20
Mar
12

Exhibition: ‘Made in America 1900-1950. Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada’, Ottawa, Ontario

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2011 – 1st April 2012

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Stunning photographs in this posting: Steichen’s
 Nocturne – Orangery Staircase, Versailles (1908) is just sublime; Sheeler’s Side of a White Barn (1917) is early Modernist perfection, rivalling Paul Strand’s The White Fence, Port Kent (1916); Barbara Morgan’s photograph of dancer Martha Graham (1940) portraying, radiantly, her divine dissatisfaction; and the most beautiful portrait by Imogen Cunningham of Frida Kahlo (1931). Every time I see this portrait I nearly burst into tears – the light falling from the right and from the left onto the boards behind her, the texture of her cloak, the languorous nature of her hands, her absolute poise and beauty – looking straight into the camera, looking straight into your soul. What a beautiful women, such strength and vulnerability. A stunning photograph of an amazing women. The photograph just takes your breath away…

Many thankx to the National Gallery of Canada 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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Edward Steichen

Nocturne – Orangery Staircase, Versailles
1908
Purchased 1976
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

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Arthur Leipzig

Opening Night at the Opera, New York
1945
Gelatin silver print
27 x 34.1 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
© Arthur Leipzig/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

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Charles Sheeler
Side of a White Barn
1917
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8 in.

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“Lines and texture define this view of the side of a white barn. In the photographic rendering, the white barn is a soft gray, punctuated by knots in the wood and shadows cast by the uneven boards. In the lower right corner of the image, a small window, a fence, and a chicken standing atop a pile of hay add visual weight yet surrender to the repetitive, vertical domination of the structure. Like every other line, the horizontal line dividing the areas of wood and plaster is drawn without a straight edge.”
 Text from the Getty Museum website

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Alfred Steiglitz
The Steerage
1907

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Walker Evans
Corner of State and Randolph Streets, Chicago
c.1946 – 1947
Gelatin silver print
27.7 x 32.3 cm; image: 26.1 x 25 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Gift of Benjamin Greenberg, Ottawa, 1981
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Barbara Morgan

Martha Graham, Letter to the World, “Kick”
1940, printed c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
38.6 x 48.2 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

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“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.  And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.  You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.  Keep the channel open… No artist is pleased…  There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” 

Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

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“In the first five decades of the 20th century photography came into its own – both as an art form and as a tool to document social and political change. American photographers were exploring both the poetic and transformative expressiveness of the medium, as well as recording the growth and change of the country in its various phases of industrial development. On view until April 1, 2012, Made in America 1900-1950: Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada looks at both approaches, and the divisions between the two, as they are necessarily porous and somewhat arbitrary.

“The Gallery’s collection is so rich in 20th century American photographs that it needs an exhibition in two parts and a catalogue in two volumes. This first presentation focuses on the period between 1900 and 1950,” noted NGC director Marc Mayer. “This comprehensive collection has been amassed in large part through the generosity of brilliant collectors.”

“Each of [the decades] is characterized by tremendous growth, change, and creative thought about the medium and its reception in the United States,” noted curator Ann Thomas in the catalogue, American Photographs 1900-1950.

It was a period of great technical and technological change: such as the introduction of the personal 35mm camera in the early 1920s, following the German model developed by Leica, and Ansel Adams’ and Fred Archer’s creation of the zone system to determine optimal film exposure and development.

Composed of over 130 photographs, two issues of Camera Work, one issue of Manuscripts, and several period cameras, the exhibition Made in America celebrates the exceptional contribution that American photographers made to the history of art in the 20th century. Made been 1900-1950, these photographs represent an extraordinarily fertile period in the evolution of photography. They include stunning works by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Clarence White, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Lisette Model, Weegee, and members of New York’s Photo League.

Made in America is the fourth in a series of exhibitions and catalogues presenting the Gallery’s outstanding collection of international photographs. It follows Modernist Photographs (2007), 19th Century French Photographs (2010), and 19th Century British Photographs (2011).

Made in America 1900-1950: Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada explores a dynamic period in the history of photography when the medium was emerging as both an art form and a tool for documenting social change. Presenting 134 works from the National Gallery’s extraordinary collection of American photographs, this exhibition chronicles the evolution of the medium, beginning with Pictorialism and moving through modernism, straight photography and documentary work. On the walls are some truly magnificent, iconic works by the most influential photographers, among them Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage, Edward Steichen’s Nocturne – Orangerie Staircase, Versailles, Ansel Adams’ Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico and Barbara Morgan’s Martha Graham, Letter to the World (Kick).

At the turn of the 20th century, American photographers were fully engaged in the Pictorialist aesthetic, creating pastoral landscapes, foggy street scenes and idealized portraits of women and children. With their soft focus and gentle lighting, the images convey a romantic moodiness. Pictorialist photographers often manipulated their negatives and prints to achieve painterly effects. Gertrude Käsebier’s Serbonne, for instance, is reminiscent of an Impressionist painting.

Around the mid-teens, artists such as Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Walker Evans came to reject the notion of photography imitating painting, and instead sought to take advantage of the medium’s inherent, unique characteristics, especially its ability to achieve sharp definition, even lighting and smooth surfaces. The result was ground-breaking modernist work such as Stieglitz’s Equivalent series, Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Vortograph and Charles Sheeler’s Side of White Barn.

Out on the west coast in the early 1930s, Group f.64 was committed to the ideal of pure, un-manipulated, or “straight” photography. Edward Weston’s nudes and juniper trees, and Imogen Cunningham’s portrait of Frida Kahlo demonstrate the hallmarks of f.64: crisp detail, sharp focus, and often a sensual minimalism.

The first decades of the 20th century also provided rich subject matter for documentary photographers, as social and economic changes dramatically transformed daily life. Lewis Hine’s photographs of immigrants and child labourers tell fascinating stories, as do images of the Depression by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. The Photo League sent its members out into New York’s streets to capture ordinary people on film. Helen Levitt, Jerome Liebling and Sol Libsohn chronicled small dramas unfolding on sidewalks.

Visitors familiar with Ansel Adams’ grand, sublime landscapes might be surprised by his more contemplative series of foaming Pacific waves, titled Surf Sequence. Sharing the gallery space is Minor White’s poetic series Song Without Words, made along the same coast. Both demonstrate an almost cinematic approach to photograph-making and plunge the viewer into seaside reverie.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Canada website

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Alvin Coburn
Vortograph
1917
Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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Gertrude Kasebier (American, 1852 – 1934)
Serbonne
1902, printed 1903
from Camera Work, January 1903
Gum bichromate, halftone
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

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Imogen Cunningham
Frida Kahlo
1931
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

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Ralph Steiner

Model T
1929, printed later
Gelatin silver print
25 x 20 cm; image: 24.2 x 19.7 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

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Walker Evans

Citizen in Downtown Havana
1933
Gelatin silver print
25.1 x 20.1 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Gift of Phyllis Lambert, Montreal, 1982
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Drive
P.O. Box 427, Station A
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada 
K1N 9N4

Opening hours:
Daily 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday 10 am – 8 pm

1 October – 30 April
Monday closed
Tuesday – Sunday 10 am – 5pm
Thursday 10 am – 8 pm

National Gallery of Canada 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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