Archive for the 'video' Category

14
Jan
16

Exhibition: ‘New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 4th October 2015 – 18th January 2016

 

 

If I had to nominate one period of art that is my favourite, it would be European avant-garde art between 1919 – 1939. The sense of renewed creativity, inventiveness, and sustained enquiry into the nature of things by artists, this texture of reality, just fascinates me. A hyper-sensory, objective sobriety, yes, but more – an opposite, apposite expression of critical, cultural opprobrium that sticks its proboscis into mental and machinic spaces.

The relations between the physical and the psychic are evidenced during this period “as a general movement and multiplicity, rather than just a series of mechanisms.” What surrounds the metaphysical body, its environment, is enacted as a performance upon the body through a “continuous set of relations, multiplicities, speeds, connections. Bodies are only distinguished by certain singularities, which are clarifications of expression drawing together certain multiplicities, under the aegis of an event.” Bodies are (en)acted upon. Conversely, “Just as bodies can be seen as machinic, so too does the machinic depend upon bodies wrought out of vibration [of energy, of ideas] by clarity of expression of events.” They are folded and refolded into each other, in a series of multiplicities and intensities – of architecture and art, of sex and gender, of flagellation and flight – so that  there is a ‘synthesis of heterogeneties’, or hetero(gene)ties that evidence the DNA of our becoming, our diverse difference, our heterogeneic alterity. This folding, this vibration of energy, these clear zones of expression and performance produce this dazzling, de(gene)rate art.1

In this huge posting I have tried to sequence the machinic (the spelling auto correct keeps changing it to “mechanic” which is quite ironic) with the figurative, the painting of architecture with the architectural photograph; the photograph of the sewing machine with the painting of the Paper Machine; the distorted, etched face with the photographic war damaged face; the Modernist housing estate with the alienation of the Picture of Industry. You get the picture. One is folded into the other as performance, as vibration of energy, as (destructive, or creative) ritual of re/production. And there we have the gay lovers, the first transgender woman who dies after operations on her body, the climax – in an erotic sense – of the scar on the woman’s leg in Friedrich Seidenstücker’s Untitled (c. 1930, below) or the blood lines of the eyeball in Herbert Ploberger’s Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (c. 1928-30, below). Or the cool objectiveness of Sander’s photographs – Coal Carrier, Painter’s Wife, The Architect – against the detached titles (The Jeweller, Portrait of a Lawyer, Portrait of an Architect, name of person secondary) but outrageous colours and distortions/elongations of the painted portraits. Fascinating archetypal, subjective/objective correlation.

This is a mad, dangerous, exciting world in which these artists lived, which they mapped and depicted in all its glorious intensity. Flowering one minute, dead the next.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Los Angeles County 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.

Further reading: New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 (135kb pdf)

  1. Some of these ideas came from Murphie, Andrew. “Computers are not theatre: the machine in the ghost in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s thought,” in Genosko, Gary (ed.,). Deleuze and Guattari: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers. London, Routledge, 2001, pp. 1311-1312

 

 

“German Expressionism is an art which above all, celebrated, inwardness.”

“There’s no contradiction between being a Fascist and being an artist… I’m sorry but there isn’t. It happens that not very many good artists have been Nazis.”

.
Robert Hughes

 

 

Georg Scholz Industrial Peasants (Industriebauern), 1920

 

Georg Scholz (1890-1945)
Industrial Peasants (Industriebauern)
1920
Lithograph on wove paper
15 1/2 × 19 in. (39.4 × 48.3 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation, Beverly Hills, CA, and the Modern Art Deaccession Fund
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo
© Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Otto Dix Sex Murder (Lustmord), 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Sex Murder (Lustmord)
1922
Etching
10 7/8 x 13 5/8 in. (27.5 x 34.6 cm)
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy Galerie Nierendorf, Berlin

 

Otto Dix 'Card Players' (Kartenspieler), 1920

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Card Players (Kartenspieler)
1920
Drypoint
19 7/8 × 13 1⁄16 in. (50.5 × 32.5 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, purchased with funds provided by the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation, Beverly Hills, CA, and Helgard Field-Lion and Irwin Field
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © 2015 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Facial reconstruction WW1

 

Willie Vicarage, suffering facial wounds in the Battle of Jutland 1916 Naval Battle was one of the first men to receive facial reconstruction using plastic surgery. Doctor Harold Gillies created the “tubed pedicle” technique that used a flap of skin from the chest or forehead and swung it into place over the face. The flap remained attached but was stitched into a tube, keeping the original blood supply intact and dramatically reducing the infection rate.

 

 

This photograph is not in the exhibition, but I have included it to show an actual case study of facial reconstruction during WW1. While there were few books in Britain about the war, soldiers injuries and facial reconstruction, Otto Dix produced his seminal portfolio Der Krieg [War] (below).

“Otto Dix was born in 1891 in Untermhaus, Thuringia, the son of an ironworker. He initially trained in Gera and at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts as a painter of wall decorations and later taught himself how to paint on canvas. He volunteered as a machine-gunner during World War I and in the autumn of 1915 he was sent to the Western Front. He was at the Somme during the major allied offensive of 1916.

After the war he studied at the academies of Dresden and Dusseldorf. Together with George Grosz, he was one of the leading exponents of the artistic movement Die Neue Sachlichkeit [New Objectivity], a form of social realist art which unsentimentally examined the decadence and underlying social inequality of post-war German society. With the rise of the National Socialists in 1933, Dix was dismissed from his teaching post at the Dresden Academy. He moved south to Lake Constance and was only allowed to continue practising as an artist after he agreed to relinquish overtly political subject matter in favour of landscape painting. Dix was conscripted into the army during World War II and in 1945 was captured and put into a prisoner of war camp. He returned to Dresden after the war where his paintings became more religiously reflective of his war-time experiences. He died in 1969.

Der Krieg [War] 1924 arose out of Dix’s own experiences of the horrors of war. As outlined above, he had volunteered for service in the army and fought as a machine-gunner on the Western Front. He was wounded a number of times, once almost fatally. War profoundly affected him as an individual and as an artist, and he took every opportunity, both during his active service and afterwards, to document his experiences. These experiences would become the subject matter of many of his later paintings and are central to the Der Krieg cycle.

Der Krieg itself, as a cycle of prints (51 in total), is consciously modelled on Goya’s [1746-1828] equally famous and equally devastating Los Desastres de la Guerra [The disasters of war]. Los Desastres detailed Goya’s own account of the horrors of the Napoleonic invasion and the Spanish War of Independence from 1808 to 1814. Goya’s cycle of 82 etchings, which he worked on for a decade after the Spanish War of Independence were not, however, published until 1863, long after his death.

Like Los Desastres, Der Krieg uses a variety of etching techniques and does so with an equally astonishing facility. Similarly, it exploits the cumulative possibilities of a long sequence of images and mirrors Goya’s unflinching, stark realism in terms of its fundamental presentation. GH Hamilton describes Dix’s cycle as ‘perhaps the most powerful as well as the most unpleasant anti-war statements in modern art… It was truly this quality of unmitigated truth, truth to the most commonplace and vulgar experiences, as well as the ugly realities of psychological experience, that gave his work a strength and consistency attained by no other contemporary artist, not even by [George] Grosz…’ It has become a commonplace to see this cycle as an admonition against the barbarity of war. And there is no doubt that as a human document it is a powerful cautionary work. At a psychological level, however, its truth goes deeper than this. Dix was both horrified and fascinated by the experience of war…

This nightmarish, hallucinatory quality pervades all of the Der Krieg images. Paradoxically, there is also a quality of sensuousness, an almost perverse delight in the rendering of horrific detail, which indicates that there was perhaps, in Dix’s case, an almost addictive quality to the hyper-sensory input of war. In terms of the general corpus of Dix’s work, Der Krieg occupies a central place amongst the large number of paintings and works-on-paper devoted to the theme of war. The work is astonishingly powerful and, as stated above, it remains one of the most powerful indictments of war ever conceived. It is universally regarded as one of the great masterpieces of twentieth century. Dix’s oeuvre as a whole, and Der Krieg in particular, was hugely influential on a number of other twentieth century artist such as Ben Shahn, Pablo Picasso and Robert Motherwell.”

Mark Henshaw. “The Art of War: Otto Dix’s Der Krieg [War] cycle 1924,” on the National Gallery of Australia website [Online] Cited 07/01/2016

 

Otto Dix Skin Graft (Transplantation) from the portfolio War (Der Krieg), 1924

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Skin Graft (Transplantation) from the portfolio War (Der Krieg)
1924
Etching with aquatint on copperplate paper
18 11/16 x 13 7/8 in. (47.5 x 35.2 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

 

“The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, the first comprehensive show in the United States to explore the themes that characterize the dominant artistic trends of the Weimar Republic. Organized in association with the Museo Correr in Venice, Italy, this exhibition features nearly 200 paintings, photographs, drawings, and prints by more than 50 artists, many of whom are little known in the United States. Key figures – Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, August Sander, and Max Beckmann – whose heterogeneous careers are essential to understanding 20th century German modernism, are presented together with lesser known artists, including Herbert Ploberger, Hans Finsler, Georg Schrimpf, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, Carl Grossberg, and Aenne Biermann, among others. Special attention is devoted to the juxtaposition of painting and photography, offering the rare opportunity to examine both the similarities and differences between the movement’s diverse media.

During the 14 years of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), artists in Germany grappled with the devastating aftermath of World War I: the social, cultural, and economic effects of rapid modernization and urbanization; staggering unemployment and despair; shifting gender identities; and developments in technology and industry. Situated between the end of World War I and the Nazi assumption of power, Germany’s first democracy thrived as a laboratory for widespread cultural achievement, witnessing the end of Expressionism, the exuberant anti-art activities of the Dadaists, the establishment of the Bauhaus design school, and the emergence of a new realism.

This new turn to realism, best recognized by a 1925 exhibition in Mannheim, Neue Sachlichkeit (of which New Objectivity is the English translation), has at times been called Post-Expressionism, neo-naturalism, Verism, and Magic Realism. The diverse group of artists associated with this new realism was not unified by manifesto, political tendency, or geography, they shared a skepticism regarding the direction Germany society was taking in the years following World War I and an awareness of the human isolation these changes brought about.

Germany’s financial, sociopolitical, and emotional defeat in WWI took a profound toll on the nation. In contrast to their Expressionist predecessors – who had enthusiastically embraced the war before confronting its harrowing realities on the battlefield – practitioners of the New Objectivity movement were disillusioned with the complex realities of the new Germany. Digressing from Expressionism’s penchant for bold, abstract subjectivity, the Weimar Republic’s burgeoning group of artists favored realism, precision, objective sobriety, and the appropriation of Old Master painting techniques, including a nostalgic return to portraiture and heightened attention to the appearance of surface…

 

Hans Finlser Eggs on a Plate (Eier auf Teller), 1929

 

Hans Finlser (1891-1972)
Eggs on a Plate (Eier auf Teller)
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 9/16 x 6 13/16 in. (24.3 x 17.3 cm)
Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)
© 2015 Finsler Estate, Stiftung Moritzburg Halle (Saale), Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt

 

Hans Finsler Electric Bulb with Parts of the Socket (Elektrische Birne mit Teilen der Fassung), 1928

 

Hans Finsler (1891-1972)
Electric Bulb with Parts of the Socket (Elektrische Birne mit Teilen der Fassung)
1928
Vintage print
8 5/8 x 5 7/8 in. (21.9 x 14.9 cm)
Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)
© 2015 Finsler Estate, Stiftung Moritzburg Halle (Saale), Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt

 

 

Born in Munich, Hans Finsler was a gifted teacher of photography in Switzerland from the 1920s to the 1950s, where he taught students the vocabulary of modernism and its strength of vision. Finsler was also well-known for his stylish and innovative commercial work reflecting the contemporary Neue Sachlichkeit (New Vision) aesthetic of describing machinery, architecture and manufactured products with clarity and respect. His private work, however, was more profound and philosophical. He experimented tirelessly with simple and elemental forms, developing theories of motion and stillness with highlights and shadows, often using eggs as his principal subject matter. Finsler’s photographs were exhibited in the important exhibition Film und Foto in Stuttgart in 1929.

 

Carl Grossberg The Yellow Boiler (Der Gelbe Kessel), 1933

 

Carl Grossberg (1894-1940)
The Yellow Boiler (Der Gelbe Kessel)
1933
Oil on wood
37 x 29 in. (94 x 73.7 cm)
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany
Photo courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany

 

Carl Grossberg The Paper Machine (Die Papiermaschine), 1934

 

Carl Grossberg (1894-1940)
The Paper Machine (Die Papiermaschine)
1934
Oil on wood
35 7/16 x 45 11/16 in. (90 x 116 cm)
Private collection
Photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich

 

Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski Sewing Machine (Nähmaschine), c. 1930

 

Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski (1870-1935)
Sewing Machine (Nähmaschine)
c. 1930
Photograph
7 7/16 x 5 5/16 in. (18.9 x 15.1 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch Flat Irons for Shoe Manufacture, Fagus Factory I (Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation, Fagus-Werk, Alfeld), 1926

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Flat Irons for Shoe Manufacture, Fagus Factory I (Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation, Fagus-Werk, Alfeld)
1926
Gelatin silver print
9 x 6 5/8 in. (22.9 x 16.8 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2015 Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv/Ann u. Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

We still don’t sufficiently appreciate the opportunity to capture the magic of material things. The structure of wood, stone, and metal can be shown with a perfection beyond the means of painting… …To do justice to modern technology’s rigid linear structure…… only photography is capable of that.

So wrote Albert Renger-Patzsch in 1927 about the camera’s innate ability to depict the Industrial Age. Here he studied the materials of identically shaped, finished wooden handles and industrially produced steel heads, while also representing the flatirons as an army of tools standing at attention like bowling pins. Renger-Patzsch’s photograph celebrates the beauty of the commonplace object. (Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website)

 

Renger-Patzsch was born in Würzburg and began making photographs by age twelve. After military service in the First World War he studied chemistry at Dresden Technical College. In the early 1920s he worked as a press photographer for the Chicago Tribune before becoming a freelancer and, in 1925, publishing a book, The choir stalls of Cappenberg. He had his first museum exhibition in 1927. A second book followed in 1928, Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful). This, his best-known book, is a collection of one hundred of his photographs in which natural forms, industrial subjects and mass-produced objects are presented with the clarity of scientific illustrations. The book’s title was chosen by his publisher; Renger-Patzsch’s preferred title for the collection was Die Dinge (“Things”).

In its sharply focused and matter-of-fact style his work exemplifies the esthetic of The New Objectivity that flourished in the arts in Germany during the Weimar Republic. Like Edward Weston in the United States, Renger-Patzsch believed that the value of photography was in its ability to reproduce the texture of reality, and to represent the essence of an object. He wrote: “The secret of a good photograph – which, like a work of art, can have esthetic qualities – is its realism … Let us therefore leave art to artists and endeavor to create, with the means peculiar to photography and without borrowing from art, photographs which will last because of their photographic qualities.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Wilhelm Lachnit Worker with Machine (Arbeiter mit Maschine), 1924–28

 

Wilhelm Lachnit (1899-1962)
Worker with Machine (Arbeiter mit Maschine)
1924-28
Oil on wood
19 11/16 x 20 1/2 in. (50 x 52 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2015 Estate of Wilhelm Lachnit
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen/Jörg P. Anders/Art Resource, NY

 

 

Lachnit was born in the small town of Gittersee; his family moved to Dresden in 1906. He studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule Dresden under Richard Guhr, and later at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, where he was acquainted with and influenced by Otto Dix, Conrad Felixmüller, and Otto Griebel. He joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1924 and was active in producing various forms of Agitprop throughout the 1920s. He co-founded the “Neue Gruppe” with Hans Grundig, Otto Griebel, and Fritz Skade; successful exhibitions in Paris, Düsseldorf, Ansterdam, and Dresden followed.

After the Nazis seized power in 1933, Lachnit’s work was declared “degenerate” and confiscated by authorities. During this period he was not allowed to make art and worked as an exhibition designer. Much of his confiscated work was destroyed during the February 1945 firebombing of Dresden. His 1923 watercolours Man and Woman in the Window and “Girl at Table” were found in the 2012 Nazi loot discovery. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Hans Mertens Still Life with Household Appliances (Stilleben mit Hausgeräten), 1928

 

Hans Mertens (1906-1944)
Still Life with Household Appliances (Stilleben mit Hausgeräten)
1928
Oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 27 9/16 in. (65 x 70 cm)
Sprengel Museum Hannover
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Sprengel Museum/Aline Gwose/Art Resource, NY

 

Herbert Ploberger Dressing Table (Toilettentisch), 1926

 

Herbert Ploberger (1902-1977)
Dressing Table (Toilettentisch)
1926
Oil on canvas
17 11/16 x 27 9/16 in. (45 x 70 cm)
Private collection
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Bildrecht, Vienna
Photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich

 

Arthur Köster St. Georgs-Garten Housing Settlement, Architect Otto Haesler (St. Georgs-Garten Siedlung, Architekt Otto Haesler), 1920s

 

Arthur Köster (1890-1960)
St. Georgs-Garten Housing Settlement, Architect Otto Haesler (St. Georgs-Garten Siedlung, Architekt Otto Haesler)
1920s
Vintage print
8 13/16 x 6 3/4 in. (22.4 x 17.2 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Karl Völker Picture of Industry (Industriebild), c. 1924

 

Karl Völker (1889-1962)
Picture of Industry (Industriebild)
c. 1924
Oil on canvas
36 5/8 x 36 5/8 in. (93 x 93 cm)
Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)
© Klaus Völker
Photo: Klaus E. Göltz

 

Unknown photographer. 'Karl Völker' early 1930s

 

Unknown photographer
Karl Völker
early 1930s
Silver gelatin photograph

 

This photograph is not in the exhibition. It looks like the man at left in the painting above, possibly a self-portrait.

 

George Grosz Construction (Untitled) (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel]), 1920

 

George Grosz (1893-1959)
Construction (Untitled) (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel])
1920
Oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 24 in. (81 x 61 cm)
Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
Art © 2015 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Photo: Walter Klein

 

In Grosz’s Germany, everything and everybody is for sale. All human transactions, except for the class solidarity of the workers, are poisoned. The world is owned by four breeds of pig: the capitalist, the officer, the priest and the hooker, whose other form is the sociable wife. He was one of the hanging judges of art.  – Robert Hughes

 

 

 

This is a documentary from 1993 by David Grubin (written, produced, and directed) about the art exhibit under the Nazi regime of what they considered to be the most corrupting and corrosive examples of what they called ‘Entartete Kunst’ or ‘Degenerate Art.’ The exhibit, which opened in July of 1937, was meant to be laughed at and despised. I ran across it in a class on Modernism and Post-Modernism. The film is not generally available at the time of this writing (other than on VHS). Personally, I could think of no better backdrop for the ideas and pathos of expressionist art than Nazi Germany, shown by a great deal of actual footage (most provided by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – they had an exhibit of their own based on the event that same year). The music is similarly striking, including Schoenberg, Hindemith, and Wagner.

“You know, one of the, most grotesque kind of, unintended results of this…. I remember seeing as a kid one of the newsreels of the liberation of the camps… I never forgot that shot of the bulldozer rolling the mass of starved corpses, the typhoid dead, the murdered, into this mass grave… and it always comes back to me strangely enough when I look at the distortion and elongation in German, in certain German expressionist pictures… as though the, uh, the aesthetic distortions of expressionism had been made real, absolute and concrete on the real suffering human body by the Nazis, you know as though this was some kind of climactic work of art which ended up mimicking what they had attempted to suppress.  This is a very superficial way of looking at it, I know, because it leaves out the actual content of the suffering, but for a, a gentile boy seeing that in Australia, forty-some years ago… uh, on a grainy movie – I compare the two images and I can’t help thinking of it.” – Robert Hughes, 50:52

 

Anton Räderscheidt Man with Bowler (Mann mit steifem Hut), 1922

 

Anton Räderscheidt (1892-1970)
Man with Bowler (Mann mit steifem Hut)
1922
Oil on canvas
19 11/16 × 15 3/4 in. (50 × 40 cm)
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn,
Photo © Rheinisches Bildarchiv

 

In 1934-1935 Räderscheidt lived in Berlin. He fled to France in 1936, and settled in Paris, where his work became more colorful, curvilinear and rhythmic. He was interned by the occupation authorities in 1940, but he escaped to Switzerland. In 1949 he returned to Cologne and resumed his work, producing many paintings of horses shortly before adopting an abstract style in 1957.

 

Werner Mantz Entrance to an Apartment Block in the Cologne–Kalkerfeld Housing Settlement (Eingang in einen Wohnblock in der Siedlung Köln–Kalkerfeld), 1928

 

Werner Mantz (1901-1983)
Entrance to an Apartment Block in the Cologne-Kalkerfeld Housing Settlement (Eingang in einen Wohnblock in der Siedlung Köln-Kalkerfeld)
1928
Gelatin silver print
15 3/16 × 8 3/4 in. (38.6 × 22.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image source: Art Resource, NY

 

During the 1920s and ’30s Mantz photographed functionalist architecture such as houses, factories, bridge constructions and motorways. The pictures are extremely detailed, and with their bold cropping and angles they profit from architecture’s geometric and modern idiom. Mantz later moved to the Netherlands where he set up a portrait studio.

 

Franz Radziwill The Handtowel (Das Handtuch), 1933

 

Franz Radziwill (1895-1983)
The Handtowel (Das Handtuch)
1933
Oil on canvas on wood
20 7/8 x 17 11/16 in. (53 x 45 cm)
Radziwill Sammlung Claus Hüppe, courtesy Kunsthalle Emden
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo by Fotostudio Blatterspiel & Haftstein, Wardenburg

 

Radziwill spent most of his life in the North Sea resort Dangast at Varel on Jadebusen. During the period of National Socialism he had repeatedly been banned from exhibiting, three of his early works were shown in the exhibition “Entartete Kunst”. Despite the exhibition ban he was committed to Nazism and was a functionary of the Nazi Party. He addressed the tension between art and nature.

 

Aenne Biermann Ficus elastic: Rubber Plant (Ficus elastic: Gummibaum), c. 1927

 

Aenne Biermann (1898-1933)
Ficus elastic: Rubber Plant (Ficus elastic: Gummibaum)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
18 2/5 x 13 3/4 in. (46.7 x 35 cm)
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne
Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Fotoarchiv

 

Biermann’s photographs of minerals transformed her practice from the early personal views of her children to the close-up, direct studies of form that would define her photographs of plants and people that followed and make her a central figure in New Objectivity photography. Thus 1926 began a period of intense productivity for Biermann that lasted until her untimely death, from liver disease, at the age of thirty-five, in 1933.

 

George Scholz Cacti and Semaphore (Kakteen und Semaphore), 1923

 

George Scholz (1890-1945)
Cacti and Semaphore (Kakteen und Semaphore)
1923
Oil on hardboard
27 3/16 x 20 9/16 in. (69 x 52.3 cm)
LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur (Westfälisches Landesmuseum), Münster/Rudolf Wakonigg

 

Franz Radziwill The Harbor II (Der Hafen II), 1930

 

Franz Radziwill (1895-1983)
The Harbor II (Der Hafen II)
1930
Oil on canvas
29 15/16 x 39 3/16 in. (76 x 99.5 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie/Klaus Goeken/Art Resource, NY

 

Franz Radziwill The Street (Die StrasseI), 1928

 

Franz Radziwill (1895-1983)
The Street (Die StrasseI)
1928
Oil on canvas
31 11/16 x 33 7/8 in. (80.5 x 86 cm)
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Rheinisches Bildarchiv

 

 

New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 is organized into five thematic sections: Life in Democracy and the Aftermath of the War examines both the polar conditions dividing Germany’s rising bourgeoisie and those who suffered most from the war’s aftereffects, including maimed war veterans, the unemployed, prostitutes, and victims of political corruption and violence; The City and the Nature of Landscape addresses the growing disparity between an increasingly industrialized urbanity and nostalgic longing for the pastoral; Still Life and Commodities highlights a new form of the traditional still life in which quotidian objects – often indicative of mass production – are staged to create object-portraits; Man and Machine looks to artists’ attempts to reconcile the transformative yet dehumanizing effects of rapid industrialization; and lastly, New Identities: Type and Portraiture showcases a new trend in portraiture in which subjects are rendered as social typecasts rather than individual subjects.

Stephanie Barron, Exhibition Curator and Senior Curator of Modern Art at LACMA, said, “Close examinations of this period still yield new insights into a complicated chapter in modern German art. With very different backgrounds, these artists – some among the most well-known artists of the century, while others are virtually unknown outside Germany – eschewed emotion, gesture, and ecstasy, and sought instead to record and unmask the world around them with a close, impersonal, restrained gaze. Together, they created a collective portrait of a society in uneasy transition, in images that are as striking today as they were in their own time.”

“Contemporary art and popular culture alike are preoccupied with documenting ‘the real,’ and it is worth taking a fresh look at how artists in the 1920s dealt with the uses of realism in a time of postwar uncertainty,” said Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. “We hope that New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 will shed new light on this important intersection of art, politics, and modernization that marks one of the most crucial periods of the 20th century.”

Press release from LACMA

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, with photo mural showing the exterior of famous Berlin nightclub Eldorado, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 4, 2015 – January 18, 2016, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, showing photographs by Albert Renger-Patzsch (left), Aenne Biermann (centre top) and Hans Finsler (centre bottom), and Hans Finsler (right top) and Gerda Leo (bottom right), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 4, 2015 – January 18, 2016, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, showing photographs by August Sander.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, showing Aenne Biermann, Woman with Monocle (Dame mit Monokel), c. 1928 at left, with photographs by Friedrich Seidenstücker (right top) and Franz Roh (right bottom)

 

 

Exhibition themes

New Objectivity is divided into five sections that address the competing and, at times, conflicting approaches that the adherents to this new realism applied to the turbulent and ever-changing Weimar years.

The first section, Life in the Democracy and the Aftermath of the War, highlights the disparity between victims of the Weimar Republic and the growing bourgeoisie that benefited from the deprivation of that period. Artists such as Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, August Sander, and Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, portrayed urban landscapes highlighting postwar outcasts and their environs: the unemployed, disfigured, victims of violence, and prostitutes are set amid backdrops of bordellos, street corners and other scenes fraught with menace. In contrast, the Weimar Republic’s burgeoning upper class was often depicted as corrupt and ruthless. Davringhausen’s The Profiteer (1920-21), for example, caricatures a common social type of the early Weimar era: the exploitative businessman making his fortune during the period of hyperinflation. Davringhausen places his profiteer on the top floor of a skyscraper in a long, narrow room filled with windows that appear to be left open, as if there may be the danger of falling out. The brick red walls add to the psychological intensity of the hyper-modern space, in which the well-dressed businessman sits at his desk, enjoying a glass of wine and a cigar as he stares out dispassionately, avoiding the viewer’s gaze.

In The City and the Nature of Landscape, artists respond to the tensions caused by the effects of industrialization, which bled from cities into rural areas. As factories and jobs proliferated, Germany experienced a mass migration of its population from the countryside to urban areas. The notion of the city became associated with the future while the rural was nostalgically regarded as the past, and those who experienced the transition of migration were subject to feelings of displacement. The complex relationship between the urban and rural reflected the disparate conditions of the Weimar Republic. In addition to artists such as Leonhard Schmidt, Gustav Wunderwald, Erich Wegner, Georg Scholz, and Anton Räderscheidt, this section features Arthur Köster, whose photographs of architect Otto Haesler’s Georgsgarten Siedlung represented architectural spaces using high-contrast lighting and experimental framing. In St. Georgs-Garten Siedlung, Architekt Otto Haesler, Köster’s human subjects, dwarfed by the buildings’ geometric rigor and frozen in the composition’s overriding sense of stillness, suggest an apprehension toward the new, modernized Germany; meanwhile, his images portraying the green spaces of Georgsgarten Siedlung distill nature through the lens of industry.

Still Life and Commodities proposes a new form of the still life, meticulously staged compositions that might be called object-portraits. Zeroing in on disparate, banal objects of everyday life, these images represent things as markers of modernity and mass production. This section sees a recurring motif of cacti and rubber plants – “exotic” plants that were common in households at the time – and includes work by Aenne Biermann, Georg Scholz, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Finsler, among others.

Man and Machine, the penultimate section of New Objectivity, highlights artists’ attention to the Weimar Republic’s advancements in technology and industry. While some were skeptical about the lack of humanity found within networks of new machinery, others acknowledged the transformative power of technologies and sought new ways of conceiving man’s relationship to industry. Photography plays a key role in this section, not only commenting on its newly accepted position as an art form, but also serving as a key influence for painters such as Carl Grossberg, who executed paintings of factories with photographic precision as seen in Paper Machine (1934). Additionally, some artists, such as Renger-Patzch, attempted to bridge the psychological divide between the natural and the industrial by drawing structural parallels between machinery and botany.

The final section of New Objectivity is dedicated to New Identities: Type and Portraiture, which examines the way artists including Beckmann, Dix, Schad, and their peers turned to portraiture. While diverse in approach, the portraits featured numerous commonalities, including social typecasting, unsentimental renderings, and self-portraiture. Dominating these portraits are depictions of other artists, writers, and performers, the working class, and marginalized members of society as well as newly established types specific to the period, such as the war veteran and the “new woman.” One of the most iconic images to derive from this new trend informal realism is Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (1927) in which he wears a smoking jacket and its class connotations like a costume and stares brazenly at the viewer. Another of the most important practitioners of this new portraiture is August Sander, who photographed his many subjects in somber, unexpressive poses, which he then arranged according to profession. The faces captured in his unfinished series – his subjects are only rarely identified by name – form an indelible archive of Weimar society.

Text from the LACMA press release

 

Die Insel (The Island), L–R: June 1928, July 1930, April 1931

 

Die Insel (The Island), L-R: June 1928, July 1930, April 1931
Schwules Museum, Berlin
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

Die Freundin (The Girlfriend), September 1932, and Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), 1929

 

Die Freundin (The Girlfriend), September 1932, and Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), 1929
Spinnboden Berlin
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

Lili Elbe. Ein Mensch wechseit sein Geschlecht (Man into Woman The First Sex Change), 1932, edited by Niels Hoyer

 

Niels Hoyer (editor)
Lili Elbe. Ein Mensch wechseit sein Geschlecht (Man into Woman The First Sex Change)

1932
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

 

Lili Ilse Elvenes, better known as Lili Elbe (28 December 1882 – 13 September 1931), was a Danish transgender woman and one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery. Elbe was born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener and was a successful artist under that name. She also presented as Lili, sometimes spelled Lily, and was publicly introduced as Einar’s sister. After transitioning, however, she made a legal name change to Lili Ilse Elvenes and stopped painting.

Elbe met Gerda Gottlieb at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, and they married in 1904, when Gottlieb was 19 and Wegener was 22. The two of them worked as illustrators, with Elbe specializing in landscape paintings, while Gottlieb illustrated books and fashion magazines. They both traveled through Italy and France, eventually settling in Paris in 1912, where Elbe could live openly as a woman, and Gottlieb a lesbian. Elbe received the Neuhausens prize in 1907 and exhibited at Kunstnernes Efterårsudstilling (the Artists Fall Exhibition), at the Vejle Art Museum, and in the Saloon and Salon d’Automme in Paris. She is represented at Vejle Art Museum in Denmark.

Elbe started dressing in women’s clothes one day filling in for Gottlieb’s absentee model; she was asked to wear stockings and heels so her legs could substitute for those of the model. Elbe felt surprisingly comfortable in the clothing. Over time, Gottlieb became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gottlieb’s depictions of petites femmes fatales was in fact Gottlieb’s spouse, “Elbe”.

In 1930, Elbe went to Germany for sex reassignment surgery, which was experimental at the time. A series of four operations was carried out over a period of two years. The first surgery, removal of the testicles, was made under the supervision of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin. The rest of Elbe’s surgeries were carried out by Kurt Warnekros, a doctor at the Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic. The second operation was to implant an ovary onto her abdominal musculature, the third to remove the penis and the scrotum, and the fourth to transplant a uterus and construct a vaginal canal. At the time of Elbe’s last surgery, her case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. A Danish court invalidated the Wegeners’ marriage in October 1930, and Elbe managed to get her sex and name legally changed, including receiving a passport as Lili Ilse Elvenes…

In June 1931, Elbe had her fourth operation, which consisted of a uterus transplant and the construction of a vagina, both of which were new and experimental procedures at that time. She died three months after the surgery due to heart paralysis caused by the uterus transplant.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Der Eigene (The Unique), 1925

 

Der Eigene (The Unique)
1925
Schwules Museum, Berlin
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

Christian Schad Boys in Love (Liebende Knaben), 1929

 

Christian Schad (1894-1982)
Boys in Love (Liebende Knaben)
1929
Silverpoint
11 13/16 x 9 1/4 in. (30 x 23.5 cm)
Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg, Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg, Leihgabe der Kurt-Gerd-Kunkel Stiftung Aschaffenburg, MSA Dep. KGKS 1/1986
© 2015 Christian-Schad-Stiftung Aschaffenburg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Christian Schad Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis mit Modell), 1927

 

Christian Schad (1894-1982)
Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis mit Modell)
1927
Oil on wood
29 15/16 x 24 3/16 in. (76 x 61.5 cm)
Private collection, courtesy of Tate
© 2015 Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich

 

 

Christian Schad (August 21, 1894 – February 25, 1982) was a German painter associated with Dada and the New Objectivity movement. Considered as a group, Schad’s portraits form an extraordinary record of life in Vienna and Berlin in the years following World War I.

Schad’s art was not condemned by the Nazis in the way that the work of Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, and many other artists of the New Objectivity movement was; this may have been because of his lack of commercial success. He became interested in Eastern philosophy around 1930, and his artistic production declined precipitously. After the crash of the New York stock market in 1929, Schad could no longer rely on his father’s financial support, and he largely stopped painting in the early 1930s. In 1937, unknown to him, the Museum of Modern Art showed three Schadographs, given by Tristan Tzara, in a show about Dada and Surrealism. The same year, Nazis included Schad in Great German Art, their antidote to the Degenerate Art show.

Schad lived in obscurity in Germany through the war and after it. After the destruction of his studio in 1943 Schad moved to Aschaffenburg. The city commissioned him to copy Matthias Grünewald’s Virgin and Child (Stuppach, parish church), a project on which he worked until 1947. Schad continued to paint in the 1950s in Magic Realist style and returned in the 1960s to experiments with photograms. Schad’s reputation did not begin to recover until the 1960s, when a couple of shows in Europe dovetailed with the rise of Photorealism. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Rudolf Schlichter Meeting of Fetishists and Maniacal Flagellants (Zusammenkunft von Fetischisten und manischen Flagellanten), c. 1921

 

Rudolf Schlichter (1890-1955)
Meeting of Fetishists and Maniacal Flagellants (Zusammenkunft von Fetischisten und manischen Flagellanten)
c. 1921
Watercolor on paper
17 5/16 x 10 3/4 in. (43.9 x 27.3 cm)
Private Collection
© Viola Roehr v. Alvensleben, Munich
Photo by Christian Wirth, Munich

 

Meeting of Fetishists and Maniacal Flagellants (1921) is a group fantasy of clothed males, half-naked women, old men masturbating and young women with knee-high boots flashing what Mick Jagger once called “far away eyes”.

 

Gert Wollheim Untitled (Couple) (Ohne Titel [Paar]), 1926

 

Gert Wollheim (1894-1974)
Untitled (Couple) (Ohne Titel [Paar])
1926
Oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 29 1/2 in. (100.3 x 74.9 cm)
The Jewish Museum, New York, gift of Charlotte Levite in memory of Julius Nassau, 1990-130
Photo: The Jewish Museum, New York/Art Resource, NY by John Parnell

 

Immediately after Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 his works were declared degenerate art and many were destroyed. He fled to France and became active in the Resistance. He was one of the co-founders of the artists’ federation, the Union des Artistes Allemandes Libres, an organization of exiled German artists founded in Paris in autumn 1937. In that same year, he became the companion of the dancer Tatjana Barbakoff. Meanwhile, in Munich, three of his pictures were displayed in the defamatory Nazi exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) in 1937.

From Paris, he fled to Saarbrücken and later to Switzerland. He was arrested in 1939 and held in a series of labor camps in France (Vierzon, Ruchard, Gurs and Septfonds) until his escape in 1942, after which he and his wife hid in the Pyrénées with the help of a peasant woman. At war’s end in 1945 he returned to France, and in 1947 moved to New York and became an American citizen. He died in New York in 1974. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

 

Homosexuality Is a German Invention

Nana Bahlmann, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Exhibitions

December 14, 2015

Homosexuality was invented in Germany? While this might at first sound like a rather preposterous proposition, the idea of an identity based on a fixed sexual orientation did indeed originate in Germany. The public discourse and political movement supporting this idea also started in Germany, in Berlin in particular, and not, as one might assume, in London or New York. As Robert Beachy describes in his recent groundbreaking book Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity (2014), even the term HOMOSEXUALITÄT itself was a German invention, first appearing in a German language pamphlet in 1869. Although the origins of the movement date back to the 19th century, it was during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), with its new social and democratic freedoms, that gay life experienced its unprecedented heyday. Despite the fact that sexual acts between men (women were simply not addressed) were still criminalized by Paragraph 175 of the penal code, homosexual men and women were able to express their identity more visibly than ever before. By the mid-1920s, around fifty thousand gays and lesbians lived in Berlin. With its countless nightclubs and meeting points for homosexuals, bisexuals, or transvestites, the city became a true “Eldorado” for this growing and vibrant community.

Our exhibition, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 (on view until January 18, 2016), devotes a whole section to these new social identities of the Weimar Republic. Here you will find stunning paintings and photographs depicting the so-called New Woman, with her bob, monocle, cigarette, and overall masculine demeanor, next to striking renderings of even more androgynous types, whose gender identity is ambiguous and even inscrutable at times. Look at Gert Wollheim’s Couple (1926, above), for instance, who might have come straight out of the popular nightclub Eldorado. With its transvestite hostesses, the infamous establishment attracted an illustrious crowd from all over Europe and featured performances by the likes of Marlene Dietrich. A contemporary visitor described the clientele of the famous cabaret as follows: “… you had lesbians looking like beautiful women, lesbians dressed exactly like men and looking like men. You had men dressed like women so you couldn’t possibly recognize they were men (…) Then you would see couples dancing and wouldn’t know anymore what it was.”

Or look at Christian Schad’s extraordinary Boys in Love (1929, above). This exquisite silverpoint drawing is a rare rendering of male homosexuality. The tenderness of the embrace is astonishing and congruent with the delicate subject matter. The loving intimacy between men so sensitively represented here seems even more provocative than a more explicit depiction of homosexual acts.

To illustrate the vast and far-reaching discourse surrounding the new identities of the Weimar Republic and to introduce the main protagonists defining and steering the movement, we are presenting books, magazines, and other ephemeral objects alongside the artworks. The vitrines in the exhibition include publications by the influential physician and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, a pioneer and principal advocate of homosexual and transgender rights. The so-called “Einstein of Sex” founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the first gay-rights organization and gathered more than five thousand signatures to overturn Paragraph 175. His prolific empirical research resulted in the publication of several anthologies examining gender and sexual identity and in the founding of the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, a museum, clinic, meeting point, and research center. There, in 1930, the first sex reassignment surgery in history was performed on Lili Elbe (previously Einar Wegener). This process is chronicled in the book Man into Woman, also displayed in the exhibition and the basis for the film The Danish Girl directed by Tom Hooper, which is currently playing in theaters across America.

Shining a light on the various publications – over thirty at the time – for homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, and transvestites, a selection of the most important gay and lesbian magazines is also presented in these vitrines. They include Der Eigene (The Unique), the first gay journal in the world. Published from 1896 until 1932 by Adolf Brand, it featured texts about politics and homosexual rights, literature, art, and culture, as well as aesthetic nude photography. Der Eigene was followed by many other gay magazines like Friedrich Radzuweit’s Die Insel (The Island). Surprisingly, these publications were displayed publicly and sold at newsstands alongside other mainstream papers. They included advertisements and announcements for various kinds of nightspots and meeting points, catering to the respective preferences of their readers.

Throughout the 1920s, Radzuweit, who was also an important homosexual rights activist and author, established a publishing network for gay and lesbian magazines. In 1924 he issued Die Freundin (The Girlfriend: Journal for Ideal Friendship between Women), the first lesbian magazine, for instance, and later Das dritte Geschlecht (The Third Gender). After his death in 1932, his son Martin took over the business. Other lesbian magazines presented here are Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), and Frauenliebe (Women Love).

With Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933, the vibrant movement came to an abrupt and brutal end. The Nazis immediately raided Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research and burned its archives. Wisely, Hirschfeld had not returned from a speaking tour and remained in exile until his death in 1935. Gay publications and organizations were banned and homosexuals were incarcerated, sent to concentration camps, or murdered; the Nazis eradicated the achievements and memories of this pioneering movement in Germany. We are happy to bring it back to life here in our exhibition at LACMA.

Nana Bahlmann. “Homosexuality Is a German Invention,” on the LACMA website, December 14, 2015 [Online] Cited 06/02/2016.

 

Georg Schrimpf Reclining Girls in the Countryside (Liegende Mädchen im Grünen), 1930

 

Georg Schrimpf (1889-1938)
Reclining Girls in the Countryside (Liegende Mädchen im Grünen)
1930
Oil on canvas
21 1/4 × 39 3/4 in. (54 × 101 cm)
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Photo © 2015 Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker Untitled, c. 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966)
Untitled
c. 1930
Vintage print
6 15/16 x 5 1/16 in. (17.6 x 12.9 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) is noted for his atmospheric photographs of everyday life in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. Thanks to his compassionate studies of animals, he has an almost legendary reputation among animal and zoo lovers, and his haunting pictures of Berlin in ruins are a precious source of material for historians. His images seem to be spontaneous, sympathetic examples of the kind of photography that excels at capturing the moment. They are free of any exaggeration or extravagance, and display a sense of humor rarely found in photography. His work is buoyed by a fundamental optimism, yet it does not ignore the harshness, poverty, and suffering that prevailed at that time.

 

Max Beckmann Paris Society (Gesellschaft Paris), 1931

 

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Paris Society (Gesellschaft Paris)
1931
Oil on canvas
43 × 69 1/8 in (109.2 × 175.6 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn,
Photo © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

 

 

“My pictures reproach God for his errors.”

“We have to lay our hearts bare, to the cries of people who have been lied to.”

Max Beckmann

 

Unlike several of his avant-garde contemporaries, Beckmann rejected non-representational painting; instead, he took up and advanced the tradition of figurative painting. He greatly admired not only Cézanne and Van Gogh, but also Blake, Rembrandt, and Rubens, as well as Northern European artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, such as Bosch, Bruegel, and Matthias Grünewald. His style and method of composition are partially rooted in the imagery of medieval stained glass.

Engaging with the genres of portraiture, landscape, still life, and history painting, his diverse body of work created a very personal but authentic version of modernism, one with a healthy deference to traditional forms. Beckmann reinvented the religious triptych and expanded this archetype of medieval painting into an allegory of contemporary humanity.

From his beginnings in the fin de siècle to the period after World War II, Beckmann reflected an era of radical changes in both art and history in his work. Many of Beckmann’s paintings express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Some of his imagery refers to the decadent glamor of the Weimar Republic’s cabaret culture, but from the 1930s on, his works often contain mythologized references to the brutalities of the Nazis. Beyond these immediate concerns, his subjects and symbols assume a larger meaning, voicing universal themes of terror, redemption, and the mysteries of eternity and fate. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Kurt Günter Portrait of a Boy (Knabenbildnis), 1928

 

Kurt Günther (1893-1955)
Portrait of a Boy (Knabenbildnis)
1928
Tempera on wood
18 7/8 x 14 9/16 in. (48 x 37 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie/Art Resource, NY

 

Herbert Ploberger Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (Selbstbildnis mit ophthamologischen Lehrmodellen), c. 1928-30

 

Herbert Ploberger (1902-1977)
Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (Selbstbildnis mit ophthamologischen Lehrmodellen)
c. 1928-30
Oil on canvas
19 11/16 x 15 3/4 in. (50 x 40 cm)
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Bildrecht, Vienna

 

August Sander Coal Carrier, Berlin (Berliner Kohlenträger), 1929

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Coal Carrier, Berlin (Berliner Kohlenträger)
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 6 in. (24.1 x 15.2 cm)
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XM.126.52
© 2015 Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur-August Sander Archiv, Cologne/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Sander’s Face of our Time was published in 1929. It contains a selection of 60 portraits from his series People of the 20th Century, and is introduced by an essay by Alfred Döblin titled “On Faces, Pictures, and their Truth.” Under the Nazi regime, his work and personal life were greatly constrained. His son Erich, who was a member of the left wing Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP), was arrested in 1934 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he died in 1944, shortly before the end of his sentence. Sander’s book Face of our Time was seized in 1936 and the photographic plates destroyed. Around 1942, during World War II, he left Cologne and moved to a rural area, allowing him to save most of his negatives. His studio was destroyed in a 1944 bombing raid. Thirty thousand of Sander’s roughly forty-thousand negatives survived the war, only to perish in an accidental fire in Cologne in 1946. Sander practically ceased to work as a photographer after World War II. He died in Cologne in 1964.

 

George Grosz Portrait of Dr. Felix J. Weil (Bildnis Dr. Felix J. Weil), 1926

 

George Grosz (1893-1959)
Portrait of Dr. Felix J. Weil (Bildnis Dr. Felix J. Weil)
1926
Oil on canvas
53 x 61 in. (134.6 x 154.9 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Richard L. Feigen in memory of Gregor Piatigorsky Art
© 2015 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Photo © 2015 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

August Sander Painter’s Wife (Helene Abelen) (Frau des Malers Abelen), 1926

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Painter’s Wife (Helene Abelen) (Frau des Malers Abelen)
1926
Gelatin silver print
9 x 6 7/16 in. (22.9 x 16.4 cm)
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur-August Sander Archiv, Cologne/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

August Sander The Architect (Hans Poelzig) (Der Architekt Hans Poelzig), 1928

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
The Architect (Hans Poelzig) (Der Architekt Hans Poelzig)
1928
Vintage print
11 7/16 x 7 11/16 in. (29.1 x 19.5 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© 2015 Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur—August Sander Archiv, Cologne/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Otto Dix The Jeweller Karl Krall (Der Juwelier Karl Krall), 1923

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
The Jeweller Karl Krall (Der Juwelier Karl Krall)
1923
Oil on canvas
35 5/8 x 23 13/16 in. (90.5 x 60.5 cm)
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany

 

Otto Dix Portait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons (Porträt des Rechtsanwalts Hugo Simons), 1925

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Portait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons (Porträt des Rechtsanwalts Hugo Simons)
1925
Tempera and oil on plywood
39 1/2 x 27 11/16 in. (100.3 x 70.3 cm)
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, purchase, grant from the Government of Canada under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, gifts of the Succession J. A. DeSève, Mr. and Mrs. Charles and Andrea Bronfman, Mr. Nahum Gelber and Dr. Sheila Gelber, Mrs. Phyllis Lambert, the Volunteer Association and the Junior Associates of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Mrs. Louise L. Lamarre, Mr. Pierre Théberge, the Museum’s acquisition fund, and the Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn,
Photo: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Brian Merrett

 

Wilhelm Schnarrenberger Portrait of an Architect (Porträt eines Architekten), 1923

 

Wilhelm Schnarrenberger (1892-1966)
Portrait of an Architect (Porträt eines Architekten)
1923
Oil on canvas
34 1/4 x 23 1/16 in. (87 x 58.5 cm)
Städtische Galerie Karlsruhe, on loan from private collection
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo by Ernst Reinhold, Munich

 

Aenne Biermann Woman with Monocle (Dame mit Monokel), c. 1928 Gelatin silver print; 7 1/4 x 5 1/5 in. (18.4 x 13 cm)

 

Aenne Biermann (1898-1933)
Woman with Monocle (Dame mit Monokel)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
7 1/4 x 5 1/5 in. (18.4 x 13 cm)
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne
Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Fotoarchiv

 

Max Beckmann Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (Selbstbildnis im Smoking), 1927

 

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (Selbstbildnis im Smoking)
1927
Oil on canvas
54 15/16 x 37 5/8 in. (139.5 x 95.5 cm)
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College

 

Christian Schad Agosta, “The Pigeon Chested Man,” and Rasha, “The Black Dove,” (Agosta, der Flügelmensch, und Rasha, die schwarze Taube), 1929

 

Christian Schad (1894-1982)
Agosta, “The Pigeon Chested Man,” and Rasha, “The Black Dove,” (Agosta, der Flügelmensch, und Rasha, die schwarze Taube)
1929
Oil on canvas
47 1/4 x 31 1/2 in. (120 x 80 cm)
Private Collection, loan by courtesy of Tate Gallery London
© 2015 Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Jeanne Mammen Chess Player (Schachspieler), c. 1929–30

 

Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976)
Chess Player (Schachspieler)
c. 1929-30
Oil on canvas
27 9/16 × 31 11/16 in. (70 × 80.5 cm)
Berlinische Galerie, Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen The Profiteer (Der Schieber), 1920–21

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (1894-1970)
The Profiteer (Der Schieber)
1920-21
Oil on canvas
47 1/4 x 47 1/4 in. (120 x 120 cm)
Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf
© Renata Davringhausen
Photo © Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast-ARTOTHEK

 

Perhaps the best-known work from Davringhausen’s New Objectivity period is Der Schieber (The Black-Marketeer), a Magic realist painting of 1920-21, which is in the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof. Painted in acidulous colors, it depicts a glowering businessman seated at a desk in a modern office suite that foreshortens dramatically behind him. Although Davringhausen rarely presented social criticism in his work, in Der Schieber “the artist created the classic pictorial symbol of the period of inflation that was commencing.”

 

Otto Dix To Beauty (An die Schönheit), 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
To Beauty (An die Schönheit)
1922
Oil and collage on canvas
54 15/16 x 47 7/16 in. (139.5 x 120.5cm)
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany

 

George Grosz Eclipse of the Sun (Sonnenfinsternis), 1926

 

George Grosz (1893-1959)
Eclipse of the Sun (Sonnenfinsternis)
1926
Oil on canvas
81 5/8 × 71 7/8 in. (207.3 × 182.6 cm)
The Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York, Museum, Purchase Art
© 2015 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

Max Beckmann Dance in Baden-Baden (Tanz in Baden-Baden), 1923

 

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Dance in Baden-Baden (Tanz in Baden-Baden)
1923
Oil on canvas
42 1/2 x 26 in. (108 x 66 cm)
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen/Art Resource, NY

 

 

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: 11am – 5 pm
Friday: 11am – 8pm
Saturday, Sunday: 10am – 7pm
Closed Wednesday

LACMA website

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11
Jan
16

Vale David Bowie

11th January 2016

 

I am so sad, just devastated. Bowie was my hero, I grew up with his music and his creations. Such style, such panache and that voice. Such a cultural icon who influenced so many people. Read my review of the recent David Bowie Is exhibition at ACMI, Melbourne on Art Blart.

Ziggy, Win, Fame, Fascination, My Death, Ashes to Ashes, China Girl etc… you could go on and on. He WAS my adolescence and youth.

My favourite ever period was Young Americans and he will always be that for me. I always used to sing along to this pretending to be one of the back up singers! Ah being young! This is my favourite song ever from Bowie… live version.

As my friend Stephen Allkins said, “You are my Hero David Bowie. Thank you So much for everything you’ve given me. I feel like you’ve always been in my life like a best friend and now you’re gone but at least I’ll always have your Beautiful music xxxxxxxx” And as Steve Silberman rightly observes, “Goodbye, David. You probably saved the lives of millions of gay/trans/odd/”extraterrestrial” kids. RIP.

I’m crying now.

Marcus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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02
Jan
16

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

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

Curator of Coney Island exhibition: Dr Robin Jaffee Frank

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Gambling Wheel, 1900–20

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text from the Gesa Carousel of Dreams website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Paul Cadmus. 'Coney Island' 1934

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Text from the LACMA website

 

Reginald Marsh. 'Pip and Flip' 1932

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Forever Coney

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

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

Text from the Brooklyn Museum website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

'Quito, Human Octopus' 1940

 

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

 

Anon. 'Steeplechase Funny Face' nd

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

George Tooker. 'Coney Island' 1948

 

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

 

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

 

Arthur Fellig (Weegee) 'Coney Island' 1940

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Diane Arbus. ‘The House of Horrors’ 1961

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Untitled' July 4, 1962

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Swoon. 'Coney, Early Evening' 2005

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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T: (718) 638-5000

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Thursday11 am – 10 pm
Saturday and Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm
first Saturday of each month, 11 am – 11 pm
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20
Dec
15

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just think about that for a while.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

Did You Know?

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Jesse Helms, U.S. Senator

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

Cory Servass, Presidential AIDS Commission

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

Anonymous Surgeon

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

Jerry Falwell, Televangelist

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

William F. Buckley, Columnist

” …”

Ronald Reagan, President of the United States

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Burroughs introduced the chaos unfolding:

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Grassroots Activism

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

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

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

 

Memento Mori

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

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

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

 

Poetic Postmodernism

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

Spiritual Forces

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

Art AIDS America at the Tacoma Art Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Tacoma Art Museum website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Portraiture

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

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

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

 

The Legacy of the AIDS Crisis

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Deborah Kass (born 1952) 'Still Here' 2007

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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25
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust’ at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Exhibition dates: 4th July – 27th September 2015

The Sackler Wing of Galleries

 

 

Now, Voyager

.
“The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”

Walt Whitman (1819-1892). “Untold Want,” from Leaves of Grass. 1900

 

Joseph Cornell is my favourite artist who has ever lived on this Earth. I do not make this observation lightly, but after much consideration, thought and reflection.

I have always loved his work, from the very first time I saw it in a book. To then see a recreation of one of his 1950s exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001 was one of those seminal moments where you are lifted out of yourself, where your life becomes forever changed. For me that transcendent experience is up there with being alone with the Rembrandt portraits in the Louvre for 10 precious minutes. Both were among the most exquisite, poignant and beautiful spiritual experiences I have had in my life.

I am not an expert on Cornell, although I have read many books on his work and on his spirituality. He saw himself as an “armchair voyager”, a bit like a latter day Baudelaire, a man who has romantic notions of travel but never actually goes anywhere, who has romantic notions of love but never finds it, except in his imagination. Cornell never left his native New York. Cornell expressed his self through a passion for the artefacts he collected, through his assemblage of those artefacts into magical boxes that addressed unrequited love and faith – for Hollywood and movie stars, ballerinas, hotels, birds, the Renaissance, princes and princesses, the stars, games and chance. He was an avid collector, rummaging through the junk shops of New York and storing his collectibles for his art, something to which I have an affinity, being an avid op shopper (or thrift shopper) myself.

Here I can see an association with the words of Walt Whitman in his lines “Untold Want” from Leaves of Grass, those lines forming the title for the book upon which the film Now Voyager (1942) with Better Davis was based. “The untold want” of Whitman’s lines are whatever you yearn for and cannot get in the social context (“life”) and place (“land”) where you are born. Whitman says, stop “studying the charts,” and “now obey, thy cherish’d, secret wish,” – in other words he’s saying that your heart’s desire is the best indicator of where your destiny lies, but it is possible to miss out on it by not going for it. Fast forward to Now Voyager where frumpy Bette Davis has an affair with a married man, becomes independent, defies her tyrannical mother who promptly dies, and ends up circuitously looking after her lover’s daughter. They decide to have a platonic relationship “sustaining a romantic, unconsummated relationship and creating a ‘family’ by becoming the surrogate, adoptive care-giver for his daughter.”

There is a specific desire here. Davis and Whitman are freed to love without restriction in a romantic way, and after the end of Now Voyager, perhaps Cornell is channelling Bette Davis. He loved in his mind, he created boxes in his imagination (and then physically), he astral travelled through the stars, he created games of chance (such as penny arcades and slot machines) and shooting galleries (that exposed his inner mind) letting the air rush out into the world. He created surreality itself but he was never surreal, for his work is always based on the collision of realities. His boxes are tiny cosmos, like the Tardis from Dr Who, the interior (under a microscope, within four walls) larger than the exterior … yet, magically, they inhabit the whole world, they inhabit our mind. He used the alchemical reaction of elements, the elementary, to affect travel, love, life and change. And he did it in four dimensions for his boxes affect us as much today as he did when he created them. Perhaps that is why I like his work so much… he used seemingly mundane materials, multi/media objects, imagination and love to let’s our spirits soar into the universe. No other artist has ever affected me so much. No one ever will.

Undeniably, Cornell’s poetic theatres are joyous creations that free our soul from the everyday.

Perhaps it is through love, or in death, or the afterlife, that the Voyager can seek that untold want.

 

My Mind to me a Kingdom Is

Sir Edward Dyer (1543 – 1607)

1 My mind to me a kingdom is;
2 Such perfect joy therein I find
3 That it excels all other bliss
4 Which God or nature hath assign’d.
5 Though much I want that most would have,
6 Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

7 No princely port, nor wealthy store,
8 No force to win a victory,
9 No wily wit to salve a sore,
10 No shape to win a loving eye;
11 To none of these I yield as thrall, –
12 For why? my mind despise them all.

13 I see that plenty surfeit oft,
14 And hasty climbers soonest fall;
15 I see that such as are aloft
16 Mishap doth threaten most of all.
17 These get with toil and keep with fear;
18 Such cares my mind can never bear.

19 I press to bear no haughty sway,
20 I wish no more than may suffice,
21 I do no more than well I may,
22 Look, what I want my mind supplies.
23 Lo ! thus I triumph like a king,
24 My mind content with anything.

25 I laugh not at another’s loss,
26 Nor grudge not at another’s gain;
27 No worldly waves my mind can toss;
28 I brook that is another’s bane.
29 I fear no foe, nor fawn on friend,
30 I loathe not life, nor dread mine end.

31 My wealth is health and perfect ease,
32 And conscience clear my chief defence;
33 I never seek by bribes to please,
34 Nor by desert to give offence.
35 Thus do I live, thus will I die,–
36 Would all did so as well as I!

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Royal Academy of Arts for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the art work. The excellent, educational text was written by Asha McLoughlin, Learning Department © Royal Academy of Arts.

 

 

 

 

“Cornell was a voyager, travelling through space and time to dimensions of the imagination and the spirit. He infused this sense of adventure and an infinite beyond into modestly scaled works whose fragments of reality give way to worlds to be explored.”

.
Robert Lehrman, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 2003

 

“White is just what I mean. Not monstrously, but in wonderful variations. All I want to perform is white magic.”

.
Joseph Cornell quoted in Tracking the Marvellous: A Life in the New York Art World, John Bernard Myers, 1984

 

 

Unidentified photographer. 'The Cornell family' c. 1915

 

Unidentified photographer
The Cornell family
c. 1915
Joseph Cornell (far right) with his parents (Joseph I. Cornell, Sr. and Helen Storms Cornell) and siblings (l to r: Elizabeth, Helen, and Robert)
Joseph Cornell papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

 

Hans Namuth. 'Joseph Cornell' 1969

 

Hans Namuth
Joseph Cornell
1969
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
© 1991 Hans Namuth Estate

 

 

Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), born on Christmas Eve in Nyack, New York, remains one of the most enigmatic yet influential American artists of the twentieth century. Almost entirely self-taught as an artist, Cornell lived quietly for most of his life with his mother and younger brother, crafting in the confines of his basement or on the kitchen table the ‘shadow boxes’ for which he is best known.

He rarely travelled, and almost never left New York, yet his work, based on collage and assemblage, resonates with references to foreign places and distant times. In the course of his life he befriended ballerinas, film stars, poets and generations of world-famous artists. He showed in a succession of New York galleries, participated in landmark group shows at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and was honoured before he died with major surveys at the Pasadena Museum of Californian Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

A popular romanticised image of Cornell pervades as an ascetic outsider – a shy, eccentric man yearning for intimacy, unable to converse with the women who enthralled him but with a vibrant interior life of daydreams and an imagination capable of crossing oceans, centuries and the celestial realm. Yet this mythologised version of the man belies his active interest in the art movements of his time, and the innovative nature of his creations which have paved the way for today’s appropriation and installation artists, contemporary collage and archive based practices.

This exhibition at the Royal Academy brings together 80 of Cornell’s most remarkable shadow boxes, assemblages, collages and films, including many works held in private collections and a number never seen before outside of the USA. The first major UK exhibition solely devoted to Cornell in almost 35 years, it presents a rare chance to experience a concentrated survey of his oeuvre, and to journey inside the mind of an artist who described himself as ‘an armchair voyager’. The ‘wanderlust’ referenced in the exhibition title – the desire to explore and travel the world – is central to Cornell’s art, as was his penchant for collecting and his astonishingly wide-ranging interests. His creations transport the viewer into private universes, populated with objects and ephemera imbued with personal associations.

 

Cornell's basement studio, 3708 Utopia Parkway, Flushing, New York, 1964

 

Cornell’s basement studio, 3708 Utopia Parkway, Flushing, New York, 1964
Collection Duff Murphy and Janice Miyahira. © Terry Schutté.

 

 

From a basement in New York, Joseph Cornell channelled his limitless imagination into some of the most original art of the 20th century. Step into his beguiling world at this landmark exhibition. Cornell hardly ventured beyond New York State, yet the notion of travel was central to his art. His imaginary voyages began as he searched Manhattan’s antique bookshops and dime stores, collecting a vast archive of paper ephemera and small objects to make his signature glass-fronted ‘shadow boxes’. These miniature masterpieces transform everyday objects into spellbinding treasures. Together they reveal his fascination with subjects from astronomy and cinema to literature and ornithology and especially his love of European culture, from the Romantic ballet to Renaissance Italy.

Wanderlust brings together 80 of Cornell’s most remarkable boxes, assemblages, collages and films, some never before seen outside the USA. Entirely self-taught, the independence of Cornell’s creative voice won the admiration of artists from Marcel Duchamp and the Surrealists, to Robert Motherwell and the Abstract Expressionists, with echoes of his work felt in Pop and Minimalist art. Wanderlust is a long overdue celebration of an incomparable artist, a man the New York Times called “a poet of light; an architect of memory-fractured rooms and a connoisseur of stars, celestial and otherwise.”

 

“What kind of man is this, who, from old brown cardboard photographs collected in second-hand bookstores, has reconstructed the nineteenth century “grand tour” of Europe for his mind’s eye more vividly than those who took it, who was not born then and has never been abroad, who knows Vesuvius’s look on a certain morning of AD 79, and of the cast-iron balconies of that hotel in Lucerne?”

.
Robert Motherwell on Joseph Cornell, Joseph Cornell’s Theatre of the Mind, 1993

 

“He uses selected, sought-for, desired objects. He must have been clipping all the time, poring through magazines, collecting things and haunting junk shops and flea markets, looking for the images that corresponded to his imagination.”

.
Susan Sontag, Joseph Cornell: Worlds in a Box, directed by Mark Stokes, 1991

 

 

Lee Miller. 'Joseph Cornell, New York' 1933

 

Lee Miller
Joseph Cornell, New York
1933
Vintage photograph. ‘Joseph Cornell, New York Studio, New York, USA 1933’ by Lee Miller (96-2)
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved.

 

 

Early Life

Joseph Cornell was the eldest of four children – he had two sisters, Elizabeth and Helen, and a brother, Robert, who suffered from cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life. When Cornell was thirteen, his father died of leukaemia and Robert became Joseph’s responsibility (partly to assuage their overbearing mother). Robert however was a cheerful child and took pleasure in drawing and collecting model trains. Cornell considered Robert to be a pure soul, and willingly took on his brother’s care. A salesman and textile designer, Cornell’s father had left considerable debts for his family to manage and for several years Cornell’s mother was forced to take odd jobs to support the family, and move them into a succession of smaller rented houses. In 1917, with the help of his father’s former employer, Joseph was able to enrol at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts: a highly regarded private school. There he discovered an interest in American and European literature, poetry, history and French. Yet, away from his close knit family and after the relatively recent death of his father, Cornell struggled and was a mediocre student. He developed the first in a lifelong series of nervous crises and stomach problems, and left the Academy in 1921 without graduating.

Upon his return home, Cornell assumed the role of ‘man of the house’ and became a sample salesman in his father’s trade for a wholesale textile business, the William Whitman Company on lower Madison Avenue. Cornell found the job mundane and himself unsuited to its demands. In his twenties, a time when the stress of supporting his family was exacerbating his stomach ailments, he converted to Christian Science. This religion teaches that reality is purely spiritual and the material world an illusion, so disease and other afflictions associated with the physical body are thought to be manifestations of a troubled mind that ought to be treated with prayer, not medicine. Joseph remained an active member until his death and recruited his brother Robert and sister Elizabeth into the fold.

In 1929, Mrs Cornell moved the family to an unassuming house at 3708 Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens, New York. Here, Cornell would live with his mother and brother until he died. His main escape from the tedium of domestic life and the awkward social interactions thrust upon him at work was to walk the city streets in his lunch hour, browsing the second-hand bookshops on Fourth Avenue, the flea markets and dime stores, collecting keepsakes and scavenging for relics and once-precious fragments of other people’s lives. Cornell loved to explore Manhattan and the ‘teeming life of the metropolis’, which seemed to him the epitome of glamour. These wanderings led to Cornell amassing a vast personal archive of treasured finds – books, prints, postcards and three-dimensional ephemera such as clay pipes and watch springs – often tinged with the romance of foreign places and the nostalgia of times past, which would in due course form the material elements of the very personal poetry that is his art.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Schooner)' 1931

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Schooner)
1931

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled [Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Lupus Constellations]' c.1934

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled [Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Lupus Constellations]
c. 1934
Collage with ink on paper
14 x 18.6 cm
Drs. Steven and Sara Newman. Photo Collection of Drs. Steven and Sara Newman, Chicago, Illinois, USA
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (M'lle Faretti)' 1933

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (M’lle Faretti)
1933
Box construction
27.9 x 20.3 x 5.1 cm
Private Collection
Photo: Michael Tropea, Chicago
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Play and Experiment

Although he did not complete his formal education, Cornell was extremely well read and kept abreast of Manhattan’s literary, musical and artistic events. Not only did he regularly attend the theatre and the ballet, but he also became an avid cinema-goer, thriving on the excitement of the city. Indeed, Cornell often waited at the stage door of theatres and opera houses for a glimpse of the female performers he idolised. He also spent time in art galleries, and in 1931 at the Julien Levy Gallery he came across collages by Max Ernst (1891-1976), a pioneer of Surrealism, who combined high art and popular imagery in his work.

Although Cornell was never officially part of the Surrealist movement and came to dismiss Surrealist associations with his own practice, it had a major influence on him, most notably inspiring his embrace of unexpected juxtapositions in his assemblages and his experimental films, like Rose Hobart (1936). Rejecting Surrealism’s more violent and erotic aspects – the shock effect of jarring images – Cornell preferred instead what he described as the ‘white magic’ side of Surrealism, and the poetic connections between everyday objects.

By 1931 Cornell had shifted from simply collecting objects to creating them. He began to make collages and assemblages first in a style resembling Max Ernst’s, then in his own manner. The basis of collage – piecing together and assembling – would be central to Cornell’s works throughout his life, be they two- or three-dimensional. At this early stage he took images from the dense dossiers of engravings and clippings that he had accumulated by this time, fashioning compositions from seemingly unrelated cutout images to create whimsical pairings, which often revealed his dual interests in science and the world of children. Both these themes would recur and overlap throughout his career…

After viewing a number of Cornell’s small surreal collages, such as Untitled (Schooner), 1931, Julien Levy invited him to show in his exhibition, Surréalisme, which opened in January 1932. Later, Levy offered Cornell a solo show, the first of several that were held at his gallery. Entitled Objects by Joseph Cornell: Minutiae, Glass Bells, Shadow Boxes, Coups d’Oeil, Jouets Surréalistes, it included a series of collages and small three-dimensional objects such as bell jars and pillboxes. All the works were made at his kitchen table at night as his mother and brother slept.

Uneasy about his work being associated with Surrealism, Cornell later wrote to Alfred H. Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and organiser of the 1936 exhibition, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, in which Cornell’s work was to feature: “In the event that you are saying a word or two about my work in the catalogue, I would appreciate your saying that I do not share in the subconscious and dream theories of the Surrealists. While fervently admiring much of their work I have never been an official Surrealist, and I believe that Surrealism has healthier possibilities than have been developed.” Regardless of Cornell’s own attempt to distance himself from the movement, Surrealism provided him, at least, with a context in which he could make his collages and objets, and understand them as deserving of a mature and discerning audience.

Around this time, Cornell encountered the collages and box constructions of Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), composed of urban detritus, and the ‘readymades’ of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), which are ordinary, unaltered manufactured objects designated by the artist to be works of art. In Duchamp, Cornell discovered an unlikely friend; the two regularly corresponded throughout their lifetime. When Duchamp visited New York in the 1940s, he enlisted Cornell to help him with a new project, a miniature ‘museum’ of his work, known as the Boîte-en-valise or ‘box in a suitcase’. Cornell already had his own ‘valise’ experiment, Untitled (The Crystal Cage: Portrait of Berenice).

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1936

 

Joseph Cornell
Object (Soap Bubble Set)
1936
Box construction

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1941

 

Joseph Cornell
Object (Soap Bubble Set)
1941
Box construction
46.4 x 31.4 x 9.5 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1941 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell
Object (Soap Bubble Set) (detail)
1941
Box construction
46.4 x 31.4 x 9.5 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Pharmacy' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell
Pharmacy
1943
Box construction
38.7 x 30.5 x 7.9 cm
Collection Paul Schärer
Photo Dominique Uldry, Bern
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Pharmacy' 1943 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell
Pharmacy (detail)
1943
Box construction
38.7 x 30.5 x 7.9 cm
Collection Paul Schärer
Photo Dominique Uldry, Bern
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

 

Collecting and Classification

In the 1930s, Cornell began to make the ‘shadow boxes’ for which he is best known – glass-fronted box constructions containing intimately-scaled arrangements of found objects and paper ephemera, assembled in a sort of three-dimensional collage. The 1936 exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at MoMA, New York, showed one of his first shadow boxes, Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) (above). This was the first in a long series of the same name and recalls the children’s pastime of blowing bubbles, as well as the eighteenth-century European painting association of bubbles as memento mori, a reminder of the transience of life. Precisely what led Cornell to the idea of the box remains unclear. In a Life magazine article from 1967 he said that it came to him during one of his walks through Manhattan, as he passed a collection of compasses in the window of an antique shop:

“I thought, everything can be used in a lifetime, can’t it, and went on walking. I’d scarcely gone two blocks when I came on another shop window full of boxes, all different kinds […] Halfway home on the train that night, I thought of the compasses and boxes, it occurred to me to put the two together.”

Before Cornell developed his own carpentry skills, his early shadow boxes were housed in prefabricated, semi-antique wooden boxes, popular during the Victorian era for displaying small paintings, ship models, ladies’ handiwork and mementoes. In the nineteenth century, a similar tradition existed in China, where hardwood boxes with sliding glass covers and papered or silk-lined interiors were used to display fine ceramics, especially figurines made for export. Cornell’s approach also recalls European traditions that began to appear in his research dossiers during the 1930s: small seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and Flemish kunstschranke or kunstkammer – cabinets that housed separate elements assembled to represent the world in miniature. In the mid 1930s, Cornell’s neighbour Carl Backman taught him some basic carpentry skills, which allowed him to construct his own boxes. The boxes are often hard to date accurately, as Cornell would tinker with and refine his constructions over several years, returning to them gradually. However, except for his early boxes which tend to be singular, we can see patterns emerging in his practice as he worked on larger ‘families’ of works that share discernible visual motifs, often unfolding over a decade or more. These series include: ‘Hotels’, ‘Pharmacies’, ‘Aviaries’, ‘Dovecotes’, ‘Observatories’ and ‘Night Skies’.

The ‘Pharmacy’ assemblages, with their compartmentalised structures and associations with collection and classification – a nod to the ordered world of museum display – are a good illustration of one of Cornell’s ‘families’. Here, in this early example of a series that stretched over a decade with at least six similar works, we see a small specimen case containing four ordered rows of five glass jars. Its title appears to refer to medicine and healing, yet as a practising Christian Scientist, Cornell was forbidden to take medicine. Instead, in this miniature apothecary, he has created tonics for the soul and the imagination, with each fragile jar containing an object or substance that has poetic connotations – shells and sand for travel, feathers, delicate butterfly wings, tiny snippets of parchment. The interior is lined with mirrors, creating echoing reflections of the jars that line the shelves. Though its contents may seem trivial, each jar is imbued with significance, its humble items elevated and made precious through the language of their display. Looking into this box, we see a world of associations, nostalgia and elusive meaning.

By the time Cornell created Pharmacy, he had stopped working, and was pursuing his art full time. From this point on, Cornell regularly exhibited and sold his artwork. He also did freelance design work and picture research for magazines such as Vogue and House & Garden. He set up a workshop and storage area in the basement of the house on Utopia Parkway. Working in his new studio, which he sometimes referred to as his ‘laboratory’, Cornell was able to conceive works with more complex craftsmanship than he had been able to do when working at the kitchen table. While most days were spent at home, he would still escape into New York in search of inspiration and to visit friends. A keen diarist, he would sit in Manhattan coffee shops, indulging his notorious sweet tooth with sugary snacks while furiously scribbling notes on scraps of paper that would later be typed up into more formal diary entries.

As well as being an avid people-watcher, Cornell enjoyed ornithology and expressed his love of birds in the ‘Aviary’ and ‘Habitat’ series, which speak of their exoticism and beauty. Birds often symbolise freedom, their flight paths linking the heavens and the earth. In myths and religion, small birds in particular have been used to represent the souls of children freed from their earthly bonds.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Palace' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell
Palace
1943
Box construction
Glass-paned, stained wood box with photomechanical reproduction, mirror, spray-painted twigs, wood and shaved bark
26.7 x 50.5 x 13 cm
The Menil Collection, Houston
Photo: The Menil Collection, Houston. Photography: Hickey-Robertson
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Tilly Losch)' c. 1935-38

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Tilly Losch)
c. 1935-38
Box Construction
25.4 x 23.5 x 5.4 cm
Collection of Robert Lehrman, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo: The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman. Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

“Creative filing
Creative arranging
As poetics
As technique
As joyous creation”

.
Joseph Cornell, diary entry, 9 March 1959

 

“On the way to ART OF THIS CENTURY from Julien’s, carrying De Medici girl Slot Machine and bird with cracked glass saw Marlene Dietrich in polo coat and black beanie cap on back of hair waiting at curb of Jay Thorpe’s for a taxi. First time I’d seen her off screen and brought an unexpectedly elated feeling. Working in cellar that night on Soap Bubble Set the green glass locket portrait of her on the floor evoked very special feelings.”

.
Joseph Cornell, diary entry, spring 1944

 

“Original inspiration of the bird store, windows, simplicity of magic, pet shop.”

.
Joseph Cornell, c. 1943, Joseph Cornell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

 

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled Object (Mona Lisa)' c. 1940-42

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled Object (Mona Lisa)
c. 1940-42
Box construction
3.5 x 7.6 cm
The Collection of Marguerite and Robert Hoffman
Photo: Brad Flowers
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Owl Habitat)' c. mid- to late 1940s

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Owl Habitat)
c. mid- to late 1940s
Collection Jasper Johns Photo Collection Jasper Johns
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

“Some of his boxes are less cryptic, and more naturalistic, such as Untitled (Owl Habitat), from the 1940s. The snowy owl trapped behind a pane of glass is not a fancy piece of taxidermy fit for a natural history diorama, but a mere paper illustration pasted onto plywood. The midnight-blue forest the owl inhabits is contrived from painted bark and lichen. Cornell, of course, was himself a famous night owl. In some ways the owl box can seem as close as he ever came to self-portraiture, with its majestic creature alone in the woods, eyes wide, watching.”

Deborah Solomon, May 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell
Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery
1943
Mixed media
39.4 x 28.3 x 10.8 cm
Purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust; Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center, 1975.27
Photo: Collection of the Des Moines Art Center
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

While visually distinct from the ‘Pharmacy’ series, Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery (above) continues the theme of arrangement and classification in Cornell’s work, with the cut-out illustrations of macaws, a parrot and a cockatoo mounted like museum specimens or dioramas against a bright white background. However, this dynamic construction has an uncharacteristic aura of violence, and contrasts with other pieces where the box is seen as a safe environment in which objects could be placed, secure and cherished. In this case, the glass that protects the sanctuary of the box has been cracked, its contents exposed to external elements. The central ‘bullet hole’ directly in front of the cockatoo’s crown acts as a focal point for the assemblage, guiding our eye in and then out to the four corners of the box. Bold splashes of colour convey a sense of theatricality and drama (Cornell referred to some of his boxes as ‘poetic theatres’), and the game counters placed over each bird evoke the targets of shooting galleries in penny arcades. Scattered feathers at the bottom of the construction, the shot glass and splotches of paint all suggest a violent event. In a rare moment of political commentary in Cornell’s work, this habitat serves as a metaphor for the horrors of the Second World War, with the birds embodying the innocence of victims caught up in the destruction of war.

 

Observation and Exploration

One of the great paradoxes in Cornell’s life was the gulf between the multitudinous references in his work to distant times and foreign places, and the fact that he himself never physically left the USA. He was a devotee of nineteenth century European culture and a collector of Baedeker Guides (to travel, published in the 1830s), timetables and travel literature, yet he never went abroad – not because he didn’t have the means to do so but because, as one commentator noted, he ‘preferred the ticket to the trip’, which makes his evocation of a traveller’s sense of wanderlust even more remarkable. Cornell let dreams of voyages, particularly to Europe, remain imagined and thus unrealised, preserving his reveries in the same fashion as his glass-fronted boxes. Recurring often in his work are poignant emblems of transience and travel – birds, celestial maps, exotic-sounding hotels and luggage tags – but they remain frozen in their boxed confinement. Thus, fittingly, the central paradox in Cornell’s life found expression in the very medium for which he is now best known.

“Original inspiration of the bird store, windows, simplicity of magic, pet shop.”

Joseph Cornell, c. 1943, Joseph Cornell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

.
Cornell also dreamed of celestial navigation and was fascinated by the night sky and planets. In Soap Bubble Set (1948, below), Cornell arranged fragments collected during his Manhattan wanderings against the backdrop of an antique lunar map, the roundness of the moon alluding to the titular spherical soap bubble. In his shadow boxes, soap bubbles came to symbolise the relationship between science and childhood imagination, knowledge and wonder, as well as serving as an allegory of vanitas and the ephemerality of life. White Dutch clay pipes, the signature motif of the ‘Soap Bubble’ series, are positioned symmetrically in side compartments, laid out like scientific instruments in a lab, gleaming against the dark velvet interior of the case. These pipes, used as toys for blowing bubbles, suggest the element air, while at a lower level a fragment of driftwood (probably scavenged by Cornell while beach combing on Long Island) grounds us in the natural world and hints at the weathering effects of wind and water over time. A cordial glass stands alone, delicate and vulnerable, empty in this construction but in others from this series cradling a marble, perhaps as a metaphor for forces securing the planets in place. At the top of the construction, the artist has hung a row of seven cylinders, the number possibly invoking the Copernican model of the solar system (in which seven planets orbit the Sun). The overall impression is of a poetic understanding of science, the infinity of space made bearable by the inclusion of objects whose culturally recognisable associations position us, along with Cornell, on Earth.

Ironically, Cornell’s first recorded response to the cosmos was fear. According to his sister Elizabeth, after having returned from school for the Christmas holidays, he woke her one night, ‘shaking like a leaf’, and stood at the window while confessing his anxiety about the concept of infinity. His concern translated to intrigue later in life and his shadow boxes abound with references to astronomy and space exploration. Cornell kept up to date with the latest scientific discoveries and was a keen stargazer, regularly observing the night sky from his backyard, or his kitchen window, sometimes referred to as his ‘observatory’.

In 1949, Cornell joined the Egan Gallery in New York, run by Charles Egan. Around this time we can see a fresh approach emerging in his work, as he branched away from the more theatrical Victorian constructs of his early career, which can appear comparatively dense. This may have been a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, a new movement developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) who used abstraction and gesture to convey expressive content. The Egan Gallery’s roster of artists included notable Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) and Franz Kline (1910-1962).

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Soap Bubble Set' 1948

 

Joseph Cornell
Soap Bubble Set
1948
Box construction
36.8 x 52.1 x 9.8 cm
Mr. and Mrs. John Stravinsky
Photo © 2014 Christie’s Images Limited
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l'Observatoire' 1954

 

Joseph Cornell
Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire
1954
Box construction
46.5 x 33 x 9.8 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Partial gift, C. and B. Foundation, by exchange, 1980
Photo © SRGF, New York. Photography: David Heald
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l'Observatoire' 1954 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell
Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire (detail)
1954
Box construction
46.5 x 33 x 9.8 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Partial gift, C. and B. Foundation, by exchange, 1980
Photo © SRGF, New York. Photography: David Heald
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Medici Princess)' c. 1948

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Medici Princess)
c. 1948
Box construction
44.8 x 28.3 x 11.1 cm
Private collection, New York
Photo courtesy private collection, New York
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

 

Cornell continued to explore themes of astronomy and celestial navigation in the ‘Observatory’, ‘Night Skies’, and ‘Hotel’ series (the latter also playing with the notion of a hotel as a microcosm of the wider world and, for Cornell, the universe). This work, Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire (1954, above), combines many of the motifs prevalent in these series, yet is noticeably pared back. The deep, contemplative blue of the composition suggests a starry night sky, and the cracked, aged, white frame evokes the faded grandeur of forgotten European hotels, built for wealthy travellers between the 1880s and 1920s but now fallen into disrepair. Cornell scrapbooked the names of the hotels in this series from adverts in turn-of-the-century guidebooks to European cities.

Despite the smallness of the box, Cornell has created a sense of space within by foregrounding a delicate silver chain and white dowel against the rich starry expanse beyond. The female figure we see in the background is Andromeda, a character in Greek mythology who was chained to a rock as a sacrificial offering to a sea monster because her mother, Cassiopeia, had angered the sea god Poseidon and the Nereids by boasting of her and her daughter’s beauty. Andromeda was rescued from her plight by the hero Perseus, who then married her. Upon her death, she was placed in the skies as a constellation alongside her husband and her mother. Like her rescuer, Cornell has liberated Andromeda from the chains that bound her to the Earth. She is not attached to the silver chain, which both recalls the myth and suggests a ladder to the heavens. With the lightest touch, Cornell has skilfully created both the physical presence of a beautiful woman, and her heavenly equivalent as a constellation in the night sky.

As well as seeking inspiration across galaxies and the limitless expanses of space, Cornell would also delve into myth and history, both factual and personal, to seek out the characters who reside in his shadow boxes. In one of his most famous series, the ‘Medici Slot Machines’, Cornell superimposed memories of his own happy childhood (before his father’s death) onto reproductions of portraits of Medici princes and princesses by the Renaissance artists Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625), Bronzino (1503-1572) and Pinturicchio (1454-1513). By mixing his personal history (Cornell recalled with fondness the outings to penny arcades and shooting galleries of his youth) with these Florentine children, and further juxtaposing Old Master paintings with symbols of popular amusement, he created a mysterious world that contrasts high and low culture with haunting beauty.

This elegiac composition centres around Bronzino’s posthumous portrait of Bia de’ Medici. Bia, the illegitimate but beloved daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, died from a fever aged 6, and Bronzino used her death mask as a model. Around her neck, she wears a medallion with her father’s profile on it. Cornell has effectively enshrined Bia in this box, simultaneously surrounded by the trappings of childhood (marbles, jacks, toy blocks), and, notably, the metal spirals of watch springs in the upper corners, which act as a metaphor for time cycles and life repeating itself. A bright red ball in front of the young girl attracts the viewer, as do the sightlines, mimicking the cross-hair targets of amusement park shooting galleries, which converge over one eye. Bia is flanked by columns, decorated with Baedeker maps of Italy, and further side compartments stacked with repeated images, like the spliced frames of a film, recalling Eadweard Muybridge’s (1830-1904) early sequences of animal and human movement, as well as foreshadowing Pop artist Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) multiple silkscreen homages to celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. There is a concealed drawer at the base of the box, containing a bundle of letters tied with thread, and a paper fan, perhaps a nod to the attributes of the courtly life of a princess. Cornell’s creations often included kinetic elements like marbles or toy balls, although they are seldom activated now, as the assemblages are too delicate. In this box, the unfixed objects placed around Bia accentuate her stillness and steady gaze. Perhaps because of the blue staining of the glass, we become more aware of the wall that separates us from this young girl, frozen in a world that we can look in upon, but not enter. She looks out at us directly, but is she imprisoned or merely on display?

“Peering into glasspanelled boxes to inspect their contents is not unlike looking through a telescope in order to bring the distant closer. Windows, doors, compartments, drawers, cross-hair targets – all of these elements grant access or focus as we navigate the world Cornell has framed.”

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 2003

 

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Celestial Navigation)' 1956-58

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Celestial Navigation)
1956-58
Box construction
30.8 x 43.2 x 9.2 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

That he visited the opera and the ballet in New York is not surprising, as his miniature dioramas also recall stage sets with a scenic and narrative quality. As Mary Ann Caws writes in Joseph Cornell’s Theatre of the Mind, “Cornell’s shadow boxes invite us to peek, to peep, and finally to yield to our imagination… We meet in the confines of this tiny frame, this microcosm of complicity.” The boxes are filled with potential energy, as if just about to move, and are spaces in which multiple scales co-exist: time and history, the natural world and the cosmos. They are places of curious juxtaposition: take Untitled (Celestial Navigation) (1956-58, above), in which the universe is depicted through everyday objects.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'L'Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémentaire d'histoire naturelle' 1940

 

Joseph Cornell
L’Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémentaire d’histoire naturelle
1940
Box construction
11.9 x 27.1 x 18.4 cm (closed)
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Longing and Reverie

For Cornell, a relationship with a woman (other than his mother) seemed unattainable. He never married, and for him the female figure took on an elevated accumulation of hope and desire of almost mythic proportions. Throughout his life he developed obsessions with opera singers, waitresses, film stars, shop girls and most vividly, ballerinas (alive or dead). In the 1930s he discovered the international revival of the Romantic ballet, and spent the next 30 years exploring his fascination with the ‘queens of the dance’. His favourites included Romanticera prima ballerinas Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) and Fanny Cerrito (1817-1909), and their modern counterparts Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) and Allegra Kent (b. 1937). He also became good friends with Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957), the Russian Surrealist painter and set and costume designer who, as a well-known figure on the international dance scene, introduced Cornell to dancers and other balletomanes.

This box (Naples, 1942, below) is a tender homage to Fanny Cerrito, a nineteenth-century ballerina who captivated Cornell (he first came across her likeness in a bookstore on Fourth Avenue, on a souvenir lithograph from 1842). Cerrito was best known for her 1843 performance in Ondine, a ballet based on a fairy tale about a knight who falls in love with an ethereal water sprite. For her first entrance on stage, Cerrito posed in a giant cockleshell, rising up on a platform through the stage. In this assemblage, Cornell celebrates her birthplace of Naples, illustrating its famously narrow streets festooned with lines of laundry. The luggage label and the handle of the box, which recall a suitcase, give a sense of travel and distance, but the seashells propped up in the corners of the box and the faded sea-green paint that borders the scene speak to Cerrito’s most famous role.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Naples' 1942

 

Joseph Cornell
Naples
1942
Box construction
28.6 x 17.1 x 12.1 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC

 

 

Another example of Cornell’s devotional works is this stunningly austere piece entitled Toward the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson (1953, below). The purity of this box and the inclusion of a grid-like structure recall the signature style of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), a Minimalist artist who radically simplified the elements of painting to reflect the underlying spiritual order of the visible world that he believed in. Cornell admired Mondrian’s work and mentioned him in his 1946 diary: ‘Mondrian feeling strong. Feeling of progress and satisfaction.’

As the title suggests, this shadow box was created for the nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), with whom Cornell felt a deep affinity. Like Cornell, Dickinson lived with her family, never travelled far from home or married, and translated her intense longing into her art. A withdrawn and enigmatic woman, she rarely left the upstairs bedroom in her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she wrote her poems. Dickinson’s bedroom inspired the setting for this simple, white-washed box that resembles an abandoned aviary. At first, almost everything about this box suggests containment – the white mesh cage, the dowel perch and bird feeder – but we find no resident here. In fact, the mesh has been cut open and to the left we see a rectangle of clear, refreshing blue suggesting a window open to the sky – the infinite beyond into which our bird has flown. Emily Dickinson sometimes referred to herself as a ‘little wren’ and often, like Cornell, included birds in her work. Here, Cornell ensures that she has been set free, present only in spirit, with two small scraps of printed paper at the bottom of the case the only physical reminder of her presence. The empty box is silent, a vacuum left after the action has occurred. The title of this work comes from a poem by Dickinson that begins: ‘It might be lonelier / Without the Loneliness / I’m so accustomed to my Fate.’ It ends:

It might be easier
To fail – with Land in Sight –
Than gain – My Blue Peninsula –
To perish – of Delight –

.
Here, Dickinson is asking whether longing is better than having, a question that clearly spoke to Cornell and his own deep-seated yearning. Better that dream remain imagined but unrealised, the poet advises, lest it disappoint. It seems these are words that Cornell heeded his entire life.

In the early 1960s, Cornell did finally break with tradition and became attached to a young woman, a New York waitress named Joyce Hunter. This was Cornell’s first real-life romance and he was dazzled by her, making her several gifts of his boxes and collages. Joyce eventually stole artworks from his home (though he refused to prosecute her), and was later murdered by an acquaintance in an unrelated incident in December 1964. Her death devastated Cornell, and marks the beginning of his decline into isolation; his brother Robert died in 1965, his mother a year later. In the winter of 1965 he began a series of collages dedicated to Robert’s memory…

Now alone in his family home, Cornell still received visitors (an invitation to Utopia Parkway had become something of an art-world trophy) but conditions in the house declined as his involvement in Christian Science and the metaphysical world increased. He would write letters to the ghosts of his former life – Robert, his mother, Joyce Hunter. Cornell became more and more interested in sharing his work with a younger audience and one of his last exhibitions in 1972 was expressly for children: A Joseph Cornell Exhibition for Children at the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture, where cake and soda pops were served instead of the traditional champagne and canapés. He often said children were his most enthusiastic and receptive audience, and lent boxes to children in his neighbourhood for their enjoyment. Cornell continued to work until the end of his life, although he stopped making new boxes sometime in the 1960s, after which he focused on ‘refurbishing’ earlier boxes by breaking them down and reconstituting them. His main focus was a renewed interest in creating collages, which he saw as freer and more spontaneous than box construction. He also concentrated on making films and re-editing earlier cinematic work. Following prostate surgery in June 1972, he spent several months recuperating with family in Westhampton before returning to Utopia Parkway in November. Cornell died of heart failure alone at home, just a few days after his sixty-ninth birthday.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Toward the Blue Peninsula - for Emily Dickinson' c. 1953

 

Joseph Cornell
Toward the Blue Peninsula – for Emily Dickinson
c. 1953
Box construction
36.8 x 26 x 14 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015.

 

 Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy)' 1942-52

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy)
1942-52
Box construction
35.4 x 28.4 x 9.8 cm
Photo: Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art.com, courtesy Glenstone
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'A Parrot for Juan Gris' 1953-54

 

Joseph Cornell
A Parrot for Juan Gris
1953-54
Box construction
45.1 x 31 x 11.7 cm
The Collection of Robert Lehrman, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Conclusion

What can we make of the life of Joseph Cornell? From his shadow boxes we get the impression of a man who preferred fantasy to reality, finding inspiration and affinity with long-dead characters from history, from Renaissance princesses to Romantic ballerinas. But Cornell was also conscious of and responded to the changing landscape of twentieth-century art – Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism – and had a tremendous influence on other artists during his lifetime. He had an appetite for subjects that were as far ranging as his imagination, and was able to express, with the deftest of touches, huge concepts within intimate, self-contained spaces. Cornell’s cloistered worlds seem to encompass the entire universe in microcosm – its infinity, wonder, mystery and power all contained within a small box. Their appeal can only be accentuated by the fact that their creator conjured these worlds purely from imagination rather than experience. His last reported words to his sister Elizabeth on the day he died were, “You know, I was thinking, I wish I hadn’t been so reserved.” While this restraint may have caused him regret in his daily life, we see little trace of it in his art, which seems instead to be a magical, generous invitation to the viewer as a gateway to reverie, and to dream.

Written by Asha McLoughlin
Learning Department
© Royal Academy of Arts

 

 

Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust offers an overview of the American artist’s inventive oeuvre, surveying around 80 of his remarkable box constructions, assemblages, collages and films. The last major solo exhibition of Cornell in Europe took place nearly 35 years ago, originating at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1980, and travelling to the Whitechapel Gallery in the UK. With very few works on permanent display in European museums, the exhibition is an opportunity to see rarely lent masterpieces from public and private collections in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Cornell (1903-1972) never left America and hardly ventured beyond New York City, yet through his art he set out to travel through history, the continents of the globe and even the spiritual realm. His works are manifestations of a powerful ‘wanderlust’ of the mind and soul.

Collecting was central to Cornell’s creativity; he amassed a vast and eclectic personal archive of paper ephemera and found objects, eventually numbering tens of thousands of items. This material revealed his wide-ranging interests from opera, ballet, cinema and theatre to history, ornithology, poetry and astronomy. Europe held a special place in Cornell’s imagination, and many of the works selected for this exhibition highlight his love of its historic cultures, from the Belle Époque to the Italian Renaissance. Inspired by these interests, he incorporated his collected materials inside glass-fronted wooden box constructions creating miniature worlds known as his ‘shadow boxes’, as well as producing collages and film.

Cornell was entirely self-taught and has often been characterised as an outsider to the New York art scene. In reality, he was highly engaged with the art movements and artists of the time, exhibiting regularly alongside the Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists, whilst carefully maintaining his independence from any one group. He counted many vanguard artists among his friends including Marcel Duchamp, Robert Motherwell, and Dorothea Tanning.

The exhibition is arranged thematically in four sections that reflect the artistic processes expressed in Cornell’s diaries and notes; Play and Experiment, Collecting and Classification, Observation and Exploration and Longing and Reverie. The selection brings together key works from his major series: Museums, Aviaries, Soap Bubble Sets, Palaces, Medici Slot Machines, Hotels and Dovecotes.”

Press release from the Royal Academy of Arts website

 

“Impressions intriguingly diverse – that, in order to hold fast, one might assemble, assort, and arrange into a cabinet – the contraption kind of the amusement resorts with endless ingenuity of effect, worked by coin and plunger, or brightly coloured pin-balls – travelling inclined runways – starting in motion compartment after compartment with a symphony of mechanical magic of sight and sound borrowed from the motion picture art – into childhood – into fantasy – through the streets of New York – through tropical skies – etc. – into the receiving trays the balls come to rest releasing prizes.”

.
Joseph Cornell

 

 

Royal Academy of Arts
Piccadilly site
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London W1J 0BD
Burlington Gardens site
6 Burlington Gardens
London W1S 3ET

Opening hours:
Saturday – Thursday 10am – 6pm
Friday 10am – 10pm

Royal Academy of Arts website

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16
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘When we share more than ever’ at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 19th June – 20th September 2015

A project for the Triennial of Photography Hamburg 2015

Curators: Dr des. Esther Ruelfs and Teresa Gruber

Invited artists: Laia Abril, Ai Weiwei, Regula Bochsler, Natalie Bookchin, Heman Chong, Aurélien Froment, David Horvitz, Trevor Paglen, Doug Rickard, Taryn Simon, Jens Sundheim, Penelope Umbrico | From the Photography and New Media Collection of the MKG: Fratelli Alinari, Hanns-Jörg Anders, Nobuyoshi Araki, Francis Bedford, Félix Bonfils, Adolphe Braun, Natascha A. Brunswick, Atelier d’Ora / Benda, Minya Diez-Dührkoop, Rudolf Dührkoop, Harold E. Edgerton, Tsuneo Enari, Andreas Feininger, Lotte Genzsch, Johann Hamann, Theodor und Oscar Hofmeister, Thomas Höpker, Lotte Jacobi, Gertrude Käsebier, Kaku Kurita, Atelier Manassé, Hansi Müller-Schorp, Eardweard Muybridge, Arnold Newman, Terry Richardson, Max Scheler, Hildi Schmidt-Heins, Hiromi Tsuchida, Carl Strüwe, Léon Vidal, and more

 

 

A fascinating exhibition about the processes of archiving and transferring images and the associated interaction, combining historic and contemporary images to illuminate various chapters: “Sharing a Portrait,” “Sharing a Group,” “Sharing Memories,” “Sharing a Product,” “Sharing Lust,” “Sharing Evidence,” “Sharing Knowledge,” “Sharing the World,” “Sharing a Collection,” and “Sharing Photographs”.

“The chapters juxtapose historical and contemporary works in order to illuminate how the use and function of photographic images have changed and which aspects have remained the same despite the digital revolution. The exhibition begins with photography used in the service of people: to record a life, create a sense of community, or share memories. The following chapters deal with applied contexts, such as advertising photographs, erotic photography, photojournalism, scientific photography, and travel photos.”

“Conceived in archive format, the exhibition explores the archive’s possible forms and uses. The featured works from the collection were selected from the MKG’s holdings of some 75,000 photographs to show how different photographic practices have been assimilated over the years. The springboard for our reflections was the question of how the digital era of picture sharing has changed the function of a museum collection of photography, seeing as today digital image collections are just a mouse click away on online archives such as Google Images.”

But it could have been so much more, especially with 75,000 photographs to choose from. Looking at the plan for the exhibition and viewing the checklist would suggest that the small amount of work in each of the ten chapters leaves little room for any of the themes to be investigated in depth. Any one of these chapters would have made an excellent exhibition in its own right. What an opportunity missed for a series of major exhibitions that examined each important theme.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Text in the posting is from the booklet When We Share More Than Ever:

Editors: Sabine Schulze, Esther Ruelfs, Teresa Gruber
Text editors: Esther Ruelfs, Teresa Gruber
Authors: Teresa Gruber (TG), Beate Pittnauer (BP), Esther Ruelfs (ER), Sven Schumacher (SS), Annika Sellmann (AS), Taryn Simon, Johan Simonsen (JS), Emma Stenger (ES) Grafikdesign Graphic design exhibition and booklet: Studio Mahr
Translation German-English: Jennifer Taylor

 

 

Sharing memories

Creating mementoes is one of the central functions of photography. In David Horvitz’s case, it is the mobile phone camera that gives two people a feeling of togetherness. The bond is created through an action. On two different continents, both people stand at the seaside at the same time, recording and sending images of the sunrise and sunset with their iPhones.

Photography connects us with the subject or the person depicted – even beyond the bounds of the time. The photo is an imprint; it transmits to us something that was once really there. Like a fingerprint or a footprint, it remains closely related to what it captures. This special quality of photography predestined it from the start to be a medium of memory. The daguerreotype of a little girl presented in the exhibition is framed by a braid of the child’s hair. The idea of carrying part of a loved one with us and thus generating a special feeling of closeness is reflected in the practice of making friendship or mourning jewelry out of hair – and in the way we treasure portrait photographs as keepsakes of those we love.

Emotional relationships can also be expressed by a certain photographic motif or by the body language of the sitters. The arms of the sisters in the photo by Gertrude Käsebier are closely intertwined, as are the hands of the couple in the daguerreotype by Carl Ferdinand Stelzner. The relationship between photographer and subject may also be the focus of the work. Natascha Brunswick as well as Rudolf Dührkoop and Käsebier use the camera, for example, to capture and hold onto intimate moments with their own families. ER

 

David Horvitz. 'The Distance of a Day' 2013

 

David Horvitz
The Distance of a Day
2013
Digital video on two iPhones, 12 min.
Courtesy Chert, Berlin
© David Horvitz

 

 

David Horvitz

With artworks in the form of books, photographs, installations, and actions, David Horvitz often explores varying conceptions of time and space, as well as interpersonal relationships and the dissemination of images via the internet. His work The Distance of a Day brings together all of these topics. With reference to the linguistic origin of the word “journey,” which defined the distance a traveler could cover in a day, Horvitz looks for two places located at opposite ends of the globe that are exactly one day apart. While his mother watches the sun set on a beach in his native California, the artist observes the sun rising over a Maldives island. Both document their simultaneous impressions with an iPhone, a device that today serves both for temporal and spatial orientation and which, as a communication medium, enables us to overcome the limits of space and time. Because it is a conceptual part of the performance, the iPhone is also used in the exhibition as a playback device. TG

 

Carl Ferdinand Stelzner. 'Unknown couple' 1830-1880

 

Carl Ferdinand Stelzner
Unknown couple
1830-1880
Framed daguerrotype
15.2 x 17.2 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Carl Ferdinand Stelzner. 'Unknown couple' 1830-1880 (detail)

 

Carl Ferdinand Stelzner
Unknown couple (detail)
1830-1880
Framed daguerrotype
15.2 x 17.2 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Sharing a portrait

“Maxime carried portraits of actresses in every pocket. He even had one in his cigarette case. From time to time he cleared them all out and moved the ladies into an album (…) which already contained the portraits of Renee’s friends.”

This scene from Émile Zola’s The Kill testifies to the fad that started in the 1860s for mass-produced photographic calling cards, or “cartes de visite.” Contemporaries spoke of “cartomania” – long before anyone could imagine an artist like Ai Weiwei, who has posted 7,142 photographs on his Instagram profile since 2014. With the “invasion of the new calling card pictures,” photo-graphy left the private sphere of the middle-class family and fostered new social relationships. The demand for images of celebrities from politics, art, and literature grew as well.

“Galleries of contemporaries” and artist portraits like those produced by Lotte Jacobi and Arnold Newman responded to an avid interest in the physical and physiognomic appearance of well-known people. The photographers tried to capture not only the person’s likeness but also his character, whether inclose-ups that zero in on individual facial expressions or in staged portraits in which the surroundings give clues to the sitter’s personality.

What has changed since then is above all how we handle such images. The photographs that Minya Diez-Dührkoop took of the upper-class daughter Renate Scholz trace her growth and development in pleasingly composed studio portraits. In today’s Internet communities and on smartphones by contrast we encounter the portrait as a profile picture. This signature image, changeable at any time, may be a selfie or selected from a steadily growing pool of snapshots shared among friends. ER

 

Ai Weiwei. '16 June, 2014'

 

Ai Weiwei
16 June, 2014
Photo posted on Instagram, (https://instagram.com/aiww/)
Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio
© Ai Weiwei

 

Ai Weiwei 'March 9, 2015'

 

Ai Weiwei
March 9, 2015
Photo posted on Instagram, (https://instagram.com/aiww/)
Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio
© Ai Weiwei

 

Minya Diez-Dührkoop. 'Portraits of Renate Scholz' 1920-1939

 

Minya Diez-Dührkoop
Portraits of Renate Scholz
1920-1939
Silver gelatine prints, various formats
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Minya Diez-Dührkoop. 'Portraits of Renate Scholz' 1920-1939 (detail)

 

Minya Diez-Dührkoop
Portrait of Renate Scholz
1920-1939
Silver gelatine prints, various formats
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Minya Diez-Dührkoop. 'Portraits of Renate Scholz' 1920-1939 (detail)

 

Minya Diez-Dührkoop
Portrait of Renate Scholz
1920-1939
Silver gelatine prints, various formats
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Ai Weiwei. 'January 30, 2015'

 

Ai Weiwei
January 30, 2015
Photo posted on Instagram, (https://instagram.com/aiww/)
Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio
© Ai Weiwei

 

 

Sharing a group

The photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) notes in his serialized book The Pencil of Nature, published in six parts between 1844 and 1846: “Groups of figures take no longer time to obtain than single figures would require, since the camera depicts them all at once, however numerous they may be.” For groups such as the middle-class family, colleagues in a profession or company, or leisure-time clubs – all of which took on renewed importance in the 19th century – the new technology provided an affordable way to preserve their feeling of community for posterity. The professional photographer was able to stage for the camera a picture designed to convey the self-image of the group. The Hamburg-based photographer Johann Hamann and the Studio Scholz were active around the turn of the 19th century, when the demand for professional group and family portraits reached a high point.

The classic commissioned group portrait still persists today in the form of class photos. These document each individual’s curriculum vitae while serving both as nostalgic souvenirs and as a basis for building a relationship network that can be maintained via websites such as stayfriends.com. On the Internet and especially on Facebook, new types of groups are being generated whose members share specific interests or traits. The artist Natalie Bookchin delves into the phenomenon of the virtual group in her work Mass Ornament, for which she collected amateur videos from YouTube showing people dancing alone and arranged them into an ensemble. She thus examines the possibilities offered by the World Wide Web to bring together crowds of people who are in reality each alone in front of their own screen. TG

 

Natalie Bookchin. 'Mass Ornament' 2009

 

Natalie Bookchin
Mass Ornament
2009
Video, 7 Min.
Video at: http://bookchin.net/projects/massornament.html
Courtesy of the artist © Natalie Bookchin

 

Natalie Bookchin. 'Mass Ornament' 2009 (detail)

 

Natalie Bookchin
Mass Ornament (detail)
2009
Video, 7 Min.
Video at: http://bookchin.net/projects/massornament.html
Courtesy of the artist © Natalie Bookchin

 

Natalie Bookchin. 'Mass Ornament' 2009

 

Natalie Bookchin
Mass Ornament
2009
Video, 7 Min.
Video at: http://bookchin.net/projects/massornament.html
Courtesy of the artist © Natalie Bookchin

 

Natalie Bookchin. 'Mass Ornament' 2009 (detail)

 

Natalie Bookchin
Mass Ornament (detail)
2009
Video, 7 Min.
Video at: http://bookchin.net/projects/massornament.html
Courtesy of the artist © Natalie Bookchin

 

 

Natalie Bookchin

Natalie Bookchin borrowed the title for her video from the prominent sociologist and film theorist Siegfried Kracauer. In his 1927 essay The Mass Ornament, Kracauer described the American dance troupe known as the Tiller Girls as the embodiment of capitalist production conditions after the First World War. He equated the automatonlike movements of the anonymous, interchangeable dancers with the assembly-line work in the factories. Bookchin’s work can likewise be understood as social commentary. She collects video clips of people dancing in front of webcams set up in their homes, which are posted on YouTube for all the world to see. The montage of such clips into a group choreography with almost synchronous dance moves paints a picture of individuals who share favorite songs, idols, and yearnings.

Instead of using today’s pop songs as soundtrack, Bookchin revives the movie music from Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers and Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (both from 1935). She thus generates an alienating effect while also reflecting on both the positive and negative connotations of movement in a group and of mass media. TG

 

Johann Hamann. 'The Women’s Department Forms an Artful Pyramid' 1903

 

Johann Hamann
The Women’s Department Forms an Artful Pyramid
1903
Albumen print
8.6 x 11.4 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Johann Hamann

The Hamburg photographer Johann Hamann opened his first daylight studio in 1889 in Hamburg’s Gängeviertel but is better known for his work outside the studio. By using a magnesium powder flash, he succeeded in portraying individuals and especially groups in a natural environment even in poor lighting conditions. Butchers, cobblers, and gymnasts posed with their props and wearing their specific “uniforms” before his camera. From 1899 to 1906, Hamann produced a complete set of photos of ship captains working for the Hamburg-based shipping line HAPAG, on behalf of which he also photographed the emigration halls on Veddel Island in the Elbe River. His group photographs provide insights into the working life and club activities in the Hanseatic city around the turn of the century, and are often characterized by situational humor. TG

 

 

Sharing knowledge

A droplet whirling off a rotating oil can, the impact of a falling drop of milk, or a bullet in flight are phenomena whose speed makes them imperceptible to the naked eye. With the help of a telescope or microscope, we can look into the distance and observe things that are too far away, or enlarge things that are too small to see, and with the aid of photography these things can then be captured in images that can be shared.

The objects of artist Trevor Paglen’s interest are military spy satellites, which he locates based on information on amateur websites and then captures using elaborate special cameras. His work draws on the aesthetics of scientific photography, inquiring into our faith in the objectivity of such images – a credibility that runs through the entire history of photography.

With the positivist mood pervading the 19th century, photography was associated much more closely with science than with art. Surveying and recording were central functions assigned to the new medium. The photographic work of Eadweard J. Muybrigde, Harold E. Edgerton, and Impulsphysik GmbH Hamburg-Rissen is associated with this applied context.

Already during the 19th century, however, the confidence invested in photography as a medium for capturing reality was being challenged by the exploration of borderline areas verging on the irrational and by metaphysical speculations. Myth and science overlapped here, especially when it came to recording invisible phenomena such as ultraviolet light, heat rays, and X-rays. These trends are evident in Carl Strüwe’s photomicrographs, which in his proclaimed “New Order” combine the aesthetics of scientific photography with esoteric notions of the archetype. ER

 

Doug Rickard. '95zLs' 2012

 

Doug Rickard
95zLs
2012
From the series N.A., 2011-2014
Archival Pigment Print
Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York
© Doug Rickard

 

Unknown photographer. 'Full Moon' 1850-1900

 

Unknown photographer
Griffith & Griffith (publisher)
Full Moon
1850-1900
Albumen print on cardboard
8.8 x 17.8 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Unknown photographer. 'Full Moon' 1850-1900 (detail)

 

Unknown photographer
Griffith & Griffith (publisher)
Full Moon (detail)
1850-1900
Albumen print on cardboard
8.8 x 17.8 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

One year after the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, a photographic image was already made of the moon. The first stereographic photographs were presented by the chemist and amateur astronomer Warren de la Rue in 1858. Stereo images, which enjoyed great popularity in the latter half of the 19th century, consist of two photographs, which display a scene from slightly different perspectives, thus imitating the viewing angle of the human eyes and generating a spatial impression of the subject when viewed through a stereoscope.

Because the moon is too far from the earth to be able to photograph it from two different angles at once, a stereo photograph is only possible by taking into account optical libration, or the apparent “oscillation” of the moon. Due to the earth’s elliptical orbit, the half of the moon visible from earth is not always exactly the same. For a stereo photograph like the one the publisher Griffith & Griffith offered – certainly not as a scientific document – the shots that were combined were taken at an interval of several months.TG

 

Trevor Paglen. 'MISTY 2/DECOY near Altair (Decoy Stealth Satellite; USA 144db)' 2010

 

Trevor Paglen
MISTY 2/DECOY near Altair (Decoy Stealth Satellite; USA 144db)
2010
C-Print
101.6 x 127 cm
Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln
© Trevor Paglen

 

 

“More pictures are being taken and digitized than ever before, innumerable snapshots pile up on hard disks and in clouds, are shared via the Internet and commented on. But portals such as Facebook and Flickr as well as professional databases only supersede older forms of archiving, transferring material, and interaction. For the Triennial of Photography Hamburg 2015, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) is examining these new collections and forms of usage. The MKG sees the future-oriented motto of the Triennial, “The Day Will Come,” as an opportunity to reflect on the sharing of images, under the title: When We Share More Than Ever. The exhibition shows how today’s rampant exchange of digital photos links in with the history of the analogue medium. In fact, photography has been a means of capturing, storing, and communicating visual impressions ever since its early days in the 19th century. In ten chapters, selected contexts are examined in which collecting and sharing images has played – and still plays – a role. More than 200 historical works from the MKG’s collection are set in counterpoint against twelve contemporary artistic projects. The present-day artists reflect in their works on the ways digital photography is used as well as on the mechanisms and implications of new media. They focus on the Internet as a new picture archive, with collections of images such as Apple Maps or photos on eBay, and on images such as those exchanged via mobile phones. Important aspects are the digital image collection as a research resource and inspiration for contemporary art, and the relevance of the classic analogue collection in relation to today’s often-invoked image overkill.

The exhibition is conceived as a kind of archive in order to explore the archive’s possible forms and uses. The featured works from the collection were selected from the MKG’s holdings of some 75,000 photographs to show how different photographic practices have been assimilated over the years. Rather than being a collection of only art photography, the MKG archive reflects the everyday uses of the medium. It gathers together various photographic applications, whether the scientific photos taken at an institute for impulse physics, the fashion spread created by Terry Richardson for Sisley, or Max Scheler’s report on Liverpool’s club scene for Stern magazine.

The chapters “Sharing a Portrait,” “Sharing a Group,” “Sharing Memories,” “Sharing a Product,” “Sharing Lust,” “Sharing Evidence,” “Sharing Knowledge,” “Sharing the World,” “Sharing a Collection,” and “Sharing Photographs” juxtapose historical and contemporary works in order to illuminate how the use and function of photographic images have changed and which aspects have remained the same despite the digital revolution. The exhibition begins with photography used in the service of people: to record a life, create a sense of community, or share memories. The following chapters deal with applied contexts, such as advertising photographs, erotic photography, photojournalism, scientific photography, and travel photos.

We share memories: While in the old days a manageable number of photographs found their way into albums, which were then taken out and perused on special family occasions, on today’s sharing platforms thousands of images are constantly being shared and “liked” around the clock. The works on view include pictures of Renate Scholz, whose affluent parents had the studio photographer Minya Diez-Dührkoop record each stage of her growth and development for fifteen years in annual portrait sessions. Studio portraits have been replaced today by snapshots, while the family photo album is complemented by the Internet portal Instagram. Ai Weiwei began in 2006 to post his diary photos in a text/image blog, which was taken offline by the Chinese authorities in 2009. Since 2014 he has been publishing daily picture messages on Instagram which are readable across language barriers.

We share the world: Starting in 1860, the Fratelli Alinari produced photographs that brought the art treasures of Italy to living rooms everywhere. As an armchair traveler, the 19th-century burgher could feel like a conqueror of far-off lands. Today, the same kind of cultural appropriation takes place instead on computer screens. Regula Bochsler and Jens Sundheim explore landscapes and cities via webcams and Apple Maps. And instead of traveling like a photojournalist to real-world hotbeds of social ferment, Doug Rickard journeys to the dark reaches of the YouTube universe. He shows us ostensibly private scenes not meant for public consumption – drug abuse, racial and sexual violence. The low-resolution, heavily pixelated stills excerpted from mobile phone videos suggest authenticity and turn us into silent witnesses and voyeurs.

We share knowledge: From its earliest days, photography has been indispensable for storing and sharing the results of scientific research and military expeditions. Trevor Paglen uses powerful precision astronomical telescopes to make “invisible” things visible, for example the American “Misty 2” stealth satellites used for reconnaissance, or a dummy put in place by the military intelligence service. In order to locate these satellites, Paglen actively participates in various networks set up by amateur satellite observers.

We share image collections: Before the invention of Google Image Search, analogue photo collections provided an opportunity to compare images. Museum archive cabinets can be seen as a precursor to today’s digital image databases. The Internet is increasingly taking on the function of a picture library, opening up new possibilities for classification and research. Artists like Taryn Simon investigate image collections to ascertain their ordering systems and their implications. Who controls what images we get to see and which ones vanish in the depths of the archives? Part of this chapter is the project “Sharing Blogs“.

The exhibition is dedicated to the broader question of how the function of a museum collection of photography has changed in the digital era, when vast digital image archives are only a mouse click away thanks to Google Image Search. The exhibits are arranged on a horizontal axis, in keeping with modern notions of how a database is set up. Everything is thus presented on a “neutral” plane, and the visitors are tasked with placing the images in context with the help of a “search aid” in the form of a booklet.”

Press release from Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Sharing the World

Google Earth and the 3D Flyover feature of the Apple Maps software make the world accessible to all of us through images. The idea of a comprehensive photographic world archive that would be available to the general public began to spread soon after the invention of photography. In parallel with the expansion of the railway network in the mid-19th century, photographic societies were founded in France and the United Kingdom with plans to make, archive, and preserve pictures of cities, cultural heritage, and landscapes. Governments organized expeditions to photograph their dominions, and photographers and companies began specializing in producing picturesque scenes echoing the tradition of painted landscapes and engraved vedutes, developing a successful business model with international sales channels. Views of popular tourist attractions – for example famous buildings in Italy – were offered as an early form of souvenir. At the same time, such pictures allowed the Biedermeier burgher back home in his living room to become an armchair traveler without taking on the exertions and expense of visiting far-off places – just as the Internet surfer is able to do today.

Artistic works such as those by Regula Bochsler confront representations of reality on the World Wide Web that are ostensibly democratic and yet are in fact controlled by corporations. Bochsler has culled subjective images from the liquefied, constantly updated parallel universe and given them a lasting material form. TG

 

Jens Sundheim From the series '100100 Views of Mount Fuji' 2008-2010

 

Jens Sundheim
From the series 100100 Views of Mount Fuji
2008-2010
Digital C-type prints
100 x 130 cm
© Jens Sundheim

 

Regula Bochsler. 'Downtown # 1' 2013

 

Regula Bochsler
Downtown # 1
2013
From the series The Rendering Eye, 2013
Inkjet print
80 x 100 cm
© Regula Bochsler
Images based on Apple Maps

 

 

Regula Bochsler

For her project The Rendering Eye, the historian Regula Bochsler has been traveling through a virtual parallel universe since 2013 using the 3D flyover feature in Apple Maps. Unlike Google Streetview, Apple Maps gives the viewer a volumetric impression of cities and landscapes. In order to create these views, the mapped zones are scanned from an airplane using several cameras aligned at different angles. With the help of vector graphics as well as actual maps and satellite images, the software then automatically merges the countless overlapping photographs into a realistic view. The program was developed for the purpose of steering military rockets by the Swedish defense company Saab, which sold it to Apple in 2011 for around 240 million dollars. Under the pressure of competition from Google, Apple released its app before some major development bugs could be fixed. In her surreal-looking, carefully composed views of American cities, Bochsler preserves for posterity the image errors ( so-called “glitches”) in the program, which are gradually being corrected and disappearing, as well as the still-visible areas where photographs taken at different times are patched together. The result is an apocalyptic vision of a world of technoid artificiality and absolute control. TG

 

Unknown photographer. 'Wissower Klinken, Photochrom Zürich' 1890

 

Unknown photographer
Wissower Klinken, Photochrom Zürich
1890
Photochromic print
16.5 x 22.2 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Trevor Paglen. 'Detachment 3, Air Force Flight Test Center #2 Groom Lake, NV/ Distance ~ 26 Miles' 2008

 

Trevor Paglen
Detachment 3, Air Force Flight Test Center #2 Groom Lake, NV/ Distance ~ 26 Miles
2008
C-Print
101.6 x 127 cm
Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln
© Trevor Paglen

 

 

Sharing evidence

Catastrophes and events are documented today by eyewitnesses at close range and communicated over the Internet. Mobile phone cameras even enable images to be transmitted directly: people involved in the incidents can share their perspective with a wide audience, the poor quality of the pixelated images often being perceived as a guarantee of their authenticity and credibility. The artist Doug Rickard also relies on this effect when he provides inside glimpses of marginal areas of American society on YouTube, assembling them to create picture stories that can be compared to classic photo reportage. By the early 1900s, photographic images were already established as evidence and information material that could be printed in newspapers. During World War II, the suitability of the medium as a means for objective documentation was then fundamentally called into question as photos were exploited for political propaganda purposes. Nevertheless, photojournalism experienced a heyday in the 1960s and 70s, before serious competition in the form of television posed a threat to print media and many magazines discontinued publication. Photographers such as Thomas Hoepker and Max Scheler supplied personal picture essays to Stern magazine in Hamburg that gave readers a look at different countries and told of the destinies of various individuals. With today’s citizen journalism, the evidential value of the photographic image seems to have once again regained its importance. TG

 

Hanns-Jörg Anders. 'Riots in Northern Ireland' 1969

 

Hanns-Jörg Anders
Riots in Northern Ireland
1969
Silver gelatine print
25.8 x 38.8 cm
© Hanns-Jörg Anders – Red. STERN

 

Hanns-Jörg Anders. 'We want peace, Londonderry, Northern Ireland' May 1969

 

Hanns-Jörg Anders
We want peace, Londonderry, Northern Ireland
May 1969
Silver gelatine print
25.8 x 38.8 cm
© Hanns-Jörg Anders – Red. STERN

 

 

Sharing lust

In 1859, Charles Baudelaire derided the “thousands of greedy eyes” indulging in the shameless enjoyment of “obscene” photographs. He was referring in particular to stereoscopic images, which convey a realistic corporeal impression of piquant subjects when seen through a special optical device. In parallel with the spread of the photographic medium, the sales of erotic and pornographic pictures grew into a lucrative business. European production centers for such material were located around 1900 in the cities of Paris, Vienna, and Budapest. Illegal pictures could be had from vendors operating near train stations or through discreet mail-order. Two daguerreotypes in the Photography and New Media Collection bear witness to the early days of this pictorial tradition.

Starting in the 1910s, the new vogue for magazines and pin-ups coming out of the USA served to democratize and popularize erotic imagery. Studio Manassé in Vienna, for example, supplied numerous magazines with such photographs. While erotic imagery was increasingly co-opted by advertising, a new industry arose: the pornographic film, which increasingly competed with print media. Today, the spread of pornographic imagery on the Internet has taken on immense proportions, while digital technology has led to a boom in the sharing of amateur photos and films, as well as their commercialization. Laia Abril shows by-products of this online marketing of private sex in her video work Tediousphilia. TG

 

William H. Rau. 'An Intruder' 1897

 

William H. Rau
An Intruder
1897
Albumen print on cardboard
8.8 x 17.8 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Nobuyoshi Araki From the series 'Kimbaku' 1983

 

Nobuyoshi Araki
From the series Kimbaku
1983
Silver gelatine print
26 x 33.4 cm
© Nobuyoshi Araki

 

 

Nobuyoshi Araki

Fragmented through artfully knotted ropes, the nude bodies of young women in Nobuyoshi Araki’s photographs are turned into objects of voyeuristic curiosity. Critical opinions in the literature are divided, with some emphasizing the pictorial character of the images and others accusing the photographer of a sexist point of view catering to the exotic tastes of the European public. Araki’s photographs have thus set off a discussion on where to draw the line between pornography and art.

Araki’s photos were exhibited in the West for the first time in 1992. The show featured views of Tokyo, still lifes, and female nudes that dealt with love, loss, and sexuality – all intertwined into a very personal narration. From that point forward, the perception of Araki’s images became very selective, and at the latest with Tokyo Lucky Hole (1997) the obscene aspect came to the fore. In the 1980s, the photographer explored the escalating sex and entertainment boom in Tokyo. Araki himself insists on varied applications for his photographs. He displays them in a wide range of exhibition venues, from soup kitchens to museums, and publishes his images in art books as well as in porn magazines, S&M periodicals, and popular calendars. The images in the collection of the MKG were acquired in the mid-1980s, at a time when Araki was still unknown in Europe. The choices made already anticipate the selective perception of his work in the 1990s. ER

 

Laia Abril. 'Tediousphilia' 2014

 

Laia Abril
Tediousphilia
2014
Video, c. 4 min.
© Laia Abril/INSTITUTE

 

 

Laia Abril

Laia Abril’s series Tediousphilia shows young couples who set up a webcam in their bedroom in order to earn money by giving customers an intimate peek at their ostensibly private sex lives. This online peepshow concept is a phenomenon of the commercialization of private sex on the internet. Abril is interested in the moments before the sexual act, taking a look behind the scenes, as it were, where the couples succumb to the lethargy of waiting while the camera is already rolling. The title is thus composed of the word tedious and the Greek term philia, indicating a preference or inclination, referring to the embracing of boredom before the impending performance. These “pre-intimate” moments seem almost more real and personal than what we imagine the pseudoprivate performances must be like. The images of the waiting lovers illuminate the voyeuristic relationship between audience and performer, between private and public, focusing, as in other works by Abril, on themes such as sexuality, intimacy, and the media representation of human bodies. ES

 

 

Sharing products

Since the 1920s, consumer products have been advertised primarily through photographic images. Fueled by the rapidly developing field of advertising and by advances in printing techniques, advertising photos began to proliferate in newspapers and magazines and on billboards. Advertisers increasingly relied on the suggestive power of the photographic images rather than on text or drawings as before.

Johannes Grubenbecher had his students take pictures of objects of daily use as a way of preparing them for work in the advertising field. The arrangement of object shots demonstrates the form and materiality of the items and reflect the image language of the 1920s, which focused on functionality and faithfulness to materials. By contrast, the commercial photographs by Hildi Schmidt-Heins and Arthur Benda from the 1930s stylize the objects as consumer fetishes. Benda has draped a silk nightgown as though it had just slipped off a woman’s shoulders and onto the floor in order to whet the observer’s desires, which he should then transfer onto the goods.

Today, nothing has changed in the fetishization of merchandise through professional product photography. New, however, are the non-professional snapshots on consumer-to-consumer platforms such as eBay. Household items that are no longer needed are photographed by the owners themselves for sale to others. Penelope Umbrico uses this imagery in her work. She has collected photographs of tube televisions – an outdated techique – and presents them as a comment on the changes in our use of images brought about by inexpensive and ubiquitous digital photography, making pictures easy to upload to the appropriate platforms. ER

 

Hildi Schmidt-Heins. 'Gartmann Schokolade' 1937

 

Hildi Schmidt-Heins
Gartmann Schokolade
1937
Tempera on silver gelatine print
17.3 x 23 cm
© Archiv Schmidt Heins

 

 

The sandwich boards created by Hildi Schmidt-Heins for the Stuhr Coffee Roastery and the Gartmann Chocolate Factory appeared as still images on Hamburg’s movie screens in 1937. She used open packaging so that potential customers could see the food product inside and also recognize it easily in the store. Her few commissions for advertisements came from her photography lecturer Johannes Grubenbecher during her studies at the Hansa Academy for Visual Arts. Schmidt-Heins focused in her studies on typeface design, attending the class conducted by the graphic designer Hugo Meier-Thur. Her silver gelatin prints with tempera lettering present a method of visual communication that fuses typography with product photography. Later, the photographer dedicated herself to the documentation of workspaces, taking pictures of workshops. AS

 

Penelope Umbrico. 'Signals Still' 2011

 

Penelope Umbrico
Signals Still
2011
C-Prints
23 x 30 cm
Courtesy Mark Moore Gallery, USA, and XPO Gallery, Paris
© Penelope Umbrico

 

 

In her tableau Signals Still, Penelope Umbrico presents a collection of six sets of eleven photographs each of illuminated, imageless screens. The product photos were taken by the owners of the devices in order to provide proof of their working order to potential buyers. Umbrico scours consumer-to-consumer marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist for such images and groups them into individual types. By transforming the intangible pixel images into C-prints on Kodak paper, Umbrico then distances them from their original function as digital communication media. The artist appropriates the found material and imposes on it a shift in meaning. Minimal deviations in the angle of the shot and variations in the forms and colors of the monochromatic snowy light surfaces combine to form a collective template. The promise of modern technology – progress and mass availability – is juxtaposed with its somber flipside of obsolescence and superfluity. Umbrico’s use of contemporary digital media unites the tired flicker of the television screens into a chorus singing the requiem of an era. AS

 

 

Sharing collections

“According to which criteria should a collection be organized? Perhaps by individual lectures, by masters, chronologically, topographically, or by material?” asked the curator Wilhelm Weimar in 1917. His query was prompted by the production of a slide cabinet holding 7,600 slides. His solution was to furnish each image carrier with a numerical code, so that they could be cross-referenced with a card catalogue in which the objects were filed under various keywords. His search aid was an early form of database.

Like this slide collection, the photographic reproductions created by Léon Vidal and Adolphe Braun to record and disseminate art treasures can also be understood as precursors to digital databases. Today, search engines such as Google Images are available to anyone with an Internet connection, presenting with their infinite number of comparison pictures a plethora of new possibilities for ordering and research, and supplanting the function of the photographic collection as image database. Photographs are no longer bound as physical media to a single storage location but have become immaterial and thus available anytime, anywhere. Images that once slumbered in archives, organized by strict criteria for ease of retrieval, become in Aurélien Froment’s film weightless ephemera. A magician moves them through space with a sweep of his hand, just as the modern user swipes his pictures across the digital interface.

Taryn Simon is also interested in such image ordering systems and how the images in them are accessed. By entering identical search terms in various national image search engines in her Image Atlas and then examining the standardized search results, she inquires into what the new archives remember and what they forget. ER

 

Glass diapositives for slide lectures from the archive of the MKG Nd

 

Glass diapositives for slide lectures from the archive of the MKG
Nd
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Glass diapositives for slide lectures from the archive of the MKG Nd

 

Glass diapositives for slide lectures from the archive of the MKG Nd

 

Glass diapositives for slide lectures from the archive of the MKG Nd

 

Glass diapositives for slide lectures from the archive of the MKG (detail)
Nd
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

In the late 1890s, photography’s triumphant advance also had an impact on the everyday work of the MKG. Under Justus Brinckmann, the museum’s first director, the objects in the collection were regularly recorded for the files with the help of a camera. The self-taught photographer Wilhelm Weimar, initially employed by the museum as a draftsman, thus managed in the course of fifteen years to produce some 1,700 shots of pieces in the collection. The prints were mounted on cardboard and filed according to functional groups. In case of theft or suspected counterfeiting, the object photos also served Brinckmann as evidence hat could be sent by post within a network of museums.

Art history as an academic discipline worked from the outset with photographic reproductions, which made it possible to compare far-flung works and to bring them together in a shared historical context. In his essay Le Musée imaginaire, author André Malraux even makes the claim that the history of art has been tantamount since the 19th century to the “history of the photographable.” The over 7,000 slides the museum has preserved of its own holdings and other objects, together with architectural images and exhibition photographs, were assembled for use in slide presentations, compellingly illustrating this idea of a museum without walls which can be rearranged at will according to prevailing contemporary thinking. AS

 

Aurélien Froment. 'Théâtre de poche' 2007

 

Aurélien Froment
Théâtre de poche
2007
with Stéphane Corréas
HD video with sound, c. 12 min.
Courtesy of the artist and Marcelle Alix, Paris
© Aurélien Mole

 

 

Aurélien Froment

The work Théâtre de Poche (2007) showcases in a seemingly infinite black space a contemporary form of magic with images. A magician in a trance-like state pushes photographs across an invisible surface like an iPhone user swiping through information on his touch screen. His sweeping motions pass through thin air, like those of a player at a Wii station. Froment thus connects these gestures, obviously influenced by contemporary electronic user interfaces, with a centuriesold magic technique. The images, consisting of family photos, playing cards, found film stills, reproductions of non-European art, and arts and crafts items, are rearranged in new juxtapositions. They are resorted, lined up, and rethought, recalling Aby Warburg’s panels for his Mnemosyne Atlas. The artist is interested here in the discrepancy between sign and meaning, exploring how it shifts when the images are placed in new contexts and new, weightless archives. ER

 

 

Sharing photographs

At the end of the 19th century, more and more amateur and professional photographers came together in the major cities of Europe to form groups. They shared the conviction that photography should be seen as an independent artistic medium, and they sought a forum in which to present their works. Magazines such as Camera Work, which was distributed internationally, as well as joint exhibitions, encouraged lively exchanges about stylistic developments and technical procedures while serving to expand and strengthen the network. The Pictorialists saw their pictures not as a mere medium for communicating information or as illustrations: they instead shared the photographs themselves as pictures in their own right, with a focus on their composition and the details of their execution.

The Hofmeister brothers put their artworks into circulation as photo postcards. The artist Heman Chong picks up on this popular tradition of collecting and sharing images by reproducing his numerous photographs as cards, taking recourse to the “old” medium of the postcard to highlight the fact that photographs are today mainly immaterial images shared via the Internet.

Platforms like Instagram and Flickr define themselves as global “photo communities” with millions of users and thousands of uploads per second. Image data is archived there, groups founded, albums curated, and an interactive space created through keywording with tags and comment functions. For the exhibition When We Share More Than Ever, examples of such virtual galleries are presented with commentary on the blog http://sharingmorethanever.tumblr.com/. TG

 

Theodor und Oscar Hofmeister. 'Postcards' 1910s and 1920s

 

Theodor und Oscar Hofmeister
Postcards
1910s and 1920s
Silver gelatine prints
14.8 x 10.6 cm
3 Intaglio prints
14 x 8.9 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Theodor und Oscar Hofmeister. 'Postcards' 1910s and 1920s

 

Theodor und Oscar Hofmeister. 'Postcards' 1910s and 1920s

 

Theodor und Oscar Hofmeister. 'Postcards' 1910s and 1920s

 

Theodor und Oscar Hofmeister. 'Postcards' 1910s and 1920s

 

Theodor und Oscar Hofmeister
Postcards
1910s and 1920s
Silver gelatine prints
14.8 x 10.6 cm
3 Intaglio prints
14 x 8.9 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Theodor und Oscar Hofmeister

Theodor and Oscar Hofmeister, one a merchant and the other a judicial employee, discovered their passion for photography in the 1890s. Upon viewing international photography exhibitions at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, they became acquainted with the Viennese Pictorialists and were inspired to adopt similarly picturesque imagery coupled with advanced technical implementation. Starting in 1895, they began to exhibit their work and were soon recognized internationally as specialists in the multicolor gum bichromate printing process. Some of their large-format one-off images are found in the collection of the MKG.

A good idea of the brothers’ prodigious productivity and clever marketing is however supplied by their landscape scenes, which Munich publisher Hermann A. Wiechmann reproduced using the rotogravure process. He published these scenes taken on rambles through the countryside, meant to reflect the “characteristic effect” of various parts of the country and hence the “German soul,” in over twenty “homeland books,” combining them with poems by German authors, as well as in portfolios and as “Hofmeister picture postcards.” The Hofmeister brothers themselves amassed an extensive collection of postcards of their own making – addressed in some cases to family members – as well as copies of postcards by other photographers. TG

 

Heman Chong. 'God Bless Diana' 2000-2004

 

Heman Chong
God Bless Diana
2000-2004
Installation with postcards
© Heman Chong

 

Heman Chong. 'God Bless Diana' 2000-2004 (detail)

 

Heman Chong
God Bless Diana (detail)
2000-2004
Installation with postcards
© Heman Chong

 

 

Heman Chong

In his conceptual works, the artist, writer, and curator Heman Chong often deals with social practices and different kinds of archives. The installation God Bless Diana presents 550 postcards as if in a museum shop display. The artist is alluding here to the contemporary flood of commercial and private photographs, inviting the viewer to respond and make his own selections. Chong offers viewers scenes evoking ephemeral traces and grotesque situations he has filtered out of the daily big-city jungle in Beijing, London, New York, and Singapore and captured on analogue 35mm film. In contrast to the data in an Internet image archive, the postcards are actual material objects: for one euro, as symbolic antipode to the exorbitant art market prices, the exhibition visitor can purchase his favorites among these works, take them home with him, and use them to curate his own “show” or as the bearer of a written message, thus sharing them with friends. TG

 

 

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10 am – 6 pm
Thursday 10 am – 9 pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘England’ 1993

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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