Archive for the 'book' Category

08
Feb
15

Exhibition: ‘Bohemian Melbourne’ at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12th December 2014 – 22th February 2015

 

Definition

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds. (Wikipedia)

A Bohemian is a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.

 

This is a fantastic exhibition at the State Library of Victoria, one of the best I have seen so far in Melbourne this year. I have seen it three times and each time it has been a thoroughly rewarding experience.

  • Visually and intellectually stimulating, with a plethora of artefacts, texts and photographs
  • Excellent curatorship, with the exhibition logically structured in order to cohesively display the history, characters and stories, and strands of creativity and rebellious spirit that make up Melbourne’s cultural life
  • A great hang, with disparate elements and mediums all informing each other, pithy quotes, unique film footage, video, music
  • Not too big, just the right size to indulge your senses and brain power

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One downside was that the exhibition needed a book or exhibition catalogue to flesh out the themes. Hopefully this will eventuate down the track. Also, it would have been nice to see more of what I would call ‘vernacular bohemianism’ – not just the famous people in each era, but the people that lived the life out on the streets, that supported the subcultures that sprung up from the 1950s onwards, but in a small exhibition it is understandable that there was not enough space.

Another perspective is that, in ordering such a diverse group of people who don’t want to be classified, who lived on the edge of society – you remove their cultural and historical ability to be transgressive, to cross moral and social taboos. By naming them as “bohemian” you seek to classify and order their existence and bring them within a frame of reference that is about control, power and visibility. This disciplinary power, Michel Foucault maintains, relies on surveillance to transform the subjects and the exhibition taxonomy is just that… a form of surveillance of the subject as well as a form of ordering it. Under this phenomena of power, dissonance/dissidence is neutralised and human beings are made subjects: through ‘the systematic linking of the categories of power and knowledge to form a hybrid, power-knowledge.’ (Hirst, 1992, “Foucault and Architecture,” in AA Files, No. 26, Autumn, pp. 52-60)

As John Tagg notes in his book The Burden of Representation (and this is what this exhibition does, it ‘represents’ a particular construction of identity as seen from the viewpoint of the establishment, the institution), “when Foucault examines power he is not just examining a negative force operating through a series of prohibitions … We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms – as exclusion, censorship, concealment, eradication. In fact, power produces. It produces reality. It produces domains of objects, institutions of language, rituals of truth.” (Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 87)

Ultimatley, that is what this exhibition does, it produces a reality that many of these bohemians would not have bought into, for they lived outside the fold. It produces domains of objects, institutions of language, rituals of truth that, through their naming, seek to classify and negate the transgressive and subversive nature of many of these people and groups. These people lived in opposition to the tenants and morals of everyday society and that is why we still love them – for their creativity, their individuality, their thoughts and above all their panache, stepping outside the orthodoxies and regi/mentality of everyday life. Against the system, for life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“The mania of young artists to
wish to live outside of their time,
with other ideas and other customs,
isolate them from the world,
render them strange and bizarre,
puts them outside the law, banished
from society. These are today’s
bohemians.”

.
Félix Pyat (French, 1810-1889)

 

 

Artist, rebel, hippie, hipster?

Revealing Melbourne’s enduring counter-cultures, Bohemian Melbourne celebrates a who’s who of creative free spirits through their art and the bohemian legacy that has shaped the character of this city. The exhibition shines a light on Melbourne’s cultural bohemians from 1860 to today, tracing individuals who have pushed against convention in their lives and art, from Marcus Clarke, Albert Tucker and Mirka Mora to Barry Humphries, Vali Myers and Nick Cave.

Venture into history’s backstreets and smoky salons to discover the stories of the daring poets, artists, visionaries, rebels and rock stars who changed Melbourne forever. (Text from the website)

 

Marcus Clarke: “A Punk in the Age of Steam”

Marcus Clarke, writer, journalist and later a librarian at the Melbourne Public Library, is generally celebrated as the father of Bohemian Melbourne – although he was more its wild child. After a privileged start in a wealthy English family, which allowed him to cultivate the life of a young dandy and to indulge his passion for the writings of Honoré de Balzac and others, a 16-year-old Clarke suddenly found himself in colonial Melbourne in 1863, thanks to a turn in the family fortune.

Determined to maintain a semblance of the life to which he had become accustomed, Clarke was soon to be found strolling the streets of Melbourne as a flâneur, an observer of the city spectacle. A short-lived post as a bank clerk was followed by a stint on the land as a jackaroo, but by the age of 21 he was back in Melbourne and working as a journalist for the Argus newspaper.

Clarke’s bohemian ways soon attracted other young journalists and writers, and they began to congregate at various Melbourne watering holes, in particular the Cafe de Paris establishing the Yorick Club, the early members of which included fellow writers Henry Rendall, George Gordon McCrae and Adam Lindsay Gordon. The Yorick had a human skull for a mascot and rules that parodied the gentleman’s clubs of establishment Melbourne. Its members gathered in rooms adjoining the office of Melbourne Punch to smoke clay pipes, drink from pewter mugs, recite poetry and generally engage in horseplay. Bohemian society had found a Melbourne home and a creative community was born. (Wall text from exhibition)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Marcus Clarke' 1866

 

Unknown photographer
Marcus Clarke
1866
Albumen silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

Bohemian culture in marvellous Melbourne

Marvellous Melbourne, which arose out of the egalitarianism of the gold rushes, gave birth to a strong bohemian culture. Marcus Clarke, the London-born journalist, writer, librarian and professional bohemian, joined the Athenaeum Club and founded in 1868 the Yorrick Club, Australia’s first bohemian club, which became a magnet for men of letters.

He was a dressed-up dandy, a flâneur and a heavy drinker, but had a touch of genius with his novel, For the Term of His Natural Life (1874/75), one of the classics of Australian colonial literature. He was dead by the age of 35, with suicide rumoured but rejected by his actress wife, Marian Dunn, the mother of his six children. Clarke in his behaviour and creative achievement became a model for other Australian bohemians to follow.

Extract from Professor Sasha Grishin. “Celebrating Melbourne bohemians at the State Library of Victoria,” on The Conversation website, 16 January 2015 [Online] Cited 03/02/2015

 

Unknown photographer. 'Marcus Clarke' (detail) 1866

 

Unknown photographer
Marcus Clarke (detail)
1866
Albumen silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

“In 1863, when the young Marcus Clarke arrived in Melbourne, he could have slipped easily into what passed for mannered society in the booming gold-rush city. His uncle was a County Court judge, his cousin a politician, and Clarke himself was granted honorary membership of the elite Melbourne Club. But he chose to turn his back on the bunyip aristocracy. “I am a bohemian,” declared the man who would go on to write the first great Australian novel. “I live, I walk, I eat, drink and philosophise.”

All of which sounds perfectly normal – except, perhaps, for the philosophising – but in reality, Marcus Clarke’s life was far from average. He became a celebrated satirist of Marvellous Melbourne, by turns outraging and titillating 19th-century sensibilities in Australia’s modern metropolis. He befriended fellow intellectuals and bon vivants to form underground literary clubs that didn’t so much turn their backs on as raise an insulting finger to colonial mores. He was a poet and a playwright, a journalist and a novelist, a jackaroo, a wastrel and, above all, quite the tremendous wit.

Clarke’s most enduring gift is his writing, particularly the classic convict novel For The Term Of His Natural Life. But a new exhibition at the State Library of Victoria pays tribute to his other major legacy – that of Australia’s first bona fide bohemian.

“Clarke was an iconoclast, dangerous to know and a dandy about town,” explains historian Dr Tony Moore, author of Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia’s Bohemians

“Most people think of him as a venerable old Victorian gentleman, but I characterise him as a punk in the age of steam.” [Marcus: I don’t know why a venerable old Victorian gentleman – he was dead at 35]

Moore, who is a Monash University academic and passionate chronicler of unconventional Australians, was an adviser to the exhibition and worked alongside curator Clare Williamson to create this retrospective of radicals. Melbourne’s roaming free spirits have been corralled together for the first time using material – some of it never previously displayed in public – drawn from State Library archives and borrowed from public and private collections. Viewed en masse, they comprise a rogues’ gallery of some of the country’s most indelible cultural icons…

His [Clarke’s] image adorns the exhibition posters, a larger-than-life bohemian in breeches and knee-high boots with a cabbage-tree hat perched jauntily above his broad, handsome face. Melbourne’s original radical would be thrilled to see that his notoriety lives on, more than a century after his death.”

Extract from Kendall Hill. “Bohemian Melbourne: Exhibition” on the Qantas Travel Insider website [Online] Cited 03/02/2015

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

installation-k-WEB

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Unknown photographer. 'Members of the Ishmael Club' c. 1900

 

Unknown photographer
Members of the Ishmael Club
c. 1900
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

Justus Jörgensen (1893-1975) 'Fifteen of the Founders' 1944

 

Justus Jörgensen (1893-1975)
Fifteen of the Founders
1944
Oil on canvas and gauze mounted on panel
Collection of the Montsalvat Trust

 

 

Montsalvat is the result of Justus Jörgensen’s vision for a collective experience of art and life. Jörgensen had trained in architecture and then in painting with earlier bohemian Max Meldrum. His studio in Queen Street, the Mitre Tavern and the Latin and Chung Wah restaurants were sites for lively discussions in which Jörgensen put forward his philosophies of art, the revival of medieval craftsmanship and communal living. This vision began to take shape in 1934 when he and his wife, Lily, brought land at Eltham; with the assistance of friends and followers, he built Montsalvat, an artists’ colony of studios, workshops and the communal Great Hall.

While Justus Jörgensen rarely exhibited, his great love was painting. This multi-panelled work comprises portraits by Jörgensen of 15 significant figures from the early years of Montsalvat. They are, from top to bottom, left to right:

Ian Robertson – student of Jorgensen who also ran an antiques shop
Leo Brierley – businessman and backer of Mervyn Skipper’s Pandemonium journal
Helen (Nell) Lempriere – niece of Dame Nellie Melba, painter, sculptor, and an earl student of Jorgensen
Norman Porter – friend and student of Jorgensen and lecturer in philosophy
Mervyn Skipper – author, journalist and Melbourne editor of the Bulletin
Helen Skipper – Mervyn’s first daughter, Jorgensen’s partner for many years, and mother of Sebastian and Sigmund Jorgensen
Justus Jorgensen – founder and architect of Montsalvat, painter, assistant to artist Max Meldrum and teacher.
Sonia Skipper – second daughter of Mervyn Skipper, and painter and teacher
Arthur Munday – law student, sculptor and stonemason trained by Jorgensen
William (Bill) Cook – teacher, philosophy and president of the Victorian Rationalist Society
Norman Radcliffe – student and friend of Jorgensen, and philosopher
Ray Grant – student of Jorgensen and philosopher
Edward Goll – internationally renowned pianist and teacher at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music
Arthur (George) Chalmers – pharmacist, student of Jorgensen, stonemason and carver, who also planted the first vineyard at Montsalvat

(Label texts)

 

Montsalvat is an artist colony in Eltham, Victoria, Australia, established by Justus Jörgensen in 1934. It is home to over a dozen buildings, houses and halls set amongst richly established gardens on 48,562 m2 (12 acres) of land. The colony of Montsalvat has a detailed history that reflects the life of Jörgensen and his friends and family; there is also a legend behind its name, while its buildings and gardens are steeped in the art and culture of Melbourne and its surroundings.

Visitors can pay a small fee to walk throughout the colony’s historical gardens, artists’ houses/workshops and explore the surrounding buildings. All of the buildings on the site were designed and built by residents with locally available materials, from various sources. The Great Hall offers an extensive network of spaces from extravagant halls and vast exhibition spaces, to small corridors and tiny balconies overlooking the gardens. (Wikipedia)

 

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) Ella Grainger (1889-1979) 'Towelling tunic, shirt, leggings, belt, shoes worn by Percy Grainger' c. 1934

 

Percy Grainger (1882-1961)
Ella Grainger (1889-1979)
Towelling tunic, shirt, leggings, belt, shoes worn by Percy Grainger
c. 1934
Cotton bath towels, plastic, leather and metal
Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

 

“In 1932 or 1933 my wife and I took up again this idea of clothing made of towelling and when in Australia in 1934 and 1935 we were amazed by the beauty of the bath towels on sale in Australia – some imported from England, Czechoslovakia and America, but most of them (and among them the most beautiful ones) manufactured in Australia. Here was a chance to show what could be done with the beauty born of machinery – a beauty as rich and subtle, in its own way, as anything made by hand or loom.”

Percy Grainger, c. 1955-56

 

Unknown photographer
Percy Grainger at White Plains, New York
1936
Exhibition graphic from silver gelatine photograph
Grainger Museum collection, The University of Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015, including at left Albert Tucker, Self-portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 (see below)

 

Albert Tucker. 'Self-portrait with Joy Hester' 1939

 

Albert Tucker
Self-portrait with Joy Hester
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

An Interview with Albert Tucker conducted by Justin Obrien in 1997.
Albert expands on his many insights,during the time he spent with John and Sunday Reed and other artists at Heide during the1940’s. An intimate insight into a unique man.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Opening of Mirka Café' 1954

 

Unknown photographer
Opening of Mirka Café
1954
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy of Heide Museum of Modern Art and William Mora Galleries

 

Unknown photographer. 'Opening of Mirka Café' (detail) 1954

 

Unknown photographer
Opening of Mirka Café (detail)
1954
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy of Heide Museum of Modern Art and William Mora Galleries

 

 

These clips features home movie footage taken by Gertie Anschel (c.1953-1954) with audio commentary by film director Philippe Mora.

Part 1 of 3 features scenes of Melbourne, The Mirka Café and Joy Hester and Gray Smith’s property. Philippe reflects on his childhood and identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene. 

 

 

Part 2 of 3 features the property of Roger de Stoop, artist friends and Arthur Boyd at work on his 1956 Melbourne Olympic statue. Philippe reflects on his childhood identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene.

 

 

Part 3 of 3 features the Moras, the art gang at a balcony party and late American actor Melvyn Douglas. Philippe reflects on his childhood, parents and identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene.

 

 

Making Your Own Fun in the 50s

On the surface at least, Melbourne in the 1950s was a rather dour affair. For some non-conformists, such as Vali Myers and Barry Humphries, it was a place to escape rather than a place to be. For others, however, it was a site for creating underground cultures that were largely invisible to the mainstream.

This was no more so than in the case of gay and lesbian, or ‘camp’, culture, as it was known at the time. Homosexuality was illegal in Victoria until 1960, and in the 1950s it was sensationalised in the tabloid press as a subject for mockery if not horror. As a result, homosexual men and women developed alternative bohemian cultures and communities, with their own covert venues, house parties, secret languages and dress codes.

The gala costume arts balls that raised money for mainstream theatre and other arts charities were grand exceptions to the gnerally underground clubs and private parties. They offered rare moments in which camp culture could be expressed in public without fear for reprisal. Theatres and dance companies provided employment for many, and bars, such as the one nicknamed the Snake Pit at the Hotel Australia, and restaurants such as Val’s Coffee Lounge, provided opportunities for the camp community to meet and to mix with others who were outside the establishment.

 

Norman Ikin. 'Vali Myers' c. 1949

 

Norman Ikin
Vali Myers
c. 1949
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

Mark Strizic. 'Barry Humphries in Melbourne' 1969

 

Mark Strizic (1928-2012)
Barry Humphries in Melbourne
1969
Exhibition print from flexible-base negative
State Library of Victoria
Courtesy of the Estate of the artist

 

 

A never seen on broadcast TV programme with Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage made in 1975. Barry Humphries was promoting his film ‘Barry McKenzie holds his own’. Films clips were provided officially by EMI. The interviewer trying to hold things together is Mark Caldwell. The programme was made in black and white.

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015 with, in the distance, Henry Talbot Portraits of actor Frank Thring 1963, with Thring’s jewellery box and contents in the foreground.

 

It has been said of Frank Thring that he could make most stages or foyers seem small. His larger-than-life personality was almost matched by his frame, often decked out in imposing black and with flamboyant jewellery. Son of Frank Thring snr, founder of Efftee Films and 3XY Radio, Thring jnr earned fame as an actor in London’s West End and in Hollywood films such as Ben Hur, often playing sinister or decadent characters. In the 1950s, he would recite poems laden with innuendo and hold court at the ‘head table’ at Val’s Coffee Lounge. To be welcome at his table was a sign one was part of the ‘in’ crowd. (Label text)

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Arts Ball, Palais de Danse - John Anderson as Sun God' c. 1963-64

 

Unknown photographer
Arts Ball, Palais de Danse – John Anderson as Sun God
c. 1963-64
Gelatin silver photograph
Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

 

John Anderson was first-prize winner at a number of arts balls in the 1960s. His costume shown here reflects the creativity and effort that many put into their outfits. Costumes and headdresses were sometimes so large that Anderson and others regularly hired furniture vans to take them to the ball. One year the van that was transporting Anderson broke down and he completed the journey strapped upright on the back of a ute. His Sun  God costume wowed new audiences when he was invited to take part in a pageant on ice base on the theme of The Kind and I – with Anderson as the King – at the Southland shopping centre ice rink around 1970. (Label text)

But you will go to the ball, you will sweetie!

 

Richard Walsh (editor) 'The Review', Vol. 22, No. 22 Melbourne incorporated Newsagencies Co., March 1972

 

Richard Walsh (editor)
The Review, Vol. 22, No. 22
Melbourne incorporated Newsagencies Co.,
March 1972
State Library of Victoria

 

Before editing the irreverent Melbourne weekly The Review (Nation Review from July 1972, Richard Walsh edited counter-cultural Oz magazine with Richard Neville and Martin Sharp. Contributors to Nation Review included Max Harris, Bob Ellis, Phillip Adams, Michael Leunig and Germaine Greer. Greer had been part of the Drift in Melbourne, a loose association of artists, students and graduates. Enrolling in a Masters degree at Sydney University, in 1962 she becomes a leading light in the Sydney libertarian Push, an intellectual bohemia of larrikin anarchists. Gaining her PhD at Cambridge University, Greer then published her groundbreaking book The Female Eunuch. (Label text)

 

Ashley Mackevicius. 'Nick Cave' 1973

 

Ashley Mackevicius
Nick Cave
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2006

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Soapbox Circus - The Fabulous Spagoni Family' c. 1977

 

Ponch Hawkes
Soapbox Circus – The Fabulous Spagoni Family
c. 1977
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria
© the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Melantroppos, Circus Oz, Princes Park' 1979

 

Ponch Hawkes
Melantroppos, Circus Oz, Princes Park
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria
© the artist

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015 with artist Ponch Hawkes work at right

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Mirka Mora in her studio' 1978

 

Rennie Ellis
Mirka Mora in her studio
1978
Colour transparency
State Library Victoria
© Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Vali Myers (1930-2003) 'Passions' 1981-82

 

Vali Myers (1930-2003)
Passions
1981-82
Pen, black ink, sepia, burnt sienna and watercolour
Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

 

Vali Myers discovered a love of drawing at an early age. Over the years it became her primary mode of artistic expression in place of contemporary dance. She dedicated her life to her art and would spend up to two years creating each of her intricately drawn artworks. Passions contains many elements that symbolically represent aspects of Vali Myers’ art and life. These include a fox (referencing her pet Foxy), ravens (Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven being one of her favourite poems, a gypsy-like figure playing a violin and, at the centre of it all, a woman with flaming red hair. (Label text)

 

Liz Ham. 'Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building' 1997

 

Liz Ham
Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building
1997
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

Australian artist Vali Myers moved to Paris from Australia at age 19 where she lived on the streets, danced in cafes, met Satre, Cocteau, Genet and Django Reinhardt. She moved to New York, tattooed Patti Smith’s knee, befriended Salvador Dali and met Andy Warhol and Tennessee Williams.

Vali was a great influence on lots of famous people Tennesse Williams, Jean Cocteau, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Jean Genet and Kate Bush.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

 

Australian artist Howard Arkley interviewed by ABC television shortly before his untimely death in 1999.

 

Howard Arkley (1951-1999) 'The Ritual' 1986

 

Howard Arkley (1951-1999)
The Ritual
1986
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
State Library of Victoria

 

Howard Arkley is recognised as one of Australia’s most significant 20th-century artists. He is unique in embracing not only urban culture but also life in suburbia, a space generally shunned or scorned by bohemians, with exception of that other flaneur of suburbia, Barry Humphries. Like many bohemians before him, Arkley lived on the edge and experimented with mind-altering substances, and, like a good proportion of them, his life was tragically cut short as a result. Despite its large scale, comic-book style and pop colours, The Ritual is as much a cool and judgment-free study in composition and the human form as it is in the rituals or ‘habits’ associated with drug use. (Label text)

 

 

State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston St,
Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 8664 7000

Opening hours:
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Monday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Tuesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Wednesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Friday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
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State Library of Victoria website

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30
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals’ at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Exhibition dates: 1st November 2014 – 16th February 2015

 

Exposing your/self

.
Viva Michals! Viva Michals!

Magician, poet, storyteller, philosopher and dreamer.

Not for him the overblown statement (huge prints the size of billboards) but small, dark, rough prints assembled in photo-sequences, often incorporating text, that examine the human condition in every aspect. This is emotional work and Michals has a unique style and voice as an artist. You always know that you are looking at a sequence by Michals, for his signature is that distinctive.

As he says, his work goes beyond description, beyond surfaces, to reveal the subject – not as it looks but as it feels. In his sequences he usually achieves this by posing a question that has no answer, a question that is like a Zen koan…. what is the sound of one hand clapping? The grandfather ascends smilingly to heaven with little wings on his back as the child waves goodbye (if youth knew, if age could); the man as human condition turns into a galaxy; and the spirit leaves the body as it was left before.

Various Michals sequences, such as The Spirit Leaves The Body (1968, below), have a circular construction. Another sequence, Things are Queer (1973, below) is also a circular spatio-temporal enigma where instead of moving forward, the camera and the viewer are pulled backwards in a space-time continuum… where Michals forces you to question what reality really is. These two sequences are my personal favourites, and I had to scour the internet to find images for them as you rarely see them online.

His most famous sequence, the one that you see most often, is Chance Meeting (1970, below) – again an open-ended, intimate but puzzling encounter with a reflection of the self. Michals sequences are full of ghosts, uncommon intimacies, nubile females and delicious males (Michals is gay and has just celebrated his 54th anniversary with his partner). Dealing “with topics such as death, desire, and the passage of time” his work peers inward to examine “his own thoughts and dreams, to blur the lines between photography and philosophy.”

All is not sunshine and light, and I feel that there is a nebulous, obsidian energy hovering not too far below the surface. The photographs have high contrast and the subjects are very closely framed, giving the sequences an almost claustrophobic quality, as though you are having the life, the energy gently yet forcibly manipulated around you. The photographs rarely breathe freely and you feel as though you are almost trapped within their spaces.

Then there is the text. Never used to excess in the sequences (the title does that job alone), the singular images are extended into a longer narrative by biting, poignant words – sentences that utter harsh truths and tell it how it really is. I can’t look at that image, and read that text, from A Letter from My Father (1960/1975, below) without thinking of my abusive father and wondering what happened to his love – whether he hadn’t hidden it, he just didn’t have any to start with. For any child in an adult who has been abused, this image cuts to the bone.

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Michals staged, narrative scenes take us on a journey into his reality, one which “has entered a realm beyond observation.” He poses difficult questions that force us to examine ideas beyond the world of phenomena, beyond the world of surfaces. He challenges our repressed inner lives and our idealised image of ourselves, disturbing the boundaries of personality, ego, and identity.1 He wrestles with Sartre’s noumenal world (the world of the subconscious, dreams), the “being-in-itself” or sometimes simply “the in-itself,” as Sartre calls it (what Kant called the noumenal world), where Sartre does not see man comfortably installed in the world.

“All of us, says Sartre, have a “pre-ontological comprehension” of being-in-itself, that is to say, an opaque, inarticulate, but very real sense of its presence and nature. The world is but a “varnish” on the surface of the being-in-itself; or, changing the metaphor, the world is but a “thin crust” of meaning which we impose upon being-in-itself. Ordinarily this thin crust of meaning conceals the in-itself and obscures our awareness of it, but the anguish of being is always there just below the surface of daily consciousness, and from time to time it breaks through to the surface, presenting being-in-itself without disguise.”2

This is what Michals attunes himself to, an examination of the in-itself, one that impacts on our internal poetic understandings of space and time. In his malleable daydreams Michals proffers a ‘releasement toward things’, the glimpsing of a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which enables the seeing of the ‘Thing Itself’. As Heidegger observes, 

“We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”3

It is Michals great skill as an artist and a human being that enables us the possibility of accessing some aspect of the mystery of our existence.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. As discussed in Magee, Bryan. Confessions of a Philosopher. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997, p. 405-406

2. Olsen, Robert. An Introduction to Existentialism. Dover Publications, New York, 1962, p. 39

3. Heidegger, Martin. Discourse on Thinking. New York: Harper & Row, 1966, pp. 55-56 quoted in Baracco, Mauro. “Completed Yet Unconcluded: The Poetic Resistance of Some Melbourne Architecture,” in van Schaik, Leon (ed.,). Architectural Design Vol. 72, No. 2 (‘Poetics in Architecture’). London: John Wiley and Sons, 2002, p. 74. Footnote 6.

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

 

 

“Who gives a fuck about what he had for breakfast? These are stylistic ticks. The digital has changed the paradigms of photography. I had an opening in Boston and this woman had a little camera with her and kept exclaiming, ‘Everything is a photograph!’ That’s the problem. The bar has been lowered so much in photography now…”

.
“Photographers tend not to photograph what they can’t see, which is the very reason one should try to attempt it. Otherwise we’re going to go on forever just photographing more faces and more rooms and more places. Photography has to transcend description. It has to go beyond description to bring insight into the subject, or reveal the subject, not as it looks, but how does it feel?”

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“I don’t trust reality. So all of the writing on and painting on the photographs is born out of the frustration to express what you do not see.”

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Duane Michals

 

 

Duane Michals. 'Cavafy Cheats Playing Strip Poker' 2004

 

Duane Michals
Cavafy Cheats Playing Strip Poker
2004
12 Gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
5″ x 7″ each

 

This series of photographs was inspired by the poem The Windows by Constantine Cavafy

In these dark rooms where I live out empty days,

I wander round and round trying to find the windows.

But the windows are not to be found –
or at least I can’t find them.
And perhaps
it is better that way.

Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny.

Who knows what new things it will expose?

 

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

 

Duane Michals
Chance Meeting
1970
Six gelatin silver prints
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

 

Duane Michals
Things are Queer
1973
Nine gelatin silver prints
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

 

Duane Michals
Grandpa Goes to Heaven
1989
Five gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC

 

 

“The best part of us is not what we see, it’s what we feel. We are what we feel. We are not what we look at… We’re not our eyeballs, we’re our mind. People believe their eyeballs and they’re totally wrong… That’s why I consider most photographs extremely boring – just like Muzak, inoffensive, charming, another waterfall, another sunset. This time, colors have been added to protect the innocent. It’s just boring. But that whole arena of one’s experience – grief, loneliness – how do you photograph lust? I mean, how do you deal with these things? This is what you are, not what you see. It’s all sitting up here. I could do all my work sitting in my room. I don’t have to go anywhere.”

.
Duane Michals

 

 

“Opening November 1, 2014, at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA), Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals is the definitive retrospective and the largest-ever presentation of this innovative artist’s work. Drawing from select loans and the museum’s holdings, which constitute the largest single collection of Michals’s output, and spanning six decades, the works in Storyteller include classic sequences from the early 1970s as well as rarely seen images from later in his career.

Born in 1932 and raised in a steelworker family in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Michals broke away from established traditions of documentary and fine art photography in the 1960s when he added handwritten messages and poems to prints, produced multi-image narrative sequences, and experimented with double- and triple-exposures. His work was poignant and unabashedly sentimental, flying in the face of the dominant photographic aesthetics of the time.

Storyteller unfolds in thematic groupings that range from portraiture to meditations on the mind’s interior world; from childhood and imagination to desire and death. Michals’s love of two very different cities, Pittsburgh and Paris, is evident in sections exploring the beauty, quirks, and particularities of these places. He has riffed on, critiqued, and crossed paths with countless artists, including René Magritte, Cindy Sherman, Joseph Cornell, Robert Frank, Andreas Gursky, Andy Warhol, and others, and a section of the exhibition brings to light the admiration and acerbic wit in Michals’s engagements with other creative minds.

“The exhibition is designed to acquaint the visitor with the many themes that Michals explored over more than half a century,” says curator of photography Linda Benedict-Jones. “Well known sequences such as Paradise Regained and Chance Meeting greet the viewer first, followed by engaging and sometimes surprising Children’s Stories. A section called The Mind’s Eye shows Michals’s absorption with photographing things that cannot actually be seen, such as A Man Going to Heaven or The Human Condition. We could not present Storyteller chronologically, because Michals revisits themes often. One theme, Painted Expression, shows how, in two distinct periods of his life – in the early 1980s and again in 2012 – Michals has picked up a brush to apply oil paint to both black-and-white photographic prints as well as most recently to 19th century tintypes, resulting in unique, one-of-a-kind photographic works. His creative energy is boundless and readily apparent when seen in a large retrospective display.”

“I’m a storyteller,” he often states as he begins a talk in public – equally interested in the moments before and after the “decisive moment” (a term coined by famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson). “When I began to do sequences, it wasn’t because I thought it was cool and the latest thing. I did it out of frustration with the still photograph.” He has observed that his practice aims to transcend mere appearances: “I’m not interested in what something looks like, I want to know what it feels like… My reality has entered a realm beyond observation.” This approach can be seen throughout his career, from early, carefully staged sequences, to hand-painted gelatin silver prints and tintypes, revealing the artist’s hand at work long after the image is captured.

According to curator of photography Linda Benedict-Jones, who organized Storyteller, “Duane Michals is a sensitive and provocative artist who has followed his own unique path. His way of staging narrative scenes, then recording them with a 35mm camera, represented a fresh approach to the medium. This, combined with an uncommon intimacy when dealing with topics such as death, desire, and the passage of time, set him apart as an image-maker.”

Storyteller also touches upon Michals’s extensive portfolio of commercial photography and portraiture, which spans several decades, and includes assignments for Neiman Marcus, Esquire, Vogue, and Gap, as well as commissioned portraits of such figures as Nancy Reagan, Sting, and Willem de Kooning.

CMOA, a fixture in Michals’s artistic upbringing, has acquired 139 of his works, ranging from his earliest images made in Russia in 1958 to hand-painted tintypes that he began creating in 2012. Michals, in turn, has always felt an attachment to Pittsburgh, a subject of many of his photographs, and of two books, the sequence The House I Once Called Home (2003) and poetry collection A Pittsburgh Poem (2013). Lending institutions to Storyteller include Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), Musée des Beaux Arts (Montreal), High Museum of Art (Atlanta), and Museum of Modern Art (New York). Even longtime admirers of the artist may be unfamiliar with several of his bodies of work, and an examination of this full range is long overdue: while Michals has been championed in several solo exhibitions throughout Europe in the past decade, this is his first major museum exhibition in North America since 1998.

Storyteller also touches upon Michals’s extensive portfolio of commercial photography and portraiture, which spans several decades, and includes assignments for Neiman Marcus, Esquire, Vogue, and Gap, as well as commissioned portraits of such figures as Nancy Reagan, Sting, and Willem de Kooning.

Presented alongside Storyteller will be the exhibition Duane Michals: Collector, which highlights works from Michals’s private art collection that are promised gifts to the museum. The eclectic array of objects, ranging from 1799 to 1999, and from Francisco de Goya to André Kertész to Mark Tansey, will be united by Michals’s unique take on the artists, the artworks, and their influence on his own practice. Organized by associate curator of fine arts Amanda Zehnder, Duane Michals: Collector will further contextualize his work from an unusually personal perspective.

Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals represents a refreshing, much-needed reexamination of a historically significant photographer. Michals’s pioneering photography infused the medium with a personal, critical approach that translates universally. In an art world that feels at times jaded and detached, his images retain the same moving, affecting impact that they commanded decades ago.”

Press release from the Carnegie Museum of Art

 

 

Internationally-renowned photographer Duane Michals discusses his eight-decade life and career as a self-described “expressionist.” His work is known for its innovative narrative sequencing and iconic use of text and image. During a period when photography looked out to the world around us, Michals redefined the medium by peering inward to his own thoughts and dreams to blur the lines between photography and philosophy.

 

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

 

Duane Michals
The Spirit Leaves The Body
1968
Seven gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

 

Duane Michals
The Young Girl’s Dream
1969
Five gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'A Letter from My Father' 1960/1975

 

Duane Michals
A Letter from My Father
1960/1975
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte with Hat' 1965

 

Duane Michals
Magritte with Hat
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte with Hat' 1965 (detail)

 

Duane Michals
Magritte with Hat (detail)
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'This Photograph Is My Proof' 1967

 

Duane Michals
This Photograph Is My Proof
1967
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
The Henry L. Hillman Fund, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Young Soldiers Dream in the Garden of the Dead with Flowers Growing from Their Heads' 1995

 

Duane Michals
Young Soldiers Dream in the Garden of the Dead with Flowers Growing from Their Heads
1995
From the series Salute, Walt Whitman
Gelatin silver print
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Lewis Wickes Hine. 'Two 7-Year-Old Nashville Newsies, Profane and Smart, Selling Sunday' 1910

 

Lewis Wickes Hine
Two 7-Year-Old Nashville Newsies, Profane and Smart, Selling Sunday
1910
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Duane Michals
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art

 

Duane Michals. 'The Human Condition' 1969

 

Duane Michals
The Human Condition
1969
Six gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Rigamarole' 2012

 

Duane Michals
Rigamarole
2012
Tintype with oil paint
The William T. Hillman Fund for Photography
Carnegie Museum of Art,Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

 

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4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

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20
Jan
15

Images from ‘The Americans’ by Robert Frank

January 2015

 

I have scoured the internet for other images from The Americans by Robert Frank, in addition to the photographs in the recent posting Robert Frank in America Part 1 and Part 2 at the Cantor Arts Center. This new posting includes some seldom seen images from the book that are very hard to find online (especially the image Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona which echoes Walker Evans image A Child’s Grave, Hale County, Alabama, 1936, Farm Security Administration).

It is great to be able to gather all of these images together in one meta-resource, instead of spending hours looking for the work. The posting also makes visible the magnificent breadth of vision of the artist, and what a great eye he had for the unfolding scene.

Influenced by Abstract Expressionist painting and the graphic tonality of dark and light, Frank presents a dystopian vision of America where death, loneliness, discrimination and alienation are never far from the surface, both in the rich and poor. You only have to compare the two images Cafeteria, San Francisco and Charity Ball, New York City to eyeball the difference between the haves and the have nots.

There is not a bad image amongst them, testament to Frank’s rigorous selection process for the book, in which he already had a strong idea of the images he wanted to use and the sequencing and layout of the book when he went to the publisher. I particularly like the irony of the atomic bomb at the bottom of the image Hoover dam, Nevada (1955).

Marcus

 

“I sometimes feel that I would like to see you more in closer to people. It seems to me that you are ready now to begin probing beyond environment into the soul of man. I believe you made a fine decision in taking yourself and family away from the tenseness of the business of photography there. You must let every moment of the freedom you are having contribute to your growing and growing. Just as the microscope and the telescope seek a still closer look at the universe, we as photographer must seek to penetrate deeper and closer into our brothers. Please excuse if this sounds like preaching. It is dictated by an interest and affection for you and yours.”

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Letter dated April 2, 1952 from Edward Steichen to Robert Frank

 

 

Robert Frank and Edward Steichen

 

Robert Frank and Edward Steichen

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, New York City' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bar, New York City
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, Las Vegas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bar, Las Vegas
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Candy Store, New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Candy Store, New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Coffee Shop, Railway Station' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Coffee Shop, Railway Station
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Los Angeles' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Los Angeles
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Men's room, railway station, Memphis' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Men’s room, railway station, Memphis
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Ranch Market, Hollywood' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Ranch Market, Hollywood
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Assembly line, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Assembly line, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Beaufort, South Carolina
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Belle Isle, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Belle Isle, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

“Robert Frank was trying to capture facets of American culture within his collection The Americans. Included within American culture is the institution of family, as well as more subtle features like the influence of race. These features of American culture seem to be the focus of the photograph Belle Isle, Detroit. This photo includes the contrast of the black child versus the white child. The white child is near the center of the foreground in the photograph, is wrapped in blankets, and is being held by a woman that we can presume to be it’s mother. This contrasts with the black child, who is in the background, standing on it’s own feet, and is wearing much less clothing. It is unclear who is responsible for the black child, as nobody in the photograph seems concerned with this child. Everybody’s gaze is focused on something else. The contrast of the two children represents the effect of race in 1950’s America. White children grew up under a sheltered upbringing , unaware of the privilege that they held by being white (Shaw and Lee, 75). This privilege is represented in the photograph by the white child being held and wrapped in blankets. Black children held no such privilege, and were cast into a world of racialized injustice from birth. Black people were oppressed systematically by lawmakers, and in cooperation by white people who flaunted their privilege whether they were conscious of this or not. This oppression is represented by the lack of attention and care the black child is receiving, in addition to it’s lack of clothing. Oppression was something that stood out to Frank when he came to the United States. Referencing oppression of blacks in an interview conducted in 2000, Frank said that an initial thought when coming into this country was “there is a lot here that I do not like and that I would never accept.” (Frank et al., 110)

It is important to consider the historical point at which this photograph was taken. This photo was taken in 1955, which was near the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement for African-Americans. This could have been something that Frank considered while taking photographs. In the middle of this photo is a pregnant woman who appears to be of mixed ethnicity. Her expression is perplexed as if she is in deep thought, with her arms crossed. This begs the question, what is she thinking about? She could be contemplating the fate of her unborn child. Her pregnancy makes her a symbol of things to come. With the Civil Rights Movement in progress, it is unclear what kind of world her child will be born into and grow up in. As a mixed child, the child probably won’t have white skin, and it raises the question how big an effect race will have on this child’s life. In a world of changing times, the uncertainty of the future is something that looms in the back of our heads. The pregnant woman stands as a symbol of the future, and her perplexed expression is representative of the uncertainty associated with the future. Frank wanted to capture what was a historical period filled with uncertainty and hope with the fate of the Civil Rights Movement hanging in the balance.”

Extract from Chris Watson. “Oppression versus Privilege in Belle Isle, Detroit,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. Butte, Montana' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

 

“I developed a tremendous contempt for LIFE, which helped me. You have to be enraged. I also wanted to follow my own intuition and do it my own way, and to make concessions – not make a LIFE story. That was another thing I hated. Those goddamned stories with a beginning and an end. If I hate all those stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end then obviously I will make an effort to produce something that will stand up to those stories but not be like them”

.
Robert Frank

 

Robert Frank. 'Chattanooga, Tennessee' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Chattanooga, Tennessee
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'City Fathers - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
City Fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

“There are two different ways of viewing the photo that may offer differing messages, though they combine to form one broad theme. Viewing the photo as a whole shows five men, separated from the viewer by a lively decoration, looking upon some event nearby. Their mostly large bodies and tall hats, separated by the sky in the background, creates an image like that of great towers side by side. We view them from below as a common person in comparison to their superior position and stature. Capturing the size of this group with the other men in hats behind the main characters relates that this is not a picture of only the men in the foreground, but instead of their class as a whole. This creates the essence of numerical strength and the authority that these men supposedly carry with them in their high positions, though some closer inspection offers a slightly different view. Studying the features of these men allows us to become more familiar with them as people, which one might quickly overlook amidst their uniformity.

The two rightmost men offer the most evidence as characters in this scene, both displaying facial expressions of greatly varying emotions. The man furthest to the right has his lips puckered and his eyes closed, perhaps kissing the air towards some unseen figure. He is not focused on the event as the others are. He could be seen as leaning from his position above to play with someone below him, despite everyone else’s attention being elsewhere. This man represents the sort of pomp and carelessness of those who are above the struggles of the lower classes. The second man, however, is practically opposite to the first. His eyes are squinted, focusing on the event. His face is grim and he stands up straight. This man stands out amongst these elite, not wearing any ribbon, a tall hat, or even a suit. This lack of formal attire ironically serves to highlight his importance. He might be of a position higher than simply upper-class business owners or politicians, possibly a mayor. Regardless, his colder features are easily applied to the group as a whole, as are the “superior” and somewhat unaware features of the first man. Adding together these elements with those taken from the entire section gives us a picture of the rich and powerful as a sizable mob of men, some of which are as large and powerful as they are cold, and others which look down at the masses below with playful, unengaged eyes.”

Extract from Bryan Squires. “Men of Great Stature and Power,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'City Hall, Reno, Nevada' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
City Hall, Reno, Nevada
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank’s photograph, number 81 from The Americans collection entitled City Hall – Reno, Nevada, features a young couple in the center of the frame. They take up about a fourth of the frame, however their central location helps show their close proximity to one another. Their proximity, as well as the young man’s arms wrapped around the young woman, creates an intimate feel to the photograph. The intimate feel, as well as the title of the photograph, suggests that an elopement took place. It also looks as if the photographer is above the couple and looking down on them. This makes it seem as if the couple was unaware that the photo was being taken. The couple seems to be looking down at maybe another photographer or a friend or family member who has come to support their marriage at City Hall. Their formal attire shows the importance of this occasion to the young man and woman and their smiling faces show the perceived happiness of the occasion as well. Frank used a 35mm Leica camera, which was loose, fast and cinematic, and was able to create a photo that was a “dark, shadowed, seemingly casual, grainy glimpse” that showed criticism towards the American society (Glenn). In this photo in particular, the contrast between black and white could symbolize both the happiness and anger that marriage brings…

Approximately 50% of marriages ended in divorce in the 1950s (“Nevada Divorces.”). The young couple’s City Hall marriage could show the impulsivity of young people in the United States, and their rebellion against traditional church weddings. Traditionally, young men would ask the father of the bride for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Then, the parents and extended family would all attend a big church wedding to show their support for couple and the couple’s future. The photograph shows no evidence of any family members or friends present and it is not located in a church. This could be an example of the start of the rebellious stage of young people in the United States. Young adults began to stray from the norm of the traditional, conservative lifestyle of the previous generations.  Ironically though, while this photo shows a young couple getting married in Nevada, Reno was known as the “divorce colony” in the 1950s (“Gambling Legal, Divorce Quicker Now.”). After only 6 weeks of residence by one member of the couple, a citizen could get a divorce if they summoned their spouse to Reno (“Nevada Divorces.”). This meant that divorces were quicker and easier then they had ever been before. Hundreds of divorces took place daily and the population of Nevada grew immensely during this time period.  Also, gambling was legalized during this time period as well (“Gambling Legal, Divorce Quicker Now.”). The aftermath of divorce can be seen in other photographs from Frank’s collection such as Casino – Elko, Nevada. The women who were forced to move to Nevada in order to get a divorce were often times seen casinos after their divorce where they were gambling and drinking. This shows the shift from the idea of motherhood and the American Dream, to a rebellious and nontraditional lifestyle. The young couple in this photograph ironically chose to get married in the City Hall in Reno, Nevada. City Hall is one of the same places where thousands of people would go get divorces throughout the year.  While the couple may seem content and hopeful about their future, Robert Frank chooses this ironic situation to show that the look of hope and feeling of bliss you experience when you first get married is fleeting. The look of hope only lasts for so long.”

Extract from Caroline M. “The Simplicity of Marriage,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bar, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Convention hall, Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Convention hall, Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Department store, Lincoln, Nebraska' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Department store, Lincoln, Nebraska
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'En route from New York to Washington, Club Car' 1954

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
En route from New York to Washington, Club Car
1954
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Luncheonette, Butte, Montana' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Luncheonette, Butte, Montana
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Motorama, Los Angeles' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Motorama, Los Angeles
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Picnic ground, Glendale, California' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Picnic ground, Glendale, California
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Public park - Ann Arbor, Michigan' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Public park – Ann Arbor, Michigan
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Public park, Cleveland, Ohio' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Public park, Cleveland, Ohio
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Restaurant, US 1 leaving Columbia, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Restaurant, US 1 leaving Columbia, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Santa Fe, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'St. Petersburg, Florida' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
St. Petersburg, Florida
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Store Window, Washington DC' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Store Window, Washington DC
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Television studio, Burbank, California' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Television studio, Burbank, California
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'US 30 between Ogallala and North Platte, Nebraska' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
US 30 between Ogallala and North Platte, Nebraska
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Yale Commencement - New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Yale Commencement – New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Yom Kippur - East River, New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Yom Kippur – East River, New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

“Glancing at the photograph Yom Kippur, East River, New York City, one might not pay it much attention. However at a longer glance the picture becomes intriguing. The thing that draws interest is why would anyone take a picture of the back of people’s heads? All that can be seen in the photo is the river, a little boy wearing a Yakama, and a man in a grey suit wearing a hat. There are about four other men, wearing black, out of focus to the left, all with their backs turned as well. That’s it. There is really nothing else to the picture. It almost seems like an amateur photograph. However with a little background knowledge, it is clear that Robert Frank knew exactly what he was doing when he took this photo, and created an image that would spark the realizations of oppression and discrimination…

Jewish immigration was not something that was unfamiliar to Americans, however the immigration that occurred after the Second Great War was different. “Once the United States entered World War II, the State Department practiced stricter immigration policies out of fear that refugees could be blackmailed into working as agents for Germany” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). For these reasons and several others, the American public opinion was very confused about Jewish Immigrants, even after America opened its doors for them to enter the country after the war. This led to Jewish people feeling excluded, and extremely misunderstood expanding throughout the rest of the century. By looking at the photo that captured, the viewer can sense the feeling of discrimination and vulnerability from the subjects of the photo. The photo reflects this because they all have their back turned towards the camera, most of them are looking down, and they all just seem very alone. The angle of the photograph is inferring that the Jewish people were not particularly welcomed or understood in American society.

This photo displays a very powerful message of discrimination towards a group of people who were just trying to get by during this time period. This photo perfectly correlates with the rest of Robert Frank’s The Americans as it hold the same themes of corruption in American society as the rest of the photos do. Robert Frank’s Jewish background gave him the knowledge he needed, while the sufferings and oppression his people went through gave him a view that was able to let Frank see the perfect opportunity to capture this beautiful moment.”

Extract from “Post WWII Jewish Immigrants: Discrimination in America,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'Indianapolis' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Indianapolis
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Rodeo, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Rodeo, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Covered car, Long Beach, California' 1955-1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Covered car, Long Beach, California
1955-1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'St Francis, gas station and City Hall, Los Angeles' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
St Francis, gas station and City Hall, Los Angeles
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank (2005)

 

Robert Frank. 'Drugstore, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Drugstore, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank’s collection, The Americans, was an exploration of the “underlying racism, isolation, and conformity” throughout the culture of the 1950s (Tannenbaum). While traveling the country, Frank photographed an average drug store lunch counter in the Detroit, Michigan, which intrinsically displays these major themes that he had wanted to portray to Americans. In Drug store – Detroit, Frank shows the public a more realistic view of society during this time period. He displays the issues of segregation and discrimination in a way that could no longer be avoided by society. This issue of segregation created isolation among Americans by splitting them into groups of racial differences and difference in beliefs about discrimination. These disputes also played a huge role in the conformist society highly associated with the 1950s by creating clear-cut social rules for a segregated society. Frank presented these ideas about racism, segregation, and isolation to Americans in a way they had never seen before. The documenting of these issues in Drug store – Detroit helped spark that changes that were reflected in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s…>

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas unanimously ruled the “separate but equal” unconstitutional, producing the most significant legal development in American civil rights since 1896 (Schwartz). This decision alone created a stronger resistance against desegregation among the public than ever before (Schwartz). Other events, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Martin Luther King Jr. and the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 piled onto the tension of this decision (Vox). Violence eventually broke out between the black and white communities, and a crisis was emerging that Americans could no longer ignore (Schwartz). Drug store – Detroit clearly represents the tension among the people during this time period. The all white men at the counter are definably separated from the black women working and serving them. The men at the counter and the women working are not interacting, also creating a divided between them, and mirroring the reality of the 1950s. The men sitting at the counter are conforming to this segregated society, and none of them look like they are willing to break the unspoken social rules. Almost all of the men at the counter have intense, distant looks on their faces. They are disconnected with the world around them, disconnected with each other. None of them are speaking. They have fell into the isolationist culture created from their segregated society. Many of the men looked distressed and irritated, almost like the tensions growing within their once seemingly flawless culture have taken a toll on them. The racial tensions of the 1950s were growing, becoming a greater part of society against the desire of Americans. It was one of the largest domestic issues they were faced with after World War II, crushing the world they had worked so hard to maintain (Day 120).”

Extract from “The Influence on the Civil Rights Movement,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'U.S. 285, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
U.S. 285, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Political Rally, Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Political Rally, Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Assembly Plant, Ford, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Assembly Plant, Ford, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Ford River Rouge Plant' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Ford River Rouge Plant
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Crosses on Scene of Highway Accident - U.S. 91, Idaho' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Crosses on Scene of Highway Accident – U.S. 91, Idaho
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Hoover dam, Nevada' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Hoover dam, Nevada
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Newburgh, NY' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Newburgh, NY
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Los Angeles' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Los Angeles
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Movie premiere, Hollywood' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Movie premiere, Hollywood
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Rodeo, New York City' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Rodeo, New York City
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

“When thinking of the romanticized American Cowboy, one often pictures the gallon hat wearing lone ranger whose primary objective is to kill the baddies and live a life of solidarity with his trusty steed. In Robert Frank’s collection The Americans, Rodeo, New York City is representative of the idea of the aggrandized American cowboy. His face hidden allows viewers to place themselves in his shoes and become the irresistible John Wayne character that lives a life of commendable seclusion while working with the elusive Native American who barely speaks (but serves as a trusty sidekick) to bust outlaws. Unlike the Bonanza cowboy, however, Robert Frank captures the image of an actual cowboy – a lanky man wearing a gaudy hat and belt buckle, a plaid shirt tucked into well worn jeans tucked into signature cowboy boots. Instead of gazing at the horizon on the open range, he is seen lounging in the city. The legendary American cowboy is clearly indicative of American nationalism, but importantly represented the idea of the individual – rules or authority did not restrain the cowboy – he could simply ride his horse away from all responsibility. The cowboy was not only an image that was emulated by the public, but also beheld by some as what was wrong with society…

For some, the image of the cowboy was not a heroic fictive character. People like Sherman Alexie, a well-known Native American writer who grew up watching as his people were turned into brutish, barely human entities on television, provide different perspectives on the what it mean to be an “American cowboy.” For people of color watching Western shows, which were extremely popular in the 1950s, the cowboy character was the only “good guy.” … Turning Native Americans into negatively portrayed characters only further perpetuated the racialized persecution present during the 1950s – all people of color were stripped of basic humanity and turned into social deviants.

This photo, taken in the 1950s, was captured during a time in which America was front and center of the “world stage… the country had emerged victorious from World War II, saving the world for democracy” (Rodeo, New York City). The idea of independence is inherent to American nationalism – there is a sense of national pride that the government doesn’t have full control over everyday life. Instead, the nation could place more focus on the greater task at hand: becoming “heroes” saving other countries in “distress” and punishing bureaucratic deviants – embodying the cowboy image of “true justice.” Not only is the cowboy indicative of nationalism, but also America’s growing individualistic society. The longing for individual autonomy is so great that the romanticized cowboy, who is one with nature; far from government created social constraints and industrialization, was created.”

Extract from “A History of the American Cowboy,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Georgetown, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Georgetown, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Rooming house, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Rooming house, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Savannah, Georgia' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Savannah, Georgia
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Navy Recruiting Station, Post Office - Butte, Montana' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Navy Recruiting Station, Post Office – Butte, Montana
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Chicago' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Chicago
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Chinese cemetery, San Francisco' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Chinese cemetery, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Factory, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Factory, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Hotel lobby, Miami Beach' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Hotel lobby, Miami Beach
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Jehovah's Witness, Los Angeles' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Jehovah’s Witness, Los Angeles
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Cafeteria, San Francisco' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Cafeteria, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Charity Ball, New York City' 1955–56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Charity Ball, New York City
1955–56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Casino, Elko, Nevada' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Casino, Elko, Nevada
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

“”American sexuality”, as Alfred Kinsey refers to it, was widely more ambitious and active during the 1950’s than most American citizens believed (Brown and Fee). In this photograph, the woman is overtly portrayed as a sexual icon through the use of a heavy and penetrating light from above. Frank included the illumination from this light methodically in order to show the importance of the sexual image that the woman represents. This sexual image is enforced further through the non-illumination of the surrounding men, who are used by Frank as a means of expressing the woman’s control over her environment. In the years before Frank’s photographs, American society would have strictly seen the woman in this image as inferior and lewd due to her sexual promiscuity. However, additions to American sex culture such as Playboy magazine and the sensationalizing of Cosmopolitan allowed for a more open creation and interpretation of sexuality in America (Beekmen, Cami).

Frank’s photograph pulls heavily on the connection between gambling and sex, a connection that has become engrained in American society and culture. Gambling, an almost sexual act in and of itself, is expressed as an action for the sexually diverse and active through this photograph. Frank’s attempt at “simplifying American sex culture” and keeping it from “confounding with other American ideals” shows through the nature of this photograph (Tucker, Anne). Gambling and sex were intertwined ideals in the 1950’s to the extent where they were often found in conjunction with each other. Frank was able to present both ideals in one photograph and allow them to enforce the prevalence of the other without confounding and obscuring the true meaning of each.”

Extract from “Through the Lens of Robert Frank: Sex Culture in a Post-War America,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'US 90 on route to Del Rio, Texas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
US 90 on route to Del Rio, Texas
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Courthouse square, Elizabethville, North Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Courthouse square, Elizabethville, North Carolina
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Bank - Houston, Texas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bank – Houston, Texas
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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08
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Joel Meyerowitz Retrospective’ at NRW-Forum Düsseldorf

Exhibition dates: 27 September 2014 – 11th January 2015

 

Meyerowitz really comes into his own in the ’70s. Luscious colours and lascivious compositions in which the attention of the photographer is directed towards the relationship between object, light and time. The image becomes an object of fetishistic desire.

The hyperreal colours and placement of figures are crucial to this ocular obsession. Look at the image Gold corner, New York City (1974) and observe the precise, choreographed placement of the figures and how the colours flow, from orange/brown to green/blue and onto turquoise/red and polka dot, the central figure’s eyes shielded under a wide-brimmed hat, hand to head, model style. This is colour porn for the eyes. And Meyerowitz does it so well… the stretch of thigh and shadow in Los Angeles Airport, California (1976), the classic red of Truro (1976) or the bare midriff and raised yellow heel in New York City, 42nd and Fifth Ave (1974).

The best of these photos give you a zing of excitement and a surge of recognition – like a superlative Stephen Shore or an outstanding William Eggelston. At his best Meyerowitz is mesmerising.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City' 1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City
1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Untitled' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Ballston Beach, Truro, Cape Cod
1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Los Angeles Airport, California' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Los Angeles Airport, California
1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Dairyland, Provincetown' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Dairyland, Provincetown
1976

 

 Joel Meyerowitz. 'Truro' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Truro
1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Red Interior, Provincetown, Massachusetts' 1977

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Red Interior, Provincetown, Massachusetts
1977

 

 

“Joel Meyerowitz is a “street photographer” in the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, who influenced him greatly at the beginning of his career. Since the mid-seventies he has photographed exclusively in colour.

The artist was born in 1938 in the Bronx. He initially studied art, history of art and medical illustration at the Ohio State University. Back in New York City he began his career in 1959 as an Art Director and Designer. Particularly impressed by an encounter with the photographer Robert Frank, he started taking photographs in 1962 and in the same year he left the agency, devoting himself from this point on, exclusively to photography. He travelled through New York City and capturing the mood of the streets. He soon developed his distinctive sensitivity and his candid, people-focussed style, a very unique visual language. In 1966, he embarked on an 18 month trip through Europe, which both profoundly affected and also influenced him and can be described as an artistic turning point. Meyerowitz photographed many of his works from a moving car. These works were displayed in 1968 in his first exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York: Photographs from a moving car, curated by the photography legend John Szarkowski. From the late seventies onward, Joel Meyerowitz concentrated exclusively on colour photography. In the first half of the seventies, he created numerous unique works of “street photography”. In order to further improve the image quality, the artist took another crucial step: in the mid 1970s he changed from the 35mm format to the 8 x 10″ plate camera.

In 1979, his first book Cape Light was published by Phaidon Verlag. The picture book sold over 100,000 copies and is to this day regarded as a milestone in colour photography. 17 further publications followed, most recently in 2012 with a comprehensive two-volume edition Taking my Time, a retrospective of 50 years of his photography, also published by Phaidon Verlag.

A few days after the attack on the World Trade Center, Meyerowitz began to document its destruction and reconstruction. As the only photographer, he received unrestricted access to the site of the incident. It resulted in over 8000 photographs for the The World Trade Center exhibition, which was displayed in the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City.

Joel Meyerowitz’ works have been and will be shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world; several times in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. On 27 September, the NRW Forum in Düsseldorf opens the most comprehensive retrospective of the artist. In addition, the works are represented in many international collections, including in the Museum of Modern Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Art.”

Text from the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf website

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City' 1965

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City
1965

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'London, England' 1966

 

Joel Meyerowitz
London, England
1966

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'JFK Airport, New York City' 1968

 

Joel Meyerowitz
JFK Airport, New York City
1968

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Paris, France' 1967

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Paris, France
1967

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City, 42nd and Fifth Ave' 1974

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City, 42nd and Fifth Ave
1974

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Dusk, New Jersey' 1978

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Dusk, New Jersey
1978

 

 

“Joel Meyerowitz (born 1938 in New York) is, along with William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, one of the most important representatives of American New Colour Photography of the 1960s / 70s. After a first encounter with Robert Frank 1962, Meyerowitz decided to give up his job as art director in New York and to devote himself to photography. In particular, his photographs of street scenes of American cities, which he takes with his 35mm camera as fleeting moments, make him a precursor of street photography and his works icons of contemporary photography.
“Watching Life is all about Timing”

A first turning point in his photography was his annual trip to Europe in 1966/67, a trip which allowed him to critically question his color photography. As early as 1968, he had his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of works created in Europe under the title From a moving car. His first book, Cape Light (1978), in which he examines achromatic variations of light at Cape Cod, is now regarded as a milestone in photography. In addition to his film camera, which he always carries with him, Meyerowitz has been working since the late 1970s with the 8 x 10 plate camera, which allows him to capture the relationship between object, light and time in a new and more accurate way for him.
“Time is what Photography is About”

The exhibition at the NRW-Forum presents the entire photographic spectrum of 50 years of his photography for the first time in Germany. In addition to the early black / white and color photographs of the 1960s / there will be years works from all business groups such as Cape Light, Portraits, Between the Dog and the Wolf and Ground Zero series, presented to allow the visitor a photographic and cultural image-comparison between Europe and the USA. In addition, the first documentary about the life and work of the photographer, created over a period of three years in France, Italy and the United States, will have its world premiere.”

Text from the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf website

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Gold corner, New York City' 1974

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Gold corner, New York City
1974

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Madison Avenue, New York City' 1975

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Madison Avenue, New York City
1975

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City' 1975

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City
1975

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Provincetown' 1977

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Provincetown
1977

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Roseville Cottages, Truro, Massachusetts' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Roseville Cottages, Truro, Massachusetts
1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'New York City' 1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz
New York City
1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Cape Cod' 1976

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Cape Cod
1963

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Pool, Dusk, Sun in Window, Florida' 1978

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Pool, Dusk, Sun in Window, Florida
1978

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Bay Sky, Provincetown, Massachusetts' 1985

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Bay Sky, Provincetown, Massachusetts
1985

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Five more found, New York City' 2001

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Five more found, New York City
2001

 

 

NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft
Ehrenhof 2, 40479 Düsseldorf
Tel.: +49 (0)211 – 89 266 90

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11.00 – 20.00
Friday until 22.00

NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft website

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02
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Nicholas Nixon: Forty Years of The Brown Sisters’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 22nd November 2014 – 4th January 2015

Organized by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, Department of Photography

 

This is the most successful, long running group portrait series in the history of photography. I have always liked the images because of their stunning clarity, delicate tonality and wonderful arrangement of the figures. Much as they shield their privacy, as a viewer I feel like I have grown up with these women, the sisters I never had. Some images are more successful than others, but as a body of work that focuses on the “face” we present to the world, they are without peer.

Just imagine being these women (and being the photographer), taking on this project and not knowing where it would lead, still not knowing where it will lead. There is a fascinating period in the photographs between 1986 and 1990, as we see the flush of youth waning, transitioning towards the beginning of middle age. As they grow older and closer I feel that I know their characters. I look for that inflection and nuance of presentation that make them more than just faces, more than just photographic representation. The lines on their faces are the handwriting of their travails and I love them all for that.

In each photograph they are as beautiful as the next, not in a Western sense, but in the sense of archetypal beauty, the Platonic form of all beauty – the beauty of women separated from the individuality of the object and considered by itself. In each of these images you can contemplate that form through the faces of these women – they are transcendent and pure. It is as if they live beyond space and time, that the photographs capture this sense of the sublime. Usually the sublime is regarded as beyond time… but not here. A simply magnificent series.

Marcus

 

PS. Let’s hope that there are more images from the series that we can eventually see and that there are some platinum prints being produced. The images deserve such a printing.

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

 

“Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience. While many of us can, when pressed, name things we are grateful to Time for bestowing upon us, the lines bracketing our mouths and the loosening of our skin are not among them. So while a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it. We detect more sorrow, perhaps, in the eyes, more weight in the once-fresh brows. But the more we study the images, the more we see that aging does not define these women. Even as the images tell us, in no uncertain terms, that this is what it looks like to grow old, this is the irrefutable truth, we also learn: This is what endurance looks like. …

These subjects are not after attention, a rare quality in this age when everyone is not only a photographer but often his own favorite subject. In this, Nixon has pulled off a paradox: The creation of photographs in which privacy is also the subject. The sisters’ privacy has remained of utmost concern to the artist, and it shows in the work. Year after year, up to the last stunning shot with its triumphant shadowy mood, their faces and stances say, Yes, we will give you our image, but nothing else.”

.
Susan Minot. “Forty Portraits in Forty Years: Photographs by Nicholas Nixon,” on the New York Times website, October 2014

 

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, New Canaan, Connecticut' 1975

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, New Canaan, Connecticut
1975
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Harwich Port, Massachusetts' 1978

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Harwich Port, Massachusetts
1978
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, East Greenwich, R.I.' 1980

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, East Greenwich, R.I.
1980
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Allston, Mass' 1983.

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Allston, Mass.
1983
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Cambridge, Mass.' 1986

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Cambridge, Mass.
1986
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Wellesley, Massachusetts.' 1988

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Wellesley, Massachusetts
1988
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Woodstock, Vt.' 1990

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Woodstock, Vt.
1990
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Grantham, N.H.' 1994

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Grantham, N.H.
1994
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

 

“In August 1974, Nicholas Nixon made a photograph of his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters. He wasn’t pleased with the result and discarded the negative. In July 1975 he made one that seemed promising enough to keep. At the time, the Brown sisters were 15 (Mimi), 21 (Laurie), 23 (Heather), and 25 (Bebe). The following June, Laurie Brown graduated from college, and Nick made another picture of the four sisters. It was after this second successful picture that the group agreed to gather annually for a portrait, and settled on the series’ two constants: the sisters would always appear in the same order – from left to right, Heather, Mimi, Bebe, and Laurie – and they would jointly agree on a single image to represent a given year. Also significant, and unchanging, is the fact that each portrait is made with an 8 x 10″ view camera on a tripod and is captured on a black-and-white film negative.

The Museum has exhibited and collected the Brown Sisters from the beginning; since 2006, acquiring the series both as lusciously tactile contact prints and as striking 20 x 24″ enlargements (a new scale for Nixon). This installation – featuring all 40 images – marks the first time the Museum has displayed these larger prints.

In his first published statement about photography, written the year he made the first of the Brown Sisters portraits, Nixon remarked, “The world is infinitely more interesting than any of my opinions about it.” If he was modest about his opinions, though, his photographs clearly show how the camera can capture that infinitely interesting world. And to the attentive viewer, these silent records, with their countless shades of visual and emotional gray, can promote a new appreciation of an intangible part of it: the world of time and age, of commitment and love.”

Text from the MoMA website

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Marblehead, Mass.' 1995

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Marblehead, Mass.
1995
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Brookline, Massachusetts' 1999

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Brookline, Massachusetts
1999
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Eastham, Mass.' 2000

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Eastham, Mass.
2000
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Cataumet, Mass.' 2004

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Cataumet, Mass.
2004
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Dallas' 2008

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Dallas
2008
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.' 2010

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.
2010
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.' 2011

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.
2011
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Boston' 2012

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Boston
2012
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Wellfleet, Massachusetts' 2014

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Wellfleet, Massachusetts
2014
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

 

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

Opening hours:
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Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
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01
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Robert Frank in America’ at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University Part 2

Exhibition dates: 10th September 2014 – 5th January 2015

Curator: Peter Galassi

 

The lunatic sublime of America

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

 

“This desire of Frank’s to hold the shape of his feelings in what he made is an ambition found in all Romantic art, one that his style brilliantly encompasses and describes. There is a wonderful illusion of speed trapped in his photographs, a sense of rapidity usually created not by the movement of Frank’s subjects, but by the gesture that he made as he framed his pictures. To photographers who have followed Frank, this autographic gesture incorporates a mystery, one that is distorted, and certainly not explained, by saying that he “shot on the run” or “from the hip.” For the beauty of this gesture is that, caught by such speed, his subjects remain clear, fully recognized, as if the photographer had only glanced at what he wanted to show, but was able to seize it at the moment it unhesitantly revealed itself.”

.
Tod Papageorge. “Walker Evans And Robert Frank: An Essay On Influence.”

 

 

Robert Frank. 'New York' City 1951

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
New York City
1951
Gelatin silver print Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Robert Frank. 'Miami' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Miami
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1950-1951

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
New York City
1950-1951
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Hollywood' 1958

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Hollywood
1958
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

 

“Frank’s photos highlight everything from prosperity to poverty, multitudes to desolation, new life to finality of death, and happiness to sorrow which all occur during our lifetimes making his photos easy for the viewers to understand and relate…

Furthermore, Frank was able to emphasize some of the issues of his era, especially segregation, patriotism, and generational gaps. For example, the New Orleans photo on the cover shows a trolley car obviously segregated with white riders in the front and black riders in the back. However, Frank also shows blacks and whites working side by side in an assembly line photo taken in Detroit as well as a black nurse holding a white baby in Charleston, South Carolina with undertones of hope for equality further highlighted by the photo taken in Detroit bar of Presidents Lincoln and Washington bookending an American flag…

American patriotism seems to be a universal theme throughout Frank’s photos as well. Many of the photos in the book contain an American flag which shows the high level of patriotism felt by Americans in the era after defeating Germany and Japan in the Second World War and at the beginning of the Cold War with the rising Soviet Union as a communist superpower. Flags are hung on an apartment building during a parade in Hoboken, on the wall in a Navy Recruiting Station in Butte, Montana, hanging outdoors during a Fourth of July celebration in Jay, New York, on the wall in the Detroit bar, hanging from the building in a political rally in Chicago, and there are star lights in the background of a club car headed to Washington DC.

The most important theme within Frank’s photos is that of “Americans.” Frank photographed people from different cultures, including blacks, Hispanics, Jews, and whites; celebrating different religious and civil ceremonies from funerals to weddings. He included biker groups, prostitutes, celebrities, high-class socialites, rural farmlands, cowboys, soldiers, teenagers, politicians, families, senior citizens, children, gamblers, and travelers among others within the photos. This variety of people from different backgrounds living and socializing in different settings is truly American in that it is a blend of all different types of people living together as one nation.”

Cindy Coffey 2013

 

Robert Frank. 'Funeral - St. Helena, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Funeral – St. Helena, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

Robert Frank. 'Movie Premier - Hollywood' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Movie Premier – Hollywood
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1951

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
New York City
1951
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Political Rally - Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Political Rally – Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Bill Brandt. 'Parlourmaid at the Window in Kensington' 1935

 

Bill Brandt
Parlourmaid at the Window, Kensington
1935 (printed later)
Silver gelatin print

 

 

“The first critics of The Americans condemned its content; recent critics have attacked it by attempting to describe Frank’s photographic style. Possibly reacting to the variations in cropping that appear in the later editions of the book, or, more probably, looking for the “snapshot aesthetic” under any available stone, they have assumed this style to be haphazard and contemptuously casual. One writer, for example, has said that Frank “produced pictures that look as if a kid had taken them while eating a Popsicle and then had them developed and printed at the corner drugstore.”

The things in Frank’s pictures which have bothered these critics – occasional blur, obvious grain, the use of available light, the cutting off of objects by the frame – are all, however, characteristic of picture journalism, and, arguably, of the entire history of hand-camera photography: Erich Salomon’s work, for example, done for the most part in the twenties, could be discussed in similar terms. The form of Frank’s work, then, is not radical in the true sense of the word: it does not strike to the root of the tradition it serves. The stylistic exaggerations which occur in his pictures serve only to retain that sense of resident wildness we recognize in great lyric poetry – they are present to call attention not to themselves, but to the emotional world of Frank’s subjects, and to his response to those subjects. When, in the statement he wrote shortly before The Americans was published, Frank said: “It is important to see what is invisible to others. Perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph,” he was expressing his belief that both his perceptions (it is significant that he does not mention an intervening camera in these sentences) and the photographs which result from them are essentially unmediated and true.

This desire of Frank’s to hold the shape of his feelings in what he made is an ambition found in all Romantic art, one that his style brilliantly encompasses and describes. There is a wonderful illusion of speed trapped in his photographs, a sense of rapidity usually created not by the movement of Frank’s subjects, but by the gesture that he made as he framed his pictures. To photographers who have followed Frank, this autographic gesture incorporates a mystery, one that is distorted, and certainly not explained, by saying that he “shot on the run” or “from the hip.” For the beauty of this gesture is that, caught by such speed, his subjects remain clear, fully recognized, as if the photographer had only glanced at what he wanted to show, but was able to seize it at the moment it unhesitantly revealed itself.

Despite the grace of this notational style (or perhaps because of it), Frank seems to have felt that movement within the frames of his photographs would only disturb their sense, and, with a few exceptions, ignored the use of dramatic gesture and motion in The Americans (a fact which again suggests his feeling about Cartier-Bresson’s work). In two of his pictures of convention delegates, and in one of a woman in a gambling casino, he shows emphatic hand gestures. In another photograph, he looks down onto a man striding forward under a neon arrow, and, in yet another, describes two girls skipping away from his camera. Otherwise, his subjects move, if at all, toward, and, in a single memorable case, by him – studies in physiognomy, rather than disclosures of a gathering beauty.

The characteristic gestures in his pictures are the slight, telling motions of the head and upper body: a glance, a stare , a hand brought to the face, an arched neck, pursed lips. They suggest that Frank, like Evans, believed significance in a photograph might be consonant with the repose of the things it described. His pictures, of course, are not acts of contemplation – they virtually catalogue the guises of anxiety – but they are stilled, and their meanings found not in broad rhythms of gesture and form, but in the constellations traced by the figures or objects they show, and the short, charged distances between them.

One of the unacknowledged achievements of The Americans is the series of group portraits – odd assemblages of heads, usually seen in profile, that gather in quick, serried cadences and push at the cutting edges of their frames. In the soft muted light that illuminates them, these heads are drawn with the sculptural brevity of those found on worn coins. But, even in this diminishment, as they cluster and fill the shallow space of Frank’s pictures, they assume the unfurling, cursive shapes of great Romantic art.

As this book shows, these photographs beautifully elaborate Evans’ hand-camera pictures, pictures which are not as judgmental as Frank’s, but also not as formally complex and moving. Although Frank’s most literal recastings of American Photographs occur when he is remembering Evans’ viewcamera pictures – for example, a gas station, a parked car, a statue = these extravagant translations of the older photographer’s bluntest work eloquently reveal one aspect of Frank’s extraordinary gifts as a photographer.”

Tod Papageorge. “Walker Evans And Robert Frank: An Essay On Influence.”

Download the complete essay (100kb pdf)

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar - Gallup, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Bar – Gallup, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Target Collection of American Photography, gift of Target Stores

 

Robert Frank. 'Salt Lake City, Utah' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
Salt Lake City, Utah
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'San Francisco' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland, 1924)
San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

 

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060
T: 650-723-4177

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University website

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31
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘Robert Frank in America’ at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University Part 1

Exhibition dates: 10th September 2014 – 5th January 2015

Curator: Peter Galassi

 

The lunatic sublime of America

This is the first part of a bumper two-part posting.

Robert Frank (born November 9, 1924) is one of the most important photographic artists of the twentieth century. He was born in Switzerland but he emigrated to American in 1947. He soon gained a job as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. He honed his craft as a photographer in England where he took formal, classical images of British life during a trip to Europe and South America in 1947.

He became friends with Edward Steichen and Walker Evans, and it was Evans who supported him in his Guggenheim Fellowship application in 1955 which enabled him “to travel across the United States and photograph all strata of its society. Cities he visited included Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan; Savannah, Georgia; Miami Beach and St. Petersburg, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana;Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Reno, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; Butte, Montana; and Chicago, Illinois. He took his family along with him for part of his series of road trips over the next two years, during which time he took 28,000 shots. 83 of these were selected by him for publication in The Americans.”1

In The Americans, Frank documents, “the tensions between the optimism of the 1950s and the realities of class and racial differences. The irony that Frank found in the gloss of American culture and wealth over this tension gave his photographs a clear contrast to those of most contemporary American photojournalists, as did his use of unusual focus, low lighting and cropping that deviated from accepted photographic techniques.2

Originally published as Les Américains in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris, and finally in 1959 in the United States by Grove Press, reaction in America was initially hostile. They American critics did not like Frank’s shoot from the hip style of photography, nor the mirror that was being held up to their society, especially by a Jewish foreigner. Over time The Americans came to be seen as a seminal work of American photography and social history. Like many artists, Frank only took photographs for a relatively short period of time, before moving on to become a filmmaker.

One cannot forget the era in which Frank took these photographs – that of McCarthyism and “the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1950 to 1956 and characterized by heightened political repression against communists, as well as a campaign spreading fear of their influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents.”3 Americans were suspicious of foreigners, especially ones with cameras, and this was still the era of racial segregation pre the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

With regard to the structure of the photographs, their origin is based in classicism. This was Frank’s training. It was his skill as an artist, his intuitive and prescient vision of America – how he saw America like no one else before him had – that enabled him to ramp up the intensity, shoot from weird angles, low lighting, cropping, depth of field, unusual focus – and focus on the iconography of America as never seen before: jukeboxes, American flags, cars, highways, death, racial segregation – that was so revolutionary. But he could not have done that without his formal training. You only have to look at the comparison between the photographs of Robert Frank and Walker Evans. Formal and elegant in Evans Church Organ and Pews (1936) and Downtown street, New Orleans (December 1935) with lines vertical and clean… and then Frank, with hardly a straight line or neat angle to be seen. But the one does inform the other, otherwise Frank’s photographs would just become snapshots, vernacular photographs with very little meaning. Which they are not.

This is one of the most powerful, lyrical, humanist photo essays of a country that has ever been taken. Critic Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian in 2014, said The Americans “changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it. [ . . . ] it remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.”4 As an artist, Frank became the great connector for he is the critical link in the chain that stretches from Lewis Hine through Walker Evans… and on to Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz.

As an artist you marvel at his intuition and inspiration, to look at the world as no one else had done before, to push the boundaries of medium and message. To photograph people, alone and in groups; politics; religion; race; automobiles and the road; and the media and thrust them into the white, bright, happy world of 1950s consumerist America saying: this is what this country is really like, this is my “impression” of you in all your fleeting madness, “America as an often bleak and lonely place.” You only have to look at the “eye” in U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho (1956, below) or look at the photograph of the grave by the side of the road to know that you are in Blue Velvet territory (David Lynch, director 1986, the title is taken from The Clovers’ 1955 song of the same name). I am not sure yet how one world pierces the other but believe me they surely do.

Marcus

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

 

 

“It was the vision that emanated from the book that lead not only me, but my whole generation of photographers out into the American landscape, in a sense, the lunatic sublime of America.”

.
Joel Meyerowitz

 

“Like a boxer trains for a fight, a photographer by walking the streets, and watching and taking pictures, and coming home and going out the next day, the same thing again, taking pictures. It doesn’t matter how many he takes, or if he takes any at all, it gets you prepared to know what you should take pictures of, or what is the right thing to do and when.”

.
Robert Frank

 

 

Robert Frank. 'U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Walker Evans. 'Main St., Ossining, New York' 1932

 

Walker Evans
Main St., Ossining, New York
1932
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Drive-In Movie - Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Drive-In Movie – Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Trolley - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Trolley – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Bequest of Morgan Garwood

 

Robert Frank. 'Barber shop through screen door - McClellanville, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Barber shop through screen door – McClellanville, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

 

“In 1955 and 1956, Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank (b. 1924) traveled throughout the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship, photographing ordinary people in their everyday lives. His book The Americans – 83 photographs, mostly from those travels, published in 1959 – repudiated the bland good cheer of the magazines with an image of the country that was starkly at odds with the official optimism of postwar prosperity. The book became a landmark of photographic history; but Frank soon turned to filmmaking, and the rest of his early photographic career was largely forgotten. An important group of unknown or unfamiliar photographs in the Cantor Arts Center’s collection provides the core of the exhibition Robert Frank in America, which sheds new light on the making of The Americans and presents, for the first time, Frank’s American photographs from the 1950s as a coherent body of work.

“We are delighted that the Cantor’s collection has provided the basis for a fresh look at one of the great achievements of 20-century photography,” said Connie Wolf, John and Jill Freidenrich Director of the Cantor Arts Center. “We are also deeply grateful to Robert Frank, who has generously contributed to the project.”

The exhibition Robert Frank in America, on view September 10, 2014 through January 5, 2015, features 130 photographs drawn primarily from the Cantor’s collection as well as from other public and private collections and from Frank himself. Peter Galassi, former chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is the exhibition’s guest curator and author of the accompanying publication.

 

The Exhibition’s Development from the Cantor’s Collection

In the summer of 2012, Wolf invited Galassi to offer his thoughts on one of the museum’s hidden treasures: more than 150 photographs by Robert Frank given to the Cantor in the mid-1980s by Stanford alumnus Bowen H. McCoy and his colleague Raymond B. Gary. This remarkable collection spans the full range of Frank’s photographic career before he turned to filmmaking in the early 1960s. It is especially rich in Frank’s American work of the 1950s, including scores of photographs that are unknown or unfamiliar even to scholars. Wolf and Galassi saw an opportunity to share this work with Stanford students, faculty, scholars at large and the general public.

Research began at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where more than two decades ago the artist established the archive of his photographic career prior to 1970. Studying more than 1,000 contact sheets enabled Galassi to determine the locations and dates of dozens of previously unidentified photographs in the Cantor collection. He then selected works for the exhibition so as to identify Frank’s major themes and artistic strategies. The compelling sequence of The Americans poetically weaves diverse images into a seamless whole, but Robert Frank in America groups related pictures to explore the pictorial strategies that Frank developed as he worked, and also to highlight important subjects – people, alone and in groups; politics; religion; race; automobiles and the road; and the media.

Frank repeatedly photographed isolated figures so that they seemed trapped by pictorial forces, for example. This powerful metaphor for Frank’s vision of lonely individuals imprisoned by social circumstances is announced in the first picture, The Americans, where the flag obliterates a spectator’s face (Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955). In Robert Frank in America, that photograph is juxtaposed with another that uses the identical pictorial scheme but a different subject; the interior of a bar (New York City, 1955).

“Although The Americans is famous – partly because it is famous – Robert Frank’s American work of the 1950s has never been considered as a whole,” said Galassi. “The full range of the work shows just how Frank turned the vocabulary of magazine photojournalism on its head and used it to speak in a personal, poetic voice.”

Inviting Galassi to organize the exhibition was part of the museum’s renewed commitment to collecting, studying and presenting photography, Wolf says. The Cantor has been adding to its already strong holdings, presenting innovative exhibitions of work by distinguished artists and providing a valuable opportunity for Stanford students and faculty to work directly with photographs. Leland Stanford’s commission more than a century ago for Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering work on animal locomotion serves as a foundation for the museum’s extensive collection today.

 

Exhibition catalogue

The major catalogue accompanying this exhibition is published by the Cantor Arts Center in association with international publisher Steidl, with whom Frank has worked closely on most of his books. All 130 photographs in the exhibition are reproduced as full-page tritone plates. Galassi’s extensive essay traces the evolution of Frank’s work from his arrival in the United States in 1947 until he abandoned his first photographic career in the early 1960s. The text provides a thorough outline of the photographic context in which Frank at first sought success as a magazine photojournalist as well as a detailed analysis of the methods and strategies that lie behind The Americans. The essay features 24 illustrations, including an unprecedented map of Frank’s 1955-56 Guggenheim travels, which locates the sites of nearly all of the photographs in The Americans and in Robert Frank in America. The 200-page book, with a foreword by Connie Wolf, is designed by Katy Homans, New York.

 

Robert Frank

Robert Frank was born in 1924 in Zürich, Switzerland. The conclusion of World War II ended his vulnerability (his father was a German-born Jew) and enabled him to escape what he regarded as a narrow, antiquated culture. Soon after reaching New York in March 1947, he was hired by Harper’s Bazaar, but his distaste for photographing fashion led him to quit after six months. Over the next five or six years, in Europe and the United States, Frank aimed to establish himself as a freelance photojournalist, with limited success. A Guggenheim Fellowship, awarded in March 1955 and renewed a year later, freed him to pursue his work independently, and he soon began to travel in hopes of making a book. Les Américains was published by Robert Delpire in Paris in 1958 and, as The Americans, by Grove Press in New York in 1959. The latter included an introduction by Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road.

Film and video have formed a central aspect of Frank’s work since 1959, when he collaborated with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Alfred Leslie on Pull My Daisy. In 1972, however, he resumed making photographs, often using Polaroid positive-negative materials and incorporating text and multiple images. That same year he published the first of several editions of The Lines of My Hand, a book that surveyed his career in all mediums and initiated reconsiderations of his early photographic career. The first full-scale retrospective of his photographs was organized at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1986. In 1990, a major gift by Frank established the Robert Frank Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, which has since presented two major exhibitions, each accompanied by an important book: Robert Frank: Moving Out (1994) and Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans” (2009).”

Press release from the Cantor Arts Center

 

Robert Frank. 'Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Beaufort, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Butte, Montana' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the generosity of Marti Meyerson Hooper

 

Robert Frank. 'Café - Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Café – Beaufort, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco

 

Walker Evans. 'Church Organ and Pews' 1936

 

Walker Evans
Church Organ and Pews
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Canal Street - New Orleans' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Canal Street – New Orleans
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Robert Frank. 'Central casting - Hollywood' 1958

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Central casting – Hollywood
1958
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Charleston, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Charleston, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco

 

 

Guggenheim proposal summary

“To photograph freely throughout the United States, using the miniature camera exclusively. The making of a broad, voluminous picture record of things American, past and present. This project is essentially the visual study of a civilization and will include caption notes; but it is only partly documentary in nature: one of its aims is more artistic than the word documentary implies.”

 

The full statement

“I am applying for a Fellowship with a very simple intention: I wish to continue, develop and widen the kind of work I already do, and have been doing for some ten years, and apply it to the American nation in general. I am submitting work that will be seen to be documentation - most broadly speaking. Work of this kind is, I believe, to be found carrying its own visual impact without much work explanation. The project I have in mind is one that will shape itself as it proceeds, and is essentially elastic. The material is there: the practice will be in the photographer’s hand, the vision in his mind. One says this with some embarrassment but one cannot do less than claim vision if one is to ask for consideration.

“The photographing of America” is a large order - read at all literally, the phrase would be an absurdity. What I have in mind, then, is observation and record of what one naturalized American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere. Incidentally, it is fair to assume that when an observant American travels abroad his eye will see freshly; and that the reverse may be true when a European eye looks at the United States. I speak of the things that are there, anywhere and everywhere - easily found, not easily selected and interpreted. A small catalog comes to the mind’s eye: a town at night, a parking lot, a supermarket, a highway, the man who owns three cars and the man who owns none, the farmer and his children, a new house and a warped clapboard house, the dictation of taste, the dream of grandeur, advertising, neon lights, the faces of the leaders and the faces of the followers, gas tanks and postoffices and backyards.

The uses of my project would be sociological, historical and aesthetic. My total production will be voluminous, as is usually the case when the photographer works with miniature film. I intend to classify and annotate my work on the spot, as I proceed. Ultimately the file I shall make should be deposited in a collection such as the one in the Library of Congress. A more immediate use I have in mind is both book and magazine publication.”

 

Robert Frank. 'Covered car - Long Beach, California' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Covered car – Long Beach, California
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, John Spencer Fund

 

Robert Frank. 'Elevator - Miami Beach' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Elevator – Miami Beach
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'En route from New York to Washington, Club Car' 1954

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
En route from New York to Washington, Club Car
1954
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Florida' 1958

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Florida
1958
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Ford River Rouge Plant' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Ford River Rouge Plant
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The artist, courtesy Pace MacGill Gallery, New York

 

Robert Frank. 'Iowa' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Iowa
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

 

“I am grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation for their confidence and the provisions they made for me to work freely in my medium over a protracted period. When I applied for the Guggenheim Fellowship, I wrote: “To produce an authentic contemporary document, the visual impact should be such as will nullify explanation.”

With these photographs, I have attempted to show a cross-section of the American population. My effort was to express it simply and without confusion. The view is personal and, therefore, various facets of American life and society have been ignored. The photographs were taken during 1955 and 1956; for the most part in large cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and in many other places during my Journey across the country. My book, containing these photographs, will be published in Paris by Robert Delpire, 1958.

I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others – perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.

My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind – something has been accomplished.

It is a different state of affairs for me to be working on assignment for a magazine. It suggests to me the feeling of a hack writer or a commercial illustrator. Since I sense that my ideas, my mind and my eye are not creating the picture but that the editors’ minds and eyes will finally determine which of my pictures will be reproduced to suit the magazines’ purposes.

I have a genuine distrust and “mefiance” toward all group activities. Mass production of uninspired photojournalism and photography without thought becomes anonymous merchandise. The air becomes infected with the “smell” of photography. If the photographer wants to be an artist, his thoughts cannot be developed overnight at the corner drugstore.

I am not a pessimist, but looking at a contemporary picture magazine makes it difficult for me to speak about the advancement of photography, since photography today is accepted without question, and is also presumed to be understood by all – even children. I feel that only the integrity of the individual photographer can raise its level.

The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?”

Robert Frank, U.S. Camera Annual, p. 115, 1958

 

Robert Frank. 'Lusk, Wyoming' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Lusk, Wyoming
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Robert Frank. 'Main Street - Savannah, Georgia' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Main Street – Savannah, Georgia
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary

 

Walker Evans. 'Downtown street, New Orleans' December 1935

 

Walker Evans
Downtown street, New Orleans
December 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1949

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
1949
Gelatin silver print
Lent by Peter Steil

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1949

 

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
1949
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Collection of Bob and Randi Fisher, San Francisco

 

Robert Frank. 'New York City' early 1950s

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
early 1950s
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy

 

Robert Frank. 'Parade - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, John and Lisa Pritzker

 

Robert Frank. 'Reno, Nevada' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Reno, Nevada
1956
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Purchase

 

 

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060
T: 650-723-4177

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University 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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