this intensity since in these oil paintings passages of uncouth daubing alternate with passages of great delicacy.

Taking into account the contingencies that have helped shape it at distinct moments, and its abiding concerns and sensibilities, Wols’s work can be seen as a continuous play between abstraction and figuration. One of its special features is that it encompasses both photography and painting. In one sense, and allowing for the different technical procedures, the degree of abstraction in the ‘figurative’ photographs just about equals the degree of figuration in the ‘abstract’ drawings, watercolours and etchings. They take part in one another while remaining distinct. A fluid area is created, an area of transition conceived as something vast and tiny at the same time. It is in the creation of this uncertain, ‘unnamable’ but energized space that the insight and wit of Wols’s work really lies.”

Press release from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía website

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'Wols: Cosmos and Street' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

Installation views of the exhibition 'Wols: Cosmos and Street' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

Installation views of the exhibition 'Wols: Cosmos and Street' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

Installation views of the exhibition 'Wols: Cosmos and Street' at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

 

Installation views of the exhibition Wols: Cosmos and Street at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled (Green Composition)' c. 1942

 

Wols
Untitled (Green Composition)

c. 1942
Pen and ink, watercolor, white zinc and scraping on paper
23.3 x 27 cm
Karin and Uwe Hollweg Stiftung, Bremen

 

Wols. 'Composition' 1941-1942

 

Wols
Composition
1941-1942
Pen, colored ink on paper
20 x 12.8 cm
The Menil Collection, Houston

 

Wols. 'Slice of liver-cello' c. 1944

 

Wols
Slice of liver-cello
c. 1944
Pen and ink, watercolor and zinc white
18.3 x 13.2 cm
Private collection

 

Wols. 'Untitle'; also known as 'It's All Over The City' 1946-47

 

Wols
Untitled; also known as It’s All Over The City
1946-47
Oil on canvas
81 x 81 cm
The Menil Collection, Houston

 

Wols. 'The bird' 1949

 

Wols
The bird
1949
Oil on canvas
92.1 x 65.1 cm
The Menil Collection, Houston

 

Wols. 'Untitled' 1946-47

 

Wols
Untitled
1946-47
Oil on canvas

 

 

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Sabatini Building
Santa Isabel, 52
Nouvel Building
Ronda de Atocha (with plaza del Emperador Carlos V)
28012 Madrid
T: (34) 91 774 10 00

Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday and bank holidays from 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Sundays from 10.00 a.m. to 2.15 p.m complete Museum visit, from 2.15 to 7.00 pm
Closed Tuesdays

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía website

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25
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered’ at the International Center of Photography (ICP), New York

Exhibition dates: 18th January – 5th May 2013

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“By repositioning Vishniac’s iconic photographs of Eastern Europe within the broader tradition of social documentary photography, and introducing recently discovered and radically diverse bodies of work, this exhibition stakes Vishniac’s claim as a modern master.”

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ICP Adjunct Curator Maya Benton

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Rediscovered! Rediscovered? Surely, such a splendid artist as Vishniac has never been away…

Revealing “a compositional acuity, inventiveness, and surprising stylistic range” – in other words traces of Josef Sudek, Walker Evans, Rodchenko and New Photography – Vishniac’s best work is a record of its troubled time: a photographic record of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. What the viewing public must be made aware of is the curatorial reinterpretation of his work, seeking as it does to solidify his place “among the 20th century’s most accomplished photographers.”

While some of the work on view may be new, the claims of curator Maya Benton (above) must be observed with a good deal of scepticism. What we need to understand is how his photographs are being interpreted across a range of frames of reference – from photojournalism, to social documentary photography and art – in order, as Maya Benton says, to “reposition” his iconic photographs within the broader tradition of social documentary photography. This repositioning is a form of re/visioning of an artist’s work to place it in a different context or frame of reference in order to increase its significance; or, by exclusion (as in the case of the S/M photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe that have been occluded by the Mapplethorpe Foundation), another context, make the work of an artist more socially palatable than would otherwise be the case.

The interpretation of Vishniac’s photographs becomes problematic depending on what frame of reference one applies to them and how their interpretation is negotiated between multiple, fluid points of view. Repositioning an artist’s work within a broader context changes the nature of the interpretation of that artist’s work and raises the pertinent question: who is repositioning this work and for what reason(s); who is pushing that agenda and curatorial barrow (in Benton’s case it is because she wants Vishniac’s work to be seen as that of a modern master, to make the credibility of the exhibition and the artist more than it possibly is). What we must be fully aware of is the time and place in which Vishniac made the work and the conditions for its initial reception, not some stake in the ground claim of modern mastership.

Vishniac’s photographs frame the historical discourse of the end of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe and the rise of Fascism in Germany with erudition – for the past, present and future. Any other claims to eclecticism, applying different “repositioning” in particular cases, seems inelegant and shows a lack of consistency in clear thinking. When you really look at his work there is a sensitivity to the human condition in his work that is outstanding, coupled with a clear compositional structure and use of chiaroscuro. He was an excellent visual artist who had strong previsualisation that is evidenced in the prints. These photographs make insightful comment on the surrounding culture at the time of their production. Nothing more grandiose need be said.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the ICP for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for another version of the image.

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Roman Vishniac. 'Herring for the traditional third meal of Shabbath, Mukachevo' 1937-38

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Roman Vishniac
Herring for the traditional third meal of Shabbath, Mukachevo
1937-38
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 x 13 3/8 inches

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Roman Vishniac. 'Untitled [Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo]' c. 1935-38

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Roman Vishniac
Untitled [Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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Roman Vishniac. 'Untitled [Boy with kindling in basement dwelling, Krochmalna Street, Warsaw]' c. 1935-38

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Roman Vishniac
Untitled [Boy with kindling in basement dwelling, Krochmalna Street, Warsaw]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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Roman Vishniac. 'Cross section of a pine needle' date unknown

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Roman Vishniac
Cross section of a pine needle
date unknown
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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Roman Vishniac. 'Untitled [Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof, a railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin]' late 1920s - early 1930s

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Roman Vishniac
Untitled [Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof, a railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin]
late 1920s – early 1930s
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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Roman Vishniac Rediscovered, on view at the International Center of Photography (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street) January 18 – May 5, 2013, brings together four decades of work by a remarkably versatile and innovative photographer. The exhibition includes recently discovered vintage prints, moving film footage, personal correspondence, and exhibition prints made from Vishniac’s recently digitized negatives. His complex and visionary work, much of which is shown here for the first time, reveals a compositional acuity, inventiveness, and surprising stylistic range that solidifies his place among the 20th century’s most accomplished photographers.

Vishniac created the most widely recognized and reproduced photographic record of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. Yet only a fraction of his work was published during his lifetime, most notably in A Vanished World (1983). Over the course of his career, Vishniac witnessed the sweeping artistic and photographic innovation of Weimar Berlin, the ominous rise to Nazi power in Germany, the final years of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, and immigrant life in America during and after the war.

“By repositioning Vishniac’s iconic photographs of Eastern Europe within the broader tradition of social documentary photography, and introducing recently discovered and radically diverse bodies of work, this exhibition stakes Vishniac’s claim as a modern master,” said ICP Adjunct Curator Maya Benton, who organized the exhibition.

Born in 1897 to a wealthy Russian-Jewish family, Vishniac immigrated to Berlin in 1920 in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. As an amateur photographer, he took to the streets with his camera throughout the 1920s and ’30s, offering astute, often humorous visual commentary on his adopted city and experimented with new and modern approaches to framing and composition. Documenting the rise of Nazi power, he focused his lens on the signs of oppression and doom that soon formed the backdrop of his Berlin street photography. From 1935 to 1938, while living in Berlin and working as a biologist and science photographer, he was commissioned by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), then the world’s largest Jewish relief organization, to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe. On New Year’s Day, 1941, he arrived in New York and soon opened a portrait studio. At the same time, he began documenting American Jewish communal and immigrant life and established himself as a pioneer in the field of photomicroscopy. In 1947, Vishniac returned to Europe and documented Jewish displaced persons camps and the ruins of Berlin. During this time, he also recorded the efforts of Holocaust survivors to rebuild their lives, and the work of the JDC and other Jewish relief organizations in providing them with aid and emigration assistance.

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is a comprehensive reappraisal of Vishniac’s total photographic output, from the early years in Berlin through the postwar period. The exhibition also includes a slideshow of 100 color science transparencies – digitized for the first time – of Vishniac’s microphotoscopy, taken from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. In addition to the exhibition, a primary task of the archive is to make this work available for research, in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.”

Press release from the ICP website

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Roman Vishniac. 'Untitled [Street scene with swastika flag in background, Berlin]' c. 1935-36

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Roman Vishniac
Untitled [Street scene with swastika flag in background, Berlin]
c. 1935-36
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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Roman Vishniac. 'Untitled [Nazi Storm Troopers marching next to the Arsenal in front of the Berlin Cathedral]' c. 1935

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Roman Vishniac
Untitled [Nazi Storm Troopers marching next to the Arsenal in front of the Berlin Cathedral]
c. 1935
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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Roman Vishniac. 'Untitled [Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France]' c. 1939

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Roman Vishniac
Untitled [Beach dwellers in the afternoon, Nice, France]
c. 1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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Roman Vishniac. 'People behind bars, Berlin Zoo' early 1930s

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Roman Vishniac
People behind bars, Berlin Zoo
early 1930s
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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Roman Vishniac, 'Untitled [Zionist youth building a school and foundry while learning construction techniques, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939

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Roman Vishniac
Untitled [Zionist youth building a school and foundry while learning construction techniques, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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Roman Vishniac. 'Recalcitrance' Berlin, 1926

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Roman Vishniac
Recalcitrance
Berlin, 1926
© Mara Vishniac Kohn
Courtesy International Center of Photography

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International Center of Photography
1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street
New York NY 10036
T: 212 857 0045

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Wednesday: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Thursday – Friday: 10.00 am – 8.00 pm
Saturday – Sunday: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Closed: Mondays

International Center of Photography website

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12
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album. Vintage Photographs of the 1960s’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 20th September – 17th December 2012

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“I never made a cent from these photos. They cost me money but kept me alive. These are my photos. I started at eighteen taking pictures. I stopped at thirty-one. (…) These represent the years from twenty-five to thirty-one, 1961 to 1967. I didn’t crop my photos. They are full frame natural light Tri-X. I went under contract to Warner Brothers at eighteen. I directed Easy Rider at thirty-one. I married Brooke at twenty-five and got a good camera and could afford to take pictures and print them. They were the only creative outlet I had for these years until Easy Rider. I never carried a camera again.”

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Dennis Hopper 1986

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“The necessity to make these photos and paintings came from a real place – a place of desperation and solitude – with the hope that someday these objects, paintings, and photos would be seen filling the void I was feeling.”

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Dennis Hopper 2001

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Unlike an earlier posting of photographs by a well known film director (the underwhelming, in fact pretty awful, Wim Wenders: Places, Strange and Quiet), these “lost” photographs by Dennis Hopper are very good. They perfectly capture the social milieu of the time and the pervading ethos of the fracturing of the image plane, a la Gary Winogrand or Lee Friedlander. Nice to see the work full frame as well, meaning that the photographers’ previsualisation was strong in camera; that Hopper had an excellent understanding of the construction of the pictorial frame negating the necessity for cropping of the image. Enlarging the face of Martin Luther King Jr., (below) and then looking into his eyes, I felt I had a connection with this person. Nostalgia, longing, sadness and joy at his life and the feeling that I was looking into the eyes of one of the great human beings of the twentieth century.

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Many thankx to Martin-Gropius-Bau for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Dennis Hopper
Guy With 5 Hogs
1961-67
Location: USA
6.97 x 9.85 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Double Standard
1961
Location: Los Angeles, Ca USA
6.87 x 9.79 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
James Rosenquist
1964
Location: Billboard Factory, Los Angeles, Ca USA
6.81 x 9.68 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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The exhibition shows a spectacular portfolio of over four hundred vintage photographs taken by Dennis Hopper in the 1960s. Tucked away in five crates and forgotten, they were discovered after his death. There can be no doubt that these works are those personally selected by Hopper from the wealth of shots he took between 1961 and 1967 for the first major exhibition of his photography. The pictures themselves document how the works were installed in the Fort Worth Art Center Museum, Texas, in 1970 by himself and Henry T. Hopkins, the museum’s director at the time. None of these works have been displayed in Europe before. The portfolio that has now come to light is a treasure. It consists of small plates, sometimes numbered on the back with brief notes in Hopper’s hand and showing traces of wear. Mounted on cardboard, without frame of glass, they were attached directly to the wall.

The images have a legendary quality. Spontaneous, intimate, poetic, unabashedly political and keenly observed, they document an exciting epoch, its protagonists and milieus. These photographs reflect the atmosphere of an era, being outstanding testimonials to America’s dynamic cultural scene in the 1960s. On the viewer they exercise an irresistible attraction, bearing him away on a journey into the past, often into his own history.

Many of these pictures are icons, such as the portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman and Jane Fonda. They also cover a wide range of subjects. Dennis Hopper is interested in everything. Wherever he happens to be, whether in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico or Peru, he takes in his surroundings with empathy, enthusiasm and intense curiosity. He seeks and savours the “essential moment”, capturing the celebrities and types of his time with the camera: actors, artists, musicians, his family, bikers and hippies. He leaves an impressive photographic record of the “street life” of Harlem, of cemeteries in Mexico, and of bullfights in Tijuana. Hopper accompanies Martin Luther King Jr. on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and, in images of great beauty and serenity, he converts the every day life and the neglected into a picture of beauty and silence as if converting Abstract Expressionism from the language of painting into that of photography.

Between 1961 and 1967 Hopper applied himself intensely on photography.

Hopper’s photographs are legendary images, spontaneous, intimate, and poetic as well as decidedly political and keenly observant – documents of an exciting period, its protagonists and milieus. Many of these photos have become iconic: the portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman or Jane Fonda. They also cover a range of topics and motifs. Hopper was interested in everything. Wherever he was, in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico or Peru, he was a precise observer, full of empathy and curiosity. He captured the geniuses of his day, the actors, artists, musicians and poets, his family and friends, the “scene”, bikers and hippies. He wandered the streets of Harlem and the graveyards of Durango and watched the bullfights in Tijuana with fascination. Hopper followed Martin Luther King Jr. with his camera on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. And he paid attention to things small, ordinary, and neglected, transforming the “remains of our world” into images of great beauty and tranquility, as if converting Abstract Expressionist painting into the language of photography.

Press release from the Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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Dennis Hopper
Andy Warhol and Members of The Factory (Gregory Markopoulos, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, Jack Smith)
1963
Location: in The Factory, NYC, NY USA
6.57 x 9.87 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Niki de Saint Phalle (kneeling)
1963
Location: USA
6.66 x 9.83 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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The Lost Album

Gelatine silver vintage prints, 1970
Collection of the Dennis Hopper Art Trust

More than four hundred photos came to light after Hopper’s death. He had selected them for his first photography exhibition in 1970 at the Fort Worth Art Center Museum. They show signs of wear: fingerprints, scratches, discoloration, a frayed corner or tiny dent. Mounted on cardboard, numbered on the back with notes in Hopper’s handwriting, they were hung directly on the wall from small wooden strips without frames or glass. The hanging in the Martin-Gropius-Bau is based on the original installation of 1970.

The vintage prints, in portrait and landscape format, are all of a similar size, ca. 24 x 16 cm; twenty of them are in a larger format (ca. 33 x 23 cm). Of the 429 Hopper chose for his first exhibition, eleven are believed lost; they are replaced here by new prints, which will be clearly indicated. In only two cases was it impossible to locate the corresponding negative, and a placeholder with the title is mounted instead. The rediscovered boxes contained an additional nineteen, unnumbered vintage prints along with the 429, which Hopper took with him to Fort Worth but probably never hung in the exhibition. They have been incorporated into the “Album” here (I-XIX).

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Additional information on the photographs

1. Brooke Hayward, Marin Hopper

Brooke Hayward, born and raised in Los Angeles, was at home in the glamorous world of Hollywood through her parents, the film producer Leland Hayward and Hollywood star Margaret Sullavan, and Hopper in turn knew a lot of extraordinary people through his involvement in the acting and art worlds. Hopper and Hayward’s home became the center of an illustrious group of actors, artists, musicians, writers, and film producers. Soon after moving [into their house] they threw a “movie star party” for Andy Warhol to celebrate his second exhibition at the Ferus Gallery (1963).

“Since I was a small child, growing up in L.A., I remember that my dad was always capturing the scene around him through the lens of his camera. What he always described as taking the most pleasure in exploring, or focusing on, much like Marcel Duchamp signing the Hotel-Green-Sign for him on the night of his opening at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963, and Rauschenberg’s practice, was the philosophy that an artist can point to something and claim it’s art because in that moment it is to them.” (Marin Hopper, 2012)

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2. Los Angeles Art Scene

Walter Hopps and Edward Kienholz founded the Ferus Gallery at 736A North La Cienega Boulevard in March 1957. Ferus was very underground, like a crazy club with exhibitions, readings and fashion shows. “The openings were wild, everybody had a blast, and nobody made a penny.” Hopper attended every opening and went to performances and happenings, whether it was Oldenburg’s Los Angeles performance Autobodys in 1963, Robert Rauschenberg’s performance Pelican at the Culver City Ice Rink in 1966, or Allan Kaprow’s Fluids in 1967, when with the help of friends he stacked blocks of ice to form enclosures at different sites in Los Angeles.

In 1966, Claes Oldenburg made a piece of plaster wedding cake (which he stamped on the back) for each guest at the wedding party for Jim Elliot, curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Rauschenberg was wearing this stamp on his tongue when Hopper photographed him at the wedding.

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3. New York

Hopper frequently traveled to New York, strolling through the Museum of Modern Art and the galleries, sometimes in the company of Henry Geldzahler, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and visited Warhol, at whose Factory he encountered Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead or David Hockney. Hopper met Robert Rauschenberg in New York and visited Roy Lichtenstein in his studio.

In London, where he exhibited his assemblages at the Robert Fraser Gallery in 1964, he made the acquaintance of Peter Blake, one of the key figures of British Pop Art, David Hemmings, the star of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow up (1966), and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

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4. Civil Rights Marches

The Selma to Montgomery March: “[Marlon] Brando got me involved [in the march] … He pulled up in his car and said, ‘What are you doing day after tomorrow?’ and I said ‘Nothing’, and he said, ‘You want to go to Selma?’ And I said, ‘Sure, man. Thanks for asking me!’ [Then at the march, police] dogs were biting, and people were being bombed, and it was like, ‘Where are we?'” (Dennis Hopper)

The third march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, began on March 21, 1965, extended for 54 miles, took five days, and involved 4,000 marchers led by Martin Luther King Jr. and allies such as Ralph David Abernathy, Sr. It was the highpoint of the American Civil Rights Movements. Hundreds of ministers, priests, nuns, and rabbis followed King’s call to Selma. “It was like a holy crusade …” Numerous photographers, such as Spider Martin, James Karales, Steve Shapiro, and Bruce Davidson, documented the largest ever gathering of people during the civil rights movement in the South.

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5. Mexico

He was completely obsessed with bullfighting and began attending fights regularly at the Tijuana arena in the 1950s. Hopper went to Mexico as an actor in 1965 when Henry Hathaway surprisingly offered him a role in his film The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).

A Western town was erected in the middle of Durango. Of course, Hopper had his camera with him. He photographed John Wayne and Dean Martin on the set and natives who were part of the crew or who just stopped by to watch, but he also roamed the area and the streets of Durango and Mexico City. In the 1920s and 1930s Mexico had held a great fascination for European as well as American avant-garde painters, photographers, and writers. Edward Weston lived in Mexico City; Henri Cartier-Bresson went there for a year in 1934, befriending the young photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. Their images have shaped our perception of that country, a perception that is also echoed by some of Hopper’s photographs.

Wall texts from the exhibition

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Dennis Hopper
Martin Luther King, Jr.
1965
Location: Montgomery, Alabama, USA
9.2 x 13.6 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Martin Luther King, Jr. (detail)
1965
Location: Montgomery, Alabama, USA
9.2 x 13.6 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
James Brown
1966
Location: USA
9.7 x 6.77 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Paul Newman
1964
Location: Malibu, Ca USA
9.7 x 6.66 inches
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
Phone +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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21
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Eva Besnyö 1910-2003: The Sensuous Image’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 23rd September 2012

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“Ranging from the experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam, July 1940, Besnyö explored the different terrains that photography was opening up, while at the same time helping to define them. The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

John Yau. “Something Special About Her, Eva Besnyö at the Jeu de Paume” on the Hyperallergic website, July 8th 2012

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin photograph
Private Collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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One of the purposes of this blog is to bring relatively unknown artists into the spotlight. Eva Besnyö is one such artist. Leaving the repressive atmosphere of Hungary in 1930, Besnyö joined László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa) in Berlin before, sensing the danger of National Socialism, she moved to the Netherlands in 1932. After the invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 Besnyö survived four long years in hiding before obtaining false papers in 1944 that allowed her to emerge into the open. She was Jewish.

Exploring elements of the New Vision and New Objectivity in her work, Besnyö explored “the different terrains that photography was opening up” through various bodies of work: “ranging from experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam.” As John Yau observes in the quote at the top of the posting, “The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

Continuing the conversation from my recent review of the work of Pat Brassington (where I noted that curators and collectors alike try to pigeon hole artists into one particular style, mainly so that they can compartmentalise and order the work that they produce: such and such produces this kind of work – and that the work produced in this style is not necessarily their best), Besnyö can be seen to be a transmogrifying artist, one that experimented and investigated the same themes through different subject matter – hence no signature body of work. One of my friends observed that this kind of art making could be mistaken for a strange form of nihilism (in which nothing in the world has a real existence). It could be argued that the artist keeps changing subject matter, just dabbling really, pleasing herself with the images that she took, without committing to a particular style. Without seeing the 120 vintage prints it is hard to make a judgement.

From the work posted here it would seem that for Besnyö, observation and exploration of the lines of sight of life were the most critical guide to her art. In other words her shifting viewpoints create a multi-dimensional narrative that coalesces in a holistic journey that challenges our point of view in a changing world. As Victor Burgin notes in Thinking Photography, “The structure of presentation – point-of-view and frame – is intimately implicated in the reproduction of ideology (the ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’)” (1982, pp.146). The frame of mind of our points of view…. this is what Eva’s work challenges, the reproduction of our own ideology. Her morphology (the philosophical study of forms and structures) challenges the cameras and our own point of view. As Paul Virilio observes,

“In calling his first photographs of his surroundings ‘points of view’, around 1820, their inventor, Nicéphore Nièpce came as close as possible to Littré’s rigorous definition: ‘The point of view is a collection of objects to which the eye is directed and on which it rests within a certain distance.'” (Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p.19.)

Besnyö changes the collection of objects to which the eye is directed as she also changes the distance and feeling of the objects upon which the eye rests. Notice how in most of the photographs the human subjects all have their back to the camera or are looking away from the instrument of objectification (or looking down into it). Even in the two self portraits Besnyö – formal in one with bobbed hair and skirt, wild in the other with a shock of tousled hair – she avoids the gaze of the camera. Like most of her subjects she remains hard to pin down. What Besnyö does so well (and why she isn’t just pleasing herself) is to construct a mythology of the city, a mythology of life which resonates through the ages. She creates a visual acoustics (if you like), a vibration of being that is commensurate with an understanding of the vulnerability of existence.

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Many thankx to Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [boy with a violoncello, Balaton, Hungary]
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
29.4 x 24.3 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Gypsies
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Der Monteur am Ladenfenster
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
20.1 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam.
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Starnberger Straße
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Shadow play]
Hungary 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [dockers on the Spree]
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Vertigo #3]
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö (1910–2003) is one of those women who found in photography not just a profession but also a form of liberation, and of those cosmopolitan avant-garde artists who chose Europe as their playing field for both play and work. Immediately after her photographic training in the studio of József Pécsi in Budapest, Eva Besnyö left the repressive, antiprogressive environment of her native Hungary for ever. Then aged 20, she decided, like her compatriots László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa), to go to Berlin. As soon as she arrived in autumn 1930, she discovered there a dynamic photographic scene, open to experimentation and placed under the double sign of the New Vision and the New Objectivity, whose modern language would allow her to develop her personal style.

Of Jewish origins, Eva Besnyö, who foresaw the threat of National Socialism, moved to the Netherlands in 1932 where she met again her companion the film director John Fernhout. There she was welcomed into the circle of international artists around the painter Charley Toorop, and rapidly became known in Amsterdam, where she had her own photographic studio. A solo exhibition at the Kunstzaal van Lier in 1933 gained the attention notably of the Dutch followers of the “Neues Bauen” (New Building), whose architecture she recorded, in a highly personal manner, over a long period. The invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 marked a dramatic turning point in Eva Besnyö’s life. If she managed to come out of hiding in 1944, thanks to an invented genealogy, the traces of this experience would remain acute throughout the postwar decades. During the 1950s and 60s, her family life led her to abandon street photography for commissions. Finally, in the twilight of her career, the photographer militated in the Dolle Mina feminist movement, whose street actions she chronicled in the 1970s.

With more than 120 vintage prints, some modern prints and numerous documents, this first French retrospective devoted to Eva Besnyö aims to show the public the different facets of her work, which is situated between New Vision, New Objectivity and social documentary, at the crossroads between poetry and political activism.

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With other eyes

In 1929, during her second year of apprenticeship to József Pécsi, portrait and advertising photograper in Budapest, Eva Besnyö received the book of photographs Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful), published a few months earlier in Munich. Its author, Albert Renger-Patzsch, is the precursor of New Objectivity in photography. While pictorialism reigned in Hungary, Eva Besnyö discovered the world with other eyes: from up close and under unexpected angles. With these new models in mind and her Rolleiflex in hand, she strode along the banks of the Danube in search of subjects and daring viewpoints, showing concern for a precise, close-up description of the most diverse objects, as well as a taste for fragmentation and for the repetition of the motif in the frame.

As soon as she finished her studies, Eva Besnyö went to Berlin on the advice of the painter and photographer György Kepes – and against the wishes of her father who would have preferred that she chose Paris. The Berlin years, between 1930 and 1932, were for her those of a political and aesthetic awakening. Besides the influence of the revolutionary aesthetic of Russian cinema, she came under that of the New Vision, which took off with László Moholy-Nagy and his book Painting Photography Film (1925), using a whole stylistic grammar, advocating downward perspectives or low-angle shots, a taste for the isolated object and its repetition, as well as optical manipulations revealing an unknown, but very real, world. The activity of the town or the empty crossroads of Starnberger Straße, portraits and images of summer on the banks of Lake Wannsee count among Besnyö’s most successful compositions.

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Worker and social photography

At the Marxist Workers’ School in Berlin, Eva Besnyö schooled her social and political conscience. In her circle of friends gathered around fellow Hungarian György Kepes, she discussed passionately the role of the workers’ movements. In Berlin, as earlier in Budapest, Eva Besnyö took her camera to the principal sites of trade and business, where she photographed labourers hard at work: dockers on the Spree, coalmen in the street, fitters perched on ladders; in the city centre, she followed the workers at Alexanderplatz, in around 1930 the largest construction site in Europe. In Hungary, where she returned from time to time from Berlin, she carried out an extraordinary documentary project on the people of Kiserdö, in the suburbs of Budapest. Blessed with a heightened political awareness, she had already understood by 1932 that, as a Jew, her future was not in this country, and left Berlin for Amsterdam.

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New Vision and New Building

In 1933, the solo show devoted by the Kunstzaal van Lier to Eva Besnyö just one year after her arrival in Amsterdam aroused the enthusiasm of numerous architects – her principal clients in the years to come. Mostly members of the group de 8 in Amsterdam and the radical abstract collective Opbouw in Rotterdam, they discerned in her images, which emphasised the functional side of objects, their structure and their texture, a suitable approach for explaining their buildings.

Equipped with a Linhof 9 x 12 cm plate camera acquired especially for the purpose, Eva Besnyö went to building sites and photographed public and private buildings, notably the studios of the Dutch radio station AVRO at Hilversum, the Cineac cinema in Amsterdam and a summer house in Groet, in the north of the country. Become, in the 1930s, the preferred photographer of Dutch New Building, Eva Besnyö made most of her income at the time from architectural photography.

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Bergen and Westkapelle

From Amsterdam, where from 1935 to 1939 she shared a studio at Keizersgracht 522 with the photographer Carel Blazer and the architect Alexander Bodon, Eva Besnyö went regularly to Bergen and Westkapelle, two villages where many artists gathered. In Bergen, north of Amsterdam, Charley Toorop, Expressionist painter and mother of the film director John Fernhout, whom Eva had married in 1933, held an artistic salon in the De Vlerken studio. It was at Westkapelle, a centuries-old village built on a polder in Zealand, that the family often spent their holidays. In this landscape shaped by the natural elements, Eva Besnyö returned to a free photographic practice, with views of vast beaches of white sand, of black silhouettes against a background of old windmills and cut-out shadows.

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Rotterdam

In July 1940, Eva Besnyö photographed the old town of Rotterdam destroyed by German airforce bombing. Far from classic photo-journalism, these images of ruins and traces of devastation – from which, in retrospect, she distanced herself – are today silent, bare statements of the wounds and scars of history.

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Dolle Mina

The Dolle Mina feminist movement gathered both men and women, mainly from the student protest movement. In the 1970s, Eva Besnyö militated actively within it, alongside sympathisers of all ages. In a second phase, she focused on photographic documentation of the movement’s actions and activities, taking responsibility for sending out images daily, like a press agency.

Text by Marion Beckers and Elisabeth Moortgat, curators of the exhibition

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
1934
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Summer house in Groet, North Holland. Architects Merkelbach & Karsten]
1934
18.2 x 24.2 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Stadion, Berlin, 1931
1931
16.8 x 23.9 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Lieshout, The Netherlands]
1954
Silver gelatin photograph
25.3 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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“In 1930, when Eva Besnyö arrived in Berlin at the age of only twenty, a certificate of successful apprenticeship from a recognised Budapest photographic studio in her bag, she had made two momentous decisions already: to turn photography into her profession and to put fascist Hungary behind her forever.

Like her Hungarian colleagues Moholy-Nagy, Kepes and Munkacsi and – a little later – Capa, Besnyö experienced Berlin as a metropolis of deeply satisfying artistic experimentation and democratic ways of life. She had found work with the press photographer Dr. Peter Weller and roamed the city with her camera during the day, searching for motifs on construction sites, by Lake Wannsee, at the zoo or in the sports stadiums, and her photographs were published – albeit, as was customary at the time, under the name of the studio. Besnyö’s best-known photo originates from those years: the gypsy boy with a cello on his back – an image of the homeless tramp that has become familiar all over the world.

Eva Besnyö had a keen political sense, evidenced by the fact that she fled in good time from anti-Semitic, National Socialist persecution, leaving Berlin for Amsterdam in autumn 1932. Supported by the circle surrounding woman painter Charley Toorop, filmmaker Joris Ivens and designer Gerrit Rietveld, Besnyö – meanwhile married to cameraman John Fernhout – soon enjoyed public recognition as a photographer. An individual exhibition in the internationally respected Van Lier art gallery in 1933 made her reputation in the Netherlands practically overnight. Besnyö experienced a further breakthrough with her architectural photography only a few years later: translating the idea of functionalist “New Building” into a “New Seeing.” In the second half of the 30s, Besnyö demonstrated an intense commitment to cultural politics, eg. at the anti-Olympiad exhibition “D-O-O-D” (De Olympiade onder Diktatuur) in 1936; in the following year, 1937, she was curator of the international exhibition “foto ’37” in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

The invasion of German troops in May 1940 meant that as a Jew, Eva Besnyö was compelled to go into hiding underground. She was attracted to a world view shaped by humanism in the post-war years, and her photographs became stylistically decisive for neo-Realism and immensely suitable for the moralising exhibition, the “Family of Man” (1955). The mother of two children, she had experienced the classic female conflict between bringing up children and a profession career as a crucial and very personal test. Consequentially, Besnyö became an activist in the Dutch women’s movement “Dolle Mina” during the 70s, making a public commitment to equal rights and documenting demonstrations and street protests on camera.

This first retrospective exhibition, showing approximately 120 vintage prints, aims to introduce the public to the life and work of this emigrant and “Berliner by choice”, a convinced cosmopolitan and the “Grande Dame” of Dutch photography. “Like many other talents, that of Eva Besnyö was lost to Germany and its creative art as a direct consequence of the National Socialists’ racial mania.” (Karl Steinorth, DGPh, 1999)”

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

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Eva Besnyö
Narda, Amsterdam
1937
Private collection, Berlin
40 x 50 cm
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [The shadow of John Fernhout, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands]
1933
25.3 x 20.4 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
Berlin, 1931
17.4 x 17.4 cm
Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [John Fernout with Rolleiflex at the Baltic seaside]
1932
44.2 x 39.5 cm
Private collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Magda, Balaton, Hungary]
1932
40.5 x 30.6 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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

Opening hours:
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Jeu de Paume website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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