Archive for the 'Diane Arbus' Category

02
Jul
13

Review: Polixeni Papapetrou ‘A Performative Paradox’ and Daniel von Sturmer 
’After Images’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 14th July 2013

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Two solid if not overly memorable exhibitions are presented at the Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Polixeni Papapetrou A Performative Paradox is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. While it is wonderful to see early work by this artist – work that features Marilyn and Elvis impersonators, circus people, body builders and drag queens – too many bodies of work are crammed into too small a space with too few images. Some of the later series are represented by just one image giving a hotch potch feel to the whole exhibition ensemble. Perhaps it would have been better to concentrate solely on the early black-and-white images and colour images, work that is rarely seen and informs the staged work that followed. Having said that the black-and-white photographs are a joy to behold, documenting as they do performative identities. The photographs have an intangible presence. There are strong elements of the frontality of Diane Arbus in the photographs of circus performers and drag queens, coupled with a intrinsic understanding of light and texture. The photographs of drag queens are the highlight of both exhibitions and Drag queen wearing cut out dress (1993, below) reminded me of an early black-and-white photograph by Fiona Hall (Leura, New South Wales1974) in its use of patterned wallpaper. Let us hope there is a large retrospective of Polixeni’s work (at NGV or Heide for example) in the future, one that can do justice to the depth and complexity of her vision as an artist.

Daniel von Sturmer 
After Images is an interesting conceptual experiment, one that investigates the splitting of the image (shadow) from its referent (object). “The images propose a kind of transference; the object itself may be insignificant but its subjective meaning carries weight, and its shadow leaves a space the viewer fills with their own reading.” In their black-and-white fuzziness the work looks impressive when viewed in the gallery space (see installation views below) but upon close inspection the individual photographs fail to hold the viewers attention. Personally, I found it difficult to impart any great meaning to any of these works and the investigation certainly does not produce memorable images, ones that will stay with the viewer months and years later. For me the exhibition became an exercise in guessing what shadows were which objects, a game that grew quickly tiresome. The work then became an exercise in the importance of captioning an image, as I constantly looked around the room trying to match the titles of the works with the images themselves. As abstract images they imparted little metaphysical poetry as ghost images (an afterimage or ghost image is an optical illusion that refers to an image continuing to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased). As images that investigate the link between text, object, shadow and language they started to become what the artist sought to enunciate: shadow objects bound to the realm of signification in some amorphous play, shadows that have the potential to become ‘Other’.

PS. As an analogy you could see these images as the equivalent of Jung’s human “shadow aspect” where, according to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to projection (as these shadows are projected by their objects). The shadow represents the entirety of the unconscious, ie. everything of which a person is not fully conscious, and is the seat of creativity. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” (Jung, C.G. (1938). “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131). Hence the potential halo/cination of these images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

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Miss-Alternative-World-Ball-1993-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Drag queen wearing cut out dress
1993
Gelatin silver photograph
28.5 x 28.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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Papapetrou_Suzie,-Elvis-fan-at-home,-Melbourne,-1989-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Suzie, Elvis fan at home, Melbourne
1989
Selenium toned gelatin silver photograph
40.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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Indian_Brave_2002-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Indian Brave
2002
Pigment ink print
85 x 85 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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Three-young-men-paying-homage-to-Elvis-on-the-13th-anniversary-of-Elvis'-death,-Elvis-Memorial,-Melbourne,-1990-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Three young men paying homage to Elvis on the 13th anniversary of Elvis’ death, Elvis Memorial Melbourne
1990
Selenium toned gelatin silver photograph
40.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

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“This exhibition focuses on the performative in the work of Polixeni Papapetrou, from her early documentary work through to her directorial work with her children since 2002, regarded internationally as some of the most powerful and provocative works in the field of perfomative photography. Papapetrou’s enduring interest is in how the ‘other’ is represented and how the ‘other’ performs in reinforcing our own identity.

Polixeni Papapetrou is one of Australia’s leading contemporary photomedia artists. She has been exploring relationships between history, contemporary culture, landscape, identity and childhood through her photographic practice since the mid-eighties. In this exhibition, selected by Professor Anne Marsh in consultation with the artist, a particular thread has been selected across Papapetrou’s practice – that of the performative – from her early documentary work through to her directorial work with her children from 2002 to the present.

Her images are informed by her own experience as ‘other’, growing up as a Greek immigrant in a white, Anglo-Saxon, male-dominated culture in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s. Marilyn Monroe impersonators, Elvis Presley fans, body builders, circus performers and drag queens have all taken their turn in front of Papapetrou’s camera. All of these people are, one way or another, performing i dentities.

In 2002 Papapetrou turned her focus to the experience of childhood, using her children as the performers in her pictures. There is a challenging confusion between fantasy, mythology, archetype, animism and theatricality present in these works, ranging from the playful to the transgressive, wrangling with the question of identity and stressing the embodied nature of experience.”

Text from the CCP website

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Polixi-Circus-detail-b-WEB

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Fortune teller (detail)
1989
From the series Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus 1989-1990

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Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Levitation, Silvers Circus' (detail) 1989

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Levitation, Silvers Circus (detail)
1989
From the series Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus 1989-1990

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Polixeni. 'Papapetrou Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus' series (installation view) 1989-1990

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Polixeni Papapetrou
Ashton Circus, Silvers Circus series (installation view)
1989-1990

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Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou 'A Performative Paradox' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Installation views of Polixeni Papapetrou A Performative Paradox at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Daniel von Sturmer 'Production Still for After Images'

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Daniel von Sturmer
Production Still for After Images
Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Sydney

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“In After Images the shadows of a set of subjectively ‘important artefacts’ (a business card, a phone, a letter…) are presented alongside generic objects from the studio, for example: a bin, some tape, a ruler… Presented at 1:1 scale, the images propose a kind of transference; the object itself may be insignificant but its subjective meaning carries weight, and its shadow leaves a space the viewer fills with their own reading.

Photographed using a specially constructed ‘set’ to enable the separation of an object from its shadow, the resulting image stands alone, separated from its object yet inextricably bound to the realm of signification from which it has been cast.”

Text from the CCP website

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Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 
'After Images' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Installation views of Daniel von Sturmer 
After Images at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP)

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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29
Dec
12

Exhibitions: ‘Howard Greenberg, Collection’ and ‘Freaks, The Monstrous Parade: Photographs from Enrico Praloran Collection’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: both 21st September 2012 – 6th January 2013

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This is a meta-post where I have brought together photographs from the second exhibition Freaks, The Monstrous Parade: Photographs from Enrico Praloran Collection and all the good quality images of Todd Browning’s cult film Freaks (1932) that were available online, since the museum only provided me with three media images (the first three) on a fascinating subject. By reflection, the photographs from Freaks have a strange correlation to the photographs that appear in the Howard Greenberg, Collection.

There is an interesting discussion by Amanda Ann Klein on her blog (see link below) about her students reaction to the film that she taught as part of her Trash Cinema class. She observes that, “Freaks preaches acceptance and… the belief that we are all “God’s children.” And yet, the film was intended to “out horror” Frankenstein through its fantastic display of disabled bodies…” but that her students did not see it as an exploitation film, in fact they approved of the revenge taken by the freaks on Cleopatra and Hercules at the end of the film, even though this seemed to replicate the very imagery Browning denounced earlier in the film. Klein insightfully notes that “it did prove to be an interesting example of how a film’s reception can change dramatically over time.”

The content of a work of art is never fixed by the author as the context and meaning of the work is never fixed by the viewer. As David Smail notes the truth changes according to, among other things, developments in our values and understandings. There can be many truths depending on our line-of-sight and point-of-view but a subjective non-final truth has to be actively struggled for:

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“Where objective knowing is passive, subjective knowing is active – rather than giving allegiance to a set of methodological rules which are designed to deliver up truth through some kind of automatic process
[in this case the image], the subjective knower takes a personal risk in entering into the meaning of the phenomena to be known … Those who have some time for the validity of subjective experience but intellectual qualms about any kind of ‘truth’ which is not ‘objective’, are apt to solve their problem by appealing to some kind of relativity. For example, it might be felt that we all have our own versions of the truth about which we must tolerantly agree to differ. While in some ways this kind of approach represents an advance on the brute domination of ‘objective truth’, it in fact undercuts and betrays the reality of the world given to our subjectivity. Subjective truth has to be actively struggled for: we need the courage to differ until we can agree. Though the truth is not just a matter of personal perspective, neither is it fixed and certain, objectively ‘out there’ and independent of human knowing. ‘The truth’ changes according to, among other things, developments and alterations in our values and understandings … the ‘non-finality’ of truth is not to be confused with a simple relativity of ‘truths’.”

Smail, David. Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, pp.152-153

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Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Dorothea Lange. 'Migratory Cotton Picker' Eloy, Arizona 1940

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Dorothea Lange
Migratory Cotton Picker
Eloy, Arizona, 1940
© Library of Congress
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

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Ruth Orkin
American Girl in Italy
1951
© Ruth Orkin
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Madrid' 1933

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Henri Cartier-Bresson
Madrid
1933
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
Courtesy of Fondation HCB and Howard Greenberg Collection

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Walker Evans. 'Negro Church, South Carolina' 1936

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Walker Evans
Negro Church, South Carolina
1936
© Library of Congress
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

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Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
© Library of Congress
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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Leon Levinstein. 'Fifth Avenue' c. 1959

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Leon Levinstein
Fifth Avenue
c. 1959
© Howard Greenberg Gallery
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Collection

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“The Musée de l’Elysée presents different approaches to collecting photography by means of these original exhibitions.

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Howard Greenberg, Collection

Howard Greenberg has been a gallery owner for over thirty years and is considered today one of the pillars of the New York photography scene. While his position as a dealer is well established, little was known of his passion for collecting, presently revealed to the public for the first time. The primary reason to explain why it took so long to discover this collection is because building such a collection demands time. Only in time can the maturity of a collection be measured; the time necessary to smooth trends, confirm the rarity of a print, and in the end, validate the pertinence of a vision.
In an era of immediacy, when new collectors exhibit unachieved projects or create their own foundation, great original collections are rare. Howard Greenberg’s is certainly one of the few still to be discovered.

The quality of a collection does not rely on the sole accumulation of master pieces but can best be assessed through a dialectical movement: a collection is the collector’s oeuvre, a set of images operating a transformation in the perception not only of the photographs, but also of photography. This renewed perception is two-fold in the Greenberg collection; through the surprising combination of two approaches, the experimental practice of photography that questions the medium as such, bringing it to the limits of abstraction on one hand, and on the other, a documentary practice, carried out through its recording function of the real. This apparently irreconcilable duality takes on a particular signification in the Greenberg collection, an investigation of the possibilities offered by photography, a quest for photography itself, questioning what it is.

Howard Greenberg and his collection have largely contributed to the writing of a chapter of history. While contributing to the recogni­tion of long neglected figures of the New York post-war photogra­phy scene, filling a gap, as gallery owner, Howard Greenberg, the collector, ensured the preservation of a coherent body by building over that period a unique collection of major photographs.

This collection of over 500 photographs was patiently built over the last thirty years and stands out for the high quality of its prints. A set of some 120 works are exhibited for the first time at the Musée de l’Elysée, revealing different aspects of Howard Greenberg’s interests, from the modernist aesthetics of the 20s and 30s, with works by Edward Steichen, Edward Weston or the Czech School, to contemporary photographers such as Minor White,
Harry Callahan and Robert Frank. Humanist photography is particularly well represented, including among others, Lewis Hine and Henri Cartier-Bresson. An important section is dedicated to the Farm Security Administration’s photographers, such as Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange, witnesses to the Great Depression years of the 30s. Above all, the collection demonstrates the great influence of New York in the history of 20th century photography with the images of Berenice Abbott, Weegee, Leon Levinstein or Lee Friedlander conveying its architecture and urban lifestyle. Commending its work and prominent position, and wishing to make his private collection available to a large audience, Howard Greenberg selected the Musée de l’Elysée to host his collection.

The Musée de l’Elysée and the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson jointly produce this exhibition which, after Lausanne, will subsequently be presented in Paris.”

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée website

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Freaks, The Monstrous Parade: Photographs from Enrico Praloran Collection 

American director Tod Browning (1880-1962) has a particular attraction for the uncanny. Freaks, his cult movie shot in 1932, is inspired by a short story written by Clarence Aaron “Tod” Robbins. Set in a circus, the performers are disabled actors. The movie caused a scandal when it was released and Freaks was soon censored, reedited, shortened, sometimes removed from theaters, and in cases banned in some countries. Not until the 60s, when it was presented at the Cannes Festival, was the movie acclaimed to the point of becoming a reference for artists such as Diane Arbus or David Lynch.

The Musée de l’Elysée presents a selection of some fifty vintage black and white silver prints, gathered by Enrico Praloran, a collector based in Zurich. This unique set is the opportunity for an encounter with the movie’s strange protagonists, Johny Eck, the Half Boy, Daisy and Violet Hilton, the Siamese sisters, Martha Morris, the “Armless Marvel”, or the Bearded Lady and the Human Skeleton. They all are artists for real, coming from the Barnum Circus.

The plot is transcribed in images through stills from the movie’s major scenes, completed by set or shooting photographs, taking us behind the scenes, including on the footsteps of Tod Browning himself.”

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée website

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks' 1932 Still photograph Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (Cleopatra followed by the freaks)
1932
Still photograph
1932
Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks' 1932 Still photograph Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (Johnny Eck)
1932
Still photograph
Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks' 1932 Still photograph Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks
1932
Still photograph
Courtesy of Praloran Collection, Zurich

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“Freaks centers on an enchanting preformer, Cleopatra, who entices a “midget,” named Hans, into falling in love with her. They were called midgets then, now they are referred to as little people. The “midget” is in fact enaged to another woman who is incedentally, also a “midget,” named Freida. Cleopatra was at first only trying to fool around with Hans and get money from him occasionally. She soon realized that Hans had inherited quite a large amount of money. She devises a plan to marry Hans and later poison him to inherit the money. Arguably, the most famous scene in Freaks is Hans and Cleo’s wedding reception. The “freaks” reluctantly decide to accept her despite her “normality” and chant the notoriously disturbing yet hilarious quote, “We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!” Afterwards, Hans then becomes very ill by Cleo’s hand. He soon figures out her plan and the freaks become offended. They knew she could not be one of them. The film ends with a horrific and disturbing chase in the rain where the “freaks” follow her slowly and Cleo screams for her life. Her and her lover, the “muscle man,” are caught and not killed, but worse. They become freaks themselves. They are mutilated, castrated, and deformed until they are the subject of a freak show. They became one of the “freaks” they hated so much…

One of the most gut-wrenching things about this films is the fact that every “freak” in the film was a real person with the same deformity their characters had. This gives the story a profound sense of reality, making the betrayal of Hans by Cleo all the more tragic. The film was extremely controversial when released and hated by audiences. The scenes where Cleo and the muscle man were mutilated had to be cut from the film in order to be shown in theaters. That footage has since been lost. In a viewing of the film, a sudden jump takes place after the freaks catch Cleo. The audience feels cheated. We have waited so long to see Cleo get her punishment. Part of that dissatisfaction adds to the mystique of this bizzare trip. The film was forgotten about until the mid 1970s where it was rediscovered as a counterculture cult film. A counterculture film runs counter to the the norm of society. Freaks is a great example of fame by taboos and controversy. It explores themes of humanity that are still relatively unexplored today.”

Text from the Cult Films and Cultural Significance website

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“Freaks is a tale of love and vengeance in a traveling circus…

In her essay “Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit,” Elizabeth Grosz attempts to unpack our fascination with freak shows. She concludes that the individuals most frequently showcased in these spectacles, including Siamese twins, hermaphrodites, “pinheads” (microcephalics), midgets, and bearded ladies “imperil the very definitions we rely on to classify humans, identities and sexes – our most fundamental categories of self-definition and boundaries dividing self from otherness” (57). In other words, while we comfort ourselves by breaking down the world into neat binary oppositions, such as Male/Female, Self/Other, Human/Animal, Child/Adult, “freaks” blur the boundaries between these reassuring oppositions. She concludes, “The freak confirms the viewer as bounded, belonging to a ‘proper’ social category. The viewer’s horror lies in the recognition that this monstrous being is at the heart of his or her identity, for it is all that must be ejected or abjected from self-image to make the bounded, category-obeying self possible” (65). We need the freak to confirm our own static, bounded identities. And yet, I think there is a certain terror that we may not be as bounded as we think. If the hermaphrodite can transcend traditional gender categories, then perhaps our own genders are more fluid. For many that is a truly horrifying thought.

For example, in one of the film’s earliest scenes we witness the “pinheads” Schlitze, Elvira and Jenny Lee dancing and playing in the forest. From a distance they look like innocent, happy children. But as the camera approaches, it is clear that they are neither children, nor are they quite adults either. Thus it is the ambiguity here, rather than the disability itself, which is momentarily disturbing…

Grosz also mentions that “Any discussion of freaks brings back into focus a topic that has had a largely underground existence in contemporary cultural and intellectual life, partly because it is considered below the refined sensibilities of ‘good taste’ and ‘personal politeness’ in a civilized and politically correct milieu” (55).”

Amanda Ann Klein. “Teaching Todd Browning’s Freaks,” on the Judgemental Observer blog
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  • Grosz, Elizabeth. “Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit,” in Rosemarie Garland Thomson (ed.). Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press, 1996, pp.55-68
  • Hawkins, Joan. ”’One of Us': Tod Browning’s Freaks,” in Rosemarie Garland Thomson (ed.). Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press, 1996, pp.265-276
  • Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (Cleopatra and freaks)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (Cleopatra and freaks)
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Publicity photo for Freaks, featuring much of the cast with director, Tod Browning' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Publicity photo for Freaks, featuring much of the cast with director, Tod Browning
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (with Siamese Twins Daisy and Violet Hilton)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (with Siamese Twins Daisy and Violet Hilton)
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (shooting the wedding banquet)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (shooting the wedding banquet)
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (with Cleopatra and Hans at the wedding banquet)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (with Cleopatra and Hans at the wedding banquet)
1932
Still photograph

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Tod Browning (director) 'Freaks (Olga Baclanova as Cleopatra after her transformation into chicken woman)' 1932

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Tod Browning (director)
Freaks (Olga Baclanova as Cleopatra after her transformation into chicken woman)
1932
Still photograph

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Theatrical poster for Freaks 1932

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Theatrical poster for Freaks
1932

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The Musée de l’Elysée 
18, avenue de l’Elysée
CH – 1014 Lausanne
T: + 41 21 316 99 11

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm
Closed Monday, except for bank holidays

The Musée de l’Elysée website

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20
Oct
12

Review: ‘Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th September – 11th November 2012

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Installation photographs of the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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Details of one of Gregory Crewdson’s works from the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

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“The American middle-class nightmare: nothing is clean, orderly, idyllic, or romantic. In his perfectly staged, hyperrealistic tableaux, photographer Gregory Crewdson reveals the claustrophobic limbo and abyss of spiritual repression that is the typical suburb. Here, hushed-up violence, alienation, isolation, and emptiness are nothing new or unfamiliar, but rather part of the everyday neighbourhood experience.”

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Gregory Crewdson, In a Lonely Place, Abrams Publishing, New York, 2011

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“I have always been fascinated by the poetic condition of twilight. By its transformative quality. Its power of turning the ordinary into something magical and otherworldly. My wish is for the narrative in the pictures to work within that circumstance. It is that sense of in-between-ness that interests me.”

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Gregory Crewdson

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Downfall of a dream: (n)framing the enigma in Gregory Crewdson’s
Beneath the Roses

After the excoriating, unreasonably subjective diatribe by Robert Nelson in The Age newspaper (“Unreal stills, unmoving images” Wednesday October 17 2012) I hope this piece of writing will offer greater insight into the work of this internationally renowned artist. With some reservations, I like Crewsdon’s work, I like it a lot – as do the crowds of people flocking to the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy to see the exhibition. Never have I seen so many people at the CCP looking at contemporary photography before and that can only be a good thing.

Let’s get the basics out of the way first. The early series Fireflies are small silver gelatin photographs that capture “the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night.” These are minor works that fail to transcend the ephemeral nature of photography, fail to light the imagination of the viewer when looking at these scenes of dusky desire and discontinuous lives. The series of beautiful photographs titled Sanctuary (2010) evidence the “ruin of the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini.” Wonderful photographs of doorways, temples, dilapidated stage sets with excellent use of soft miasmic light creating an atmosphere of de/generation (as though a half-remembered version of Rome had passed down through the generations) interfaced with contemporary Rome as backdrop. The digital prints show no strong specular highlights, no deep blacks but a series of transmutable grey and mid tones that add to the overall feeling of romantic ruin. It is a pity that these photographs are not printed as silver gelatin photographs, for they would have had much more depth of feeling than they presently possess. They just feel a little “thin” to me to sustain the weight of atmosphere required of them.

But it is the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) that has made Crewdson truly famous. Shot using a large format camera, Crewdson makes large-scale photographs of elaborate and meticulously staged tableaux, which have been described as “micro-epics” that probe the dark corners of the psyche. Working in the manner of a film director, he leads a production crew, which includes a director of photography, special effects and lighting teams, casting director and actors. He typically makes several exposures that he later digitally combines to produce the final image. Photographs in the series of “brief encounters” include external dioramas (shot in a down at heel Western Massachusetts town), where Crewdson shuts down streets and lights the whole scene; to interior dialogues where houses are built on sound stages and the artist can control every detail of the production. Influences on these works include, but are not limited to:

David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks), Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo), Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters), the paintings of Edward Hopper, Diane Arbus (the detritus of her photographic interiors), film noir, psychoanalysis, American suburbia, the American dream, the photographs of Walker Evans, Cindy Sherman and surrealism. Concepts that you could link to the work include loneliness, alienation, apathy, resignation, mystery, contemplation and confusion, identity, desire, memory and imagination.

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Now to the nuts and bolts of the matter.

Another major influence that I will add is that of the great Italian director Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life) who shot most of that film on the sets at Cinecittà studios in Rome. It is perhaps no coincidence that Crewdson, on his first overseas film shoot, shot the series Sanctuary at the very same location. Crewdson’s photographs in the series Beneath the Roses are an American form of  “The Sweet Life.” In 1961, the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther praised Fellini’s “brilliantly graphic estimation of a whole swath of society in sad decay and, eventually, a withering commentary on the tragedy of the over-civilized… Fellini is nothing if not fertile, fierce and urbane in calculating the social scene around him and packing it onto the screen. He has an uncanny eye for finding the offbeat and grotesque incident, the gross and bizarre occurrence that exposes a glaring irony. He has, too, a splendid sense of balance and a deliciously sardonic wit that not only guided his cameras but also affected the writing of the script. In sum, it is an awesome picture, licentious in content but moral and vastly sophisticated in its attitude and what it says.”1 The same could equally be said of the Crewdson and his masterpieces in Beneath the Roses. Crewdson is in love with Fellini’s gesture – of the uplifting of the characters and their simultaneous descent into “sweet” hedonism, debauchery and decadence using the metaphor of downfall (downfall links each scene in La Dolce Vita, that of a “downward spiral that Marcello sets in motion when descending the first of several staircases (including ladders) that open and close each major episode.”)2 Crewdson’s “spectacular apocalypses of social enervation”3 mimic Fellini’s gestural flourishes becoming Crewdson’s theme of America’s downfall, America as a moral wasteland. Crewdson’s is “an aesthetic of disparity” that builds up a cumulative impression on the viewer that finds resolution in an “overpowering sense of the disparity between what life has been or could be, and what it actually is.”4

Crewdson’s cinematic encounters are vast and pin sharp when seen in the flesh. No reproduction on the web can do their physical presence justice; it is the details that delight in these productions. You have to get up close and personal with the work. His dystopic landscapes are not narratives as such, not stills taken from a movie (for that implies an ongoing story) but open-ended constructions that allow the viewer to imagine the story for themselves. They do not so much evoke a narrative as invite the viewer to create one for themselves – they are an “invitation” to a narrative, one that explores the anxiety of the (American) imagination, an invitation to empathise with the dramas at play within contemporary environments. For me, Crewdson’s extra ordinary photographs are a form of enigma (a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation), the picture as master puzzle (where all the pieces fit perfectly together in stillness) that contains a riddle or hidden meaning. Clues to this reading can be found in one of the photographs from the series (Blue Period, see detail image, above) where Crewdson deliberately leaves the door of a bedside cupboard open to reveal a “Perfect PICTURE PUZZLE” box inside. The viewer has to really look into the image and understand the significance of this artefact.

Another reading that I have formulated is of the transience of space and time within Crewdson’s series. In the disquieting, anonymous townscapes people look out from their porches (or the verandas are lit and empty), they abandon their cars or walk down desolate streets hardly ever looking directly out at the viewer. The photographs become sites of mystery and wonder hardly anchored (still precisely anchored?) in time and space. This disparity is emphasised in the interior dialogues. The viewer (exterior) looks at a framed doorway or window (exterior) looking into an scene (interior) where the walls are usually covered with floral wallpaper (interior / exterior) upon which hangs a framed image of a Monet-like landscape (exterior) (see detail image, above). Exterior, exterior, interior, interior / exterior, exterior. The trees of the landscape invade the home but are framed; exterior/framed, interior/mind. There is something mysterious going on here, some reflection of an inner state of mind.

In his visual mosaics Crewdson engages our relationship with time and space to challenge the trace of experience. His tableaux act as a kind of threshold or hinge of experience – between interior and exterior, viewer and photograph. His photographs are a form of monism in which two forces (interior / exterior) try to absorb each other but ultimately lead to a state of equilibrium. It is through this “play” that the context of the photographs and their relationship to each other and the viewer are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic as much as information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the body, the world of which it is part and the dream-reason of time.5 This intertextual (n)framing (n meaning unspecified number in mathematics) encourages the viewer to explore the inbetween spaces in the non-narrative / meta-narrative,”and by leaps (intuitive leaps, poetic leaps, leaps of faith)”6 encourage escapism in the imagination of the viewer. It is up to us as viewers to seek the multiple, disparate significances of what is concealed in each photograph as “felt knowledge” (Walter Benjamin), recalling to mind the sensory data placed before our eyes, something that can be experienced but cannot be explained by man: “the single moment of the present amidst the transience of life and searching for some kind of eternal truth.”7

Finally, in a more adverse reading of the photographs from the series Beneath the Roses, I must acknowledge the physically (not mentally) static nature of the images where every detail of the mise-en-scène is fully articulated and locked down: from the perfect trickle of blood running from the woman’s vagina in Blue Period, to the reflections in mirrors, the detritus of living scattered on the bedroom floor, the dirty telephone, packed suitcases and keys in locks to the desolate looks of the participants that never engage with the viewer. Despite allusions of despair, in their efficacy (their static and certain world order), there is no real chthonic madness here, no real messiness of the capture of death, murder and the wastage of human life (famine, AIDS, cancer or the blood running over the pavement in one of Weegee’s murder scenes for example). This is Fellini’s gross and bizarre LITE. Americurbana “is being addressed with the same reserve and elegance that ensures that the institution – artistic, political, what you will – is upheld and never threatened. It is pre-eminently legible, it elicits guilt but not so much as to cause offence.”8 I must also acknowledge the male-orientated viewpoint of the photographs, where men are seated, clothed, lazy or absent and all too often women are doing the washing or cooking, are naked and vulnerable. In their portrayal of (usually) half dressed or naked females the photographs evidence a particularly male view of the world, one that his little empathy or understanding of how a female actually lives in the world. For me this portrait of the feminine simply does not work. The male photographer maintains control (and power) by remaining resolutely (in)visible.

Overall this is a outstanding exhibition that thoroughly deserves that accolades it is receiving. Sitting in the gallery space for an hour and a half and soaking up the atmosphere of these magnificent works has been for me one of the art experiences of 2012. Make sure that you do not miss these mesmerising prophecies.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the artist, Gagosian Gallery and the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Special thankx to Director of the CCP Naomi Cass and Ms. James McKee from Gagosian Gallery for facilitating the availability of the media images. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

All photographs © Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Installation and detail photographs Dr Marcus Bunyan

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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“In a Lonely Place presents selections from three major series by Gregory Crewdson, Fireflies (1996), Beneath the Roses (2003-2008), Sanctuary (2010) and, presented for the first time, the video Field Notes (2009). The exhibition title comes from Nicholas Ray’s 1950s film noir of the same name, one of many films that inspired Crewdson. In a Lonely Place is evocative of an underlying mood-a quiet feeling of alienation and loneliness that links the three series selected by curators Estelle Af Malmborg, Jens Erdman Rasmussen and Felix Hoffmann. In a Lonely Place presents the first comprehensive exhibition of Crewdson’s work in Australia.

In Beneath the Roses, anonymous townscapes, forest clearings and broad, desolate streets are revealed as sites of mystery and wonder; similarly, ostensibly banal interiors become the staging grounds for strange human scenarios. Crewdson’s scenes are tangibly atmospheric: visually alluring and often deeply disquieting. Never anchored precisely in time or place, these and the other narratives of Beneath the Roses are located in the dystopic landscape of the anxious American imagination. Crewdson explores the American psyche and the dramas at play within quotidian environments.

In his most recent series, Sanctuary (2010), Crewdson has taken a new direction, shooting for the first time outside the US. During a trip to Rome, he visited the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini. Crewdson discovered fragments of a past glory, with occasional unexpected views of the surrounding contemporary Roman suburbia. Cinecittà is a lonely place deserted by the film crews who once used the site to recreate settings of ancient Rome, medieval Italy and nineteenth-century New York.

In the intimate photographs of Fireflies, Crewdson portrays the mating ritual of fireflies at dusk, capturing the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night. Unlike the theatrical scale of the Beneath the Roses and Sanctuary series, Fireflies is a quiet meditation on the nature of light and desire, as the images reflect not only upon the fleeting movements of the insects in their intricate mating ritual, but upon the notion of photography itself, in capturing a single ephemeral moment.

Gregory Crewdson received a BA from the State University of New York, Purchase, New York in 1985 and an MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut in 1988. He has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe. He is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Photography at the Yale School of Art, Yale University. Gregory Crewdson is represented by Gagosian Gallery and White Cube Gallery.”

Press release from the Gagosian Gallery website

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Installation photographs the series Sanctuary (2010) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

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1. Crowther’s review first published in The New York Times, April 20, 1961. In Fava and Vigano, 105 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita

2. Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita

3. Sultanik, Aaron. Film, a Modern Art. Cranbury, N.J: Cornwall Books, 1986, p.408

4. Richardson, Robert. “Waste Lands: The Breakdown of Order,” in Bondanella (ed.), Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism, p.111 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita

5. Bacon, Julie Louise. “Liquid Archive: On Ambivalence,” in Liquid Archive. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2012, p.119

6. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “The Museum – A Refuge for Utopian Thought,” in Rüsen, Jörn; Fehr Michael, and Ramsbrock, Annelie (eds.). Die Unruhe der Kultur: Potentiale des Utopischen. Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2004. In German.

7. Kataoka, Mami commenting on the work of Allan Kaprow. “Transient Encounters,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p.174

8. Geczy, Adam. “A dish served lukewarm,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p.177

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Gagosian Gallery website

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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14
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘True Stories: American Photography from the Sammlung Moderne Kunst’ at Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

Exhibition dates: 2nd March – 20th September 2012

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You can’t get much better than this to start a posting: Baltz, Friedlander, Winogrand, Nixon, Baldessari, Eggleston and Shore. I recall seeing my first vintage Stephen Shore at the American Dreams exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery last year. What a revelation. At the time I said,

“Two Stephen Shore chromogenic colour prints from 1976 where the colours are still true and have not faded. This was incredible – seeing vintage prints from one of the early masters of colour photography; noticing that they are not full of contrast like a lot of today’s colour photographs – more like a subtle Panavision or Technicolor film from the early 1960s. Rich, subtle, beautiful hues.”

You can get an idea of those colours in the image posted here. Like an early Panavision or Technicolor feature film.
Perhaps there is something to this analogue photography that digital will never be able to capture, let alone reproduce…

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

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Lewis Baltz (*1945)
Greenbrae
1968
from the series The Prototype Works
Vintage gelatin silver print
13.1 x 21.4 cm
Sammlung Moderne Kunst in the Pinakothek der Moderne Munich, Acquired in 2011 by PIN. Freunde der Pinakothek der Moderne e.V.
© Lewis Baltz

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Lee Friedlander (*1934)
Route 9W, New York
1969
Gelatin silver print, Baryt paper (card)
20.4 x 30.5 cm
On permanent loan from Siemens AG, Munich, to the Sammlung Moderne Kunst since 2003
© Lee Friedlander

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Garry Winogrand (1928-1984)
Los Angeles, California
1969
Gelatin silver print (pre 1984)
21.8 x 32.8 cm
On permanent loan from Siemens AG, Munich, to the Sammlung Moderne Kunst since 2003
© Estate of Garry Winogrand

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Nicholas Nixon (*1947)
View of State Street, Boston
1976
from the series Boston Views 1974 – 1976
Gelatin silver print, Baryt paper (card)
20.3 x 25.2 cm
On permanent loan from Siemens AG, Munich, to the Sammlung Moderne Kunst since 2003
© Nicholas Nixon

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John Baldessari (*1931)
Man Running/Men Carrying Box
1988 – 1990
Gelatin silver prints, vinyl paint and shading in oil
Part 1: 121.3 x 118.6 cm; Part 2: 121.3 x 146.6 cm
On permanent loan from Siemens AG, Munich, to the Sammlung Moderne Kunst since 2003
© John Baldessari

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William Eggleston (*1939)
Untitled
1980
The first of 15 works from the portfolio Troubled Waters
Dye transfer print
29.0 x 44.0 cm
On permanent loan from Siemens AG, Munich, to the Sammlung Moderne Kunst since 2003
© Eggleston Artistic Trust

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Stephen Shore (*1947)
La Brea Avenue & Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, California
1975
Chromogenic print, Kodak professional paper (1998)
20.4 x 25.5 cm
On permanent loan from Siemens AG, Munich, to the Sammlung Moderne Kunst since 2003
© Stephen Shore

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“American photography forms an extensive and simultaneously top-quality focal point in the collection, of which a selected overview is now being exhibited for the first time. The main interest of young photographers, who have been examining changes in political, social and ecological aspects of everyday American life since the late 1960s, has been the American social landscape. They have developed new pictorial styles that define stylistic devices perceived as genuinely American while at the same time being internationally recognised. Whereas Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Larry Clark, who are now considered classical modern photographers, have remained true to black-and-white photography, William Eggleston and Stephen Shore in particular have established colour photography as an artistically independent form of expression. The exhibition brings together around 100 works that, thanks to the Siemens Photography Collection and through acquisitions, bequests and donations, are now part of the museum’s holdings. True stories covers a spectrum from the street photography of the late 1960s to New Topographics and pictures by the New York photographer Zoe Leonard, taken just a few years ago.

“A new generation of photographers has directed the documentary approach toward more personal ends. Their work betrays a sympathy for the imperfection and frailties of society. Their aim has been not to reform life but to know it.” With the exhibition New Documents in spring 1967, John Szarkowski, the influential curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, rang in a new era in American photography. Those photographers represented, including Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand in addition to Diane Arbus, stood for a change in attitude within documentary photography that was conditioned exclusively by the subjective viewpoint of an individual’s reality. The object of photographic interest lay in the American social landscape and its conditions. It was less concerned with the natural landscape and its increasingly cultural reshaping than with the urban or urbanised space and how people move within it. In so doing, the New Documentarians rejected any obviously explanatory impetus, turning instead to the everyday and commonplace.

The exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape that was staged in the mid 1970s at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, represented a countermovement to this subjective form of expression. Their protagonists, including Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Nicholas Nixon and Stephen Shore, also pleaded for a documentary approach and were influenced by figures such as Walker Evans und Robert Frank, but considered themselves rooted in the tradition of 19th-century topographical photography in particular. The prime initiator of this working method, that was expressly not governed by style, is the Los Angeles-based artist Ed Ruscha. Their central aim is a distanced and seemingly analytical depicition, free of judgement; their topic, the landscape altered by mankind. It is the image of the American West in particular, so much conditioned by myths and dreams but long since brought back to reality as a result of commercial and ecological exploitation, that is visible in their works.

The decisive quantum leap to establishing the position of colour photography was made by the Southerner William Eggleston in his exhibition in 1976, also held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the publication of the William Eggleston’s Guide. The harsh public criticism of his pictures was not to do with his use of colour but the fact that Eggleston photographed things and everyday situations – on the spur of the moment and in a seemingly careless manner – that, until then, had not been considered worthy of being photographed turning them into exquisite prints using the expensive and complicated dye-transfer process. In Eggleston’s cosmos of images that is strongly influenced by motifs and the light of the Mississippi Delta, colour constitutes the picture. The “rush of colour” championed by this exhibition led to the comprehensive implementation of colour photography in the field of artistic photography in the years that followed, starting in the USA and then in Europe – and especially in Germany.

An artistic attitude became established at the end of the 1970s that, with recourse to existing picture material from art, film, advertising and the mass media, formulated new pictorial concepts and, in the same breath, opened up traditional artistic and art-historical categories such as authorship, originality, uniqueness, intellectual property and authenticity to discussion. Appropriation Art owes its decisive influences to the artist John Baldessari, who lives and teaches in California. One of its most famous representatives is Richard Prince, who became famous in particular as a result of his artistic adaptation of advertising images. Concept art in the 1960s and ’70s similarly makes use of photography, both as part of an artistic practice using the most varied of materials and as a unique medium for documenting campaigns, happenings and performances. As works by Dan Graham and Zoe Leonard clearly show, the previously precisely delineated boundaries between photography that alludes to its own intrinsically, media-related history and the use of photography as an artistic strategy, have become more fluid.”

Press release from the Pinakothek der Moderne website

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Dan Graham (*1942)
View Interior, New Highway Restaurant, Jersey City, N.J., (detail)
1967 (printed 1996)
C-prints
Each 50.6 x 76.2 cm
On permanent loan from Siemens AG, Munich, to the Sammlung Moderne Kunst since 2003
© Dan Graham

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William Eggleston (*1939)
from Southern Suite (10-part series)
1981
Dye transfer print
25.0 x 38.2 cm
Sammlung Moderne Kunst in the Pinakothek der Moderne Munich. Acquired in 2006 through PIN. Freunde der Pinakothek der Moderne e.V.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust

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Larry Clark (*1943)
Tulsa
1972
Gelatin silver print
20.3 x 25.4 cm (sheet)
Sammlung Moderne Kunst in the Pinakothek der Moderne Munich. Acquired in 2003 by PIN. Freunde der Pinakothek der Moderne
© Larry Clark

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Judith Joy Ross (*1946)
Untitled
1984
from the series Portraits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C. 1983-1984
Gelatin silver print on daylight printing-out paper, shading in gold (print 1996)
25.2 x 20.2 cm
On permanent loan from Siemens AG, Munich, to the Sammlung Moderne Kunst since 2003
© Judith Joy Ross

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John Gossage (*1946)
EL NEGRITO
1997
from the series There and Gone
Gelatin silver print, Baryt paper, screen print on photo mount card
55.4 x 45.0 cm
On permanent loan from Siemens AG, Munich, to the Sammlung Moderne Kunst since 2003
© John Gossage

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Pinakothek Der Moderne
Barer Strasse 40
Munich

Opening hours:
Daily except Monday 10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 8pm

Pinakothek der Moderne website

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01
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Naked Before the Camera’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 27th March – 9th September 2012

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Many thankx to the Metropolitan 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.

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Franck-François-Genès Chauvassaignes (French, 1831 – after 1900)
Untitled [Female Nude in Studio]
1856-59
Salted paper print from glass negative
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1998

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Eugène Durieu (French, 1800 – 1874)
Untitled [Seated Female Nude]
1853-54
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Henry R. Kravis Gift, 2005

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Charles Alphonse Marlé (French, 1821 – after 1867)
Untitled [Standing Male Nude]
ca. 1855
Salted paper print from paper negative
Purchase, Ezra Mack Gift and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1991

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Félix-Jacques-Antoine Moulin (French, 1800 – after 1875)
Untitled [Two Standing Female Nudes]
ca. 1850
Daguerreotype
The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Anonymous Gift and Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1997

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“Depicting the human body has been among the greatest challenges, preoccupations, and supreme achievements of artists for centuries. The nude – even in generalized or idealized renderings – has triggered impassioned discussions about sin, sexuality, cultural identity, and canons of beauty, especially when the chosen medium is photography, with its inherent accuracy and specificity. Through September 9, 2012, Naked before the Camera, an exhibition of more than 60 photographs selected from the renowned holdings of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, surveys the history of this subject and explores some of the motivations and meanings that underlie photographers’ fascination with the nude.

“In every culture and across time, artists have been captivated by the human figure,” commented Thomas P. Campbell, Director of the Metropolitan. “In ‘Naked before the Camera’, we see how photographers have used their medium to explore this age-old subject and create compelling new images.”

The exhibition begins in the 19th century, when photographs often served artists as substitutes for live models. Such “studies for artists” were known to have been used by the French painter Gustave Courbet, whose Woman with a Parrot (1866), for instance, is strikingly similar to photographer Julien Vallou de Villeneuve’s Female Nude of 1853. Even when their stated purpose was to aid artists, however, the best of these 19th-century photographs of the nude were also intended as works of art in their own right. Two recently acquired photographs, made in the mid-1850s by an unknown French artist, are striking examples. Not only are they larger than all other photographic nudes from the time, they stand out due to an extraordinary surface pattern that interrupts the images and suggests a view through gossamer or a photograph printed on finely pleated silk rather than paper. The elegant Female Nude harkens back to an Eve or Venus and is vignetted by the camera lens as if seen through a peephole, while her male counterpart is shown in strict profile in a pose that recalls precedents from antiquity. Each figure draws from the past while being presented in a strikingly modern way, without any equivalent among other 19th-century studies for artists.

Not all photographers of the nude were motivated by artistic desire. The second section of Naked before the Camera includes photographs made for medical and forensic purposes, as ethnographic studies, as tools to analyze anatomy and movement, and – not surprisingly – as erotica. The lines between such categories were not always clearly drawn; some photographers called their images “studies for artists” merely to evade the censors, while viewers of the G. W. Wilson Studio’s Zulu Girls (1892-93) or Paul Wirz’s ethnographic photographs of scantily clad Indonesians from the 1910s and 1920s were undoubtedly titillated by the blending of exoticism and eroticism.

Beginning in the fertile period of modernist experimentation that followed on the heels of World War I, photographers such as Brassaï, Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, André Kertész, and Bill Brandt found in the human body a perfect vehicle for both visual play and psycho-sexual exploration. In Distortion #6 (1932) by André Kertész, a woman’s body is stretched and pulled in the reflections of a fun-house mirror – a figure from a Surrealist dream that stands in stark contrast to the images of perfect feminine beauty by earlier photographers.

In mid-20th-century America, photographers more often communicated an intimate connection with their subjects. Following the example of Alfred Stieglitz’s famed portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe, photographers such as Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, and Emmet Gowin made many nude studies of their wives. Callahan’s photograph of his wife and daughter, Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago (1954), for instance, gives the viewer access to a private, tender moment of intimacy.

In the wake of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the AIDS crisis that began in the 1980s, artists began to think of the body as a politicized terrain and explored issues of identity, sexuality, and gender. Diane Arbus’s Retired man and his wife at home in a nudist camp one morning, N.J. (1963) and A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. (1968), Larry Clark’s untitled image (1972-73) from the series Teenage Lust, and Hannah Wilke’s Snatch Shot with Ray Gun (1978) are among the works featured in the concluding section of the exhibition.”

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brasov 1899 – 1984 Côte d’Azur)
Nude
1931-34
Gelatin silver print
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2007
© The Estate of Brassai

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Man Ray (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1890 – 1976 Paris)
Arm
ca. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© 2012 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris

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André Kertész (American (born Hungary), Budapest 1894–1985 New York City)
Distortion #6
1932
Gelatin silver print
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© The Estate of André Kertész / Higher Pictures

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Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917 – 2009 New York City)
Nude No. 57
1949 – 50
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist, 2002
© 1950-2002 Irving Penn

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Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959 – 1989)
Untitled [Two Men in Silhouette]
ca. 1987
Gelatin silver print
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2009
© The Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Ringier Collection) at Fotomuseum Winterthur

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

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

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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21
Dec
11

melbourne’s magnificent nine 2011

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

Marcus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monika Tichacek
To all my relations (detail)
2011

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

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Diane Arbus
Untitled (6)
1971

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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13
Nov
11

Review: ‘Selina Ou: New York’ at Sophie Gannon Gallery, Richmond

Exhibition dates: 25th October – 19th November 2011

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A strong, nuanced body of work by Selina Au at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond. In the flesh these large colour photographs have a wonderful, polyvocal presence. The solo portraits are stronger in terms of composition and intertextuality than the double portraits.

Derived from the Latin intertexto, meaning to intermingle while weaving, intertextuality is a term first introduced by French semiotician Julia Kristeva in the late sixties.1 Intertextuality “is always an iteration which is also a re-iteration, a re-writing which foregrounds the trace of the various texts it both knowingly and unknowingly places and dis-places.”2 Intertexuality is how a text is constituted. It fragments singular readings. The reader’s own previous readings, experiences and position within the cultural formation influences these re-inscriptions.

Reminding me of a contemporary redefinition of the work of Diane Arbus, Ou’s reconceptualisations of space “produce a plurality of meanings and signifying/interpretive gestures that escape the reduction of knowledge to fixed, monological re-presentations, or presences.”3 Through a process of materialisation, using the technique of assemblage, Ou weaves a lack of fixity into her photographs. She creates a kind of tapestry in the surfaces of her images, a play of pattern/randomness that redefines the significations of the body in the fold of inscription.

Take the first three portraits in this posting, for example. The photograph Tim, Hair Stylist, Lower East Side, New York weaves space, time and memory within the pictorial frame. The physical space between the portrait on the wall at rear, Tim and the clock at right is crucial to a reading of this photograph, as is the disjuncture between the appearance of the man in the framed photograph (in jacket and tie) and the casual attire of Tim. Just as important is the memorialisation of both men within the same space (where both presumably work/ed), the collapsing of past and present into a fluid space that is neither here nor there (the past of the man in the framed photograph, the moment of passing of Tim when the photograph was ‘taken’ and the present of the photograph being looked at). There is no fixed, monological representation here: the reading of this photograph hovers between past and present, between memory and reality and haunts the body of the subject, Tim.

Similarly, Raquel, Waitress and Fashion Designer, Nolita, New York and Jerome, Retail Assistant and Fashion Designer, Soho, New York offer radical re-iterations of space, this time with less temporal associations. In Raquel, two red chevrons at top left and right frame the face of the subject, playing off the colour-changing hair of the waitress/fashion designer, the title of the photograph an ironic comment on the intertextual nature of contemporary life: a waitress (low paid, menial labourer) and a fashion designer (famous, highly visible entrepreneur). The nonchalantly limp-wristed, ringed hand and over large glasses, coupled with the bedraggled threads of the black shorts – echoing the tousled nature of the subjects hair – also belies the statement “fashion designer.” The word Cervesas (beer) offers a dichotomy with the coloured bottles of flavoured water that surround the lower half of the subject while the reflection in the window behind Raquel provides a metaphorical vista into this distorted world view.

In Jerome, the same problem in a person’s relationship with self and others is evident: the context of Jerome as both a retail assistant (low paid, menial labourer) and a fashion designer (famous, highly visible entrepreneur). The narcissistic, self-importance of Jerome is beautifully portrayed by Ou as she balances the context of his body in space – his polka-dot shirt reflecting the dotted neon of the shops name, his logo emblazoned necklace doing the same, while the reflections in the shop window again hint at outside forces (the car and consumerism) and other worlds. The defiant, could not give a shit gaze of the subject into the camera lens hints at years of subjugation and unrequited ambition for this is not his shop, these are not his clothes despite the label “fashion designer.” He is just a retail assistant, the subject of his own con(text).

The strength of these photographs is that they blur the outlines of the fixed image dispersing an image of totality, “into an unbounded, illimitable tissue of connections and associations, paraphrases and fragments, texts and con-texts.”4 In this sense the solo portraits are much more successful than the rest of the work as Ou magically weaves the tapestry of life into her compositions, ready for the reader to bring their own experiences to these re-inscriptions. In a word these photographs are, literally, breath-taking.

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

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Selina Ou
Tim, Hair Stylist, Lower East Side, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Raquel, Waitress and Fashion Designer, Nolita, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Jerome, Retail Assistant and Fashion Designer, Soho, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Darren, Model and Carlito, Artist, Soho, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Carolyn and Jane, Lolitas, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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Selina Ou
Issa and Lamine, Taxi Mechanics, Upper West Side, New York
2011
C-type print
100 x 100cm

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1. Keep, Christopher, McLaughlin, Tim and Parmar, Robin. “Interxtuality,” on The Electronic Labyrinth website [Online] Cited 13/11/2011. elab.eserver.org/hfl0278.html

2. Ibid.,

3. Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006.
www.forkbeds.com/visual-pedagogy.htm (no longer available)

4. Keep Op cit.,

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Sophie Gannon Gallery
2, Albert Street
Richmond, Melbourne

Opening hours:
Tues – Saturday 11 – 5pm

Sophie Gannon Gallery 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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