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Exhibition: ‘Lewis Baltz: Prototypes/Ronde de Nuit’ at The Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates: 25th September, 2010 – 9th January, 2011

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“Baltz’s compositions appear to have been arranged, almost as a Braque still-life is ‘arranged’. Many of these photographs have the sense of a precisely constructed occasion, as if Baltz had built his subject matter before photographing it. This unity of subject and author is a characteristic of many fine photographs, but Baltz brings to this problem a narrow, powerful eye which is blindingly frontal and meticulous about detail.”1

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

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Lewis Baltz (American, born 1945)
‘Newport Beach’
1970
Gelatin silver print
© Lewis Baltz

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Lewis Baltz (American, born 1945)
‘Mission Viejo’
1968
Gelatin silver print
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Lewis Baltz, 1972.219
© Lewis Baltz

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Lewis Baltz (American, born 1945)
‘Laguna Niguel’
1970
Gelatin silver print
Laguna Art Museum Collection, Anonymous gift, in memory of Beula Prince
© Lewis Baltz

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Lewis Baltz (American, born 1945)
‘New Monterey’
1968
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund 2001
© Lewis Baltz

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“Lewis Baltz (b.1945) is one of the most prominent representatives of the “New Topographics” movement, which changed the direction of American photography in the 1970s and has had a formative impact on every generation since. However, Baltz’s innovations began already in the 1960s. The Art Institute of Chicago has organized the first survey ever of Lewis Baltz’s inaugural body of work, the Prototypes (c. 1967-1973). The exhibition also puts on view for the first time in 12 years Ronde de Nuit, a monumental work of the early 1990s. Lewis Baltz: Prototypes/Ronde de Nuit – on view in the Modern Wing’s Bucksbaum Gallery (G188) from September 25, 2010 through January 9, 2011 – features 42 Prototype works, including several that have never before been published or exhibited. This is Baltz’s first solo exhibition in the United States in more than a decade.

Beginning in 1965, but especially from 1967 to 1973, Lewis Baltz made a body of work that concentrated on the dialectic between simple, regular geometric forms found in the postwar industrial landscape and the far from simple culture that generated such forms, or was conditioned by them. Stucco walls, parking lots, the sides of warehouse sheds, or disused billboards baked in the steady Californian sunlight – these and other “hyper-banal” subjects were printed in blacks and whites of a breathtaking tonal evenness. Baltz called his works “Prototypes,” by which he meant replicable social conventions as well as model structures of replicable manufacture. The fraught relation of neutral form to highly charged content plays itself out on the emphatically planar surface of these prints, objects that exude magnificence and severity simultaneously. Never before shown together as a group, the Prototypes are revealed in this exhibition as model creations for their time and ours. They are among the earliest artworks to show the fascinating, disturbing transformation of the American landscape into an unending terrain of anonymous commercial architecture as well among the first photographs to seek the starkly reductive forms of minimal and post-minimal art “out in the world.”

In 1971, upon seeing the Prototypes, gallery owner Leo Castelli immediately agreed to exhibit Baltz’s photographs, and he remained Baltz’s American representative until the artist relocated to Europe nearly 20 years later. Included in the presentation of Lewis Baltz: Prototypes/Ronde de Nuit is a monumental sculpture by Sol LeWitt from the Art Institute’s permanent collection and a nine-foot oilstick drawing by Richard Serra – two artists also featured at Castelli, and whose work the young Baltz greatly admired. Bringing together these three artists for the first time, the exhibition shows the affinities and analogies that developed across media around 1970, when photography first moved to the center of concerns in contemporary art.

Augmenting Lewis Baltz: Prototypes/Ronde de Nuit is a piece made by Baltz in 1992, initially for an exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris. Measuring 35 feet across by 7 feet tall, and printed on aluminum-mounted cibachrome panels, Ronde de Nuit is as far in scale and appearance as one could get from the Prototypes. Yet across the manifest differences, this mural-size work maintains underlying continuities in the artist’s preoccupations. Baltz remains substantially concerned over the cancerous spread of our industrially manufactured habitat and how the elements of manufacture can be used to standardize and restrict the inhabitants–ourselves. Ronde de Nuit consists of 12 separate photographs, taken at a police surveillance station in northern France, to form a panoptic tableau of voyeurism and control. Some photographs are enlargements of closed-circuit screen images; others show mainframe computers, cable conduits, and other equipment in the bowels of the police station. The resulting composition merges Rembrandt with Piranesi in the digital age. Its effect on viewers is magnetic, moving, and uncanny.”

Press release from The Art Institute of Chicago website

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Lewis Baltz (American, born 1945)
‘Santa Cruz’
1970
Gelatin silver print
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Lewis Baltz, 1972.221
© Lewis Baltz

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Lewis Baltz (American, born 1945)
‘Corona Del Mar’
1971
Gelatin silver print
The Art Institute of Chicago, Mary and Leigh Block Fund, 2009.643
© Lewis Baltz

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Lewis Baltz (American, born 1945)
‘Morgan Hill’
1968
Gelatin silver print
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Lewis Baltz, 1972.220
© Lewis Baltz

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Lewis Baltz (American, born 1945)
‘Monterey’
1967
Gelatin silver print
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Lewis Baltz, 1972.218
© Lewis Baltz

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1. Anon. “Lewis Baltz,” on American Suburb X website [Online] Cited 12/11/2010.
www.americansuburbx.com/2010/08/lewis-baltz-lewis-baltz-1979.html

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

Opening hours:
Monday–Wednesday, 10:30–5:00
Thursday, 10:30–8:00 (Free Admission 5:00–8:00, member-only access to Matisse)
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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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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