Archive for the 'portrait' Category



05
Apr
13

Video: ‘InsideArt – Marcus Bunyan’ talks about the exhibition ‘Confounding: Contemporary Photography’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Published on 11th March 2013

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This week on InsideArt TV, Michel Lawrence talks with Dr Marcus Bunyan about the NGV’s intriguing photographic exhibition, ‘Confounding’, where the photographs exhibited are not always what they seem. (Series 3, Episode 1, Part 2)

Many thankx to Michel and Inside Art for inviting me to speak about the exhibition, and the NGV for allowing us to film in the gallery.

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InsideArt TV
Marcus Bunyan – Confounding
2013

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InsideArt TV website

National Gallery of Victoria website

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02
Apr
13

Exhibition: ‘Light from the Middle East: New Photography’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2012 – 7th April 2013

From the Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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A massive posting on a fascinating subject. I know little about this area of (sometimes postcolonial) photography. The images are really strong, powerful and laden with symbology – the signifier (photograph) and signified (meaning of the photograph) evidencing signs that interrogate “the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years.” The three concepts Recording, Reframing and Resisting are critical to understanding the practices of these artists as they investigate the historicity, sacrifice, repression and persecution of their peoples.

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

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Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006

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Newsha Tavakolian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1981. Lives Tehran
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
2006
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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Nermine_Hammam_From_the_series_Upekkha_2011_WEB

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Nermine Hammam
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1967. Lives Cairo
The Break
2011
from the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
The Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

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Light from the Middle East: New Photography is the first major museum exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East. It features more than 90 works by some of the most exciting artists from the region, spanning North Africa to Central Asia. The exhibition is part of a collaboration between the British Museum and the V&A, which has over the last three years seen the development of a major collection of Middle Eastern photography thanks to substantial funding from the Art Fund. The collection of 95 works has been built in response to a surge of interest in the visual arts in the region and is beginning to remedy the under-representation of Middle Eastern photography in UK collections. Light from the Middle East includes 87 of the works from this shared collection.

The photographs on display show the creative responses to the social challenges and political upheavals that have shaped the Middle East over the past 20 years and include work made following the recent revolution in Egypt. The photographs present multiple viewpoints of a region where collisions between personal, social, religious and political life can be emotive and complex. The exhibition showcases the work of 30 artists from 13 different countries including internationally established practitioners such as Abbas (Iran), Youssef Nabil (Egypt) and Walid Raad (Lebanon) as well as emerging talents such as Taysir Batniji (Palestine), Shadi Ghadirian (Iran) and Abdulnasser Gharem (Saudi Arabia). The work covers a wide range of techniques and subject matter, from photojournalism to staged and digitally manipulated imagery.

Marta Weiss, curator of the exhibition said: “In the past few years contemporary photographic practice from and about the Middle East has been some of the most exciting, innovative and varied art anywhere in the world. The exhibition celebrates the creative and sophisticated ways that contemporary artists use photography to respond to the complexities of the Middle East.”

The exhibition is structured around three key themes; Recording, Reframing and Resisting. Each explores a range of strategies Middle Eastern artists have used to engage with the medium of photography.

The opening section shows how photography can be used as a powerful tool for recording people, places and events. From Newsha Tavakolian’s series Mothers of Martyrs (2006) featuring elderly mothers holding framed pictures of their sons who were killed in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, to Jananne Al-Ani’s disorienting aerial views of the desert in her video Shadow Sites II (2011), this section demonstrates various ways in which the camera has been used to document and record. The work in the second section explores an interest in reframing and reworking preexisting photographs. Shadi Ghadirian’s series Qajar (1998) recreates 19th-century Iranian studio portraits, updating them with contemporary props such as sunglasses and Pepsi cans, while Taysir Batniji applies the modernist style of the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher to his series of photographs of Israeli watchtowers in the West Bank.

The final section looks at practitioners who resist the authority of the photograph, questioning the medium’s ability to record factual information. Whether manipulating or digitally altering images, or physically attacking the print surface by scratching and burning, these artists demonstrate a desire to undermine the legibility and reliability of the photograph. In the intimate and poetic series Le Retour Imaginaire (2002), Afghan artist Atiq Rahimi rejects new technology, opting instead to photograph war-ravished Kabul with a primitive box camera. The recent series Uphekka by Nermine Hammam reworks photographs of Egyptian soldiers taken during the protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo in 2011 and transports them to multicoloured fantasy settings that are far removed from the struggles of the Arab Spring.”

Press release from the V&A website

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Recording

Photography is a seemingly accurate means of recording people, places and events. A photograph can serve a commemorative purpose or document a historic moment. It can reveal something not otherwise visible, such as a place or event the viewer would not have access to, or a particular vantage point available only to the photographer. It can also create a lasting image of a fleeting performance, or of a scene staged only for the camera.

But how reliable is a photograph? Despite the apparent authority of photographic images, they can trick or disorient. They can be ambiguous and difficult to decipher. Their meaning can shift according to context, cropping or captioning. What are the limitations of photography?

The photographers in this section use a range of approaches to exploit and explore the camera’s capacity to record.

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Abbas. 'France Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978' 1978-9

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Abbas
Born Kash, Iran, 1944. Lives Paris, France
Rioters burn a portrait of the Shah as a sign of protest against his regime. Tehran, December 1978
1978-9
From the series Iran Diary
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Abbas@Magnum Photos, courtesy Magnum Gallery

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Issa Touma. From the series 'Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara' 1995-2005

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Issa Touma
Born Safita, Syria, 1962. Lives Aleppo, Syria
From the series Sufis: The day of al-Ziyara
1995-2005
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Issa Touma is a prominent figure in the Syrian art scene. Self-taught, he began his career as a photographer in the early 1990s. In 1996 he founded Le Pont Organisation and Gallery, an independent art organisation to promote freedom of expression and stimulate the local art scene through international events.

His series on the day of al-Ziyara documents an annual procession of Sufi pilgrims in northern Syria. Sufism is a mystical path within Islam. Touma photographed the event over the course of ten years, gradually gaining the trust of his subjects. The resulting images convey his sense of immersion in the festival and capture the fervour of the worshippers.

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Waheeda Malullah. From the series 'Light' 2006

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Waheeda Malullah
Born Bahrain, 1978. Lives Bahrain
From the series Light
2006
Inkjet print on rag paper
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Waheeda Malullah uses playfulness and humour to explore social rules, and in particular the roles women play in Islamic society. In the series Light she records a performance staged expressly for the camera. By lying down next to tombs in Bahrain she exaggerates the Shi’i Muslim custom of seeking blessing by touching the tombs of revered people. These stylised compositions are also studies of form, light and shadow.

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Ahmed Mater. 'Magnetism II' 2012

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Ahmed Mater
Born Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, 1979. Lives Abha, Saudi Arabia
Magnetism II
2012
Photogravure
Acquired thanks to Mr Abdulaziz al-Turki

Ahmed Mater is a Saudi artist and qualified GP. Working in photography, calligraphy, painting, installation and video, Mater reflects his experiences as a doctor and the ways this has challenged his traditional background and beliefs, and explores wider issues about Islamic culture in an era of globalisation. In the series Magnetism, what at first appear to be pilgrims circling the Ka’ba, the sacred building at the heart of the sanctuary at Mecca, are in fact iron filings spiralling around a cube-shaped magnet. Mater refers to the spiritual force that Muslim believers feel during Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. By creating photographs that recall well-known images on a dramatically different scale, Mater also questions the reliability of photography.

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Newsha Tavakolian. From the series 'Mothers of Martyrs' 2006

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Newsha Tavakolian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1981. Lives Tehran
From the series Mothers of Martyrs
2006
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Newsha Tavakolian started her career at the age of 16, as a junior photographer for the Iranian women’s daily Zan-e Rooz. She also worked with other reformist newspapers and by the early 1990s had established herself as one of Tehran’s few female photojournalists, working internationally and particularly focussing on women’s issues. She is a founder member of the EVE international collective of women photojournalists, established in 2006 and of Rawiya, a collective of women photographers from the Middle East, founded in 2011. Her series Mothers of Martyrs shows elderly Iranian women holding framed photographs of their sons who died decades earlier in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-8). The double portraits attest to photography’s emotive power.

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Abbas Kowsari. 'Halabche' 2003

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Abbas Kowsari
Born Tehran, Iran, 1970. Lives Tehran
Halabche
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Abbas Kowsari began his career as a photojournalist for the Tehran Times in 1994 and is currently Senior Picture Editor for Shargh, a popular reformist title. This photograph made in nothern Iraq presents a portrait within a portrait. The figure of a peshmerga (a Kurdish combatant) is tightly framed to exclude his face. Instead, the face of rock musician Bryan Adams, on the soldier’s T-shirt, fills a central portion of the composition. The faded black-and-white image is surrounded by saturated colours and brightly gleaming metal. The contrast reinforces the incongruity between warfare in Iraq and western pop culture.

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Abdulnasser Gharem. 'The Path (Siraat)' 2009

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Abdulnasser Gharem
Born Khamis Mushait, Saudi Arabia, 1973. Lives Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The Path (Siraat)
2009
Inkjet print on aluminium
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Abdulnasser Gharem works across a variety of media to explore local Saudi issues. Amongst his best-known works are ‘stamp paintings’, made from industrial paint on rubber stamps, a technique devised to negotiate and comment on censorship. He combines service in the Saudi armed forces (he is currently Lieutenant Colonel) with his activities as an artist.

The subject of this photograph is a bridge in southern Saudi Arabia that was severely damaged in the early 1980s when villagers attempted to take shelter on it during a flash flood. Instead of providing a safe high ground above the floodwaters the bridge collapsed, resulting in the loss of many lives. Gharem spray-painted the word siraat repeatedly on the bridge. The word means path, and in the Qur’an it refers to ‘the path to God’.

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Tal Shochat. 'Pomegranate (Rimon)' 2010

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Tal Shochat
Born Netanya, Israel, 1974. Lives Tel Aviv, Israel
Pomegranate (Rimon)
2010
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

In her photographs Shochat stages both figures and objects to create symbolically-laden images that often question the boundary between nature and artifice. Here she applies the conventions of studio portraiture to photographing trees. The first stage in her meticulous process is to identify the perfect specimen of a particular type of tree. When the fruit is at the height of maturity, she cleans the dust off the branches, leaves and fruit. Finally, Shochat photographs the tree, artificially lit and isolated against a black cloth background. The photographs present a view of nature that would never actually exist in a natural environment. The work highlights the tensions in photography between reality and artifice.

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Yto Barrada. 'Bricks (Briques)' 2003/2011

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Yto Barrada
Born Paris, France, 1971. Lives Tangier, Morocco
Bricks (Briques)
2003/2011
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Yto Barrada grew up in Paris and Tangier and studied in Paris and New York. Since 2006 she has directed the Cinématèque de Tanger, a cultural centre home to an archive of Maghrebi and Arabic film and video. Barrada’s hometown of Tangier is the subject of much of her work. In this view, recently constructed buildings in various states of completion are scattered across the hillsides. The pile of bricks in the foreground seems to parallel the haphazard nature of the surrounding building projects. The untidy man-made heap echoes the form of the natural hills in the background.

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Mehraneh Atashi. 'Bodiless I' 2004

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Mehraneh Atashi
Born Tehran, Iran, 1980. Lives Tehran
Bodiless I
2004
From the series Zourkhaneh Project (House of Strength)
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Mehraneh Atashi explores the relationship between photography and power in her ongoing investigation into the possibilities of self-portraiture. Her photographic series reveal lesser-known aspects of Iranian life.

This photograph shows the inside of a zurkhana, a traditional Iranian wrestling gym, in Tehran. The artist has explained that ‘tradition forbids the breath of women’ in the zurkhana. Atashi includes herself in the scene through a reflection in a mirror. This picture within a picture emphasises her incongruous presence in a place from which women are normally excluded.

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Reframing

The artists in this section appropriate or imitate images from the past in order to make statements about the present. Their sources range from studio portraiture to fashion photography, from Old Master paintings to Modernist photographs. Using a variety of techniques, they update and interrogate, knowingly combining past and present, East and West, fact and fiction. Whether emulating or critiquing, these artists reframe existing images to new ends.

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Raeda Saadeh. 'Who will make me real?' 2003

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Raeda Saadeh
Palestinian. Born Umm al Fahem, 1977. Lives Jerusalem
Who will make me real?
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

In her photographs, videos and performances, Raeda Saadeh assumes various roles to explore issues of displacement, gender and identity, with particular reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here the artist lies in a pose that recalls 19th-century European paintings of reclining nudes. These often featured non-European women and ‘Orientalist’ costumes and scenery. Saadeh is encased in Palestinian newspapers, which conceal her body from neck to ankle while revealing its contours. The covering is both flimsy and apparently immobilising, resembling a papier-mâché body cast. Any sensuality implied by her pose is disrupted by the harsh realities reported in the newspaper.

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Bahman Jalali. 'Image of Imagination' 2003

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Bahman Jalali
Born Tehran, Iran, 1945. Died Tehran, 2010
Image of Imagination
2003
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
© Rana Javadi

Jalali was a photographer and teacher who played a leading role in collecting and preserving historical photographs in Iran. He was an influential teacher, mentored many of the younger generation of Iranian photographers, and was instrumental in setting up Tehran’s first Museum of Photography (also known as Akskhaneh Shahr).

In this montage he layered Qajar-period (1786-1925) portraits and an enlarged detail of an old photographic studio sign that had been crossed out with red paint. Jalali speculated that this defacement occurred during the Islamic revolution (1978-9), perhaps as an attack on a studio where unveiled women had been photographed.

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Shadi Ghadirian. From the series 'Qajar' 1998

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Shadi Ghadirian
Born Tehran, Iran, 1974. Lives Tehran
From the series Qajar
1998
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Shadi Ghadirian was among the first students to graduate in photography from the Azad University, Tehran. Her work addresses concerns of Iranian women of her generation, exploring ideas such as censorship, religion and modernity, often with a wry humour.

The series Qajar is based on a style of photograph made during Iran’s Qajar period (1786-1925). In those portraits, sitters posed with props representing their aspirations. Here, the sitters wear costumes that approximate Qajar fashion, but the objects they pose with are jarringly modern and western – a mountain bike, a stereo or a can of Pepsi. The contrast makes a comment on the tensions between tradition and modernity that women in Iran face today.

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Youssef_Nabil_Detail_from_the_series_The_Yemeni_Sailors_of_South_Shields_2006_WEB

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Youssef Nabil
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1972. Lives New York, USA
The Yemeni Sailors of South Shields (detail)
2006
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Youssef Nabil’s photographs and films evoke the glamour and melodrama of the golden age of Egyptian cinema in the 1940s and 50s, known as Hollywood on the Nile. This is one of a dozen portraits made as part of a project to document the last surviving Yemeni men to settle as ship-workers in South Shields, in the north of England. The area is home to one of the oldest Muslim communities in the UK. Nabil hand-coloured the black-and-white photographs in the manner of mid 20th-century Egyptian studio portraiture.

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Hassan Hajjaj. 'Saida in Green' 2000

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Hassan Hajjaj
Born Larache, Morocco, 1961. Lives London, UK, and Marrakesh, Morocco
Saida in Green
2000
Digital C-print and tyre frame
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Hajjaj is inspired by fashion photography, while also mocking its methods. He creates playful juxtapositions between global brand names and local motifs such as veils and babouches (traditional Moroccan slippers). The result is an exuberant collision of the stereotypical symbols of western consumerism and Middle Eastern tradition. The frames, which Hajjaj constructs from recycled materials, transform the photographs into three-dimensional, sculptural objects.

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Resisting

The artists in this section question the idea that a photograph can tell the truth. Some digitally alter images. Some scratch negatives and prints, or even burn them. Other artists reject clarity and detail in favour of processes that rely on chance. The results are murky, atmospheric images that require effort to interpret. These manipulations demonstrate the fragility of the photograph, whether at the hands of artists or censors. They also lay bare the power of photographic imagery to influence and control through propaganda or surveillance. These works resist photography’s claim to accuracy and authority.

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Atiq Rahimi. 'On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)' 2002

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Atiq Rahimi
Born Kabul, Afghanistan, 1962. Lives Paris, France
On the threshold of time (Au seuil du temps)
2002
From the series The Imaginary Return (Le retour imaginaire)
Gelatin silver print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Atiq Rahimi is a writer, film director and photographer who fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1984, seeking political refuge in France, where he is now based. He returned to Afghanistan in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban. Confronted by the ruins of Kabul, he decided not to photograph the city with his digital camera. Instead he chose a primitive box camera normally used to take identity portraits in the streets of Kabul. The unpredictable process resulted in dreamlike photographs. They convey the nostalgia and brutal feelings of loss that Rahimi experienced when revisiting the war-wounded city.

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Jowhara AlSaud. 'Airmail' 2008

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Jowhara AlSaud
Born Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1978. Lives Jeddah and New York, USA
Airmail
2008
From the series Out of Line
C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Jowhara AlSaud’s photographs explore the language of censorship and the malleability of photography. AlSaud scratches the outlines of figures from her personal photographs into photographic negatives, which she then prints. By reducing the figures to line drawings she renders them anonymous. The embracing figures hint at farewells and longing. The envelopes suggest thwarted attempts at communication. AlSaud’s hybrid technique of drawing and photography critiques the censorship of visual communication in Saudi Arabia.

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Şükran Moral. 'Despair' 2003

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Şükran Moral
Born Terme, Turkey, 1962. Lives Rome, Italy, and Istanbul, Turkey
Despair
2003
Digital C-print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Şükran Moral works in photography, sculpture, video and performance, creating bold and often controversial works that critique society and its institutions. Violence against women is a major theme. She has also made work about other groups who lack societal power, including the mentally ill, children, immigrants and prostitutes.

In this image, brightly-coloured birds, what Moral calls ‘digital nightingales’, perch on a group of migrant workers huddled in a boat. According to the artist, in Turkish literature nightingales are a symbol of hope, love and separation. The men and boys are shown in black-and-white, at the mercy of their situation. The birds, however, are free to fly away.

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Nermine Hammam. 'Armed Innocence II' 2011

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Nermine Hammam
Born Cairo, Egypt, 1967. Lives Cairo
Armed Innocence II
2011
From the series Upekkha
Archival inkjet print
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Influenced by a background in film and graphic design, Nermine Hammam works in series, making prints that combine elements of painting and photography, often digitally manipulating and layering images to represent subjects in states of abandonment or altered consciousness. When the army was called in to respond to the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January 2011, Hammam was struck by the vulnerability of the soldiers. They seemed to want to be anywhere but there. In the Uppekkha series she transports these soldiers into vibrant fantasy settings. Reminiscent of postcards, the series likens the events of Tahrir Square to a tourist attraction that drew the world’s attention, but was not fully understood.

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Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. 'Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing' 1997-2006

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Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Both born Beirut, Lebanon, 1969. Live Beirut and Paris, France
Wonder Beirut #13, Modern Beirut, International Centre of Water-skiing
1997-2006
From the series Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer
C-print mounted on aluminium with face mounting
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum
Courtesy of the artists and CRG Gallery, New York and In Situ / Fabienne Leclerc, Paris

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige collaborate as filmmakers and artists, producing cinematic and visual art work that intertwine. In the series Wonder Beirut they use photography to blur fact and fiction. The artists noticed that tourist postcards of pre-civil war Beirut were still for sale after the war ended in 1990. They invented a fictional photographer named Abdallah Farrah who, in 1968, was commissioned by the tourist board to make postcard views of Beirut’s attractions. When the civil war broke out in 1975, he began to burn his negatives to reflect the surrounding destruction. The artists present these works as prints from the fictional photographer’s damaged negatives.

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John Jurayj. 'Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)' 2007

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John Jurayj
Born Evanston, Illinois, USA, 1968. Lives New York, USA
Untitled (Large Embassy with Red Mirror #1)
2007
Inkjet print on watercolour paper, with burn holes and mirrored Plexiglas
Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography at the V&A and the British Museum

Using a variety of media, including painting, print-making, sculpture and video, John Jurayj explores the impact of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90), as both a world conflict and an identity trauma. He often re-works photographs of Lebanon from family albums, press archives and online databases. Here he translates the brutality of war into an attack on the photograph itself. He enlarges to near abstraction a news photograph of the bombed US embassy in Beirut in 1984. The image is further disrupted by the holes burnt into the paper. The holes are then filled in with red, mirrored Plexiglas.

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Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
London
SW7 2RL
T: +44 (0)20 7942 2000

Opening hours:
Daily 10.00-17.30
Friday 10.00-21.30

V&A Light from the Middle East website

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30
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘Treasures of the Alfred Stieglitz Center: Photographs from the Permanent Collection’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 22nd December 2012 – 7th April 2013

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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.

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William Henry Fox Talbot, British, 1800 - 1877.  'Group of Persons Selling Fruit and Flowers' 1845

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William Henry Fox Talbot, British, 1800 – 1877
Group of Persons Selling Fruit and Flowers
1845
Salted paper print from a paper negative
Image: 6 11/16 x 8 1/4 inches (17 x 21 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Robert A. Hauslohner Fund, 1967

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Felice Beato, English (born Italy), 1825 - 1913. 'Confucius, Canton, April 1860 April' 1860

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Felice Beato, English (born Italy), 1825 – 1913
Confucius, Canton, April 1860
April 1860
Albumen silver print
Image: 10 x 12 inches (25.4 x 30.5 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Dr. Chaoying Fang, Harvey S. Shipley Miller and J. Randall Plummer, and with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1978

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Dorothy Norman, American, 1905 - 1997. 'Harbor II, (Osterville), Cape Cod' 1930s

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Dorothy Norman, American, 1905 – 1997
Harbor II, (Osterville), Cape Cod
1930s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 2 7/8 x 3 7/8 inches (7.3 x 9.8 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, From the Collection of Dorothy Norman, 1980

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Edward Weston. 'Dunes, Oceano' 1936

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Edward Weston
Dunes, Oceano
1936

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Louise Lawler, American, born 1947. 'Living Room Corner Arranged by Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, Sr.,' 1984

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Louise Lawler, American, born 1947
Living Room Corner Arranged by Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, Sr.,
1984
Dye destruction print
Sheet: 18 1/4 x 23 3/4 inches (46.4 x 60.3 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Henry S. McNeil, Jr., 1988

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Richard Misrach, American, born 1949. 'Pink Lightning, Salton Sea' 1985

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Richard Misrach, American, born 1949
Pink Lightning, Salton Sea
1985
Chromogenic print
Image: 18 5/16 x 23 1/16 inches (46.5 x 58.6 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of the Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1986

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Joachim Koester, Danish (active United States), born 1962. 'Room of Nightmares #1' 2005

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Joachim Koester, Danish (active United States), born 1962
Room of Nightmares #1
2005
Chromogenic print
Image: 18 7/8 x 23 7/8 inches (47.9 x 60.6 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Lynne and Harold Honickman

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“This exhibition presents a survey of photographs from the permanent collection and includes an important group of works by Dorothy Norman and her mentor Alfred Stieglitz, one of the greatest figures in twentieth-century American art. There are also early masterworks by Gustave Le Gray, whose images of light and motion inspired the Impressionists; Edward Weston; Julia Margaret Cameron; and Charles Aubry. These striking images are complemented by an array of modern and contemporary works that trace the medium’s history as a visual art form, including recent acquisitions by artists such as Florence Henri, Roy DeCarava, and Hiroh Kikai, many on view for the first time in Philadelphia.

The mainly black-and-white photographs reflect the strengths of the Museum’s photography collection, ranging from the 1840s to 2005. Nineteenth-century photographs include works by William Henry Fox Talbot, an early inventor of photography; a group of views from Felice Beato’s 1860 album China; and Rue des Prêtres SaintÉtienne, de la rue Descartes by Charles Marville, who documented the narrow quarters of nineteenth-century Paris.

Post-World War II American and Japanese photography is seen through a number of works by Robert Frank including Jehovah’s Witness, Los Angeles (1955), Diane Arbus’s Untitled (6) (1970-71), and Masahisa Fukase’s Untitled (1976). The exhibition continues with contemporary photography by a broad range of international artists, including Joachim Koester’s Room of Nightmares #1 (2005) and Gerhard Richter’s Guildenstern (Rhombus II) (1998), a cunning investigation of the shared terrain between painting and photography.

The works by Norman and Stieglitz were made during the years of their creative exchange, from 1929 until Stieglitz’s death in 1946. These include a number of portraits, such as Norman’s cropped close-up Alfred Stieglitz IX, New York (1933); cityscapes and landscapes, as seen in Stieglitz’s New York from the Shelton (1935), showing the interplay of light and shadow on the skyscrapers of a changing New York skyline; and Norman’s Harbor II, Osterville, Cape Cod (1930s), a study in line and composition. These images are complemented by photographs made by their contemporaries, including Man Ray’s surrealist Marquise Casati (1922) and Florence Henri’s Portrait (c. 1930).”

Press release from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

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Dorothy Norman, American, 1905 - 1997. 'Alfred Stieglitz IX, New York' 1933

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Dorothy Norman, American, 1905 – 1997
Alfred Stieglitz IX, New York
1933
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 2 5/8 x 2 11/16 inches (6.7 x 6.8 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, From the Collection of Dorothy Norman, 1968

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Man Ray, American, 1890 - 1976. 'Marquise Casati' 1922

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Man Ray, American, 1890 – 1976
Marquise Casati
1922
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 8 1/2 x 6 9/16 inches (21.6 x 16.7 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Carl Van Vechten, 1949. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Charles Marville, French, 1816 - 1879. 'Rue des Prêtres Saint-Étienne, de la rue Descartes' c. 1865

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Charles Marville, French, 1816 – 1879
Rue des Prêtres Saint-Étienne, de la rue Descartes
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
Image and sheet: 12 13/16 x 10 3/8 inches (32.5 x 26.4 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the Lola Downin Peck Fund, 2009

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Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864 - 1946. 'New York from the Shelton' 1935

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Alfred Stieglitz, American, 1864 – 1946
New York from the Shelton
1935
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 9 5/8 x 7 9/16 inches (24.4 x 19.2 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, From the Collection of Dorothy Norman, 1997
© The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Philadelphia Museum of Art
26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Opening hours:
Tuesday through Sunday: 10am – 5pm

Philadelphia Museum of Art website

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27
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘Primrose – Russian Colour Photography’ at Foam, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 25th January – 3rd April 2013

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A bumper posting on a fascinating subject. The portrait of Tolstoy is incredible; more poignant are the photographs pre-World War I (the last days of the Tsarist dynasty), and pre-World War 2 (Portrait of Yury Rypalov, below). People stare into the camera with no idea of the maelstrom about to descend…

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

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Varvara Stepanova. 'Red Army Men' 1930

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Varvara Stepanova
Red Army Men
1930
Photomontage for Abroad magazine

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Boris Mikhailov. 'Untitled' 1971-1985

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Boris Mikhailov
Untitled
1971-1985
From the series Luriki

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Vasily Ulitin. 'Flame of Paris' 1932

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Vasily Ulitin
Flame of Paris
1932
Bromoil
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Men's talk' 1950s

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Dmitry Baltermants
Men’s talk
1950s
Colour print
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Rain' 1960s

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Dmitry Baltermants
Rain
1960s
Colour print
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Yakov Khalip. 'Sea cadets' End of 1940s

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Yakov Khalip
Sea cadets
End of 1940s
Artist’s colour print
On the reverse side text of congratulation to Alexander Rodchenko
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow/ Moscow House of Photography Museum

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“The exhibition Primrose – Russian Colour Photography takes place as part of Netherlands-Russia 2013. The title refers to the primrose flower, used metaphorically here to represent the many colours in which it appears during early spring. Primrose – Russian Colour Photography presents a retrospective of the various attempts in Russia to produce coloured photographic images. This process began in the early 1850s, almost simultaneously with the discovery of the new medium itself. The colouring technique, based on the traditional methods of craftsmen who added colour into a certain contour design, has determined a whole independent trend in the history of photography in Russia, from ‘postcard’ landscapes and portraits to Soviet propaganda and reportage photography.

The use of colour in Russia stems from the early 1850s and practically coincides with the invention of the medium itself. The term colour photography is slightly disingenuous, since at first it referred to a toning technique in which black and white photographs were painted by hand. Traditionally this technique was used by specialized tradesmen who added colour to the photographs according to certain methods and within the contours of the image. This technique became so popular that it started a trend in and of itself and to a large extent determined the appearance and aesthetics of colour photography in Russia. Initially used especially for portraits, pictorialist landscapes and nudes, it later also found favour with avant-garde artists. Interestingly enough these aesthetics also formed the starting point for Soviet propaganda and for portraits, political leaders and reportage.

Primrose – Russian Colour Photography can be viewed as a journey through various techniques and genres, meanings and messages, mass practices and individual experiments. The exhibition contains works by renowned photographers and artists such as Sergey Produkin-Gorsky, Ivan Shagin, Dmitry Baltermants and Robert Diament. But is also shows unique photos of Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stephanova, and recent works from the famous Luriki series by Boris Mikhailov, in which he mocked the visual culture of the Soviet propaganda.”

Press release from the Foam website

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Pyotr_Pavlov-WEB

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Pyotr Pavlov
Moscow. Lubianka
1910s
Offprint
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Tania, Natasha, Kolia and Liza Kozakov, Vera Nikolayevna Vedenisov and Elena Frantsevna Bazilev. Yalta' 1910-1911

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Piotr Vedenisov
Tania, Natasha, Kolia and Liza Kozakov, Vera Nikolayevna Vedenisov and Elena Frantsevna Bazilev. Yalta
1910-1911
Copy; original – autochrome
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Nikolskoye Simbirsk province' 1910

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Piotr Vedenisov
Nikolskoye Simbirsk province
1910

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Alexander Rodchenko.' Race. "Dynamo" Stadium' 1935

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Alexander Rodchenko
Race. “Dynamo” Stadium
1935
Artist’s gelatine silver print, gouache
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© A. Rodchenko – V. Stepanova Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Meeting in the tundra' 1972

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Dmitry Baltermants
Meeting in the tundra
1972
From the Meetings with Chukotka series
Colour print Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Primrose - Russian Colour Photography' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Primrose - Russian Colour Photography' at Foam, Amsterdam

Installation photographs of the exhibition 'Primrose - Russian Colour Photography' at Foam, Amsterdam

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Installation photographs of the exhibition Primrose – Russian Colour Photography at Foam, Amsterdam

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Primrose

“This exhibition with the metaphorical title Primrose demonstrates the appearance and development of colour in Russian photography from the 1860s to 1970s, and at the same time reveals the history of Russia in photography. With examples of works from classics of Russian photography such as P. Pavlov, K. Bergamasko, A. Eikhenvald, A. Rodchenko, V. Mikoshi, G. Petrusov, D. Baltermants and B. Mikhailov, as well as unknown photographers, we can see how life in Russia changed in the course of a century as it endured historical and socio-political catastrophes, also the diverse roles that photography played during this period.

Colour became widespread in Russian photography at approximately the same time as in Europe – in the 1860s. This was dependent on the manual tinting of photographic prints with watercolour and oil paints, either by the photographers themselves or by artists working with them. Above all this applies to solo or family portraits commissioned as a keepsake. The photographic studios of Nechayev, Ushakov & Eriks and Eikhenvald produced thousands of tinted portraits that became an important part of the domestic interior.

People were eager to see their own image in colour, and moreover in a picturesque form. The colouring of early photographic shots could also hide imperfections in the prints, including those introduced on albumenised paper. With time this paper turned yellow. To conceal this, the paper was tinted green, pink and other colours and coloured with watercolours, gouache, oils, or later aniline dyes. Sometimes the photograph was partially redrawn during the process of tinting, and foliate embellishments or different items of interior decoration appeared in the background.

By the end of the 19th century, by the 1880s and 1890s, colour photography was extended to architectural, landscape and industrial subject matter. For instance, the photographic studio of the Trinity and St. Sergius Monastery (photographic studios attached to Russian monasteries became a very common phenomenon) produced numerous coloured architectural images of Orthodox churches.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Russia was on the one hand undergoing active europeanisation, as reflected in the style of architectural structures, interiors, costume and way of life, but meanwhile there was also a search for national identity, and new interest in the national particularities of inhabitants in the Russian Empire. Entire series of tinted photographs appeared, depicting people in national costumes – Russian, Tatar, Caucasian, Ukrainian, and so on.

With the industrial boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries people began to decorate their walls not only with tinted landscapes, but also photographs of industrial structures (eg Dmitri Yezuchevsky’s photograph Building the Bridge). In the early 20th century, in the 1910s, coloured photographs of Russian military officers, an important social class before the outbreak of the First World War, were particularly popular.

The photographic documentation of life in the Russian Empire in the early 20th century acquired the status of a State objective, largely because Tsar Nicholas II and his family were enthusiastic amateur photographers. In May 1909 Emperor Nicholas II gave an audience to the photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky. In 1902 Prokudin-Gorsky had first announced a technique for creating colour photographs, and in 1903 he published a brochure entitled ’Isochromatic Photography with Manual Cameras’. Prokudin-Gorsky used black-and-white plates sensitised according to his own formulae, and a camera of his own construction. Three rapid shots were taken successively through light filters coloured blue, green and red (the photographer managed to reduce the exposure time to an absolute minimum). From this triple negative a triple positive was prepared. A projector with three lenses in front of three frames on the photographic plate was used to view the shots. Each frame was projected through a colour filter of the same colour as that through which it had been photographed. A full-colour image appeared on the screen as the three images combined. Prokudin-Gorsky succeeded in making polygraphic reproductions of his shots, printed in the form of photo cards, and also as inserts for illustrated magazines.

Delighted with this invention, Emperor Nicholas II asked the photographer to take colour photographs of every aspect of life in the various regions that then constituted the Russian Empire. For this the photographer was issued with a specially equipped railway car. The government provided him with a small manned steamship able to traverse the shallows for his work on waterways, and a motorboat for the River Chusova. A Ford automobile was dispatched to Yekaterinburg for his shots of the Urals and the Ural mountain range. Prokudin-Gorsky was presented with official imperial documents that gave him access to all parts of the Empire, and government officials were ordered to assist Prokudin-Gorsky on his travels.

Meanwhile autochrome pictures by the Lumière brothers, with whom Prokudin-Gorsky worked after emigrating from Soviet Russia, became very popular in early 20th-century Russia. Autochromes, colour transparencies on a glass backing, were first produced on an industrial scale in 1907. Granules of potato starch tinted red, yellow and blue were applied to a glass plate. The granules worked as colour filters. Addition of a second layer of granules provided orange, violet and green hues. After that a light-sensitive emulsion was applied. The plate was exposed and developed. Autochromes could be viewed against the light, or projected with the aid of special apparatus, which at that time was manufactured by the Lumière brothers’ own company (diascopes, chromodiascopes, mirrored stereoscopes, etc.). The Lumière brothers’ autochromes were used, for example, by Pyotr Vedenisov, a prosperous nobleman and graduate of the Moscow Conservatoire, who settled in Yalta, in the Crimea, in the late 1880s. As was the case with the Lumière brothers’ autochromes, Vedenisov’s favoured subject matter was the photographer’s own family life. However, what was at first sight very private and personal photography later provided an excellent description of the typical lifestyle enjoyed by educated Russian noblemen in the early 20th century.

The onset of the First World War in 1914 and October Revolution in 1917 annihilated the Russia whose memory is preserved in the tinted photographs and autochromes of the second half of the 19th to early 20th centuries.

Vladimir Lenin and the new Soviet government actively supported photography in the early post-revolutionary years, seeing it as an important propaganda weapon for a country where 70% of the population were unable to read or write. At first there was emphasis on photo reportage, but very soon it became clear real change in a country where hunger and devastation ruled after the Revolution and Civil War was as insubstantial as the utopian dreams of ardent revolutionaries. From the mid-1920s photomontage was widespread in the Soviet Union, enthusiastically encouraged by the Bolsheviks. Photomontage allowed for a combination of documentary veracity and the new Soviet myths. In the 1920s it was practised by such highly talented modernists as A. Rodchenko, G. Klutsis, El Lissitzky, V. Stepanova and others. Photomontage embraced colour and became an ideological ‘visual weapon’.

From the mid-1920s A. Rodchenko regenerated the forgotten technique of hand colouring his own photographs. His use of tinting profited from his experience with photomontage (Mosselprom House Advertising Wall, Dynamo Running Stadium, etc.), and he also applied it to develop experiments with positive-negative printing (scenes from the film Albidum) and for very personal and even intimate portraits of his muse Regina Lemberg – Girl with Watering Can. In 1937, at the height of Stalin’s repression, A. Rodchenko began photographing classical ballet and opera, using the arsenal of his aesthetic opponents, the Russian pictorialists, who by that time were subject to even harsher repression in the Soviet Union than modernist photographers. For Alexander Rodchenko soft focus, classical subject matter and toning typical of pictorial photography were a mediated way of expressing his internal escapism and tragic disillusionment with the Soviet utopia.

In 1932 general rules for socialist realism were published in the USSR, as the only creative method for all forms of art, including photographic. Soviet art had to reflect Soviet myths about the happiest people in the happiest country, not real life and real people. On this Procrustean bed it was hard not only for modernism with its constructivist aesthetics, but even pictorialism, to fit into the aesthetics of Socialist realism.

Pictorialism was one of the most important tendencies of early 20th-century Russian photography, and Russian pictorialist photographers were awarded gold and silver medals at international exhibitions. Pictorial photography differed not only by the method of shooting and complex printing techniques intended to bring photography closer to painting, but also by the selection of traditional themes. Romantic landscapes and architectural ruins or nude studies were from the point of view of socialist realism dangerous remnants from the past. Some of the pictorialist photographers ended up in Stalin’s prison camps, and were forbidden from practising their profession or settling in the capital or other large cities. Those who remained at liberty – for example, Vasily Ulitin, a participant in major international photo exhibitions and recipient of medals and diplomas in Paris, London, Berlin, Los Angeles, Toronto, Tokyo and Rome – tried with difficulty to adapt to the new reality and attempted to depict revolutionary subjects (Flames of Paris, Red Army Soldier), thereby gaining indulgence and the right to work from the Bolsheviks.

Almost simultaneously, in 1936 the German company Agfa and American company Kodak introduced colour film. Broad distribution and introduction to the amateur photography market were delayed by the outbreak of the Second World War. In the USSR colour photography only appeared at the end of the war. Production of Soviet-made colour film in the USSR was facilitated by German trophy equipment in 1946. From that year onwards Ivan Shagin and several other photographers began to relay their colour news chronicle to the country.

Before 1946 colour photographs of Soviet Russia were made only in isolated cases, on German or American film. Until the mid-1970s, in the USSR negative film for printing colour photographs was a luxury only available to a few official photographers who worked for major Soviet publications. It was used by such classics of Soviet photography as V. Mikosha, G. Petrusov, D. Baltermants, V. Tarasevich, and others. All of them were in one way or another obliged to follow the canons of socialist realism and practise staged reportage. In those days even still life studies of fruit bore an ideological message, being photographed for cookery books in which the Soviet people could see produce that remained absent in a hungry postwar country, where the ration-card system of food distribution was still functioning (Ivan Shagin, Lemons and Fruit, 1949).

From the late 1950s, in the Khrushchev Thaw after the debunking of Stalin’s cult of personality, the canons of socialist realism softened and permitted a certain freedom in aesthetics, allowing photography to move closer to reality (Dmitri Baltermants’ series Arbat Square). In the postwar period, during the 1950s to 1960s life gradually improved and coloured souvenir photo portraits again appeared on the mass market. They were usually produced by unknown and ‘unofficial’ photographers, since private photo studios that had carried out such commissions since the mid-19th century were now forbidden, and the State exercised a total monopoly on photography by the 1930s. Boris Mikhailov copied and enlarged such kitsch colour photographs as souvenirs to supplement his income at his photo laboratory in Kharkov in the early 1970s. He began collecting them. They form the basis for a new aesthetics he developed in the Lyrics series from the early 1980s. By tinting these naïve photographs he revealed and deconstructed the nature of Soviet myths.

Colour transparency film appeared on the Soviet mass market in the 1960s and 1970s. As opposed to colour negative film that requires a complicated and expensive development process for subsequent printing, colour slide film could be developed even in domestic surroundings. Above all it was widely used by amateurs, who created transparencies that could be viewed at home with a slide projector. An unofficial art form emerging in the USSR at this time developed the aesthetics and means for a new artistic conceptualisation of reality, quite different from the socialist realism that still prevailed, although somewhat modified. Photography took a significant role in this unofficial art. It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that Boris Mikhailov began photographing his series Suzi Et Cetera on colour slide film.

More than half a century of Soviet power after the 1917 Revolution radically altered Russia. The surrounding reality has fallen into decline, and people brought up on Soviet slogans never thought to pay attention. But this was the only reality offered by our perception, and Boris Mikhailov tries to develop its colour, humanise it with his attention and give it the right of existence. Photography textbooks of that period were made up of one-third technical formulae and two-thirds description of what to photograph, and how. The photographer was certainly not required or even allowed to take nude studies. Corporeality and sexuality are inherent signs of an independent individual, of selfhood. The Soviet system specifically tried to level out any sense of selfhood, smothering it and challenging such ideas with the collective community and the impersonal ‘we’ of the Soviet nation. In photographing Suzi Et Cetera Boris Mikhailov disrupts the norms and reveals characters, his own and that of his subjects. It was impossible to show these shots in public, but slides could be projected at home, in the workshops of his artist friends or the small, often semi-underground clubs of the scientific and technical intelligentsia, who began to revive during Khrushchev’s Thaw after the Stalinist repression. Boris Mikhailov’s slide projections are now analogous to the apartment exhibitions of unofficial art. By means of colour he displayed the dismal standardisation and squalor of surrounding life, and his slide performances helped to unite people whose consciousness and life in those years began to escape from the dogmatic network of Soviet ideology, which permitted only one colour – red.”

Curator Olga Sviblova
Director, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow

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Boris Mikhailov. 'Untitled' 1971-1985

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Boris Mikhailov
Untitled
1971-1985
From the series Luriki

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Vladislav Mikosha. 'Portrait of Yury Rypalov' 1938-1939

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Vladislav Mikosha
Portrait of Yury Rypalov
1938-1939

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V. Yankovsky. '"In memory of my military service". Saint Petersburg' Beginning of 1910s

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V. Yankovsky
“In memory of my military service”. Saint Petersburg
Beginning of 1910s
Collodion, painting
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Yelena Mrozovskaya. 'Portrait of girl in Little Russia costume. Saint Petersburg' 1900s

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Yelena Mrozovskaya
Portrait of girl in Little Russia costume. Saint Petersburg
1900s
Gelatine silver print, painting
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Moscow House of Photography Museum

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A. Nechayev. 'Portrait of girl' 1860s

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A. Nechayev
Portrait of girl
1860s
Salted paper, covered by albumen, painting
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. 'Portrait of Lev Tolstoy' 23rd of May 1908

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Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky
Portrait of Lev Tolstoy
23rd of May 1908
Offprint
Collection Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Uknown woman, the Crimea, Yalta' 1914

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Piotr Vedenisov
Uknown woman, the Crimea, Yalta
1914

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Andrei Aleksandrovich Kozakov. Yalta' 1911-1912

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Piotr Vedenisov
Andrei Aleksandrovich Kozakov. Yalta
1911-1912
Copy; original – autochrome
Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Vera Kozakov in Folk Dress' 1914

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Piotr Vedenisov
Vera Kozakov in Folk Dress
1914
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Piotr Vedenisov. 'Kolya Kozakov and the Dog Gipsy. Yalta' 1910-1911

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Piotr Vedenisov
Kolya Kozakov and the Dog Gipsy. Yalta
1910-1911
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Vasily Ulitin. 'Red Army man' 1932

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Vasily Ulitin
Red Army man
1932

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Dmitry Baltermants. 'Show window' Beginning of 1960s

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Dmitry Baltermants
Show window
Beginning of 1960s
Colour print
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Dmitry Baltermants Archive
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Ivan Shagin. 'Fruits' 1949

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Ivan Shagin
Fruits
1949
Colour print
Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Robert Diament. 'He has turned her head' Beginning of 1960s

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Robert Diament
He has turned her head
Beginning of 1960s
Colour print
Collection Moscow House of Photography Museum
© Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow / Moscow House of Photography Museum

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Foam
Keizersgracht 609
1017 DS Amsterdam
The Netherlands
T: + 31 20 5516500

Opening hours:
Daily from 10 am – 6 pm
Thu/Fri 10 am – 9 pm

Foam website

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22
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘Catherine Opie’ at Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 23rd February – 29th March 2013

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In a nutshell: good presentation, good idea – just needs really good pictures. In fact the presentation is too good for the pictures, so in the end it feels a bit ridiculous.

There IS something here (the relationship between young and old, wisdom and penitence, love and abuse, tondo and ethereal landscape), but it seems a bit of a muddle. For me, too many easy decisions have been made – obvious opposites, too much reliance on “black”, sometimes caricature rather than real observation… but then again there is occassionally something inside that caricature.

This feeling of muddling through is not helped by an abysmal press release. Along with zen and ironic (both of which seem to have any meaning a writer wants today), we now have sublime joining the pack. Maybe if anything is out of focus (such as these forgettable landscapes) it is sublime. As I go through each sentence I get shivers from either how generic or incorrect or meaningless or (especially) SELF-SERVING they are (…and now the new photographs make a trajectory… and now Opie draws on documentary photography AND the history of photography… and seduction, and formalism, and painting, and high aesthetic, and abstraction, and conceptualisation, a(n)d nauseum…)

I have seen “the Unphotographable” … and it is not as good as one hoped!

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

PS. When you walk across a room, you can remark about your chiaroscuro.

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Many thank to Regen Projects for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles © Catherine Opie

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Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013  Photography by Brian Forrest

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Installation views
Regen Projects, Los Angeles
February 23 – March 29, 2013
Photography by Brian Forrest

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Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #4' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Untitled #4
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Edition 1/5, +2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Jonathan' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Jonathan
2012
Pigment print
50 x 38.4 inches (127 x 97.5 cm) Oval
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Idexa' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Idexa
2012
Pigment print
50 x 38.4 inches (127 x 97.5 cm) Oval
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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“Regen Projects is pleased to announce an exhibition of new portraits and landscapes by Catherine Opie. These photographs mark both a progression and a departure for the artist. Opie’s work has always investigated the figure in relation to the landscape, disregarding the polarities typically found within these approaches. This new body of work draws upon Opie’s beginnings in documentary photography, the traditions of painting, and the history of photography.

Opie’s new portraits evoke the sublime and the inner psychological space of both the viewer and subject. Utilizing techniques of chiaroscuro, color, and formal composition found in classical 17th century portraiture, Opie arranges her subjects in allegorical poses that suggest an emotional state. Evoking formal classicism, these beautifully elegant and technically masterful compositions immerse and seduce the eye. Opie’s subjects have always been part of her personal community, and the range of individuals in these new works illustrates how this community has shifted and expanded.

Catherine Opie’s work is deeply rooted in the history of photography. The new landscapes draw upon this trajectory – both contemporary and historical. In addition to utilizing motifs that informed the California Pictorialists, these works reference the painterly tradition. Images of iconic landscapes float in abstraction and are reduced to elementary blurred light drawings. The viewer no longer relies on traditional markers of recognition of place, but instead on the visceral reaction to the sensate images Opie captures. These painterly, poetic, and lyrical visions resonate with oblivion, the sublime, and the unknown.

Catherine Opie’s complex and diverse body of work is political, personal, and high aesthetic – the formal, conceptual, and documentary are always at play. Her work consistently engages in formal issues and maintains a formal rigor and technical mastery that underscores an aestheticized oeuvre. Visual pleasure can always be found in her arresting and seductive images.

Opie very knowingly engages art-historical conventions of representation like this in order to seduce her viewers: “I have to be interested in art history since so much of my work is related to painting and photography history. It gives me the ability to use a very familiar language that people understand when looking at my work and seduce the viewer into considering work that they might not normally want to look at. It is very classical and formal in so many ways…. In a way, it is elegant in the seduction I was talking about earlier, that this device really can draw the viewer in through the perfection of the image. It is like wearing armor for a battle in a way, the battle for people to look into themselves for the prejudices that keep them from having an open mind.”

(Jennifer Blessing. “Catherine Opie: American Photographer” in Catherine Opie: American Photographer, published by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008, p. 14).”

Press release from the Regen Projects website

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Catherine Opie. 'Diana' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Diana
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Mary' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Mary
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #5' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Untitled #5
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Oliver & Mrs. Nibbles' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Oliver & Mrs. Nibbles
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5 cm)
Edition 2/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Kate & Laura' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Kate & Laura
2012
Pigment print
77 x 58 inches (195.6 x 147.3 cm)
Edition 2/5, 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Guinevere' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Guinevere
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #2' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Untitled #2
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Friends' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Friends
2012
Pigment print
24 x 18 inches (61 x 45.7 cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #1' 2012

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Catherine Opie
Untitled #1
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4 cm)
Edition 1/5, +2 APs

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Regen Projects
6750 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038, United States
T: +1 310-276-5424

Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10 – 6pm

Regen Project website

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19
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe’ at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 23rd October 2012 – 24th March 2013

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One of the reasons for setting up Art Blart nearly five years ago was the idea of an exhibition archive – the cataloguing of the blog’s posts so that featured exhibitions did not ephemerally drift off into virtual space. This is one of the problems of a blog, with its roll-through postings one after the other. Thankfully, I recognised the need for a taxonomic ordering of the information early on in the life of the blog, so that Art Blart has now become a form of cultural memory.

The impulse for this idea was the memory of seeing the Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney in 1995 (and an outstanding experience it was) and being able to find nothing about this exhibition online. Search for that seminal exhibition in Australia and there is nothing, not a web page, not an installation image, press release, absolutely nothing.

Hopefully there will be a reorganisation of the archive pages in the near future, so that the information will be split into Australian exhibition titles; Australian artists and organisations; International exhibition titles; International artists and organisations under an A-Z rubric.

Marcus

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This exhibition runs concurrently with that of the last posting, Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Many thankx to The J. Paul Getty Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Early Work

Born in Queens, New York, Mapplethorpe studied graphic arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. His early work included collage, found objects, and jewelry. Before he took up the camera, Mapplethorpe often used pictures he cut out of magazines as collaged elements to explore sexuality and eroticism. By altering this fetishistic image and re-presenting it in a shadow box, Mapplethorpe removed the picture from its original context and elevated it to a homoerotic icon. The five-pointed star is a symbol of religious significance and the plastic mesh covering the figure evokes the metal screens commonly found in confessionals in Roman Catholic churches.

In 1972 Mapplethorpe met two influential curators: John McKendry, who gave him a Polaroid camera, and Samuel Wagstaff Jr., who became the artist’s lover and mentor. By the mid-1970s, Mapplethorpe had acquired a medium format camera and began documenting New York’s gay S&M community.

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Robert Mapplethorpe.
 'Leatherman #1' 1970

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Robert Mapplethorpe

Leatherman #1
1970
Mixed media print
9 7/16 x 6 3/4 in
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Portraits

Mapplethorpe met writer-musician Patti Smith in 1967, and they lived together as intimate and artistic partners until 1974. This image of Smith was one of his earliest celebrity portraits. 

The two collaborated to create this image as the cover for her 1975 debut rock album, Horses. Working in a borrowed apartment, Mapplethorpe suggested using a wall adjacent to a window where a triangle of light fell at a certain time in the afternoon. Smith dressed in men’s clothes and channeled the American entertainer Frank Sinatra with her jacket slung over her shoulder. Her uncombed hair and androgynous air broke radically from the image that the music industry expected women in rock to assume.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Patti Smith' Negative 1975; print 1995

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti Smith
Negative 1975; print 1995
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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A man’s jacket slung over one shoulder, the cuffs of her shirt cut off with scissors, the Bohemian poet and performer Patti Smith levels her gaze outward with authority and calm. The set of her jaw and lift of her chin suggest she wears confrontation lightly. Simultaneously, a waifish delicacy haunts her tiny body. She touches the ribbon around her neck with long fingers cupped near her heart – a shy gesture and nod to the garb of the 19th-century Romantic poets she admires. With quiet ferocity, the portrait hovers between masculine and feminine, strength and vulnerability.

Intimately bonded in life and work, Mapplethorpe and Smith made this image for the cover of her debut rock album, Horses. It is one of his earliest celebrity portraits, a genre in which he went on to distinguish himself. He often amplified the glamour of his subjects, but modernized conventional portrayals with provocative depictions of race, gender, and sexuality. For example, record executives, concerned that Smith with her lack of makeup and messy hair wasn’t conventionally pretty enough to sell records like other “girl singers,” wanted to airbrush this image. Knowing Mapplethorpe would back her up, Smith refused and the image and album shaped the start of both their iconoclastic careers.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Lisa Lyon' 1982

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Lisa Lyon
1982
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Ken Moody and Robert Sherman' 1984 Platinum print

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
Platinum print
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Flowers and Still Lifes

Mapplethorpe refined his style in the early 1980s, creating images of timeless elegance. After his erotic nudes, his delicate floral still lifes encouraged sexual interpretations. Although floral still lifes have traditionally held these connotations, Mapplethorpe transformed them from a subject that sophisticated collectors were reluctant to display in their homes into an important contemporary theme.

Arranged with his characteristic sense of balance and meticulously lit, this image of a calla lily appears to glow from within. Although preternaturally still, the composition exudes a sense of latent excitement, with the milky white flower almost vibrating against the rich, black background.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Calla Lily' Negative 1988; print 1990

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Calla Lily
Negative 1988; print 1990
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Jointly acquired by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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My whole point is to transcend the subject… go beyond the subject somehow, so that the composition, the lighting, all around, reaches a certain point of perfection.
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Robert Mapplethorpe

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Mapplethorpe’s work, whether in his fashion or fine art photography, is distinguished by a tension between opposites. At the base of this image of a calla lily, he punctuates the wide planes of black and white with what seems a decadent surprise: the three-dimensional, curving lip of the flower’s edge. He explores the effects of light as a painter might experiment with a palette of colors. At the top, the flower glows milky white, reminiscent of light seen through delicate alabaster or porcelain. Mapplethorpe’s spare compositions often showcase familiar subjects in unusual ways. Floral still lifes, for example, have long encouraged sexual interpretations, and especially here, given the artist’s other work with erotic and sadomasochistic subjects. His imagination transformed and energized what some had considered a stale genre.

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“Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946–1989) is one of the best-known and most controversial photographers of the second half of the 20th century. As a tastemaker and provocateur, his highly stylized explorations of gender, race, and sexuality became hallmarks of the period and exerted a powerful influence on his contemporaries. In recognition of the 2011 joint acquisition of Mapplethorpe’s art and archival materials with the Getty Research Institute and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Getty Museum presents In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe, on view October 23, 2012 – March 24, 2013 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center.

Containing 23 images that date from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, the Getty’s exhibition features key last of edition prints, rarely shown early unique mixed-media objects, and PolaroidsTM, as well as a wide range of subject matter including self-portraits, nudes and still lifes.
Before he took up the camera, Mapplethorpe often used pictures he cut out of magazines as collaged elements to explore sexuality and eroticism. In Leatherman #1 (1970), Mapplethorpe alters a fetishistic image and re- presents it in a shadow box, removing the picture from its original context and elevating it to a homoerotic icon. His early work also reflected the influence of his idol, Andy Warhol, and it is perhaps Warhol’s cover art for the band The Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album featuring a banana that inspired Banana & Keys (1973), a photograph-in-a-box construction. This object marks a transition in Mapplethorpe’s work between his collages and sculpture and his work as a photographer. Much of the tension is contained in the object’s success as a clever trompe l’oeil.

“The mixed-media objects and PolaroidTM snapshots in the exhibition demonstrate the struggle of a budding artist to find his proper medium of expression and develop his aesthetic vision,” said Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “However, the carefully crafted gelatin silver and platinum prints make evident Mapplethorpe’s mature style as well as his eye for prints of the highest quality and beauty.”

As Mapplethorpe committed his focus to photography, he began to explore the subjects to which he would return throughout his career – portraits, self-portraits, and nudes. Photographs that feature these subjects are among his best-known, and continue to influence artists today. One of his earliest celebrity portraits, Patti Smith (1975), was carefully staged by Mapplethorpe and Smith, his lifelong friend. Dressed in men’s clothes and channeling the American entertainer Frank Sinatra, Smith broke radically from the image that women in rock were expected to assume, and embodies the androgyny often found in Mapplethorpe’s photographs.

Mapplethorpe also evoked classical themes in his work, particularly in his nude figure studies. Using the motif of the three graces as depicted by artists from ancient Greece to the 19th century, Ken and Lydia and Tyler (1985) features one female and two male models of different racial backgrounds. Mapplethorpe chose a range of skin tones from light to dark in order to invite new, non-binary interpretations of gender, race and sexual orientation.

Concurrent to the Getty’s exhibition, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will present Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, from October 21, 2012 – March 24, 2013. The exhibition presents the 39 black and white photographs that make up the X, Y, and Z Portfolios created by Mapplethorpe and published in 1978, 1978, and 1981, respectively. Taken together, the portfolios summarize his ambitions as a fine-art photographer and contemporary artist.

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About Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)

Mapplethorpe was a major cultural figure during a period of tumultuous change who contributed to shaping not only the art of photography but the larger social landscape. His international fame derives from his prolific body of almost 2,000 editioned, large format black-and-white and color photographs, which have been featured in over 200 solo exhibitions around the world since 1977. Extensively exhibited and widely published, Mapplethorpe’s elegant prints representing portraits, nudes, flowers, and erotic and sadomasochistic subjects dominated photography in the late 20th century. Less known are the over 1,500 PolaroidTM works that Mapplethorpe produced in the early 1970s before he took up the Hasselblad 500 camera given to him in 1975 by Sam Wagstaff, the visionary curator who became Mapplethorpe’s benefactor and mentor.

Widely recognized for the role he played in elevating photography to the level of art, Robert Mapplethorpe always considered himself not only a photographer, but an artist. From 1963 to 1969, Mapplethorpe studied for a B.F.A. at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, where he majored in graphic arts and took courses in painting and sculpture – but never attended photography courses. In the late 1960s, he started clipping images from magazines to incorporate into collages. While living at the Chelsea Hotel with his friend and muse, Patti Smith, he borrowed a PolaroidTM camera in 1971 from fellow hotel resident Sandy Daley to create his own images for use in collages. Overshadowed by the power of his later large format photographs, Mapplethorpe’s early drawings, collages and assemblages, created between 1968 and 1972, remain largely unfamiliar, despite the importance they hold in understanding the artist’s formative years.

In the mid-1970s, using the Hasselblad 500, he began photographing participants in New York’s S&M subculture and created many of the strikingly powerful studies for which he is most renowned. He refined his style in the early 1980s and began concentrating on elegant figure studies and delicate floral still lifes, as well as glamorous celebrity portraits. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, his work emerged at the center of a culture war over the use of public money to support art that some deemed obscene or blasphemous. When some of Mapplethorpe’s more controversial works were exhibited at The Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, director Dennis Barrie was arrested and charged with pandering (a charge of which he was ultimately acquitted after a landmark public trial).

Mapplethorpe died in 1989 at age 42 from complications of AIDS.”

Press release from The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Thomas' Negative 1987; print 1994

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
Negative 1987; print 1994
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Mapplethorpe’s strong, uncluttered compositions of statuesque male models fused a classical sensibility with homoerotic content at a time when the male nude was not a popular subject among camera artists. In this image, the model’s body is taut with compressed energy, his muscled limbs bent in a way that is reminiscent of those seen on ancient Greek figure vases.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Ken and Lydia and Tyler Negative' 1985, print 2004

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken and Lydia and Tyler
Negative 1985, print 2004
Gelatin silver print
1
5 1/8 x 15 1/16 in.
Jointly acquired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation, and The J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Nudes

Mapplethorpe often evoked classical themes in his work, particularly in his nude figure studies. In this image, he began with motif of the Three Graces as depicted by artists from the ancient Greeks to the nineteenth century, but took the reference in fresh directions. 

He selected one female and two male models of different racial backgrounds to achieve a range of skin tones from light to dark and to invite new, non-binary interpretations of gender, race, and sexual preference. Mapplethorpe trained his lens on the models’ conjoined bodies, purposely excluding their heads from the frame. Although he identified his models by name in the title, instead of a portrait, he created an elegant study of form and tone.

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Self Portraits

From 1970 until his untimely death in 1989, Mapplethorpe continually returned to the self-portrait as a means of expression. Despite his elaborate pompadour and face so attractive as to be almost pretty, the artist’s stare in this self-portrait is forceful and direct. Mapplethorpe’s sophisticated use of lighting gives the outlines of his mouth, nostrils, and earlobes a refined, even sculptural quality. The same elements of glamour and striking simplicity for which he is known in his celebrity and fashion portraiture are visible here, including a tightly cropped composition and uncluttered background that further dramatize the face. Mapplethorpe drew on his early commercial work for magazines, including Vogue. This aspect of his career followed the examples of other noted photographers such as Edward Steichen, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and Herb Ritts.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Self-Portrait' 1980

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self-Portrait
1980
Gelatin silver print
14 x 14 in.
Jointly acquired by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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17
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ’ at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 21st October 2012 – 24th March 2013

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“The X Portfolio centers on men engaged in gay sex, including hard-core sadomasochism. The subject wasn’t entirely new. In Greek vase decorations, Indian miniatures and pagan temple sculptures, candid and highly refined sex pictures, heterosexual and homosexual, have been around since before Alexander the Great and the Mahabharata.”

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Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Art Critic

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Robert Mapplethorpe made photographs of hard-core sadomasochistic gay sex. Robert Mapplethorpe made photographs of hard-core sadomasochistic gay sex. Robert Mapplethorpe made photographs of hard-core sadomasochistic gay sex. Robert Mapplethorpe made photographs of hard-core sadomasochistic gay sex.

A fist up an arse, a finger down the penis, a dildo up the bum. These photographs are seminal images in the work of the artist and yet we never get to see them online. Would it be too shocking for the sensibilities of the gallery or the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation that these cause célèbre images, five of which were used as evidence in the obscenity trial of Director Dennis Barrie and the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center in 1990, were actually seen?

Instead we have two tame representations from the X Portfolio in the posting.

If you go to the slick Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation website, what do you find in the portfolio section: tasteful self portraits, male nudes, female nudes, flowers, portraits, statuary. Nothing to suggest that Mapplethorpe was one of the most transgressive artists of the twentieth century, an artist who documented an essential element of gay culture AS ART, who famously said that there was nothing shown in his photographs that he hadn’t done himself. Not an inkling, not a whisper, not a bull whip up the arse to be found. This is the sanitised vision of the artist – the desire, the pleasure, the release of living, re-shackled under the commercialisation of brand Mapplethorpe.

It’s like the Foundation is afraid of the artist’s shadow. On their website they state that the Foundation was set up by Mapplethorpe in part to protect his work and advance his creative vision. The X Portfolio and his early work are part of that vision, deserving to be seen by everyone – online!

Marcus

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Many thankx to The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a a larger version of the image.

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Y Portfolio' 1978

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Y Portfolio
1978
37.7 x 35.5 x 4.9 cm closed
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Cedric, N.Y.C. (X Portfolio)' 1978

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Cedric, N.Y.C. (X Portfolio)
1978
19.5 x 19.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Irises, N.Y.C. (Y Portfolio)' 1977

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Irises, N.Y.C. (Y Portfolio)
1977
19.5 x 19.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Jim, Sausalito (X Portfolio)' 1977

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Jim, Sausalito (X Portfolio)
1977
19.5 x 19.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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“The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents three portfolios created by American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989). The exhibition, Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, features a total of thirty-nine black-and-white photographs, exploring three subject matters: homosexual sadomasochistic imagery (X, published in 1978); flower still lifes (Y, 1978); and nude portraits of African American men (Z, 1981). LACMA’s presentation will showcase the works in three rows – X above, Y in the middle, and Z along the bottom – an idea which was suggested by Mapplethorpe in 1989.

“Robert Mapplethorpe is among the most important photographic artists of the twentieth century,” comments Britt Salvesen, Department Head and Curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at LACMA. “The X, Y, and Z portfolios not only defined the artist’s career, but also played a role in an important moment of American cultural politics that is still pertinent to us today.”

This is the first presentation of Mapplethorpe’s work since last year’s widely publicized joint acquisition by LACMA, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and The Getty Research Institute of Mapplethorpe’s art and archives – including over 1,900 editioned prints and over 1,000 non-editioned prints, 200 unique mixed-media objects, over 160 Polaroids, 120,000 negatives, and extensive working materials, ephemera, and documents. The majority of the acquisition originated as a generous gift from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and the remainder of the funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Concurrent with the LACMA exhibition, The J. Paul Getty Museum presents In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe, on view October 23, 2012 – March 24, 2013. This single-gallery exhibition reviews the artist’s work from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, and features editioned prints, rarely seen mixed-media objects, and Polaroids that depict a wide range of subject matter including self-portraits, nudes, and still lifes. A larger Mapplethorpe retrospective, jointly organized by LACMA and the Getty, is planned for 2016.

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About the artist

Born in 1946, Robert Mapplethorpe grew up in the suburban area of Floral Park, Queens. As a student at the Pratt Institute in New York, he studied drawing, painting, and sculpture and experimented with various materials in mixed-media collages. When Mapplethorpe acquired a Polaroid camera in 1970, he began incorporating his own photos into his constructions. His first solo gallery exhibition, Polaroids, took place at Light Gallery in New York City in 1973.

Two years later he transitioned from the Polaroid to a Hasselblad medium format camera and began shooting his circle of friends and acquaintances. His subjects – artists, musicians, socialites, pornographic film stars, and members of the S & M underground – came from a variety of backgrounds. Mapplethorpe’s interest in documenting the New York S&M scene was strongest in the late 1970s, when he produced photographs with shocking content but remarkable technique and formal mastery. In 1978, the Robert Miller Gallery in New York City became his exclusive dealer. Throughout the 1980s, Mapplethorpe produced images that challenged and adhered to classical aesthetic standards including stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities. He explored and refined different techniques and formats – including color 20” x 24” Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachrome and dye transfer color processes – but gelatin silver printing remained his primary medium.

In 1986, Robert Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic inquiry, and accepted numerous commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989. Beyond the art historical and social significance of his work, his legacy lives on through the work of Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which he established in 1988 to promote photography, support museums that exhibit photographic art, and to find medical research in the fight against AIDS and HIV related infection.

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Exhibition history

Mapplethorpe’s work has historically provoked strong reactions, most notably during the so-called Culture Wars of the 1980s, a period of conflict between conservative and liberal factions. The traveling retrospective, The Perfect Moment, opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1988. Among the 150 photographs and objects in the show were the sadomasochistic imagery of Mapplethorpe’s X portfolio, as well as the Y and Z portfolios; the show appeared in two venues without any incident. When it was due to open at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., during the summer of 1989, politicians who opposed federal funding for the arts became alarmed. The Corcoran canceled the exhibition, resulting in a protest against the gallery’s withdrawal of the show. Controversy ensued further at a subsequent venue, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, where charges of obscenity were brought against director David Barrie. In this high-profile trial, five images from the X portfolio were used as evidence. Barrie was acquitted, and Mapplethorpe has been linked to debates about censorship ever since.”

Press release from The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) website

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Carnation, N.Y.C. (Y Portfolio)' 1978

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Carnation, N.Y.C. (Y Portfolio)
1978
19.5 x 19.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Alistair Butler, N.Y.C. (Z Portfolio)' 1980

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Alistair Butler, N.Y.C. (Z Portfolio)
1980
Gelatin Silver Print
19.5 x 19.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Leigh Lee, N.Y.C. (Z Portfolio)' 1980

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Leigh Lee, N.Y.C. (Z Portfolio)
1980
Gelatin Silver Print
19.5 x 19.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Rose, N.Y.C. (Y Portfolio)' 1977

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Rose, N.Y.C. (Y Portfolio)
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image 19.5 x 19.5 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Z Portfolio' 1978

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Z Portfolio
1978
37.7 x 35.5 x 4.9 cm closed
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Partial Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA, 90036
T: 323 857-6000

Opening Hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: noon-8 pm
Friday: noon-9 pm
Saturday, Sunday: 11am-8 pm
closed Wednesday

LACMA website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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