Archive for the 'New York' Category

02
Jan
16

Exhibitions: ‘Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008’ and ‘Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection’ at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2015 – 13th March 2016

Curator of Coney Island exhibition: Dr Robin Jaffee Frank

 

 

The first posting of 2016, and it is a doozy – a multimedia extravaganza of sight and sound showcasing exhibitions that focus on that eclectic playground, Coney Island.

Featuring images supplied by the gallery – plus videos, other art work featured in the exhibitions and texts that I sourced myself – this posting documents “the luridness of the sideshow acts, the drunk sailors, the amorous couples and the scantily dressed bathers who were so much a part of the allure and menace of Coney Island.” I spent many hours scouring the internet, undertaking research and cleaning poor quality images to bring this selection to you.

The exhibition is divided into five sections, and I have attempted to keep the posting in this chronological order.

  • Down at Coney Isle, 1861-94
  • The World’s Greatest Playground, 1895-1929
  • The Nickel Empire, 1930-39
  • A Coney Island of the Mind, 1940-61
  • Requiem for a Dream, 1962-2008

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There are some interesting art works in both exhibitions. The correspondence between elephant/handler and mural is delightful in Edgar S. Thomson’s Coney Island (1897, below), while Joseph Stella’s Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14, below) is a revelation to me, considering the date of production and the portrayal of contemporary life which is akin to our own. Walker Evans’ Couple at Coney Island, New York (1928, below) seems staged and confused in its pictorial construction, not one of his better photographs, while Edward J. Kelty’s photographs of sideshow revues including a “coloured revue” are interesting for their social context and formalism.

Paul Cadmus’ satirical view of American vacationers Coney Island (1934, below) is a riot of colour, movement and social commentary, including references to homosexuality and Hitler, while his friend Reginald Marsh’s effusive Coney Island paintings play with “reimagined bathers and sideshow audiences in poses derived from Michelangelo and Rubens” packed into compressed, collage like spaces. Particular favourites are photographs by Garry Winograd, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank. Surprise of the posting are the black and white photographs of Morris Engel.

Marcus

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

 

 

“The mixed-media exhibit captures Coney Island’s campy, trippy aesthetic with a hodgepodge of photographs by the likes of Walker Evans, Weegee, Bruce Davidson, and Diane Arbus (since Coney Island was basically tailor-made for a Diane Arbus photo shoot). Also on view are pastoral seascapes from the 1800s; sideshow posters galore; a turn-of-the-century gambling wheel and carousel animals presented like sculpture; film stills from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream; and a modernist abstract composition by Frank Stella. With red and yellow stripes around a blue square, Stella distills the sand and sea and sun into a primary-colored flag for Brooklyn’s most famous destination.

In these pictures, Coney Island serves as a microcosm of American mass culture as a whole, and the chronology of 140 art objects here chart major societal shifts, from the dawn of the Great Depression to desegregation. “The modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island, and the constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists,” Dr Robin Jaffee Frank, curator of the exhibit, which Wadsworth Athenaeum helped organize, said in a statement. “What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island, and the varied ways in which they chose to portray it, mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era and the country. Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation.”

Carey Dunne. “Dreamland as Muse: A Look Back at 150 Years of Coney Island Art, Photography, and Film,” on the Brooklyn Magazine website 17/08/2015 [Online] Cited 02/01/2016

 

 

Samuel S. Carr (American, 1837–1908). 'Beach Scene' c. 1879

 

Samuel S. Carr (American, 1837-1908)
Beach Scene
c. 1879
Oil on canvas
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Bequest of Annie Swan Coburn (Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn)

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'The great Forepaugh & Sells Brothers shows combined' c. 1899

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
The great Forepaugh & Sells Brothers shows combined. Terrific flights over ponderous elephants by a company of twenty five splendid artists in a great contest for valuable prizes, introducing high, long distance, layout, twisting, single and double somersault leapers, enlivened by mirth provoking comedy surprises.
Promotional poster for Forepaugh & Sells Brothers circus
c. 1899
Color lithograph poster

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth /The Great Coney Island Water Carnival /Remarkable Head-Foremost Dives from Enormous Heights into Shallow Depths of Water' 1898

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth /The Great Coney Island Water Carnival /Remarkable Head-Foremost Dives from Enormous Heights into Shallow Depths of Water
1898
Color lithograph poster
30 1/6 x 38 3/4 in. (76.6 x 98.4 cm)
Cincinnati Art Museum; Gift of the Strobridge Lithographing Company

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'Beach and boardwalk scenes, Coney Island' c. 1898

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
Beach and boardwalk scenes, Coney Island
c. 1898
Color lithograph foldout poster
approx. 21 feet long

 

George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). 'Bathers, Steel Pier, Coney Island' c. 1880–85

 

George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887)
Bathers, Steel Pier, Coney Island
c. 1880-85, printed 1940s
Gelatin silver photograph
7 5/8 x 12 in. (19.4 x 30.5 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s–1900s). 'Coney Island' 1897

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s-1900s)
Coney Island
1897
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
4 x 5 in. (10.2 x 12.7 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s–1900s). 'Coney Island' 1897 (detail)

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s-1900s)
Coney Island (detail)
1897
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
4 x 5 in. (10.2 x 12.7 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916). 'Landscape, near Coney Island' c. 1886

 

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916)
Landscape, near Coney Island
c. 1886
Oil on panel
8 1/8 x 12 5/8 in. (20.6 x 32 cm)
The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York; Gift of Mary H. Beeman to the Pruyn Family Collection

 

Joseph Stella. 'Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras' 1913-14

 

Joseph Stella
Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras
1913-14
Oil on canvas
77 by 84¾ inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

 

 

“In 1913, to celebrate Mardi Gras, Joseph Stella took a bus ride to Coney Island that changed his life. The Italian immigrant painter remembered that up until this point he had been “struggling … working along the lines of the old masters, seeking to portray a civilization long since dead.” He continued:

“Arriving at the Island I was instantly struck by the dazzling array of lights. It seemed as if they were in conflict. I was struck with the thought that here was what I had been unconsciously seeking for so many years… On the spot was born the idea for my first truly great picture.” (Joseph Stella, “I Knew Him When (1924),” in Barbara Haskell, ed., Joseph Stella, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, 1994, p. 206)

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The result of Stella’s revelation, the enormous oil painting Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14), was the inspiration for the traveling exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

If the broken planes and neon coloring of Stella’s painting suggest the exhilaration of contemporary life, they also express dislocation and alienation. Stella himself spoke of the “dangerous pleasures” of Coney Island, implying that its unleashing of desires could provoke anxiety (Joseph Stella, “Autobiographical Notes (1946),” in Barbara Haskell, ed., Joseph Stella, p. 213). And yet for all of the dynamism of Stella’s aesthetic, his painting’s sweeping arabesques are checked by the rectangle of the picture plane, and its decorative unity distances the disruptive power of its discordant subjects. The contained anarchy of Stella’s painting is the perfect metaphor for Coney Island’s manipulation and control of the unruly masses, who, at the end of the day, go back to their homes and their ordered existence.

Looking closely at Battle of Lights we might be able to make out fragments of actual rides and even shapes that suggest people, but Stella’s abstraction obscures the luridness of the sideshow acts, the drunk sailors, the amorous couples and the scantily dressed bathers who were so much a part of the allure and menace of Coney Island.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872–1960). 'Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island' 1912

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872-1960)
Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island
1912
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872–1960). 'Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island' 1912 (detail)

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872-1960)
Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island (detail)
1912
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

 

Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle (director)
Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton (actors)
Coney Island
1917
25 mins – short, comedy

 

The 5th film starring the duo of Buster Keaton & Fatty Arbuckle, who also directed. Taking place at the Coney Island amusement park of New York City, it’s notable as the only film where Buster Keaton is seen laughing as this is before he developed his “Great Stoneface” persona.

 

Gambling Wheel, 1900–20

 

Gambling Wheel
1900-20
Wood, glass, metal
65 x 14 in. (165.1 x 35.6 cm)
Collection of The New-York Historical Society; Purchase

 

Charles Carmel. 'Carousel Horse with Raised Head, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York' c. 1914

 

Charles Carmel
Carousel Horse with Raised Head, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
c. 1914
Paint on wood, jewels, glass eyes, horsehair tail
62 x 58 x 14 in. (157.5 x 147.3 x 36.6 cm)
Collection of American Folk Art Museum, New York; Gift of Laura Harding

 

 

Born in Russia in 1865, Charles Carmel and his young bride immigrated to the U.S. in 1883 and lived in Brooklyn for most of their lives. Charles was a perfectionist in his work and a disciplinarian with his family. Their home was located close to Prospect Park and its stable of riding horses, which served as a source of inspiration for Charles’ carousel horse carving work. It is generally accepted that Charles Carmel carved carousel horses from 1905 to 1920, and sold his work to all of the major carousel manufacturers of the time including Dolle, Borelli, Murphy, and Mangels.

In 1911 Charles invested most of his money in a newly constructed carousel that he intended to operate on Coney Island. The day before the park was to open, a fire totally destroyed the amusement park along with the uninsured carousel. This was a devastating financial blow to the Carmel family. Later his health deteriorated due to diabetes and arthritis until Charles closed his shop and carved a few hours a day at home, filling orders. Charles died in 1933 of cancer, but his legacy lives on with the exquisite carousel animals that he produced throughout his life.

Text from the Gesa Carousel of Dreams website

 

Anonymous artist. 'Looping the Loop, Coney Island' 1901-10

 

Anonymous artist
Looping the Loop, Coney Island
1901-10
Private Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Couple at Coney Island, New York' 1928

 

Walker Evans
Couple at Coney Island, New York
1928
Gelatin silver print
8 x 5 13/16 inches
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection. Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'X-ray of Ajax, the sword swallower' 1928

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967)
X-ray of Ajax, “The Sword Swallower”
1928
20 x 20 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967) 'Wonderland Circus Sideshow, Coney Island' 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967)
Wonderland Circus Sideshow, Coney Island
1929
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967)
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930 (detail)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967)
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island (detail)
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Milton Avery (American, 1885–1965). 'The Steeplechase, Coney Island' 1929

 

Milton Avery (American, 1885-1965)
The Steeplechase, Coney Island
1929
Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 in. (81.3 x 101.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of Sally M. Avery, 1984
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, courtesy of Art Resource, New York
© 2013 Milton Avery Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Paul Cadmus. 'Coney Island' 1934

 

Paul Cadmus
Coney Island
1934
Oil on canvas
32 7/16 x 36 5/16 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Gift of Peter Paanakker

 

 

Paul Cadmus’s “Coney Island” takes a satirical view of American vacationers. The fleshy members of the human pyramid seem carefree and frivolous in light of the ominous rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany (Hitler’s face can be seen printed on the magazine resting on the sleeping man’s chest at the bottom of the painting).

 

“… Paul Cadmus, who shared Marsh’s use of old-master forms and techniques but not his heterosexuality, filled his beach painting with purposely ugly women and mostly beautiful men. The main action in Cadmus’s Coney Island (1934) is the human pyramid of men and women at its center. And yet the Adonis who lies on his stomach in the foreground has no interest in this heterosexual game. Instead, he looks off at another muscular youth farther down the beach. For Marsh, Cadmus and their fellow Coney Island artists, the chance to gaze unabashedly at the body of a stranger was one of the great pleasures of the milieu.

… traditional figuration, like that of Cadmus and Marsh, is so dominant that the exhibition arguably offers an alternate history of American art – one in which the modernist painting of Milton Avery or Frank Stella seems like a sideshow. Breaking out of the canon of modernism, “Coney Island” puts new focus on neglected realist painters like Harry Roseland, Robert Riggs, George Tooker and a particular favorite of mine, Henry Koerner.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

“Coney Island was the first painting Cadmus made after he ceased working for the federally sponsored Public Works of Art Project. It is typical of his paintings of the period in both theme and form. Cadmus viewed the prosaic activity of bathing on a beach in devastatingly satirical terms. Poking fun at the bathers’ carefree pleasures, Cadmus accumulated an odd assortment of bulging, burnt bodies. The bathers are oblivious to their ridiculous appearance and uncouth behaviour. Swarming the beach, their bodies are strangely intertwined, their faces smiling inanely. Everything is exaggerated, the color verging on the garish to intensify their grossness. In the 1930s Cadmus used oil paint almost as if it were a graphic medium, consequently Coney Island looks more like a tinted drawing than a painting. His small, exacting brushstrokes impart a flickering quality to the surface, which intensifies the impression that the figures are in constant motion. Cadmus actually began to sketch the scene on Martha’s Vineyard, before he visited Coney Island. He was attracted to the Brooklyn beach because it offered him the opportunity to delineate the human figure with as little clothing as possible. Moreover, he considered the beach scene to be a classical subject. His treatment, however, is rather baroque.

As was his friend Reginald Marsh, Cadmus was attracted to the elaborate compositions of old master paintings. Coney Island, with its seminude figures arranged in complex groupings, their bodies twisted and in constant motion, was for Cadmus the twentieth-century version of a baroque allegorical composition. Cadmus claimed that his intent was not to be sensational, but when the painting was exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s second biennial, it suffered the same hostile reception as did his earlier The Fleet’s In!. The Coney Island Showmen’s League, a local trade group, denounced the painting as offensive and inaccurate and threatened a libel suit if the painting was not removed from the exhibition. According to the artist’s incomplete records, it seems that the painting was rejected from several annual exhibitions to which it was submitted soon after it was shown at the Whitney biennial, probably because of the controversy it stirred. In 1935 Cadmus produced an etching from a photograph of the painting in the hope that it would reach a larger public. In the etching the image is reversed but otherwise differs only in a few minor details.”

Text from the LACMA website

 

Reginald Marsh. 'Pip and Flip' 1932

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
Pip and Flip
1932
Tempera on paper mounted on canvas
48 1/4 x 48 1/4 in.
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
Daniel J. Terra Collection

 

 

“Such bodies were the great subjects of Reginald Marsh. Instead of Stella’s spirals of lights abstracted and seen from a distance, Marsh’s George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park (1936) gives us a close-up view of the Human Roulette Wheel where young women are spun into all kinds of unladylike postures. For the Yale-educated Marsh, Coney Island was a chance to go “slumming,” to mingle with the lower classes on the beach and in the amusement parks. Hostile to modernism and abstract art, he reimagined bathers and sideshow audiences in poses derived from Michelangelo and Rubens. And yet, like Stella, Marsh overpacked his Coney Island paintings so that every inch is activated and in motion like a carnival ride. The highly compressed space of a Marsh painting like Pip and Flip (1932, above)with its collagelike play of rectangular billboards advertising human-oddity sideshows, would be unthinkable without the precedent of Cubism that he supposedly detested.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Human Roulette Wheel at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, early 1900s

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898–1954). 'Wooden Horses' 1936

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
Wooden Horses
1936
Tempera on board, 24 x 40 in. (61 x 101.6 cm)
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; The Dorothy Clark Archibald and Thomas L. Archibald Fund, The Krieble Family Fund for American Art, The American Paintings Purchase Fund, and The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund
Photo: © 2013 Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Reginald Marsh. 'George Tilyou's Steeplechase Park' 1936

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
George Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park
1936
Oil and egg tempera on linen mounted on fiberboard
30 1/8 x 40 1/8 in. (76.5 x 101.8 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation

 

Steeplechase Mechanical Horse Ride at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, early 1900s

 

 

 

“The spirit of Coney Island comes alive with Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 on view at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition traces the evolution of the Coney Island phenomenon from tourist destination during the Civil War to the World’s Greatest Playground to a site of nostalgia. Covering a period of 150 years, the exhibition features 140 objects, including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera, and film clips. Also on view is Forever Coney, 42 photographs from the Brooklyn Museum collection.

An extraordinary array of artists have viewed Coney Island as a microcosm of the American experience and used their works to investigate the area as both a place and an idea. Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland offers up early depictions of “the people’s beach” by Impressionists William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman; modernist depictions of the amusement park by Joseph Stella; Depression-era scenes of cheap thrills by Reginald Marsh; photographs by Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Weegee, and Bruce Davidson; and contemporary works by Daze and Swoon.

“The modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island, and the constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists,” said Dr Robin Jaffee Frank, exhibition curator. “What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island, and the varied ways in which they chose to portray it, mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era and the country. Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation.”

Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 is organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. The Brooklyn presentation is organized by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator, Arts of the Americas and Europe, Brooklyn Museum. A fully illustrated 304-page catalogue, co-published by Yale University Press and the Wadsworth Athenaeum, incorporates the first continuous visual analysis of great works of art about Coney Island by Dr Frank as well as essays by distinguished cultural historians.”

Forever Coney

As one of America’s first seaside resorts, Coney Island has attracted adventurous visitors and undergone multiple transformations, inspiring photographers since the mid-nineteenth century. Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection features forty-two images that celebrate the people and places that make up Coney Island. The earliest works, taken by photographers such as George Bradford Brainerd and Irving Underhill, document the resort from the post-Civil War period through the turn of the twentieth century. Later artists such as Harry Lapow and Stephen Salmieri have photographed the many personalities that have passed through the site.

The photographers included in this exhibition are George Bradford Brainerd, Lynn Hyman Butler, Anita Chernewski, Victor Friedman, Kim Iacono, Sidney Kerner, Harry Lapow, Nathan Lerner, Jack Lessinger, H.S. Lewis, John L. Murphy, Ben Ross, Stephen Salmieri, Edgar S. Thomson, Arthur Tress, Irving Underhill, Breading G. Way, Eugene Wemlinger, and Harvey R. Zipkin. Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection is organized by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum. It is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008.

Text from the Brooklyn Museum website

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918–2005). 'Coney Island Embrace, New York City' 1938

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Coney Island Embrace, New York City
1938
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 11 1/2 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York
© Morris Engel

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005) 'Mother with Children' 1938

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Mother with Children
1938
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York

 

Nieman Studios, Inc., Chicago. 'Shackles the Great' 1940

 

Nieman Studios, Inc., Chicago
Shackles the Great
1940
Sideshow banner
118 x 108 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

'Quito, Human Octopus' 1940

 

Quito, Human Octopus
1940
Sideshow banner
140 x 117 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Anon. 'Steeplechase Funny Face' nd

 

Steeplechase Funny Face
Nd
Painted metal
23 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Henry Koerner (America, born Austria, 1915–1991). 'The Barker’s Booth' 1948–49

 

Henry Koerner (America, born Austria, 1915-1991)
The Barker’s Booth
1948-49
Oil on Masonite
26 x 40 ½ in. (66 x 102.9 cm)
Collection of Alice A. Grossman

 

George Tooker. 'Coney Island' 1948

 

George Tooker
Coney Island
1948
Egg tempera on gesso panel
19 1/4 x 26 1/4 inches
Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis

 

George Tooker’s thought-provoking “Coney Island” places traditional beach goers in a Pietà tableau.

 

Arthur Fellig (Weegee) 'Coney Island' 1940

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
Coney Island Beach
1940
Gelatin silver print
8 1/8 x 10 inches
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

 

Looking at Weegee’s photograph, it is easy to be carried away with longing for what seems like a simpler and happier time. Undoubtedly, the picture’s sense of naïve jubilation was part of its appeal for Red Grooms, who essentially copied the image in paint for Weegee 1940 (1998-99). And yet, like much at Coney Island, Weegee’s photograph is an illusion. Taken when Europe was already at war and the Depression had not yet ended, its merriment was only a momentary respite.

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Unknown artist. 'Modern Venus of 1947' Coney Island, 1947

 

Unknown artist
Modern Venus of 1947
Coney Island, 1947
Gelatin silver photograph
10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (27.3 x 35.2 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Christine Gant, Brooklyn Museum

 

Unknown artist. 'Modern Venus of 1947, Coney Island, 1947' (detail)

 

Unknown artist
Modern Venus of 1947 (detail)
Coney Island, 1947
Gelatin silver photograph
10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (27.3 x 35.2 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Christine Gant, Brooklyn Museum

 

Homer Page (American, 1918–1985). 'Coney Island' July 30, 1949

 

Homer Page (American, 1918-1985)
Coney Island
July 30, 1949
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Gift of the Hall Family Foundation
© Homer Page
Photo: John Lamberton

 

Morris Engel. 'Little Fugitive', production still, 1953

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Under the Boardwalk, Coney Island [Production still from Little Fugitive]
1953
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York

 

 

Raymond Abrashkin (as “Ray Ashley”), Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin (directors)
Little Fugitive
1953

 

Joey, a young boy, runs away to Coney Island after he is tricked into believing he has killed his older brother. Joey collects glass bottles and turns them into money, which he uses to ride the rides.

Little Fugitive (1953), one of the most beautiful films featured in the exhibition, conveys the feeling of moving through the enormous crowds in Weegee’s photographThe creation of two master still photographers, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, and writer Ray Ashley, the film tells the story of Joey, a seven-year-old boy who runs away to Coney Island. But if Joey initially exalts in the freedom of being lost in the crowd, he feels abandoned when the amusement park closes down. Robert Frank’s photograph from the same year of a man asleep on a deserted beach with the Parachute Tower at his back [see below] echoes the film’s invocation of the resort’s fleeting joys. When Coney Island empties out it reveals the superficiality and pathos of the fantasies it evokes. In 1894, even before the big amusement parks were built, Stephen Crane mused about how in winter the “mammoth” hotels became “gaunt and hollow, impassively and stolidly suffering from an enormous hunger for the public.” (Stephen Crane, “Coney Island’s Failing Days,” in A Coney Island Reader, p. 69).”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

 

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

 

Installation of views of the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

 

Cyclops Head from Spook-A-Rama
c. 1955
Mixed media
60 x 47 x 42 inches
The Vourderis Family. Deno’s Wonder Wheel

 

Garry Winogrand. 'Coney Island, New York City, N.Y.,' 1952

 

Garry Winogrand
Coney Island, New York City, N.Y.,
1952
Silver bromide
8 1/2 x 13 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. Gift of Barbara and James L. Melcher

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Two Youths, Coney Island'From the series 'Brooklyn Gang, 1958' print c. 1965

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled (Cathy and Cigarette Machine), from the series Brooklyn Gang 1959, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 5/8; sheet: 11 x 14 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. The Heinz Family Fund

 

Diane Arbus. ‘The House of Horrors’ 1961

 

Diane Arbus
The House of Horrors
1961
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 x 14 inches
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

“As its carnival rides and sideshows became increasingly dated in the 1960s, Coney Island was unable to maintain even the phony thrills that Miller derided in the 1930s. In Diane Arbus’s The House of Horrors (1961)the fake skeleton and the cartoon ape mask aren’t as scary as the ride’s sorry state and the impression that something terrible has driven all the people away. (The 1970 low-budget slasher film Carnival of Blood, not included in the exhibition, brilliantly uses this seediness to create a sense of uncanny doom.) In Arnold Mesches’s painting Anomie 1991: Winged Victory (1991), the creaky rides mingle with images of war, turning dreamland into an apocalyptic nightmare.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Diane Arbus. 'Couple Arguing, Coney Island, N.Y.,' 1960

 

Diane Arbus
Couple Arguing, Coney Island, N.Y.,
1960
Vintage gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 6 5/8 inches [image]; 14 x 11 inches [sheet]
Collection Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum

 

Robert Frank. ‘Coney Island' 4th of July, 1958

 

Robert Frank
Coney Island
July 4, 1958
15 5/8 x 11 9/16 inches
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Robert Frank Collection. Gift of the Richard Florsheim Art Fund and an Anonymous Donor

 

Frank Stella (American, born 1936). 'Coney Island' 1958

 

Frank Stella (American, born 1936)
Coney Island
1958
Oil on canvas
85 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. Gift of Larom B. Munson, B.A. 1951

 

Harry Lapow (American, 1909–1982). 'Untitled (Buried Alive)' c. 1960s or 1970s

 

Harry Lapow (American, 1909-1982)
Untitled (Buried Alive)
c. 1960s or 1970s
Gelatin silver photograph
12 1/8 x 9 1/16 in. (30.8 x 23 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the artist
© Estate of Harry Lapow
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

 

Harry Lapow began frequenting Coney Island to capture quirks of the beach and boardwalk after receiving a Ciroflex camera on his forty-third birthday. He was intrigued by the camera’s ability to isolate details and fleeting moments of everyday life. Here, a toddler’s crossed legs appear above the head of a buried woman whose eyes are covered by a floral towel. In cropping this beach sighting, Lapow crafts a surprising juxtaposition, forming an unlikely dynamic between the lively child and the masked adult.

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Untitled' July 4, 1962

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled
July 4, 1962
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Stephen Salmieri (American, born 1945). 'Coney Island' 1971

 

Stephen Salmieri (American, born 1945)
Coney Island
1971
Gelatin silver photograph
8 x 10 1/8 in. (20.3 x 25.7 cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Edward Klein
© Stephen Salmieri
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

Harvey Stein (American, born 1941). 'The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile' 1982

 

Harvey Stein (American, born 1941)
The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile
1982
Digital, inkjet archival print
13 x 19 in. (33 x 48.3 cm)
Collection of the artist
© Harvey Stein, 2011

 

Red Grooms (American, born 1937). 'Weegee 1940' 1998-99

 

Red Grooms (American, born 1937)
Weegee 1940
1998-99
Acrylic on paper
56 1/8 x 62 in. (142.6 x 157.5 cm)
Private Collection
Photo: Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York
© 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Arnold Mesches (American, born 1923). 'Anomie 1991: Winged Victory' 1991

 

Arnold Mesches (American, born 1923)
Anomie 1991: Winged Victory
1991
Acrylic on canvas
92 x 135 in. (233.7 x 342.9 cm)
The San Diego Museum of Art; Museum purchase with partial funding from the Richard Florsheim Art Fund
© 2013 Arnold Mesches

 

Daze (American, born 1962). 'Coney Island Pier' 1995

 

Daze (American, born 1962)
Coney Island Pier
1995
Oil on canvas
60 x 80 in. (152.4 x 203.2 cm)
Collection of the artist

 

Daze (American, born 1962). 'Kiddlyand Spirits' 1995

 

Daze (American, born 1962)
Kiddyland Spirits
1995
Oil on canvas
42 x 71 inches
Collection of the artist

 

'Requiem for a Dream', production still, directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

 

Requiem for a Dream, production still, directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

 

Marie Roberts (American, born 1954). 'A Congress of Curious Peoples' 2005

 

Marie Roberts (American, born 1954)
A Congress of Curious Peoples
2005
Acrylic on unstretched canvas
84 x 120 in. (213.4 x 304.8 cm)
Collection of Liz and Marc Hartzman

 

Swoon. 'Coney, Early Evening' 2005

 

Swoon
Coney, Early Evening
2005
Linoleum print on Mylar
Variable; overall: 213 x 39 x 113 inches
Brooklyn Museum. Healy Purchase Fund B, Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, and Designated Purchase Fund

 

Swoon’s “Coney, Early Evening” suspends youthful figures intertwined throughout the iconic tracks of a Coney Island roller coaster.

 

Frederick Brosen (American, born 1954). 'Fortune Teller, Jones Walk, Coney Island' 2008

 

Frederick Brosen (American, born 1954)
Fortune Teller, Jones Walk, Coney Island
2008
Watercolor over graphite on paper
17 7/8 x 11 ¼ in. (45.4 x 28.6 cm)
Courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York
© 2013 Frederick Brosen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Joshua Nefsky, courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York

 

 

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20
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Art AIDS America’ at Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma

Exhibition dates: 3rd October 2015 – 10th January 2016

 

 

This is the biggest exhibition on art relating to HIV/AIDS since the seminal exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra in 1995, which I was a part of.

I was lucky to survive the initial wave of HIV/AIDS infections. The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981… and I had my first HIV test in London in 1983. In those days, as the wall text from the exhibition spells out below, you had to wait 16 days to get the result of a blood test. I vividly remember sitting outside a doctor’s office knowing that when I went in, if he said yes you have it, it was a death sentence. In those early days, there was no treatment. You were going to die. I only survived by luck. Many of my friends and lovers didn’t.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says exhibition co-curator Rock Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

This deep understanding can be supplemented by this posting. I spent many hours securing more images than were sent to me in the press pack, because I think it is really important to have as great a cross-section as possible of work online from this exhibition, as a record of this time and space in the ongoing HIV/AIDS story. At present, there is no website for the 1995 exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS but I am hoping to correct this in the near future, with installation images, art work, interviews and videos.

In terms of the art, I find the earlier narratives are much more powerful and focused than the contemporary work. One of the most moving of these, and one that I have never seen before, is Keith Haring’s Altar Piece (1990, cast 1996, below). Can you imagine being an artist, being Haring, working on the wax mould in hospital being treated for AIDS-related illness, thinking that this could possibly be the last art work that you would ever complete. That you would never see it produced. And then to make something that is so compassionate, so beautiful that it is almost beyond belief… my heart is full of admiration and, like the crowd in the triptych, I am washed with tears.

By comparison, some of the contemporary works seem to have become mere graphic symbolism (leaves, milk and flowers) rather than engaging activism. For example, Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers (2010, below) – while referencing his Mexican heritage through skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead – is not about loss with presence but loss without presence: a febrile graphic activity that is pure decoration. Other works such as Derek Jackson’s Perfect Kiss (2007, below) or LADZ’s Eden #31 (2012, below) enact only the most tenuous link to HIV/AIDS and only when it is spelled out in text. Again, while not denying the pain of the death of her mother, her persecution when growing up or the problems with living with HIV, Kia Labeija’s 24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room) (2014, below) propositions us with a women photographed in deadpan photography style as glamorous mother with vivid pink lipstick or a Beyonce music star in sequin dress and 6 inch heels. Only in the last photograph is there any hint of vulnerability and, funnily enough, it is the only photograph that I care about and engage with.

In all of these works the key word is enact, for these works are performances of gender and sexuality conceptualised for the viewer, where living with HIV/AIDS is shown to us at a distance. Instead of ACTing up, unleashing the power of the oppressed, artists are now acting out in this (supposed) post-death HIV/AIDS climate. Look at me, I can be whoever I want to be (and still have HIV). Nothing wrong with that I hear you say, and you would be completely right… if only the art commenting on this post-death resurrection of the author, was memorable.

While 1,218,400 persons aged 13 years and older are living with HIV infection in the USA and an estimated 47, 352 people were diagnosed with the disease in 2013, people are still dying by the thousands in America (an estimated 13,712 people died in 2012 of an AIDS related disease – source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website). This is not pretty pink lipstick and sequin dresses, this is 13 thousand people a year still DYING from this disease.

Just think about that for a while.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Tacoma Art Museum, Mark I. Chester and Steven Miller for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Did You Know?

 

Art AIDS America at Tacoma Art Museum from Tacoma Art Museum on Vimeo.

 

 

Art AIDS America aims to abolish the silence about the pervasive presence of HIV/AIDS in American art and open meaningful and respectful dialogues about our experiences with the ongoing epidemic. For too long, we have considered art about AIDS as a tragic, closed chapter in the history of American art. This exhibition demonstrates the deep and continued impact of the AIDS crisis on American art from the early 1980s and continuing to today.

For more than thirty years, artists have actively responded with exquisite sensitivity to HIV/AIDS. They have adopted a broad spectrum of styles and messages from politically activist to quietly mournful art that nonetheless thrums with political content. Through poignant portraits, some artists brought much needed attention to personal suffering and loss from the AIDS crisis. Others employed abstraction and coded imagery to reveal the social and political factors that exacerbated the spread of HIV/AIDS. Artists also widely appropriated various art historical traditions to speak about the devastating impact of the epidemic. Art AIDS America offers an overview of how these various approaches redirected the course of American art from postmodern “art for art’s sake” formulas to art practice that highlights the personal experience and expertise of the artist.

Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful. HIV and AIDS are not just past-tense problems. As we persist in the struggle with HIV/AIDS, these artworks remind us of humanity’s resilience, responsibility, and history. The legacy of the AIDS crisis and our new relationships with the virus continue to inform contemporary art and American culture.

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987–1995), Let the Record Show… 1987/recreated 2015.

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show…
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

 

In 1987, the New Museum’s curator William Olander invited ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to create a work about AIDS. ACT UP, a diverse, nonpartisan, grassroots organization, responded with Let the Record Show… providing information about the crisis.

At the time, the only visual presence of AIDS activism was the Silence=Death stickers. Let the Record Show… recreated here in full for the first time, included an LED reader board with statistics about the unfolding medical and political crisis, the neon pink triangle with “Silence=Death,” a photomural from the Nuremberg trials, and photographs of contemporary public figures with their statements about AIDS.

Using the 1986 graphics from the Silence=Death Project, ACT UP appropriated the pink triangle from the badges assigned to gay prisoners in Nazi Germany during World War II. The artists combined this historic symbol of powerlessness along with the photomural of the Nuremberg courtroom to make an explicit comparison between the severity of the AIDS crisis and government inaction and the Holocaust. The complicated installation asked whether simple silence in a crisis is as culpable as actively encouraging one. The anonymous collective Gran Fury formed as a committee of ACT UP, as a result of Olander’s invitation. Gran Fury continued to make provocative and important works about the AIDS crisis.

For the installation of Let the Record Show… at the New Museum, quotes were cast in concrete under the photograph of the irresponsible speaker:

 

“The logical outcome of testing is a quarantine of those infected.”

Jesse Helms, U.S. Senator

“It is patriotic to have the AIDS test and be negative.”

Cory Servass, Presidential AIDS Commission

“We used to hate faggots on an emotional basis. Now we have a good reason.”

Anonymous Surgeon

“AIDS is God’s judgment of a society that does not live by His rules.”

Jerry Falwell, Televangelist

“Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm to protect common needle users, and on the buttocks to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.”

William F. Buckley, Columnist

” …”

Ronald Reagan, President of the United States

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995) 'Let the Record Show…' (detail) 1987/recreated 2015

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show… (detail)
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

Carrie Yamaoka (Born Glen Cove, New York, 1957) 'Steal This Book #2' 1991

 

Carrie Yamaoka (Born Glen Cove, New York, 1957)
Steal This Book #2
1991
Unique chemically altered gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Carrie Yamaoka takes inspiration from Abbie Hoffman’s iconic Steal This Book, a counterculture manual for social revolution. By photographing a page spread and then obliterating all of the words except “slaughter” and “history,” Yamaoka rejects any passive understanding of history. As an activist and artist, Yamaoka will use any means necessary to affect change. Steal This Book #2 may be considered as referring to Yamaoka’s experience as an AIDS activist and her desire to reshape our understanding of our relations with HIV.

 

Jerome Caja (Born Cleveland, Ohio, 1958; Died San Francisco, California, 1995) 'Bozo Fucks Death' 1988

 

Jerome Caja (Born Cleveland, Ohio, 1958; Died San Francisco, California, 1995)
Bozo Fucks Death
1988
Nail polish on plastic tray
Collection of Ed Frank and Sarah Ratchye

 

One of Jerome Caja’s alter egos was the clown Bozo. Here Caja aggressively turns the tables on death and seeks to gain some control and power over the inevitable, even if only a transgressive, psychological fantasy.

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (born 1930, died 2002) 'AIDS, you can't catch it holding hands' 1987

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (born 1930, died 2002)
AIDS, you can’t catch it holding hands
1987
Book, 52 pages 8 × 10 inches
The Lapis Press, San Francisco
© 2015 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, All rights reserved / ARS, NY / ADAGP, Paris

 

Working with collaborator Professor Silvio Barandun, Niki de Saint Phalle wrote and illustrated AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands for young adults. Using her characteristically colorful and joyous style, de Saint Phalle offers unusually straightforward information about the transmission of HIV from unprotected sex and unclean needles in intravenous drug use. She also uses the same frank approach to assuring her readers that casual contact from flowers, doorknobs, and toilet seats does not transmit AIDS, notions that were not widely understood in the early years of the AIDS crisis.

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse I' 1988

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990)
Apocalypse I
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

In their first collaboration, Keith Haring illustrated William S. Burroughs’ dystopic poem Apocalypse by mixing references to advertising, art history, and Catholic theology. Haring included his “devil sperm,” the black, horned symbol he created to give shape to HIV and its reign of death and terror.

Burroughs introduced the chaos unfolding:

“The final Apocalypse is when every man sees what he sees, feels what he feels, and hears what he hears. The creatures of all your dreams and nightmares are right here, right now, solid as they ever were or ever will be, electric vitality of careening subways faster faster faster stations flash by in a blur.”

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse III' 1988

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990)
Apocalypse III
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

 

Grassroots Activism

Artists provided the early warnings of the AIDS crisis with their artworks deployed at the street level. Posters, stickers, T-shirts and other projects made it impossible to ignore messages about AIDS. These activist artists were informed by earlier precedents of feminist art and artists working on issues of identity politics. Communities coalesced around the calls to action.

The most prominent group to address the AIDS crisis was the anonymous artist collective Gran Fury in New York, a committee of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The collective used techniques and ideas from advertising, marketing, and the art world to raise awareness and affect political change. Their bold graphic style and refined text continues to influence politically-themed art.

Gran Fury and other activists changed how Americans thought about AIDS. The political and social pressure instigated by their actions and artworks played important roles in changing the approval process for AIDS drugs and treatment protocols. Women’s health issues were brought to the forefront. As a result, American society positively changed their opinions about HIV/AIDS when they had correct information.

 

Memento Mori

The AIDS crisis compelled contemporary American artists to address death with urgency. Artists witnessed a plague sweep through their communities and wipe out their friends, colleagues, and lovers. They used art to express their rage and terror when AIDS had no effective treatment. Their artwork provided a vitally important way to mourn their losses and share their sorrow.

Artists looked back to European and American artistic traditions of memento mori, Latin for “Remember that you must die,” to share their experiences, feelings, and stories. They adapted symbols like skulls and flowers to depict the fragility and fleeting nature of life.

Artists in this section shifted the intent of memento mori away from concepts of death and the afterlife. They refocused on the preciousness and precariousness of life, without forgetting the political and social realities behind the massive wave of death. Nayland Blake’s clock marks the passing of so many individuals with a call to action. David Wojnarowicz rages against the senseless death of Peter Hujar. Bill Jacobson and Karen Finley give form to the fragility of memory. Latino folk traditions connect the living and the dead in the paintings of Tino Rodriguez and Thomas Woodruff.

 

Poetic Postmodernism

In the early 1980s, American art was dominated by a new, postmodern theory. It held that meaning belongs not to the artist who made the work but to their audiences who interpret the works. Called “the death of the author,” the theory was named after a 1967 essay by the French postmodernist thinker Roland Barthes.

As AIDS actually caused the death of thousands of authors and artists by the late 1980s, this metaphor became a terrifying reality. At the same time, a powerful Christian conservative movement aggressively politicized AIDS. Using homophobia and fear of the disease, these politicians passed Federal laws that made it illegal to “promote, encourage, or condone homosexual sexual activities or the intravenous use of illegal drugs” in an AIDS awareness and education bill.

The ramifications for artists and art exhibitions were equally prohibitive. Federal laws were passed that made it impossible for museums to receive government support if an exhibition included obscene content, which was understood to mean gay themes among others, including AIDS-specific art. In this climate, artists knew that overt political content would result in censorship. So they developed a new way to smuggle political meaning into art.

In his research for Art AIDS America, Jonathan David Katz named this new approach “poetic postmodernism.” Artists used the postmodern theory “death of the author” to camouflage their own personal, expressive meanings. Many of the works in this exhibition have the same title format, the word “untitled” followed by a more specific description in parentheses such as in “Untitled” (Water), Untitled (Hujar Dead), or Untitled (Corrupt HIV Activism). The first term, “untitled,” signals the prevailing postmodernist idea that all meanings come from the audience. But the phrase inside the parentheses reveals clues to the artist’s associations and intentions. Because recognition of AIDS content was a product of the viewer’s thought and not the artist’s explicit claim, such works could be shown in museums without fear of being censored under the new laws.

 

Andres Serrano (Born New York, New York, 1950) 'Milk/Blood' 1989, printed 2015

 

Andres Serrano (Born New York, New York, 1950)
Milk/Blood
1989, printed 2015
Chromogenic color print
Exhibition print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Milk/Blood recall the pure, flat color of hard edged abstract painters such as Ellsworth Kelly. But the simple saturated color fields in Serrano’s photograph bear the evocative title Milk/Blood, the two main body fluids that transmit HIV. Serrano appropriates the formal language of modernism for political purposes, a means of potentially slipping AIDS consciousness into a museum context without fear of exclusion or censure. As with HIV infection itself, the photograph underscores how our key sense, vision, is unreliable in the face of AIDS.

 

Andres Serrano (born 1950) 'Blood and Semen III' 1990

 

Andres Serrano (born 1950)
Blood and Semen III
1990
Chromogenic color print, edition 1 of 4
40 × 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Like his Milk/Blood in this exhibition, Blood and Semen III also appears to be a rigorously formal composition, this time evoking the gestural appearance of an abstract expressionist painting. Again, the title references two body fluids that transmit HIV. As examples of poetic postmodernism, Serrano activates meaning in Blood and Semen III and Milk/Blood using formal arrangements and references to earlier artistic styles to inform his photographs with personal and potentially political content.

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' 1998

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' (detail) 1998

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.) (detail)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

After an extensive period working in Europe memorializing the Holocaust, Shimon Attie returned to San Francisco in 1996 and began his series Untitled Memory. Attie projected old photographs of his friends and lovers onto places with special meaning to him, including this room of a former apartment. His photographs of these projections became personal studies of loss and melancholy.

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Untitled (Hujar Dead)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992)
Untitled (Hujar Dead)
1988-89
Black and white photograph, acrylic, text and collage on Massonite
Collect of Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol
Courtesy Second Ward Foundation

 

Wojnarowicz was briefly lovers with and then became a close friend of the famous photographer Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1987. Untitled (Hujar Dead) incorporates still images from a film by Wojnarowicz of Hujar’s lifeless body on his hospital bed. Wojnarowicz then overprinted the text of one of his famous “rants.” In these politically-charged performances and texts, he laid blame for the AIDS crisis squarely on the conservative right-wing demagogues who politicised the disease and continually spewed homophobic rhetoric which only exacerbated the crisis.

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010 (detail)

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers (detail)
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers incorporates aspects of his Mexican heritage, and especially the tradition of skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This family-oriented celebration of ancestors brings the living and dead into affectionate proximity. Rodriguez here exuberantly conflates familiar American oppositions such as death and life, growth and decay, and even good and evil. Inherently androgynous, the gender of the skulls remains unknown as does their cause of death. But as in the Dia de los Muertos celebration itself, Rodriguez’s image supplants horror with humor and loss with presence, offering the triumph of love and memory over death in the age of AIDS.

 

David Wojnarowicz (Born Red Bank, New Jersey, 1954; Died New York, New York, 1992) 'Untitled (Buffalo)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (Born Red Bank, New Jersey, 1954; Died New York, New York, 1992)
Untitled (Buffalo)
1988-89
Vintage gelatin silver print, signed on verso
Collection of Michael Sodomick

 

For Untitled (Buffalo), David Wojnarowicz simply photographed a diorama in a museum in Washington, DC. This image of buffalo being herded off a cliff served as a chilling metaphor of the politics of AIDS in the US in the late 1980s. Rather than an illustration of traditional Native American hunting techniques, Wojnarowicz eloquently expressed his rage, desperation, and helplessness through the great symbol of American identity. His shifting and layering of meaning onto this symbol is a classic example of poetic postmodernism.

One example of how artists hid their message is David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (Buffalo). It’s a diorama of a buffalo fall, a traditional method of harvesting large numbers of buffalo by chasing herds off cliffs. The buffalo are made from plastic. Wojnarowicz photographed the diorama and cropped it. “This is appropriation,” Hushka said. “He used it as this extraordinarily eloquent cry about the state of American politics at the time.” Katz added, “It’s telling that even an artist of Wojnarowicz’s activist fervor engaged in a metaphor that only cohered in the mind’s eye. You needed to be attentive to what it might be saying to read it. There’s nothing specifically AIDS about it.”

 

 

Spiritual Forces

Because of the overwhelming number of deaths, the unspeakable losses, and the constant presence of disease, it should not be surprising that artists also turned to issues of spirituality. Yet, the art history of AIDS often neglects this important aspect. Across the United States, faith communities tended to the spiritual needs of people with AIDS and provided critical services for them. These communities continue to support people living with HIV.

The AIDS crisis exposed deep division within many spiritual traditions. Artists such as Jerome Caja, Robert Gober, and Barbara Kruger expressed discomfort and displeasure in how some religious ideologies oppressed gays and lesbians and worsened the AIDS crisis. Others made inspiring works within long-established traditions like Keith Haring’s altar piece. In other artworks, artists created symbols for the dignity of people suffering from AIDS, ranging from Christian saints and Biblical texts to imagery inspired by Buddhism and healing traditions from India.

 

Keith Haring (born 1958, died 1990) 'Altar Piece' 1990 (cast 1996)

 

Keith Haring (born 1958, died 1990)
Altar Piece
1990 (cast 1996)
Bronze with white gold leaf patina, edition 2 of 9
60 × 81 x 2 inches
Denver Art Museum, Gift of Yoko Ono, 1996.204A-C.
© Keith Haring Foundation
Photo © Denver Art Museum

 

This altar piece by Keith Haring is the last work the artist completed. He worked on the wax mold while he was hospitalized for AIDS-related illnesses. The triptych format echoes traditional Roman Catholic altar pieces. The image of the crying mother holding an infant speaks to the inconsolable losses from AIDS. The mother’s tears fall on the crowds, seeking solace and mercy from the AIDS epidemic.

 

Barbara Kruger (Born Newark, New Jersey, 1945) 'Untitled (It's our pleasure to disgust you)' 1991

 

Barbara Kruger (Born Newark, New Jersey, 1945)
Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you)
1991
Photographic silkscreen on vinyl
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Gift of Eric and Nannette Brill

 

Despite provocative imagery and text, Barbara Kruger intends no specific meaning to her artworks. Rather, Kruger wants to demonstrate how the reader generates meaning each time the text is read. She activates ambiguity and political charge with the phrase “It’s our pleasure to disgust you.” Kruger underscores the gulf between and image and its possible meanings, an issue brought into high relief in the culture wars promoted by religious conservatives, during the period when this work was made.

The work may be interpreted as evidence that artists like Kruger were deliberately insensitive to cultural norms. Alternatively, it could be read as proof that artworks were deliberately manipulated for political purpose by others. Because AIDS was framed in political terms from its earliest moment, Kruger’s Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you) reflects the complexity and deliberate uses of language about AIDS.

 

Robert Gober (Born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954) 'Drains' 1990

 

Robert Gober (Born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954)
Drains
1990
Cast pewter Edition of 8, with 2 artist’s proofs, artist’s proof 1 of 2
Collection of the artist

 

Robert Gober’s Drains is meticulously handcrafted to resemble a mass-produced consumer good. Because we think about drains primarily as a tool to remove waste often associated with personal hygiene and cleaning, connections to HIV/AIDS are obvious. By placing the sculpture in an unexpected position on a gallery wall, Gober seeks to generate unanswerable, metaphorical questions about the functions of a drain and the unknown space behind it. The cruciform shape at the back of the drain recalls his childhood and his complicated relationship with Catholicism.

 

Izhar Patkin (Born Haifa, Israel, 1955) 'Unveiling of a Modern Chastity' 1981

 

Izhar Patkin (Born Haifa, Israel, 1955)
Unveiling of a Modern Chastity
1981
Rubber paste, latex theatrical wounds, and
printing ink on a stretched linen canvas
Courtesy of the artist

 

Izhar Patkin painted Unveiling of a Modern Chastity one year before there was any public announcement about a new disease striking formerly healthy young men. This is the earliest work in the exhibition, and, in retrospect, one of the earliest AIDS paintings ever. Troubled by the sight of a group of such young men with similar dark purple skin lesions waiting in his dermatologist’s office, he presciently titled the work to reflect what he felt might be a forthcoming change in sexual culture. The painting’s skin-like surface erupts in what looks like Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions.

Patkin’s heavily textured surface and use of artificial wounds was his effort to destroy minimalism and other traditions of pure abstraction. He wanted to expose the inability of modernist art to contain pressing social and contextual significance.

DID YOU KNOW? The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981.

 

Albert J. Winn (born 1947, died 2014) 'Akedah' 1995

 

Albert J. Winn (born 1947, died 2014)
Akedah
1995
Gelatin silver print
171/2 × 21 ¾ inches
Courtesy of Scott R. Portnoff
Photo courtesy of the Estate of Albert J. Winn

 

In the artist’s own words: “Every month, because of my illness, I need to undergo a blood test. During the process, a tourniquet is bound tightly about my upper arm. At times when I’ve been on a study protocol for an experimental medicine, I’ve had my blood drawn every day. Having my blood drawn has become a ritual in what sometimes seems is a new religious practice, an AIDS ritual.

“Over time, I’ve transformed this ritual in relation to my Judaism. I wonder if like Isaac, I am being sacrificed. This time to science. I pray that an angel will intercede and spare my life. When my arm is bound with a tourniquet and the veins bulge, I am reminded that I am bound to my illness. I look at the rubber strap and see tefillin. Sometimes the impression of the leather straps from the tefillin are still visible on my skin by the time the tourniquet is wrapped around my arm. The binding of the tefillin is a reminder of being bound to my heritage. The straps also make my veins bulge. Except for the needle stick the binding feels the same.”

 

 

Art AIDS America at the Tacoma Art Museum

Politics, sex, religion, loss, and beauty – all of the topics that you can’t talk about over dinner but can at a museum – are open for discussion in Art AIDS America, an exhibition that reveals for the first time how the AIDS crisis forever changed American art. Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful.

Art AIDS America is a story of resilience and beauty revealed through art, and the community that gathered to bring hope and change. While recognizing and honoring loss and grief, it refutes the narrative that AIDS is only a tragic tangent in American art, exploring how artists’ responses to the crisis and its legacy continue to inform contemporary American art. These artworks offer a vibrant representation of community, caring, creativity and activism. And, Art AIDS America will serve as a vivid reminder that the crisis is not over; HIV infections are increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV.

A decade in the making, this exhibition is co-curated by TAM’s Chief Curator, Rock Hushka, and Jonathan D. Katz, PhD, Director, Visual Studies Doctoral Program, University at Buffalo.

“AIDS fundamentally changed American art, remaking its communicative strategies, its market, its emotional pitch and – not least – its political possibilities. But we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in the making of contemporary American culture, as we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in every other aspect of our lives. This exhibition underscores how powerfully a plague that is still with us has changed us,” says Katz. “Art AIDS America creates spaces for mourning and loss, yes, but also for anger and for joy, for political resistance and for humor, for horror, and for eroticism.”

The exhibition assembles 125 significant works in a wide range of media. The artists are diverse, including the internationally acclaimed such as Robert Gober, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Martin Wong, and those not yet as widely celebrated such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Chloe Dzubilo, Derek Jackson, Kia Labeija, and Joey Terrill. The works date from 1981 to today, and some, like Catherine Opie’s photographs of the 1986 AIDS/ARC vigil in San Francisco, will be on public view for the first time.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

Works in the exhibition will generally fall into two categories: art with a clear tie to AIDS, and art that requires the viewer to look beyond the surface to understand its connection to HIV/AIDS. Some artists addressed the AIDS crisis through activist works, community projects, graphics, and direct political statements. For example, the collective ACT UP NY/Gran Fury’s installation Let the Record Show… sears the words of public officials whose actions inflamed the crisis, including the silence of President Ronald Reagan, who would not speak publicly about AIDS until 1987. Other artists use camouflage, coding, misdirection, symbols, or other covert strategies to address the social, political, and physical impacts of HIV. An example is Robert Sherer’s beautifully rendered Sweet Williams, a basket of cut flowers, painted in HIV-negative and HIV-positive blood, about the untimely deaths of so many young men. The exhibition will be organized roughly by works created pre- and post-cocktail (in this case, ‘cocktail’ refers to the combination of drugs and therapies used to manage HIV and prevent the development of AIDS).

“Tacoma Art Museum is a safe space where people are able to address important and challenging issues. We are proud to present Art AIDS America. It is fitting that the exhibition debuts in Tacoma, the city that established the nation’s first government-sanctioned needle exchange program in a proactive approach toward controlling the spread of AIDS,” said Stephanie Stebich, TAM’s Executive Director. “TAM also has the scholarship to support this exhibition through our chief curator Rock Hushka and the exhibition’s co-curator Dr. Jonathan D. Katz, who also co-curated the award-winning Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which we brought to TAM in 2012.”

The Art AIDS America catalogue is a significant component of the exhibition, with 15 contributors, nearly 300 pages, and more than 200 illustrations. It is published in association with the University of Washington Press of Seattle and London and designed by Marquand Books, Seattle. Art AIDS America is organized by TAM in partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts and will tour nationally. See it first at TAM, on view October 3, 2015 through January 10, 2016. The exhibition will then travel to Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, GA; and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY.”

Press release from the Tacoma Art Museum website

 

Bill Jacobson (born 1955) 'Interim Portrait #373' 1992

 

Bill Jacobson (born 1955)
Interim Portrait #373
1992
Chromogenic color print
24 × 20 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Alon Reininger (Born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947) 'Ken Meeks, PWA' 1985

 

Alon Reininger (Born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947)
Ken Meeks, PWA
1985
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of Contact Press Images, New York

 

Mark I. Chester (Born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950) 'Robert Chesley - ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1–#6' 1989, printed 2015

 

Mark I. Chester (Born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950)
Robert Chesley – ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1–#6
from the series Diary of a Thought Criminal
1989, printed 2015
Pigment print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Mark I. Chester gives us the first portrait of a sexually active person with AIDS. Robert Chesley (1943-1990) was a playwright, theater critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and music composer. Perhaps his most celebrated play was Jerker, or The Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty. At a time when many gay men had come to associate their own sexuality with death, the artist showed Chesley as a vibrant, active person with AIDS, intended as a rebuke to the routine AIDS portraits of mortally ill people. With this series, Chester rewrote the late-1980s codes for representing gay male sexuality from sexlessness and death towards a renewed embrace of life and its pleasure.

 

Steven Miller (Born Tucson, Arizona, 1968) 'Robert' from the series 'Milky' 2004

 

Steven Miller (Born Tucson, Arizona, 1968)
Robert from the series Milky
2004
Inkjet print
Edition 2 of 10
Tacoma Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from Curtis Man

 

For his series Milky, photographer Steven Miller asked his friends if he could photograph them as he poured milk over their heads. These portraits capture the different reactions to the sensation and convey a sense of discomfort from being drenched by fluids like milk. Miller likens these two aspects to a symbolic infection of HIV. For many gay artists of his generation, HIV looms as a constant presence, and body fluids remain deeply ingrained as transmitters of the virus.

 

 

Portraiture

Artists used portraits to directly convey the devastating effects of the crisis on individuals. Even if we do not know the subject, portraits remind us that someone we know was likely affected by AIDS. Because the science about the retrovirus was new and extremely complicated and frightening, such portraits humanized the disease so it could be understood through personal stories.

Early portraits brought attention to the physical symptoms of AIDS such as the deep purple lesions of the skin cancer Kaposi’s sarcoma and the devastating weakness caused by AIDS-related wasting syndrome. Artists soon refocused on portraits of defiant individuals living with HIV. Refusing to show people as victims of an incurable disease, these portraits depicted fighters and survivors.

From pure abstract representations to straightforward photographic likenesses, portraits continue to illuminate how individuals respond to and overcome even the most complex aspects of HIV/AIDS such as stigma, racism, sexism, and poverty.

 

The Legacy of the AIDS Crisis

HIV is no longer an immediate life-or-death issue facing American artists, but one that quietly and continually persists in intriguing ways. The legacy of the AIDS crisis can be traced either through the motifs and influences of earlier artists or by understanding the psychological trauma and challenges that result from living in a world with HIV.

Artworks made after antiretroviral medicines became available in the mid-1990s beg the questions: If HIV is undetectable in a body and all but invisible in society, why should visibility in art be any different? How do you identify HIV if an artist is unwilling to speak about it but doesn’t live a moment of his or her intimate life without being aware of its near-certain presence?

Artists such as John Arsenault, Kalup Linzy, Patte Loper, and Donald Moffett bring their personal histories as activists and care givers into their artwork. They also use their art to express the discomfort and complexities of living in a world with the constant presence of HIV.

Works of art should be read with empathy and compassion to understand the fullness and richness of the artist’s experience. We need to remind ourselves of the stresses, anxieties, fears, and realities caused by the burden of HIV. To honor these artists’ experiences, we must insist that HIV inform at least part of the meaning of their work. This will ensure an understanding of their art as part of an art history of deep social engagement and connection.

 

Julie Tolentino (Born San Francisco, California, 1964) 'THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey's Self-Obliteration #1' 2008

 

Julie Tolentino (Born San Francisco, California, 1964)
THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1
2008
Chromogenic color print
Edition 1 of 5
Documentation courtesy of Leon Mostovoy
Courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles

 

These three photographs capture different moments in the archive/performance of THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1. Tolentino first observes Athey’s performance of Self-Obliteration #1 from a nearby platform; then she and Athey repeat the action on separate platforms as a duet. Finally, Tolentino repeats Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1 by herself.

As needles hidden within the performers’ long blond wigs lacerate their scalps, blood streams down their faces and bodies and smears a plane of glass. This forces the performers into unpredictable psychic territory. The HIV status of both perfomers – Athey is HIV-positive and Tolentino is negative – informs the tension between the two performers that runs like a low current throughout the work. The simultaneous flows of blood from the performers quickly conjoins them in a profound act of communion across pain, suffering, memory, and ultimately, an affirmation of life.

 

Catherine Opie (Born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961) 'Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)' 2000

 

Catherine Opie (Born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961)
Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)
2000
Polaroid
Private collection

 

This work by Catherine Opie, taken with the world’s largest polaroid camera, was made in collaboration with the performance artist Ron Athey. Athey achieved both fame and censure as an HIV positive performance artist whose work involved physical and psychic trials, along with, on occasion, blood.

Clearly a response to AIDS, the pose of Ron Athey/The Sick Man recalls the traditional iconography of the Pieta, in which the Virgin Mary supports the body of the dead Christ. Athey is held by his performance partner Darryl Carlton (a.k.a. Divinity Fudge), two heavily tattooed men in place of the holy family. The implications of self-sacrifice and transcendence through pain and suffering animate both the original scene and this more contemporary incarnation. Opie situated the figures in a beautiful, richly saturated black space. She offers a contemporary allegory of the excluded sufferer whose exile and death can be laid at the feet of those who consider themselves pious.

 

Eric Rhein (Born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961) 'Life Altering Spencer from Leaves' 2013

 

Eric Rhein (Born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961)
Life Altering Spencer from Leaves
2013
Wire and paper
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
Purchased as the gift of Louis Wiley, Jr. (PA 1963) in Memory of Paul Monette (PA 1963) and his partner Roger Horwitz

 

Eric Rhein began The Leaf Project in 1996 to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS and chose to memorialize his friends who had died of AIDS-related causes. He selected the leaf motif to honor the individuality of each person, while also evoking the countless leaves shed by trees in autumn. Life Altering Spencer honors AIDS activist Spencer Cox (1968-2012), a member of ACT UP, Treatment Action Group, and the Food and Drug Administration’s Anti-Viral Advisory Committee. In this capacity, Cox and others became experts on drug trials and approval, successfully lobbying to hasten the approval time for new HIV medications. Cox and his group thus changed the course of medicine in America – the first non-physicians to do so – and, not coincidentally, these new treatments saved the life of artist Eric Rhein.

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991) 'For the Record' 2013

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991)
For the Record
2013
Two offset prints on newsprint, two panels, installed: 22⅝ x 70 inches
Courtesy of the artists
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

The collaborative group fierce pussy created this work for the organization Visual AIDS in New York City. Playing off Gran Fury’s 1987 Let the Record Show… and evoking postmodern text based art, fierce pussy asks that we remember the thousands of people who died of HIV-related causes before antiretroviral drugs became available to control the virus. They insist that we continue the work to end HIV/AIDS despite these new drugs.

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honor of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002 (detail)

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected (detail)
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honor of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

The horse with no rider at the center of the composition represents individuals on the reservation who have died of AIDS-related causes. Using the 19th-century tradition of ledger drawing, with a riderless horse as symbolic of a warrior who fell in battle, Haukaas weaves together the complicated issues of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and the Native American experience with the disease.

 

Robert Sherer (Born Jasper, Alabama, 1957) 'Sweet Williams' 2013

 

Robert Sherer (Born Jasper, Alabama, 1957)
Sweet Williams
2013
HIV- and HIV+ blood on paper
Courtesy of the artist

 

The title Sweet Williams comes from Robert Sherer’s childhood. His grandmother, an avid gardener, often asked him to help gather flowers from her garden and instructed, “Now, honey, cut down the most beautiful ones first.” Upon reflection, Sherer realized that AIDS was deeply correlated to beauty and sexual attraction. He remembers his many handsome friends and acquaintances who died too early – the Williams, the Billys, the Wills, the Willies – memorializing them in an image drawn in HIV negative and positive blood. Of all his colleague friends, two of whom were named William, only Sherer is still alive.

 

Joey Terrill (Born Los Angeles, California, 1955) 'Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week's Dose of Truvada' 2012

 

Joey Terrill (Born Los Angeles, California, 1955)
Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week’s Dose of Truvada
2012
Mixed media on canvas
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Foundation purchase

 

Long-time Latino queer rights and AIDS activist Joey Terrill makes paintings that resemble the work of such well-known pop artists as Tom Wesselmann. Departing from Wesselmann’s 1960s pop still-life paintings, Terrill subverts the genre through his many queer references, not least the regular inclusion of the HIV medication Truvada. In these his appropriations of the American dream, Terrill shows himself to be a political activist – a role he has inhabited since the 1970s.

Terrill’s addition of the forget-me-nots at the center of the composition pays homage to his artistic hero David Wojnarowicz. He also alludes to the daily routine of the antiviral medicine Truvada and pointedly questions why changes in the social and political realms have allowed this to be a normal part of so many people’s lives.

 

Derek Jackson (Born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972) 'Perfect Kiss' 2007

 

Derek Jackson (Born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972)
Perfect Kiss
2007
Slideshow with found music and original still imagery
Courtesy of the artist

 

Derek Jackson enacts a series of “hookups” in which his sexual activity should necessarily raise issues of HIV. Although not explicitly mentioned, HIV is evoked by the lyrics of his soundtrack. Jackson relies on New Order’s 1987 hit Perfect Kiss to equate unsafe sex with a suicide. The lyrics of the chorus plead with a suicidal friend, “I know, you know, you believe in a land of love.” Jackson’s hookups demonstrate how self-esteem, mutual respect, and communication are necessary to avoid becoming HIV positive.

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland) John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971 Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980 'Eden #31' 2012

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland)
John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971
Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980
Eden #31
2012
Chromogenic color print
Courtesy of the artists

 

LADZ coined their name after a humorous autocorrect of “ladies” while texting on their smart phones. The artist group finds virtually abandoned industrial spaces where they enact elaborate scenarios reflecting the complexities of life in Los Angeles. The heightened sexual tension combined with the boxing gloves provides a glimpse into the daily navigation of sexual activity and HIV.

 

Kalup Linzy (Born Stuckey, Florida, 1977) 'Lollypop' 2006

 

Kalup Linzy (Born Stuckey, Florida, 1977)
Lollypop
2006
Single-channel video
3 minutes, 24 seconds
Collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky

 

Kalup Linzy and his friend, artist Shaun Leonardo, lip sync the 1933 Hunter & Jenkins tune. Laden with the sexual innuendo of the song’s lyrics, Linzy attempts to coax treats from Leonardo. The artist playfully raises issues of gender and performance.

Given the high rates of HIV infection of men of color who have sex with men particularly in urban centers, a viewer should keep in mind that individuals like Linzy continually navigate HIV in all their sexual encounters. Unlike a generation ago, young men and women have come to have a different relationship with HIV and no longer fear the virus as a death sentence. Empathy toward their experiences is key to understanding how they cope and survive.

 

Deborah Kass (born 1952) 'Still Here' 2007

 

Deborah Kass (born 1952)
Still Here
2007
Oil and acrylic on canvas
45 × 63 inches
Private collection
© 2015 Deborah Kass / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery

 

Deborah Kass painted Still Here as part of a group of paintings called Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times, beginning in 2006. A response to the ongoing foreign wars and domestic political issues after the second election of George W. Bush, Kass underscored the gulf between the literal and metaphorical significance of the phrases she painted. Still Here comes from the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies in which a faded film star recalls how she persevered. The song opens “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all, and, my dear, I’m still here.”

The sentiment of the song speaks to the resilience of the many people who lived through the AIDS crisis and those who continue the struggle against the virus and social injustice. Kass’s title may also recall Still/Here, a dance about perseverance, dying, and HIV by the HIV positive choreographer Bill T. Jones.

 

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

 

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990)
24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room)
2014
Inkjet prints
13 × 19 inches
Courtesy of the artist

 

Artist and performer Kia Labeija was born HIV positive. She struggled with HIV throughout her childhood, including the side effects of the medications, the stigma associated with the disease, and the death of her mother. In her three photographs titled 24, she celebrates coming to terms with the disease and her new-found role as advocate and spokesperson for AIDS awareness. The title also commemorates her 24th birthday and her home on the 24th floor of a Manhattan apartment building.

 

 

 

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16
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 24th August 2015 – 3rd January 2016

 

 

The photograph as unoccupied land

To be frank, I am not enamoured of these photographs. They seem to be conceptual ideas masquerading as documentary photographs that evidence a lazy way of seeing the world, one in which the untold narrative has become an empty spectacle. The story, such as it is, is only narrativised by the accompanying text. If an image cannot stand on its own two feet in and of itself without lines of text to support its supposition, then it is not doing its job properly.

The framing is sloppy and the focus of the images is poor. For example, the focus of Template for digging graves, Pomfret is the shadow at the front of the photograph, where the real focus should have been the template and the graves beyond with their horizontals and verticals. This would have made for a much stronger photograph because the foreground and the background are extraneous to the image.

Ractliffe really needs to look at the documentary photographers of the 19th century to see how it is done. The aftermath of conflict photographs of the American Civil War by photographers such as Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan (and here I am not talking about the battlefield photographs) have a robust narrative quality that this artist could only ever hope to achieve. Their photographs possess a clear and consistent vision, a deep aesthetic that is emergent, based on transparence, a ruddy darkness and textural ambience – rather than an aesthetic that is superficially descriptive of surfaces.

This lack of understanding of the depth of contested place/disputed histories can be no better illustrated than in the diptych The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale (2009, below) whose photographs really say nothing about what went on here. The photographs are prescriptive (relating to the imposition or enforcement of a rule or method) statements constructed by the artist, with no emotion and little ambience or feeling for subject matter. They are not even very good descriptive photographs of the landscape. Photographs such as Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (2009, below) and Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa (2007, below) are worse, recording inarticulate artefacts at a level best reserved for student work.

By far the most interesting and powerful photograph is Roadside stall on the way to Viana (2007, below). This photograph is memorable as so many of the other are not, because it possesses a sense of disposition, of alienation, ambience and the weight of history all bound up in those hanging bodies.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Vacant plot near Atlantico Sul' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Vacant plot near Atlantico Sul
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This coarse, grassy landscape appears at first glance to be empty, yet the billboard declaring “Terreno Ocupado” – Portuguese for “occupied land” – reveals this site in Luanda as both active and politically charged. It points to Angola’s long history of occupation and territorial turmoil, from the arrival of Portuguese explorers in 1483 through to the tangled twentieth-century conflicts that spilled over into neighboring countries. It also points to the contested terrain that is today’s Luanda. With this image, the opening photograph of the first series, Ractliffe sets the scene for her exploration of land, borders, and displacement, themes which thread through all the works featured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Woman and her baby, Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Woman and her baby, Roque Santeiro market
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Conflict between Luanda’s population and its governing elites forms an undercurrent to this photograph of a young woman carrying a baby across litter-strewn ground, observed by a man wearing a military beret. In September 2010, three years after Ractliffe took these photographs and following a protracted dispute between the government and the local community, the Luandan authorities closed down Roque Santeiro and relocated it to a new Chinese-built facility at Panguila, some twelve miles to the north. Although the government cited concerns over insanitary conditions and organized crime, critics argued that the relocation had more to do with repossessing prime real estate for new luxury apartments.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Woman on the footpath from Boa Vista to Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Woman on the footpath from Boa Vista to Roque Santeiro market
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Apparently out of breath and clutching a plastic bag, the woman in the foreground of this photograph is making her way up a faintly visible footpath and out of Ractliffe’s field of vision. A digger perches on the cliff top above her, and in the middle distance, a cluster of dwellings clings precariously to the litter-strewn side of the ravine. Boa Vista – “good view” – is one of Luanda’s largest shanty towns, and at the time of this photograph was home to over 50,000 people. Following landslides in 2001 which killed several residents, parts of the neighborhood were bulldozed and over 4,000 families were evicted from their homes and relocated to tents in other parts of the city while awaiting the construction of their new accommodation.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Video club, Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Video club, Roque Santeiro market
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Before its closure in 2010, Roque Santeiro was renowned as the biggest open-air market in sub-Saharan Africa, and the center of Angola’s informal economy. Established in the 1980s and named after a popular Brazilian soap opera, it flourished during the Angolan Civil War as streams of refugees fled the countryside and came to Luanda, searching for new livelihoods. Everything was for sale in its makeshift stalls, from household items, food, and clothes, to contraband alcohol, cars, and livestock. In this photograph Ractliffe focuses on one of the market’s many video clubs, which were housed in military-style tents and screened action movies on televisions powered by generators.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) ''God with us', Pomfret' 2011

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
‘God with us’, Pomfret
2011
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm) Width: 22 1/16 in. (56 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The abandoned mining town of Pomfret is located in the far north of South Africa, near the border with Botswana. After the closure of its asbestos mine, the town was converted into a military base and used to accommodate 32 Battalion, an elite Special Forces unit made up of Angolan soldiers. When the unit was disbanded in 1993, most of the veterans and their families stayed in Pomfret, living in abject conditions without basic services and under constant threat of eviction. Ractliffe has spoken of finding graves there marked only with “Born Angola”; for the veterans whose paths ended here, death in Pomfret was “the final displacement”.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Unidentified memorial in the desert, south of Namibe I' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Unidentified memorial in the desert, south of Namibe I
2009
From the series As Terras do Fim do Mundo
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph, an assemblage of objects perches on a stony outcrop, surrounded by a barren expanse of desert. The long pole protruding from the pile is topped with a ragged banner, announcing the presence of this unusual memorial, but giving little away about its exact significance. Ractliffe took this photograph close to the Cuban base at Namibe on Angola’s southwestern coast, where an extensive network of trenches, bunkers, and anti-aircraft defenses is located. As Ractliffe has remarked: “there are some very poignant things in the landscape, like these markers, that seem to say ‘I have been here, people have been here.'”

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale' (diptych left) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale' (diptych right) 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale (diptych left and right)
2009
From the series As Terras do Fim do Mundo
Inkjet prints, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Reflecting on this diptych, Ractliffe has observed that “Quite often, sites of significance don’t evidence their historical weight.” It is true that the calm landscape – muddy riverbanks weaving through a marsh – together with the small size of these prints belies the huge historical importance of their subject. In 1987-88, during the Angolan Civil War, Cuito Cuanavale was the site of the biggest battle in Africa since World War II. On one side was the armed wing of Agostinho Neto’s government, supported by their Cuban allies; on the other side was the rebel group UNITA, supported by the South African Defence Force. The outcome of the battle is still widely disputed, with both sides claiming victory.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Thorn tree, Platfontein' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Thorn tree, Platfontein
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the next one, “Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein”, the placement of personal objects in a seemingly unforgiving setting hints at the tension between resilience and vulnerability negotiated by the resident community. The settlement of Platfontein is now home to veterans of 31/201 Battalion, a South African Special Forces unit made up of Angolan and Namibian San trackers who became tied up in the independence conflicts in Angola and Namibia. After the conflicts ended, many of the San veterans were relocated to Schmidtsdrift, but had to live in tents for 14 years because of a competing claim on the land from local communities. The veterans ultimately accepted financial compensation, which enabled them to buy land at Platfontein, pictured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 10 1/4 in. (26 cm) Width: 12 13/16 in. (32.5 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the previous one, “Thorn tree, Platfontein”, the placement of personal objects in a seemingly unforgiving setting hints at the tension between resilience and vulnerability negotiated by the resident community. The settlement of Platfontein is now home to veterans of 31/201 Battalion, a South African Special Forces unit made up of Angolan and Namibian San trackers who became tied up in the independence conflicts in Angola and Namibia. After the conflicts ended, many of the San veterans were relocated to Schmidtsdrift, but had to live in tents for 14 years because of a competing claim on the land from local communities. The veterans ultimately accepted financial compensation, which enabled them to buy land at Platfontein, pictured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Template for digging graves, Pomfret' 2013

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Template for digging graves, Pomfret
2013
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Veteran soldiers of 'Omega' 31/201 Battalion, Paulo Cassanga and Automover Kakenge, Schmidtsdrift (portrait under instruction)' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Veteran soldiers of ‘Omega’ 31/201 Battalion, Paulo Cassanga and Automover Kakenge, Schmidtsdrift (portrait under instruction)
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The veterans’ experiences are given added poignancy in this portrait, in which they stand in front of a tarpaulin hanging untidily from a derelict building. Automover Kakenge, standing on the right, is the leader of a group of San veterans who refused to move to Platfontein after their land claim at Schmidtsdrift was unsuccessful. Kakenge has stated that “Schmidtsdrift was the ending for us […]. When we were relocated from Namibia, we had to swear, “South Africa is our land, and our house is here in Schmidtsdrift.” This attachment to the land and buildings at Schmidtsdrift is the endpoint of what Ractliffe refers to as an “epic narrative of displacement”.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'On the Road to Cuito Cuanavale I' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
On the Road to Cuito Cuanavale I
2009
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine' 2011

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine
2011
From the series The Borderlands
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning August 24 features 23 works produced over the past 10 years by South African artist Jo Ractliffe (born 1961). The photographs examine the landscapes of Angola and South Africa as sites of conflict and contention. Focusing on the aftermath of the Angolan Civil War and the intertwined conflict known in South Africa as the “Border War,” her photographs address themes of dispossession, history, memory, and erasure. The exhibition highlights Ractliffe’s engagement with the land and structures of Angola’s capital, Luanda, as well as with places in the Angolan and South African countryside where unmarked mass graves, minefields, and former military testing sites reveal the complex traces of the past in the present.

The 23 works on loan from the artist include single images, diptychs, and triptychs selected from three photographic series: Terreno Ocupado (2007), As Terras do Fim do Mundo (2010), and The Borderlands (2013). In Terreno Ocupado, Ractliffe establishes the city of Luanda as a multilayered place of both historical dispute and present-day struggle. Photographs highlighting the Portuguese colonial occupation of Angola and its imprint on the built environment appear alongside works depicting the often harsh economic conditions of Luanda today. By focusing on the structural instability of the city’s shanty towns, as well as the longer history of political instability threading through their foundations, these photographs question what it means for land to be occupied, abandoned, and struggled over.

The works selected from 2010’s As Terras do Fim do Mundo highlight traces of the Border War, a conflict fought in rural Angola and present-day Namibia between South Africa and its allies on one side and, on the other, the exiled Namibian liberation movement, the Angolan government, and their allies. For this series, Ractliffe traveled alongside ex-soldiers returning to the desolate places where they had fought. The images produced on these trips include photographs of unmarked mass graves, minefields, and other often-inconspicuous signs of past conflict, showing how landscape can function as a repository of histories and memories and yet not be apparent at first glance. Most of the photographs in this series appear devoid of human presence, but in a triptych featuring mural representations of the conflict’s three key political leaders – Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto, and Leonid Brezhnev – Ractliffe points more directly to notions of individual agency, culpability, and experience.

For her most recent series, The Borderlands, Ractliffe sought out sites in South Africa that were intricately connected to the history of the Border War and photographed their inhabitants amid their surroundings. The people she photographed, often the subjects of forced relocation and living in precarious conditions, exist at the intersection of the region’s troubled history and challenging present. Works from this series show how histories of violence and dispossession under apartheid intersect with these militarized landscapes.

The Aftermath of Conflict has been organized to coincide with the special exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty, which focuses on works created by artists in present-day Angola between the 16th and 19th centuries (on view at the Metropolitan Museum September 17, 2015 – January 3, 2016). The landscapes captured by Ractliffe consider a more recent chapter of Angola’s history. The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa is curated by Yaëlle Biro, Associate Curator in the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum, together with Dr Evelyn Owen, the 2013-2015 Mellon Curatorial Fellow at The Africa Center, New York, in collaboration with the Museum’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art and Department of Photographs.”

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Man maintaining the lawn of the Monumento de Agostinho Neto' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Man maintaining the lawn of the Monumento de Agostinho Neto
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This monument to Angola’s first president Agostinho Neto (1922-79) was erected in 2001-2 as a gift from North Korea. Neto, a doctor and poet, was a founder of the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and led the party during Angola’s struggle for independence from Portugal. When the Portuguese withdrew from Angola on November 11, 1975, with help from Cuba and in the face of competing anti-colonial factions, the MPLA seized control of Luanda and Neto became president. He went on to cultivate closer ties with the Soviet Union and other communist states. In this photograph, Ractliffe contrasts the heroic figure symbolizing freedom from colonialism shown on the monument’s pedestal with the everyday heroism of a man pushing a heavy lawnmower.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Banco Nacional de Angola (diptych left) 2007

Ractliffe-banco-nacional-RIGHT-WEB

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Banco Nacional de Angola (diptych left and right)
2007
Inkjet prints, 2015
Height: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The National Bank of Angola building was designed by Portuguese architect Vasco Regaleira and inaugurated in 1956 by Portuguese president Francisco Lopes. The building’s pink exterior, with its imposing dome and colonnade, was intended to fit in with other colonial-style buildings in Luanda. The bank’s lavish décor provides a dramatic contrast to many of Ractliffe’s other photographs of the city, especially the marble atrium, which features tiled murals portraying the arrival of the Portuguese in Angola. In the image to the right (bottom above), Portuguese explorers are depicted disembarking from their ship and erecting a padrão; these large limestone markers were inscribed with the Portuguese coat of arms and positioned at key locations along the coast by Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão in 1483. An original padrão is currently on view in the exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Roadside stall on the way to Viana' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Roadside stall on the way to Viana
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the next one, “Wreck of a Chinese ship at Ilha”, stretches of bare ground in and around Luanda form the backdrop to ghostly signs of economic activity. Workmen’s overalls dangle from a tree at a roadside stall next to a taxi rank, and a grounded ship basks on a deserted beach while other vessels float offshore. Before it capsized in the mid-2000s, this ship transported and housed Chinese workers drawn to Angola by the many Chinese-run infrastructure projects in the country. These images reflect Angola’s diverse economy where a globalized workforce and the informal sector both play important roles, yet the absence of the workers themselves is striking.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 2' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 2
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 4' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 4
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This photograph and the previous one were taken inside the Fortaleza de São Miguel, a fort originally built in 1576 by Paulo Dias de Novais, the explorer who “founded” Luanda. It later became the administrative heart of the Portuguese colony of Angola in its important role as a trading center and slaving hub. In 1938 the fort was transformed into the home of the Museum of Angola, and the tiled murals shown here were commissioned at this time. Depicting the flora, fauna and history of Angola, these cobalt-blue 18th-century style tiles were inspired by early modern European prints depicting the Kongo and Angola kingdoms, and represented an attempt to legitimize the ongoing Portuguese presence in the country. Sources included Olfert Dapper’s 1668 “Description of Africa” from which the map fragment shown here is drawn.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych left) 2012

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych middle) 2012

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych right) 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych left, middle and right)
2012
From the series The Borderlands
Inkjet prints, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this triptych, Ractliffe’s focal point is a ghostly ensemble of deserted military buildings. Schmidtsdrift’s original inhabitants were forcibly relocated in the 1950s-70s under the apartheid regime’s policy of racial segregation. From 1974 the emptied settlement was used as a military training base by the South African Defence Force, which was fighting against the exiled Namibian liberation movement and the Angolan army in a conflict later referred to in South Africa as the “Border War”. Now that the war is over, the decommissioned buildings remain, testifying to the region’s past conflicts and histories of forced relocation.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (details)
2009
Inkjet prints, 2015
Height: 15 3/4 in. (40 cm) Width: 19 11/16 in. (50 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The central figure of Agostinho Neto, Angola’s anti-colonial leader and president from 1975-79, is flanked by Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro on the left, and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the right. This mural personifies the threats of African Nationalism and Communism that propelled South Africa to become involved in the Border War. It highlights the fact that the Angolan Civil War was also a Cold War battleground, with Cuba and the Soviet Union on the side of Neto’s party, the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola), and South Africa and the United States supporting UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola). Here, all three men still command a presence despite their faded, cartoon-like rendering.

 

 

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09
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 19th September – 20th December 2015

 

 

Following on from the magnificent Francesca Woodman, here we have an artist from a previous period who investigates aspects of alienation, despair, loss and hope. These are of the era:

Post-McCarthyism but still caught in that cataclysm / Henri Cartier-Bresson / Irving Penn / Ansel Adams / Saturday Evening Post / Allen Ginsberg / Beat Generation / emerging counterculture of the 1960s.

It is an Americana (the despairing history, geography and culture of the United States) with an elusive meaning and a aesthetic that seems to be tight … but one that can’t stand to be scratched.

While some of the images are memorable (such as Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956) there is not much living, lying underneath. Nothing that reveals itself to me over time, that makes me return to the image again and again, for insight and, possibly, refreshment. A little hope and much sadness.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Philadelphia 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.

 

 

“City streets were Heath’s first studio: Philadelphia; Chicago; New York, where he came to prominence; and later Toronto. Isolation is a prevailing theme: Subjects gaze cryptically into the camera, their expressions unreadable. Often they stare beyond the frame, lost in thought. Crowds of individuals populate a single location, but don’t interact; disconnected, in their own worlds.

The dispossessed and alienated are Heath’s subjects, and he wrote his autobiography with their images: children with ragged clothes and dirty faces, stone-faced or crying, hardly ever smiling. A sweet-faced girl with tangled hair and huge light eyes stares out from the cover of Heath’s masterwork A Dialogue with Solitude, as if to say, “Here I am,” and nothing more…

Heath, who had to find his way alone, photographed passengers looking out of car windows and riding in elevated trains, going who knows where? Many photos are of just one person, and even the group shots set one occupant apart. Faces are expressionless, but their eyes are full of sorrow, uncertainty, loneliness, fear. We recognize that look: the one we all have when our public mask falls away and our faces betray the thoughts that wake us in the middle of the night.”

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Pamela J.  Forsythe. “Alone together” on the Broad Street Review website October 18, 2015

 

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Kansas City, Missouri, March 1967'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Kansas City, Missouri, March 1967
1967 (negative); 1968 (print)
Gelatin silver print
7 1/8 x 10 1/2 inches (18.1 x 26.7 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Berkeley, California, 1964'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Berkeley, California, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
4 5/8 x 6 13/16 inches (11.7 x 17.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Erin Freed, New York City, 1963'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Erin Freed, New York City, 1963
1963
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 x 8 3/4 inches (18.6 x 22.2 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Carl Dean Kipper, Korea, 1953-54'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Carl Dean Kipper, Korea, 1953-54
1953-54
Gelatin silver print
6 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches (17.1 x 24.8 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Philadelphia, 1952'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Philadelphia, 1952
1952
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

“Experience Dave Heath’s bittersweet vision of modern life in his powerful photographs of loss and hope.

From a crowd gathered in Central Park to solitary figures lost in thought, Dave Heath’s images conjure feelings of alienation and a desire for human connection. Multitude, Solitude highlights the photographer’s black-and-white pictures of the 1950s and 1960s, an intense period of self-discovery and innovation for the artist. During these pivotal years, Heath developed groundbreaking approaches to narrative and image sequence, producing exquisite individual prints, handmade book maquettes, his poetic masterwork, A Dialogue with Solitude, and multimedia slide presentations. His sensitive explorations of loss, pain, love, and hope reveal Heath to be one of the most original photographers of those decades.

This exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of Heath’s deeply personal early work. Abandoned by both his parents by the age of four, Heath lived in Philadelphia foster homes and in an orphanage until the age of sixteen. The turmoil of his childhood profoundly shaped Heath and his artistic vision. Just before his sixteenth birthday, he encountered a poignant photo-essay about foster care in Life magazine, and became intrigued by photography’s potential to transcend simple reportage. Almost entirely self-taught, Heath channeled his feelings of abandonment into a body of work that underscores the importance and difficulties of human contact and interaction. Multitude, Solitude reaffirms Heath’s status as a key figure in twentieth-century photography and highlights his deeply empathetic sensibility.

About the artist

Born in Philadelphia in 1931, Dave Heath became interested in photography as a teenager. In the following years he trained himself in the craft, taking courses in commercial art, working in a photo-processing lab, and studying paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While stationed in Korea with the US Army, he photographed his fellow soldiers, creating images that are at once candid and subdued. In 1957 Heath moved to New York City and established himself as a major artistic talent.Heath taught at the Dayton Art Institute, Ohio, and Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, before moving in 1970 to Toronto, where he headed the photography program at Ryerson University for many years. His work is in the collections of leading museums, including The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Heath’s major monograph, A Dialogue with Solitude, was published in 1965 and reprinted in 2000. His work has been included in important historical studies and surveys, such as Robert M. Doty’s Photography in America (1974); John Szarkowski’s Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960 (1978); James Borcoman’s Magicians of Light: Photographs from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada (1993); and Keith F. Davis’s An American Century: From Dry-Plate to Digital (1999).”

Text from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 9/16 inches (16.2 x 24.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957' (detail)

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Drowning Scene, Central Park, New York City, 1957 (detail)
1957
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 9/16 inches (16.2 x 24.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Vengeful Sister, Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 x 8 15/16 inches (18.3 x 22.7 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) '7 Arts Coffee Gallery, New York City, 1959'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
7 Arts Coffee Gallery, New York City, 1959
1959
Gelatin silver print
7 3/4 x 8 3/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'New York City, 1958-59'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
New York City, 1958-59
1958-59
Gelatin silver print
7 x 8 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) '5th Avenue at 43rd Street, New York City, 1958'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
5th Avenue at 43rd Street, New York City, 1958
1958
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 x 9 3/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Santa Barbara, California, 1964'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Santa Barbara, California, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
5 x 7 9/16 inches (12.7 x 19.2 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Rochester, New York, 1958'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Rochester, New York, 1958
1958
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 x 9 13/16 inches (16.7 x 24.9 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of Hallmark Cards, Inc.,

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Washington Square, New York City, 1959-1960'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Washington Square, New York City, 1959-1960
1959-1960
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

Forever the outsider

Heath left Philadelphia to serve in the Korean War, where he photographed fellow soldiers and his impressions of war. Soon after his return, he departed for Chicago, where he worked as a photographer’s assistant. He began to assemble handmade books, grouping photos into themed essays and putting text to the images, establishing the template he would use in A Dialogue with Solitude.

Relocating to New York in 1957, Heath studied with photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, refining his photo essay technique and adopting Smith’s practice of making fine art prints of his work. He took photos with available light, in the street and at favorite haunts like Washington Square Park and Seven Arts Coffee Gallery, mounting the Dialogue exhibition in 1963. In that same year, he won his first Guggenheim.

Accepting life on its own terms

When Dialogue went to print in 1965, Heath employed the same editorial control he had with earlier creations, selecting, sizing, and laying out every photo, dictating typeface and size, and selecting text from famous authors, such as William Butler Yeats, Hermann Hesse, and T.S. Eliot. Only in the preface did he use his own words:

“Pressed from all sides by the rapid pace of technological progress and increased authoritarian control, many people are caught up in an anguish of alienation. Adrift and without sense of purpose, they are compelled to engage in a dialogue with the inmost depths of their being in a search for renewal.” He concludes, “What I have endeavored to convey in my work is not a sense of futility… but an acceptance… that the pleasures and joys of life are fleeting and rare.”

The final sections convey a few of those pleasurable moments: In two photos entitled Chicago (1956), a small boy stands, head thrown back in exultation, and two boys mug for the camera. In Fifth Avenue, New York City (1960), a father snuggles his baby to his face, looking over the child’s head protectively, and in Barbara Freed and Her Son Sean, New York City (1959), a toddler heads toward a pair of outstretched female hands. Heath selected the final excerpt from Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death?

.
Pamela J.  Forsythe. “Alone together” on the Broad Street Review website October 18, 2015

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Greenwich Village, New York City, 1957'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Greenwich Village, New York City, 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 9 9/16 inches (32.1 x 24.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'New York City, 1962'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
New York City, 1962
1962
Gelatin silver print, 10 13/16 x 7 7/16 inches (27.5 x 18.9 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print, 12 9/16 x 8 9/16 inches (31.9 x 21.7 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 x 6 5/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Chicago, 1956'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Chicago, 1956
1956
Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Washington Square, New York City, 1960'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Washington Square, New York City, 1960
1960
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 5/8 inches (32.1 x 21.9 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Washington Square, New York City, 1958'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Washington Square, New York City, 1958
1958
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 3/8 inches (32.1 x 21.3 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931) 'Howard Crawford, c. 1953-54'

 

Dave Heath (Canadian, born United States, 1931)
Howard Crawford, c. 1953-54
c. 1953-54
Gelatin silver print
13 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri: Gift of the Hall Family Foundation

 

 

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01
Oct
15

Exhibition: ‘From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 17th May – 4th October 2015

The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor

 

 

The work of Greta Stern is the better known of these two artists (Ringl + Pit studio and the surreal, psychoanalytic 1950s work), but I find it is the underrated photographs of Horacio Coppola that are the gems in this posting.

It is a bit rough that Richard B. Woodward, commenting on the exhibition on the Collector Daily website (below), observes that with no production after 1938 it “raises suspicions that he was not an artist who sustained himself at a top level.” I beg to differ. Many illuminati have short, explosive and powerful careers before giving the game away, or changing to a different medium or form.

He also observes that, “Coppola failed to channel the nocturnal otherworldliness of the city found in Brassäi and Brandt, only a few these photos have the haunted quality they achieved,” after the curators of the exhibition, in the catalogue, compare Coppola’s work to those two esteemed individuals. He cites a “sneaky street picture” from 1936 as evidence and instance of an image where Coppola captured a magical moment. I think both curators and critic are missing the point. Coppola is certainly NOT like Brassäi and Brandt in that his photographs at night are not ROMANTIC photographs of the nocturnal fabric of the city. Coppola’s images do NOT possess the kind of magic that Woodward is looking for (that of Brassai’s Paris at Night for example), that he believes should be there, simply because they are of a different order. But that does not make them any less valuable in terms of their insight and energy.

Coppola’s images, steeped in his training at the Bauhaus, are objective, modernist magic. By that I mean they possess a most uncanny use of form, of space and light. Day or night, he places his camera so carefully, in such a controlled and ego-less way, that the precision of his renditions is exquisite. For example, look at Calle Florida (1936, below). What seems an ordinary street, a photograph that anyone could have taken. But no! look again. That perfect rendition of shadow, darkness, movement and the spaces between the figures, The eye is led down the street to the vanishing point and then is released with all that pent up energy in to the V of the sky. Magnificent.

I wish I had more of his photographs to show you, especially his night shots. Coppola wasn’t a Walker Evans or a Paul Strand, certainly not a Kertész, Brassäi or Brandt because he simply was himself, with his own unique signature. He should NEVER be put down for that. I hope this wonderful artist starts to get the recognition he deserves.

Marcus

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

 

 

“The catalog contends that Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola created a stunning body of work, but the show argues, in many ways, for two discrete bodies of work. What might have been accomplished instead of trying to insert two lesser known figures into the canon is to highlight what’s really interesting about their lives and careers: that they – and particularly Stern – were migratory and interdisciplinary, harbingers of the kinds of artistic practice we see today in which commerce, parenthood and politics can no longer be elided, and so they become part of the work. The museum could have showcased their work along with that of their friends and compatriots, from Bauhaus to Buenos Aires, from the literary world to the poets, writers, activists and psychoanalysts with whom they interacted and not just as mute players in this narrative. Now that would have been an extraordinary show.”

.
Martha Schwendener. “‘From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola,’ a Bicontinental Couple” on the NY Times website, May 28 2015

 

“Coppola (1906-2012), on the other hand, has no paper trail of distinction. Outside of his native Argentina, where he was an early convert to Modernism in the late 1920s and later an evangelist for the style, his name draws a blank in most art circles. Parr and Badger cite his Buenos Aires, published in 1937, in volume 2 of their photobook history. But not until 2011 were Coppola’s photographs exhibited in New York, and then only in an imported group show titled Light of Modernity in Buenos Aires (1929-1954) at the Nailya Alexander Gallery. Since then, nothing until now…

The wall of photographs in the next room, done after 1935 when he returned to Argentina – and the basis of the book Buenos Aires – are meant to present Coppola at the height of his powers. Meister puts these views of the Argentine capital – teeming with urban crowds on the streets or at racetracks, shopping at department stores, walking through illuminated streets at night – on a par with Brassäi’s of Paris and Brandt’s of London.

This is a stretch. Perhaps because the prints are hung salon-style, many of them too low for their details to be read, or, more likely, because Coppola failed to channel the nocturnal otherworldliness of the city found in Brassäi and Brandt, only a few these photos have the haunted quality they achieved. If I knew Buenos Aires and had an interior map of these places in my head, I might change my mind. But a sneaky street picture from 1936 of three passersby looking into the front windows of a bridal shop, which are filled with staged, idealized portraits of marriage bliss, is one of the few instances where Coppola captured a magical moment. The absence of anything he did after 1938 raises suspicions that he was not an artist who sustained himself at a top level.”

.
Richard B. Woodward. “From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola @MoMA” on the Collector Daily website June 17, 2015

 

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Calle California. Vuelta de Rocha. La Boca' 1931

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Calle California. Vuelta de Rocha. La Boca
1931
Gelatin silver print, printed 1996
7 5/8 × 11 5/16″ (19.4 × 28.7 cm)
IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Buenos Aires' 1931

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Buenos Aires
1931
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 x 4 9/16″ (8 x 11.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Vital Projects Fund, Robert B. Menschel

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Rivadivia between Salguero and Medrano' 1931

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Rivadivia between Salguero and Medrano
1931
Gelatin silver print, printed 1996
7 5/8 × 11 5/16″ (19.4 × 28.7 cm)
IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Still Life with Egg and Twine' 1932

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Still Life with Egg and Twine
1932
Gelatin silver print
8 1/8 x 10 1/8″ (20.7 x 25.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Acquired through the generosity of Peter Norton

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'London' 1934

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
London
1934
Gelatin silver print
6 x 7 5/8″ (15.2 x 19.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Latin American and Caribbean Fund

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'London' 1934

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
London
1934
Gelatin silver print
5 11/16 x 7 3/8″ (14.5 x 18.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Photography Fund

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Avenida Diaz Velez al 4800' 1936

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Avenida Diaz Velez al 4800
1936
Gelatin silver print, printed 1952
16 3/4 x 23 1/2″ (42.5 x 59.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Agnes Rindge Claflin Fund

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Avenida Diaz Velez al 4800' 1936 (detail)

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Avenida Diaz Velez al 4800 (detail)
1936
Gelatin silver print, printed 1952
16 3/4 x 23 1/2″ (42.5 x 59.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Agnes Rindge Claflin Fund

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Balneario Municipal' 1936

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Balneario Municipal
1936
Gelatin silver print
8 1/4 x 10 7/16″ (21 x 26.5 cm)
Estate of Horacio Coppola; courtesy Galería Jorge Mara – La Ruche, Buenos Aires

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Balneario Municipal' 1936 (detail)

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Balneario Municipal (detail)
1936
Gelatin silver print
8 1/4 x 10 7/16″ (21 x 26.5 cm)
Estate of Horacio Coppola; courtesy Galería Jorge Mara – La Ruche, Buenos Aires

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Calle Florida' 1936

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Calle Florida
1936
Gelatin silver print
5 11/16 × 7 5/16″ (14.5 × 18.5 cm)
Collection Léticia and Stanislas Poniatowski

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Calle Florida' 1936 (detail)

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Calle Florida (detail)
1936
Gelatin silver print
5 11/16 × 7 5/16″ (14.5 × 18.5 cm)
Collection Léticia and Stanislas Poniatowski

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Directorio and J.M. Moreno' 1936

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Directorio and J.M. Moreno
1936
Gelatin silver print
6 5/8 × 7 13/16″ (16.8 × 19.8 cm)
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Plaza San Martín from Kavanagh' 1936

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Plaza San Martín from Kavanagh
1936
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 x 10 1/2″ (18.5 x 26.7 cm)
Private Collection

 

 

From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola is the first major exhibition of the German-born Grete Stern and the Argentinean Horacio Coppola, two leading figures of avant-garde photography who established themselves on both sides of the Atlantic. In Berlin in 1927, Stern began taking private classes with Walter Peterhans, who was soon to become head of photography at the Bauhaus. A year later, in Peterhans’s studio, she met Ellen (Rosenberg) Auerbach, with whom she opened a pioneering studio specializing in portraiture and advertising. Named after their childhood nicknames, the studio ringl + pit embraced both commercial and avant-garde loyalties, creating proto-feminist works.

In Buenos Aires during the same period, Coppola initiated his photographic experimentations, exploring his surroundings and contributing to the discourse on modernist practices across media in local cultural magazines. In 1929 he founded the Buenos Aires Film Club to introduce the most advanced foreign films to Argentine audiences. His early works show a burgeoning interest in new modes of photographic expression that led him to the Bauhaus in 1932, where he met Stern and they began their joint history.

Following the close of the Bauhaus and the rising threat of the Nazi powers in 1933, Stern and Coppola fled Germany. Stern arrived first in London, where her friends included activists affiliated with leftist circles and where she made her now iconic portraits of German exiles. After traveling through Europe, camera in hand, Coppola joined Stern in London, where he pursued a modernist idiom in his photographs of the fabric of the city, tinged alternately with social concern and surrealist strangeness.

In the summer of 1935, Stern and Coppola embarked for Buenos Aires where they mounted an exhibition in the offices of the avant-garde magazine Sur, announcing the arrival of modern photography in Argentina. The unique character of Buenos Aires was captured in Coppola’s photographic encounters from the city’s center to its outskirts and in Stern’s numerous portraits of the city’s intelligentsia. The exhibition ends in the early 1950s, with Stern’s forward-thinking Sueños (Dreams), a series of photomontages she contributed to the popular women’s magazine Idilio, portraying women’s dreams with urgency and surreal wit.

The exhibition is accompanied by a major publication edited by Roxana Marcoci and Sarah Meister with a selection of original texts by Stern and Coppola translated into English by Rachel Kaplan. The catalogue will consist of three essays on the artists written by the exhibition curators and scholar Jodi Roberts.”

Text from the MoMA website

 

Ringl + Pit (German) 'Ringlpitis' 1931

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Ringlpitis
1931
Artist book with collage
7 7/8 x 7 7/8″ (20 x 20 cm)
Estate of Horacio Coppola, Buenos Aires

 

Ringl + Pit (German) 'Ringlpitis' 1931 (detail)

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Ringlpitis (detail)
1931
Artist book with collage
7 7/8 x 7 7/8″ (20 x 20 cm)
Estate of Horacio Coppola, Buenos Aires

 

Ringl + Pit (German) 'Columbus' Egg' 1930

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Columbus’ Egg
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 7 7/8″ (23.5 x 20 cm)
Collection Helen Kornblum

 

Ringl + Pit (German) 'Hat and Gloves' 1930

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Hat and Gloves
1930
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 7/8 x 9 3/4″ (37.8 x 24.8 cm)
Sheet: 15 11/16 x 10 1/2″ (39.8 x 26.7 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Ringl + Pit (German) Ellen Auerbach Grete Stern. 'Soapsuds' 1930

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Ellen Auerbach 
Grete Stern
Soapsuds
1930
Gelatin silver print
7 x 6 1/4″ (17.8 x 15.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Roxann Taylor

 

Ringl + Pit (German) 'Komol' 1931

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Komol
1931
Gelatin silver print
14 1/8 x 9 5/8″ (35.9 x 24.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany. 1904–1999) 'Self-Portrait' 1943

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Self-Portrait
1943
Gelatin silver print, printed 1958
11 x 8 11/16″ (28 x 22 cm)
Estate of Horacio Coppola, Buenos Aires

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art has organized the first major exhibition to examine the individual accomplishments and parallel developments of two of the foremost practitioners of avant-garde photography, film, advertising, and graphic design in the first half of the 20th century: Grete Stern (German, 1904-1999) and Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012). From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola will be on view May 17 through October 4, 2015, and features more than 300 works gathered from museums and private collection across Europe and the Americas – many of which have never before been exhibited in the United States. These include more than 250 vintage photographs and photomontages, 40 works of original typographic design and award-winning advertising materials, 26 photobooks and periodicals, and four experimental 16mm films. From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, and Sarah Meister, Curator; with Drew Sawyer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography.

Stern and Coppola were united in their exploration of a modernist idiom, yet despite their relationship as husband and wife (from 1935 to 1943) they pursued this goal along remarkably original paths. Having started their artistic careers within the European avant-garde of the late 1920s and early 1930s, Stern and Coppola produced their major body of works in Argentina, where they thrived amid a vibrant milieu of Argentine and émigré artists and intellectuals. As harbingers of New Vision photography in a country caught up in the throes of forging its own modern identity, their distinctly experimental styles led to their recognition as founders of modern Latin American photography.

The earliest works in the exhibition date from the late 1920s to the early 1930s, when both artists began their initial forays into photography and graphic design. After beginning her studies in Berlin with Walter Peterhans, who became head of photography at the Bauhaus, in 1928 Stern met Ellen (Rosenberg) Auerbach and together they opened the pioneering studio ringl + pit, specializing in portraiture and advertising. Named after their childhood nicknames (Stern was ringl; Auerbach was pit), the studio embraced both commercial and avant-garde loyalties, creating proto-feminist works. The exhibition presents a large number of photographs, graphic design materials, and advertisements by the duo that explored alternative models of the feminine. Defying the conventional style of German advertising photography in this period, ringl + pit emerged as a dissident voice that stirred the interest of critics, artists, and consumers.

Coppola’s first photographs, made in Buenos Aires in the late 1920s, reveal an optical curiosity completely out of sync with prevailing trends in Argentina. Instead of using the camera to accurately render the details of the visible world, Coppola instead explored its potential to complicate traditional understandings of pictorial space. Like Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy, he was interested in the effects of light, prisms, and glass for their visual and metaphoric potential, and he photographed his native city from unexpected perspectives akin to Germaine Krull’s images of Paris from the same decade. These early works show the burgeoning interest in new modes of photographic expression that led him to the Bauhaus in 1932, where he met Stern.

Following the close of the Bauhaus and the rising threat of the Nazi powers in 1933, Stern and Coppola fled Germany. Stern arrived first in London, where her friends included activists affiliated with leftist circles, and the exhibition presents her now iconic portraits of German exiles, including those of playwright Bertolt Brecht, actress Helene Weigel, Marxist philosopher Karl Korsch, and psychoanalyst Paula Heimann. After traveling and photographing throughout Europe, Coppola joined Stern in London, where his modernist photographs depicting the fabric of the city alternate between social concern and surrealist strangeness.

The exhibition’s third gallery includes films that Coppola produced in Berlin, Paris, and London during these years. The first of these films, Der Traum (The Dream), bears the strongest relationship to Surrealist filmmaking, while his next two films, Un Muelle del Sena (A Quai on the Seine) (1934) and A Sunday on Hampstead Heath (1935), are increasingly ambitious, using the film camera alternately as a still camera and for its unique capacity to pan across a scene and to capture action in urban environments.

In 1935, Stern and Coppola married and embarked for Buenos Aires, where they mounted an exhibition in the offices of the avant-garde magazine Sur, announcing the arrival of modern photography in Argentina. Following the exhibition’s successful critical reception, their home became a hub for artists and intellectuals, both those native to Argentina and the exiles continuously arriving from a war-torn Europe. The fourth gallery in From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires presents Coppola’s photographic encounters from the city’s center to its outskirts and Stern’s numerous portraits of the city’s intelligentsia.

In 1936, Coppola received a career-defining commission to photograph Buenos Aires for a major publication celebrating the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding. Coppola used the opportunity to construct his own modern vision of the city, one that would incorporate the celebration of the local and his appreciation of the city’s structure inspired by the architect Le Corbusier. Concurrently, Coppola made his final film, The Birth of the Obelisk – an ode to Buenos Aires and its newly constructed monument. The film combines dynamic shots of the city with sequences of carefully constructed stills, demonstrating in six-and-a half minutes a vibrant, confident mix of influences, from Moholy-Nagy and Krull to the Concrete art movement in Argentina to films by Walter Ruttmann, Charles Sheeler, and Paul Strand.

Throughout the 1940s, Stern took incisive portraits of artists and writers, many of whom were aligned with the international antifascist cause and the emergence of an emancipatory feminist consciousness. These included playwright Amparo Alvajar; socialist realist painters Antonio Berni, Gertrudis Chale, and Lino Eneas Spilimbergo; poet Mony Hermelo; and graphic designer Clément Moreau. Among Stern’s numerous other subjects were poet-politician Pablo Neruda, abstract painter Manuel Ángeles Ortiz, and writer Jorge Luis Borges.

The exhibition concludes in the mid-1950s, at the end of Juan Domingo Perón’s era, with a large presentation of Stern’s Sueños (Dreams), a series of forward-thinking photomontages that she contributed on a weekly basis to the women’s magazine Idilio (Idyll) from 1948 to 1951. In Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home, an elegantly dressed woman is converted into a table lamp that waits to be turned on by a male hand, using electricity as a sexual pun to expose feminine objectification. In Dream No. 24: Surprise, a female protagonist hides her face in shock as she confronts a larger-than-life baby doll advancing toward her. Debunking fantasies about women’s lives, Stern plumbed the depths of her own experience as a mother and artist to negotiate the terms between blissful domesticity and entrapment, privacy and exposure, cultural sexism and intellectual rebellion.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Untitled (Staircase at Calle Corrientes)' 1928

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Untitled (Staircase at Calle Corrientes)
1928
Gelatin silver print
13 3/4 x 11 3/4″ (34.9 x 29.9 cm)
Collection Alexis Fabry, Paris

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) '"¡Esto es Buenos Aires!" (Jorge Luis Borges) "This is Buenos Aires!" (Jorge Luis Borges)' 1931

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
“¡Esto es Buenos Aires!” (Jorge Luis Borges)
“This is Buenos Aires!” (Jorge Luis Borges)
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 5 7/8″ (22 x 15 cm)
Estate of Horacio Coppola, Buenos Aires

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Avenida Corrientes towards the West' 1936

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012)
Avenida Corrientes towards the West
1936
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 x 5 5/16″ (20.5 x 13.5 cm)
Estate of Horacio Coppola; courtesy Galería Jorge Mara – La Ruche, Buenos Aires

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Buenos Aires' 1936

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Buenos Aires
1936
Gelatin silver print
8 3/16 x 5 15/16″ (20.8 x 15.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Latin American and Caribbean Fund

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Calle Corrientes at the Corner of Reconquista' 1936

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Calle Corrientes at the Corner of Reconquista
1936
Gelatin silver print
11 × 7 11/16″ (28 × 19.5 cm)
IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906–2012) 'Calle Florida at 8 pm' 1936

 

Horacio Coppola (Argentine, 1906-2012)
Calle Florida at 8 pm
1936
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 11 7/16″ (37.5 x 29 cm)
Eric Franck Fine Art, London

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany. 1904–1999) 'Brecht' 1934

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Brecht
1934
Gelatin silver print
10 1/4 x 6 11/16″ (26 x 17 cm)
Private Collection, Boston

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany. 1904–1999) 'Gyula Kosice' 1945

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Gyula Kosice
1945
Gelatin silver print
11 7/16 x 9 1/8″ (29.1 x 23.2 cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

 

Gyula Kosice, born Fernando Fallik (April 26, 1924) in Košice (Slovakia) is a naturalized Argentine sculptor, plastic artist, theoretician and poet, one of the most important figures in kinetic and luminal art and luminance vanguard. He used his natal city name as artist name. He was one of the precursors of abstract and non-figurative art in Latin America.

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany. 1904–1999) 'Jorge Luis Borges' 1951

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Jorge Luis Borges
1951
Gelatin silver print
10 13/16 x 8 1/4″ (27.5 x 21 cm)
Estate of Horacio Coppola, Buenos Aires

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999) 'Sueño No. 7: Who Will She Be?' 1949

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 7: Who Will She Be?
1949
Gelatin silver print
15 1/2 × 19 1/16″ (39.4 × 48.4 cm)
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999) 'Sueño No. 43: Untitled' 1949

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 43: Untitled
1949
Gelatin silver print
17 7/16 × 14 5/16″ (44.3 × 36.3 cm)
Collection Léticia and Stanislas Poniatowski

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany. 1904–1999) 'Sueño No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home' 1949

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home
1949
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 x 9″ (26.6 x 22.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Latin American and Caribbean Fund through gift of Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis in honor of Adriana Cisneros de Griffin

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany. 1904–1999) 'Sueño No. 28: Love without Illusion' 1951

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 28: Love without Illusion
1951
Gelatin silver print
19 11/16 × 15 3/4″ (50 × 40 cm)
IVAM, Institut Valencià d’ Art Modern

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999) 'Sueño No. 27: Doesn't Fade with Water' 1951

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 27: Doesn’t Fade with Water
1951
Gelatin silver print, printed 1990s
11 7/16 x 9 1/16″ (29 x 23 cm)
Collection Eduardo F. Costantini, Buenos Aires

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany. 1904–1999) 'Sueño No. 31: Made in England' 1950

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 31: Made in England
1950
Gelatin silver print
19 11/16 × 13 3/16″ (50 × 33.5 cm)
IVAM, Institut Valencià d’ Art Modern

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany. 1904–1999) 'D.L.H.' 1925

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
D.L.H.
1925
Photocollage
8 7/16 x 6 5/16″ (21.5 x 16 cm)
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany. 1904–1999) 'Photomontage for Madí, Ramos Mejía, Argentina' 1946-47

 

Grete Stern (Argentine, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Photomontage for Madí, Ramos Mejía, Argentina
1946-47
Gelatin silver print
23 9/16 x 19 7/16″ (59.8 x 49.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Latin American and Caribbean Fund and partial gift of Mauro Herlitzka

 

 

“She also photographed members of Madí (from the first two letters of the words “materialismo dialéctico”), who were committed to abstraction as an antidote to the propaganda disseminated by Juan Perón. One of Ms. Stern’s best-known works, on view here, is the “Photomontage for Madí, Ramos Mejia, Argentina” (1946-47), which she made for the second issue of their journal. For the images, she used the “M” from a neon sign advertising Movado watches and superimposed “Madí” over the obelisk designed by Alberto Prebisch to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Buenos Aires. The obelisk symbolized, for her milieu, abstract geometry.”

Martha Schwendener. “‘From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola,’ a Bicontinental Couple” on the NY Times website, May 28 2015

 

 

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22
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘Art as Activism: Graphic Art from the Merrill C. Berman Collection’ at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library, New York

Exhibition dates: 26th June – 13th September 2015

 

 

It has been a pleasure researching the artists and the issues for this posting. Strong graphics for just social causes. Words and images are powerful tools against bigotry, racism and extremism of any form.

I realised the other day that the older I get the more liberal and socially conscious I become.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Featuring three main sections, Art as Activism opens with works dating from the Great Depression to World War II. The posters and broadsides from the era focus on the American labor movement, Communism, racism in the South, housing in the North, and the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance.

 

 

Hugo Gellert (1892-1985) 'Daily Worker' c. 1935

 

Hugo Gellert (1892-1985)
Daily Worker
c. 1935
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman
Courtesy Mary Ryan Gallery, New York

 

J. Louis Engdahl (1884-1932) 'Labor Defender' June 1931

 

J. Louis Engdahl (1884-1932)
Labor Defender
June 1931
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

The Scottsboro Boys were nine African-American teenagers accused in Alabama of raping two White American women on a train in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The cases included a lynch mob before the suspects had been indicted, a frameup, all-white juries, rushed trials, and disruptive mobs. It is frequently cited as an example of an overall miscarriage of justice in the United States legal system.

On March 25, 1931, several people were hoboing on a freight train traveling between Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee. Several white teenagers jumped off the train and reported to the sheriff that they had been attacked by a group of African-American teenagers. The sheriff deputized a posse comitatus, stopped and searched the train at Paint Rock, Alabama and arrested the African Americans. Two young white women also got off the train and accused the African-American teenagers of rape. The case was first heard in Scottsboro, Alabama, in three rushed trials, in which the defendants received poor legal representation. All but 12-year-old Roy Wright were convicted of rape and sentenced to death, the common sentence in Alabama at the time for black men convicted of raping white women, even though there was medical evidence to suggest that they had not committed the crime.

With help from the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), the case was appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed seven of the eight convictions, and granted 13-year-old Eugene Williams a new trial because he was a minor. Chief Justice John C. Anderson dissented, ruling that the defendants had been denied an impartial jury, fair trial, fair sentencing, and effective counsel. While waiting for their trials, eight of the nine defendants were held in Kilby Prison. The cases were twice appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which led to landmark decisions on the conduct of trials. In Powell v. Alabama (1932), it ordered new trials.

The case was returned to the lower court and the judge allowed a change of venue, moving the retrials to Decatur, Alabama. Judge Horton was appointed. During the retrials, one of the alleged victims admitted fabricating the rape story and asserted that none of the Scottsboro Boys touched either of the white women. The jury found the defendants guilty, but the judge set aside the verdict and granted a new trial.

The judge was replaced and the case tried under a more biased judge, whose rulings went against the defense. For the third time a jury – now with one African-American member – returned a third guilty verdict. The case returned to the US Supreme Court on appeal. It ruled that African Americans had to be included on juries, and ordered retrials. Charges were finally dropped for four of the nine defendants. Sentences for the rest ranged from 75 years to death. All but two served prison sentences. One was shot in prison by a guard and permanently disabled. Two escaped, were later charged with other crimes, convicted, and sent back to prison. Clarence Norris, the oldest defendant and the only one sentenced to death, “jumped parole” in 1946 and went into hiding. He was found in 1976 and pardoned by Governor George Wallace, by which time the case had been thoroughly analyzed and shown to be an injustice. Norris later wrote a book about his experiences. The last surviving defendant died in 1989.

“The Scottsboro Boys,” as they became known, were defended by many in the North and attacked by many in the South. The case is now widely considered a miscarriage of justice, particularly highlighted by use of all-white juries. African Americans in Alabama had been disenfranchised since the turn of the century and thus were generally disqualified from jury duty. The case has been explored in many works of literature, music, theatre, film and television. On November 21, 2013, Alabama’s parole board voted to grant posthumous pardons to the three Scottsboro Boys who had not been pardoned or had their convictions overturned.

Text from Wikipedia website

 

 

Not the usual version of this song by Billie Holiday, but a different rendition by the great Nina Simone (no date to the recording). White southerners lynched nearly 4,000 black men, women and children between the years 1877 and 1950.

This song, written by white teacher ‪Abel Meeropol‬ as a poem and published in 1937, was performed by many artists (but most notably, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone,) is a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era. In the lyrics, black victims are portrayed as “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.

 

Southern trees
Bearing strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
And blood at the roots
Black bodies
Swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’
From the poplar trees
Pastoral scene
Of the gallant south
Them big bulging eyes
And the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia
Clean and fresh
Then the sudden smell
Of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit
For the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the leaves to drop
Here is
 strange and bitter crop

 

 

Vera Bock (1905-73) 'Haiti; A Drama of the Black Napoleon by William Du Bois at Lafayette Theatre' 1938

 

Vera Bock (1905-73)
Haiti; A Drama of the Black Napoleon by William Du Bois at Lafayette Theatre
1938
Screenprint on board
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (French pronunciation: ​[tusɛ̃ lu.vɛʁ.tyʁ]; 20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803), also known as Toussaint L’Ouverture, Toussaint-Louverture, Toussaint Bréda, and nicknamed the “Napoléon Noir” (Black Napoleon), was the leader of the Haitian Revolution. His military genius and political acumen transformed an entire society of slaves into the independent state of Haiti. The success of the Haitian Revolution shook the institution of slavery throughout the New World.

Toussaint Louverture began his military career as a leader of the 1791 slave rebellion in the French colony of Saint-Domingue; he was by then a free black man. Initially allied with the Spaniards of neighboring Santo Domingo, Toussaint switched allegiance to the French when they abolished slavery. He gradually established control over the whole island and used political and military tactics to gain dominance over his rivals. Throughout his years in power, he worked to improve the economy and security of Saint-Domingue. He restored the plantation system using paid labour, negotiated trade treaties with Britain and the United States, and maintained a large and well-disciplined army.

In 1801 he promulgated an autonomist constitution for the colony, with himself as governor for life. In 1802 he was forced to resign by forces sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to restore French authority in the former colony. He was deported to France, where he died in 1803. The Haitian Revolution continued under his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who declared independence in early 1804. The French had lost two-thirds of forces sent to the island in an attempt to suppress the revolution; most died of yellow fever. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Unidentified artist. 'Negro Peoples Theatre Presents: Langston Hughes' Great Play, "Don’t You Want to be Free?" Directed by Fanny McConnell, Lincoln Centre' 1938

 

Unidentified artist
Negro Peoples Theatre Presents: Langston Hughes’ Great Play, “Don’t You Want to be Free?” Directed by Fanny McConnell, Lincoln Centre
1938
Screenprint on paper mounted on board
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue”, which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue”.

When Langston Hughes returned from his assignment in Spain as a war correspondent, he told Louise Patterson of his idea for establishing a people’s theatre. She suggested the hall of the International Workers Order (a leftist labor-cultural group) above Frank’s Restaurant on 125th Street. This was the first home of the Harlem Suitcase Theatre, in 1937.

Named for its arena staging and lack of scenic properties, Suitcase Theatre was a peoples’ theatre composed of amateur actors. The audiences were seventy-five per cent black; admission was thirty-five cents. The program was usually two or three short pieces; The Slave, or The Man Who Died at Twelve O’Clock, or several skits written by Mr. Hughes lampooning white caricatures of blacks: Em-Fueher Jones, Limitations of Life, and Little Eva’s End. The piece de resistance was always Don’t You Want To Be Free? We had no play so the suggestion came up one evening as we were sitting there plotting the theatre, that Langston should do a play and why not a play of music-drama of many of his folk poems? So that he went home that night after we had had that discussion and sat up all night writing it and came back the next night with Don’t You Want To Be Free? (from an interview with Louise Patterson by Norma Markman, 1969)

Although Suitcase Theater lasted only two years (it did not survive its transplant to the library basement on 135th Street) the idea of a Negro People’s Theater spread to other cities. In March 1939, Mr. Hughes founded the New Negro Theater in Los Angeles.

The success of Don’t You Want To Be Free?, which opened in February 1937 and ran for 135 performances, may be found in three factors: (1) the direct appeal to the problems of the audience (most businesses in Harlem were owned by whites and only one of every six employees of the businesses were black), (2) the simplicity and beauty of the poetry and songs, (3) the appeal to unite poor whites and blacks in a fight against exploitation by the rich.

Text from The University Theatre website

 

Lester Beall (1903-69) 'Cross Out Slums' 1941

 

Lester Beall (1903-69)
Cross Out Slums
1941
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman
© Dumbarton Arts, LLC
Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

 

Lester Beall (1903-1969) was an American graphic designer notable as a leading proponent of modernist graphic design in the United States.

His clear and concise use of typography was highly praised both in the United States and abroad. Throughout his career he used bold primary colors and illustrative arrows and lines in a graphic style that became easily recognizable as his own. He eventually moved to rural New York and set up an office, and home, at a premises that he and his family called “Dumbarton Farm”. He remained at the farm until his death in 1969.

Lester Thomas Beall was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His family soon moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and later to Chicago, Illinois. Beall studied at the University of Chicago and was active on the varsity track team coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Beall also took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. After a short period of experimentation and professional work in Chicago, Beall moved to New York in 1935. The following year he established his home / office in Wilton, Connecticut.

According to his online AIGA biography by R. Roger Remington: “Through the 1930s and 1940s Beall produced innovative and highly regarded work for clients including the Chicago Tribune, Sterling Engraving, The Art Directors Club of New York, Hiram Walker, Abbott Laboratories and Time magazine. Of particular interest was his work for the Crowell Publishing Company which produced Colliers magazine. The promotional covers “Will There Be War?” and “Hitler’s Nightmare” are powerful designs which distill messages of the time. In these works he utilizes angled elements, iconic arrows, silhouetted photographs and dynamic shapes, all of which captures the essence of his personal style of the late 1930s. Also of interest in this period are the remarkable poster series for the United States Government’s Rural Electrification Administration.” (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Unidentified artist. 'Vote American Labor Party; Roosevelt and Lehman' 1936

 

Unidentified artist
Vote American Labor Party; Roosevelt and Lehman
1936
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

“Long before digital technology made worldwide communication possible, political protests and calls for action reached the public through posters. Posted on walls and bulletin boards, slapped up on store windows and church doors, these works often featured bright colors and modernist art-inspired graphics, and were quickly mass-produced to inform communities, stir audiences, and call attention to injustice. This summer, the New-York Historical Society will present 72 posters dating from the early 1930s through the 1970s, drawn from one of the world’s finest collections of American protest art in Art as Activism: Graphic Art from the Merrill C. Berman Collection, on view June 26 through September 13, 2015.

“These seemingly ephemeral activist artifacts are of tremendous historical and artistic importance, with deep roots in the past and a lasting influence,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Merrill Berman’s collection rivals the graphic design holdings of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and we are thrilled to be able to share some highlights with the public this summer.”

Art as Activism presents a wide selection of posters addressing movements that arose in reaction to the Great Depression, World War II, racial inequality, the Vietnam War, and environmental concerns. Featured posters include works by artists such as Emory Douglas, Hugo Gellert, James Rosenquist and Tomi Ungerer, as well as numerous unidentified designers.

Art as Activism will showcase imagery that served as the wallpaper of public discontent,” said New-York Historical’s Chief Curator Stephen Edidin. “Posters shaped the visual language of protest for generations, “going viral” decades before the term was born, until they were replaced by other forms of social media, including street art and ultimately the Internet.”

 

Exhibition highlights

Featuring three main sections, Art as Activism opens with works dating from the Great Depression to World War II, with themes that include electoral politics, workers’ marches and the political, social, and economic inequalities endured by African Americans. Featured works include a poster for Langston Hughes’ political play Don’t You Want to be Free?: From Slavery Through the Blues to Now – and then some! (1938), with bright red and yellow graphics of a whip in a raised fist. A colorful 1941 poster Cross Out Slums promoted the U.S. Housing Authority, which cleared slums and built new low-income housing. Using photomontage and European modernist design, graphic artist Lester Beall shows a bucolic neighborhood in the form of a hand, crossing out substandard accommodations with a large “X.”

The second section of the exhibition explores the Black Panther organization, beginning with its founding in California in 1966 and tracing its rise to national prominence. The Panthers used posters and the press to spread their message, leveraging advertising techniques and celebrity culture to compose and disseminate powerful imagery. One of the most defining photographs of this era is the iconic image Huey Newton seated in a wicker chair (1967), featuring the Panthers’ Minister of Defense enthroned in a wicker chair, holding a rife and a spear. Another highlight is the poster An Attack Against One is An Attack Against All, The Slaughter of Black People Must be Stopped by Any Means Necessary! (circa 1970), featuring the image of a black panther with massive claws and a sinuous body, poised to attack.

The final section of Art as Activism focuses on the anti-Vietnam War movement and other protest movements of the era, such as the American Indian movement and the nascent Environmentalist effort. To cut costs and distribute the message by any means available, activists printed posters on computer paper. In 1970, U.C. Berkeley students protested President Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia with the poster Amerika is Devouring Its Children, making a powerful anti-war statement by appropriating Francisco Goya’s terrifying image of the god Saturn fiendishly eating his own son. Another highlight on view is a poster from the 1975 Central Park rally celebrating the end of the Vietnam War, featuring a photograph of a Hanoi circus performer with doves balanced on her outstretched arms, offering an uplifting image and global message.”

Press release from the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library

 

The second section of the exhibition explores the Black Panther Party, beginning with its founding in California in 1966 and traces its rise to international prominence. Their policies of self-defense and anti-imperialism prompted FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to notoriously condemn them as “the greatest threat to internal security.” Their legacy of lesser-known initiatives to aid impoverished black communities, including a breakfast program that at its height served 10,000 kids in need every day was overshadowed as a result.

 

Unidentified artist. 'Free Angela Davis' c. 1970-72

 

Unidentified artist 
Free Angela Davis
c. 1970-72
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944) is an American political activist, scholar, and author. She emerged as a prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s as a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, although she was never a party member. Her interests included prisoner rights; she founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex. She is a retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a former director of the university’s Feminist Studies department.

Davis was arrested, charged, tried, and acquitted of conspiracy in the 1970 armed take-over of a Marin County courtroom, in which four persons died.

On August 7, 1970, Jonathan Jackson, a heavily armed 17-year-old African-American high-school student, gained control over a courtroom in Marin County, California. Once in the courtroom, Jackson armed the black defendants and took Judge Harold Haley, the prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages.

As Jackson transported the hostages and two black convicts away from the courtroom, the police began shooting at the vehicle. The judge and the three black men were killed in the melee; one of the jurors and the prosecutor were injured. The firearms used in the attack, including the shotgun used to kill Haley, had been purchased by Davis two days prior and the barrel of the shotgun had been sawed off. Davis was also corresponding with one of the inmates involved. Since California considers “all persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense… principals in any crime so committed”, Marin County Superior Judge Peter Allen Smith charged Davis with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley” and issued a warrant for her arrest. Hours after the judge issued the warrant on August 14, 1970, a massive attempt to arrest Angela Davis began. On August 18, 1970, four days after the initial warrant was issued, the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made Angela Davis the third woman and the 309th person to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.

Soon after, Davis became a fugitive and fled California. According to her autobiography, during this time she hid in friends’ homes and moved from place to place at night. On October 13, 1970, FBI agents found her at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in New York City. President Richard M. Nixon congratulated the FBI on its “capture of the dangerous terrorist, Angela Davis”.

On January 5, 1971, after several months in jail, Davis appeared at the Marin County Superior Court and declared her innocence before the court and nation: “I now declare publicly before the court, before the people of this country that I am innocent of all charges which have been leveled against me by the state of California.” John Abt, general counsel of the Communist Party USA, was one of the first attorneys to represent Davis for her alleged involvement in the shootings. While being held in the Women’s Detention Center there, she was initially segregated from the general population, but with the help of her legal team soon obtained a federal court order to get out of the segregated area.

Across the nation, thousands of people who agreed with her declaration began organizing a liberation movement. In New York City, black writers formed a committee called the Black People in Defense of Angela Davis. By February 1971 more than 200 local committees in the United States, and 67 in foreign countries worked to liberate Angela Davis from prison. Thanks, in part, to this support, in 1972 the state released her from county jail. On February 23, 1972, Rodger McAfee, a dairy farmer from Fresno, California, paid her $100,000 bail with the help of Steve Sparacino, a wealthy business owner. Portions of her legal defense expenses were paid for by the United Presbyterian Church.

Davis was tried, and the all-white jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The fact that she owned the guns used in the crime was judged not sufficient to establish her responsibility for the plot. She was represented by Leo Branton Jr., who hired psychologists to help the defense determine who in the jury pool might favor their arguments, a technique that was uncommon at the time, and also hired experts to undermine the reliability of eyewitness accounts.

Her research interests are feminism, African-American studies, critical theory, Marxism, popular music, social consciousness, and the philosophy and history of punishment and prisons. Her membership in the Communist Party led to Ronald Reagan’s request in 1969 to have her barred from teaching at any university in the State of California. She was twice a candidate for Vice President on the Communist Party USA ticket during the 1980s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Photography attributed to Blair Stapp Composition by Eldridge Cleaver. 'Huey Newton seated in wicker chair' 1967

 

Photography attributed to Blair Stapp
Composition by Eldridge Cleaver
Huey Newton seated in wicker chair
1967
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) was an African-American political and urban activist who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party in 1966. Newton had a long series of confrontations with law enforcement, including several convictions, while he participated in political activism. He continued to pursue an education, eventually earning a Ph.D. in Social Science. Newton spent time in prison for manslaughter and was involved in a shooting that killed a police officer, for which he was later acquitted. In 1989 he was shot and killed in Oakland, California by Tyrone “Double R” Robinson, a member of the Black Guerrilla Family. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Emory Douglas (b. 1943) 'All Power To The People' 1969

 

Emory Douglas (b. 1943)
All Power To The People
1969
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Emory Douglas (born May 24, 1943) was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a teenager, Douglas was incarcerated at the Youth Training School in Ontario, California; during his time there he worked in the prison’s printing shop. He later studied commercial art, taking graphic design classes, at San Francisco City College. As Erika Doss wrote, “He also joined the college’s Black Students Union and was drawn to political activism.”

In 1967 Douglas became Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. In 2007, The San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jessica Werner Zack reported that he “branded the militant-chic Panther image decades before the concept became commonplace. He used the newspaper’s popularity to incite the disenfranchised to action, portraying the poor with genuine empathy, not as victims but as outraged, unapologetic and ready for a fight.”

Douglas worked at the black community-oriented San Francisco Sun Reporter newspaper for over 30 years after The Black Panther newspaper was no longer published.[5] He continued to create activist artwork. According to Greg Morozumi, of the Bay Area EastSide Arts Alliance,[6] his artwork stayed relevant. “Rather than reinforcing the cultural dead end of “post-modern” nostalgia, the inspiration of his art raises the possibility of rebellion and the creation of new revolutionary culture.”

In 2006, artist and curator Sam Durant edited a comprehensive monograph of Black Panther artist Emory Douglas’ work, Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, with contributors including Danny Glover, Kathleen Cleaver, St. Clair Bourne, Colette Gaiter (associate professor at the University of Delaware), Greg Morozumi (artistic director of the EastSide Arts Alliance in Oakland, California), and Sonia Sanchez.

“Douglas was the most prolific and persistent graphic agitator in the American Black Power movements. Douglas profoundly understood the power of images in communicating ideas…. Inexpensive printing technologies – including photostats and presstype, textures and patterns – made publishing a two-color heavily illustrated, weekly tabloid newspaper possible. Graphic production values associated with seductive advertising and waste in a decadent society became weapons of the revolution. Technically, Douglas collaged and re-collaged drawings and photographs, performing graphic tricks with little budget and even less time. His distinctive illustration style featured thick black outlines (easier to trap) and resourceful tint and texture combinations. Conceptually, Douglas’s images served two purposes: first, illustrating conditions that made revolution seem necessary; and second, constructing a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimized. Most popular media represents middle to upper class people as “normal.” Douglas was the Norman Rockwell of the ghetto, concentrating on the poor and oppressed. Departing from the WPA / social realist style of portraying poor people, which can be perceived as voyeuristic and patronizing, Douglas’s energetic drawings showed respect and affection. He maintained poor people’s dignity while graphically illustrating harsh situations.”

Colette Gaiter quoted in the Wikipedia entry for Emory Douglas.

 

Distributed by the Robert Brown Elliott League. 'An Attack Against One is An Attack Against All' c. 1970

 

Distributed by the Robert Brown Elliott League
An Attack Against One is An Attack Against All
c. 1970
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

The final section of Art as Activism focuses on the anti-Vietnam War movement and other protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The mass protest movements varied greatly in their demands and their activist style. Some were violent, others peaceful. Some pushed for reform, others revolution. Regardless of their messages, these movements brought millions to the streets and forever changed American society; they helped end the Vietnam War and gave rise to watershed legislation and fundamental social change.

 

Jay Belloli, Berkeley, California. 'Amerika is Devouring Its Children' 1970

 

Jay Belloli, Berkeley, California
Amerika is Devouring Its Children
1970
Screenprint on computer paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

 

Decade of Dissent – Jay Belloli

 

Jay Belloli is an independent contemporary art curator and writer who created an iconic political poster while a student at UC Berkeley during the strike to oppose Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia in 1970. In this video, Jay discusses his developing politicization during the Vietnam War era and describes the urgent activity of students across the country to use political posters to define the pressing issues of the day.

This interview is part of a video series in which poster artists share stories about art and activism. The interviews accompany Decade of Dissent: Democracy in Action 1965-1975, a traveling political poster art exhibition that premiered at the West Hollywood Library, February-April 2012. Both the exhibition and interviews were produced by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

1965-1975 – years that span the U.S. war in Viet Nam – was a watershed decade for California and the country as a whole. Through legislation and demonstrations, democracy was both advanced and challenged at the ballot box, in the classroom and in the streets. U.S. democracy embraces free speech, yet California’s students fought for the right to engage in free speech in high schools and college campuses. Our democracy ensures freedom of assembly, yet the police often attacked peaceful demonstrators. The Constitution protects civil liberties and civil rights regardless of race, gender, class or ethnicity, yet African Americans, Asians, Latinos, women, lesbians, gays and others fought – and continue to fight – for their equality.

Whenever people organize and protest, artists are in the forefront of the struggles for greater democracy and justice. This exhibition documents the importance of poster art for developing and promoting the ideas and ideals of democracy in California during a very turbulent decade – not unlike the present. The posters forcefully and graphically demonstrate that democracy includes the obligation to speak-out and struggle for justice. Dissent is patriotic. The exhibition also shows the power of art to recall historical events and views of the world that can create a deeper context for understanding contemporary society. (Text from YouTube)

 

Unidentified artist. 'Red Power' 1970

 

Unidentified artist
Red Power
1970
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

Phil Ochs (1940-76), Cora Weiss (b. 1934) and Dan Luce. 'The War is Over!' 1975

 

Phil Ochs (1940-76), Cora Weiss (b. 1934) and Dan Luce
The War is Over!
1975
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

New-York Historical Society Museum and Library
170 Central Park West
at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)
New York, NY 10024
Tel: (212) 873-3400

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday, Saturday – 10am – 6pm
Friday – 10am – 8pm
Sunday – 11am – 5pm
Monday – CLOSED

New-York Historical Society Museum and Library website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

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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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