20
Jan
13

Review: ‘Ingeborg Tyssen: photographs’ at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2012 – 3rd February 2013

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“Tysenn clearly felt a deep sense of dislocation from her country of birth, its national identity and cultural conventions. It was apparent in her ongoing explorations of the Australian landscape that on her arrival she had met with more than just an initial linguistic barrier, and there were also barriers to understanding the Australian landscape which was so far and different to European forests and Dutch tales and legends about them that she grew up with.”

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Essay “Remembering Ingeborg” by Sandra Byron

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“Tyssen’s people are not known to her, rather are studies of anonymous people: in action, in the city, at a fairground. The People series – City Light 1977 images reveal a sense of isolation in a crowd. People emerging from the dark shadows of the same station/ mall and march into the sunlight. They are expressionless, uncommunicative, isolated, yet display a keen sense of self and appearance. Mostly minding their own business, doing their own thing, they seem undisturbed by the female photographer standing nearby. She must not have been intrusive or demanding, just there with her camera at the ready.”

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Fiona McIntosh on the art out there blog 2012

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Untitled
1977
from the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program  2003

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Untitled
1977
from the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program  2003

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Untitled
1977
from the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program  2003

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Untitled
1977
from the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program  2003

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Untitled
1977
from the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program  2003

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from the series 'People' 1977

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Untitled
1977
from the People series
Gelatin silver print
Image size 20.1 x 25.2 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
Donated by Janice Hinderaker through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program  2003

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Garry Winogrand. 'Untitled' from Women are Beautiful' Nd/1981

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Garry Winogrand
Untitled
Nd (1960s)/published 1981
From the portfolio Women are Beautiful
Silver gelatin print

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Harry Callahan. 'Chicago' 1961

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Harry Callahan
Chicago
1961
Gelatin silver print overall (image): 40.6 x 27.1 cm (16 x 10 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Callahan Family
© Estate of Harry Callahan, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

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“Ingeborg Tyssen was one of the great Australian photographers of her generation.” (Press release)

“Ingeborg Tysenn was one of Australia’s most important post war artists.”
(Essay “Remembering Ingeborg” by Sandra Byron)

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This is a very disappointing exhibition of the work of Australian photographer Ingeborg Tyssen at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne encumbered as it is by the above two statements. On the evidence of the work presented neither statement is true. Whoever is pushing this barrow (and it is a large barrow to push) should really stop and have a damn good look at the work to see whether it is worthy of such claims and what they hope to achieve by promoting such statements. If they really looked objectively they would see that the art just is, and nothing more.

Being a cultural commentator means that you have to form an opinion on the work presented. For me this involves the eye (what the work looks like), the head (undertaking research into the artist) and the heart (how I feel about the work). Then and only then can you make an informed decision on the merits of the work. With Tyssen’s work there were four standout photographs in the exhibition (people in a swimming pool taken in the Modernist style, part of the 1981 Ryde Pool, Sydney series, none of which I can show you in this posting) and the rest of the photographs were serviceable but derivative of other artists.

Tyssen was born in The Netherlands and arrived here when she was 12 years old. Her photographs show a European and Australian sensibility, a dislocation from but also an attraction toward both her native country and her adopted country Australia. Her photographs can be divided into various styles: early documentary street photography (the People series, 1977), Modernist photography (Ryde Pool, Sydney series, 1981 and From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road series, 1982-84), New Topographics photography (Billboards and Trees series, 1981-82) and Romantic photography (The voice of silence series 1991-92). Unfortunately, Tyssen never seems to have developed a voice of her own, a signature style that you could say was unique to her own art practice. So many of these photographs are derivative of other photographers who have already invented and mastered that style that nothing seems to belong to Tyssen herself. She seems to have been enamoured of style after style.

In the high contrast, small scale People series (1977, above) the animals are particularly unapproachable. While exhibiting a sense of Australian light and an intimation of Australia’s white only policy – there is a specific Australian-ness in the people she has chosen and the atmosphere of Whitlam / post Whitlam remaking of the Australian identity; even the lady with the European aura knows she is in Australia, perhaps she even knows she is in the Australian light – these are hard images to engage with emotionally, unlike the psychological works of Harry Callahan and Garry Winogrand. Problematically, the Billboards and Trees series (both 1981-82, below) are so redolent of American photography (both in physical dis/location and surface remarks) that I felt I had seen it all before and done better. In these series Australia morphs into America and not in a good way; I did not find the artist’s purported wit and humour any help either. In the panoramic series From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road (1982-84, below) Tyssen comes closest to capturing the intensity of the Australian landscape only to be let down by a) the quality of the prints and b) the fact that the title is a coat hanger, allowing the artist to hang disparate images together that really have no relationship to each other – an overall lumping together concept. The prints themselves do nothing to support the work, being sometimes too pale and insignificant to hold the image, too flat. Playing with the print and its tonal range and surface qualities does little to help an overall vision of the work or help the viewer engage with the content.

In my notes I wrote in capital letters: THEY DON’T ENGAGE ME!
In other words, there was nothing that held my attention image after image, time after time.

Tyssen seems to have known her limitations as well. She just wanted to be a photographer and kept persevering at her art. At their best Tyssen’s photographs lie somewhere between Kertesz and Cartier-Bresson without the decisive moment (look at the photograph Taronga Zoo, Sydney, 1974 below and you will understand what I mean). The weakness of her images was really brought home to me when, in a small gallery off to the side of the main space, there in all its glory was one of the iconic images of a generation – Vale Street (1975) by Carol Jerrems. This one image, one image, had more power over me, more feeling, more beauty than all of Tyssen’s images put together. People really do need to stop making grandiose statements about the work of artists and let the viewer just look clearly at the art. That way there is little expectation, the work will be taken on its merits, and everyone may be quietly surprised at the outcome.

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. Download the essay by Sandra Byron, “Remembering Ingeborg: A personal appreciation of the life and work of Ingeborg Tyssen” (2.24Mb pdf)

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Perisher Valley, NSW' from the series 'From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road' series 1984

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Perisher Valley, NSW
1984
From the series From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road 1982-84
Silver gelatin print

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Perisher Valley No 6, NSW' 1984

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Perisher Valley No 6, NSW
1984
From the series From the heart of the forest to the edge of the road 1982-84
Gelatin silver print
14.5 x 35.7cm
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1989
© Ingeborg Tyssen, 1984. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen
Courtesy John Williams & Sandra Byron Gallery

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Ingeborg TYSSEN. '
Royal Easter Show, Sydney' 1982

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Ingeborg Tyssen

Royal Easter Show, Sydney
1982
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Untitled' from 'The voice of silence' series 1991-1992

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Untitled
1991-1992
from The voice of silence series 1991-92
Gelatin silver print

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Ingeborg TYSSEN. 'Taronga Zoo, Sydney' 1974

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Taronga Zoo, Sydney
1974
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Royal Easter Show, Sydney' 1979

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Royal Easter Show, Sydney
1979
Silver gelatin print
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen

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“Ingeborg Tyssen (1945-2002) was one of the great Australian photographers of her generation. Although generally overlooked by critics during her lifetime in favour of many of her male counterparts, Tyssen left us a remarkable body of work. Ingeborg Tyssen: photographs is the first museum retrospective of her work in Victoria, and the first major exhibition since her memorial show was held at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2002.

This exhibition provides a great opportunity for audiences to view the work of this major figure. Spanning 20 years of creative output from 1974-94, Ingeborg Tyssen: photographs shows Tyssen as a highly original observer of modern life. Her candid photographs of pedestrians in city streets, young kids playing in suburban swimming pools, and images of the Australian and American landscape reveal an artist whose concerns were at the forefront of Australian photographic practice.

MGA Gallery Director Shaune Lakin states, “Tyssen’s story is one of the great stories of Australian photography. Her arrival in Australia at the age of 12 as an immigrant from her native Holland and her struggle with displacement and new language and landscape is one that many Australians are familiar with. Being one of Australia’s first street photographers, she made a significant contribution to the history of Australian photography. Her experience of migration gave Tyssen a rare ability to observe people in their environment. Her earliest photographs, taken in the city streets, fun parks, and suburbs of 1970s were acute depictions of the urban isolation she felt in her new homeland. Her experience and pictures certainly remain relevant to contemporary Australia.”

In 1995 the Art Gallery of New South Wales presented a mid-career survey of her work and she continued to exhibit in commercial galleries and museums in Australia and abroad until she died as a result of a motor accident in 2002. In her obituary, critic Robert McFarlane wrote: “With Tyssen’s death, Australia has lost one of the most talented photographers from the postwar generation…The originality and lack of ego in these images will ensure their enduring place in the history of the medium.”

Tyssen studied photography under John Williams, who became her husband. She was a co-founder of the Photographers Gallery in South Yarra in 1975.

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art website

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Ryde Pool, Sydney' 1981

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Ingeborg Tyssen

Untitled
1981
From the series Ryde Pool, Sydney
Ink-jet print
Collection of the Estate of Ingeborg Tyssen

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Pyrmont, Sydney' 1982

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Pyrmont, Sydney
1982
From the series Billboards 1981-82
Silver gelatin print

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Ingeborg Tyssen. 'Annandale, Sydney' 1981

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Ingeborg Tyssen
Annandale, Sydney
1981
From the series Trees 1981-82
Silver gelatin print

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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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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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