Archive for the 'video' Category

29
Apr
15

Review: ‘Earth Matters: contemporary photographers in the landscape’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Wheelers Hill, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th March – 3rd May 2015

 

The term “landscape” can be ambiguous and is often used to describe a creative interpretation of the land by an artist and the terrain itself. But there is a clear distinction: the land is shaped by natural forces while the artist’s act of framing a piece of external reality involves exerting creative control. The terms of this ‘control’ have be theorised since the Renaissance and, while representations of nature have changed over the centuries, a landscape is essentially a mediated view of nature.”

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Dr Isobel Crombie. Stormy Weather. Contemporary Landscape Photography (exhibition catalogue). Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2010, p. 15.

 

 

What’s the story!

I wish I could say that this is a marvelous, magical exhibition, that it has value in its being in the world… but I can’t. The exhibition is very disappointing, dispiriting even. If this is the current state of contemporary photographers working in the landscape in Australia, then the Earth is in deep trouble (as if we didn’t know it already).

A large part of the exhibition is given over to the work of the ND5 photographic collective. I am not going to name the photographers here since most of the exhibited work does not contain specific names (unlike this posting). The work has been culled (an appropriate word given the theme of the exhibition) from numerous bodies of work spanning the years 2010-2013. Pairs of photographs have been renamed with poetic titles such as The lie of the land and The walls of the world with seemingly scant regard for the origins and stories of the photographs from their respective series, and then cobbled together in this present form under the banal title Investigations (2010-13). This process pays no heed to the original conceptualisation of each series and the concerns of the collective at that time they were made and here this produces a display that has little rhyme or reason. Text quotations (see below) try to remedy the situation to little avail.

Further, if you think of those lush coffee table books – “Australia from the air” or “The wonders of the Great Barrier Reef” then you get the picture. Technically, the work is superb but aesthetically and emotionally these images are invariably dead (perhaps that is the irony – I looked for irony but it was sadly lacking). The collective say that they are fascinated – in the broadest sense – by places and opposites:
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“We are fascinated in the broadest sense by places like the Pilbara, including our ignorance and insensitivity to them. We are not ‘in the Pilbara’ in the way that scientists collect and identify it. Rather, we are collecting what can’t be seen; evidence of our uncertainty, interaction, wanderings and pondering…

We were drawn to its boundaries and edges; between solid and liquid, weight and weightlessness, hot and cool, dry and wet, between ourselves and the rest of the world, and that line of habitation that encrusts, indeed misrepresents our nation … The problem is how we index, moralise and politicise land use, rather than appropriating or projecting country as an aesthetic object.”

ND5. “The Pilbara Project – Photographers’ Cut” 2011

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Firstly, the opposites thing is such an easy way out; and secondly, as Isobel Crombie notes in the quotation at the top of the posting, any artist’s view of the landscape is always a mediated view of nature. Through their lurid, hyperreal photographs of the land these photographs do exactly what this collective said they didn’t want to do… appropriate and project country as an aesthetic object. Here the pastiche is the real.

The group also seems to want to have AGENCY in both its meanings – as in photographic agency (a business or organization providing a particular service on behalf of another business, person, or group); or an action or intervention producing a particular effect. What the collective is doing, in the broadest sense (for that is what they are working with), is creating an ideology of the landscape. And it’s not an ideology that I buy into.

You could propose that a couple of the photographs build an argument around the conceit / concept of the sublime – to question whether it can be undermined through irony (the impression of multiple light sources in Stirling Ranges, 2013, below), or to question whether it actually belongs on the surface of the earth (the dust-storm, In my Garden, 2012, below), where it can only be viewed as if the lens is detached from the surface of the earth. But this is drawing a long bow when these are viewed in the context of the rest of the work.

It is worth quoting Joan Fontcuberta extensively here for he, much more eloquently than I, names this work for what it is:
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“Arthus-Bertrand is a highly experienced and highly regarded professional who has taken more than 100,000 aerial shots, covering almost the entire surface of the globe [author of Earth from Above – “as magnificent a coffee-table book as you could hope to find, whose successive reprints have sold in astronomical numbers”]. There is no doubt as to the quality of his work, on the contrary, we can only celebrate the fact that he and his team at the specialised agency Altitude continue to be so prolific and so creative. But his popular and commercial impact and the eagerness of the cultural institutions to clasp him to their bosoms prompt reflections that go to the very heart of documentary photography and its current crisis.

When paparazzi and the celebrity/human interest-genre reign supreme, serious photo reportage gives way to mere illustration, to the aestheticisation of the world and the masking of conflicts rendered insignificant by distance. Something is wrong when readers can say, ‘How picturesque the favelas are, with those bright colours! What wonderful colours these polluted rivers have!’ Bretch said photographic realism bounces of the façade of things: a photo of the Krupp factories shows us smokestacks and sheds, but tells us nothing about the relations of exploitation inside them. What was needed to refute him were photographers with the talent and the guts to demonstrate that it was a matter of critical sense and eloquence, that photography was a language which really could penetrate the camouflaging surfaces of the real.”

Joan Fontcuberta. “Cosmic Palimpsests,” in Joan Fontcuberta. Pandora’s Camera: Photogr@phy after Photography. Mack, 2014, pp. 156-157.

 

That photography was a language which really could penetrate the camouflaging surfaces of the real. In this case the wonderful, hyperreal, saturated colours of the polluted rivers – that really hits the nail on the head.

If, as the collective says, “they want to examine its particular confluxes of culture, industry, environment and history in order to begin to craft a stronger vision for its future” (The Pilbara Project – 2010) then they need to be more concerned about what is present in the landscape, what is present in the community not from several emotional steps removed. You only have to look at the work of Edward Burtynsky and his Australian Minescape series to understand that in his series the photographs are all made in a way, and with a concern that goes beyond technical competence and cinematic craft – something that can rarely be said of the work presented by ND5.

Personally, I believe one of the main reasons for being an artist is to seek to redefine the sets of opposites that we find, to excavate… to pull away the mundane description of things. And in my opinion, if you really LOOK AT THIS WORK – and that’s seems to be a simple thing to ask an artist to do, to really look at their own work – then you have to ask yourself ‘Why would I want to look at this?’ There is no story, no pulling away of the veil, for these are boring images cloaked, as Fontcuberta says, in the colours of polluted rivers, in the camouflaging surfaces of the hyperreal. Perhaps these contemporary “picturesque” images are the modern form of the end of Pictorialism?

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The lack of a story continues to haunt the rest of the exhibition as well. If we address the title Earth Matters in both its forms – that Earth really does matter to us; and that Earth matters (as in we are all made up of atoms and that matter commonly exists in four states (or phases): solid, liquid and gas, and plasma) then the work can relate to the body, place, landscape, etc… what an opportunity!

The usually reliable Rosemary Laing provides a dirge-like image that took me nowhere. Siri Hayes supplies a wonderful, ironic image (Wanderer in a sea of images 2013, below) with chopped down trees in a grand vista, a person taking a photograph of a person taking a photograph with belching power stations in the background – and then prints it at a massive scale which over stretches the boundaries of the technical possibilities of the negative. At a distance it just about holds up, but as can be seen from the closeup below (click on it for the large version) the image is blurred and distorted when printed at this huge scale. Photographs have a correct proportion to their significance as an image which is completely destroyed here.

David Tatnall exposes black and white pinhole images of the landscape which really didn’t do much for me, especially with an extraneous blurred human figure that really meant very little in the context of the images, while Harry Nankin’s work fails to convince. His creatures crawling over photo-senstised plates of glass and then displayed on a light box left me cold – and yet another artist where you had to look up the meaning of the title / word ekkyklêma to try and understand the story being told. Christian Bumbarra Thompson supplies an image that means nothing to the uninitiated (another story that can only be guessed at – there is no text to explain), while Anne Ferran’s beautiful, luminous ink-jet print’s on aluminium, Untitled (2008) are just that – beautiful and luminous – unless you know the backstory which is nowhere explained in the gallery. (The photographs are “more than a decade’s exploration of a piece of ground on the outskirts of the small village of Ross in central Tasmania. Today little remains of its past as a female convict prison, apart from some mounds of earth and scattered stones. Her photographs and video works about this site reflect the ongoing difficulty of grasping and making sense of a ruined and fragmented past.”)

And last but not least, to the star of the show: Silvi Glattauer’s series Sanctuary (2014, below). OMG, these are gorgeous!

Beautiful photogravure prints on cotton paper give a wonderful soft tonality to these alien environments. The worlds are like liquid mercury. I did a double take trying to work out what they were for quite a few seconds before I got it. Beautifully composed, quiet, sensitive and eloquent these are everything that so much of the rest of the show isn’t. The story is in the macrocosm and the microcosm, the world at our fingertips that we never see, that we are forever destroying. Not the broadest of brush strokes picturesque but getting in and getting your hands dirty, paradoxically revealing cosmic worlds that we usually only dream of. Finally a story worth photographing: some matter that really does matter.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

 

Christian Bumbarra Thompson. 'I'm not going anywhere without you' 2009

 

Christian Bumbarra Thompson
Bidjara man of the Kunja Nation
I’m not going anywhere without you
2009
from the series Lost together
Chromogenic print
100.0 x 99.3 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2009
Reproduction courtesy of the artist

 

Installation photograph of 'Earth Matters' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Siri Hayes (born Australia 1977) 'Wanderer in a sea of images' 2013

 

Siri Hayes (born Australia 1977)
Wanderer in a sea of images
2013
Ink-jet print on polyester
220.0 x 280.0 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Siri Hayes’s exquisitely detailed photographs depict picturesque landscapes but landscapes that are also disturbed, perhaps devastated by fire, littered with debris, or cleared of their native vegetation for plantation timber. By using the conventions of classical landscape painting to photograph the contemporary landscape, Hayes draws our attention to environmental themes in this unique, large-scale installation.

 

Siri Hayes (born Australia 1977) 'Wanderer in a sea of images' 2013 (detail)

 

Siri Hayes (born Australia 1977)
Wanderer in a sea of images (detail)
2013
Ink-jet print on polyester
220.0 x 280.0 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Silvi Glattauer (born Argentina 1966; arrived Australia 1974) 'Sanctuary' 2014

 

Silvi Glattauer (born Argentina 1966; arrived Australia 1974)
Sanctuary
2014
Six photogravure prints on cotton paper
27.6 x 27.7 cm (each)
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Silvi Glattauer. 'Sanctuary I' 2014

 

Silvi Glattauer (born Argentina 1966; arrived Australia 1974)
Sanctuary I
2014
Six photogravure prints on cotton paper
27.6 x 27.7 cm (each)
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

Silvi Glattauer. 'Sanctuary VI' 2014

 

Silvi Glattauer (born Argentina 1966; arrived Australia 1974)
Sanctuary VI 
2014
Six photogravure prints on cotton paper
27.6 x 27.7 cm (each)
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Rosemary Laing. 'Swanfires, Chris's shed' 2002–04

 

Rosemary Laing
Swanfires, Chris’s shed
2002-04
Chromogenic print
110.0 x 235.5
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 2011
Reproduction courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of 'Earth Matters' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation photograph of 'Earth Matters' at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of Earth Matters at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953) 'Minds in the cave / fragment 2' 2014

 

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953)
Minds in the cave / fragment 2
2014
Pigment ink-jet prints on cotton pape
Collection of the artist

 

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953) 'Ekkyklema #1' 2014 (detail)

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953) 'Ekkyklema #1' 2014 (detail)

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953) 'Ekkyklema #1' 2014 (detail)

 

Harry Nankin (born Australia 1953)
Ekkyklema #1 (installation photographs)
2014
Gelatin silver chemogram films on starfire glass [on lightbox]
0.5 x 14.0 x 14.0 cm (each)
Courtesy of the artist
Collection of the artist
Note: 112 plein air silver gelatin shadowgram and chemogram films on starfire glass panes

 

 

An ekkyklêma (“roll-out machine”) was a wheeled platform rolled out through a skênê in ancient Greek theatre. It was used to bring interior scenes out into the sight of the audience. Some ancient sources suggest that it may have been revolved or turned.

It is mainly used in tragedies for revealing dead bodies, such as Hippolytus’ dying body in the final scene of Euripides’ play of the same name, or the corpse of Eurydice draped over the household altar in Sophocles’ Antigone. Other uses include the revelation in Sophocles’ Ajax of Ajax surrounded by the sheep he killed whilst under the delusion that they were Greeks. The ekkyklêma is also used in comedy to parody the tragic effect. An example of this is in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae when Agathon, portrayed as an effeminate, is wheeled onstage on an ekkyklêma to enhance the comic absurdity of the scene. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Anne Ferran. 'Untitled' 2008

 

Anne Ferran
Untitled
2008
From the series Lost to worlds
2 ink-jet print on aluminium
120.0 x 120.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with assistance from the Robert Salzer Foundation 2009
Reproduction courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

Anne Ferran. 'Untitled' 2008

 

Anne Ferran
Untitled
2008
From the series Lost to worlds
2 ink-jet print on aluminium
120.0 x 120.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired with assistance from the Robert Salzer Foundation 2009
Reproduction courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery (Melbourne)

 

 

Intellectually and emotionally engaging, sometimes austere, her [Ferran’s] photographs have explored histories of incarceration in prisons, asylums, hospitals and nurseries. They play with invisibility and anonymity, and are often haunted by things lost or unseen. Lost to Worlds 2008 was the culmination of more than a decade’s exploration of a piece of ground on the outskirts of the small village of Ross in central Tasmania. Today little remains of its past as a female convict prison, apart from some mounds of earth and scattered stones. Her photographs and video works about this site reflect the ongoing difficulty of grasping and making sense of a ruined and fragmented past.

 

Ninety Degrees Five. 'Earth matters' 2015 installation photograph

Ninety Degrees Five. 'Earth matters' 2015 installation photograph

Ninety Degrees Five. 'Earth matters' 2015 installation photograph

 

Ninety Degrees Five
Earth matters (installation stills)
2015
Multimedia, 10.13 minutes
Filmed and edited: Michael Fletcher
Score: Jo Quail-Sonver Collection of the artists

 

 

Earth matters: contemporary photographers in the landscape is an exhibition developed by MGA for ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE; a Melbourne-wide arts festival exploring climate change and environmental ethics. MGA’s contribution to this festival highlights the ecological sensitivity of contemporary Australian photographers. Moving away from the detached ‘picturesque’ views of nature, so prevalent in the history of photography, these artists engage with the earth in immersive and connected ways.

Siri Hayes and Christian Thompson wander into epic vistas to enact comical self-portraits that capture the capricious nature of human presence on this planet. Silvi Glattauer peers into the interiors of bromeliad plants to find fecund microcosms that bubble with humble but hopeful vitality. Rosemary Laing pays tribute to ecological tragedy with a monumental photograph of bushfire devastation, while Anne Ferran ruminates over the tragic scars of colonial history in the landscape. David Tatnall’s eerie photographs have been produced with a rudimentary pinhole camera, embed in the environment to bear witness to the earth’s passing. Harry Nankin does away with the camera and its singular perspective altogether, using raw photographic film to record ecological forces in nocturnal landscapes.

Earth matters features a new installation by the Ninety Degrees Five collective alongside the work of other contemporary landscape photographers including Anne Ferran, Silvi Glattauer, Siri Hayes, Harry Nankin, David Tatnall and Christian Thompson. Ninety Degrees Five (ND5) is a collective of five Australian artists established in 2010, featuring Peter Eastway, Christian Fletcher, Michael Fletcher, Tony Hewitt & Les Walkling.

Text from the MGA website

 

Installation view of various Ninety Degrees Five 'Investigations' 2010-13 at the exhibition 'Earth Matters', Monash Gallery of Art

 

Installation view of Ninety Degrees Five Investigations 2010-13 at the exhibition Earth Matters, Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

 

Ninety Degrees Five
The lie of the land
(Christian Fletcher, left; Les Walkling, right)
2012-13
From the series Investigations 2010-13
Pigment ink-jet prints
Collection of the artists

 

 

Christian Fletcher
From the series South West Light
2012
Pigment ink-jet print (detail)

 

Ninety Degrees Five. 'The walls of the world' 2012-13

 

Ninety Degrees Five
The walls of the world
(Tony Hewitt, left; Peter Eastway, right)
2012-13
From the series Investigations 2010-13
Pigment ink-jet prints
Collection of the artists

 

Tony Hewitt From the series 'Shark Bay Inscription' 2013

 

Tony Hewitt
From the series Shark Bay – Inscription
2013
Pigment ink-jet print (detail)

 

 

About Ninety Degrees Five

“Our work … seeks to encourage and reinforce public concern for the fate of the earth, and our responsibility to act on that awareness.”

Les Walkling

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Ninety Degrees Five (ND5) is a unique collaboration of four photographers, Christian Fletcher, Peter Eastway, Tony Hewitt, Les Walkling and film maker Michael Fletcher.

ND5 initially came together for The Pilbara Project in 2010. The Pilbara Project was developed and produced by FORM, an independent, non-profit cultural organisation in Western Australia. Curated by William L. Fox, the Director of the Center for Art and Environment of the Nevada Museum of Art, and Mollie Hewitt (FORM), the collaboration resulted in the book, The Pilbara Project: Field Notes and Photographs Collected over 2010, and the first Pilbara Project exhibition: 52 Weeks On, in February 2011.

Subsequent ND5 projects, South West Light 2011, Shark Bay – Inscription 2012, EAST 2013 and NORTH 2014 consolidated the collective’s independence and artistic agenda. The result has been ten exhibitions on three continents since 2011. Each exhibition is supported by public performances and events, including broadcast media, workshops, master classes, and artist talks.

Investigations 2010-2013 is ND5’s latest installation that remixes works from the first three ND5 projects (The Pilbara Project, South West Light, and Shark Bay – Inscription) to highlight their transcending artistic projections and cultural concerns. In this sense ND5’s projects are a primary research model for their ongoing Investigations, and thereby demonstrate an engaging, enquiring, and speculative process, not just its resolved and published outcome. This is important because ND5 has also become a case study in what can happen when a group forms from diverse but supportive individuals who are secure enough in their own practice to experiment with it.

This model privileges something of the urgency and necessity surrounding our worryingly fragile relationship to land and landscape, place and belonging, rights and duties, environmental crisis and environmental justice, sovereignty and reconciliation, trust and despair.

Investigations 2010-2013 also extends ND5’s collaborative endeavour through the acknowledgement, quotation and incorporation of other voices no less concerned with such matters, and thereby seeks to promote this conversation beyond individuals and collectives.

ND5

 

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series 'Investigations' 2010-13

 

Text that accompanies the Ninety Degrees Five series Investigations 2010-13

 

Christian Fletcher. 'Stirling Ranges' 2013

 

Christian Fletcher
Stirling Ranges
2013
From the series South West Light
965mm x 2165mm

 

Tony Hewittt. 'Red Coast' 2014

 

Tony Hewittt
Red Coast
2014
From the series Shark Bay – Inscription
965mm x 965mm

 

Peter Eastway. 'South of Faure Island' 2014

 

Peter Eastway
South of Faure Island
2014
From the series Shark Bay – Inscription
965mm x 965mm

 

Les Walkling. 'In my Garden' 2012

 

Les Walkling
In my Garden
2012
From the series The Pilbara Project
965mm x 965mm

 

 

 

Monash Gallery of Art
860 Ferntree Gully Road, Wheelers Hill
Victoria 3150 Australia
T: + 61 3 8544 0500

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri: 10am – 5pm
Sat – Sun: 12pm – 5pm
Mon/public holidays: closed

Monash Gallery of Art website

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26
Mar
15

Exhibition: ‘Tattoo’ at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 12th February – 20th September 2015

 

Because it took such a long time to collate and construct this MONSTER posting will have to last you nearly a week – until next Wednesday anyway.

 

Although I have ten tattoos by different artists – including a full back job by Alex Binnie of London – and scarification done in 1992, you always remember your first tattoo. I was in my early twenties when I decided to get inked. And the person recommended for the job was the legendary Alan Oversby (aka Mr. Sebastian), an S/M tattooist and one of the primary figures in the development of contemporary body piercing.

I remember travelling down to the East End of London and rocking up to this non-descript office block, climbing to the third floor I think it was, and entering a tiny square room, Alan’s studio. What an experience it was to be tattooed by him. Not so much the tattoo itself, which was a tiger on my upper left arm – first part of my earth, air, water, fire, void elemental sequence – but his presence and being surrounded by these fantastic, outrageous photographs on all four walls, floor to ceiling. Here was men’s tackle of all different shapes and sizes, the cocks and pubic area heavily tattooed and some of them heavily pierced, lying on pristine white dinner plates. Welcome to lunch.

For a young man this was an amazing, wondrous display. I totally loved him, the photographs, and his work. Unfortunately I don’t have any photographs of that studio and there are none that I could find online. Suffice it to say that the experience only confirmed me on my path of delicious deviancy that will not stop until the day I die.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. The videos were all sourced from YouTube. Many thankx also to Becky Nunes who I contacted directly and who provided the wonderful photographs of Tã moko facial tattoos of the Maori in New Zealand.

 

 

Alan Oversby (Mr Sebastian)

 

Alan Oversby (Mr. Sebastian)

 

Alan Oversby (20 February 1933 – 8 May 1996) was one of the primary figures in the development of contemporary body piercing in Europe. He was better known by his professional name Mr. Sebastian.

Originally an art teacher, Alan Oversby left his initial profession to pursue his interests in tattooing and piercing instead. From his studio in London, he promoted both tattooing and body piercing, especially within the gay leather community. He was a correspondent of both Doug Malloy and Jim Ward. Sponsored by Malloy, he visited Los Angeles. Malloy also sponsored trips to London to visit him, bringing along Ward and Sailor Sid Diller. These exchanges were critical to the global spread of the techniques and technology used in contemporary body piercing.

Oversby was also responsible for the adoption of the use of topical and local anesthetics as part piercing procedure in Europe. Although they are used less now, it used to be standard practice to use anesthetics when performing piercings in England, where in North America this practice is almost unknown. He was interviewed in the fourth issue of PFIQ. He performed much of the tattooing and piercing on Psychic TV musicians Genesis P-Orridge and Paula P-Orridge. His vocals were used in the Psychic TV track “Message from The Temple” which appeared on their first album Force the Hand of Chance.

In 1987, Alan Oversby was one of 16 men charged as a part of Operation Spanner, a series of raids that resulted in the arrest of men who were all engaged in consensual homosexual BDSM activities. Alan, like the other men, was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm for performing a genital piercing on a client. He was also charged with using anaesthetic without a licence and for sending obscene material through the post (photographs of piercings). As the judge was not willing to take the consensuality of the participants into account, Alan pleaded guilty along with the other 15 men. He received a sentence of 15 months, which was suspended for two years.

Text from Wikipedia website

 

Masahiko Adachi. Film still from 'Flesh Color' 2010

 

Masahiko Adachi (*1983, Tokyo)
Film still from Flesh Color
2010
Japan
Animation / 4 Min.
© Masahiko Adachi

 

Ruiko Yoshida. 'One Holiday of a Japanese Masseuse, Tokyo, 1978' 1978

 

 

Ruiko Yoshida
One Holiday of a Japanese Masseuse, Tokyo, 1978
1978
C-Print
27 x 27.2 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Unknown artist. 'Tattooed Man' 1880-1890

 

Unknown artist
Tattooed Man
1880-1890
Albumen paper, hand-colored
21 x 27 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Unknown artist. 'Tattooed Man' 1880-1890 (detail)

 

Unknown artist
Tattooed Man (detail)
1880-1890
Albumen paper, hand-colored
21 x 27 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Utagawa Kuniyoshi. 'Tengan Isobyôe and Yajin Ran' 1830-1845

 

Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Tengan Isobyôe and Yajin Ran
1830-1845
Color woodcut, paper
37 x 25 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Christian Warlich. 'Tattoo flash sheet by Christian Warlich, Hamburg' c. 1930

 

Christian Warlich
Tattoo flash sheet by Christian Warlich, Hamburg
c. 1930
© Tattoo Museum Willy Robinson

 

Ruiko Yoshida. 'I Am a Japanese Taxi Driver, the Front, Tokyo, 1978' 1978

 

Ruiko Yoshida
I Am a Japanese Taxi Driver, the Front, Tokyo, 1978
1978
Silver gelatin paper
40 x 28.6 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Bodysuit tattoo by Luke Atkinson

 

Bodysuit tattoo by Luke Atkinson
Nd
© Luke Atkinson

 

Tattoos by Gwendal & Karl Marc

 

Gewendal & Karl Marc
Tattoos by Gwendal & Karl Marc
Nd
© Karl Marc

 

Ashleigh tattooed by Saira Hunjan

 

Ashleigh tattooed by Saira Hunjan
Nd
Foto: Tareq Kubaisi
© Saira Hunjan

 

Ralf Mitsch. 'René' 2014

 

Ralf Mitsch
René
2014
From the series Why I love tattoos
© Ralf Mitsch

 

Ralf Mitsch. 'Trudy' 2014

 

Ralf Mitsch
Trudy
2014
From the series Why I love tattoos
© Ralf Mitsch

 

Ralf Mitsch. 'Tim' 2014

 

Ralf Mitsch
Tim
2014
From the series Why I love tattoos
© Ralf Mitsch

 

Marlon Wobst (*1980) 'Skin Ball' 2012

 

Marlon Wobst (*1980)
Skin Ball
2012
Oil in canvas
55 x 50 cm
© Schwarz Contemporary, Berlin

 

 

The Tattoo exhibition is dedicated to old traditions and new stories. It takes a look at the vibrant, innovative and multi­faceted tattoo culture, with a focus on artistic, artisanal and culture-specific issues. International exhibits from diverse perspectives are displayed and current debates considered. This is the first time that an exhibition has brought together such a broad range of references, presenting the phenomenon of the tattoo with a particular focus on art and design, since these enduring pictures, words and symbols inspire artists and designers. The theme of the exhibition is therefore the reciprocal influence of art, traditional and lived tattoo art and visual design. The exhibition Tattoo throws light on the ambivalence of the tattoo between a mark of distinction, a sign allocating its bearer to a social class, a badge of identi­ty and a stigma in various cultures, social classes and epochs. Tattoo shows over 250 pieces of work, including photo­graphs, coloured woodcuts, paintings and sculptures, as well as video clips and audio installations, stencils and historical specimens of tattooed skin. From tattooing instruments made of simple tools available in nature to intricate precision machines, colors and pigments convey an impression of the craft in practice. In this show the MKG also looks back on the long tradition of the Hamburg tattoo scene, which had its cradle in the port milieu of the late 19th century. Historical photos which have never before been on public show document the typical tattoos of the working class in Hamburg around 1890. Legendary tattooists such as Christian Warlich (“The Tattoo King”) and Herbert Hoffmann exemplify a many-facetted and highly expressive art form which generates ever new experimental designs. A glimpse into this is given by work from local tattoo artists who let themselves be inspired by the museum’s collection. A picture loop shows many pieces of work by celebrated tattooists, men and women, from the current international scene, which is marked by a huge diversity of stylistic approaches and new aesthetic movements.

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The traditional cultural technique

All over the world, many cultures use the human skin as a surface to carry images. The tradition of tattooing is among the earliest art forms and the most ancient crafts. The exhibition shows selected examples. The facial tattoos of Chin women in Burma are part of a rite of passage marking the transition from childhood to adult­hood. With the help of thorns or needles, female tattooists incise patterns into the skin which vary from one family clan to another. Tā Moko, the facial tattoos of the Maori in New Zealand, indicate a person’s family affiliation and social sta­tus. Each part of the face is reserved for a particular type of information. A tattoo on the center of the forehead, for in­stance, testifies to high status. In Thailand, sacred tattoos – known as Sak Yant – are widespread. They are intended to protect their bearer from bad luck and to help them lead a morally impeccable life. Tattoos have a long tradition in Japan too, dating back to the 3rd century. Their design follows a particular harmony and elegance and is characterized by clear­ly demarcated areas of color. The tattoos often cover wide expanses of the body surface and connect to a cohesive image. The motifs often reference subjects of traditional woodcuts or represent mythological beings which are supposed to ex­emplify particular qualities of their bearer’s character. For instance, the dragon stands for virility, power or heaven. Since tattoos were banned from 1870 to 1948 in Japan, they were for a long time associated with the criminal milieu of the Yakuza, a Japanese mafia organization.

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The spread of tattooing in the Western world

In the 18th and 19th centuries, illustrated travel reports were a major influence on the way people viewed other cultures in far-off lands and fired curiosity about the practice of tattooing, which seemed exotic in those days. The word tattow in the Polynesian language is first mentioned in James Cook’s reports of his expeditions to the South Seas in the 18th century. Modern tattooing became widespread in the West through the very popular early ethnographic drawings and prints as well as later through photographs. At the beginning, the art of tattooing often stood for the erotically titillating flair of the exotic and magic-mystical in a world attended by strange cults and rituals. Tattoos flourished in Europe and America during the years leading up to the World War I. For this reason, the members of the American upper class and of almost all European royal families – including the German imperial family – were tattooed. In this period, this form of body decoration was regarded as an expression of good taste. In the 19th century a more ambivalent attitude towards tattooing develops, however, above all among the bourgeoisie. In consequence, very little lies between fascination and rejection in the Western historical view of tattooing: this is what underlies the dual character of tattooing as stigma and mark of distinction.

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Codes and their reinterpretation

The functions and meanings attributed to tattooing proliferate due to its diffusion throughout different social classes and groups over the last century. First and foremost, its ambiguity, signaling both stigma and distinction, is symptomatically revealed in the different tattooing practices followed in different milieus. While sailors and soldiers flaunt the record of their travels with exotic images, tattoos develop into veritable badges of recognition in the criminal underworld. In the context of photographic “mugshots”, first used in the hunt for criminals at the beginning of the 20th century, tattoos already take on great significance as a means of identifying suspects. In Russian prison camps of the late 19th century tattoos and branding are systematically employed by the state to mark out people as convicts. In response professional criminals in Russia, however, get around this form of stigmatization by adopting their own informal tattoos. They modify traditional motifs and develop a system of secret signs, which reveals the group they belong to, their convictions or their rank in the criminal hierarchy. The French photographer and filmmaker Christian Poveda has documented the heavily tattooed members of the Latin American gangs of the Mara Salvatrucha and M-18, the lettering and symbols displayed on their skin have an important function in recognition and promotion of group affinity. The work of the Austrian Klaus Pichler traces the current significance of tattoos in prisons and offers a photographic glimpse into what are actually forms of coping with imprisonment within the penal system.

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Women and tattoos

Another aspect of the exhibition are objects dealing with the relationship between women and tattoos. Historical photos highlight the vicissitude, ranging from the exhibition of the heavily tattooed female body as a fairground attraction in the 1920s up to the glamour girls in the vaudeville shows of the 1960s and the first female tattooists, who independently and with great determination carved out a place for themselves in a male-dominated profession. Tattoo culture is meanwhile unthinkable without women and they play an important role as artists in the contemporary scene.

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Tattoos in contemporary art

The complex spectrum of meanings conveyed also plays a major role in contemporary art. The Japanese woman artist Fumie Sasabuche, for instance, takes as the theme of her sculptural and photographic works the interplay between the traditional Japanese tattoo motifs of the Yakuza and the aesthetic impulses of Western mass culture. Enrique Marty’s sculptures from his series Art is Dangerous, too, fall back on the Yakuza iconography in order to raise ironic questions about the role of art and the meaning conveyed by tattoos in combination with the grotesque effect created by the figures. The Spanish concept artist Santiago Sierra discusses the subject from the perspective of social and capitalistic criticism in his films. He pays members of socially marginalized groups to have a continuous line tattooed on their backs as part of a performance. With the deliberately unsteadily drawn line he is alluding to the precarious existence they lead and the social stigmatization that goes with it. The Polish artist Artur Żmijewski addresses relentlessly and provocatively the practice of tattooing prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps. His video 80064, which sparked fierce and controversial debate among its viewers, shows Josef Tarnawa, a 92-year old survivor of Auschwitz, whom the artists persuaded to have his fading camp number freshly tattooed. On the one side, Tarnawa is being stigmatized all over again by this procedure, on the other side the number on his left forearm takes on the function of a shocking admonition not to forget. Active remembrance, Artur Żmijewski seems to be saying here, is channeled today into much too orderly forms. The burn mark and the involuntary tattoo have faded out of view today in the Western history of tattooing, but what was practiced during the Second World War remains deeply engraved on the artist’s memory.

The tension between the tattoo as a work of art and its existence on the “living canvas” is the subject of an exemplary treatment by the Belgian concept artist Wim Delvoye. The exhibition shows the tattooed pig Donata, which the artist decorated under anesthetic in 2005, with the help of several professional tattooists, on his Chinese “Art Farm”. Delvoye subsequently exhibited the animal as a living work of art, and had it stuffed after it died. The second work by Delvoye shown in the exhibition picks up on this idea and articulates critical questions about moral principles in the art market, power and the right to make use of the human body as an artistic object. The Swiss Tim Steiner had a work by the Belgian artist tattooed on his back between 2006 and 2008; in 2008 it was purchased by a Hamburg art collector, together with the right to pass Tim Steiner on as an item on loan, to sell him, to bequeath him and to have his skin conserved after his death. Since then the work Tim has been the subject of great international controversy. He will be on show in the Hamburg exhibition on 11 and 12 April and on 27 and 28 June 2015.

Pricking the skin with a needle demands the same aesthetic imagination and care, the same controlled craftsmanship and knowledge of materials and color sense as any other design technique. The contemporary tattooing scene is highly innovative, transcending the traditional language of tattooing and renewing the medium. A picture loop in the exhibition shows international work in a great variety of styles and in outstanding quality.

With contributors including: Masahiko Adachi (JP) / Diane Arbus (USA) / Imogen Cunningham (USA) / Wim Delvoye (BEL) / Chris Eckert (USA) / Goran Galić & Gian-Reto Gredig (CH) / Herbert Hoffmann (DE/CH) / Mario Marchisella (CH) / Enrique Marty (ESP) / The Rich Mingins Collection (GB) / Ralf Mitsch (NL) / Becky Nunes (NZ) / Jens Uwe Par¬kitny (DE) / Klaus Pichler (AUT) / Christian Poveda (FR) / Rodolphe Archibald Reiss (DE/CH) / Fumie Sasabuchi (JP) / Santiago Sierra (ESP) / Aroon Thaewchatturat (THA) / Timm Ulrichs (DE) / Christian Warlich (D) / Artur Żmijewski (POL). Work in the picture loop by: Luke Atkinson (DE) / Curly (GB) / Mike DeVries (USA) / Thea Duskin (USA) / Lionel Fahy (FR) / Sabine Gaffron (DE) / Valentin Hirsch (DE) / Saira Hunjan (GB) / Inma (GB) / Bastien Jean (FR) / Jon John (GB) / Guy LeTatooer, (FR) / Filip Leu, (CH) / Karl Marc, (FR) / Volko Merschky & Simone Pfaff, (DE) / Lea Nahon, (FR) / Roxx (USA) / Minka Sicklinger (USA) / Liam Sparkes (GB) / Jacqueline Spoerle (CH) / Kostek Stekkos (BE) / Amanda Wachob (USA) / Seth Wood (USA).

Tattoo is a production of the Gewerbemuseum Winterthur, Schweiz, curator Susanna Kumschick, and is being shown for the first time in Germany.

Press release from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattoo' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattoo' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattoo' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Installation view of the exhibition 'Tattoo' at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Installation views of the exhibition Tattoo at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Kept under wraps in winter and proudly displayed in summer: tattoos are now ubiquitous. However, they are much more than just a current mass phenomenon and trendy fashion accessory: many cultures throughout the world are familiar with the tradition of tattooing, and human skin has always been used as a canvas. Tattooing is one of the earliest art forms and oldest handicrafts.

Tattoos last for a lifetime. Pigments are inserted under the skin forever, yet they are as transient as the life of the person who bears them. They tell personal stories, create identity and affiliation, embellish, heal, protect – and they can both fascinate and repulse. For a long while they were most commonly known as a mark of social distinction or as a means of identifying social outcasts, and as a method of self stigmatization used by sailors, criminals, prostitutes and gang members to distinguish themselves from “the other”. It is easy to forget that the craze for inking one’s body spread even to aristocratic circles in the later nineteenth century, in a trend that is now echoed by the current fashion for tattoos.

The Tattoo exhibition is dedicated to old traditions and new stories. It takes a look at the vibrant, innovative and multifaceted tattoo culture, with a focus on artistic, artisanal and culturespecific issues. International exhibits from diverse perspectives are displayed and current debates considered. This is the first time that an exhibition has brought together such a broad range of references, presenting the phenomenon of the tattoo with a particular focus on art and design, since these enduring pictures, words and symbols inspire artists and designers. The theme of the exhibition is therefore the reciprocal influence of art, traditional and lived tattoo art and visual design.

 

Johann Baptist von Spix. 'Journey to Brazil on command Maximilian Joseph I, King of Bavaria, in the years 1817-1820'

 

Johann Baptist von Spix
Journey to Brazil on command Maximilian Joseph I, King of Bavaria, in the years 1817-1820
/ made and described by Johann Baptist von Spix and Carl Friedrich von Martius – Munich: [sn], 1823 – 1831
Loan: Museum of Ethnology, Hamburg

 

Expedition to Brazil

Johann Baptist von Spix, 1817-1820

Between 1817 and 1820, the zoologist Johann Baptist von Spix and the botanist Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius undertook an expedition to Brazil at the behest of Maximilian Joseph I, King of Bavaria. They were also interested in the culture of the Brazilian indigenous tribes on the Rio Yapurà, and they published their findings in a three-volume travel report. The illustration is a portrait of Juri, “The son of a cacique of the Juri nation”.

Illustrated travel books were very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. They shaped western ideas about foreign cultures and also indicate the early interest in exotic tattooing practices. James Cook’s reports on his expeditions to the South Seas in the 18th century contain the mention of the word “tattow” derived from the Polynesian. The term quickly spread and tattooing became popular in the Western world soon afterwards.

Early ethnographic drawings and engravings such as those made by Georg Forster and Karl von den Steinen attracted widespread interest, as did photographs at a later date such as the studio portraits taken by Felice Beato in Japan. They helped to make the art of tattooing into a symbol of the eroticized alien, and a magico-mythical world of cults and rites. Tattoos elicited a mixture of fascination and revulsion right from the start, particularly in middle-class circles during the 19th century: tattooing thus developed a dual character as both stigma and mark of distinction.

 

Enrique Marty. 'Pablo & Ruth' 2010

 

Enrique Marty (*1969, Spain)
Pablo & Ruth
2010
From the series Art is Dangerous
Oil paint on latex on polyurethane, human hair, textiles, metal
155 x 90 x 53.5 cm/143 x 60 x 35 cm
Loan: Deweer Gallery, Otegem, Belgium

 

Real portraits are always the starting point for Enrique Marty’s tragicomic sculptures. The tattoos of Pablo & Ruth in the Art is Dangerous series reflect the iconography of the tattoo motifs in Japanese yakuza which the artist has explored in detail and incorporated into his work. His grotesque figures also make reference to early sculptural traditions such as those used in the quaint waxworks exhibitions of the 19th century. He builds on these themes and develops an original sculptural world. Ironic inversions and humour are essential strategies which he uses as an effective weapon. “Art is dangerous”: protest or parody? An allegory of the market system? Can art be dangerous? Or should it be? What role does the art of tattooing play?

 

 

Tattoo equipment

Throughout the world tattooing is performed by introducing pigments to the dermis, or second layer of skin. Pieces of wood, thorns, bones, horns, tortoiseshells, metals and shards can be worked into tools. Depending on the shape of the tattooing implement, the patterns produced may be smooth or dotted, narrow or broad. The individual instruments have not changed greatly over the years. However, one notable step forward was the use of electricity which resulted in new techniques and styles at the beginning of the 20th century after Samuel O’Reilly had patented his rotary tattoo machine in 1891. The electric motor moves the needles up and down regularly, enabling the operator to work smoothly and steadily. It is also a less painful process for the client. These electric machines are in widespread use today. Nevertheless, traditional tools, which have hardly changed, are also still employed.

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Tattoo inks

It was not until the 20th century that tattoo inks began to be manufactured as industrial products. Previously, they had been mixed in small quantities according to individual recipes using pigments, oils and plant juices. Synthetic pigments not only altered the colour spectrum and production techniques of tattoo inks, but also led to new requirements and constraints as is clear from developments over the last forty years. Today, challenges in the manufacturing process for tattoo inks primarily concern the purity of the ink production process and the quality of the pigments procured. Other requirements tend to be connected with new problems which are no longer to do with the actual pigment that is inserted into the skin. Nowadays the main focus is on the risks posed by laser treatment for tattoo removal.

 

The Rich Mingins Collection: 1288 Pictures of Early Western Tattooing from the Henk Schiffmacher Collection 2011

 

The Rich Mingins Collection: 1288 Pictures of Early Western Tattooing from the Henk Schiffmacher Collection
2011

 

 

The Rich Mingins Collection

Rich Mingins (1916-1968) ran a tattoo studio with his father and his brother Alf Mingins in Cumbria, which is in the north-west of England, and later in London. Tattooing was his passion and he was a master of his craft. He also collected photographs and newspaper cuttings about tattoos. Today all that remains is his photo album which documents the history of tattooing from 1922 to 1949. Unfortunately, it lacks a chronology or any precise dates, and no accompanying commentary has been found. The digital version with extracts from the photo album shows his clients, other well-known tattoo artists of his era, copies of pictures that were in circulation at the time and the artist himself: Rich Mingins poses for the camera with clenched fists, displaying the picture of Jesus Christ with crown, that was tattooed on his chest by his brother Alf Mingins (no. 424).

 

 

Painting The Lily! (1936, 1.12 mins.)

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In this documentary, George Burchett (1872-1953) tattoos two women with permanent makeup at his studio in the West End of London. His clientele included members of the English upper classes and European royalty such as King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King Frederick IX of Denmark and King George V of England. George Burchett also tattooed Horace Ridler, the legendary Zebra Man also known as “The Great Omi”.

 

 

Tattoo Soldiers (1942, 1.15 mins.)

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Three Australian soldiers talk about their tattoos from all over the world.

 

 

Woman Tattooist (1952, 1 min.)

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The first British female tattooist, Jessie Knight (1904-1994), tattoos young women soldiers in Aldershot, Hampshire. She ran a number of studios from the 1920s up to the 1980s.

 

 

Tattoo Club (1954, 1.51 mins.)

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The well-known British tattooist Les Skuse (1912-1973) founded the Bristol Tattoo Club in 1953 and in 1955 he organized the world’s first tattoo competition, the precursor of the tattoo conventions of today. In the 1950s the Bristol Tattoo Club was the focal point of the tattoo scene, counting famous people such as Bob Maddison, Al Schiefley, Albert Cornelissen and Tattoo Peter among its members.

 

Photograph from the Christian Warlich estate, 1961

 

Photograph from the Christian Warlich estate, 1961
Loan: Hamburg Museum, Sammlung Fotografie

 

 

Christian Warlich: the “King of the tattoo artists”

During his lifetime, Christian Warlich (1890-1964) was held to be the greatest tattoo artist in Germany and gained an international reputation as “King of the tattoo artists”. He had taught the craft to the Hamburg tattoo legend Herbert Hoffmann and later made him to be his “Crown Prince”. Warlich himself is believed to have come into this profession by chance. After an apprenticeship as a boilermaker he had gone to sea and become acquainted with tattoo artists in the United States. From there, he brought back one of the first electric tattoo machines. In 1919, Warlich opened an inn in today’s Clemens-Schultz-Straße in St. Pauli, Hamburg, where one of the corners served as a “Modern Tattoo Studio”. Warlich took on tattooing as a serious business: he promoted the store, traded with tattoo machines and tools and in addition to his tattooing, he offered a residue-free and painless removal of tattoos by using a special tincture. Warlich was not only noticed because of his business sense, his work was characterized by craftsmanship and artistic standards, too. Unlike other tattoo artists of his time, he strove for a continuous improvement of the shapes and for the modernisation of the image repertoire. For these purposes, he developed new designs and collected all kinds of templates, for instance from Chinese sample books, movie posters or advertising images. In addition, Warlich kept in contact with tattooists all over Europe, North America and Asia. They exchanged sketches photographs and celluloid stencils with which the outlines of the motifs were transferred to the skin of the customers.

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The tattooist Herbert Hoffmann: a legend

The world famous tattooist Herbert Hoffmann (1919-2010) lived through and helped shape various stages of the history of western tattooing. Throughout his life he was very keen to help tattoos gain acceptance and social approval. Having been trained by Christian Warlich, he later became the proprietor of Germany’s oldest tattoo studio in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg, where he worked until 1980. He then moved to Switzerland, where he lived with his partner Jakob Acker in Schwendi bei Heiden in the canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden. Hoffmann was active in the tattoo scene right up to his death in 2010, attending conventions throughout Europe and acting as an important role model for younger tattoo artists. He himself bore tattoos by Christian Warlich, Tattoo Peter, Tatover Ole, Horst Streckenbach and others. Throughout his life he was also a keen photographer and collector. Many of his photographs were published in the photo book Living Picture Books, Portrait of a Tattooing Passion 1878-1952, which is now out of print. The images displayed in the exhibition are from his private archive and have rarely been shown before. These are photographs from his personal albums with portraits of his friends and clients. They depict Herbert Hoffmann himself at different stages of his life, as well as his environment. At the same time, they narrate an important chapter in the history of tattooing from the 1920s to the 1970s. Unfortunately his written comments can no longer be traced.

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Women and tattoos from the private collection of Herbert Hoffmann

The picture archive of the tattooist and collector Herbert Hoffmann (1919-2010) also includes photographs of tattooed women from the 1920s up to the 1970s. Some of them are photographs he took himself but others are copies and images that were circulated in various forms by like-minded people. They are not systematically arranged, most of them are undated and there is no commentary. The collection also includes iconic photographs which had a decisive impact on how tattooed women were viewed at that period. This selection of Herbert Hoffmann’s pictures is a chronicle of women with tattoos, from circus attractions of the 1920s and glamour girls of the 1960s to the predecessors of the famous “new burlesque” artists like Dita Von Teese. However, there are also photos of “ordinary women” with tattoos in the prim-and-proper 1950s and – more rarely – of female tattooists. Herbert Hoffmann’s collection ends with the “renaissance” of tattooing in the 1970s. At that time, women in particular were discovering tattoos as a sign of self-empowerment and the number of female creative tattoo artists making their way in this male-dominated profession began to increase. Today there is a huge variety of (self-)expression by tattooed women, and female tattoo artists play an essential and influential role in the rich contemporary tattoo culture.

 

Maud Stevens Wagner, Tattoo Artist (1877-1961, photo from 1907)

 

Maud Stevens Wagner, Tattoo Artist, USA (1877-1961, photo from 1907)

 

Maud Stevens Wagner (1877-1961)

The American tightrope walker and contortionist Maud Wagner was the first well-known female tattooist in the Western world. Like others of the small number of female tattooists in the 1920s, she learned her craft from her husband, Gus Wagner, whom she met at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

 

Lady Viola (1898-1977) Nd

 

Lady Viola (1898-1977)
Nd

 

Lady Viola (1898-1977)

Ethel Martin Vangi, who became famous as “Lady Viola”, was a circus performer and later tattooist; she had portraits of presidents Woodrow Wilson, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln tattooed on her chest. Her left thigh was tattooed with pictures of popular figures of the day, such as Babe Ruth and Charlie Chaplin.

 

Artoria Gibbons (1893-1985) Nd

 

Artoria Gibbons (1893-1985)
Nd

 

Artoria Gibbons (1893-1985)

Like many tattooed circus attractions, Anna Mae Burlington Gibbons was a working-class woman who had herself tattooed when she fell on hard times, and then earned good money as a result (especially as a woman). She and her husband, the tattooist Charles Gibbons, travelled all over America in the 1920s and worked as a team in the circus business. She had one tattoo showing a section of Botticelli’s Annunciation, another depicting a part of Michelangelo’s Holy Family, and her chest featured a portrait of George Washington.

 

Cindy Ray Nd

 

Cindy Ray
Nd

 

Cindy Ray

The last great circus lady, Cindy Ray – also known as “Miss Technicolor” or “The Classy Lassie with the Tattooed Chassis” – toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1960s. She learned how to do tattooing and is still working today under her real name, Bev Nicholas, at the Moving Pictures Tattoo Studio near Melbourne.

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Irene "Bobbie" Libarry' 1976

 

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976, USA)
Irene “Bobbie” Libarry
1976
Silver gelatin estate print
19.3 x 17.8 cm
Loan: The Imogen Cunningham Trust, Lopez Island, USA

 

Irene “Bobbie” Libarry (1893-1978)

Irene “Bobbie” Libarry (1893-1978) worked as a circus performer, magician and market vendor. She was tattooed by her husband in 1918, ran her own sideshow “The World’s Strangest People” in the 1930s and later worked as a tattoo artist in San Francisco.

 

Unknown. 'Karl Paul Johann Frank' c. 1880s - 1890s

 

Unknown artist
Karl Paul Johann Frank
c. 1880s – 1890s
Inv. Nr. 2013 – 4492
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Unknown. 'Carl Wilhelm August Otto Sternke' c. 1880s - 1890s

 

Unknown artist
Carl Wilhelm August Otto Sternke
c. 1880s – 1890s
Inv. Nr. 2013 – 4491
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Images of an epoch

Numerous historical portraits of tattooed men have been preserved in the inheritance of the tattoo artist Christian Warlich (1890-1964). The pictures probably originate in the 1880s to 1890s [see both images above]. Especially typical contemporary garments, the beard and hair fashion of the time, relevant tattoo motifs from the German Empire under William I or the symbol of the tenth World Expo in 1889, the Eiffel Tower, give information about this type. All images are carefully rear numbered and labeled with the names of the people portrayed. On display are mainly dock workers and seafarers; members of underprivileged workers who were not used to posing in front of a camera. In the late 19th century, the loading work in the ports was extremely cumbersome and labour intensive, roosts such as the Hamburg Gängeviertel hosted thousands of working families. In this milieu relevant subjects such as anchors, sailboats or professional characters show the belonging to a social group. The tattoos document but beyond the story of people’s lives. There are references to the military service or the crossing of the equator, as well as prison stays or religious motives.

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Preserved tattoo specimens

The specimens date from around 1900. At the time they were used to identify unknown corpses. Photography was not yet in routine use at that period and preserved specimens offered almost the only opportunity to document a tattoo in detail and keep it for later identification. The oldest known report of successful identification thanks to a tattoo dates back to the 11th century: King Harold II of England fell in battle and is said to have been identified by the inscription “Edith and England” tattooed above his heart, thanks to which he was buried in a manner befitting his rank.

 

Emile Lavril, Romeo und Julia Tattoo 14 November 1913, front

 

Emile Lavril, Romeo und Julia Tattoo
14 November 1913, front

 

Rudolf Archibald Reiss (1875-1929)

The criminologist, lecturer and photographer founded the “Institut de police scientifique” at the University of Lausanne in 1909. He also helped to set up courses in photography for investigative purposes at the same institution. Forensic photography, which was being carried out according to standard criteria for the first time was an essential component in his teaching. Since tattoos are important identification features, Reiss paid particular attention to them [see photograph above]. However, the technology available at the time made it difficult to obtain a sharp and accurate image. Reiss used photographs purely for forensic purposes. He refused to accept the then common opinion that offenders could be recognized simply because they had tattoos.

 

Arkady Bronnikov (*1926) 'Photographs of Russian convicts' 1960-1980

 

Eyes on the stomach denote homosexuality (the penis makes the ‘nose’ of the face). Stars on the shoulders show that an inmate is a criminal ‘authority’. The medals are awards that existed before the revolution and as such are signs of defiance towards the Soviet regime.

 

Arkady Bronnikov (*1926) 'Photographs of Russian convicts' 1960-1980

 

The devils on the shoulders of this inmate show a hatred of authority. This type of tattoo is known as an oskal (grin), a baring of teeth towards the system. They are sometimes accompanied by anti-Soviet texts.

 

Arkady Bronnikov (*1926) 'Photographs of Russian convicts' 1960-1980

 

The double-headed eagle is a Russian state symbol that dates back to the 15th century. After the fall of Communism, it replaced the hammer and sickle as the Russian Federation’s coat of arms. This Soviet-era photo is a bold symbol of rage against the USSR; the Statue of Liberty implies a longing for freedom.

 

Arkady Bronnikov (*1926)
Photographs of Russian convicts
1960-1980
Digital print on paper
Loan: Fuel Design and Publishing, London
© Arkady Bronnikov

 

 

Photographs of Russian convicts

Up until the end of the 19th century, it was usual for the government to burn the initials “B.O.R.” (Russian for thief) into thieves’ skin as a punishment. Subsequently, tattoos developed as a distinctive feature of professional criminals; serving as demarcation, identification, as well as a secret means of communication: they transmit information such as affiliation, profession, number of convictions or position in criminal hierarchies. This informal practice transliterated the original stigmatisation inflicted through the government, using a pictorial repertoire borrowed from traditional tattoo imagery while assigning a new meaning. Most of the prison tattoos were done with primitive instruments, such as modified electric shavers with attached needles. Oftentimes, a self-made mixture of rubber and urine was used as substitute ink, bearing great health risks. Arkady Bronnikov (*1926) was a leading forensic doctor at the interior ministry of the USSR. From the mid-1960s until the mid-1980s he interviewed and photographed numerous inmates of labour camps in the Urals and Siberia. Today, Bronnikov is a leading expert on tattoo iconography and owns what is considered to be one of the biggest photographic collections of Russian prison tattoos.

 

Klaus Pichler (*1977, Vienna) 'Untitled' (detail) Nd

 

Klaus Pichler (*1977, Vienna)
Untitled (detail)
Nd
Paper on aluminium
60 x 40 cm
© Klaus Pichler

 

Prison tattoos

The Austrian photographer Klaus Pichler (*1977) spent eight years looking for ex-prisoners, photographing their tattoos and writing down the stories behind them. The result was an impressive documentary account of the still poorly researched history of prison tattoos. The pictures and interviews were published in the book Inked for Life. The World of Prison Tattoos.

 

Unknown artist. 'Japanese Tattoo' 1880-1890

 

Unknown artist
Japanese Tattoo
1880-1890
Albumin paper
27 x 21 cm
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Tradition and taboo

The acceptance of tattoos in Japanese society is subject to constant change. In the 19th century, large tattoos were considered decorative and were carried openly by rickshaw drivers, for example. For the scantily clad men an ornate body was helpful for their business because it attracted the attention of customers. The image of bullies and petty criminals adhered to rickshaw drivers, as well as to other professions from the simple population which led to a long-term negative perception of the skin images. As an identifying feature of “outlaws” they also function in the criminal milieu of the yakuza. In the Japanese mafia organization, tattoos still illustrate the milieu name of the bearer (“serpent”, “dragon”, etc.) and document his gang membership. The result was a social aversion to tattoos which continues to this day and also unjustly criminalises innocent citizens. Unlike their historical predecessors, taxi drivers today would only flaunt their tattoos for a photographer; because they are not good for business. Tattoos in Japan were rarely shown openly; in public bath houses they are even forbidden to this day. It was only through the appreciation of the Japanese tattoo tradition by the American tattoo scene of the 1960s and 1970s that the taboo was partially revised.

 

 

Masahiko Adachi (*1983, Tokyo)
Flesh Color
2010
Japan
Animation / 4 Min.

 

Utagawa Kuniyoshi. 'Tanmeijirôgenshôgo' 1827-1830

 

Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Tanmei jirôgenshôgo
1827-1830
Colour woodcut on paper
38.7 x 26 cm
Inv. Nr. S2012.56
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

 

Japanese colour woodcuts: The 108 heroes of the “Suikoden”

The Japanese name “Suikoden” stands for a famous Chinese adventure story that became very popular in both countries. In this story, a group of rebels fights against corruption and injustice, campaigning for the poor and the disadvantaged. The story originates in the 14th century and is set in the 12th century. For the first time, Kuniyoshi displays these rebels with naked, tattooed bodies which lead to a great success of the book. Until today, the Suikoden is a well-known theme of Japanese culture such as computer games and TV series.

 

Fumie Sasabuchi (*1975, Tokio / Berlin) 'Untitled' 2004

 

Fumie Sasabuchi (*1975, Tokyo / Berlin)
Untitled
2004
Pencil on paper
29.5 x 20.5 cm
Loan: private collection, Austria
© Fumie Sasabuchi

 

Fumie Sasabuchi draws irezumi tattoos on the skin of pictures of young girls taken from the children’s fashion magazine Vogue Angels. The motifs of the tattoos are part of the traditional repertoire of the Japanese yakuza mafia, and symbolise mortal danger, superhuman strength and special protection, among other things. Sasabuchi unites two media from Western and Eastern popular culture: photography from modern fashion magazines and the traditional woodcut. She combines Japanese myths with Western picture subjects and plays with the ensuing ambivalent images.

 

Christian Poveda. 'El Gangster de Iberia (Mara Salvatrucha)' San Salvador, 2008

 

Christian Poveda (1955-2009, France)
El Gangster de Iberia (Mara Salvatrucha)
San Salvador, 2008
Paper on aluminium
60 x 58 cm
Loan: Agence Vu’, Paris
© Christian Poveda / Agence VU’

 

 

The Mara Salvatrucha gang warfare in El Salvador

Twelve years of civil war in El Salvador came to an end in 1992. Today, gang warfare is an everyday reality in San Salvador, mainly because of two gangs: the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) and the Mara 18 (18). Every year 2,000 people die as a result. Some 14,000 abandoned youths dedicate their lives to the gangs which replace their families. They are the successors of the US gangs that were founded in the 1980s by refugees from the Salvadoran civil war. The Mara gangs today, which originated in the ghettos of Los Angeles, have over 70,000 members in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Members generally have a tattoo containing the letters M or MS, as well as the number 13 which refers to the position of M in the alphabet. Tattoos in the shape of teardrops represent the number of murders committed, or commemorate the death of a fellow Mara member and friend. The words “La vida loca” stand for “the crazy life” in the Mara, and a downward-pointing M formed with the fingers is used as a sign of recognition.

The Spanish-French photographer and documentary filmmaker Christian Poveda spent over a year with members of the Mara. He followed the lives of these “lost youths”, documenting them through interviews, impressive photographs and the film La vida loca (El Salvador / France / 2008 / 90 mins.). Poveda was killed by several shots to the head in San Salvador in 2009 while working on another film.

 

Jens Uwe Parkitny. 'Ma Hla Oo, Laytu-Chin, Northern Rakhine' 2005

 

Jens Uwe Parkitny (*1965, Singapore)
Ma Hla Oo, Laytu-Chin, Northern Rakhine
2005
Paper on aluminium
30 x 30 cm
© Jens Uwe Parkitny

 

Face tattoos, Burma

The face tattoos of the Chin women in Burma form part of a ritual to mark the transition from childhood to the adult world. Female tattoo artists use thorns 17 or needles to prick patterns into the skin. The symbolic meaning of the lines and dots cannot be ascertained, since no records exist. All that is known is that the patterns differentiate one clan from another. Although the tradition of facial tattooing has died out in many parts of Burma, it is now experiencing a partial revival.

 

Becky Nunes. 'Shane Te Ruki' 2005

 

Becky Nunes
Shane Te Ruki
2005
From the series Mau Moko, The World Of Maori Tattoo
Digital print
© Becky Nunes

 

Becky Nunes. 'Taurewa Vic Biddle' 2005

 

Becky Nunes
Taurewa Vic Biddle
2005
From the series Mau Moko, The World Of Maori Tattoo
Digital print
© Becky Nunes

 

Becky Nunes. 'June Tangohau' 2005

 

Becky Nunes
June Tangohau
2005
From the series Mau Moko, The World Of Maori Tattoo
Digital print
© Becky Nunes

 

 

Tã Moko, New Zealand

The Tã moko facial tattoos of the Maori in New Zealand give information about family membership, ancestors and social position, as well as the specific abilities of the tattooed person. Each part of the face is dedicated to a particular type of information. Few people have a tattoo in the centre of the forehead, for example, since this indicates high status. Men can usually wear tattoos over the entire face, whereas women have them only on the chin area. This tattoo tradition has been suppressed for a long period, as also happened in other cultures, but the Tã moko have recently been experiencing a renaissance.

.
Mau Moko:
photographic images of the world of Maori tattoo by Becky Nunes

“These are impressive and moving images, which deserve exhibition simply in their own right.
More than that, they place moko in a contemporary context, expressing the art as a living, relevant force in our culture and not some struggling remnant of a distant past. They strongly counter the negative connotations of moko.” (Hamish Keith, Art Historian 2009)
.
Mau Moko: the World of Maori Tattoo
 began as a research project at the University of Waikato, and evolved into a major publication, a scholarly yet entertaining journey from the art’s Pacific chisel origins to the marae workshops and sophisticated urban studios of Aotearoa today. It has been essentially a visual experience – the exacting portraiture of Parkinson and Jenner-Merrett, the iconic canvasses of Goldie and Lindauer, the pretty, ubiquitous postcard albums, and most recently, the brooding, elemental image-making of Westra and Friedlander, have all marked their own place, in their own time. With Mau Moko, and the consummate artistry of this collection, we reach the twenty first century. Becky Nunes’ eloquent lens engages the viewer, and the viewed, and one wonders who is saying
“Tirohia, he moko!”
It is about us. And yes, it is forever.

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku. May 2008

.
In December 2007 Penguin Books published Mau Moko, The World Of Maori Tattoo. The result of several years’ research, the book explores the cultural and spiritual issues around ta moko, and relates the stories of its wearers and practitioners. Mau Moko was authored by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and Linda Waimarie Nikora with contemporary portraits photographed by Becky Nunes. Becky Nunes is a photographic artist and educator, making images for a range of commercial and editorial clients, as well as her own personal work. She heads the Photo Media department at Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design. For the Mau Moko project Nunes travelled through both the North and South Islands of Aotearoa/New Zealand meeting and photographing wearers and practitioners of ta moko. For more information please email Becky Nunes.

 

Aroon Thaewchatturat. 'Num, blessed photograph' Bangkok, 2010

 

Aroon Thaewchatturat (*1975, Bangkok)
Num, blessed photograph
Bangkok, 2010
Paper on plastic
60 x 40 cm
© Aroon Thaewchatturat

 

 

Sak Yant, Thailand

Sacred tattoos known as Sak Yant are commonly found in Thailand. They protect the bearers from accidents, misfortune and crime. At the same time they help them to lead a morally upright life. However, the rules set by the tattooist must be obeyed or the tattoos lose their power. Sak Yants are not intended for public view and therefore often kept hidden. The motifs used are derived from ancient Khmer script writings and animal symbols such as tigers, dragons, birds, snakes and lizards. The tiger, or Yant Sua, is a popular subject and is associated with strength, fearlessness and power.

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Tattoo Master

There are several hundred tattooists in Thailand. Monks tattoo in their temples, and tattoo masters in studios. They are authority figures and their followers also seek advice from them. The sacred tattoos link tattooist and tattooed for a lifetime. 38-year-old Achan Neng Onnut is a tattoo master in On Nut, a district of Bangkok. The pricked motif is called Pho Kae. It depicts a recluse, or hermit, and bestows wisdom, goodness and a peaceful mind to the bearer. The tattoo master recites a mantra in order to activate the tattoo.

 

 

Santiago Sierra (*1966, Madrid / Mexico D.F.)
250 cm line tattooed on six paid people
1999
Espacio Aglutinador, Havanna / Cuba / doc. / 28.17 mins. / no sound
Loan: Galerie Kow, Berlin

 

In 1999 Santiago Sierra recruited six young unemployed men in Havana to stand in a row and have a horizontal line tattooed on them, running continuously from one man’s back to the next, in exchange for 30 dollars each. Further versions of this performance were carried out and documented as simply as possible. It alludes to the unequal values of capitalist society and to the relative and haphazard nature of remuneration. The imprecise line drawn of the tattoos suggests scarring, so the participants in the performance – members of socially marginalized groups – were subjected to further stigmatisation.

 

Artur Żmijewski. '80064' 2004

 

Artur Żmijewski (*1966, Warsaw)
80064
2004
11 mins.
Polish with English subtitles
Loaned by the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zürich

 

The Polish artist Artur Żmijewski takes an unsparing and provocative look at the tattooing that took place in the Nazi concentration camps. His video shows 92-year-old Auschwitz survivor Josef Tarnawa whom the artist persuaded to have his fading camp number re-inked. While the tattooist is renewing the numbers, Josef Tarnawa recalls the most traumatic time of his life. Artur Żmijewski’s video work polarises opinions. On the one hand, Josef Tarnawa is stigmatized for a second time, but on the other, the number on his left forearm acts as a shocking memorial. According to Artur Żmijewski, nowadays active remembrance is often far too conventional.

In the history of western tattooing, brands and involuntary tattoos have receded into the background, although the practices used during the Second World War remain deep in people’s memories. Whereas the prisoners in Auschwitz were numbered, members of the SS had their blood group tattooed on their upper arms. This meant that after the war, what had started out as a useful medical information turned out to be an irreversible identification mark. The social connotations of a tattoo change over time, with proud insider symbols becoming the stigmata of an outsider group.

 

 

Wim Delvoye (*1965, Belgium)
Tim
2006-08
Tattoo, loan: Sammlung Reinking, Hamburg

 

Tim Steiner, a Swiss citizen, has had a work by the Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye tattooed on his back. In 2008 the tattoo was sold to a Hamburg-based art collector who acquired the right to lend, sell and bequeath Tim Steiner as a loan object and to preserve his skin after his death. Since then, the work, called Tim, has given rise to international controversy. It raises important questions about ethics in the art market, and about power and the right to dispose of the human body (and its organs, such as the skin).

 

Chris Eckert. 'Auto Ink' 2010

 

Chris Eckert (*1968, USA)
Auto Ink
2010
Metal, paint, microelectronics
137 x 56 x 50 cm
Loaned by the artist

 

 

The kinetic sculpture of American artist Chris Eckert draws a random religious symbol on the arm of a volunteer subject. Membership of a religion integrates, connects and offers an ethical and moral framework for living with others. Yet many faiths compete with each other and regard the others with resentment and politically motivated enmity. Chris Eckert’s tattooing machine explores how having a particular faith can affect peaceful coexistence in a globalized world.

In European history, the now defunct tradition of religious pilgrim tattoos is an example of the practice of tattooing as a mark of identity and segregation. Examples include the crusader tattoos and tattooed guild symbols in the Middle Ages.

 

Thea Duskin. 'Untitled' 2011

 

Thea Duskin
Untitled
2011
Foto: Kimberly Frost
© Thea Duskin

 

Contemporary tattoo art

Inking the skin requires the same aesthetic imagination and care, the same manual dexterity, and the same knowledge of materials and colour as other artistic processes. The innovative contemporary tattoo scene is transcend¬ing the language of classical tattooing and regenerating the medium. The image loop shows a diverse range of top quality works by international tattoo artists in a huge variety of styles.

 

Frank Taki. 'Über(leben)' 2014

 

Frank Taki
Über(leben)
2014

 

Tradition and modernity

The rich and cross-cultural collection of the MKG has served as an inspiration for creative work to artists and craftspeople for over 130 years. The classic ornaments of historism, the floral patterns of art nouveau or the spirited characters of Japanese wood cuts: the continuous examination with this kind of historic artwork and its adaption into one’s own visual language are just as much a part of the art of tattooing as the creation of new images. In the autumn of 2014, the MKG has invited a selection of Hamburg tattoo artists to use the museum’s collection as a starting point for new tattoo designs.

 

Timm Ulrichs. 'The End Eyelid tattoo' 1970/1981/1997

 

Timm Ulrichs (*1940, Berlin)
The End
Eyelid tattoo, 1970/1981/1997
Inkjet print on canvas on stretcher bars, 150 x 150 cm
Loaned by the artist

 

In 1981, Timm Ulrichs had THE END tattooed on his right eyelid by “Tattoo Samy” (Horst Heinrich Streckenbach). The tattoo, which can only be read when the eye is closed, recalls the final credits of a film, the last performance and the final moment. This tattoo event was also documented on film, created in the context of the video of the same name which juxtaposes 60 final images.

 

 

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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19
Mar
15

Exhibition: ‘Shatter Rupture Break’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 3rd May 2015

 

Again, I am drawn to these impressive avant-garde works of art. I’d have any of them residing in my flat, thank you very much. The Dalí, Delaunay and Léger in painting and drawing for me, and in photography, the muscular Ilse Bing, the divine Umbo and the mesmeric, disturbing can’t take your eyes off it, Witkiewicz self-portrait.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Art Institute of Chicago for allowing me to publish the art works in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Everything had broken down in any case, and new things had to be made out of the fragments.”

.
Kurt Schwitters, 1930

 

 

“A century ago, society and life were changing as rapidly and radically as they are in today’s digital age. Quicker communication, faster production, and wider circulation of people, goods, and ideas – in addition to the outbreak of World War I – produced a profoundly new understanding of the world, and artists in the early years of the 20th century responded to these issues with both exhilaration and anxiety. Freeing themselves from the restraints of tradition, modern artists developed groundbreaking pictorial strategies that reflect this new shift in perception.

Shatter Rupture Break, the first exhibition in The Modern Series, explores the manifold ways that ideas of fragmentation and rupture, which permeated both the United States and Europe, became central conceptual and visual themes in art of the modern age. Responding to the new forms and pace of the metropolis, artists such as Robert Delaunay and Gino Severini disrupted traditional conventions of depth and illusionism, presenting vision as something fractured. Kurt Schwitters and George Grosz explored collage, using trash and bits and pieces of printed material in compositions to reflect social and political upheaval and produce something whole out of fragments. In the wake of new theories of the mind as well as the literal tearing apart of bodies in war, artists such as Hans Bellmer, Salvador Dalí, and Stanisław Witkiewicz produced photographs and objects revealing the fractured self or erotic dismemberment. The theme of fragmentation was ubiquitous as inspiration for both the formal and conceptual revolutions in art making in the modern age.

Shatter Rupture Break unites diverse objects from across the entire holdings of the Art Institute – paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, decorative arts and designed objects, textiles, books, and films – to present a rich cacophony that exemplifies the radical and generative ruptures of modern art.

The Modern Series

A quintessentially modern city, Chicago has been known as a place for modern art for over a century, and the Art Institute of Chicago has been central to this history. The Modern Series exhibitions are designed to bring together the museum’s acclaimed holdings of modern art across all media, display them in fresh and innovative ways within new intellectual contexts, and demonstrate the continued vitality and relevance of modern art for today.

Text from the Art Institute of Chicago website

 

 

Ivan Albright. 'Medical Sketchbook' 1918

 

Ivan Albright (American, 1897-1983)
Medical Sketchbook
1918
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Philip V. Festoso
© The Art Institute of Chicago

 

Salvador Dalí. 'City of Drawers' 1936

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)
City of Drawers
1936
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Frank B. Hubachek
© Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2014

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998)
Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931
1931
Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean and Julien Levy
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

 

Luis Buñuel (Spanish, 1900-1983)
Un Chien Andalou
1929

 

 

Fernand Léger
Ballet Mécanique
1924

 

Ballet Mécanique (1923-4) is a Dadaist post-Cubist art film conceived, written, and co-directed by the artist Fernand Léger in collaboration with the filmmaker Dudley Murphy (with cinematographic input from Man Ray). It has a musical score by the American composer George Antheil. However, the film premiered in silent version on 24 September 1924 at the Internationale Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik (International Exposition for New Theater Technique) in Vienna presented by Frederick Kiesler. It is considered one of the masterpieces of early experimental filmmaking

 

Claude Cahun. 'Object' 1936

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Object
1936
The Art Institute of Chciago
Through prior gift of Mrs. Gilbert W. Chapman

 

 

“The Art Institute of Chicago is introducing an innovative new series of exhibitions that presents works from the museum’s acclaimed collection of modern art in reimagined ways that demonstrate the continued vitality and significance these works have today.

The Modern Series debuts with Shatter Rupture Break, opening Sunday, February 15, in Galleries 182 and 184 of the museum’s Modern Wing. The exhibition unites such diverse objects as paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, decorative arts and designed objects, textiles, books, and films.

“We wanted to explore how the idea of rupture permeated modern life in Europe and the Americas,” said Elizabeth Siegel, Associate Curator of Photography, who, with Sarah Kelly Oehler, the Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Associate Curator of American Art, took the lead in organizing the first exhibition. “It served as an inspiration for revolutionary formal and conceptual developments in art making that remain relevant today.”

A century ago, society was changing as rapidly and radically as it is in today’s digital age. Quicker communication, faster production, and wider circulation of people, goods, and ideas – in addition to the outbreak of World War I – produced a profoundly new understanding of the world, and artists responded with both anxiety and exhilaration. Freeing themselves from the restraints of tradition, modern artists developed groundbreaking pictorial strategies that reflected this new shift in perception.

Responding to the new forms and pace of cities, artists such as Robert Delaunay (French, 1885-1941) and Gino Severini (Italian, 1883-1966) disrupted traditional conventions of depth and illusionism, presenting vision as something fractured. Delaunay’s Champs de Mars: The Red Tower fragments the iconic form of the Eiffel Tower, exemplifying how modern life – particularly in an accelerated urban environment – encouraged new and often fractured ways of seeing. Picturesque vistas no longer adequately conveyed the fast pace of the modern metropolis.

The human body as well could no longer be seen as intact and whole. A devastating and mechanized world war had returned men from the front with unimaginable wounds, and the fragmented body became emblematic of a new way of understanding a fractured world. Surrealists such as Hans Bellmer (German, 1902-1975), Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) and Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989) fetishized body parts in images, separating out eyes, hands, and legs in suggestive renderings. A more literal representation of the shattered body comes from Chicago’s own Ivan Albright, who was a medical draftsman in World War I. In his rarely shown Medical Sketchbook, he created fascinatingly gruesome watercolors that documented injured soldiers and the x-rays of their wounds.

Just as with the body, the mind in the modern era also came to be seen as fragmented. Stanislaw Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939) produced a series of self-portraits as an act of psychological exploration. His work culminated in one stunning photograph made by shattering a glass negative, which he then reassembled and printed, thus conveying an evocative sense of a shattered psyche. The artistic expression of dreams and mental imagery perhaps reached a pinnacle not in a painting or a sculpture, but in a film. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s film Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) mystified viewers with its dreamlike narrative, dissolves from human to animal forms, dismembered body parts, and shockingly violent acts in an attempt to translate the unconscious mind onto a celluloid strip.

Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887-1948) and George Grosz (German, 1893-1959) explored collage, which took on new importance for avant-garde artists thanks to the aesthetic appeal and widespread availability of mass-produced media. Schwitters used the ephemera of German society to create what he called Merz, an invented term signifying an artistic practice that included collage, assemblage, painting, poems, and performance. The Art Institute owns a significant group of these collages by Schwitters, and six will appear in the exhibition. The use of thrown-away, ripped up, and scissored-out pieces of paper, divorced from their original meaning and reassembled with nails and glue into new objects, was an act that exposed the social and political disruptions of a German society that seemed broken and on the edge of collapse in the aftermath of World War I.

Shatter Rupture Break is unusual in that it unites objects from across the entire museum – from seven curatorial departments as well as the library. This multiplicity is significant because modern artists did not confine themselves to one medium, but explored different visual effects across a variety of media. As well, the show prominently features the voices of artists, writers, scientists, and other intellectuals of the period. The goal is to create a dynamic space that evokes the electrifying, disruptive, and cacophonous nature of modern art at the time.

“We hope to excite interest in the modern period as a crucial precursor to the changes of our own time, to show how what might seem old now was shockingly fresh then,” said Oehler.

Considered one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world, the Art Institute’s collection of modern art includes nearly 1,000 works by artists from Europe and the Americas. The museum was an early champion of modern artists, from its presentation of the Armory Show in 1913 to its early history of acquiring major masterpieces. This show highlights some recent acquisitions of modern art, but also includes some long-held works that have formed the core of the modern collection for decades. Shatter Rupture Break celebrates this history by bringing together works that visitors may know well, but have never seen in this context or with this diverse array of objects.”

Press release from the Art Institute of Chicago

 

Robert Delaunay. 'Champs de Mars: The Red Tower' 1911/23

 

Robert Delaunay (French, 1885-1941)
Champs de Mars: The Red Tower
1911/23
The Art Institute of Chicago
Joseph Winterbotham Collection

 

Fernand Léger. 'Composition in Blue' 1921-27

 

Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955)
Composition in Blue
1921-27
The Art Institute of Chicago
Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Stuart Davis. 'Ready-to-Wear' 1955

 

Stuart Davis (American, 1892-1964)
Ready-to-Wear
1955
The Art Institute of Chicago
Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sigmund W. Kunstadter; Goodman Endowment

 

Designed by Ruben Haley, Made by Consolidated Lamp and Glass Company. "Ruba Rombic" Vase, 1928/32

 

Designed by Ruben Haley
Made by Consolidated Lamp and Glass Company
“Ruba Rombic” Vase
1928/32
Art Institute of Chicago
Raymond W. Garbe Fund in honor of Carl A. Erikson; Shirley and Anthony Sallas Fund

 

Kurt Schwitters. 'Mz 13 Call' 1919

 

Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887-1948)
Mz 13 Call
1919
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Maurice E. Culberg
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Diego Rivera. 'Portrait of Marevna' c. 1915

 

Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886-1957)
Portrait of Marevna
c. 1915
The Art Institute of Chicago
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, gift of Georgia O’Keeffe
© 2014 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Hans Bellmer. 'The Doll (La Poupée)' 1935

 

Hans Bellmer (German, born Poland, 1902-1975)
The Doll (La Poupée)
1935
Gelatin silver print overpainted with white gouache
65.6 x 64 cm
Anonymous restricted gift; Special Photography Acquisition Fund; through prior gifts of Boardroom, Inc., David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg, Sherry and Alan Koppel, the Sandor Family Collection, Robert Wayne, Simon Levin, Michael and Allison Delman, Charles Levin, and Peter and Suzann Matthews; restricted gift of Lynn Hauser and Neil Ross
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Umbo (Otto Umber). 'Untitled' 1928

 

Umbo (Otto Umber) (German, 1902-1980)
Untitled
1928
Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean and Julien Levy
© 2014 Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. 'Self-Portrait, Zakopane [Broken Glass]' 1910

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Self-Portrait, Zakopane [Broken Glass]
1910
Promised Gift of a Private Collection

 

 

The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603-6404
T: (312) 443-3600

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, 10.30 – 5.00
Thursday, 10.30 – 8.00
Friday, 10.30 – 8.00
Saturday – Sunday, 10.00 – 5.00
The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.

The Art Institute of Chicago website

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22
Feb
15

Exhibition: ‘Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein’ at the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library, New York

Exhibition dates: 16th January – 19th April 2015

 

And still it goes on… whether it be so called Chelsea football “fans” singing racist songs and abusing a black man on the Paris Metro, the Australian government’s “intervention” in Aboriginal communities, or Channel Seven’s adverts for Australia: The Story of Us which states, “This is the story of how a bunch of convicts transformed Australia from a barren, frontier prison into one of the richest countries in the world.”

The use of the word “barren” insidiously supports the hidden tenants of racism, surreptitiously reaffirming the idea that Australia was a terra nullius when it was invaded. And for one of the richest countries in the world, the Aboriginal and refugee population is sure not seeing the benefits, both in terms of freedom (refugee children and Indigenous people from incarceration), health, education and life span.

When will the human race ever grow up? We have been fighting this stuff since time immemorial, or perhaps that should be time ‘in memoriam’ – in honour of those who have passed – and in honour of those that continue to suffer. In the end it all comes down to the intersectionality of power, race, religion, money, gender and place, a moveable and fluid feast of fear and loathing, possession and patriarchy. I don’t believe that it will ever change, unless something truly momentous happens to this world…. the earth self regulates and rids itself of this disease, this human ‘race’. But we can and we will still fight the good fight, against bigotry, war, corporations and government surveilllance, everywhere.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“All through the march I was thinking, ‘This is history in the making. Can I capture it? Can I give a sense to other people of what I am experiencing myself?’ That was the thread that always wove through the back of my mind. Am I up for the task?… I turned my camera most consciously to the people watching the march. It was meant to free them. The march was meant to give them voting rights. The march was meant to change their lives… I wanted the pictures to be a window for people to look back in time and see what it was like then. I needed to capture a sense of their vision.”

.
Stephen Somerstein

 

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to 25,000 civil rights marchers in Montgomery' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to 25,000 civil rights marchers in Montgomery 
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. '"Things Go Better With Coke" sign and multi-generational family watching marchers' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
“Things Go Better With Coke” sign and multi-generational family watching marchers
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

This is among Somerstein’s favourite shots from the march. “Only in this instant are they looking mostly in the same direction,” he said, recalling that a second shot he took just after lacked the “unity” of this composition.

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Marchers on the way to Montgomery as families watch from their porches' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Marchers on the way to Montgomery as families watch from their porches
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Nuns, priests, and civil rights leaders at the head of the march' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Nuns, priests, and civil rights leaders at the head of the march
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Two mothers with children watching marchers' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Two mothers with children watching marchers
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Looks out at crowd in Montgomery' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Looks out at crowd in Montgomery
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

“I had to be totally cool about it,” Somerstein said of getting this shot, taken from the platform where Martin Luther King was speaking. “You don’t ask people, you don’t discuss it, you just do it… I had 30 seconds to take the photograph.” This image inspired the poster for the current film Selma.

“Somehow, the photographer managed to position himself directly behind Dr. King as he delivered the sonorous “How Long? Not Long” speech: “Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?’ ” it began, ending, “Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (Holland Cotter)

 

 

Iconic Photographs by Stephen Somerstein Capture the Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

The New-York Historical Society showcases a powerful selection of photographs by Stephen Somerstein that chronicle the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March, honoring the 50th anniversary of the protest that changed the course of civil rights in America. On view from January 16 through April 19, 2015, the exhibition Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein will feature the work of the 24-year-old City College student, who felt he had to document “what was going to be a historic event.” He accompanied the marchers, gaining unfettered access to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Joan Baez, and Bayard Rustin.

Through 55 black and white and color photographs, Freedom Journey 1965 will document the quest for equality and social justice over the five-day march. Then the managing editor and picture editor of the City College newspaper, Stephen Somerstein recalls “When Dr. King called on Americans to join him in a massive protest march to Montgomery, I knew that important, nation-changing history was unfolding and I wanted to capture its power and meaning with my camera.”

The Selma-to-Montgomery March marked a peak of the American civil rights movement. From March 21 to March 25, 1965, hundreds of people marched from Selma to the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama to protest against the resistance that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other groups had encountered in their mission to register black voters. By March 25, the group had grown to 25,000 people, which Dr. King addressed from the steps of the Montgomery State Capitol. Three months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Somerstein took approximately 400 photographs over the five-day, 54 mile march. Exhibition highlights include images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressing the crowd of 25,000 civil rights marchers in Montgomery; folk singer Joan Baez, standing before a line of state troopers blocking the entrance to the State Capitol; white hecklers yelling and gesturing at marchers; families watching the march from their porches; and images of young and old alike participating in the demonstration.

Somerstein pursued a career in physics, building space satellites at the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Lockheed Martin Co. Upon retiring, Somerstein revisited the Selma photographs. Though he had sold a few of them, the majority were not showcased until he participated in a civil rights exhibition at the San Francisco Art Exchange in 2010. “I realized that I had numerous iconic and historic photographs that I wanted to share with the public,” says Somerstein.

This exhibit features the stunning and historic photographs of Stephen Somerstein, documenting the Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March in January 1965. Somerstein was a student in City College of New York’s night school and Picture Editor of his student newspaper when he traveled to Alabama to document the March.

He joined the marchers and gained unfettered access to everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, and Bayard Rustin. “I had five cameras slung around my neck,” he recalled. Over the five-day, 54-mile march, Somerstein took about four hundred photographs including poignant images of hopeful blacks lining the rural roads as they cheered on the marchers walking past their front porches and whites crowded on city sidewalks, some looking on silently-others jeering as the activists walked to the Alabama capital. Somerstein sold a few photographs to the New York Times Magazine, Public Television and photography collectors, but none were exhibited until 2010, when he participated in a civil rights exhibition at the San Francisco Art Exchange.

Rather than choosing photography as a career, Somerstein became a physicist and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and at Lockhead Martin Company. It was only after his retirement in 2008 that he returned to his photography remarking that he wanted “to have exhibitions of my work and that I realized that I had numerous iconic as well as historic photographs.” Among those photographs were his moving photographs of that memorable march to Montgomery in 1965.”

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

 

 

Selma – Montgomery March, 1965

 

A powerful and recently rediscovered film made during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. Stefan Sharff’s intimate documentary reflects his youthful work in the montage style under the great Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. The film features moving spirituals. Marchers include Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King. (NJ state film festival)

Director: Stefan Sharff

Cameramen:
Stefan Sharff
Christopher Harris
Julian Krainin
Alan Jacobs
Norris Eisenbrey

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Coretta Scott King and husband civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on platform at end of 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama Civil Rights March - March 25, 1965' 1965

 

Stephen F. Somerstein
Coretta Scott King and husband civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on platform at end of 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama Civil Rights March – March 25, 1965
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

It had taken them 54 miles on the march and their entire lives to reach their goal of voting rights for blacks. Somerstein, who took that photo as a CCNY student, says it’s one of his favorite images from that time.

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Folk singer Joan Baez in Montgomery' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Folk singer Joan Baez in Montgomery
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Hecklers yelling and gesturing at marchers' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Hecklers yelling and gesturing at marchers
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Young civil rights marchers with American flags march in Montgomery' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Young civil rights marchers with American flags march in Montgomery
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

 

“For all involved, danger was ever-present. The march, which covered 54 miles and took five days, from March 21 to 25, had been preceded by two traumatic aborted versions. On March 7, 600 people trying to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River leading out of Selma to Montgomery were accused by local law officials of gathering illegally and were savagely assaulted by state troopers. Two days later, a second group, this one led by Dr. King, approached the bridge, knelt to pray and turned back. If the retreat was intended as a symbolic rebuke to violence, it did no good. That night, a Unitarian minister from Boston named James J. Reeb, in town for the event, was beaten on the street by a group of Selma racists and died.

By the time of the third march, certain protective measures were in place. The force of public opinion was one. Pictures of the attack at the bridge had been widely seen in print and on national television: All eyes were on Selma now. An Alabama judge had finally granted legal permission for a march to proceed. Finally, President Lyndon B. Johnson, enraged at Gov. George C. Wallace’s refusal to shield the marchers, ordered federal troops to guard them…

Scads of photographers were on the job that day and, inevitably, certain subjects – political leaders, visiting celebrities – were the focus of many cameras, including Mr. Somerstein’s. Yet most of the people in his pictures are not stars; they’re rank-and-file participants. It’s from their perspective that we see the march. In one shot, we’re in the middle of it, surrounded by fellow walkers. In others, we’re looking out at bystanders who line the way: white office workers; hecklers; multiracial shoppers; African-American children on porches; women, dressed in Sunday best, on the steps of black churches.

This viewpoint subtly alters a standard account of the event, one perpetuated in Selma, which suggests that a small, elite band of high-level organizers were the heroes of the day. They were indeed heroes, but they were borne on the shoulders of the countless grass-roots organizers who paved the way for the march and the anonymous marchers, many of them women, who risked everything to walk the walk…

… in the film, the image [of the back of Dr King’s head] seems to be about the man and his drama; in Mr. Somerstein’s photograph, it seems to be about the crowd. For an account of this and other civil rights era events that balance symbols and facts, I look back to the documentary series Eyes on the Prize that ran on public television between 1987 and 1990. Its use of archival images and contemporary interviews with people involved in the Selma-to-Montgomery march gave equal time to personalities and larger realities. And its news clips of the bloody attack on citizens by the police on the bridge in Selma, despite being choppy and grainy, are to me far more wrenching in a you-are-there way than a Hollywood re-enactment, however spectacular. Mr. Somerstein’s quiet photographs are moving in a similar way.”

Extracts from Holland Cotter. “A Long March Into History: Stephen Somerstein Photos in ‘Freedom Journey 1965′,” on the New York Times website [Online] Cited 19/02/2015

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Family watching march' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Family watching march
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Man with American flag and marchers walking past federal troops guarding crossroads' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein
Man with American flag and marchers walking past federal troops guarding crossroads
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

 

Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) delivers his famous “How Long, Not Long” speech on the steps of the state capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, 1965

 

 

Eyes on the Prize (VI) – Bridge to Freedom, 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein talks about a photo he took during the famous 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march at the New-York Historical Society

 

Stephen Somerstein talks about a photo he took during the famous 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march at the New-York Historical Society on Wednesday. Somerstein was a 24-year-old college student when he photographed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the march from Selma to Montgomery that changed the course of civil rights in the U.S. REUTERS

 

 

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

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

New-York Historical Society Museum and Library website

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08
Feb
15

Exhibition: ‘Bohemian Melbourne’ at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12th December 2014 – 22th February 2015

 

Definition

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds. (Wikipedia)

A Bohemian is a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.

 

This is a fantastic exhibition at the State Library of Victoria, one of the best I have seen so far in Melbourne this year. I have seen it three times and each time it has been a thoroughly rewarding experience.

  • Visually and intellectually stimulating, with a plethora of artefacts, texts and photographs
  • Excellent curatorship, with the exhibition logically structured in order to cohesively display the history, characters and stories, and strands of creativity and rebellious spirit that make up Melbourne’s cultural life
  • A great hang, with disparate elements and mediums all informing each other, pithy quotes, unique film footage, video, music
  • Not too big, just the right size to indulge your senses and brain power

.
One downside was that the exhibition needed a book or exhibition catalogue to flesh out the themes. Hopefully this will eventuate down the track. Also, it would have been nice to see more of what I would call ‘vernacular bohemianism’ – not just the famous people in each era, but the people that lived the life out on the streets, that supported the subcultures that sprung up from the 1950s onwards, but in a small exhibition it is understandable that there was not enough space.

Another perspective is that, in ordering such a diverse group of people who don’t want to be classified, who lived on the edge of society – you remove their cultural and historical ability to be transgressive, to cross moral and social taboos. By naming them as “bohemian” you seek to classify and order their existence and bring them within a frame of reference that is about control, power and visibility. This disciplinary power, Michel Foucault maintains, relies on surveillance to transform the subjects and the exhibition taxonomy is just that… a form of surveillance of the subject as well as a form of ordering it. Under this phenomena of power, dissonance/dissidence is neutralised and human beings are made subjects: through ‘the systematic linking of the categories of power and knowledge to form a hybrid, power-knowledge.’ (Hirst, 1992, “Foucault and Architecture,” in AA Files, No. 26, Autumn, pp. 52-60)

As John Tagg notes in his book The Burden of Representation (and this is what this exhibition does, it ‘represents’ a particular construction of identity as seen from the viewpoint of the establishment, the institution), “when Foucault examines power he is not just examining a negative force operating through a series of prohibitions … We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms – as exclusion, censorship, concealment, eradication. In fact, power produces. It produces reality. It produces domains of objects, institutions of language, rituals of truth.” (Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 87)

Ultimatley, that is what this exhibition does, it produces a reality that many of these bohemians would not have bought into, for they lived outside the fold. It produces domains of objects, institutions of language, rituals of truth that, through their naming, seek to classify and negate the transgressive and subversive nature of many of these people and groups. These people lived in opposition to the tenants and morals of everyday society and that is why we still love them – for their creativity, their individuality, their thoughts and above all their panache, stepping outside the orthodoxies and regi/mentality of everyday life. Against the system, for life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“The mania of young artists to
wish to live outside of their time,
with other ideas and other customs,
isolate them from the world,
render them strange and bizarre,
puts them outside the law, banished
from society. These are today’s
bohemians.”

.
Félix Pyat (French, 1810-1889)

 

 

Artist, rebel, hippie, hipster?

Revealing Melbourne’s enduring counter-cultures, Bohemian Melbourne celebrates a who’s who of creative free spirits through their art and the bohemian legacy that has shaped the character of this city. The exhibition shines a light on Melbourne’s cultural bohemians from 1860 to today, tracing individuals who have pushed against convention in their lives and art, from Marcus Clarke, Albert Tucker and Mirka Mora to Barry Humphries, Vali Myers and Nick Cave.

Venture into history’s backstreets and smoky salons to discover the stories of the daring poets, artists, visionaries, rebels and rock stars who changed Melbourne forever. (Text from the website)

 

Marcus Clarke: “A Punk in the Age of Steam”

Marcus Clarke, writer, journalist and later a librarian at the Melbourne Public Library, is generally celebrated as the father of Bohemian Melbourne – although he was more its wild child. After a privileged start in a wealthy English family, which allowed him to cultivate the life of a young dandy and to indulge his passion for the writings of Honoré de Balzac and others, a 16-year-old Clarke suddenly found himself in colonial Melbourne in 1863, thanks to a turn in the family fortune.

Determined to maintain a semblance of the life to which he had become accustomed, Clarke was soon to be found strolling the streets of Melbourne as a flâneur, an observer of the city spectacle. A short-lived post as a bank clerk was followed by a stint on the land as a jackaroo, but by the age of 21 he was back in Melbourne and working as a journalist for the Argus newspaper.

Clarke’s bohemian ways soon attracted other young journalists and writers, and they began to congregate at various Melbourne watering holes, in particular the Cafe de Paris establishing the Yorick Club, the early members of which included fellow writers Henry Rendall, George Gordon McCrae and Adam Lindsay Gordon. The Yorick had a human skull for a mascot and rules that parodied the gentleman’s clubs of establishment Melbourne. Its members gathered in rooms adjoining the office of Melbourne Punch to smoke clay pipes, drink from pewter mugs, recite poetry and generally engage in horseplay. Bohemian society had found a Melbourne home and a creative community was born. (Wall text from exhibition)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Marcus Clarke' 1866

 

Unknown photographer
Marcus Clarke
1866
Albumen silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

Bohemian culture in marvellous Melbourne

Marvellous Melbourne, which arose out of the egalitarianism of the gold rushes, gave birth to a strong bohemian culture. Marcus Clarke, the London-born journalist, writer, librarian and professional bohemian, joined the Athenaeum Club and founded in 1868 the Yorrick Club, Australia’s first bohemian club, which became a magnet for men of letters.

He was a dressed-up dandy, a flâneur and a heavy drinker, but had a touch of genius with his novel, For the Term of His Natural Life (1874/75), one of the classics of Australian colonial literature. He was dead by the age of 35, with suicide rumoured but rejected by his actress wife, Marian Dunn, the mother of his six children. Clarke in his behaviour and creative achievement became a model for other Australian bohemians to follow.

Extract from Professor Sasha Grishin. “Celebrating Melbourne bohemians at the State Library of Victoria,” on The Conversation website, 16 January 2015 [Online] Cited 03/02/2015

 

Unknown photographer. 'Marcus Clarke' (detail) 1866

 

Unknown photographer
Marcus Clarke (detail)
1866
Albumen silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

“In 1863, when the young Marcus Clarke arrived in Melbourne, he could have slipped easily into what passed for mannered society in the booming gold-rush city. His uncle was a County Court judge, his cousin a politician, and Clarke himself was granted honorary membership of the elite Melbourne Club. But he chose to turn his back on the bunyip aristocracy. “I am a bohemian,” declared the man who would go on to write the first great Australian novel. “I live, I walk, I eat, drink and philosophise.”

All of which sounds perfectly normal – except, perhaps, for the philosophising – but in reality, Marcus Clarke’s life was far from average. He became a celebrated satirist of Marvellous Melbourne, by turns outraging and titillating 19th-century sensibilities in Australia’s modern metropolis. He befriended fellow intellectuals and bon vivants to form underground literary clubs that didn’t so much turn their backs on as raise an insulting finger to colonial mores. He was a poet and a playwright, a journalist and a novelist, a jackaroo, a wastrel and, above all, quite the tremendous wit.

Clarke’s most enduring gift is his writing, particularly the classic convict novel For The Term Of His Natural Life. But a new exhibition at the State Library of Victoria pays tribute to his other major legacy – that of Australia’s first bona fide bohemian.

“Clarke was an iconoclast, dangerous to know and a dandy about town,” explains historian Dr Tony Moore, author of Dancing With Empty Pockets: Australia’s Bohemians

“Most people think of him as a venerable old Victorian gentleman, but I characterise him as a punk in the age of steam.” [Marcus: I don’t know why a venerable old Victorian gentleman – he was dead at 35]

Moore, who is a Monash University academic and passionate chronicler of unconventional Australians, was an adviser to the exhibition and worked alongside curator Clare Williamson to create this retrospective of radicals. Melbourne’s roaming free spirits have been corralled together for the first time using material – some of it never previously displayed in public – drawn from State Library archives and borrowed from public and private collections. Viewed en masse, they comprise a rogues’ gallery of some of the country’s most indelible cultural icons…

His [Clarke’s] image adorns the exhibition posters, a larger-than-life bohemian in breeches and knee-high boots with a cabbage-tree hat perched jauntily above his broad, handsome face. Melbourne’s original radical would be thrilled to see that his notoriety lives on, more than a century after his death.”

Extract from Kendall Hill. “Bohemian Melbourne: Exhibition” on the Qantas Travel Insider website [Online] Cited 03/02/2015

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

installation-k-WEB

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Unknown photographer. 'Members of the Ishmael Club' c. 1900

 

Unknown photographer
Members of the Ishmael Club
c. 1900
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

Justus Jörgensen (1893-1975) 'Fifteen of the Founders' 1944

 

Justus Jörgensen (1893-1975)
Fifteen of the Founders
1944
Oil on canvas and gauze mounted on panel
Collection of the Montsalvat Trust

 

 

Montsalvat is the result of Justus Jörgensen’s vision for a collective experience of art and life. Jörgensen had trained in architecture and then in painting with earlier bohemian Max Meldrum. His studio in Queen Street, the Mitre Tavern and the Latin and Chung Wah restaurants were sites for lively discussions in which Jörgensen put forward his philosophies of art, the revival of medieval craftsmanship and communal living. This vision began to take shape in 1934 when he and his wife, Lily, brought land at Eltham; with the assistance of friends and followers, he built Montsalvat, an artists’ colony of studios, workshops and the communal Great Hall.

While Justus Jörgensen rarely exhibited, his great love was painting. This multi-panelled work comprises portraits by Jörgensen of 15 significant figures from the early years of Montsalvat. They are, from top to bottom, left to right:

Ian Robertson – student of Jorgensen who also ran an antiques shop
Leo Brierley – businessman and backer of Mervyn Skipper’s Pandemonium journal
Helen (Nell) Lempriere – niece of Dame Nellie Melba, painter, sculptor, and an earl student of Jorgensen
Norman Porter – friend and student of Jorgensen and lecturer in philosophy
Mervyn Skipper – author, journalist and Melbourne editor of the Bulletin
Helen Skipper – Mervyn’s first daughter, Jorgensen’s partner for many years, and mother of Sebastian and Sigmund Jorgensen
Justus Jorgensen – founder and architect of Montsalvat, painter, assistant to artist Max Meldrum and teacher.
Sonia Skipper – second daughter of Mervyn Skipper, and painter and teacher
Arthur Munday – law student, sculptor and stonemason trained by Jorgensen
William (Bill) Cook – teacher, philosophy and president of the Victorian Rationalist Society
Norman Radcliffe – student and friend of Jorgensen, and philosopher
Ray Grant – student of Jorgensen and philosopher
Edward Goll – internationally renowned pianist and teacher at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music
Arthur (George) Chalmers – pharmacist, student of Jorgensen, stonemason and carver, who also planted the first vineyard at Montsalvat

(Label texts)

 

Montsalvat is an artist colony in Eltham, Victoria, Australia, established by Justus Jörgensen in 1934. It is home to over a dozen buildings, houses and halls set amongst richly established gardens on 48,562 m2 (12 acres) of land. The colony of Montsalvat has a detailed history that reflects the life of Jörgensen and his friends and family; there is also a legend behind its name, while its buildings and gardens are steeped in the art and culture of Melbourne and its surroundings.

Visitors can pay a small fee to walk throughout the colony’s historical gardens, artists’ houses/workshops and explore the surrounding buildings. All of the buildings on the site were designed and built by residents with locally available materials, from various sources. The Great Hall offers an extensive network of spaces from extravagant halls and vast exhibition spaces, to small corridors and tiny balconies overlooking the gardens. (Wikipedia)

 

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) Ella Grainger (1889-1979) 'Towelling tunic, shirt, leggings, belt, shoes worn by Percy Grainger' c. 1934

 

Percy Grainger (1882-1961)
Ella Grainger (1889-1979)
Towelling tunic, shirt, leggings, belt, shoes worn by Percy Grainger
c. 1934
Cotton bath towels, plastic, leather and metal
Grainger Museum collection, University of Melbourne

 

“In 1932 or 1933 my wife and I took up again this idea of clothing made of towelling and when in Australia in 1934 and 1935 we were amazed by the beauty of the bath towels on sale in Australia – some imported from England, Czechoslovakia and America, but most of them (and among them the most beautiful ones) manufactured in Australia. Here was a chance to show what could be done with the beauty born of machinery – a beauty as rich and subtle, in its own way, as anything made by hand or loom.”

Percy Grainger, c. 1955-56

 

Unknown photographer
Percy Grainger at White Plains, New York
1936
Exhibition graphic from silver gelatine photograph
Grainger Museum collection, The University of Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015, including at left Albert Tucker, Self-portrait with Joy Hester, 1939 (see below)

 

Albert Tucker. 'Self-portrait with Joy Hester' 1939

 

Albert Tucker
Self-portrait with Joy Hester
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

An Interview with Albert Tucker conducted by Justin Obrien in 1997.
Albert expands on his many insights,during the time he spent with John and Sunday Reed and other artists at Heide during the1940’s. An intimate insight into a unique man.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Opening of Mirka Café' 1954

 

Unknown photographer
Opening of Mirka Café
1954
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy of Heide Museum of Modern Art and William Mora Galleries

 

Unknown photographer. 'Opening of Mirka Café' (detail) 1954

 

Unknown photographer
Opening of Mirka Café (detail)
1954
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy of Heide Museum of Modern Art and William Mora Galleries

 

 

These clips features home movie footage taken by Gertie Anschel (c.1953-1954) with audio commentary by film director Philippe Mora.

Part 1 of 3 features scenes of Melbourne, The Mirka Café and Joy Hester and Gray Smith’s property. Philippe reflects on his childhood and identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene. 

 

 

Part 2 of 3 features the property of Roger de Stoop, artist friends and Arthur Boyd at work on his 1956 Melbourne Olympic statue. Philippe reflects on his childhood identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene.

 

 

Part 3 of 3 features the Moras, the art gang at a balcony party and late American actor Melvyn Douglas. Philippe reflects on his childhood, parents and identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene.

 

 

Making Your Own Fun in the 50s

On the surface at least, Melbourne in the 1950s was a rather dour affair. For some non-conformists, such as Vali Myers and Barry Humphries, it was a place to escape rather than a place to be. For others, however, it was a site for creating underground cultures that were largely invisible to the mainstream.

This was no more so than in the case of gay and lesbian, or ‘camp’, culture, as it was known at the time. Homosexuality was illegal in Victoria until 1960, and in the 1950s it was sensationalised in the tabloid press as a subject for mockery if not horror. As a result, homosexual men and women developed alternative bohemian cultures and communities, with their own covert venues, house parties, secret languages and dress codes.

The gala costume arts balls that raised money for mainstream theatre and other arts charities were grand exceptions to the gnerally underground clubs and private parties. They offered rare moments in which camp culture could be expressed in public without fear for reprisal. Theatres and dance companies provided employment for many, and bars, such as the one nicknamed the Snake Pit at the Hotel Australia, and restaurants such as Val’s Coffee Lounge, provided opportunities for the camp community to meet and to mix with others who were outside the establishment.

 

Norman Ikin. 'Vali Myers' c. 1949

 

Norman Ikin
Vali Myers
c. 1949
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

Mark Strizic. 'Barry Humphries in Melbourne' 1969

 

Mark Strizic (1928-2012)
Barry Humphries in Melbourne
1969
Exhibition print from flexible-base negative
State Library of Victoria
Courtesy of the Estate of the artist

 

 

A never seen on broadcast TV programme with Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage made in 1975. Barry Humphries was promoting his film ‘Barry McKenzie holds his own’. Films clips were provided officially by EMI. The interviewer trying to hold things together is Mark Caldwell. The programme was made in black and white.

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015 with, in the distance, Henry Talbot Portraits of actor Frank Thring 1963, with Thring’s jewellery box and contents in the foreground.

 

It has been said of Frank Thring that he could make most stages or foyers seem small. His larger-than-life personality was almost matched by his frame, often decked out in imposing black and with flamboyant jewellery. Son of Frank Thring snr, founder of Efftee Films and 3XY Radio, Thring jnr earned fame as an actor in London’s West End and in Hollywood films such as Ben Hur, often playing sinister or decadent characters. In the 1950s, he would recite poems laden with innuendo and hold court at the ‘head table’ at Val’s Coffee Lounge. To be welcome at his table was a sign one was part of the ‘in’ crowd. (Label text)

 

 

Unknown photographer. 'Arts Ball, Palais de Danse - John Anderson as Sun God' c. 1963-64

 

Unknown photographer
Arts Ball, Palais de Danse – John Anderson as Sun God
c. 1963-64
Gelatin silver photograph
Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

 

John Anderson was first-prize winner at a number of arts balls in the 1960s. His costume shown here reflects the creativity and effort that many put into their outfits. Costumes and headdresses were sometimes so large that Anderson and others regularly hired furniture vans to take them to the ball. One year the van that was transporting Anderson broke down and he completed the journey strapped upright on the back of a ute. His Sun  God costume wowed new audiences when he was invited to take part in a pageant on ice base on the theme of The Kind and I – with Anderson as the King – at the Southland shopping centre ice rink around 1970. (Label text)

But you will go to the ball, you will sweetie!

 

Richard Walsh (editor) 'The Review', Vol. 22, No. 22 Melbourne incorporated Newsagencies Co., March 1972

 

Richard Walsh (editor)
The Review, Vol. 22, No. 22
Melbourne incorporated Newsagencies Co.,
March 1972
State Library of Victoria

 

Before editing the irreverent Melbourne weekly The Review (Nation Review from July 1972, Richard Walsh edited counter-cultural Oz magazine with Richard Neville and Martin Sharp. Contributors to Nation Review included Max Harris, Bob Ellis, Phillip Adams, Michael Leunig and Germaine Greer. Greer had been part of the Drift in Melbourne, a loose association of artists, students and graduates. Enrolling in a Masters degree at Sydney University, in 1962 she becomes a leading light in the Sydney libertarian Push, an intellectual bohemia of larrikin anarchists. Gaining her PhD at Cambridge University, Greer then published her groundbreaking book The Female Eunuch. (Label text)

 

Ashley Mackevicius. 'Nick Cave' 1973

 

Ashley Mackevicius
Nick Cave
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2006

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Soapbox Circus - The Fabulous Spagoni Family' c. 1977

 

Ponch Hawkes
Soapbox Circus – The Fabulous Spagoni Family
c. 1977
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria
© the artist

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Melantroppos, Circus Oz, Princes Park' 1979

 

Ponch Hawkes
Melantroppos, Circus Oz, Princes Park
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria
© the artist

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015 with artist Ponch Hawkes work at right

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Mirka Mora in her studio' 1978

 

Rennie Ellis
Mirka Mora in her studio
1978
Colour transparency
State Library Victoria
© Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Vali Myers (1930-2003) 'Passions' 1981-82

 

Vali Myers (1930-2003)
Passions
1981-82
Pen, black ink, sepia, burnt sienna and watercolour
Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

 

Vali Myers discovered a love of drawing at an early age. Over the years it became her primary mode of artistic expression in place of contemporary dance. She dedicated her life to her art and would spend up to two years creating each of her intricately drawn artworks. Passions contains many elements that symbolically represent aspects of Vali Myers’ art and life. These include a fox (referencing her pet Foxy), ravens (Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven being one of her favourite poems, a gypsy-like figure playing a violin and, at the centre of it all, a woman with flaming red hair. (Label text)

 

Liz Ham. 'Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building' 1997

 

Liz Ham
Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building
1997
Gelatin silver photograph
State Library Victoria

 

 

Australian artist Vali Myers moved to Paris from Australia at age 19 where she lived on the streets, danced in cafes, met Satre, Cocteau, Genet and Django Reinhardt. She moved to New York, tattooed Patti Smith’s knee, befriended Salvador Dali and met Andy Warhol and Tennessee Williams.

Vali was a great influence on lots of famous people Tennesse Williams, Jean Cocteau, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Jean Genet and Kate Bush.

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Bohemian Melbourne' at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Bohemian Melbourne at the State Library of Victoria February 2015

 

 

Australian artist Howard Arkley interviewed by ABC television shortly before his untimely death in 1999.

 

Howard Arkley (1951-1999) 'The Ritual' 1986

 

Howard Arkley (1951-1999)
The Ritual
1986
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
State Library of Victoria

 

Howard Arkley is recognised as one of Australia’s most significant 20th-century artists. He is unique in embracing not only urban culture but also life in suburbia, a space generally shunned or scorned by bohemians, with exception of that other flaneur of suburbia, Barry Humphries. Like many bohemians before him, Arkley lived on the edge and experimented with mind-altering substances, and, like a good proportion of them, his life was tragically cut short as a result. Despite its large scale, comic-book style and pop colours, The Ritual is as much a cool and judgment-free study in composition and the human form as it is in the rituals or ‘habits’ associated with drug use. (Label text)

 

 

State Library of Victoria
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Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 8664 7000

Opening hours:
Sunday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Monday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Tuesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Wednesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Friday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Saturday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm

State Library of Victoria website

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30
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals’ at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Exhibition dates: 1st November 2014 – 16th February 2015

 

Exposing your/self

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Viva Michals! Viva Michals!

Magician, poet, storyteller, philosopher and dreamer.

Not for him the overblown statement (huge prints the size of billboards) but small, dark, rough prints assembled in photo-sequences, often incorporating text, that examine the human condition in every aspect. This is emotional work and Michals has a unique style and voice as an artist. You always know that you are looking at a sequence by Michals, for his signature is that distinctive.

As he says, his work goes beyond description, beyond surfaces, to reveal the subject – not as it looks but as it feels. In his sequences he usually achieves this by posing a question that has no answer, a question that is like a Zen koan…. what is the sound of one hand clapping? The grandfather ascends smilingly to heaven with little wings on his back as the child waves goodbye (if youth knew, if age could); the man as human condition turns into a galaxy; and the spirit leaves the body as it was left before.

Various Michals sequences, such as The Spirit Leaves The Body (1968, below), have a circular construction. Another sequence, Things are Queer (1973, below) is also a circular spatio-temporal enigma where instead of moving forward, the camera and the viewer are pulled backwards in a space-time continuum… where Michals forces you to question what reality really is. These two sequences are my personal favourites, and I had to scour the internet to find images for them as you rarely see them online.

His most famous sequence, the one that you see most often, is Chance Meeting (1970, below) – again an open-ended, intimate but puzzling encounter with a reflection of the self. Michals sequences are full of ghosts, uncommon intimacies, nubile females and delicious males (Michals is gay and has just celebrated his 54th anniversary with his partner). Dealing “with topics such as death, desire, and the passage of time” his work peers inward to examine “his own thoughts and dreams, to blur the lines between photography and philosophy.”

All is not sunshine and light, and I feel that there is a nebulous, obsidian energy hovering not too far below the surface. The photographs have high contrast and the subjects are very closely framed, giving the sequences an almost claustrophobic quality, as though you are having the life, the energy gently yet forcibly manipulated around you. The photographs rarely breathe freely and you feel as though you are almost trapped within their spaces.

Then there is the text. Never used to excess in the sequences (the title does that job alone), the singular images are extended into a longer narrative by biting, poignant words – sentences that utter harsh truths and tell it how it really is. I can’t look at that image, and read that text, from A Letter from My Father (1960/1975, below) without thinking of my abusive father and wondering what happened to his love – whether he hadn’t hidden it, he just didn’t have any to start with. For any child in an adult who has been abused, this image cuts to the bone.

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Michals staged, narrative scenes take us on a journey into his reality, one which “has entered a realm beyond observation.” He poses difficult questions that force us to examine ideas beyond the world of phenomena, beyond the world of surfaces. He challenges our repressed inner lives and our idealised image of ourselves, disturbing the boundaries of personality, ego, and identity.1 He wrestles with Sartre’s noumenal world (the world of the subconscious, dreams), the “being-in-itself” or sometimes simply “the in-itself,” as Sartre calls it (what Kant called the noumenal world), where Sartre does not see man comfortably installed in the world.

“All of us, says Sartre, have a “pre-ontological comprehension” of being-in-itself, that is to say, an opaque, inarticulate, but very real sense of its presence and nature. The world is but a “varnish” on the surface of the being-in-itself; or, changing the metaphor, the world is but a “thin crust” of meaning which we impose upon being-in-itself. Ordinarily this thin crust of meaning conceals the in-itself and obscures our awareness of it, but the anguish of being is always there just below the surface of daily consciousness, and from time to time it breaks through to the surface, presenting being-in-itself without disguise.”2

This is what Michals attunes himself to, an examination of the in-itself, one that impacts on our internal poetic understandings of space and time. In his malleable daydreams Michals proffers a ‘releasement toward things’, the glimpsing of a coexistence between a conscious and unconscious way of perceiving which enables the seeing of the ‘Thing Itself’. As Heidegger observes, 

“We stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery… Releasement towards things and openness to the mystery belong together. They grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way…”3

It is Michals great skill as an artist and a human being that enables us the possibility of accessing some aspect of the mystery of our existence.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. As discussed in Magee, Bryan. Confessions of a Philosopher. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997, p. 405-406

2. Olsen, Robert. An Introduction to Existentialism. Dover Publications, New York, 1962, p. 39

3. Heidegger, Martin. Discourse on Thinking. New York: Harper & Row, 1966, pp. 55-56 quoted in Baracco, Mauro. “Completed Yet Unconcluded: The Poetic Resistance of Some Melbourne Architecture,” in van Schaik, Leon (ed.,). Architectural Design Vol. 72, No. 2 (‘Poetics in Architecture’). London: John Wiley and Sons, 2002, p. 74. Footnote 6.

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Many thankx to the Carnegie 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.

 

 

“Who gives a fuck about what he had for breakfast? These are stylistic ticks. The digital has changed the paradigms of photography. I had an opening in Boston and this woman had a little camera with her and kept exclaiming, ‘Everything is a photograph!’ That’s the problem. The bar has been lowered so much in photography now…”

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“Photographers tend not to photograph what they can’t see, which is the very reason one should try to attempt it. Otherwise we’re going to go on forever just photographing more faces and more rooms and more places. Photography has to transcend description. It has to go beyond description to bring insight into the subject, or reveal the subject, not as it looks, but how does it feel?”

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“I don’t trust reality. So all of the writing on and painting on the photographs is born out of the frustration to express what you do not see.”

.
Duane Michals

 

 

Duane Michals. 'Cavafy Cheats Playing Strip Poker' 2004

 

Duane Michals
Cavafy Cheats Playing Strip Poker
2004
12 Gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
5″ x 7″ each

 

This series of photographs was inspired by the poem The Windows by Constantine Cavafy

In these dark rooms where I live out empty days,

I wander round and round trying to find the windows.

But the windows are not to be found –
or at least I can’t find them.
And perhaps
it is better that way.

Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny.

Who knows what new things it will expose?

 

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

Duane Michals. 'Chance Meeting' 1970

 

Duane Michals
Chance Meeting
1970
Six gelatin silver prints
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

 

Duane Michals
Things are Queer
1973
Nine gelatin silver prints
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

Duane Michals. 'Grandpa Goes to Heaven' 1989

 

Duane Michals
Grandpa Goes to Heaven
1989
Five gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC

 

 

“The best part of us is not what we see, it’s what we feel. We are what we feel. We are not what we look at… We’re not our eyeballs, we’re our mind. People believe their eyeballs and they’re totally wrong… That’s why I consider most photographs extremely boring – just like Muzak, inoffensive, charming, another waterfall, another sunset. This time, colors have been added to protect the innocent. It’s just boring. But that whole arena of one’s experience – grief, loneliness – how do you photograph lust? I mean, how do you deal with these things? This is what you are, not what you see. It’s all sitting up here. I could do all my work sitting in my room. I don’t have to go anywhere.”

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Duane Michals

 

 

“Opening November 1, 2014, at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA), Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals is the definitive retrospective and the largest-ever presentation of this innovative artist’s work. Drawing from select loans and the museum’s holdings, which constitute the largest single collection of Michals’s output, and spanning six decades, the works in Storyteller include classic sequences from the early 1970s as well as rarely seen images from later in his career.

Born in 1932 and raised in a steelworker family in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Michals broke away from established traditions of documentary and fine art photography in the 1960s when he added handwritten messages and poems to prints, produced multi-image narrative sequences, and experimented with double- and triple-exposures. His work was poignant and unabashedly sentimental, flying in the face of the dominant photographic aesthetics of the time.

Storyteller unfolds in thematic groupings that range from portraiture to meditations on the mind’s interior world; from childhood and imagination to desire and death. Michals’s love of two very different cities, Pittsburgh and Paris, is evident in sections exploring the beauty, quirks, and particularities of these places. He has riffed on, critiqued, and crossed paths with countless artists, including René Magritte, Cindy Sherman, Joseph Cornell, Robert Frank, Andreas Gursky, Andy Warhol, and others, and a section of the exhibition brings to light the admiration and acerbic wit in Michals’s engagements with other creative minds.

“The exhibition is designed to acquaint the visitor with the many themes that Michals explored over more than half a century,” says curator of photography Linda Benedict-Jones. “Well known sequences such as Paradise Regained and Chance Meeting greet the viewer first, followed by engaging and sometimes surprising Children’s Stories. A section called The Mind’s Eye shows Michals’s absorption with photographing things that cannot actually be seen, such as A Man Going to Heaven or The Human Condition. We could not present Storyteller chronologically, because Michals revisits themes often. One theme, Painted Expression, shows how, in two distinct periods of his life – in the early 1980s and again in 2012 – Michals has picked up a brush to apply oil paint to both black-and-white photographic prints as well as most recently to 19th century tintypes, resulting in unique, one-of-a-kind photographic works. His creative energy is boundless and readily apparent when seen in a large retrospective display.”

“I’m a storyteller,” he often states as he begins a talk in public – equally interested in the moments before and after the “decisive moment” (a term coined by famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson). “When I began to do sequences, it wasn’t because I thought it was cool and the latest thing. I did it out of frustration with the still photograph.” He has observed that his practice aims to transcend mere appearances: “I’m not interested in what something looks like, I want to know what it feels like… My reality has entered a realm beyond observation.” This approach can be seen throughout his career, from early, carefully staged sequences, to hand-painted gelatin silver prints and tintypes, revealing the artist’s hand at work long after the image is captured.

According to curator of photography Linda Benedict-Jones, who organized Storyteller, “Duane Michals is a sensitive and provocative artist who has followed his own unique path. His way of staging narrative scenes, then recording them with a 35mm camera, represented a fresh approach to the medium. This, combined with an uncommon intimacy when dealing with topics such as death, desire, and the passage of time, set him apart as an image-maker.”

Storyteller also touches upon Michals’s extensive portfolio of commercial photography and portraiture, which spans several decades, and includes assignments for Neiman Marcus, Esquire, Vogue, and Gap, as well as commissioned portraits of such figures as Nancy Reagan, Sting, and Willem de Kooning.

CMOA, a fixture in Michals’s artistic upbringing, has acquired 139 of his works, ranging from his earliest images made in Russia in 1958 to hand-painted tintypes that he began creating in 2012. Michals, in turn, has always felt an attachment to Pittsburgh, a subject of many of his photographs, and of two books, the sequence The House I Once Called Home (2003) and poetry collection A Pittsburgh Poem (2013). Lending institutions to Storyteller include Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), Musée des Beaux Arts (Montreal), High Museum of Art (Atlanta), and Museum of Modern Art (New York). Even longtime admirers of the artist may be unfamiliar with several of his bodies of work, and an examination of this full range is long overdue: while Michals has been championed in several solo exhibitions throughout Europe in the past decade, this is his first major museum exhibition in North America since 1998.

Storyteller also touches upon Michals’s extensive portfolio of commercial photography and portraiture, which spans several decades, and includes assignments for Neiman Marcus, Esquire, Vogue, and Gap, as well as commissioned portraits of such figures as Nancy Reagan, Sting, and Willem de Kooning.

Presented alongside Storyteller will be the exhibition Duane Michals: Collector, which highlights works from Michals’s private art collection that are promised gifts to the museum. The eclectic array of objects, ranging from 1799 to 1999, and from Francisco de Goya to André Kertész to Mark Tansey, will be united by Michals’s unique take on the artists, the artworks, and their influence on his own practice. Organized by associate curator of fine arts Amanda Zehnder, Duane Michals: Collector will further contextualize his work from an unusually personal perspective.

Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals represents a refreshing, much-needed reexamination of a historically significant photographer. Michals’s pioneering photography infused the medium with a personal, critical approach that translates universally. In an art world that feels at times jaded and detached, his images retain the same moving, affecting impact that they commanded decades ago.”

Press release from the Carnegie Museum of Art

 

 

Internationally-renowned photographer Duane Michals discusses his eight-decade life and career as a self-described “expressionist.” His work is known for its innovative narrative sequencing and iconic use of text and image. During a period when photography looked out to the world around us, Michals redefined the medium by peering inward to his own thoughts and dreams to blur the lines between photography and philosophy.

 

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

 

Duane Michals
The Spirit Leaves The Body
1968
Seven gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

Duane Michals. 'The Young Girl’s Dream' 1969

 

Duane Michals
The Young Girl’s Dream
1969
Five gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'A Letter from My Father' 1960/1975

 

Duane Michals
A Letter from My Father
1960/1975
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte with Hat' 1965

 

Duane Michals
Magritte with Hat
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Magritte with Hat' 1965 (detail)

 

Duane Michals
Magritte with Hat (detail)
1965
Gelatin silver print with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'This Photograph Is My Proof' 1967

 

Duane Michals
This Photograph Is My Proof
1967
Gelatin silver print with hand-applied text
The Henry L. Hillman Fund, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Young Soldiers Dream in the Garden of the Dead with Flowers Growing from Their Heads' 1995

 

Duane Michals
Young Soldiers Dream in the Garden of the Dead with Flowers Growing from Their Heads
1995
From the series Salute, Walt Whitman
Gelatin silver print
The Henry L. Hillman Fund
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

 

Lewis Wickes Hine. 'Two 7-Year-Old Nashville Newsies, Profane and Smart, Selling Sunday' 1910

 

Lewis Wickes Hine
Two 7-Year-Old Nashville Newsies, Profane and Smart, Selling Sunday
1910
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Duane Michals
Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art

 

Duane Michals. 'The Human Condition' 1969

 

Duane Michals
The Human Condition
1969
Six gelatin silver prints with hand applied text
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

Duane Michals. 'Rigamarole' 2012

 

Duane Michals
Rigamarole
2012
Tintype with oil paint
The William T. Hillman Fund for Photography
Carnegie Museum of Art,Pittsburgh
Courtesy of the Artist and DC Moore Gallery

 

 

Carnegie Museum of Art
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Opening hours:
Monday: 10 am – 5 pm
Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday: 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm
Friday: 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday: noon – 5 pm

Carnegie Museum of Art website

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20
Jan
15

Images from ‘The Americans’ by Robert Frank

January 2015

 

I have scoured the internet for other images from The Americans by Robert Frank, in addition to the photographs in the recent posting Robert Frank in America Part 1 and Part 2 at the Cantor Arts Center. This new posting includes some seldom seen images from the book that are very hard to find online (especially the image Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona which echoes Walker Evans image A Child’s Grave, Hale County, Alabama, 1936, Farm Security Administration).

It is great to be able to gather all of these images together in one meta-resource, instead of spending hours looking for the work. The posting also makes visible the magnificent breadth of vision of the artist, and what a great eye he had for the unfolding scene.

Influenced by Abstract Expressionist painting and the graphic tonality of dark and light, Frank presents a dystopian vision of America where death, loneliness, discrimination and alienation are never far from the surface, both in the rich and poor. You only have to compare the two images Cafeteria, San Francisco and Charity Ball, New York City to eyeball the difference between the haves and the have nots.

There is not a bad image amongst them, testament to Frank’s rigorous selection process for the book, in which he already had a strong idea of the images he wanted to use and the sequencing and layout of the book when he went to the publisher. I particularly like the irony of the atomic bomb at the bottom of the image Hoover dam, Nevada (1955).

Marcus

 

“I sometimes feel that I would like to see you more in closer to people. It seems to me that you are ready now to begin probing beyond environment into the soul of man. I believe you made a fine decision in taking yourself and family away from the tenseness of the business of photography there. You must let every moment of the freedom you are having contribute to your growing and growing. Just as the microscope and the telescope seek a still closer look at the universe, we as photographer must seek to penetrate deeper and closer into our brothers. Please excuse if this sounds like preaching. It is dictated by an interest and affection for you and yours.”

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Letter dated April 2, 1952 from Edward Steichen to Robert Frank

 

 

Robert Frank and Edward Steichen

 

Robert Frank and Edward Steichen

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, New York City' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bar, New York City
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, Las Vegas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bar, Las Vegas
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Candy Store, New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Candy Store, New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Coffee Shop, Railway Station' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Coffee Shop, Railway Station
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Los Angeles' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Los Angeles
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Men's room, railway station, Memphis' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Men’s room, railway station, Memphis
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Ranch Market, Hollywood' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Ranch Market, Hollywood
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Assembly line, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Assembly line, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Beaufort, South Carolina
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Belle Isle, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Belle Isle, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

“Robert Frank was trying to capture facets of American culture within his collection The Americans. Included within American culture is the institution of family, as well as more subtle features like the influence of race. These features of American culture seem to be the focus of the photograph Belle Isle, Detroit. This photo includes the contrast of the black child versus the white child. The white child is near the center of the foreground in the photograph, is wrapped in blankets, and is being held by a woman that we can presume to be it’s mother. This contrasts with the black child, who is in the background, standing on it’s own feet, and is wearing much less clothing. It is unclear who is responsible for the black child, as nobody in the photograph seems concerned with this child. Everybody’s gaze is focused on something else. The contrast of the two children represents the effect of race in 1950’s America. White children grew up under a sheltered upbringing , unaware of the privilege that they held by being white (Shaw and Lee, 75). This privilege is represented in the photograph by the white child being held and wrapped in blankets. Black children held no such privilege, and were cast into a world of racialized injustice from birth. Black people were oppressed systematically by lawmakers, and in cooperation by white people who flaunted their privilege whether they were conscious of this or not. This oppression is represented by the lack of attention and care the black child is receiving, in addition to it’s lack of clothing. Oppression was something that stood out to Frank when he came to the United States. Referencing oppression of blacks in an interview conducted in 2000, Frank said that an initial thought when coming into this country was “there is a lot here that I do not like and that I would never accept.” (Frank et al., 110)

It is important to consider the historical point at which this photograph was taken. This photo was taken in 1955, which was near the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement for African-Americans. This could have been something that Frank considered while taking photographs. In the middle of this photo is a pregnant woman who appears to be of mixed ethnicity. Her expression is perplexed as if she is in deep thought, with her arms crossed. This begs the question, what is she thinking about? She could be contemplating the fate of her unborn child. Her pregnancy makes her a symbol of things to come. With the Civil Rights Movement in progress, it is unclear what kind of world her child will be born into and grow up in. As a mixed child, the child probably won’t have white skin, and it raises the question how big an effect race will have on this child’s life. In a world of changing times, the uncertainty of the future is something that looms in the back of our heads. The pregnant woman stands as a symbol of the future, and her perplexed expression is representative of the uncertainty associated with the future. Frank wanted to capture what was a historical period filled with uncertainty and hope with the fate of the Civil Rights Movement hanging in the balance.”

Extract from Chris Watson. “Oppression versus Privilege in Belle Isle, Detroit,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. Butte, Montana' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Car accident, US 66 between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

 

“I developed a tremendous contempt for LIFE, which helped me. You have to be enraged. I also wanted to follow my own intuition and do it my own way, and to make concessions – not make a LIFE story. That was another thing I hated. Those goddamned stories with a beginning and an end. If I hate all those stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end then obviously I will make an effort to produce something that will stand up to those stories but not be like them”

.
Robert Frank

 

Robert Frank. 'Chattanooga, Tennessee' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Chattanooga, Tennessee
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'City Fathers - Hoboken, New Jersey' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
City Fathers – Hoboken, New Jersey
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

“There are two different ways of viewing the photo that may offer differing messages, though they combine to form one broad theme. Viewing the photo as a whole shows five men, separated from the viewer by a lively decoration, looking upon some event nearby. Their mostly large bodies and tall hats, separated by the sky in the background, creates an image like that of great towers side by side. We view them from below as a common person in comparison to their superior position and stature. Capturing the size of this group with the other men in hats behind the main characters relates that this is not a picture of only the men in the foreground, but instead of their class as a whole. This creates the essence of numerical strength and the authority that these men supposedly carry with them in their high positions, though some closer inspection offers a slightly different view. Studying the features of these men allows us to become more familiar with them as people, which one might quickly overlook amidst their uniformity.

The two rightmost men offer the most evidence as characters in this scene, both displaying facial expressions of greatly varying emotions. The man furthest to the right has his lips puckered and his eyes closed, perhaps kissing the air towards some unseen figure. He is not focused on the event as the others are. He could be seen as leaning from his position above to play with someone below him, despite everyone else’s attention being elsewhere. This man represents the sort of pomp and carelessness of those who are above the struggles of the lower classes. The second man, however, is practically opposite to the first. His eyes are squinted, focusing on the event. His face is grim and he stands up straight. This man stands out amongst these elite, not wearing any ribbon, a tall hat, or even a suit. This lack of formal attire ironically serves to highlight his importance. He might be of a position higher than simply upper-class business owners or politicians, possibly a mayor. Regardless, his colder features are easily applied to the group as a whole, as are the “superior” and somewhat unaware features of the first man. Adding together these elements with those taken from the entire section gives us a picture of the rich and powerful as a sizable mob of men, some of which are as large and powerful as they are cold, and others which look down at the masses below with playful, unengaged eyes.”

Extract from Bryan Squires. “Men of Great Stature and Power,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'City Hall, Reno, Nevada' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
City Hall, Reno, Nevada
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank’s photograph, number 81 from The Americans collection entitled City Hall – Reno, Nevada, features a young couple in the center of the frame. They take up about a fourth of the frame, however their central location helps show their close proximity to one another. Their proximity, as well as the young man’s arms wrapped around the young woman, creates an intimate feel to the photograph. The intimate feel, as well as the title of the photograph, suggests that an elopement took place. It also looks as if the photographer is above the couple and looking down on them. This makes it seem as if the couple was unaware that the photo was being taken. The couple seems to be looking down at maybe another photographer or a friend or family member who has come to support their marriage at City Hall. Their formal attire shows the importance of this occasion to the young man and woman and their smiling faces show the perceived happiness of the occasion as well. Frank used a 35mm Leica camera, which was loose, fast and cinematic, and was able to create a photo that was a “dark, shadowed, seemingly casual, grainy glimpse” that showed criticism towards the American society (Glenn). In this photo in particular, the contrast between black and white could symbolize both the happiness and anger that marriage brings…

Approximately 50% of marriages ended in divorce in the 1950s (“Nevada Divorces.”). The young couple’s City Hall marriage could show the impulsivity of young people in the United States, and their rebellion against traditional church weddings. Traditionally, young men would ask the father of the bride for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Then, the parents and extended family would all attend a big church wedding to show their support for couple and the couple’s future. The photograph shows no evidence of any family members or friends present and it is not located in a church. This could be an example of the start of the rebellious stage of young people in the United States. Young adults began to stray from the norm of the traditional, conservative lifestyle of the previous generations.  Ironically though, while this photo shows a young couple getting married in Nevada, Reno was known as the “divorce colony” in the 1950s (“Gambling Legal, Divorce Quicker Now.”). After only 6 weeks of residence by one member of the couple, a citizen could get a divorce if they summoned their spouse to Reno (“Nevada Divorces.”). This meant that divorces were quicker and easier then they had ever been before. Hundreds of divorces took place daily and the population of Nevada grew immensely during this time period.  Also, gambling was legalized during this time period as well (“Gambling Legal, Divorce Quicker Now.”). The aftermath of divorce can be seen in other photographs from Frank’s collection such as Casino – Elko, Nevada. The women who were forced to move to Nevada in order to get a divorce were often times seen casinos after their divorce where they were gambling and drinking. This shows the shift from the idea of motherhood and the American Dream, to a rebellious and nontraditional lifestyle. The young couple in this photograph ironically chose to get married in the City Hall in Reno, Nevada. City Hall is one of the same places where thousands of people would go get divorces throughout the year.  While the couple may seem content and hopeful about their future, Robert Frank chooses this ironic situation to show that the look of hope and feeling of bliss you experience when you first get married is fleeting. The look of hope only lasts for so long.”

Extract from Caroline M. “The Simplicity of Marriage,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'Bar, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bar, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Convention hall, Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Convention hall, Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Department store, Lincoln, Nebraska' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Department store, Lincoln, Nebraska
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'En route from New York to Washington, Club Car' 1954

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
En route from New York to Washington, Club Car
1954
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Luncheonette, Butte, Montana' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Luncheonette, Butte, Montana
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Motorama, Los Angeles' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Motorama, Los Angeles
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Picnic ground, Glendale, California' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Picnic ground, Glendale, California
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Public park - Ann Arbor, Michigan' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Public park – Ann Arbor, Michigan
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Public park, Cleveland, Ohio' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Public park, Cleveland, Ohio
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Restaurant, US 1 leaving Columbia, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Restaurant, US 1 leaving Columbia, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Santa Fe, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'St. Petersburg, Florida' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
St. Petersburg, Florida
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Store Window, Washington DC' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Store Window, Washington DC
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Television studio, Burbank, California' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Television studio, Burbank, California
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'US 30 between Ogallala and North Platte, Nebraska' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
US 30 between Ogallala and North Platte, Nebraska
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Yale Commencement - New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Yale Commencement – New Haven Green, New Haven, Connecticut
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Yom Kippur - East River, New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Yom Kippur – East River, New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

“Glancing at the photograph Yom Kippur, East River, New York City, one might not pay it much attention. However at a longer glance the picture becomes intriguing. The thing that draws interest is why would anyone take a picture of the back of people’s heads? All that can be seen in the photo is the river, a little boy wearing a Yakama, and a man in a grey suit wearing a hat. There are about four other men, wearing black, out of focus to the left, all with their backs turned as well. That’s it. There is really nothing else to the picture. It almost seems like an amateur photograph. However with a little background knowledge, it is clear that Robert Frank knew exactly what he was doing when he took this photo, and created an image that would spark the realizations of oppression and discrimination…

Jewish immigration was not something that was unfamiliar to Americans, however the immigration that occurred after the Second Great War was different. “Once the United States entered World War II, the State Department practiced stricter immigration policies out of fear that refugees could be blackmailed into working as agents for Germany” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). For these reasons and several others, the American public opinion was very confused about Jewish Immigrants, even after America opened its doors for them to enter the country after the war. This led to Jewish people feeling excluded, and extremely misunderstood expanding throughout the rest of the century. By looking at the photo that captured, the viewer can sense the feeling of discrimination and vulnerability from the subjects of the photo. The photo reflects this because they all have their back turned towards the camera, most of them are looking down, and they all just seem very alone. The angle of the photograph is inferring that the Jewish people were not particularly welcomed or understood in American society.

This photo displays a very powerful message of discrimination towards a group of people who were just trying to get by during this time period. This photo perfectly correlates with the rest of Robert Frank’s The Americans as it hold the same themes of corruption in American society as the rest of the photos do. Robert Frank’s Jewish background gave him the knowledge he needed, while the sufferings and oppression his people went through gave him a view that was able to let Frank see the perfect opportunity to capture this beautiful moment.”

Extract from “Post WWII Jewish Immigrants: Discrimination in America,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'Indianapolis' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Indianapolis
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Rodeo, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Rodeo, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Covered car, Long Beach, California' 1955-1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Covered car, Long Beach, California
1955-1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'St Francis, gas station and City Hall, Los Angeles' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
St Francis, gas station and City Hall, Los Angeles
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank (2005)

 

Robert Frank. 'Drugstore, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Drugstore, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank’s collection, The Americans, was an exploration of the “underlying racism, isolation, and conformity” throughout the culture of the 1950s (Tannenbaum). While traveling the country, Frank photographed an average drug store lunch counter in the Detroit, Michigan, which intrinsically displays these major themes that he had wanted to portray to Americans. In Drug store – Detroit, Frank shows the public a more realistic view of society during this time period. He displays the issues of segregation and discrimination in a way that could no longer be avoided by society. This issue of segregation created isolation among Americans by splitting them into groups of racial differences and difference in beliefs about discrimination. These disputes also played a huge role in the conformist society highly associated with the 1950s by creating clear-cut social rules for a segregated society. Frank presented these ideas about racism, segregation, and isolation to Americans in a way they had never seen before. The documenting of these issues in Drug store – Detroit helped spark that changes that were reflected in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s…>

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas unanimously ruled the “separate but equal” unconstitutional, producing the most significant legal development in American civil rights since 1896 (Schwartz). This decision alone created a stronger resistance against desegregation among the public than ever before (Schwartz). Other events, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Martin Luther King Jr. and the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Civil Rights Act of 1957 piled onto the tension of this decision (Vox). Violence eventually broke out between the black and white communities, and a crisis was emerging that Americans could no longer ignore (Schwartz). Drug store – Detroit clearly represents the tension among the people during this time period. The all white men at the counter are definably separated from the black women working and serving them. The men at the counter and the women working are not interacting, also creating a divided between them, and mirroring the reality of the 1950s. The men sitting at the counter are conforming to this segregated society, and none of them look like they are willing to break the unspoken social rules. Almost all of the men at the counter have intense, distant looks on their faces. They are disconnected with the world around them, disconnected with each other. None of them are speaking. They have fell into the isolationist culture created from their segregated society. Many of the men looked distressed and irritated, almost like the tensions growing within their once seemingly flawless culture have taken a toll on them. The racial tensions of the 1950s were growing, becoming a greater part of society against the desire of Americans. It was one of the largest domestic issues they were faced with after World War II, crushing the world they had worked so hard to maintain (Day 120).”

Extract from “The Influence on the Civil Rights Movement,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'U.S. 285, New Mexico' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
U.S. 285, New Mexico
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Political Rally, Chicago' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Political Rally, Chicago
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Assembly Plant, Ford, Detroit' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Assembly Plant, Ford, Detroit
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Ford River Rouge Plant' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Ford River Rouge Plant
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Crosses on Scene of Highway Accident - U.S. 91, Idaho' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Crosses on Scene of Highway Accident – U.S. 91, Idaho
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Hoover dam, Nevada' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Hoover dam, Nevada
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Newburgh, NY' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Newburgh, NY
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Los Angeles' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Los Angeles
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Movie premiere, Hollywood' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Movie premiere, Hollywood
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Rodeo, New York City' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Rodeo, New York City
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

“When thinking of the romanticized American Cowboy, one often pictures the gallon hat wearing lone ranger whose primary objective is to kill the baddies and live a life of solidarity with his trusty steed. In Robert Frank’s collection The Americans, Rodeo, New York City is representative of the idea of the aggrandized American cowboy. His face hidden allows viewers to place themselves in his shoes and become the irresistible John Wayne character that lives a life of commendable seclusion while working with the elusive Native American who barely speaks (but serves as a trusty sidekick) to bust outlaws. Unlike the Bonanza cowboy, however, Robert Frank captures the image of an actual cowboy – a lanky man wearing a gaudy hat and belt buckle, a plaid shirt tucked into well worn jeans tucked into signature cowboy boots. Instead of gazing at the horizon on the open range, he is seen lounging in the city. The legendary American cowboy is clearly indicative of American nationalism, but importantly represented the idea of the individual – rules or authority did not restrain the cowboy – he could simply ride his horse away from all responsibility. The cowboy was not only an image that was emulated by the public, but also beheld by some as what was wrong with society…

For some, the image of the cowboy was not a heroic fictive character. People like Sherman Alexie, a well-known Native American writer who grew up watching as his people were turned into brutish, barely human entities on television, provide different perspectives on the what it mean to be an “American cowboy.” For people of color watching Western shows, which were extremely popular in the 1950s, the cowboy character was the only “good guy.” … Turning Native Americans into negatively portrayed characters only further perpetuated the racialized persecution present during the 1950s – all people of color were stripped of basic humanity and turned into social deviants.

This photo, taken in the 1950s, was captured during a time in which America was front and center of the “world stage… the country had emerged victorious from World War II, saving the world for democracy” (Rodeo, New York City). The idea of independence is inherent to American nationalism – there is a sense of national pride that the government doesn’t have full control over everyday life. Instead, the nation could place more focus on the greater task at hand: becoming “heroes” saving other countries in “distress” and punishing bureaucratic deviants – embodying the cowboy image of “true justice.” Not only is the cowboy indicative of nationalism, but also America’s growing individualistic society. The longing for individual autonomy is so great that the romanticized cowboy, who is one with nature; far from government created social constraints and industrialization, was created.”

Extract from “A History of the American Cowboy,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Georgetown, South Carolina' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Georgetown, South Carolina
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Rooming house, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Rooming house, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Savannah, Georgia' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Savannah, Georgia
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Navy Recruiting Station, Post Office - Butte, Montana' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Navy Recruiting Station, Post Office – Butte, Montana
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, New York City' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, New York City
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Chicago' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Chicago
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Chinese cemetery, San Francisco' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Chinese cemetery, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Factory, Detroit' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Factory, Detroit
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Hotel lobby, Miami Beach' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Hotel lobby, Miami Beach
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Jehovah's Witness, Los Angeles' 1955

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Jehovah’s Witness, Los Angeles
1955
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Cafeteria, San Francisco' 1956

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Cafeteria, San Francisco
1956
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Charity Ball, New York City' 1955–56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Charity Ball, New York City
1955–56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'Casino, Elko, Nevada' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Casino, Elko, Nevada
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

“”American sexuality”, as Alfred Kinsey refers to it, was widely more ambitious and active during the 1950’s than most American citizens believed (Brown and Fee). In this photograph, the woman is overtly portrayed as a sexual icon through the use of a heavy and penetrating light from above. Frank included the illumination from this light methodically in order to show the importance of the sexual image that the woman represents. This sexual image is enforced further through the non-illumination of the surrounding men, who are used by Frank as a means of expressing the woman’s control over her environment. In the years before Frank’s photographs, American society would have strictly seen the woman in this image as inferior and lewd due to her sexual promiscuity. However, additions to American sex culture such as Playboy magazine and the sensationalizing of Cosmopolitan allowed for a more open creation and interpretation of sexuality in America (Beekmen, Cami).

Frank’s photograph pulls heavily on the connection between gambling and sex, a connection that has become engrained in American society and culture. Gambling, an almost sexual act in and of itself, is expressed as an action for the sexually diverse and active through this photograph. Frank’s attempt at “simplifying American sex culture” and keeping it from “confounding with other American ideals” shows through the nature of this photograph (Tucker, Anne). Gambling and sex were intertwined ideals in the 1950’s to the extent where they were often found in conjunction with each other. Frank was able to present both ideals in one photograph and allow them to enforce the prevalence of the other without confounding and obscuring the true meaning of each.”

Extract from “Through the Lens of Robert Frank: Sex Culture in a Post-War America,” in Robert Frank’s The Americans exhibition catalogue. Ackland Museum, Spring 2014

 

Robert Frank. 'US 90 on route to Del Rio, Texas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
US 90 on route to Del Rio, Texas
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Courthouse square, Elizabethville, North Carolina' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Courthouse square, Elizabethville, North Carolina
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank. 'Bank - Houston, Texas' 1955-56

 

Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Bank – Houston, Texas
1955-56
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘The Songs of Eternity’ 1994

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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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