Archive for the 'drawing' Category

07
Dec
14

Exhibition/text: ‘Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art’ at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 1st October 2014 – 18th January 2015

Artists: Andrew Blythe, Kellie Greaves, Julian Martin, Jack Napthine, Lisa Reid, Martin Thompson and Terry Williams

Curator: Joanna Bosse

 

This is a gorgeous exhibition at The Ian Potter Museum of Art. Walking through the show you can’t help but have a smile on your face, because the work is so inventive, so fresh, with no pretension to be anything other than, well, art.

There are big preconceptions about ‘Outsider art’, originally art that was made by institutionalised mentally ill people, but now more generally understood as art that is made by anyone outside the mainstream of art production – “artworks made by folk artists and those who are self-taught, disabled, or on the edges of society” who are disenfranchised in some way or other, either by their own choice or through circumstance or context.

Outsider art promotes contemporary art while still ‘tagging’ the artists as “Outsider” – just as you ‘tag’ a blog posting so that a search engine can find a specific item if it is searched for online. It is a classification I have never liked (in fact I abhor it!) for it defines what you are without ever understanding who you are and who you can become – as an artist and as a human being. One of the good things about this exhibition is that it challenges the presumptions of this label (unfortunately, while still using it).

As Joanna Bosse notes in her catalogue essay, “Most attempts to define the category of Outsider art include caveats about the elasticity of borders and the impact of evolving societal and cultural attitudes… The oppositional dialectic of inside/outside is increasingly acknowledged as redundant  and, in a world marked by cultural pluralism, many question the validity of the category.”1 Bosse goes on to suggest that, with its origins in the term art brut (the raw and unmediated nature of art made by the mentally ill), Outsider art reinforces the link between creativity, marginality and mental illness, proffering “the notion of a pure form of creativity that expresses an artist’s psychological state [which] is a prevailing view that traverses the divergent range of creative practice that falls under the label.”2

The ambiguities of art are always threatened by a label, never more so than in the case of Outsider art. For example, how many readers who visited the Melbourne Now exhibition at NGV International and saw the magnificent ceramic cameras by Alan Constable would know that the aritst is intellectually disabled, deaf and nearly blind. Alan holds photographs of cameras three inches away from his eyes and scans the images, then constructs his cameras by feel with his hands, fires them and glazes them. The casual viewer would know nothing of this backstory and just accepts the work on merit. Good art is good art no matter where it comes from. It is only when you enquire about the history of the artist – whether mainstream or outsider – that their condition of becoming (an artist) might affect how you contextualise a work or body of work.

Bosse makes comment about the rationale for the exhibition: ‘The decision to focus on artists’ engagement with the exterior, everyday world was to counter one of the common assumptions about artists in this category – that they are are disconnected from society and that their work is solely expressionistic, in that it relates almost exclusively to the self and the expression of the artist’s emotional inner life.”3 Bosse agrees with the position that to simply eliminate the designation would be a different kind of marginalisation – “one where the unique world view and specific challenges the individual faces would become lost in a misguided attempt at egalitarianism.”4

As chair of a panel session at the international conference Contemporary Outsider Art: The Global Context, 23-26th October at The University of Melbourne, curator Lynne Cooke also sees the classification “Outsider” as valuable, for “Outsider art is the condition that contemporary art wants to be” – that is imaginative, free, intuitive, visceral and living on the edge. She sees contemporary art as having run up the white flag leaving Outsider art – however you define that (not the white, middle class male establishment, and belonging to the right galleries) – to be the vanguard, the new avant-garde.5 The exhibition catalogue concludes with her observation that, while current curatorial strategies breakdown the distinctions between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ – making significant headway concerning stigmatisation – these might have the effect of loosing what she describes as the “‘unique and crucial agency’ that this art has to challenge the ‘monocultural frame’.”6 These artists positions as ‘circuit breakers’, holding counter culture positions, may be threatened as their work is made ready for market, especially if they have little knowledge of it themselves.

And there’s the rub, right there. On the one hand Outsider art wants to be taken seriously, the people promoting it (seldom the artists) want it to be shown in mainstream galleries like the National Gallery of Victoria, and so it should be. Good art is good art not matter what. But they also want to have their cake and eat it too; they want to stand both inside and outside the frame of reference.7 In other words, they promote Outsider art within a mainstream context while still claiming “marginal” status, leveraging funding, philanthropy, international conferences and standing in the community as evidence of their good work. And they do it very successfully. Where would we be without fantastic organisations such as Arts Project Australia and Arts Access Victoria to help people with a disability make art? Can you imagine the Melbourne Art Fair without one of the best stands of the entire proceedings, the Arts Project Australia stand? While I support them 100% I am playing devil’s advocate here, for I believe it’s time that the label “Outsider art” was permanently retired. Surely, if we live in a postmodern, post-human society where there is no centre and no periphery, then ‘other’ can occupy both the centre and the margins at one and the same time WITHOUT BEING NAMED AS SUCH!

[Of course, naming “Outsider art” is also a way of controlling it, to have agency and power over it – the power to delineate, classify and ring fence such art, power to promote such artists as the organisations own and bring that work to market.]

Getting rid of the term Outsider art is not a misguided attempt at egalitarianism as Joanna Bosse proposes, for there will always be a narrative to the work, a narrative to the artist. The viewer just has to read and enquire to find out. Personally, what I find most inspiring when looking at this art is that you are made aware of your interaction with the artist. The work is so immediate and fresh and you can feel the flowering of creativity within these souls jumping off the page.

For any artist, for any work, what we must do is talk about the specific in relation to each individual artist, in relation to the world, in relation to reality and resist the temptation to apply any label, resist the fetishisation of the object (and artist) through that label, absolutely. This is the way forward for any art. May the nomenclature “outsider” and its discrimination be gone forever.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Bosse, Joanna. Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art.” Catalogue essay. The Ian Potter Museum of Modern Art.
2. Ibid.,
3. Ibid.,
4. Ibid.,
5. Cooke, Lynne. Senior Curator, Special Projects in Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. My notes from the panel session “Outsider Art in the Centre: Museums and Contemporary Art,” at Contemporary Outsider Art: The Global Context, 23-26th October at The University of Melbourne.
6. Cooke, Lynne. Orthodoxies undermined’, Great and mighty things: Outsider art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz collection. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2013, p. 213 quote in Bosse, Joanna, op. cit.,
7. An example of this can be seen in the launch of the new magazine artsider - “Arts Access Victoria in Partnership with Writers Victoria invites you to the Launch of artsider, a magazine devoted to outsider art and writing.” What a clumsy title that seeks to have a foot in both camps. Email received from Arts Access Victoria 19/11/2014.

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Many thankx to The Ian Potter 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.

 

 

Martin Thompson. 'Untitled' 2014

 

Martin Thompson
Untitled
2014
Ink on paper
52.5 x 105 cm
Courtesy the artist and Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin

 

Andrew Blythe. 'Untitled' 2012

 

Andrew Blythe
Untitled
2012
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
88 x 116 cm
Courtesy the artist and Tim Melville Gallery, Auckland

 

Terry William. 'Stereo' 2011

 

Terry Williams
Stereo
2011
Vinyl fabric, cotton, stuffing and fibre-tipped pen
21 x 43 x 14 cm
Private collection, Melbourne. Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

Terry Williams. 'Telephone' 2011

 

Terry Williams
Telephone
2011
Fabric, cotton, stuffing and fibre-tipped pen
18 x 13 x 20 cm
Private collection, Melbourne. Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

 

“An exhibition of Australian and New Zealand ‘Outsider’ artists which challenges a key existing interpretation of the genre will be presented at the Potter Museum of Art at The University of Melbourne, from 1 October 2014 to 15 January 2015. Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art, features the work of artists Andrew Blythe, Kellie Greaves, Julian Martin, Jack Napthine, Lisa Reid, Martin Thompson and Terry Williams.

The term ‘Outsider art’ was coined by British art historian Roger Cardinal in 1972 expanding on the 1940s French concept of art brut – predominantly artworks made by the institutionalised mentally ill – to include artworks made by folk artists and those who are self-taught, disabled, or on the edges of society. The work of Outsider artists is often interpreted as expressing a unique inner vision unsullied by social or cultural influences. Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art counters this view by presenting contemporary Outsider artists whose works reveal their proactive engagement with the everyday world through artworks that focus on day-to-day experiences.

Curator Joanna Bosse says the exhibition questions a key interpretive bias of Outsider art that is a legacy of its origins in art brut.

“The association with an interior psychological reality that is unsullied by social or cultural influences remains deeply embedded within the interpretations of Outsider art today, and can lead audiences to misinterpret the agency and intention of the artist. Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art questions this key interpretive bias, and presents the work of Australian and New Zealander outsider artists that demonstrate a clear and proactive engagement with the world. The work of artists Andrew Blythe, Kellie Greaves, Julian Martin, Jack Napthine, Lisa Reid, Martin Thompson and Terry Williams reveals their blatant interest in the here and now,” Ms Bosse said.

Terry Williams’ soft fabric sculptures of everyday items such as fridges, cameras and clocks convey his keen observation of the world and urgent impulse to replicate what is meaningful through familiarity or fascination. Kellie Greaves’ paintings are based on book cover illustrations with the addition of her own compositional elements and complementary tonal colour combinations. The traditional discipline of life-drawing provides Lisa Reid with a structure to pursue her interest in recording the human figure. Her pen and ink drawings are carefully observed yet intuitive renderings.

Jack Napthine produces drawn recollections of his past and present daily life in the form of visual diaries. Light fittings from remembered environments feature prominently as do doors with multiple and varied locks. Napthine’s work has a bold economy of means; he uses thick texta pen to depict simplified designs accompanied by text detail that often records the names of friends and family.

The work of Martin Thompson and Andrew Blythe also displays a similarly indexical approach. Both artists produce detailed repetitive patterns that are borne out of a desire for order and control. Thompson uses large-scale grid paper to create meticulous and intricate geometric designs whereas Blythe uses select motifs – the word ‘no’ and the symbol ‘x’ – to fill the pictorial plane with dense yet orderly markings that result in graphic and rhythmic patterns.

“In the last decade in particular there has been much debate about the term ‘outsider art': who does it define? What are the prerequisite conditions for its production? What is it outside of, and who decides? This exhibition doesn’t seek to resolve these ambiguities or establish boundaries, but looks beyond definitions to challenge a key assumption underlying contemporary interpretations of outsider art,” Ms Bosse said.

Everyday imagining: new perspectives on Outsider art is held in conjunction with the international conference Contemporary Outsider art: the global context, presented Art Projects Australia and The University of Melbourne and held 23-26 October at The University of Melbourne. The conference proposes an inter-disciplinary exploration of the field, drawing on the experience and knowledge of Australian and international artists, collectors, curators and scholars. More information at www.outsiderartmelbourne2014.com.”

Press release from The Ian Potter Museum of Art

 

Julian Martin. 'Untitled' 2011

 

Julian Martin
Untitled
2011
Pastel on paper
38 x 28 cm
Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

Kelly Greaves. 'My little Japan' 2010

 

Kelly Greaves
My little Japan
2010
Synthetic polymer paint on paper
59.4 x 42 cm
Courtesy the artist and Art Unlimited, Geelong

 

Jack Napthine. 'Untitled' 2013

 

Jack Napthine
Untitled
2013
Fibre-tipped pen on paper
59.4 x 42 cm
Courtesy the artist and Art Unlimited, Geelong

 

Jack Napthine. 'Untitled' 2013

 

Jack Napthine
Untitled
2013
Fibre-tipped pen on paper
42 x 59.4 cm
Courtesy the artist and Art Unlimited, Geelong

 

Lisa Reid. 'Queen of hearts' 2010

 

Lisa Reid
Queen of hearts
2010
Pencil on paper
35 x 25 cm
Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

 

The Ian Potter Museum of Art
Swanston Street between Faraday and Elgin streets in Parkville
The University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010 Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5 pm
Monday closed

The Ian Potter Museum of Art website

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15
Nov
14

Exhibition: ‘Transformational Imagemaking: Handmade Photography Since 1960′ at CEPA Gallery, Buffalo, NY

Exhibition dates: 19th September – 13rd December 2014

Artists: Thomas Barrow, Wayne Belger, Stephen Berkman, Matthew Brandt, Dan Burkholder, Darryl Curran, Binh Danh, Rick Dingus, Dan Estabrook, Robert Fichter, Robert Flynt, Judith Golden, Betty Hahn, Robert Heinecken, Robert Hirsch, Catherine Jansen, Harold Jones, Tantana Kellner, Les Krims, William Larson, Dinh Q. Lê, David Lebe, Martha Madigan, Curtis Mann, Stephen Marc, Scott McCarney, Chris McCaw, John Metoyer, Duane Michals, Vik Muniz, Joyce Neimanas, Bea Nettles, Ted Orland, Douglas Prince, Holly Roberts, Clarissa Sligh, Keith Smith, Jerry Spagnoli, Mike & Doug Starn, Brian Taylor, Maggie Taylor, Jerry Uelsmann, Todd Walker, Joel-Peter Witkin, John Wood.

Curator: Robert Hirsch

 

 

“The resurgence of handmade photography in the 1960s had several sources and influences. It looked back to the “anti-tradition” of nineteenth-century romanticism, which accentuated the importance of making a highly personal response to experience and a critical response to society. It drew on contemporary popular culture. Many of the artists engaged in this movement were baby-boomers brought up on television and film, media that often portrayed photography as hip and sexy – eg. the film Blow-Up (1966) – and which drove home the significance of constructed photographic images. In addition, the widespread atmosphere of rebellion against social norms propelled the move toward handwork. The rejection of artistic standards in photography was consistent with the much broader exploration of sexual mores and gender roles that took place in the sixties. It was also consistent with the exploration of consciousness. The latter was encouraged by such counter-culture figures as Ken Kesey who, with his band of Merry Pranksters, boarded a Day-Glo bus called “Further” and took an LSD-fueled trip across the country that echoed Dr. Timothy Leary’s decree “to tune in, turn on, and drop out.” On a broader level, the society-at-large was exposed to psychedelic exploration through Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which youthful audiences saw as a mysterious consciousness-expanding trip into humanity’s future. Finally, handmade photography was supported by the general growth of photographic education in the university. The ubiquity and importance of the medium in the culture at large, as well as pressure from those who championed photography from within art institutions gave credence in the post-war decades to the idea that people could study photography seriously. As new photography programs mushroomed in the universities, they produced graduates who took teaching positions in even newer programs. Many of these young teachers, who had grown up to the adage of “do your own thing,” were responsive to unconventional ways of seeing and working, and they encouraged these attitudes in their students, many of whom turned to handmade photography.

Despite the attractions of handmade photography there were in the sixties, and still are to some degree, emphatic objections to the open engagement of the hand in photographic art. One common objection is that such art constitutes a dishonest method to cover up aesthetic and technical inadequacies. Another comes from those who believe strongly in the Western tradition of positivism. These people tend to reject handmade photography on the grounds that it is unnecessarily ambiguous or irrational in its meanings. Nevertheless, more artists than ever are currently using the flexible, experiential methods of handwork. In addition to opening up an avenue to inner experience, artists find handwork attractive because it promotes inventiveness, allows for the free play of intuition beyond the control of the intellect, extends the time of interaction with an image (on the part of both the maker and the viewer), and allows for the inclusion of a wide range of materials and processes within the boundaries of photography…

[Curator] Peter C. Bunnell’s innovative exhibitions [MoMA: Photography as Printmaking (1968) and Photography Into Sculpture (1970)] demonstrated that in essence photography is nothing more than light sensitive material on a surface. The exhibitions also recognized that the way a photograph is perceived and interpreted is established by artistic and societal preconceptions about how a photographic subject is supposed to look and what is accepted as truthful. The work in the Bunnell exhibitions was indicative of a larger zeitgeist of the late 1960s that involved leaving the safety net of custom, exploring how to be more aware of and physically connected to the world, and critically examining expectations with regard to lifestyles…

In spite of post-modernism’s assault on the myth of authorship and its sardonic outlook regarding the human spirit, artists who produce handmade photography continue to believe that individuals can make a difference, that originality matters, and that we learn and understand by doing. They think that a flexible image is a human image, an imperfect and physically crafted one that possesses its own idiosyncratic sense of essence, time, and wonder. Their work can be aesthetically difficult, as it may not provide the audience-friendly narratives and well-mannered compositions some people expect. But sometimes this is necessary to get us to set aside the ordained answers to the question: “What is a photograph?” and allow us to recognize photography’s remarkable diversity in form, structure, representational content, and meaning. This acknowledgment grants artists the freedom and respect to explore the full photographic terrain, to engage the medium’s broad power of inquiry, and to present the wide-ranging complexity of our experiences, beliefs, and feelings for others to see and contemplate.

Extract from Flexible Images: Handmade American Photography, 1969 – 2002 by Robert Hirsch (2003) on the Light Research website [Online] Cited 14/11/2014. First published in The Society for Photographic Education’s exposure, Volume 36: 1, 2003, cover and pages 23 – 42. © Robert Hirsch 2003

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

 

 

Vik Muniz. 'Picture of Dust' 2000

 

Vik Muniz
Picture of Dust (Barry Le Va, Continuous and Related Activities; Discontinued by the Act of Dropping, 1967, Installed at the Whitney Museum in New Sculpture 1965-75: Between Geometry and Gesture, February 20-June 3, 1990)
2000
From the series The Things Themselves: Picture of Dust
Framed, overall: 51 x 130 1/2 inches
Two silver dye bleach prints (Ilfochrome)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

Thomas Barrow. 'Dart, Albuquerque' 1974

 

Thomas Barrow
Dart, Albuquerque
1974
Fuji Crystal Archive Print

 

Thomas Barrow. 'f/t/s Cancellations (Brown) - Field Star' 1975

 

Thomas Barrow
f/t/s Cancellations (Brown) – Field Star
1975
Gift from the Collection of Joel Deal and Betsy Ruppa
© Thomas Barrow. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

 

Barrow scratched through his landscape negatives, calling attention to the materiality of the medium itself and the fact that regardless of how much information is given, reality remains an accumulation of belief, knowledge, and one’s own experience.

 

 

Les Krims. 'The Static Electric Effect of Minnie Mouse on Mickey Mouse Balloons' 1968

 

Les Krims
The Static Electric Effect of Minnie Mouse on Mickey Mouse Balloons
1968
Kodalith Print

 

“Kodak Kodalith paper was a thin, matt, orthochromatic graphic arts paper that was not intended for pictorial purposes. However, when it was used for pictorial expression its responsiveness to time and temperature controls during development enabled one to produce a wide range of grainy, high-contrast, and sepia tonal effects. Its unusual handling characteristics also meant that photographers had to pull the print at precisely the “right” moment from the developer and quickly get it into the stop bath, making each print unique.”

 

Din Q Le. 'Ezekial’s Whisper' 2014

 

Din Q Le
Ezekial’s Whisper
2014
C-print, linen tape

 

Ted Orland. 'Meteor!' 1998

 

Ted Orland
Meteor!
1998
Hand colored gelatin silver print

 

Brian Taylor. 'Our Thoughts Wander' 2005

 

Brian Taylor
Our Thoughts Wander
2005
From the series Open Books
Hand bound book

 

Open Books

I create photographically illustrated books springing from my fascination with the book format and a love of texture in art. My imagery is inspired by the surreal and poetic moments of living in our fast-paced, modern world. I’m fascinated by how daily life in the 21st Century presents us with incredible experiences in such regularity that we no longer differentiate between what is natural and what is colored with implausibility, humor, and irony.

These hard cover books are hand bound with marbleized paper and displayed fully opened to a photographically illustrated two-page folio spread. Each book is framed in a wooden shadowbox and presented as a wall piece. I like the idea of making art that contains some imagery which can be sensed but not seen. The underlying pages contain my photographs, snapshots, and work prints that “gave their lives” for the imagery visible in the open spread. These images lie beneath the open pages like history.1

 

David Lebe. 'Angelo On The Roof' 1979

 

David Lebe
Angelo On The Roof
1979

 

Jerry Uelsmann (American, born 1934) 'Small Woods where I met Myself (Final Version)' 1967

 

Jerry Uelsmann (American, born 1934)
Small Woods where I met Myself (Final Version)
1967
Gelatin silver print
25.4 x 32.3 cm (10 x 12 11/16 in.)
© 1967 Jerry Uelsmann

 

Robert Heincken. 'Are You Rea #15' 1968

 

Robert Heincken
Are You Rea #15
1968
Offset lithography

 

David Levinthal and Garry Trudeau. 'Untitled', from the series 'Hitler Moves East' 1977

 

David Levinthal and Garry Trudeau
Untitled, from the series Hitler Moves East
1977
8 x 10 inches
Gelatin silver (Kodalith) print
Courtesy Paul Morris Gallery, New York City

 

My favorite story comes from the early days of Levinthal’s career, when he was a college student working on Hitler Moves Eastwith Garry Trudeau. They worked with childlike enthusiasm, purchasing smoke bombs from a local theater supply shop and growing grass inside David’s apartment to achieve maximum realism. This culminated in a huge explosion of smoke, and the photograph above. Forever making jokes, Levinthal had this to say about the situation: “I’m not even sure we had 911 those days, so that was probably helpful.” He sometimes describes incidents in which things went wrong, but thankfully this wasn’t one of those situations. Instead he successfully produced this photo and began a transition from the early works, which show toys rearranged on his linoleum floor, to photographs that are sophisticated and deceptively real looking.3

 

Joel-Peter Witkin. 'Poussin in Hell' 1999

 

Joel-Peter Witkin
Poussin in Hell
1999
Toned gelatin silver print

 

Douglas Prince. 'Untitled' 1969

 

Douglas Prince
Untitled
1969
Film and Plexiglas
5 x 5 x 2.5 inches

 

Mike and Doug Starn. 'Double Rembrandt with Steps' 1987-88

 

Mike and Doug Starn
Double Rembrandt with Steps
1987-88
Toned gelatin silver print, toned ortho film, wood, Plexiglas, and glue.
108 x 108 inches
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

 

 

“CEPA Gallery is pleased to announce Transformational Imagemaking: Handmade Photography Since 1960, a companion exhibition to Robert Hirsch’s recently published book of the same title (Focal Press). This extraordinary exhibition features work by some of the most innovative photographers and imagemakers of the mid- 20th century through today; artists who redefined the notion of photography as a medium and left an indelible mark on contemporary photographic practices.

This extensive survey will include more than 140 works by over 40 artists spanning nearly 50 years of artistic practice unified by a curatorial arc rooted in notions that deviate from the purview of traditional photographic practice. Citing Robert Heinecken’s practice as the genesis of conceptual handmade photography, this exhibition charts an intricate universe of artists whose practice dispenses with the self-prescribed limitations of conventional photography in order to mine the boundless potential of the photographic medium as a conceptual conveyance.

Transformational Imagemaking is the culmination of Hirsch’s lifelong exploration into handmade photography and the artists whose practices were formed on the principle of unearthing new possibilities. Hirsch sites the catalyst for the project as an article he published in exposure in 2003 entitled “Flexible Images: Handmade American Photography, 1969 – 2002″. It has since expanded into a comprehensive publication that includes personal conversations with each artist conducted over a six-month period during 2013. CEPA will now elaborate further by mounting an exhibition that features a selection of each artist’s work.

In addition to Transformational Imagemaking, CEPA will also show the complete folio of Robert Heinecken’s seminal series Are You Rea (1966). Considered to be the grandfather of post-modern photographic practices and a major figure of 20th century art, Heinecken was a key figure in promoting new sentiments about photography as an art form, influencing artists such Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, and others. Heinecken’s rebellious spirit challenged conventions about the ways photographs represent the tangible world: “We constantly tend to misuse or misunderstand the term reality in relation to photographs. The photograph itself is the only thing that is real.”

Are You Rea (1966), created by contact printing magazine tear-outs onto photographic paper, are ghostly compositions that layer sexually suggestive images of women with fractured text. This provocative body of work, sexually charged and evocatively ambiguous, reflects an awareness of desire as a commercial commodity that begs us to question the very root of our own desires.”

Press release from CEPA Gallery

 

Keith Smith. 'Untitled' 1972

 

Keith Smith
Untitled
1972

 

Binh Danh. 'The Botany of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum #2' 2008

 

Binh Danh
The Botany of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum #2
2008
From the Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War series
Chlorophyll print and resin

 

The chlorophyll process is an organic alternative photography process akin to the anthotype process. However, instead of printing on the crushed extract of fruit or plant matter, the prints are bleached by sunlight directly onto the surface of leaves using a positive. The resulting images are stunningly delicate and beautiful, ranging from haunting silhouettes to crisp definition. Despite the simplicity of the finished product, the process itself can be tedious with plenty of trial and error.

Drawing on the anthotype process, Danh refined a method for securing a positive directly to a live leaf and allowing sunlight to bleach the image onto its surface naturally. He has also addressed a fundamental challenge with natural photography processes; that of fixing the image to prevent further bleaching and deterioration over time. To save his work, Dah casts his finished pieces in a layer of resin allowing them to be enjoyed for years to come.2

 

Dinh Q. Lê  Vietnamese, born 1968 'Untitled' 1998

 

Dinh Q. Lê  (Vietnamese, born 1968)
Untitled, from the series Cambodia: Splendor and Darkness
1998
C-print and linen tape

 

Dan Estabrook. 'Fever' 2004

 

Dan Estabrook
Fever
2004
Salt print with ink and watercolor

 

Robert Fichter. 'Roast Beast 3' 1968

 

Robert Fichter
Roast Beast 3
1968
Verifax transfer with rundowns, stamping, and crayon

 

Robert Heineken. 'Are You Rea #1' 1966

 

Robert Heineken
Are You Rea #1
1966
Offset lithography

 

Chris McCaw. 'Sunburned GSP #676 (San Francisco Bay)' 2013

 

Chris McCaw
Sunburned GSP #676 (San Francisco Bay)
2013
Gelatin Silver paper negative

 

Curtis Mann. 'Photographer, Scratch' 2009

 

Curtis Mann
Photographer, Scratch
2009
Bleached c-print with synthetic polymer varnish

 

Vik Muniz. 'Atlas (Carlao)' 2008

 

Vik Muniz
Atlas (Carlao)
2008
Digital C-print

 

 

CEPA Gallery
617 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14203
T: (716) 856-2717

Opening hours:
Monday – Friday: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm
Saturday: 12.00 pm – 4.00 pm

CEPA Gallery website

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02
Nov
14

Review: ‘Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage’ at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th July – 9th November 2014

 

Devour the main course but don’t stay for dessert

This is an exhibition in two galleries. In the first you are not allowed to take photographs but in the second you can take as many as you want. You are told this as you enter the exhibition but the import of this incantation only becomes apparent much later in your visit.

The first gallery is a profound experience: manuscripts, letters, photographs, paintings, and posters that all relate to the great man and his work Les Misérables. The Charles Marville photographs are sublime (as always) with the width of the vertical prints being the element that I noticed most on this viewing. The space that Marville manages to capture in these vertical images makes them seem almost as wide as they are high giving them an almost panoramic feel, as though the space of the image goes on forever, from side to side and into the distance. There is a wonderful sense of volume in the atmosphere, tones and textures of these images. One juxtaposition is particularly tantalising, the pairing of Marville’s Rue Tirechape (1865) with engravings such as the demolition work for constructing the Boulevard St. Germain by Maxine Lalanne (1827-1886). The illusion that one could be the other is enlightening, and there is an established association (especially in Pictorialist photography) between representation in etching and photography.1

As Philip Ebury observes,

“It has often been said that Pictorial photographs resemble works in other media. The analogy with etchings is especially striking and the comparison is more than physical. Between 1890 and the late 1920s, etching and Pictorial photography had a shared history and many similar aims. Parallels between the two disciplines in Australia had their antecedents in England. In the late nineteenth century many photographers in that country were consciously promoting artistic, as opposed to documentary work. At the same time, printmakers were reviving the art of original etching as an expressive rather than a reproductive medium.”2

But the Charles Marville photographs are not the star of the show, oh no. That is left to five things:

a) An album of which you can see only one leaf in the exhibition, Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’) (1856, below), but that one leaf is enough. The enigma, light and intimacy of this one page is just magnificent.

b) Equally impressive are the very small intense portraits of Victor Hugo such as the silver gelatin photograph attributed to Arsène Garnier (1820-1909) – dark, atmospheric with Neo-classical sculptures and chandeliers reflected in expansive mirrors, VH propped up by a favourite chair; or Charles Hugo’s salted paper print from a collodion negative of his father in Jersey leaning on the back of a chair (1853-55). The intensity of these portraits is remarkable.

c) Victor Hugo’s own paintings, usually pen and brown ink wash on paper, are also very powerful. In images such as Ma destinée (My destiny) (1867, below) where VH wrote in direct conversation with the ocean and The bowels of the Leviathan (1866) – dark, dank labyrinthine Parisian sewers – Hugo draws you into a world of the disenfranchised, the poor, the destitute and their (and his) destiny.

d) The beautiful theatre posters (1880s-1910s) worth the price of admission on their own

e) Leaving the best till last, the autographed manuscript Volume 1 of Les Misérables in all its glory (the first time it has ever left France), complete with revisions, crossings out and the final version in red, resting innocuously in a glass display cabinet. The psychological weight of the volume is immense. This is getting as close to the ‘source’ as you can possibly get without touching it. I remember once holding a first edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol in my hand. This had that same spine tingling effect.

.
The first gallery assembles this incredible story and builds a glorious intensity of experience. I was on such an elevated level it was great.

And then, in literally two minutes, it was gone… No, no, no, no!

The second gallery is such a let down. It features costumes, posters, pamphlets and video in an exploration of the musical ‘phenomena’ this is the (Disney-fied) Les Misérables. A stage set from the musical with cut our heads so people can have their photo taken, and for performances; very poor quality black and white images of the sets of the theatrical productions of Les Misérables; a cardboard cut-out two-wheeled cart that is the worst thing that you could possibly see; and videos of workshops with men explaining how they are using a bandsaw to create the stage for the musical (as if I want to see that after what has gone before!). From the sublime to the ridiculous. I’m sure the kids might like it but after seeing such an amazing first half of the exhibition, for me this was like being tied with a ball and chain and dropped over the side to sink like a stone. Why do curators insist on doing this. Do they think that they always have to have a “popular” space for the family and the kids these days. That more is really more?

In this case it quite ruined what was up till then an incredible experience. So visit the exhibition for the main course (and don’t take any photos), but if I were you I would turn around after the first gallery and walk out the way I came in, thinking to myself ‘less is more!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. See Ebury, Frances. “Engravers and Etchers, Pictorialists and Photographers,” Part 2, Chapter 2 in Making Pictures: Australian Pictorial Photography as Art 1897 – 1957 Volume 1. Phd thesis, The University of Melbourne, 2001, p. 73.
2. Ibid.,

.
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.

 

 

“As long as social damnation exists, through laws and customs, artificially creating hell at the heart of civilization and muddying a destiny that is divine with human calamity; as long as the three problems of the century – man’s debasement through the proletariat, woman’s demoralisation through hunger, the wasting of the child through darkness – are not resolved … as long as ignorance and misery exist in this world, books like the one you are about to read are, perhaps, not entirely useless.”

.
Victor Hugo, Hauteville House, 1 January 1862

 

 

Victor Hugo. 'Les Misérables vol. 1' 1845-1862

 

Victor Hugo
Les Misérables vol. 1
1845-1862
Autograph manuscript
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Victor Hugo. 'Title page of 'Les Misérables' vol. 1' 1845-1862

 

Victor Hugo
Title page of Les Misérables vol. 1
1845-1862
Autograph manuscript
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Victor Hugo. 'Paris' Paris, 1867

 

Victor Hugo
Paris
Paris, 1867
Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo

 

Victor Hugo. 'Ma destinée (My destiny)' 1867

 

Victor Hugo
Ma destinée (My destiny)
1867
Ink and brown-ink wash
© Maisons de Victor Hugo / Roger-Viollet

 

'Les Proscrits' ('The Exiles') 1856

 

Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’)
1856
Album of photographs
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Album The Exiles - Victor Hugo and his circle of friends in exile started in Guernsey on the 1st January 1856. The album creates an allegorical portrait of VH. His family is represented by Victor Hugo’s hand (left), Adele’s hand (right), Marine Terrace their home in Jersey 1852-56 (centre) and VH posing at his desk in his study at Hauterville House, Guernsey, where he completed Les Misérables surrounded by sunlight. The page appears in the posting the correct way up, as it appears in the album.

 

Les Proscrits ('The Exiles') album (detail of page) 1856

 

Victor Hugo’s hand
From the album Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’) (detail of page)
1856
Album of photographs
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Les Proscrits ('The Exiles') album (detail of page) 1856

 

Victor Hugo posing at his desk in his study at Hauterville House, Guernsey
From the album Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’) (detail of page)
1856
Album of photographs
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Edmond Bacot. 'Victor Hugo en 1862' (Victor Hugo in 1862)

 

Edmond Bacot
Victor Hugo en 1862 (Victor Hugo in 1862)
1862
Maison de Victor Hugo
Image © Edmond Bacot / Maisons de Victor Hugo / Roger-Viollet

 

Auguste Rodin. 'Victor Hugo, buste dit À l'Illustre Maître' (Victor Hugo, bust known as 'To the illustrious master') 1883

 

Auguste Rodin
Victor Hugo, buste dit À l’Illustre Maître (Victor Hugo, bust known as ‘To the illustrious master’)
1883
Musée Rodin

 

Rodin states that Hugo would not pose. “I worked out on the veranda. I observed him swiftly, but carefully as he refused to pose. He accepted to be looked at, from all angles, but he would not pose. And so I looked at his conscience. And this is how I was able to capture the real Hugo.”

 

 

When the first two volumes of Les Misérables arrived in Paris in April 1862, all 6000 copies sold in a day. Public readings were organised when copies sold out. Everyone was reading it, from the literary intelligentsia to the common people. It was also quickly translated into nine languages to reach a global audience. After only three months, 100,000 authorised copies (and countless editions on the black market) had been sold worldwide, making the novel into an unprecedented literary bestseller of western literature. In 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III, Hugo returned to France and was hailed a national hero.

Victor Hugo’s legacy and the iconic story of Les Misérables endure to this day with various adaptations being created around the world. There have been at least 48 films, 14 animated films or TV series, radio plays, 12 television miniseries, numerous comic books, and at least 286 editions of Les Misérables published, sung and spoken. The stage musical of Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables is in itself a worldwide phenomenon. It is the longest running theatre performance in London and has been seen by over 65 million people in 43 countries and in 21 languages. It returns to Melbourne in June 2014.

About Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo is considered one of the most important and influential authors of the 19th century. Through his transformative literary works and political activism, French society’s most vulnerable were given a voice in a nation ruled by those with power and privilege. Best known for his novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame Hugo is also acclaimed for his theatre, essays, drawings and poetry.

Born in Besançon, France in 1802, Hugo was the son of an atheist and anti-monarchist French General and a Catholic pro-monarchist mother. A precocious talent, Hugo’s first work was published at the age of 15. His debut as a professional writer soon followed with the release of his first volume of romantic poems; Ode et poésies diverses in 1822Many of his early romantic works drew inspiration from his childhood sweetheart and wife Adele Foucher, with whom he had four children. Another powerful female influence on Hugo’s writings was his mistress of more than fifty years, Juliette Drouet.

As Hugo’s career progressed, his aptitude and fondness for romantic literature was matched by his passion for addressing themes of disadvantage and poverty. Hugo’s first major masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre Dame published in 1831 reflected his interest in highlighting such prejudices. However, it was his greatest masterpiece, Les Misérables, that first challenged and then changed the social and political understanding of poverty, disadvantage and inherited privilege in society. In Les Misérables Hugo casts an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, as the revered protagonist and paints a villain of the character representing authority and privilege, Inspector Javert.

Hugo dedicated 17 years of his life to plan and write the epic three part story beginning in the early 1840s and finally publishing the novel in 1862. In addition to his social and political sympathies, Hugo drew from many of his own personal experiences and professional turmoil to inform the characters and themes in Les Misérables. These included the tragic drowning of his eldest daughter, Leopoldine, in a boating accident in 1843, and Hugo’s exile from France by Louis Napoleon III in 1851 – a result of his public opposition to the increasingly authoritarian rule of the self-declared emperor.

From his exile on the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey where he lived for 19 years, Hugo maintained his trenchent opposition to the political status quo and the death penalty, while also publishing widely and spending three years finishing his magnum opus Les Misérables. When Les Misérables finally hit the stands in Paris in 1862 the response by the public was explosive. All 6000 copies sold out in a day, and three months later the book was an international best seller and had been translated into nine languages. Following the success of Les Misérables Hugo returned to France in 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III and was hailed a national hero. He continued to work until he died on 22 May 1885. At his state funeral it was estimated that close to two million people attended. Hugo’s wish to be buried in a pauper’s coffin was granted and his body lay in state under the Arc de Triomphe until he was interred in the Panthéon.

Today Victor Hugo’s extraordinary legacy continues. Les Misérables has been published in at least 250 editions since 1862, 48 films have been made of the story and the Boublil and Schönberg Les Misérables musical has been seen by over 65 million people worldwide in 42 countries and 22 languages, and is one of the most popular musicals of all time. Victor Hugo is remembered as an international literary giant and a French national hero.

Themes

The possibility that the condemned can rise above poverty and degradation to become good and honourable, and perhaps above all to fight for freedom of body and soul.

 

Charles Marville. 'Percement de l'avenue de l'Opéra' (Clearing of the Avenue de l'Opéra) c. 1876

 

Charles Marville
Percement de l’avenue de l’Opéra (Clearing of the Avenue de l’Opéra)
c. 1876
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Rue Soufflot (pendant la démolition)' (Rue Soufflot [during demolition]) c. 1876-77

 

Charles Marville
Rue Soufflot (pendant la démolition) (Rue Soufflot [during demolition])
c. 1876-77
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Avenue d'Iéna' c. 1877

 

Charles Marville
Avenue d’Iéna
c. 1877
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Boulevard Haussmann' c. 1877

 

Charles Marville
Boulevard Haussmann
c. 1877
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Cour du Dragon' c. 1863-1869

 

Charles Marville
Cour du Dragon, Rue de Taranne
c. 1863-1869
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Rue Tirechape' c. 1863-69

 

Charles Marville
Rue Tirechape
c. 1863-69
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Rue de Fontaines' c. 1863-69

 

Charles Marville
Rue de Fontaines
c. 1863-69
State Library of Victoria

 

129_SLV_Marville_Rude-du-Marche-aux-fleurs-WEB

 

Charles Marville
Rue du Marche aux fleurs
c. 1863-69
State Library of Victoria

 

Paul Carpentier. 'Episode du 29 juillet 1830, rue Chilperic, face á la colonnade du Louvre' (Event of 29 July 1830, rue Chilperic, before the colonnade of the Louvre) 1830

 

Paul Carpentier
Episode du 29 juillet 1830, rue Chilperic, face á la colonnade du Louvre (Event of 29 July 1830, rue Chilperic, before the colonnade of the Louvre)
1830
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

 

Ff110366_WEB

 

Charles Méryon
Le petit pont (The little bridge)
1850
National Gallery of Victoria, purchased 1891

 

36_BNF_I-Miserabili-WEB

 

Ottavio Rodella Tavio
Poster for I Miserabili di Victor Hugo (Les Misérables by Victor Hugo)
1890
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

'Les Misérables by Victor Hugo' New York, Classics Illustrated no. 9 1950

 

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
New York, Classics Illustrated no. 9
1950
State Library of Victoria

 

Design by Slawomir Kitowski. 'Les Misérables poster' 1989-2000

 

Design by Slawomir Kitowski
Les Misérables
poster
1989-2000
Teatr Muzyczny, Gdynia, Poland
Courtesy Cameron Mackintosh Ltd

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Sunday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
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
Saturday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm

State Library of Victoria website

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23
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘The Metropolis Experiment: Vienna and the 1873 World Exhibition’ at Wien Museum, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 15th May – 28th September 2014

 

Many thankx to Wien Museum for allowing me to publish the art work and photographs in the posting. Please click on them for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Anonymous 'Main entrance to the World Exhibition' (detail) 1873

 

Anonymous
Main entrance to the World Exhibition (detail)
1873
Photograph
© Wien Museum

 

Anonymous. 'The Palace of Industry under construction' 1872

 

Anonymous
The Palace of Industry under construction
1872
Photograph
© Wien Museum

 

Anonymous. 'Presentation of sanitary equipment' 1873

 

Anonymous
Presentation of sanitary equipment

1873
Photograph
© Wien Museum

 

Friedrich von Schmidt. 'Winning design for the new City Hall building' 1869

 

Friedrich von Schmidt
Winning design for the new City Hall building
1869
Ink drawing and watercolour
© Wien Museum

 

 

A panoramic view of the era around 1870

After “The struggle for the city”, a major exhibition on politics, art and everyday life around 1930, Wien Museum presents another panoramic view of an era. This time, the spotlight is trained on the years around 1870, a crucial transformative phase in Vienna’s development towards becoming a major modern metropolis. From 550,000 around 1850, Vienna’s population had almost doubled to about one million by the 1870s.

For Vienna, 1873 became the key year of the era. Like the construction of the new Ringstraße, the World Exhibition symbolised the city’s ambitions of attaining international standing. It was the first event of its kind not to be held in London or Paris, and an ostentatious display of superlatives: an area five times as large as the previous show in Paris, 53,000 exhibitors from 35 nations, 194 extravagantly designed pavilions, and crowning it all the Palace of Industry with its 85-metre-high Rotunda, then the world’s largest domed structure and a new Viennese landmark, and the 800-metre-long Engine Hall. The Exhibition attracted more than seven million visitors between 1 May and 2 November, yet its objectives were only partially met. 1873 was also the year of the great stock exchange crash which brought the phase of economic prosperity and optimistic hopes for the future to an abrupt end.

The Wien Museum exhibition tells the story of large-scale building projects and the movers and shakers of the Gründerzeit era, of miserable social conditions, migration and the advent of the mass political parties, of increased mobility thanks to faster transport, of the advances made in medicine and technology and of the fashions of the period, which was a golden age in the decorative arts. Most of the 1000 or so objects on display are from the Wien Museum collections, with the focus on the extensive holdings of over 1600 photos from the Vienna Photographers’ Association, many of which feature here. Also on show are a large number of original exhibits from the 1873 World Exhibition.

 

A “festival of progress”: how the World Exhibition came about

1867 marked a turning point. After a number of disastrous years the economy made a sudden recovery. A “miracle harvest” opened up opportunities for export, while the state reform that created the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy (the “Compromise” with Hungary) placed trade, customs and fiscal policy on a new basis. Iron production, mechanical engineering and the construction industry were the drivers behind the upswing. Vienna also established itself as a centre of finance, with countless sometimes dubious joint stock companies springing up in the period before 1873.

These boom years presented industrialists, tradespeople and commercial policy-makers, as well as the proponents of reform in the applied arts, with the opportunity to put into action a plan they had long held dear, namely that of staging a World Exhibition in Vienna. Since the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations” held in London in 1851 there had been three further World Exhibitions (1855 and 1867 in Paris, 1862 in London). These “festivals of progress” not only acted as a forum for global exchange of expertise among engineers and manufacturers but also presented bourgeois society and the respective host country with an ideal platform for self-presentation and image boosting. The Vienna of the Gründerzeit era was “on the fast track” and intended to present itself to the world as a large modern city on its way to becoming a major metropolis.

It was not until 1870 – barely three years before the opening – that Emperor Franz Joseph enacted a sovereign resolution on the holding of the World Exhibition, in the face of resistance from the City Council, the municipal authorities and Mayor of Vienna Cajetan Felder, who cautioned against excessive costs. The influence of the local politicians was still limited at this point, though their scope for action expanded from the 1860s onwards with the end of the neo-absolutist regime. A prominent symbol of the heightened self-confidence of the civic administration vis-à-vis the imperial house was Vienna’s monumental new City Hall, on which work started in 1873.

 

The city as construction site

The municipal politicians of the liberal age laid the groundwork for a modern technical infrastructure which became a prime driver of the economic boom and radically transformed the city. One of the key projects was the regulation of the Danube, which was undertaken for flood protection purposes as well as with a view to the city’s further expansion. The cutting of a new channel to shift the Danube closer to the city was expected to entail advantages in terms of trade, commerce and transport, the aim being to make the Danube into a navigable waterway. The idea of containing the main arm of the river in a uniform, perfectly straight bed was not a new one, but it was not until now, with the aid of modern steam engines, that it became possible to implement the plan within the space of a few years, from 1869 to 1875.

The most costly of the urban infrastructure projects was the construction of Vienna’s first mountain spring water pipeline (1870-73), which tapped the Alpine springs of the Rax-Schneeberg massif to supply water to the city and its million-plus inhabitants. Repeated water shortages nevertheless ensued as a result of planning errors coupled with escalating water consumption. Besides water supply and sewage disposal the city fathers also tackled another hygienic problem: like the city as a whole, Vienna’s “communal” cemeteries were in urgent need of expansion by the middle of the century. In 1863 the City Council introduced a system of central planning, and the new Central Cemetery in Simmering was officially opened eleven years later. The “burial question” was fraught with technical, religious and cultural implications that prompted heated debate in Vienna.

Last but not least, Vienna’s transport infrastructure also underwent a radical transformation: the years around 1870 saw the construction of four of the city’s six major Gründerzeit railway termini (Südbahnhof, Nordwestbahnhof, Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof and Staatsbahnhof (later Ostbahnhof)), and within a period of six years five new bridges were built over the newly regulated Danube, among them the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Brücke (later Floridsdorfer Brücke) and the Kronprinz-Rudolf-Brücke (which became the Reichsbrücke). To coincide with the World Exhibition, the City Council also had several bridges over the Danube Canal and the River Wien renovated or rebuilt. A task not considered to be within the remit of the civic authorities was the expansion of the public transport network, which was left to private investors: by 1873 a basic tramway system consisting of the Ringstraße lines and some initial links to the suburbs was in place, still operated by horse-drawn trams. The municipal politicians were likewise little concerned with the housing market, with the result that the speculation-driven expansion of new districts on the outskirts was dominated by “American-style” gridiron streets lined with low-standard tenement blocks. Mass immigration of people looking for work and soaring living costs swiftly exacerbated the housing shortage and the squalid living conditions of the urban poor.

 

Boulevard of grandiose ambitions: the Ringstraße

Alongside the World Exhibition itself, the Ringstraße is another central theme of the exhibition. The Emperor ordered the demolition of the city walls and fortifications in 1857, and an international urban planning competition held a year later yielded the “master plan” which served as the blueprint for the key public buildings, green spaces, vistas and squares. The construction of the Ringstraße was a state-controlled, centrally managed, large-scale project. The overall supervisory role lay with the Ministry of the Interior, with the City of Vienna reduced to the status of onlooker while still being required to finance the new road and sewer network. The building of “New Vienna” became a bone of contention between the imperial court, government, military administration and civic authorities. Compromise was achieved, inter alia, through the assignment of parcels of land free of charge for the laying out of Stadtpark and Rathausplatz. The proceeds from the sale of building plots to private individuals enabled the state to finance representative public buildings like the State Opera House.

1 May 1865 saw the official opening ceremony for the Ringstraße – despite the fact that the major part of the boulevard was not yet built and still at the planning stage. Buildings, most of them inhabited, were already standing on Opernring, Kärntnerring and Schubertring, however, and the economic boom meant that intensive private-sector building activity continued right up until 1873. The clay beneath Vienna was thus transformed into “gold”, as illustrated by the meteoric career of brick manufacturer Heinrich Drasche: after founding the “Wienerberger” joint stock company in 1869, he subsequently rose to become the richest man in Vienna, commissioning the building of the “Heinrichhof”, a huge new-style luxury apartment building directly opposite the opera house. By 1873 all the main public buildings were already under construction or discussion, including the new City Hall, the Parliament and the museums. Vienna’s leading architects, notably Heinrich Ferstel, Theophil Hansen and Friedrich Schmidt, designed the first major buildings in “Viennese style“, an especially opulent variant of the neo-Renaissance style which caused an international furore.

 

A city within a city: the World Exhibition

Once the Emperor had given his approval for the World Exhibition, a planned city of gigantic proportions sprung up within a very short period of time in Vienna’s Prater area (the site occupied by today’s City Hall had also been discussed as a possible alternative), whose considerable distance from the city centre gave rise to substantial costs. The exhibition grounds not only housed the vast Palace of Industry, Engine Hall and Hall of the Arts and almost 200 national and corporate pavilions, but were also equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure including a sewer network, rail tracks and their own railway station. At the same time, a side project also saw the long-established Wurstelprater remodelled and expanded into the modern Volksprater amusement park.

The preparatory phase scheduled for the World Exhibition was incredibly brief. Thanks to the latest developments in transport and communications (telegraphy), however, it proved possible, within a very short space of time, to organise worldwide participation, overcome the logistical problems associated with the transport of vast numbers of exhibits and mobilise huge streams of visitors. World Exhibitions were conceived as popular encyclopaedias of humanity, designed to cover an enormous spectrum of different aspects – industry, technology, science, the arts, culture, and so on. At the Vienna Exhibition, the task of representing the world with attributes such as progress, productivity and speed combined with the emotional experience provided by a huge variety of commodities, luxury and exoticism. The World Exhibition not only served as an economic stimulus, but also offered the broader public a global showcase of experiences on a whole new scale: Visitors embarked on a “sightseeing tour” of the Industrial Age, gazed in wonder at the clattering steam engines, looms and sewing machines and found out about innovations in the worlds of transport and science. A society fond of consumption revelled in the assembled profusion of craftsman-made objects and devoted itself to the pursuit of “good taste”, which from the Austrian point of view primarily meant luxury goods in the internationally acclaimed “Viennese Renaissance” style. Artistic designs by sculptors and architects, executed with precise craftsmanship, were a consequence of the reform of the applied arts – and formed the basis for the latter’s success.

But the aim was not only to educate the public: it was also about entertainment and the fascination of faraway places. At the Prater exhibition grounds visitors were able to take an architectural tour of the world; foreigners in exotic costume and authentic dishes from all over the globe became the talk of the town, and cocktails were served in a North American Indian wigwam. The oriental and Asian pavilions exerted the greatest attraction: a defining characteristic of the Vienna World Exhibition, they spawned trends in fashion, lifestyle and the applied arts.

The 1873 World Exhibition is remembered by posterity chiefly for the huge financial deficit it incurred – just 4.2 million gulden in revenues against expenditures of 19 million gulden. In the speculative fever that gripped the age, the hopes of vast attendance figures, not to mention the substantial influx of capital, had led to excessively inflated expectations. Exploding costs, the stock exchange crash and fewer visitors than anticipated – not least due to the cholera epidemic – resulted in sober disillusionment after the event. Ultimately, the only parties who really profited were individual exhibitors from the successful promotion of trade and industry and visitors from the effective transfer of knowledge. This notwithstanding, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire succeeded in returning itself to centre stage in the eyes of the world for the first time since the Congress of Vienna.

Besides the themes outlined above, the Wien Museum exhibition also turns the spotlight on mass entertainments of the Gründerzeit period, innovations in home furnishings and engineering, the role played by the illustrated media, inventions such as pneumatic post and, not least, on the great arts debate of the time. As the capital city of music, Vienna around 1870 provided the stage for a musical “clash of the Titans” between the “consummator” of Viennese Classicism, Johannes Brahms, and the New German School represented by Anton Bruckner and Richard Wagner. The early 1870s also saw Austria’s first ever environmental campaign, to save the Vienna Woods from logging, as well as the expedition to the North Pole, which returned in 1874 after two years trapped in the ice. Grand hotels like the Metropol and Imperial opened their doors, while Lobmeyr unveiled the first “Arabian-style” range of glassware. The latest fashions were imported from the world’s major cities, among them ornate gowns with extravagant bustles.”

Press release from the Wien Museum

 

Anonymous. 'Construction site on Ringstrasse with Heinrichshof building' c. 1863

 

Anonymous
Construction site on Ringstrasse with Heinrichshof building
c. 1863
Photograph
© Wien Museum

 

Anonymous. 'Construction of a new bridge (Reichsbrücke) across the Danube' 1873

 

Anonymous
Construction of a new bridge (Reichsbrücke) across the Danube
1873
Photograph
© Wien Museum

 

Anonymous. 'Horse-drawn tramway on the Schottenring-Dornbach line' 1868

 

Anonymous
Horse-drawn tramway on the Schottenring-Dornbach line
1868
Watercolour
© Wien Museum

 

Anonymous. 'North American wigwam at the World Exhibition' 1873

 

Anonymous
North American wigwam at the World Exhibition
1873
Photograph
© Wien Museum

 

 

Wien Museum
1040 Vienna, Karlsplatz 8
T: +43 (0)1 505 87 47 0

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday and public holidays 10 am – 6 pm

Wien Museum website

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13
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Oscar Muñoz: Protographies’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 21st September 2014

Curated by José Roca and María Wills Londoño (adjunct curator)

 

Another artist investigating the medium of photography in totally fascinating ways… breaking the glass, deconstructing the support, fragmenting the image, questioning the imprint of photography – in memory, in the photographs physicality, in what leaves an impression, in what remains. The un/stable image, in flux, in sediment, investigated through “work [that] defies systematic classification because he works in so many different media: photography, printmaking, drawing, installations, video and sculpture.” Such inventiveness over such a long period of time “developing special techniques to produce images that reveal themselves as a kind of counterpoint to photography and the “decisive moment” it once claimed to capture.” Ephemeral photography that is truly remarkable.

Marcus

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

 

This summer, the Jeu de Paume, which is celebrating 10 years devoted to the image, will be inviting the public to discover Oscar Muñoz (born in 1951), Colombia’s most emblematic artist, who has been producing a body of work for nearly forty years that centres on the capacity of images to preserve memory.

 

CALI-DOSCOPE: CITY FRAGMENTS

Oscar Muñoz. 'Ambulatorio [Ambulatory]' 1994

 

Oscar Muñoz
Ambulatorio [Ambulatory]
1994
Aerial photograph enclosed in security glass, wood and aluminium, 36 units
100 x 100 cm each
Courtesy O.K. Centrum, Linz

 

Muñoz emerged on the Colombian art scene with his series of large-format hyperrealist drawings in charcoal on paper that revealed his interest in the social implications of empty or deteriorating spaces. This group includes drawings from the series entitled Inquilinatos [Tenement Houses] (1979) and Interiores [Interiors] (1980-1981). Also on display are works referring to Cali’s urban life, such as Ambulatorio [Ambulatory] (1994), El Puente [The Bridge] (2004), Archivo Porcontacto [Bycontact Archive] (2004-2008), which are images of a specific period and specific places in the city, and A través del cristal [Through the Glass] (2008-2009), the latter a way of introducing an absent cultural reference through sound.

Cali recurs in Muñoz’s work as a contextual reference or a support. This is literally the case with Ambulatorio, an aerial photograph of the city blown up to a monumental scale and laid out in a regular grid. Each segment of the photograph is fixed to a piece of security glass, which breaks into pieces when the viewer walks on the work. Each break creates another random mesh of lines over the urban image of a chaotic city in which rational planning and the unstructured coexist in a way typical of all modern South American cities.

 

THE SUPPORT RECONSIDERED

Oscar Muñoz. 'Cortinas de Baño [Shower curtains]' 1985-1986

 

Oscar Muñoz
Cortinas de Baño [Shower curtains]
1985-1986
Acrylic on plastic, 5 elements
190 x 140 cm and 190 x 70 cm each, dimensions variable
Banco de la República collection, Bogotá

 

Having achieved international renown as an exceptional draughtsman, in the 1980s Muñoz gradually abandoned paper as a support and experimented with new techniques of drawing and printmaking, using unconventional materials and supports such as acrylic applied to damp plastic and charcoal dust on water. This group includes the series Cortinas de Baño [Shower Curtains] (1985-1986), Tiznados [Tainted] (1990), Narcisos secos [Dry Narcissi] (1994-1995) and Simulacros [Simulacra] (1999).

In Cortinas de baño Muñoz experimented for the first time with an unconventional support, in this case an everyday plastic shower curtain, in order to construct an image from a photograph transferred onto a silkscreen mesh. In the printing process, executed with an airbrush through previously prepared silkscreen, the image was transferred onto an unstable surface, with the artist preventing the pigment from being totally fixed by sprinkling water on it.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Narcisos (en proceso)' [Narcissi (in process)] 1995-2011

 

Oscar Muñoz
Narcisos (en proceso) [Narcissi (in process)]
1995-2011
Charcoal dust and paper on water, Plexiglas, 6 elements
10 x 50 x 50 cm each, overall dimensions: 10 x 70 x 400 cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Narcisos was a key series in the artist’s quest to dematerialise the support of the photographic image. Muñoz developed a new technique unprecedented in the history of art and probably never to be encountered again – that of printing on water. The earliest photographic images emerged from water, from the chemical baths that fixed the silver salts in different gradations of intensity produced by the action of light. The support was an incidental necessity. Muñoz has referred to the three phases in the process of Narcissi as allegories of an individual’s progress through life: creation, at the moment when the charcoal dust touches the surface of the water; the changes that come about during evaporation; and death, at the moment when the dried out dust finally settles at the bottom of the container. The result, which the artist has called Narcisos secos, is both the final image and the death of the process: the remains of a photograph that possessed a life after it was fixed for posterity. In this sense, Dry Narcissi are the record of a double death of the image.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Narciso [Narcissus]' 2001

 

Oscar Muñoz
Narciso [Narcissus]
2001
Single-channel video 4:3, colour, sound, 3 min
Courtesy of the artist

 

Muñoz’s first work in video was Narciso, in which he dramatically presented the processes developed in his Narcissi of the 1990s (in which the evaporation was invisible to the naked eye) by making the water disappear in a few minutes. As in those earlier works, a self-portrait floats on the surface of the water but the drain in the sink and the sound of running water foretell for the viewer what the image’s final fate will be. In reality, there are two images here: that of the subject and that of its shadow on the white bottom of the basin. The images gradually come closer together, as if to suggest that life is a constant quest for self-understanding. However, at the moment when the two images are about to coincide, it is already too late: they fuse into a single distorted stain that disappears down the drain.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Re/trato [Portrait/I Try Again]' 2004

 

Oscar Muñoz
Re/t
rato [Portrait/I Try Again]
2004
Single-channel video projection 4:3, colour, no sound, 28 min
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

About the exhibition

“Through a multifaceted body of work that moves freely between photography, printmaking, drawing, installation, video and sculpture, eliminating the borderlines between these disciplines through innovative practices, Oscar Muñoz (Popayán, Colombia, 1951) explores the capacity of images to retain memory.

In 1826, for the first time in history the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce succeeded in fixing the elusive image produced by the camera obscura, a device known since antiquity. In contrast to painting or drawing, the camera obscura was able to obtain an image from life without the assistance of the human hand and in real time: what it could not do was freeze it or fix it onto a support in order to extract it from the passing of time. It could thus be said that the essence of the photographic act does not lie in taking the image but in permanently fixing it. What, then, is the status of the image in the instant prior to the moment when it is fixed for posterity?

If the ontology of photography lies in fixing a moving image for all time, extracting it from life, we might say that Oscar Muñoz’s work is located in the temporal space prior (or subsequent) to the true decisive moment when the image is fixed: that proto-moment when the image is finally about to become photography. In that sense, it could be said that Muñoz’s work is protographic.

 

The exhibition

Born in 1951 in Popayán (Colombia), Oscar Muñoz is regarded as one of the country’s most important contemporary artists, whilst also garnering attention on the international art scene. A graduate of the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Cali, he has built up over a period of four decades a body of work whose images deal with the realm of memory, loss and the precarious nature of human life. Muñoz’s work defies systematic classification because he works in so many different media: photography, printmaking, drawing, installations, video and sculpture.

“Protographs” (a term coined to evoke the instant just before or just after that split-second when the photographic image is captured and frozen for ever) presents his major series grouped by theme. These themes poetically and metaphorically juxtapose Muñoz’s own past and the different material states of the image. For example, he combines the dissolution, deterioration or disintegration of the image with the inherent fragility of memory and the impossibility of making time stand still; or the image’s evaporation and transformation with the tension between rationality and chaos in our urban societies. Finally, in the main part of his work, he creates ephemeral images that, as they disappear, invite the spectator to share in an experience that is simultaneously rational and sensual.

Oscar Muñoz began his career in the 1970s in Cali in a period when a whirlwind of cultural and cross-disciplinary activity saw the emergence of a generation of writers, photographers and filmmakers who today play a leading role in the contemporary art scene (with Carlos Mayolo, Luis Ospina, Fernell Franco and Andrés Caicedo to name but a few). At that time, Muñoz was drawing with charcoal on large-format supports presenting a cast of sad and sometimes sordid characters with a deep emotional charge. The main characteristics of his work emerged at an early stage. These include a profound and tireless interest in social questions, an original approach to materials, the use of photography as an aid to memory and the exploiting of the dramatic possibilities afforded by the play of shadow and light in defining the image. Moreover, the artist developed a phenomenological approach to minimalism by insisting on the relationship between the artwork, the spectator and the surrounding exhibition space.

In the mid-1980s, Oscar Muñoz moved away from traditional artistic methods and began to experiment with innovative processes that created a real interactive exchange with the spectator. This was the time of a radical reassessment of his artistic practices, whether drawing, printmaking, or photography, and a questioning of the relationship between the artwork and its surroundings. He abandoned traditional formats and techniques, whilst preserving something of their roots and wellsprings, to investigate ephemerality, highlighting the very essence of the materials themselves and their poetic associations. His use of the fundamental elements – water, air and fire – refers to the processes, the cycles and the transcendental manifestations of life, our very existence and death itself. “My work attempts to understand why the past and the present are so full of violent acts,” says the artist. By choosing to use a diverse selection of media and to apply innovative and unique processes, Oscar Muñoz blurs the boundaries between artistic disciplines.

The “Protographs” exhibition showcases a career that has lasted nearly forty years. It presents series of works grouped around the artist’s major themes, starting with his works on paper and his series of large format hyperrealist drawings in charcoal (1976-1981) – bearing witness to his deep interest in social context – and the drawings and engravings that he started making in the 1980s, which marked the relinquishing of paper for an exploration of unconventional materials and processes (printing on damp plastic, the use of sugar and coffee, etc.); continuing with his experiments in the 1990s and 2000s on the stability of the image and its relationship to the processes of memory; and including his latest works (2009-2014), characterised by a continual process of appearance and disappearance, including a new work produced specifically for the exhibition.”

Text by José Roca and María Wills Londoño

 

IMPRINTS

Over the last decade, Muñoz has created a series of works on the indicative relationship between the object and its image, making use of contact printing, a characteristic printmaking process. This was the case with La mirada del Cíclope [The Cyclops’ Gaze] (2001-2002), Intervalos (mientras respiro) [Intervals (While I Breathe)] (2004) and Paístiempo [Countrytime] (2007), as well as series from a number of other periods.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Aliento [Breath]' 1995

 

Oscar Muñoz
Aliento [Breath]

1995
Metal mirrors, screen-printed with grease, 7 mirrors
Diameter: 20 cm each
Courtesy of the artist

 

The series Aliento comprises portraits printed in photo-silkscreen with grease on small round metal mirrors located at eye level. The mirrors initially seem blank and the printed image only reveals itself when the viewer, having recognised himself/herself, breathes onto the circular mirror. During this brief moment the reflected image is replaced by the printed image (photographs taken from obituaries) of a deceased person who fleetingly returns through the viewer’s breath.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'La mirada del cíclope [The Cyclops' Gaze]' 2002

 

Oscar Muñoz
La mirada del cíclope [The Cyclops’ Gaze]
2002
Digital print on paper, 6 photographs
50 x 50 cm each one
Courtesy of the artist

 

La mirada del cíclope, in which the subject is considered in relation to death, uses one of the oldest techniques of portraiture and printmaking: a mould made by direct contact, in this case of the artist’s own face. This sculptural object (inspired by the ancient Roman tradition of funerary masks) becomes two-dimensional when it is captured by the camera’s single eye (hence the title). Lacking references to volume, the viewer’s eye cannot decide if the object represented is concave or convex, in a play of perceptual opposites: negative/positive, presence/absence, reality or illusions. Quoting Pierre Bourdieu, Muñoz has noted that “the imagines of ancient Rome are exactly equivalent to the social nature of some modern photographs; they play an important role in the tortuous act of mourning: we accept a reality by ‘becoming accustomed to the unreality of its images’.”

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Horizonte [Horizon]' 2011

 

Oscar Muñoz
Horizonte [Horizon]
2011
From the series Impresiones débiles [Weak Impressions]
Charcoal dust print on methacrylate
4 elements, 85 x 73.5 cm each
Galerie mor. charpentier, Paris

 

The earliest successful images taken by Niépce were proto-photographs that did not survive intact as images because the light that had created them continued to affect them until they eventually succumbed to darkness in an inexorable fade to black. This is what happens in film photography when a photograph is not properly rinsed and the developing agent continues to act, or when the photographic paper is directly exposed to the action of light. However, the image can also move towards clarity. In Impresiones débiles, Muñoz employs photographs of great historical and political significance for Colombia and subjects them to a process that makes them seem like “washed out” photos in which over-exposure to light has made the image deteriorate to the point of near invisibility. The works that make up this series are in fact prints rather than photographs, given that they are silkscreens made with charcoal dust on acrylic. The variable distance between the silkscreen mesh and the support allows the artist to single out a different element from the original photograph in each print, making it more highly defined than the rest. The “variable focus” in this series questions another of the supposedly essential characteristics of photography, namely the camera’s systematic, technical objectivity in relation to its subjects.

 

THE IMAGE IN FLUX

In his most recent works, Muñoz depicts images in a process of continual appearance and disappearance. These are subtle impressions with varying emphases on the different parts of the image that are literally in flux and cannot be fixed, such as those produced by a camera obscura. This section includes the video Cíclope [Cyclops] (2011), the installation Editor solitario [Solitary Editor] and the work Sedimentaciones [Sedimentations] (2011), the latter comprising three tables with projections of documents that are constantly created and destroyed. The exhibition ends with the highly personal Fundido al blanco [Fade to White] (2010).

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Fundido a blanco (dos retratos)' [Fade to White (Two Portraits)] 2010

 

Oscar Muñoz
Fundido a blanco (dos retratos) [Fade to White (Two Portraits)]
2010
HD Video, colour, sound, 7 min 40 s
Courtesy of the artist

 

Fundido a blanco (dos retratos) is an autobiographical work: a family portrait with Muñoz behind the camera, constituting the third side of a temporal triangle that includes his mother and father. It is, in other words, a memorial. Rather than making their features more clear, the strong light that bathes the scene makes them imprecise and ethereal. Muñoz has referred to the intense light in Cali at a certain time of day, when people seem to “disintegrate”, and also to the blinding brilliance of the sun when the artist came out after seeing a film at the city’s film club. The central figure in Fundido a blanco momentarily falls asleep now and then, entering into the light. Rather than fixing that figure at a precise moment of its existence, in the manner of a photographic portrait or snapshot, Muñoz creates a portrait that develops in time. Fundido a blanco is one of the artist’s most moving works, an image that touches the viewer. Its power may perhaps lie in the fact that for the first time in his extensive output, we are here seeing a specific subject rather than the generic representation of one.

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Sedimentaciones' [Sedimentations] 2011

 

Oscar Muñoz
Sedimentaciones [Sedimentations]
2011
2 HD video projections, colour, sound, 42 min 27 s, 41 min 42 s, on wooden tables
Courtesy of the artist

 

The strategy of dissolving the image reappears in Sedimentaciones, a photographic development table on which there are numerous photographs arranged in lines, with various blank sheets between them. The photos are extremely varied in nature, ranging from universally known images to others that are very specific to a Colombian context, personal portraits by the artist and anonymous, generic images. There are two developing trays at opposite corners. A hand takes a photograph from the table and puts it in a plastic tray filled with liquid in which the image dissolves. The paper emerges white and is then randomly placed in one of the lines. On the other side of the table another hand takes up one of the empty sheets and slides it into another tray. On taking out the sheet, the image has magically re-formed on it and the hand places it in the line of photographs. The process starts again in the other corner. Through this alternation we thus witness the ceaseless life and death of the image (see video below).

 

MORE WORK

Oscar Muñoz. 'El juego de las probabilidades' [The Game of Probabilities] 2007

 

Oscar Muñoz
El juego de las probabilidades [The Game of Probabilities]
2007
12 colour photographs
47 x 40 cm each with frame
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

 

Oscar Muñoz
Línea del destino [Line of Destiny]
2006
Single-channel video 4:3, black and white, no sound,
1 min 54 s
Courtesy of the artist

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Pixeles' [Pixels] 1999-2000

 

Oscar Muñoz
Pixeles [Pixels]
1999-2000
Coffee stains on sugar cubes, Plexiglas
9 panels 35 x 35 x 3 cm each
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston

 

OSCAR MUÑOZ: “Protographs” in progress from Jeu de Paume / magazine on Vimeo.

 

The magazine’s camera has gone behind the scenes of Oscar Muñoz’ exhibition Protographs at the Jeu de Paume. It attempts to show how the artist and his assistant, Juliana Guevara, produce unstable images, using unconventional materials and supports such as water, charcoal dust, grease on metal, the spectator’s breath, and shower curtains. Since the early 80s, Muñoz has been developing special techniques to produce images that reveal themselves as a kind of counterpoint to photography and the “decisive moment” it once claimed to capture.

Narcissi (1995), Breath (1995), Simulacra (1999), The Collector (2014): all these works question the fragile status of images and the way they live - and die – in our memory.

 

 

 

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19
Aug
14

Review / Interview: Simon Maidment, co-curator of the exhibition ‘David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me’ at NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 9th May – 31st August 2014

 

Here’s winking at you, sweetie…

My apologies for the slightly out of focus nature of some of the installation photographs, but I had to take them quickly as I walked through the gallery with co-curator Simon Maidment. If you relied on the nine press images supplied by the NGV (bottom of the posting), you would have no idea of the complexity of this artists work nor would you possess an understanding of the scale, intimacy, brashness, beauty and confrontational visibility of the art. You would also have no idea what a stunning installation the NGV has produced to display the work.

Simply put, this is the best exhibition I have seen in Melbourne this year.

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David McDiarmid (1952-95) – activist (the first gay person ever to be arrested in Australia) and multi-dimensional artist – proves the personal IS political AND influential. His work moves from early personal narratives through decorative to visually commanding and confrontational art. As homosexual identity transits from camp to gay to queer, McDiarmid deconstructs and redefines this identity using context as a FOIL for his art making. As Robert Nelson in his excellent review of the exhibition in The Age newspaper observes, “McDiarmid’s expression of the erotic is an act of protest as well as festivity. When McDiarmid began in full fervour, gay sex was not only reviled but illegal; and as he ended his career, homosexuality seemed to pass from the police to the undertaker. He began his expose of gay eroticism in the spirit of a demonstration and ended it as an act of compassion.”1

Well said. Homosexuality was illegal were McDairmid started making art and was deathly when he himself succumbed to the Grim Reaper. But during the journey that he took the key thing to remember is that McDiarmid never “passed” as something he was not. He was always up front, out there, doing his thing since he was first arrested in 1971. He was always pushing the boundaries, offering a wider perspective on social histories and political contexts. He questioned the marginalization of minorities (Secret Love, 1976), the boundaries of self and society and examined taboo and transgression in a conservative society. He lived at the cutting edge of culture. Later, he waged a life and death struggle for HIV/AIDS funding, awareness and compassion with a fierce determination combined with sparkling wit, humour and sardonic aphorisms. Sexual politics and safe sex campaigns went hand in hand.

Of course, sexuality and sexual identity were at the core of his creativity. He explored the urban gay male world and the struggle for gay rights, sexual and emotional sensibilities and the cultural politics of HIV/AIDS. Early work was influenced by time spent in New York (where he knew Keith Haring) and San Francisco, where he experienced the development of the clone scene and the music of the clubs. His mode of construction has a lot in common with folk and women’s art (in particular patchwork and quilting) coupled with the use of contemporary materials (such as holographic foil).

McDiarmid’s later work becomes more symbolic and universal but still contains that cutting edge of the personal (DEMENTED QUEEN REMEMBERS HER NAME – forgets to die; POSITIVE QUEEN FEELS NEGATIVE – goes shopping). In the most amazing room of art I have seen this year, McDiarmid uses reflective cut and tiled holographic foils to create moving tribute and biting comment on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In this darkened room the viewer is surrounded by tiles that “scintillate in spectral transience, changing their colours holographically according to your movement. The image is blunt and horny but also melancholy and scary; and similarly the medium impenetrable, deflecting the gaze and forcing you to change perspective.” (Robert Nelson)

But it’s more than that. You are surrounded by metallic flesh and embedded amongst the iridescence is both love and hate, life and death, winking eyes and holographic rainbow coloured skulls. Body language (1990, below) contains the names of McDairmid’s dead lovers woven into its fabric, a Swastika with the word AIDS for a head and the desire for the anus as a man pulls his arse cheeks apart. But here’s the rub – the tiny, puckered hole contains a holographic image of a winking eye, inviting you in, sharing the death/life joke with you. It’s a classic. In this room it feels as though you are surrounded by the fires of hell as the opalescence of the work changes from footstep to footstep, from positive to negative, from love to hate – and the pure beauty of the work is overwhelming. These are absolutely stunning works of art by any mark of the imagination, up there with the very best art ever made in Australia. His famous Rainbow Aphorisms series 1994 (below) are strong but they are are not a patch on the silver foil works. Less successful are the textile and costume designs, the weakest part of the exhibition.

One question springs to mind. Would his art have been as strong without the impetus of “death art” behind it? What would it have looked like?

I wonder which direction his art would have taken after his initial investigation of gay male identity had he not contracted HIV/AIDS and started making art about the disease. This strong focus gives the work the impetus and grunt it needed to move from the purely decorative and graphic, ney camp in some cases, to work with serious gravitas. In these later works McDiarmid lays it all on the line and just goes for it. I am so glad he did. They are powerful, concise, confrontational, beautiful, shimmering renditions of a soul living life to the full while he still had time.

It’s a pity the NGV has not advertised and promoted this exhibition more extensively. With a stunning catalogue, insightful research, amazing installation and world class art this is one exhibition you shouldn’t miss in Melbourne this winter.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

ART BLART: THE ONLY PLACE TO SEE INSTALLATION PHOTOGRAPHS OF THIS EXHIBITION ON THE WEB.

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Many thankx to Simon for allowing me to take the installation photographs during our discussion and to the NGV for allowing me to publish them, along with the nine press images at the bottom of the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Unidentified photographer. 'David McDiarmid at his first one-man show 'Secret Love', Hogarth Gallery, Sydney, 1976' 1976

 

Unidentified photographer
David McDiarmid at his first one-man show ‘Secret Love’, Hogarth Gallery, Sydney, 1976
1976
Silver gelatin photograph
Dennis Altman Collection, Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA)

 

David McDiarmid Installation photograph of early works

David McDiarmid Installation photograph of early works

 

David McDiarmid
Installation photograph of early works including, in the case, Vest (c. 1972), hand-embroidered by McDiarmid with the words ‘sydney gay liberation’ as a gift for John Lee with photographs of McDiarmid and artist Peter Tully used as a wallpaper on the wall behind at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

David McDiarmid Installation photograph of early works including 'Secret Love art show, poster' (1976, far left), 'Secret Love' (1976, top centre left), 'Ken's Karate Klub' (1976, centre below left) and 'Tube of joy' (1976, above right) - all from the 'Secret Love' series, 1976 except KKK

 

David McDiarmid
Installation photograph of early works including Secret Love art show, poster (1976, far left), Secret Love (1976, top centre left), Ken’s Karate Klub (1976, centre below left) and Tube of joy (1976, above right) – all from the Secret Love series, 1976 except KKK – at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

David McDiarmid. 'Secret Love' 1976

 

David McDiarmid
Secret Love
1976
From the Secret Love series, 1976
Metallic paint, red fibre-tipped pen, coloured pencil, collage of cut photo-offset lithograph and red and black ink on graph paper
78 x 66 cm
Collection of Paul Menotti and Bryce Kerr, Sydney

 

David McDiarmid. 'Secret Love' 1978

 

 

David McDiarmid
Secret Love
1978
Collage of cut colour photo-offset lithographs on plastic, metal and plastic
135 x 142.8 cm
Collection of Bernard Fitzgerald, Sydney

 

David McDiarmid. 'Secret Love' 1978 (detail)

 

David McDiarmid
Secret Love (detail)
1978
Collage of cut colour photo-offset lithographs on plastic, metal and plastic
135 x 142.8 cm
Collection of Bernard Fitzgerald, Sydney

 

David McDiarmid Various artworks from 1978

 

 

David McDiarmid
Various artworks from 1978 including Strangers in the night (top second left), Mardi Gras (top fourth left), Juicy fruit (top second right) and Real confessions (bottom second left)
All National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bush Couture, Sydney (fashion house) Linda Jackson (designer) David McDiarmid (painter) 'Paua kimono' 1984

 

Bush Couture, Sydney (fashion house) (front)
Linda Jackson (designer)
David McDiarmid (painter)
Paua kimono
1984
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Interview with co-curator Simon Maidment

MB: First of all Simon, can I ask how long have you been at the National Gallery of Victoria and what brought you to the institution?

SM: I’ve been at the NGV since June 2013 and I joined because of a new vision for the gallery which is making contemporary art a priority, both in collecting practices in the exhibitions that the NGV holds. Recently, there has been a real push for change, precipitated by the appointment of Max Delany who is a friend and colleague I respect a lot and who has been really supportive of my career.

MB: So what was your background in terms of training?

SM: I studied as an artist and immediately before coming to the NGV I was undertaking my PhD at The University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts Centre for Ideas with Elizabeth Presa as one of my supervisors.

MB: And what new knowledge was your PhD based around?

SM: It investigated curatorial practices that could be thought of as context responsive, looking at artists who seek to enact some sort of social and/or political change.

MB: So this exhibition would be perfect to fit into that…

SM: Yes, indeed… so largely my background has been working with living artists. I have done a few shows in which I have worked with existing bodies of work, but I have done a lot of shows where I have been facilitating artists works. I started as an artist working in media arts – sound, video, projection and digital technologies – and often worked as a studio assistant for more senior artists, people like Sue Ford, Susan Fereday, Ian de Gruchy and my role with them became more and more about facilitation. Then the directorship of Westspace came up and I got that, and my focus turned more from collaboration and working as a studio assistant to facilitation. I became a curator because basically that is what I was doing.

MB: So can you tell me Simon, what was the lead in time for this exhibition? I know it was postponed and delayed at various times, what were the reasons for that?

SM: It was kind of before my time so I am not really sure, but there have been different curators at different times from the NGV involved with the project. So Ted Gott was involved with the exhibition, even before he began work at the NGV. Ted was involved with David’s estate with Sally Gray, my co-curator, right from the start, so he’s been an advisor to Sally right from the start of this long journey. I think the initial discussion about the show was with Ted, and then when Jason Smith was in my position he was involved in this project. When I was talking with Sally the very first discussions about holding the exhibition at the NGV was maybe 15 years ago…

MB: So to finally get it here and up on the walls…

SM: So when I started 11 months ago there was really very little in place. So Max Delany and Sally started a conversation about working towards this show probably about 14 months ago. When Tony Ellwood started he was like, “We’re doing this show.” He’s a big fan of David McDiarmid. He was very familiar with his work so I think that helped speed things along and he really facilitated getting this exhibition done. It was scheduled for 2011.

MB: To get it together from start to finish in 14 months is pretty amazing really…

SM: It was a lot of work but bearing in mind how familiar Sally is with the material we kind of had a real head start.

MB: But then you have to pull it all together from lenders and institutions that hold works and that would have been very intensive. Then to design it all and to make it look like it does. It looks fantastic! Everyone at the opening was just smiling and having a good time, looking at the work, remembering.

SM: I knew the work en masse would blow people away.

MB: Reading the catalogue, you can see that David comes from a period where there was a ground swell of social movements, which was almost like one movement. Everybody went to everyone else’s rallies and they all protested together. David McDiarmid was the very first gay person to get arrested in Australia and at the moment I am digitally restoring the image of him being marched away by two policemen at the ABC protest in Sydney. It is so degraded it will take a long time to restore but it is a really important image. Out of that there comes a real social conscience, fighting for your rights and freedom. So leading on from that, when you think about having this exhibition here now (after Ted Gott’s seminal exhibition Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS at the National Gallery of Australia in 1994), you observe that marginalised voices rarely enter institutional centres of art, rarely enter the mainstream art. It’s usually ARI’s or small public galleries. Not that the artist is gay (because they are just artists) but that the CONTENT addresses gay issues – which is why it’s so fantastic to see this exhibition here at the NGV.

So were there any barriers here to doing David’s show?

SM: No, not really. I think one of the really important things to note is that they show would not have really happened without the large gift from the estate. Becoming the key holder and custodian of David McDiarmid’s work added extra emphasis and responsibility about doing the right thing. At that point the organisation is implicated in that legacy and somehow we have to disseminate the work out into the community.

MB: It is quite a confronting show, how do you think the general public will respond to it?

SM: I have done a couple of tours of people through the exhibition, members and other, and one of the things that has been surprising to me, in a way, which has only become apparent when I have been describing the show in which David makes work in response to particular social and political conditions and contexts… is how different things are. AIDS is now not a terminal illness. To speak to a younger generation than even myself, they have no idea about dying from lack of a viable treatment, of AIDS being a death sentence.

MB: Last night I had a cry for all the people I had loved and lost. But it’s not just the public coming in to see this exhibition, it’s young gay men who don’t ever see anybody ill, don’t understand about the side effects of taking the medication, about what living with HIV is like. They don’t understand the struggle that went on for them to live as they do now. Do you think they will engage with that?

SM: We have structured the show in a way that teases those things out. One of the aspects of McDiarmid as a figure that I find very interesting is that, in 20 short years of practice, he spanned incredible key moments and periods of change in broader society and also within gay society. The legal, medical, institutional change… and really looking at that 20 years is looking at a period of immense social change. The narrative of the exhibition is then to reflect on that broader cultural shift through the biography of one person.

MB: It’s interesting when I looked at the show, when you start making work as an artist it’s always about personal narratives – lovers, friends, places – which then widens out into more universal concerns. You can see in David’s early work him scribbling, writing and really intimately notating his world, investigating his self and his relations to the world around him. And then to take that insight and then to mould it into these reflective images into the Rainbow Aphorisms at the end is an incredible journey. Stephen Alkins was saying to be last night that even the last works were still grounded in this humorous, ironic look at life. He as a really important multimedia artist when you actually study the work.

SM: Just to pick up on one aspect that you are mentioning, and going back into my own background, one of things that Max Delany and I have been talking about that has in some ways illuminated this project is that, in the 1970s and 80s that saying ‘The personal is political’, is very important. David’s work is talking very much about the political as his own biography. Perhaps there is a shift in his later work to a more symbolic realm, and I would argue that nowadays artists working in a political and social context and to affect social change is not so much now as a personal identity – a woman, a black man, a gay man – it’s not necessarily about individual identities anymore, in some ways those battles seem to have been won within Western society. Actually for artists now in this context it’s more about neo-liberalism or capitalism. So it tends to be more on an institutional level and people tackling that in a much more symbolic realm. For instance I am thinking of such people as Jeremy Deller, an English artist who engages with British history and in particular his Battle of Orgreave, a reenactment of the actual Battle of Orgreave which occurred during the UK miners’ strike in 1984.

MB: People like Tom Nicholson in Australia, then, who did the Monument for the flooding of Royal Park (2008-2010), a proposition for the scattering of nardoo sporocarp throughout Royal Park, a vast Park in Melbourne’s inner north which was Burke and Wills departure point, now commemorated by a small cairn.

SM: Exactly. Artists like Tom are working in very propositional ways about memory, social imagination, monuments and memorialisation. All those kind of things are very much within a symbolic realm now. McDiarmid’s work fills the personal and then moves into the symbolic.

MB: But then Stephen Alkins said it was always personal to David, still based in the personal. He was very loyal to his friends, he was a very quiet person, very loving person with great energy. But he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and I think that this comes out of that culture of standing up for yourself and being strong because of the stuff we had to go through to where we are today. Seeing this exhibition actually shows you that difference and what we had to fight for.

SM: There’s a real drive there in that last room. He made so much work, across so much media, at the end of his life – that impending death drive was the source of so much creativity.

MB: McDiarmid was heavily influenced by international artists such as Keith Haring but he never really showed overseas. What do you think about that diaspora, that going overseas and then returning home to then begin exhibiting?

SM: Well the earlier work is, as you say, heavily influenced by the New York scene, the clone scene that was prevalent in the 80s – San Francisco, New York – so he’s definitely channelling those places… Interestingly, unlike many other artists, his art practice is nearly all Australian.

MB: Finally, what do you think is is his legacy in terms of his standing as an artist?

SM: In the last ten years of his life he was heavily involved as a community artist. He was incredibly busy and incredibly involved with things like the organisation of the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras and the design of the posters and floats. He was director of Mardi Gras from 1988-90 and he worked up float designs for various groups. You really get a sense of, as you said, of the solitary work of an artist and a real commitment to that work. In terms of his legacy as an artist, I don’t think that we will know until the exhibition is over. His work, such as the Rainbow Aphorisms, has been distributed widely but not really in an art context, and certainly not in a museum show such as this. People have not had the opportunity to visualise his work as a whole body of work until now.

MB: That brings me to the international context. The Keith Haring Foundation relentlessly promotes his work through books, exhibitions and conferences throughout the world. Do you think that you will start promoting his work overseas to other galleries and getting it into international exhibitions?

SM: I think the book will open a lot of doors. Because his work reproduces so well, because his writing is so interesting there is a broad range of voices for the scholars to investigate. But I think because the work reproduces so beautifully that will be hugely important. One of the aspects that the book will hopefully communicate to a younger audience is that of an infected muscular, sexually active, virile man not an emaciated artist… but to understand that and where that came from, and how radical that was at the time. I think that is one of the legacies that people will take away from David’s work. He is one of the artists that has been really instrumental in redefining that imaginary representation of a dying gay man.

MB: I remember seeing those + and – posters in gay sex venues, and thinking to myself, wow those are so amazing, who did those!

SM: Yes, those posters are about not closing down, about always been open to possibilities.

MB: Thank you so much Simon for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been great.

SM: Always a pleasure.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan with Simon Maidment for the Art Blart blog June 2014

Simon Maidment is Curator of Contemporary Art at the NGV.

 

David McDiarmid Installation views of various Sydney party posters with a black and white background wallpaper of David and the HIV Living group's 'Day of the dead skeleton for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1992'

David McDiarmid Installation views of various Sydney party posters with a black and white background wallpaper of David and the HIV Living group's 'Day of the dead skeleton for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1992'

 

David McDiarmid
Installation views of various Sydney party posters with a black and white background wallpaper of David and the HIV Living group’s Day of the dead skeleton for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 1992 (commissioned by the AIDS Council of NSW) at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

David McDiarmid. 'Sleaze Ball, Horden Pavilion, 12 October 1985' 1985

 

David McDiarmid
Sleaze Ball, Horden Pavilion, 12 October 1985
1985
Screenprint printed in black and gold ink
91.2 x 65 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 1991

 

dm-o-WEB

 

 

David McDiarmid
So I walked into the theatre
1984-85
Synthetic polymer paint, iron-on transfer, and cotton thread on cotton
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Gift of the Estate of David McDiarmid, 1998

 

dm-p-WEB

 

David McDiarmid
So I walked into the theatre (detail)
1984-85
Synthetic polymer paint, iron-on transfer, and cotton thread on cotton
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Gift of the Estate of David McDiarmid, 1998

 

So I walked into the

theatre and lit a cigarette

I looked around. Then I

saw Tony. He lives in

Brooklyn and has a nice

beard and greasy hair.

He didn’t acknowledge

me, but I expected that.

I’d already made it with

him several times before

and each time, he pretended

was the first. He had

even told me his name

once, and that he lived

with a lover. We always

have great sex, but he doesn’t

want me to do anything

but stand there. He has

an incredible mouth…

 

David McDiarmid. 'Disco kwilt' c. 1980

 

David McDiarmid
Disco kwilt
c. 1980
Artbank collection

 

David McDiarmid Installation view of works, mainly from the series 'Kiss of Light', 1990-92 including at left 'Mighty real' 1991

 

 

David McDiarmid
Installation view of works from the series Kiss of Light, 1990-92 including at left Mighty real 1991 with Kiss of Light 1990 right at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne
Collage of cut self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood

 

David McDiarmid. 'Mighty real' (detail) 1991

 

 

David McDiarmid
Mighty real (detail)
1991
From the Kiss of light series 1990-92
Collage of cut self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood
144.5 x 123.6 cm
Collection of Bernard Fitzgerald, Sydney

 

dm-r-WEB

 

Detail of one of David McDiarmid’s holographic film art works showing the winking eyes

 

David McDiarmid. 'Body language' 1990

 

David McDiarmid
Body language
1990
From the Kiss of light series 1990-92
Collage of cut self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood
152.4 x 121.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

.
There is a holographic winking eye in the arsehole of this work

 

dm-v-WEB

 

 

David McDiarmid
Thinking of you (detail)
1990
Collage of cut self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood
140 x 120 cm
Collection of Steven Alkins, Mullumbimby, New South Wales

 

Installation photograph of the last room showing, at left on the wall, work from the 'Rainbow Aphorisms' series 1994 with in front 'Totem works' 1992-95

 

 

Installation photograph of the last room showing, at left on the wall, work from the Rainbow Aphorisms series 1994 with in front Totem works 1992-95 at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

David McDiarmid. 'Standard bold condensed' 1994

 

David McDiarmid
Standard bold condensed
1994
Screenprint on mylar on colour laser print
255.7 x 242.3 cm (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Estate of David McDiarmid, 1998

 

Peter Tully (1947-1992) David McDiarmid Australia 1952-1995 Lived in United States 1979-1987 Ron Smith born Australia (1950s) 'Totem works' 1992-95

Peter Tully (1947-1992) David McDiarmid Australia 1952-1995 Lived in United States 1979-1987 Ron Smith born Australia (1950s) 'Totem works' 1992-95

 

David McDiarmid
Works from the Rainbow Aphorisms series
1994, printed 2014
Computer generated colour inkjet prints
149.1 x 110 cm (image and sheet each)
Collection of the McDiarmid Estate, Sydney

 

Peter Tully (1947-1992)

David McDiarmid
Australia 1952-1995
Lived in United States 1979-1987

Ron Smith
born Australia (1950s)
Totem works
1992-95
Anodised aluminium, found objects (installation)
Dimensions variable
Collection of Ron Smith, Woonona, New South Wales

 

Installation photograph of the last room showing, at right on the wall, work from the 'Rainbow Aphorisms' series 1994 with in front 'Totem works' 1992-95, then at left on the wall 'Pictograms' 1995

 

Installation photograph of the last room showing, at right on the wall, work from the Rainbow Aphorisms series 1994 with in front Totem works 1992-95, then at left on the wall Pictograms 1995 at the exhibition David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me at NGV Australia, Melbourne

 

 David McDiarmid. 'Pictograms' 1995

 

David McDiarmid
Pictograms
1995
Vinyl and reflective plastic on aluminium

 

 

“I never saw art as being a safe thing. I know that exists but that’s not something that involves me.”

David McDiarmid, 1993

 

The vibrant, provocative and pioneering work of leading Australian artist, designer and gay activist David McDiarmid will be presented in a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Defying classification, McDiarmid’s work encompasses the complex and interconnected histories of art, craft, fashion, music, sex, gay liberation and identity politics.

David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Mewill bring together more than 200 works, including the artist’s early gay liberation work; New York graffiti and disco quilts; fashion collaborations with Linda Jackson; his pioneering Rainbow aphorisms andGothic aphorisms digital work; material he produced as Sydney Mardi Gras Artistic Director; posters created for the AIDS Council of NSW; and, his significant and highly influential international campaigns developed in the context of AIDS, sexual politics and safe sex in the 1990s.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, “The NGV is pleased to be staging this retrospective of an artist whose work had enormous impact on both the gay liberation movement and the international dialogue around AIDS, and whose clear messages of liberation, equality and emancipation continue to resonate today. David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me explores the social history, as well as political and art historical context, that informed McDiarmid’s work, which inspires through its courage, poetry, exuberance and cultural impact.”

Defying classification, the work of David McDiarmid encompasses the complex and interconnected histories of art, craft, fashion, music, sex, gay liberation and identity politics; happily residing in the spaces between high and low art, popular culture and community engagement. At once kaleidoscopic, celebratory and darkly humorous in tone, the artist’s idiosyncratic, highly personal and at times, confessional work highlights the redefinition and deconstruction of identities – “from camp to gay to queer” – drawing on the experiences of a life intensely lived in Melbourne, Sydney and New York. Charting the shifts in politics and individual and community expression that unfold across the decades of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, this exhibition also reveals McDiarmid’s artistic and grassroots political response to the impact of HIV / AIDS during the 1980s and beyond, for which he is best known internationally.

Recognising the cultural climate in which the artist worked, including the burgeoning of the gay rights movement, and a decade later, the advent of the AIDS crisis, the playful and provocative nature of McDiarmid’s work was critically related to changes that were occurring throughout this time to sexual identity and politics in Australia.

Dr Sally Gray, Guest Curator, said, “McDiarmid’s work speaks so eloquently of its time yet its importance and relevance endures today. David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me is the first exhibition in which the full scope of McDiarmid’s creative oeuvre is on display and is the culmination of painstaking research, with the support of many of his collaborators, friends and fans.”

David McDiarmid: When This You See Remember Me will coincide with the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne in July 2014.

This exhibition includes coarse language and sexual content. Press release from the NGV website

 

William Yang. 'Artist David McDiarmid' May 1995

 

William Yang
Artist David McDiarmid photographed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales adjacent to his giant artwork on the gallery’s facade for Perspecta May, 1995
1995
© Reproduced with permission of William Yang

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87) 'Judy' 1976

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Judy
1976
from the Secret love series 1976
Metallic paint, red fibre-tipped pen, cut photo-offset lithograph and red and black ink on graph paper
78.0 x 66.0 cm
Collection of Paul Menotti and Bryce Kerr, Sydney
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87) 'Strangers in the night' 1978

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Strangers in the night
1978
Collage of cut coloured paper and photocopy on mulberry paper
62.6 x 50.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Proposed acquisition
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87) 'Hand and heart' 1984

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Hand and heart
1984
Synthetic polymer paint on cotton
250.0 x 230.0 cm
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Gift of the Estate of the late David McDiarmid, 1998
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, poster' 1989-90

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, poster
1989-90
Colour photo-offset lithograph
69.0 x 49.0 cm
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Gift of Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Limited, 1995
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'Untitled' 1990-95

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Untitled
1990-95
Self-adhesive holographic film and self-adhesive colour plastic on plastic
122.7 x 122.7 cm
Collection of Bernard Fitzgerald, Sydney
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'Discard after use' 1990

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Discard after use
1990
from the Kiss of light series 1990-92
Collage of self-adhesive holographic film on enamel paint on plywood
61.2 x 61.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift from the Estate of David McDiarmid, 1998
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'I want a future that lives up to my past'  From the 'Rainbow aphorisms' series 1994, printed 2014

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
I want a future that lives up to my past
From the Rainbow aphorisms series 1994, printed 2014
computer generated colour inkjet prints
149.1 x 110.0 cm
Collection of the McDiarmid Estate, Sydney
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

David McDiarmid. 'Q' From the 'Rainbow aphorisms' series 1994, printed 2014

 

David McDiarmid (Australian 1952-1995, worked in United States 1979-87)
Q
From the Rainbow aphorisms series 1994, printed 2014
Computer generated colour inkjet prints
149.1 x 110.0 cm
Collection of the McDiarmid Estate, Sydney
© Reproduced with the permission of the David McDiarmid estate

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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06
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Art and Alchemy. The Mystery of Transformation’ at the Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast (SMKP), Düsseldorf, Germany

Exhibition dates: 5th April – 10th August 2014

 

Since I have 7 alchemy symbols tattooed on my right bicep in a vertical line to represent the 7 chakras, I thought this was a suitable exhibition for a posting. I love anything alchemical, magical, spiritual – in art and in life. I have just had a couple of snowflakes tattooed on my forearms, one blue/green and the red/orange for an ice/fire combination. Each snowflake is unique and ephemeral, here and gone in the blink of an eye, just like we are. That is their, and our, magic.

The photographer Minor White said it is not just the images that matter, but the space between them that causes an ice/fire frisson. When looking at an exhibition I note how images play off of each other – in pairs, sequences and across the gallery space. It is a relatively simple thing for a photographer to take one good image, more difficult to put a pair of images together that actually says something, but when you get to a sequence of images (as in MW) or a body of work, this is were a lot of artists wane. The intertextual narrative, one woven from the imagination of the artist, does not resolve itself into a satisfying, stimulating whole. How many exhibitions do I see that have some good images but do not access the magic of the music.

Further, we must also remember that in Psychology and Alchemy, Volume 12 in The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, alchemy is central to Jung’s hypothesis of the collective unconscious. “Jung reminds us of the dual nature of alchemy, comprising both the chemical process and a parallel mystical component. He also discusses the seemingly deliberate mystification of the alchemists. Finally, in using the alchemical process to provide insights into individuation, Jung emphasises the importance of alchemy in relating to us the transcendent nature of the psyche.” (Wikipedia)

Jung sees alchemy as an early form of psychoanalysis. The melting of base metal in a crucible and its reforming into gold can be seen as a form of individuation – the dissolution of the ego and its integration into the whole self. Basically the recasting or reforming of identity into a new Self. As the instructive text on Wikipedia notes,

“For the alchemist trying to understand matter and develop base metals into their purest form, gold, substances are grouped as being alike based on their perceived value. Jung documents as these alchemists collectively come to understand that they themselves must embody the change they hope to effect within their materials: for instance, if they hope to achieve the philosopher’s stone that can redeem ‘base’ or ‘vulgar’ metals, then the alchemist too must become a redeemer figure. It became apparent to the alchemists that they were trying to redeem nature as Christ had redeemed man, hence the identification of the Lapis Philosophorum with Christ the Redeemer. The Opus (work) of alchemy, viewed through this interpretation, becomes a symbolic account of the fundamental process the human psyche undergoes as it re-orients its value system and creates meaning out of chaos. The opus beginning with the nigredo (blackening, akin to depression or nihilistic loss of value) in order to descend back into the manipulable prima materia and proceeding through a process of spiritual purification that must unite seemingly irreconcilable opposites (the coniunctio) to achieve new levels of consciousness.”

.
Much of my early black and white work was based on an understanding of the magical nature of the (art)work. This is a fascinating area of enquiry for all artists because this is what they do – they see the world differently, reform it through their art and present it as a pathway for the future.

Marcus

 

PS The catalogue to this exhibition is excellent with lots of interesting essays.

.
Many thankx to the Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Marcus new tattoos February 2014

 

Marcus new tattoos February 2014

 

Theodor Galle nach Jan van der Straet (Stradanus). 'Destillierlabor' (from the series "Nova reperta") c. 1589 - c. 1593

 

Theodor Galle nach Jan van der Straet (Stradanus)
Destillierlabor (from the series “Nova reperta”)
c. 1589 – c. 1593
Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf
Photo: Horst Kolberg, Neuss

 

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (after Pieter Brueghel the Elder). 'The Alchemist' c. 1600

 

Pieter Brueghel the Younger
after Pieter Brueghel the Elder
The Alchemist
c. 1600
Oil on wood
68.8 x 96 cm
Private collection

 

David Teniers d.J. 'Alchemist in his Workshop' c. 1650

 

David Teniers d.J.
Alchemist in his Workshop
c. 1650
Courtesy of Roy Eddleman, Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections
Photo: Will Brown

 

Adriaen van Ostade. 'The Alchemist' 1661

 

Adriaen van Ostade
The Alchemist
1661
The National Gallery, London, Bought 1871
© The National Gallery, London, 2013

 

Hendrick Goltzius. 'Allegory of the Arts' 1611

 

Hendrick Goltzius
Allegory of the Arts
1611
Oil on canvas
181 x 256.6 cm
Kunstmuseum Basel
© Kunstmuseum Basel
Photo: Martin P. Bühler

 

Johan Moreelse. 'The Alchemist' 1630

 

Johan Moreelse
The Alchemist
1630
Oil on canvas
90.5 x 107.5 cm
Robilant + Voena, London und Mailand

 

Giovanni Antonio Grecolini. 'The Education of Cupid by Venus and Vulcan' 1719

 

Giovanni Antonio Grecolini
The Education of Cupid by Venus and Vulcan
1719
Oil on canvas
48.9 × 64 cm
Museum Kunstpalast
Photo: Horst Kolberg

 

Neo Rauch. 'Goldgrube' [Goldmine] 2007

 

Neo Rauch
Goldgrube [Goldmine]
2007
Oil on canvas
80 x 160 cm
Private collection
© Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
Photo: Uwe Walter, Berlin

 

 

“For the first time in Germany, an exhibition spanning all epochs and genres will be introducing the exciting link between art and alchemy in past and present times. 250 works from antiquity to the present, encompassing Baroque art, Surrealism, through to contemporary art from collections and museums in the USA, Great Britain, France, Mexico and Israel reveal the fascination which alchemy exerted for many visual artists. Artists featured in the exhibition, such as Joseph Beuys, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Max Ernst, Hendrick Goltzius, Rebecca Horn, Anish Kapoor, Yves Klein, Sigmar Polke, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens and David Teniers the Younger invite visitors to explore the mystery of transformation.

Alchemy was invariably practised in secret, but was by no means a rare occurrence until well into the 18th century: Eminent personalities, including Paracelsus, Isaac Newton and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, were alchemists, too. It was not until the Age of the Enlightenment that alchemy was ousted and became intermingled with occultism, sorcery and superstition. In connection with 19th and early 20th-century psychoanalysis alchemy was brought to new life.

The exhibition is divided into two major periods: pre-Enlightenment art, in particular works from the 16th and 17th centuries and the art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

In the pre-Enlightenment era both artists and alchemists laid claim to the ability to not only imitate nature but to even perfect it. This ambition is illustrated in the exhibition by casts from nature made by Bernard Palissy and Wenzel Jamnitzer. Their lizards and other creatures are extraordinarily life-like and yet have been immortalized in precious metal or ceramic as if petrified. The circumstance that artists and alchemists were ultimately rivals is exemplified by the Dutch artist Adriaen van Ostade with his painting depicting an alchemist in his laboratory, having failed to produce gold.

By contrast, the exhibition also includes works by artists presenting alchemy in a favourable light, such as portraits by Rubens and David Teniers the Younger, allegorical paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hendrick Goltzius, as well as three copies of the “Splendor Solis”, the most richly illuminated manuscript in the history of alchemy. Furthermore, an original manuscript by physicist Isaac Newton, contributed by the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, will be presented here for the first time in Europe.

The modern section of the show begins with Surrealism. Max Ernst, for instance, repeatedly took up the theme of the “Chymical Wedding” in his work. A particular highlight is the painting “The Creation of the Birds”, a key work by the Surrealist artist Remedios Varo. The Androgyne is an important theme, for instance, in the exhibits by Rebecca Horn. Joseph Beuys will be represented by a number of sculptures, drawings and collages, as well as a film and photo documentation of his action at the 1982 documenta. Moreover, the exhibition includes works by Anish Kapoor displaying his characteristic use of intensely coloured pigments. Further exhibits include selected works by representatives of contemporary art, such as Anselm Kiefer, Yves Klein, Alicja Kwade, Sigmar Polke, Neo Rauch and Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger.

The exhibition was conceived by Museum Kunstpalast in cooperation with the research group “Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe” at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, as well as a group of experts at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, which also provided many pieces on loan. A Wunderkammer of curious and exotic treasures from flora and fauna is offered for visitors to explore. In an extensive accompanying programme the subject of art and alchemy will be expanded upon by means of lectures, talks and guided tours.”

Press release from the SMKP website

 

Jörg Breu the Elder (attributed) 'Splendor Solis' (Splendor of the Sun) 1531/32

 

Jörg Breu the Elder (attributed)
Splendor Solis (Splendor of the Sun)
1531/32
Manuscript; parchment, miniatures in opaque color; calfskin cover
33.1 × 22.8 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett
© bpk – Bildagentur für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Kupferstichkabinett
Photo: Jörg P. Anders

 

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. 'Sogenannter Faust' [Allegedly Faust] c. 1651‑1653

 

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
Sogenannter Faust [Allegedly Faust]
c. 1651‑1653
Drypoint
21.1 × 16.2 cm
Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Sammlung der Kunstakademie (NRW)
Photo: Horst Kolberg, Neuss

 

Francois-Marius Granet. 'The Alchemist' 1st half of the 19th century

 

Francois-Marius Granet
The Alchemist
1st half of the 19th century
Oil on canvas
61 x 48.3 cm
Gift of Roy Eddleman Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections, Philadelphia
Photo: Will Brown

 

Max Ernst. 'Men Shall Know Nothing of This' 1923

 

Max Ernst
Men Shall Know Nothing of This
1923
Oil on canvas
80.3 x 63.8 cm
Tate, London
Photo: © Tate, London 2013, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Victor Brauner. 'Le Surréaliste' (“The Surrealist”) 1947

 

Victor Brauner
Le Surréaliste (“The Surrealist”)
1947
Oil on canvas
60 x 45 cm
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, NY)
© Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, NY) / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Rebecca Horn. 'Zen of Ara' 2011

 

Rebecca Horn
Zen of Ara
2011
Springs, motor, brass, electrical
D: 73 cm
Private collection Rebecca Horn
Photo: Karin Weyrich
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Yves Klein. 'Relief éponge bleu (RE 18)' (blue sponge relief [re 18]) 1960

 

Yves Klein
Relief éponge bleu (RE 18) (blue sponge relief [re 18])
1960
Wood, sponges, pigment dissolved in acetone
230 × 154 cm
Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Modern Art
© Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf / ARTOTHEK / Photo: Horst Kolberg, Neuss / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Richard Meitner. 'Reductio ad Absurdum' 1977

 

Richard Meitner
Reductio ad Absurdum
1977
Glass and gold
25 x 80 cm
Privatsammlung
Photo: Ron Zijlstra
© Richard Meitner

 

John Isaacs. 'Thinking about it' 2002

 

John Isaacs
Thinking about it
2002
Wax, wire, plaster of paris
15 1/2 x 12 x 13 inches
30 x 30 x 50 cm
Olbricht collection, Germany

 

 

Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast
Ehrenhof 4-5, 40479
Düsseldorf, Germany
+49 211 56642100

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11 – 6
Thursday 11 – 9
Closed on Monday

Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast 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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