Archive for October, 2017

27
Oct
17

Vale William Heimerman (1950-2017)

October 2017

 

Jeff Busby. 'William Heimerman' c. 1975-80

 

Jeff Busby
William Heimerman
c. 1975-80
Silver gelatin print

 

 

William Heimerman: the essence of 344

Imagine a gallery in a land far far way, that for a period of 10 years or so brought the very best of West Coast/East Coast North American and European, mainly male fine art photography to that land for the edification of artists, students and the viewing public.

Imagine a land that had never seen many fine art prints by such luminaries as Edouard Boubat, Harry Callahan, Paul Caponigro, Larry Clark, William Clift, William Eggleston, Franco Fontana, Oliver Gagliani, Ralph Gibson, Emmet Gowin, Eikoh Hosoe, Eliot Porter, Duane Michals, Lisette Model, August Sander, Aaron Siskind, and Brett Weston before. Imagine the impact that this gallery (together with Brummels and Church Street Photographic Centre) had on the development of photography as an art form in this land during the period 1975-85.

No, this is not the internationally famous art gallery 291 that was located in Midtown Manhattan at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York City, created and managed by Alfred Stieglitz; but rather the Photographers’ Gallery located at 344 Punt Road, South Yarra, run from 1975 onwards by that dynamic duo, William (Bill) Heimerman and Ian Lobb, until Bill took over the sole running of the gallery in 1980. Such is the importance of this gallery to the history and development of art photography in that far away land, Australia, that the number 344 should be enshrined in the legend that this gallery has become during this time period. As Ian Lobb has observed, “The initial philosophy was simply to let people see the physical difference between the production of prints overseas and locally. After a while this moved from the Fine Print to other concerns both aesthetic and conceptual.”

Personally, I cannot speak of the early years at the gallery, for I only arrived in Australia in 1986… but I have done enough research to know of the incredible impact that the exhibitions and workshops at the gallery had on the photographic community in Australia at the time. The gallery was run on a shoe-string budget and never made any money, but both Bill and Ian were so passionate about the endeavour, about what they were trying to achieve – that there was an absolute integrity to their mission, undertaken with so much knowledge and insight into photography, art, and life, that drew people to them and to the gallery. There was so much energy and fun, that was the critical thing fun, to be had at the gallery.

I will be forever grateful to William Heimerman. Bill was the first person to give me a solo exhibition at a commercial gallery in 1992, during the second year of my Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art Photography) at what was then Phillip Institute out at Bundoora. Incidentally, Ian Lobb was one my lecturers out at Bundoora. I was only just finding my way as an artist producing classical black and white fine art photographs, a wet behind the ears 34 year old at the beginning of his path, following his dream as an artist. Two other solo exhibitions followed in 1993 (black and white) and 1995 (colour, conceptual Master of Arts exhibition). I also co-curated with Bill, John Cato’s retrospective, ‘…and his forms were without number’ at The Photographers’ Gallery in 2002. What an enlightening experience that was. I vividly remember getting an absolutely terrible review of one of my first two exhibitions at the Gallery by a now well known academic in one of the only two big newspapers in Melbourne, the Herald Sun, and being absolutely distraught upon reading it. It was soul destroying. Bill sat me down and, in that laid-back Wisconsin accent, comforted me and told me it was ok, that I should not give up, but I should keep on doing what I was doing, and that everything would be ok. To follow my path no matter what. I’ll never forget Bill’s kindness in that moment of despair, his compassion and honest forthrightness with advice. It bring tears to my ears even now. 25 years later I am still an artist, and I am still in love with photography.

Bill was handsome, charming, urbane, erudite, witty, and above all, fun. I remember the openings we had at the gallery, the glasses of wine out the back in the garden with Bill and friends; the long talks in the back space of the gallery about art and photography. I have a photograph, a Polaroid of me in a satin yellow shirt with Bill in the background smiling, at one of the openings… but blow if I can find it at the moment. That was Bill, enjoying the sunshine, the art, the education, the friends and the fun.

While the gallery never really made any money during the early period – and while their was a feminist reaction during the 1970s “against the technocratic and patriarchal American West Coast ‘fine print’ tradition then being promoted by the Photographers’ Gallery” – one can never underestimate or demean the achievement of Bill (and Ian) in bringing to Australia the work of such notable artists. Geoff Strong, writing the catalogue essay “The Melbourne Movement: Fashion and Faction in the Seventies” for the exhibition The Thousand Mile Stare at the Victorian Centre for Photography in 1988, likened Bill and Ian to a “pair of blinkered bulldozers” in their promotion of the gallery’s programme, proposing that Carol Jerrems was of another stream, people who wanted to change the world in the great tradition of the European avant-garde movements of the 1920s.

But here we have photographs of Jerrems by Bill and Bill by Jerrems (how strange to see them both looking through the camera lens at each other); and we have wonderful photographs of Bill and Ian taken by Jerrems, with their 35mm and Rollei SL66 cameras sitting behind them at the Dog Rocks near Geelong. This is what it was about: exploration, passion, photography, friendship, and fun. The Photographers’ Gallery did change the photographic art world in Australia as people knew it through the charisma and hard work of two men. As Ian said at the recent gathering for Bill, ‘Ralph Gibson said to us, “what am I doing here with you guys in Melbourne, Australia – they want me in Berlin and Tokyo, yet I’m here with you!”‘

To Bill I say, thank you for the memories, for your advice, for your friendship and above all, for your unblinking passion and commitment to photography and art. An exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery was an honour. You can look back on those comments by Geoff Strong as a badge of courage, and with pride … because you had the foresight to go out there and get the job done. And for that vision Bill, you will forever be remembered in the annals of the history of photography in Australia. Respect.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © the artist

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Ayer's Dog Rock [Bill Heimerman looking through his Rolleiflex]' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems
Ayer’s Dog Rock [Bill Heimerman looking through his Rolleiflex]
1975
Silver gelatin print
(Digital clean by Marcus Bunyan)

 

William Heimerman. 'Untitled [Carol Jerrems looking through her camera, Dog Rocks near Geelong]' c. 1975-80

 

William Heimerman
Untitled [Carol Jerrems looking through her camera, Dog Rocks near Geelong]
c. 1975
Silver gelatin print

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Untitled [Bill Heimerman and Ian Lobb at the Dog Rocks near Geelong]' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems
Untitled [Bill Heimerman and Ian Lobb at the Dog Rocks near Geelong]
1975
Silver gelatin print
(Digital clean by Marcus Bunyan)

 

Carol Jerrems. 'Untitled [Bill Heimerman and Ian Lobb at the Dog Rocks near Geelong]' 1975

 

Carol Jerrems
Untitled [Bill Heimerman and Ian Lobb at the Dog Rocks near Geelong]
1975
Silver gelatin print
(Digital clean by Marcus Bunyan)

 

 

William Heimerman 1950-2017

William Heimerman, who has died aged 67, was the long-term director of the Photographers’ Gallery and Workshop in South Yarra where museum quality exhibitions were held from the mid 1970’s. The Photographers’ Gallery, was established in 1973 by Rod McNicol, Paul Cox, and John Williams, then sold to photographer Ian Lobb who convinced William to assist in running the gallery, from that point known as the Photographers’ Gallery & Workshop. They set out on a journey to exhibit Australian and international photographic work of the highest quality. After a few years of co-directorship, from 1977 until 2015 William was the sole director energetically seeking out the finest work from Australia, the USA, and Europe.

Many renowned photographers have had solo or group exhibitions at the Gallery over many years including Jennifer Aitken, Lynn Bender, Robert Besanko, Edouard Boubat, Warren Breninger, Wynn Bullock, Marcus Bunyan (3), Francis Busby (3), Jeff Busby, Harry Callahan, Paul Caponigro (2), Jack Cato, John Cato, Larry Clark, William Clift, Christine Cornish, John Divola, Rennie Ellis, William Eggleston, Franco Fontana, Oliver Gagliani, Ralph Gibson, Christine Godden, Michael Goldsmith, Emmet Gowin (2), Marion Hardman, Paul Hill, Paul Hopper, Eikoh Hosoe, Graham Howe, Carol Jerrems, Christopher Koller, Jean-Marc Le Péchoux, Peter Leiss (5+1, 2 person), Ian Lobb (2), Steven Lojewski, Rod McNicol, Duane Michaels, Lisette Model, Boone Morrison, Eliot Porter, August Sander, Aaron Siskind, Ingeborg Tyssen, Greg Wayn, Brett Weston, Konrad Winkler.

The gallery also offered workshops in all aspects of photography taught by Australian & international photographers including John Cato, William Clift, Ralph Gibson, Ian Lobb, Stephen Lojewski, and Les Walkling. At the invitation of The Photographers’ Gallery renowned photographer Harry Callahan visited Australia to present a public lecture. Tony Perry in 1980 wrote about the gallery, “Today the Photographers’ Gallery is run solely by Bill Heimerman… with an enviable record of exhibitions and workshops is seen as the premier gallery in Australia; a show there is a genuine honour.”

William Lee Heimerman was born 13th January 1950 in Appleton, Wisconsin, the son of the late Peter and Rose Heimerman. William grew up in Menasha, Wisconsin, attending St Patrick’s grade school then St Mary’s high school. During his high school years he enjoyed and excelled in all sporting activities, receiving a scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Following his undergraduate studies he secured a Master’s Degree (Cum Laude) from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. After graduating from University he taught English at Winneconne High School, Wisconsin, and coached both the football and the debate teams.

In 1974 William accepted a teaching position with the Victorian Education Department and taught English at Coburg Technical School. It was here that he met Ian Lobb and the late Carol Jerrems, both avid photographers, who initiated his interest in and appreciation of photography. William subsequently moved to Brighton Technical College where he and other staff established a photography programme.

A few years later William was teaching photography at Melbourne State College and the Council of Adult Education in Melbourne, inculcating students in the techniques of fine printing and the zone system. William was himself an accomplished photographer, producing work in abstract, portrait and landscape veins. His is art of great poetry that will be exhibited in a posthumous exhibition that is in preparation.

William passed away on October 1 at Hammond Care in Caulfield after a relatively short period of declining health. Siblings, Patricia, Jane, Jeff, Kevin, Ted, brother in law Tom, sisters in law Sarah, Diane, and Paula, many nieces and nephews, extended relatives and friends, survive him. His brother Robert preceded William in death. He will be greatly missed by lifelong friend Barbara Derrick, and the many artists and art collectors that he befriended.

Barbara, Louise and Jeff (William’s brother)

 

Peter Leiss. 'Untitled [Bill Heimerman and Ian Lobb at the rear of the Photographers' Gallery]' c. 1975-80

 

Peter Leiss
Untitled [Bill Heimerman and Ian Lobb at the rear of the Photographers’ Gallery]
c. 1975-80
Silver gelatin print

 

Jeff Busby. 'Untitled [William Heimerman and friend outside the Photographers Gallery (344)]' c. 1978

 

Jeff Busby
Untitled [William Heimerman and friend outside the Photographers’ Gallery (344)]
c. 1978
Silver gelatin print

 

Louise Bradley. Untitled [William Heimerman adjusting Robert Besanko prints in the main space of the Photographers' Gallery] c. 1975-80

 

Louise Bradley
Untitled [William Heimerman adjusting Robert Besanko prints in the main space of the Photographers’ Gallery]
c. 1975-80
Silver gelatin print
(Digital clean by Marcus Bunyan)

 

Jeff Busby. 'Untitled [Bill Heimerman and friends at the Photographers' Gallery]' c. 1975-80

 

Jeff Busby
Untitled [Bill Heimerman and friends at the Photographers’ Gallery]
c. 1975-80
Silver gelatin print

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery: A very brief history

The Photographers Gallery & Workshop was founded by Paul Cox, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F. Williams and Rod McNicoll in 1973, and the Gallery was then taken over in late 1974 by Ian Lobb, his first exhibition as director being at the beginning of 1975; Bill Heimerman joined as joint director at the beginning of 1976.

Shows of American photography became relatively commonplace in Melbourne and it was the first time Australian photographers and the general public had access to such a concentration of international photography in a variety of styles. From 1975-1981 every second exhibition at The Photographers Gallery was an international exhibition. Some of the exhibitions during this period included work by August Sander (German – arranged by Bill Heimerman), Edouard Boubat (France), Emmet Gowin (USA – twice), Paul Caponigro (USA – twice), Ralph Gibson (UK – twice, once of his colour work), William Eggelston (USA), Eliot Porter (USA), Wynn Bullock (USA), William Clift (USA), Harry Callahan (USA), Aaron Siskind (USA – twice, once with a show hung at Ohnetitel) Jerry Uelsmann (USA), Brett Weston (USA). The artists often came out to Australia, presenting a series of lectures and workshops during their exhibitions.

Very few prints were ever purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria or the National Gallery of Australia during this period, for a variety of reasons (mainly personal, financial and institutional). As Ian Lobb observes,

“The initial philosophy was simply to let people see the physical difference between the production of prints overseas and locally. After a while this moved from the Fine Print to other concerns both aesthetic and conceptual. The gallery at best, just paid for itself. During international shows the attendance at the gallery was high. During Australian shows the attendance was low.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan from the research paper Beginnings: The International Photographic Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria, May 2015

 

Exhibitors at The Photographers’ Gallery (solo exhibitions)

Jennifer Aitken, Lynn Bender, Robert Besanko, Edouard Boubat, Warren Breninger, Wynn Bullock, Marcus Bunyan (3), Francis Busby (3), Jeff Busby, Harry Callahan, Paul Caponigro (2), Jack Cato, John Cato, Larry Clark, William Clift, Christine Cornish, John Divola, Rennie Ellis, William Eggleston, Franco Fontana, Oliver Gagliani, Ralph Gibson, Christine Godden, Michael Goldsmith, Emmet Gowin (2), Marion Hardman, Paul Hill, Paul Hopper, Eikoh Hosoe, Graham Howe, Carol Jerrems, Christopher Koller, Jean-Marc Le Péchoux, Peter Leiss (5+1, 2 person), Ian Lobb (2), Steven Lojewski, Rod McNicol, Duane Michaels, Lisette Model, Boone Morrison, Eliot Porter, August Sander, Aaron Siskind, Ingeborg Tyssen, Greg Wayn, Brett Weston, Konrad Winkler.

Workshops by

Harry Callahan, William Clift, John Cato, Ralph Gibson, Ian Lobb, Stephen Lojewski, Les Walkling.

 

William Heimerman. 'Carol Jerrems' c. 1975-80

 

William Heimerman
Carol Jerrems
c. 1975-80
Silver gelatin print

 

Peter Leiss. 'William Heimerman' c. 1975-80

 

Peter Leiss
William Heimerman
c. 1975-80
Silver gelatin print

 

Peter Leiss. 'Untitled [Bill Heimerman at the Photographers' Gallery]' c. 1975-80

 

Peter Leiss
Untitled [Bill Heimerman at the Photographers’ Gallery]
c. 1975-80
Silver gelatin print

 

Peter Leiss. Untitled [Bill and Barbara]' c. 1975-80

 

Peter Leiss
Untitled [Bill and Barbara]
c. 1975-80
Silver gelatin print

 

 

The Photographers’ Gallery

The most significant time for contemporary Australian photography was the period from mid 1975 to 1977. Three singular events occurred which provided local artist/ photographers with more hope and encouragement than some thought they had any right to expect. In the latter half of 1975 Bill Heimerman and lan Lobb took over the Photographers’ Gallery in South Yarra. With a new and dynamic policy they challenged the status quo and, in time, changed the course of the previous five years.

While actively seeking new, local work they were determined the gallery would never compromise itself, and only photographs of the highest quality would be exhibited in the hope that Australian standards would be lifted to an international level. After an initial, brief flirtation with local photography it became evident that the homegrown product was noticeably shabby, and the gallery embarked on the risky program of bringing the best contemporary, international work to Australia.

By doing this it was hoped that a better understanding of print quality would follow, that internationally acclaimed work would break down the public resistance to photography as an artistic medium and that buyers, both public and private, would respond to a venue which allowed them to view overseas work before purchasing. The gallery was to become a locus and the means whereby Australians, working at home, could gain credibility overseas. By 1977, with a series of first class exhibitions behind them, Heimerman and Lobb organised the first workshop to be conducted here by an American photographer, Ralph Gibson. In previous years we had seen lecture tours by Szarkowski and Friedlander but these were poorly publicised and attended. The gallery has also sponsored visits by William Clift and Harry Callahan who have both inspired and encouraged those lucky enough to meet them. Today the Photographers’ Gallery is run solely by Bill Heimerman, lan Lobb having left to pursue his photography, and with an enviable record of exhibitions and workshops is seen as the premier gallery in Australia; a show there is a genuine honour.

~ Tony Perry 1980

Print Letter No.25 Jan/Feb. 1980 Vol. 5 N0. 1 pp. 8-9

 

Peter Leiss. 'Untitled [The note]' Melbourne, 2017

 

Peter Leiss
Untitled [The note]
Melbourne, 2017
Digital photograph

 

Peter Leiss. 'Untitled [At the gathering for William Heimerman: Jeff Busby, Conrad Winkler and Marcus Bunyan]' Melbourne, 2017

 

Peter Leiss
Untitled [At the gathering for William Heimerman: Jeff Busby, Conrad Winkler and Marcus Bunyan]
Melbourne, 2017
Digital photograph

 

Peter Leiss. 'Untitled [At the gathering for William Heimerman]' Melbourne, 2017

 

Peter Leiss
Untitled [At the gathering for William Heimerman]
Melbourne, 2017
Digital photograph

 

Left to right standing: Jeff Busby, Konrad Winkler, Francis Busby, Andrew Daly, Barbara Anne Smith, Robert Besanko, Marcus Bunyan, Philip Ingamells, Mae O’Laughlin, Sandy Sonderal, Angelo Kara Karavitis
Sitting: Louise Bradley, Barbara Derrick, Ian Lobb, Kalli Pulos, Ros Winkler, Diana Haig, Jon Conte
Dogs: Yoshi, Sophie

 

 

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

22
Oct
17

Exhibition: ‘Charles Sheeler from Doylestown to Detroit’ at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 22nd July – 5th November 2017

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Pennsylvania' 1915

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
1915
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890 - 1976) 'White Fence, Port Kent, New York' 1916 (negative); 1945 (print)

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
White Fence, Port Kent, New York
1916 (negative); 1945 (print)
© Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

 

 

Charles Sheeler is a cracking good photographer who’s work has not got the recognition that it deserves – in comparison to, say, Stieglitz, Strand, Steichen or Weston. When you think of those top echelon artists from the early twentieth century, his name is never mentioned. And it should be.

Sheeler’s Side of White Barn, Bucks County, Pennsylvania (1915, above) predates one of the most famous early modernist photographs, Strand’s White Fence, Port Kent, New York (1916, above) by a year, yet is hardly known. While Strand’s image possesses low depth of field, strong lighting and a focus on the fence as physical, geometric, sculptural object within the picture frame, Sheeler’s photograph is much more subtle but no less effective in its modernist vocation. The pictorial space is flattened into geometric shapes, the bottom of the photograph grounded by a cracked wall, hay, chickens and a fence, the top of the image foreclosed by the tiled roof of the barn and its attendant shadow (showing that the sun was high in the sky when this image was taken). Within the boundaries of the rectangle are subtle graduations of tone, colour and form, almost like an modernist etching with light, so beautifully does the artist both understand what he is seeing and how to render it through the physicality of the print. Unlike Strand’s “knock you over the head with the white picket fence”, Sheeler’s subtle paean to the modern world requires contemplation on the nature of light, photography and the fine art print. This is a masterpiece in the history of photographic art.

I am similarly convinced by Sheeler’s Ford Plant – CrissCrossed Conveyors (1927, below), in my opinion one of the top ten photographs of all time.

I cannot fault this image. The light falling on the subject is incredible (notice the shadow from the beam mid-upper left, telling us the time of day the photograph was taken), the tonality superb, the framing of the subject admirable – all elements tensioned perfectly within the pictorial plane. The bottom of the photograph is grounded by stacked tyres and the structure ascends to the heavens from there… not just in one element, but in five! The main criss-cross of the conveyors is placed off centre supported by an iron tower, which allows the eye to roam freely across the image. The placement also allows for another elevator to ascend behind the main two, while a set of steps climbs higher and higher eventually exiting the picture stage left. Behind the criss-crossed conveyors the depth of space that must exist in reality is proposed by two tanks, further reinforced by 8 chimney stacks, and yet this photograph evidences no such depth of field. While everything is reduced to flattened shapes in this machine age, modernist, objectified world – and while no human being is presented for scale – the human hand is all over this image: in the construction of such technology, in the presence of the human scale stairs, in the ascension to the sky of the organ pipes of the industrial cathedral, in the comprehending eye of the photographer, and in the presence, the aura, of this magnificent print. While this image may seem the antithesis of humanist photography in one sense, conversely it reaffirms the very act of humanity in another. Or perhaps I’m just an old romantic.

Marcus

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

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Doylestown House - The Stove' about 1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Doylestown House – The Stove
about 1917
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Doylestown House - Stairs from Below' Negative date: about 1916-1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Doylestown House – Stairs from Below
Negative date: about 1916-1917
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Doylestown House - Stairwell' Negative date: about 1916-1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Doylestown House – Stairwell
Negative date: about 1916-1917
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Buggy, Doylestown, Pennsylvania' Negative date: 1917

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Buggy, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Negative date: 1917
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Manhatta - Ferry Docking' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Manhatta – Ferry Docking
Negative date: 1920
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

This exhibition celebrates the MFA’s unparalleled holdings of works by Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), presenting 40 photographs from three significant series created during the heyday of his career as a founder of American modernism.

After enjoying success as a painter, Sheeler initially took up photography as a way to make a living. His experiments with the medium included the 1916-17 series of photographs capturing various elements of an 18th-century house he rented in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The sequence of stark, geometric compositions was among the most abstract and avant-garde work being made in the US at the time – created in response to the Cubist art of Picasso and Braque that Sheeler had previously encountered in Europe.

In 1920, Sheeler collaborated with fellow photographer Paul Strand on the short film Manhatta, presenting dramatic views of lower Manhattan. Abstract stills from the 35mm film, which was shot from steep angles, are presented alongside larger prints of Sheeler’s cinematic images of New York City, produced shortly after Manhatta – which he used as source material for his paintings. The film Manhatta is on view in the gallery.

Charles Sheeler from Doylestown to Detroit culminates with the 1927 photographs of the Ford Motor Company plant in River Rouge, Michigan, commissioned to celebrate the introduction of Ford’s Model A. The cathedral-like scenes convey an optimism for American industry, and are now considered icons of Machine Age photography. All of the photographs in the exhibition are drawn from the Museum’s Lane Collection – one of the finest private holdings of 20th-century American art in the world, including Sheeler’s entire photographic estate – given to the MFA in 2012. (Text from the MFA website)

 

 

Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler
Manhatta
1921
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

 

 

In 1920 Paul Strand and artist Charles Sheeler collaborated on Manhatta, a short silent film that presents a day in the life of lower Manhattan. Inspired by Walt Whitman’s book “Leaves of Grass,” the film includes multiple segments that express the character of New York. The sequences display a similar approach to the still photography of both artists. Attracted by the cityscape and its visual design, Strand and Sheeler favoured extreme camera angles to capture New York’s dynamic qualities. Although influenced by Romanticism in its view of the urban environment, Manhatta is considered the first American avant-garde film.

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Manhatta - Rooftops' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Manhatta – Rooftops
Negative date: 1920
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Manhatta - Through a Balustrade' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Manhatta – Through a Balustrade
Negative date: 1920
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'New York, Buildings in Shadows and Smoke' Negative date: 1920

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
New York, Buildings in Shadows and Smoke
Negative date: 1920
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Ford Plant - Criss-Crossed Conveyors' 1927

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Ford Plant – CrissCrossed Conveyors
1927
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Ford Plant - Ladle Hooks, Open Hearth Building' Negative date: 1927

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Ford Plant – Ladle Hooks, Open Hearth Building
Negative date: 1927
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Ford Plant - Stamping Press' Negative date: 1927

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Ford Plant – Stamping Press
Negative date: 1927
Photograph, gelatin silver print
© The Lane Collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday 10am – 5 pm
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 10 pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5 pm

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

18
Oct
17

Exhibition: ‘The Summer of Love: Photography and Graphic Design’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exhibition dates: 6th July – 22nd October 2017

 

Bonnie MacLean (American, born in 1939) 'Muddy Waters, Buffalo Springfield, Richie Havens (Fillmore Auditorium, 1-6 August 1967)' 1967

 

Bonnie MacLean (American, born in 1939)
Muddy Waters, Buffalo Springfield, Richie Havens (Fillmore Auditorium, 1-6 August 1967)
1967
Offset lithographic poster
Gift of Robert Bradford Wheaton and Barbara Ketcham Wheaton
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Aubrey Beardsley and “The Yellow Book,” Art Nouveau and the Vienna Secession, Josef Albers, Dada, Surrealism, William Blake (a favourite of mine), photography, typography and graphic design. You couldn’t ask for more… except for those psychedelic colours!

As a friend of mine observed of the Grateful Dead, Oxford Circle (1966) poster – look where the tickets were sold: psychedelic shops, book stores, record shops and coffee houses. He actually saw the Grateful Dead play live while he was in America, and he said it was quite a trip. As Mark Feeney keenly observes, this art was “liberation in two dimensions.”

He is correct, for these posters and record covers reflect the cultural era from which they emerge – the official beginnings of Gay Liberation, Feminism, student revolt, protests against war and racism, civil rights, drugs, free love and peace. They are powerful and eloquent works of art that summon the noisy spirit of the age, a riotous poltergeist hell bent on change.

And all these years later, they still look as fresh and as relevant (perhaps even more so in this conservative world), as they day they were created. Just fab!

Marcus

PS. It always amazes me the cultural contexts in which photography can be put to use.

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

 

 

“What’s fascinating is how the graphic designs manage to have a kind of coherence despite being such a jumble. Certain principles recur: curves, yes, angles, no; a pugilistic employment of colour (psychedelia really did look . . . psychedelic); legibility as afterthought. So do certain influences: Aubrey Beardsley and “The Yellow Book,” Art Nouveau and the Vienna Secession, Dada, Surrealism (among the album covers on display is, yes, the Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow”). The presiding spirit is William Blake: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” The last thing the Haight cared about was history, but history’s hand lay all over it.

The look of these designs is assaultive, overly busy, restrained only by the confines of poster size or album cover. That look still feels exhilarating: liberation in two dimensions. It must have felt close to Martian back then. NASA wanted to put a man on the moon. Why stop there? Gravity was just another law to flout. One of the 32 Herb Greene photographs in “The Summer of Love” shows Airplane lead singer Grace Slick looking at the camera and flipping the bird. Maybe that image, even more than Blakean excess, is the presiding spirit.”

.
Mark Feeney. “The MFA celebrates San Francisco’s Summer of Love,” on the Boston Globe website

 

 

Victor Moscoso (American, born in Spain, 1936) 'The Chambers Brothers (The Matrix, 28 March-6 April 1967)' 1967

 

Victor Moscoso (American, born in Spain, 1936)
The Chambers Brothers (The Matrix, 28 March-6 April 1967)

1967
Offset lithographic poster
Gift of Robert Bradford Wheaton and Barbara Ketcham Wheaton
© ’67 Neon Rose
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Victor Moscoso

Victor Moscoso (born Galicia in 1936) is a Spanish-American artist best known for producing psychedelic rock posters, advertisements, and underground comix in San Francisco during the 1960s and 1970s.

Moscoso was the first of the rock poster artists of the 1960s era with formal academic training and experience. After studying art at Cooper Union in New York City and at Yale University, he moved to San Francisco in 1959. There, he attended the San Francisco Art Institute, where he eventually became an instructor. Moscoso’s use of vibrating colours was influenced by painter Josef Albers, one of his teachers at Yale. He was the first of the rock poster artists to use photographic collage in many of his posters.

Professional success came in the form of the psychedelic rock and roll poster art created for San Francisco’s dance halls and clubs. Moscoso’s posters for the Family Dog dance-concerts at the Avalon Ballroom and his Neon Rose posters for the Matrix resulted in international attention during the 1967 Summer of Love.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Stanley Miller (Mouse) (American, born in 1940) and Alton Kelley (American, 1940-2008) 'Moby Grape, Sparrow, The Charlatans (Avalon Ballroom, 13-14 January 1967)' 1967

 

Stanley Miller (Mouse) (American, born in 1940) and Alton Kelley (American, 1940-2008)
Moby Grape, Sparrow, The Charlatans (Avalon Ballroom, 13-14 January 1967)
1967
Poster, offset lithograph
Collection of Patrick Murphy
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Bonnie MacLean (American, born in 1939) 'The Yardbirds, The Doors, James Cotton Blues Band, Richie Havens (Fillmore Auditorium, 25-30 July 1967)' 1967

 

Bonnie MacLean (American, born in 1939)
The Yardbirds, The Doors, James Cotton Blues Band, Richie Havens (Fillmore Auditorium, 25-30 July 1967)
1967
Poster, offset lithograph
Collection of Patrick Murphy
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Bonnie MacLean

Bonnie MacLean, also known as Bonnie MacLean Graham is an American artist known for her classic rock posters. In the 1960s and 1970s she created posters and other art for the promotion of rock and roll concerts managed by Bill Graham, using the iconic psychedelic art style of the day. MacLean went on to continue her art as a painter focusing mostly of nudes, still lifes and landscapes.

 

Fillmore posters

Artist Wes Wilson was the main poster artist for the Fillmore Auditorium when he and Bill Graham had a “falling out” and Wilson quit. MacLean had been painting noticeboards at the auditorium in the psychedelic style, and took up the creation of the posters after Wilson left, creating about thirty posters, most in 1967. MacLean’s posters are included in many museum collections including at the Brooklyn Museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco collection and at the DeYoung museum. A few examples of her posters are in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art collection. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Stanley Miller (Mouse) (American, born in 1940) and Alton Kelley (American, 1940-2008) 'Grateful Dead, Oxford Circle (Avalon Ballroom, 16-17 September 1966)' 1966

 

Stanley Miller (Mouse) (American, born in 1940) and Alton Kelley (American, 1940-2008)
Grateful Dead, Oxford Circle (Avalon Ballroom, 16-17 September 1966)
1966
Handbill, offset lithograph
Collection of Patrick Murphy
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Stanley Miller

Stanley George Miller (born October 10, 1940), better known as Mouse and Stanley Mouse, is an American artist, notable for his 1960s psychedelic rock concert poster designs for the Grateful Dead and Journey albums cover art as well as many others.

 

Psychedelic posters

In 1965, Mouse travelled to San Francisco, California with a group of art school friends. Settling initially in Oakland, Mouse met Alton Kelley. Kelley, a self-taught artist, had recently arrived from Virginia City, Nevada, where he had joined a group of hippies who called themselves the Red Dog Saloon gang. Upon arrival in San Francisco Kelley and other veterans of the gang renamed themselves The Family Dog, and began producing rock music dances. In 1966, when Chet Helms assumed leadership of the group and began promoting the dances at the Avalon Ballroom, Mouse and Kelley began working together to produce posters for the events. Later the pair also produced posters for promoter Bill Graham and for other events in the psychedelic community.

In 1967, Mouse collaborated with artists Kelley, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso and Wes Wilson to create the Berkeley Bonaparte Distribution Agency. Mouse and Kelley also worked together as lead artists at Mouse Studios and The Monster Company – producing album cover art for the bands Journey and Grateful Dead. The Monster Company also developed a profitable line of T-shirts, utilising the four colour process for silk screening.

The psychedelic posters Mouse and Kelley produced were heavily influenced by Art Nouveau graphics, particularly the works of Alphonse Mucha and Edmund Joseph Sullivan. Material associated with psychedelics, such as Zig-Zag rolling papers, were also referenced. Producing posters advertising for such musical groups as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Grateful Dead led to meeting the musicians and making contacts that were later to prove fruitful.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Alton Kelley

Alton Kelley (June 17, 1940 in Houlton, Maine – June 1, 2008 in Petaluma, California) was an American artist best known for his psychedelic art, in particular his designs for 1960s rock concerts and albums. Along with artists Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso and Wes Wilson, Kelley founded the Berkeley Bonaparte distribution agency in order to produce and sell psychedelic poster art.

Along with fellow artist Stanley Mouse, Kelley is credited with creating the wings and beetles on all Journey album covers as well as the skull and roses image for the Grateful Dead. Kelley’s artwork on the 1971 self-titled live album, Grateful Dead, incorporated a black and white illustration of a skeleton by Edmund Sullivan, which originally appeared in a 19th-century edition of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942) 'Jefferson Airplane' 1966

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942)
Jefferson Airplane
1966
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Gift of Arlette and Gus Kayafas and The Living New England Artists Purchase Fund, created by The Stephen and Sybil Stone Foundation
© Herb Greene
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Cover photograph by Herb Greene (American, born in 1942) 'Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow' 1967

 

Cover photograph by Herb Greene (American, born in 1942)
Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow
1967
Album cover, offset lithograph
Collection of Patrick Murphy
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Wes Wilson (American, born in 1937) Photograph by Herb Greene (American, born in 1942) 'Jefferson Airplane, Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band, Tim Rose (Fillmore Auditorium, 16-18 December 1966)' 1966

 

Wes Wilson (American, born in 1937)
Photograph by Herb Greene (American, born in 1942)
Jefferson Airplane, Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band, Tim Rose (Fillmore Auditorium, 16-18 December 1966)
1966
Offset lithographic poster
Gift of Robert Bradford Wheaton and Barbara Ketcham Wheaton
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

In celebration of the Summer of Love’s 50th anniversary, this exhibition explodes with a profusion of more than 120 posters, album covers and photographs from the transformative years around 1967. That summer, fuelled by sensational stories in the national media, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood became a mecca for thousands seeking an alternative to the constrictions of postwar American society. A new graphic vocabulary emerged in posters commissioned to advertise weekly rock concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom, with bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and the Janis Joplin-led Big Brother & The Holding Company.

A group of more than 50 concert posters highlights experiments with psychedelic graphic design and meandering typography – often verging on the illegible. These include works by Wes Wilson, who took inspiration from earlier art movements such as the Vienna Secession, and Victor Moscoso, whose studies of colour theory with Josef Albers at Yale University translated into striking use of bright, saturated colours in his own designs. A grid of 25 album covers traces the influence of the famously amorphous lettering in the Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul on countless covers and posters from later in the decade.

At the heart of the exhibition is a group of 32 photographs by Herb Greene, a pioneering member of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture and now a resident of Massachusetts. Many of his iconic images document the city’s burgeoning music scene, while a selection from a newly published portfolio offers a glimpse at everyday life in the Haight during the fabled summer of 1967.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts website

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942) 'Ohio to San Fransico: Haight Street 1967 (Plate 17)' 1967, printed 2013

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942)
Ohio to San Fransico: Haight Street 1967 (Plate 17)
1967, printed 2013
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Private collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942) 'Ohio to San Fransico: Haight Street 1967 (Plate 20)' 1967, printed 2013

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942)
Ohio to San Fransico: Haight Street 1967 (Plate 20)
1967, printed 2013
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Private collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942) 'Ohio to San Fransico: Haight Street 1967 (Plate 30)' 1967, printed 2013

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942)
Ohio to San Fransico: Haight Street 1967 (Plate 30)
1967, printed 2013
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Private collection
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942) 'Dead on Haight' From the portfolio 'Brief Encounters with the Dead' 1966, printed 2006

 

Herb Greene (American, born in 1942)
Dead on Haight
From the portfolio Brief Encounters with the Dead
1966, printed 2006
Photograph, gelatin silver print
Collection of Jeanne and Richard S. Press
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Herb Greene

Herb “Herbie” Greene (born April 3, 1942) is an American photographer best known for his portraits of The Grateful Dead, the iconic psychedelic rock band led by Jerry Garcia. Over 50 years, Greene’s photographs traced the band’s evolution from its roots in San Francisco’s psychedelic underground to global stardom.

His portraits of other rock and roll luminaries – including Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, The Pointer Sisters, Carlos Santana, Sly Stone, and more – have been regularly featured in Rolling Stone magazine and several books documenting the music of the 1960s counterculture.

Known as “Herbie” by his friends, Greene won high praise for his ability to capture intimate portraits of the most revered figures in rock. That access was largely due to his relationships with the bands he photographed. Although he refers to himself as “just the guy with the long hair and the camera,” Greene lived in San Francisco during the 1960s rock revolution and was friends with renowned musicians, promoters, and artists.

 

1960s San Francisco

In 1961, Greene took photography classes at City College of San Francisco and later enrolled at San Francisco State University, where he majored in anthropology and communications. After moving into an apartment near the famed Haight-Ashbury district, he met Jerry Garcia at a bluegrass café called the Fox and Hound. The two became friends and Greene booked his first gig, a portrait session with Garcia’s band, The Warlocks. (The band would eventually change its name to The Grateful Dead).

As Greene’s reputation grew, some of the decade’s most iconic performers came to him for portraits and album covers. He photographed Big Brother and the Holding Company and its lead singer, Janis Joplin. He shot the cover for the Jefferson Airplane’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow, and captured rare portrait sessions with Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Procol Harem and others. His portfolio landed him a job as a fashion photographer with Joseph Magnin and Co, a prominent San Francisco department store. Greene began to split his time between San Francisco and a new studio in Los Angeles. As the 1960s came to a close, his work with The Grateful Dead and other iconic rockers continued.

 

Greene and The Grateful Dead

Greene first met Jerry Garcia in 1963 at The Fox and Hound, a bluegrass café on North Beach in San Francisco. Both were just 21 years old, and Garcia had not yet formed The Warlocks, the band that would eventually become The Grateful Dead. He was playing as part of the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, a folk trio. After one of the Garcia’s sets, Greene introduced himself. It was the start of a lifelong friendship. The pair remained friends until Garcia’s death in August 1995.

While many photographers have captured The Grateful Dead on film, Greene is widely regarded as the group’s unofficial photographer. Over 50 years, he shot just 10 sit-down sessions with the band, but his images’ intimacy offer a rare glimpse into the band’s evolution from a fledgling group to international stars.

 

Photography style and equipment

Despite ample opportunities, Greene did not photograph musicians on stage. Instead, he shot portraits of his subjects in his studios, backstage, and in his home. His pieces include both one-on-one and group shots, and he is renowned for his ability to capture intimate expressions from revered musical figures.

Green’s portraits were shot in both colour and black-and-white, and the bulk of his work was captured on Kodak Tri-X 120-roll film, using D76 developer. His go-to cameras were a Hasselblad and Mamiya RB67.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Wes Wilson (American, born in 1937) Photographs by Herb Greene (American, born in 1942) 'Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead (Fillmore Auditorium, 12-13 August 1966)' 1966

 

Wes Wilson (American, born in 1937)
Photographs by Herb Greene (American, born in 1942)
Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead (Fillmore Auditorium, 12-13 August 1966)
1966
Poster, offset lithograph
Collection of Patrick Murphy
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Roller (Austrian, 1864-1935) 'Ver Sacrum Calendar: August' 1902

 

Alfred Roller (Austrian, 1864-1935)
Ver Sacrum Calendar: August
1902
Calendar illustrated with color woodcuts
William A. Sargent Fund
Photograph: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Alfred Roller

Alfred Roller (2 October 1864 – 21 June 1935) was an Austrian painter, graphic designer, and set designer.

Roller was born in Brünn (Brno), Moravia. He at first studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna under Christian Griepenkerl and Eduard Peithner von Lichtenfels, but eventually became disenchanted with the Academy’s traditionalism. In 1897 he co-founded the Viennese Secession with Koloman Moser, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Klimt, and other artists who rejected the prevalent academic style of art. He became a professor of drawing at the University of Applied Arts Vienna (Kunstgewerbeschule) in 1899, and president of the Secession in 1902.

In his early career Roller was very active as a graphic designer and draughtsman. He designed numerous covers and vignettes for the pages the Secessionist periodical Ver Sacrum, as well as the posters for the fourth, fourteenth, and sixteenth Secession exhibitions. He also designed the layout of the exhibitions themselves.

In 1902 Roller was introduced to the composer Gustav Mahler by Carl Moll. Roller expressed an interest in stage design and showed Mahler several sketches he had made for Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Mahler was impressed and decided to employ Roller to design the sets for a new production of the piece. The production, which premiered in February 1903, was a great critical success. Roller continued to design sets for Mahler’s productions. Eventually Roller left the Secession and his teaching post at the Kunstgewerbeschule to be appointed chief stage designer to the Vienna State Opera, a position he held until 1909. He died in Vienna in 1935. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday 10am – 5 pm
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 10 pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5 pm

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

13
Oct
17

Exhibition: ‘Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933’ at Tate Liverpool

Exhibition dates: 23rd June – 15th October 2017

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha' 1925-6, printed 1991

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha
1925-6, printed 1991
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
205 x 241 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Hugo Erfurth with Dog' 1926

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Hugo Erfurth with Dog (Bildnis des Fotografen Hugo Erfurth mit Hund) 
1926
Tempera and oil paint on panel
800 x 1000 mm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
© DACS 2017. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

 

Writing sociology: picturing an uncertain cultural landscape

There is something completely unexpected in the strange correlation and synergy between the work of these two artists.

While it is inadvisable to compare and contrast (why pick those particular images out of thousands!), I have paired several images from the exhibition together in this posting. Let’s look at the pairing above.

Technically, Sander’s photograph of The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha (1925-6) evidences a slightly flattened perspective especially in the “face on” aspect of the androgynous woman – but the photograph also possesses a surreal air, the silhouette of the woman’s hair contrasting with the swept back slickness of the man and his jutting, three-quarter profile. The unusual space between them adds admirably to the overall frisson of the photograph, it’s non/objectivity and performativity. In Dix’s painting Hugo Erfurth with Dog (1926) a greater distortion of perspective is in evidence. The mythic dog is painted as if photographed using a telephoto lens, while the man’s face is all over the place… the jaw elongated as if by using a wide angle lens, the front of the face flattened in an earnest manner. This is what painting can do, and is allowed to do, that photography can never match. But it doesn’t have to. It does it in a different way.

Here we need to excavate – that’s a good word for this investigation – we need to excavate the ethos in the zeitgeist. We need to understand the attitudes and aspirations of the cultural era in which these artists lived in order to comprehend the defining spirit of the period, as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time. These artists emerge out of the same society, they inhabit the spirit of the age – those interwar years of the avant-garde, speed, and change; of poverty, postwar realities and politics; of The Great Depression, disfiguration and disenfranchisement.

I look at the obscurity of faces in Dix’s Assault Troops Advance under Gas (1924) and then adjust to the pensiveness of hand, pose and gaze in Sander’s Working Students (1926) … and then mentally add in Avedon’s later portraiture. Interesting. I look at Sander’s National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture (c. 1938) and note the “exemplary mastery of illumination”, but just as distinctively the averted gaze, the line on head where the unnamed man (who is he? what was his name?) had just taken his cap off. Just below is Dix’s Self-Portrait with Easel (1926) with three-quarter profile, piercing stare, bent finger. Who is capturing reality here? No body.

In his own way, Sander plays with the reality of time and space just as much as Dix. In my mind, Sander’s “staged performativity and the artifice of construction [which] is paramount to the surreal effects created,” are no less un/real than the paintings of Dix. There are things that just don’t fit. The strangeness of the era, the creation of these non/objective environments, cause an alignment of the stars between both artists. This is inspired curating, to bring these two extra-ordinary talents together.

These artists walked the same streets, they breathed the same air. They excavated the spirit of the age. And in so doing, their art becomes impervious to time.

Marcus

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

 

 

“We want to see things completely naked, clear, almost without art. I invented the New Objectivity.”

.
Otto Dix, 1965

 

German artist Otto Dix was a committed painter of portraits. At a time when photography had diminished portraiture’s importance and the genre was seen as a deeply unfashionable pursuit for so-called serious artists, he was making a living – and cementing his reputation – out of exactly that. He commented:

“Painting portraits is regarded by modernist artists as a lower artistic occupation; and yet it is one of the most exciting and difficult tasks for a painter.”

 

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin' 1927

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin (Liegende auf Leopardenfell) 
1927
Oil paint on panel
680 x 980 mm
© DACS 2017. Collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University. Gift of Samuel A. Berger

 

 

Dix was a key supporter of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) movement, a name coined after an exhibition held in Mannheim, Germany in 1925. Described by art historian G.F. Hartlaub, as ‘new realism bearing a socialist flavour’, the movement sought to depict the social and political realities of the Weimar Republic.

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Bohemians [Willi Bongard, Gottfried Brockmann]' c. 1922-5, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Bohemians [Willi Bongard, Gottfried Brockmann]
c. 1922-5, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
189 x 250 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

 

Tate Liverpool presents the faces of Germany between the two World Wars seen through the eyes of painter Otto Dix (1891-1969) and photographer August Sander (1876-1964). Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933 brings together two artists whose works document the glamour and misery of the Weimar Republic, a time of radical extremes and political and economic upheaval.

Portraying a Nation, which exhibits Dix and Sander as a pair for the first time, reflects a pivotal point in Germany’s history, as it introduced democratic rule in the aftermath of the First World War. The period was one of experimentation and innovation across the visual arts, during which both artists were concerned with representing the extremes of society, from the flourishing cabaret culture to intense poverty and civilian rebellions.

Featuring more than 300 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, Portraying a Nation unites two complementary exhibitions. Otto Dix: The Evil Eye explores Dix’s harshly realistic depictions of German society and the brutality of war, while ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander presents photographs from Sander’s best known series People of the Twentieth Century, from the ARTIST ROOMS collection of international modern and contemporary art.

The exhibition focusses on the evolution of Dix’s work during his years in Düsseldorf, from 1922 to 1925, when he became one of the foremost New Objectivity painters, a movement exploring a new style of artistic representation following the First World War. Dix’s paintings are vitriolic reflections on German society, commenting on the country’s stark divisions. His work represents the people who made up these contradictions in society with highlights including Portrait of the Photographer Hugo Erfurth with Dog 1923, Self-Portrait with Easel 1926, as well as a large group of lesser known watercolours. Dix’s The War 1924 will also form a key element of the exhibition, a series of 50 etchings made as a reaction to and representation of the profound effect of his personal experiences of fighting in the First World War.

Sander’s photographs also observe a cross-section of society to present a collective portrait of a nation. Sander commenced his major photographic project People of the Twentieth Century in 1910, an ambitious task that occupied him until the 1950s. The project resulted in more than 600 images in which people were categorised into what he described as ‘types’, including artists, musicians, circus workers, farmers and, in the late 1930s, images of Nazi officers. More than 140 photographs from the ARTIST ROOMS collection will be displayed to create a large-scale timeline of Weimar Germany, placing individual subjects against a backdrop of the era’s tumultuous cultural and political history.

Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933 is made up of Otto Dix: The Evil Eye, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf and ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander, an exhibition of works from the ARTIST ROOMS collection of international modern and contemporary art.

The ARTIST ROOMS collection is jointly owned by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate on behalf of the public, and was established through The d’Offay donation in 2008 with the assistance of the Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund and the Scottish and British governments. It is shared with UK museums and galleries including Tate, National Galleries of Scotland and a network of Associate venues through ARTIST ROOMS On Tour, which is a partnership until 2019 with lead Associate Ferens Art Gallery, supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Art Fund and the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

Otto Dix: The Evil Eye is curated by Dr Susanne Meyer-Büser, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Francesco Manacorda, Artistic Director and Lauren Barnes, Assistant Curator, Tate Liverpool. ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander is curated by Francesco Manacorda, and Lauren Barnes, Assistant Curator, with the cooperation of ARTIST ROOMS and the German Historical Institute.

Press release from Tate Liverpool

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor) '1924

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor)
1924
© DACS 2017
Image: Otto Dix Stiftung

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Working Students' 1926, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Working Students
1926, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

 

Seen together, Sander’s images form a pictorial mosaic of inter-war Germany. Rapid social change and newfound freedom were accompanied by financial insecurity and social and political unrest. By photographing the citizens of the Weimar Republic – from the artistic, bohemian elite to the Nazis and those they persecuted – Sander’s photographs tell of an uncertain cultural landscape. It is a world characterised by explosions of creativity, hyperinflation and political turmoil. The faces of those he photographed show traces of this collective historical experience. Alfred Döblin, author of the 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz said:

“Sander has succeeded in writing sociology not by writing, but by producing photographs – photographs of faces and not mere costumes.”

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Argentinian Venomous Scorpion' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Argentinian Venomous Scorpion (Argentinischer Gift-Skorpion) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
134 x 217 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

 

Dix served in the First World War from 1915, fighting on the Western front in the Battle of the Somme. Although an enthusiastic soldier – his service earned him the Iron Cross (Second Class) – Dix’s experiences affected him deeply. He marked the war’s 10th anniversary with a group of etchings entitled Der Krieg (The War), leaving few of the horrors of the front line to the imagination. Commenting later, he said:

“For years, [I] constantly had these dreams in which I was forced to crawl through destroyed buildings, through corridors through which I couldn’t pass. The rubble was always there in my dreams.”

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Butterfly' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Butterfly (Schmetterling) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
217 x 135 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Giant Snake' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Giant Snake (Riesenschlange) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
135 x 217 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Mask Fish' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Mask Fish (Maskenfisch) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
217 x 135 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Tibetan Turkey Vulture' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Tibetan Turkey Vulture (Tibetanischer Truthahngeier) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
135 x 217 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Vulture Skull' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Vulture Skull (Totenkopfgeier)
1922
Graphite on found paper
217 x 135 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture' c. 1938, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture
c. 1938, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
260 x 192 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Self-Portrait with Easel' 1926

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Self-Portrait with Easel (Selbstbildnis mit Staffelei)
1926
800 x 550 mm
Leopold-Hoesch-Museum & Papiermuseum, Düren
© DACS 2017. Leopold-Hoesch-Museum & Papiermuseum Düren. Photo: Peter Hinschläger

 

 

From the early 1920s, he devoted himself to the study of old master painting techniques, using a layering effect, produced first with egg tempera and, later, finished with oils. This moved his contemporary George Grosz to jokingly call him ‘Otto Hans Baldung Dix’ (after the German old master Hans Baldung Grien). Later, Grosz would write:

“Dix did all the drawing in a thin tempera, then went over it with thin mastic glazes in various cold and warm tones. He was the only Old Master I ever watched using this technique.”

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Secretary at West German Radio in Cologne' 1931, printed 1992

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Secretary at West German Radio in Cologne
1931, printed 1992
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
260 x 149 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

Otto Dix. 'The Jeweller Karl Krall (Der Juwelier Karl Krall)' 1923

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Portrait of the Jeweller Karl Krall
1923
Kunst- und Museumsverein im Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal
Photo: Antje Zeis-Loi, Medienzentrum Wuppertal
© DACS 2017

 

 

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Dix was dismissed from his professorship teaching art at the Dresden Academy, where he had worked since 1927. The reason given was that, through his painting, he had committed a ‘violation of the moral sensibilities and subversion of the militant spirit of the German people’.

In the years following, some 260 of his works were confiscated by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. Several of these works, including The Jeweller Karl Krall 1923 (which features in the Tate Liverpool exhibition Portraying a Nation), appeared in the Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) exhibition of 1937-8. The exhibition was staged by the Nazis to destroy the careers of those artists they considered mentally ill, inappropriate or unpatriotic.

 

August Sander. 'Victim of Persecution' 1938, printed 1990 by August Sander 1876-1964

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Victim of Persecution
c. 1938, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

 

In the mid-1920s, Sander began his highly ambitious project People of the 20th Century. In it, Sander aimed to document Germany by taking portraits of people from all segments of society. The project adapted and evolved continuously, falling into seven distinct groups: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Last People’. Sander once said ‘The portrait is your mirror. It’s you’. He believed that, through photography, he could reveal the characteristic traits of people. He used these images to tell each person’s story; their profession, politics, social situation and background.

Sander did not use the newly invented Leica camera. Instead he remained devoted to an old-fashioned large-format camera, glass negatives and long exposure times. This allowed him to capture minute details of individual faces. Sander prized the daguerreotype, a photographic process introduced in the previous century, of which he said: ‘it cannot be surpassed in the delicacy of the delineation, it is objectivity in the best sense of the word’. Allied to this, his portraits were anonymous. Shot against neutral backgrounds and titled more often than not by profession alone, he let the images – and the faces in them – speak for themselves.

The ambition and reach of People of the 20th Century (both in terms of the quality of his photography and in his representation of a cross-section of society) made him a monumental figure of twentieth century photography. The likes of American social realist photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange (whose works became iconic symbols of the depression), and later photographers such as Diane Arbus, each owe a debt to the trailblazing Sander. More recently, the work of conceptual artists such as Bernd and Hilla Becher (known for their typologies of industrial buildings and structures) and Rineke Dijkstra, whose photography is infused with psychological depth and social awareness, resonates with the influence of August Sander’s career-long project.

Text from the Tate Liverpool website

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Turkish Mousetrap Salesman' 1924-30, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Turkish Mousetrap Salesman
1924-30, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
260 x 191 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Photographer [August Sander]' 1925, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Photographer [August Sander]
1925, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

 

Tate Liverpool
Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront,
Liverpool L3 4BB

Opening hours:
Monday to Sunday 10.00 – 17.50

Tate Liverpool website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

08
Oct
17

Review: ‘Brave New World: Australia 1930s’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th July – 15th October 2017

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 - Australia 1953, Australia from 1886) 'No title (Powerlines and chute)' c. 1935

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 – Australia 1953, Australia from 1886)
No title (Powerlines and chute)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the H. J. Heinz II Charitable and Family Trust, Governor, 1993

 

 

In 1934 BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited) commissioned leading pictorialist photographer Harold Cazneaux to record their mining and steel operations for a special publication to mark their fiftieth anniversary in 1935. Cazneaux’s dramatic industrial images blended a soft, atmospheric focus with a modernist sense of space, form and geometry. In 1935-36 Australia exported close to 300,000 tonnes of iron ore to Japan; however, after Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 fear of its expansionist aims in the Pacific increased and soon afterwards the federal government announced a ban on the export of all iron ore to Japan.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

 

Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGV Australia, Melbourne is a small but stylishly designed exhibition that presents well in the gallery spaces. The look and feel of the exhibition is superb, and it was a joy to see so many works in so many disparate medium brought together to represent a decade in the history of Australia: photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, ceramic art, magazine art, travel posters, Art Deco radios, film, couture, culture, Aboriginal art, and furniture making, to name but a few.

The strong exhibition addresses most of the concerns of the 1930s – The Great Depression, beach and body culture, style, fashion, identity, culture, prelude to WW2, dystopian and utopian cities etc., – but it all felt a little cramped and truncated. Such a challenging time period needed a more expansive investigation. What there is was excellent but one display case on slums or magazine art was not substantive enough. The same can be said for most of the exhibition.

There needed to a lot more about the impact of the Great Depression and people living in poverty, for you get the feeling from this exhibition that everyone was living the Modernist high-life, wearing fashionable frocks and smoking cigarettes sitting around beautifully designed furniture surrounded by geometric textiles. The reality is that this paradigm was the exception rather than the rule. Many people struggled to even feed themselves due to The Great Depression, and it was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. Life for many, many people in Australia during the 1930s was a life of disenfranchisement, assimilation, oppression, social struggle, poverty, hunger and a hand to mouth existence.

“After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two per cent of Australians were out of work… The Great Depression’s impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.” (“The Great Depression,” on the Australian Government website)

New artists and designers may have been emerging, new skyscrapers being built and the new ‘Modern Woman’ may have made her appearance but the changes only affected white, middle and upper social classes. Migrants, particularly those from Italy and southern Europe, were resented because they worked for less wages than others; and only brief mention is made of the White Australia policy in the exhibition but not by name (see text under Indigenous art and culture below). This section was more interested in how white artists appropriated Aboriginal design during this period for their own ends.

With this in mind, it is instructive to read sections of the illustrated handbook (not in the exhibition) produced by the National Museum of Victoria (in part, the forerunner of the NGV) to accompany a special exhibition of objects illustrating Australian Aboriginal Art in 1929:
.

“The subject of aboriginal Art – in this case the Art of the Australian Aboriginal – has to be approached with the utmost caution, for, though it comes directly within the domain of anthropology, it is in an indirect way a very important question in psychology and pedagogies. We possess some knowledge of our own mentality through the kind of offices of psychology; but though we have some – many in certain classes – material relics of our primitive and prehistoric ancestor, the only evidence of evolution of thought and the development of his powers of abstract conception must be derived from his art…

Still it appears possible that the study of primitive man, as represented by our Australian black, will throw some new light on the subject, and even if not more important than the old world pictographs themselves, his art work will enable the efforts of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian artists [cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe] to be better comprehended, and their import understood. But, for that study to achieve even a modicum of success, it is essential that the inquiring psychologist divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man – or of the infant of the present day.”1

.
This is the attitude towards Aboriginal art that pervaded major art institutions right across Australia well into the 1950s. That the white has to “divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man” – in other words, he has to become a savage – in order to understand Aboriginal art. It says a lot that the Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria then decided to reprint the illustrated handbook in 1952 without amendment, reprinting the publication originally used for the Exhibition in 1929. Nothing had changed in 22 years!

 

Australian Aboriginal Art 1962

 

National Museum of Victoria
Australian Aboriginal Art (cover)
1952 (reprint of 1929 illustrated handbook)
Brown, Prior, Anderson Pty. Ltd., Melbourne (publishers)
Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria
39 pages

 

 

Other small things in the exhibition rankle. The preponderance of the work of photographer Max Dupain is so overwhelming that from this exhibition, it would seem that he was the only photographer of note working in Australia throughout the decade. While Dupain was the first Modernist photographer in Australia, and a superb artist, Modernist photography was very much on the outer during most of the 1930s… the main art form of photography being that of Pictorialism. None of this under appreciated style of photography makes an appearance in this exhibition because it does not fit the theme of “Brave New World”. This dismisses the work of such people as Cecil Bostock, Harold Cazneaux, Henri Mallard, John Eaton et al as not producing “brave”, or valuable, portraits of a country during this time frame. This is a perspective that needs to be corrected.

Highlights for me in this exhibition included an earthenware vase by Ethel Blundell; a painting by that most incredible of atmospheric painters, Clarice Beckett (how I long to own one of her paintings!); a wonderful portrait by the underrated Cybil Craig; two stunning Keast Burke photographs; two beautiful stained glass windows of a male and female lifesaver; the slum photographs of F. Oswald Barnett (more please!); and the graphic covers of mostly short-lived radical magazines.

These highlights are worth the price of admission alone. A must see before the exhibition closes.

Marcus

  1. A. S. Kenyon. “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal.” in Australian Aboriginal Art. Melbourne: Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria, (1929) reprinted 1952, p. 15.

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery 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 1930s was a turbulent time in Australia’s history. During this decade major world events, including the Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe, shaped our nation’s evolving sense of identity. In the arts, progressive ideas jostled with reactionary positions, and artists brought substantial creative efforts to bear in articulating the pressing concerns of the period. Brave New World: Australia 1930s encompasses the multitude of artistic styles, both advanced and conservative, which were practised during the 1930s. Included are commercial art, architecture, fashion, industrial design, film and dance to present a complete picture of this dynamic time.

The exhibition charts the themes of celebrating technological progress and its antithesis in the nostalgia for pastoralism; the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and consumerism; nationalism and the body culture movement; the increasing interest in Indigenous art against a backdrop of the government policy of assimilation and mounting calls for Indigenous rights; the devastating effects of the Depression and the rise of radical politics; and the arrival of European refugees and the increasing anxiety at the impending threat of the Second World War. Brave New World: Australia 1930s presents a fresh perspective on the extraordinary 1930s, revealing some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then and remain so today.

Text from the NGV website

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)
E. M. Vary, Fitzroy, Melbourne (attributed to) (manufacturer) active 1920s-40s

Sideboard
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), painted wood, painted plywood, steel
(a-e) 84.0 x 119.7 x 48.7 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

Side table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), steel
55.7 x 66.0 x 49.2 cm
Proposed acquisition

Tray table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), steel
(a-b) 52.0 x 60.9 x 42.5 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

 

 

A new generation of artists and designers

While modern art was a source of debate and controversy throughout the 1930s, modernism in architecture, interior design, industrial design and advertising became highly fashionable. In Melbourne a small group of designers pioneered modern design in Australia. Furniture designer Fred Ward first designed and made furniture for his home in Eaglemont, where he had established a studio workshop. It was admired by friends and he was encouraged to produce furniture for sale. In 1932 Ward opened a shop in Collins Street, Melbourne. There he offered his furniture, as well as linens and Scandinavian glass. The fabrics for curtains and upholstery were printed by Australian designer Michael O’Connell with bold designs that shocked some but were favoured by a new generation looking to create modern interiors.

More than in most periods, in the 1930s art, design and architecture were closely integrated with the changing realities of contemporary life. It was a time when the last vestiges of the conservative art establishment were swept away by a new generation of artists and designers who were to drive Australian art in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement at left and Ethel Blundell’s Vase centre on sidboard
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Fred Ward was one of the first and most important designers of modern furniture in Australia. He began making furniture around 1930, and in 1932 opened a shop in Collins Street selling his furniture, as well as textiles by Michael O’Connell and other modern design pieces. In 1934 Ward went into partnership with Myer Emporium and established the Myer Design Unit, for which he designed a line of modular ‘unit’ furniture for commercial production. Ward’s simple, functional aesthetic and use of local timbers with a natural waxed finish was in contrast to the luxurious materials and decorative motifs of the contemporary Art Deco style.

The armchair, sideboard and occasional tables were designed by Fred Ward and purchased by Maie Casey in the early 1930s. The wife of R. G. Casey, federal treasurer in the Lyons Government, Maie was a prominent supporter of modern art and design. Moving to Canberra in 1932, she furnished her house at Duntroon in a modern style with furniture by Ward and textiles by Michael O’Connell. The design of Ward’s armchair closely resembles a 1920s armchair by German Bauhaus furniture designer Erich Dieckmann, who was known for his standardised wooden furniture based on geometric designs.

 

Michael O'Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37) 'Textile' c. 1933

 

Michael O’Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37)
Textile
c. 1933
Block printed linen
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1988

 

 

Michael O’Connell pioneered modernist textiles in Melbourne and was an influential advocate of modern design. Working with his wife Ella from his studio in Beaumaris, O’Connell used woodblocks and linocuts to hand print onto raw linens and silks, which were used for fashion garments and home furnishing. O’Connell’s boldly patterned and highly stylised designs were considered startlingly modern. Some of his early fabrics featured ‘jazz age’ scenes of nightclubs and dancing, while later motifs were based on Australian flora and fauna, or derived from Oceanic and Aboriginal art.

 

Sam Atyeo. 'Album of designs: tables' c. 1933 - c. 1936

 

Sam Atyeo
Album of designs: tables
c. 1933 – c. 1936
Album: watercolour, brush and coloured inks, coloured pencils, 14 designs tipped into an album of 16 grey pages, card covers, tape and stapled binding
30.0 x 19.2 cm (page) 30.0 x 20.8 x 0.8 cm (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist, 1988

 

 

Sam Atyeo was a leading figure in Melbourne’s emerging modernist circles in the early 1930s, the partner of artist Moya Dyring and lover of Sunday Reed. He had studied at the National Gallery School, where he was a brilliant and rebellious student. Around 1932 Atyeo became friendly with Cynthia Reed, who managed Fred Ward’s furniture shop and interior design consultancy on Collins Street. After she opened Cynthia Reed Modern Furnishings in Little Collins Street, Atyeo designed furniture for Reed, that was strongly influenced by Ward’s designs.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
32.8 x 25.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2000

 

Ethel Blundell. 'Vase' 1936

 

Ethel Blundell
Vase
1936
Earthenware
17.6 x 16.8 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mrs Margaret Howie, Governor, 1999
© Ethel Blundell

 

 

Utopian cities

Modernity reflected what was new and progressive in Australian urban life. The image of the city became an allegory for this in art, and efficiency and speed became watchwords for modernity. Many artists celebrated the city and technological advancements in works utilising a modern style of hard-edged forms, flat colours and dynamic compositions. The engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932, was an ongoing source of fascination for artists, as were images of building the city, industry and modern modes of transport.

The skyscraper was also a powerful symbol of modern prosperity, especially when the Great Depression cast doubt on the inevitability of progress; hence the advent of tall buildings in Australian cities was hailed with relief and optimism. In 1932, at the peak of the Depression, the tallest building in Melbourne was opened: the Manchester Unity Building at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. With its ornamental tower and spire taking its overall height to 64 metres, the building was welcomed by The Age newspaper as ‘a new symbol of enterprise and confidence, undaunted by the “temporary eclipse” of the country’s economic fortune’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria at left; and Evening dress at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Seventh city of the Empire - Melbourne, Victoria' 1930s

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria
1930s
Colour lithograph printed by J. E. Hackett, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee, 2007

 

 

Percy Trompf’s poster celebrates Melbourne’s first skyscraper, the iconic Manchester Unity Building on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Designed by architect Marcus Barlow in the Art Deco ‘Gothic’ style, it was built at high speed between 1930 and 1932, and provided much needed employment during the Depression. At twelve storeys high and topped with a decorative tower it was Melbourne’s tallest building and contained the city’s first escalators. A powerful symbol of the city’s modernity, it was often featured in images of Melbourne.

 

Unknown, Australia 'Evening dress' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Australia
Evening dress
c. 1935
Silk
144.0 cm (centre back), 36.0 cm (waist, flat)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Irene Mitchell, 1975

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Colour linocut, ed. 3/50
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were leading figures in modern art in Melbourne. In the 1920s they studied with modernist Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School in London, where they learnt to make colour linocuts that followed Flight’s principles of rhythmic design combined with flat colour. In April 1933 Spowers and Syme visited the Yallourn Power Station in Gippsland, which had been opened in 1928 and was the largest supplier of electricity to the state.

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968) 'Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)' 1931

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968)
Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)
1931
Oil on canvas on plywood
44.7 x 49.2 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Purchased 1983
© QAGOMA

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham's 'George Street, Sydney' (1934) from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham’s George Street, Sydney (1934) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After serving in the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War, Herbert Badham studied at the Sydney Art School and began exhibiting in 1927. In his paintings he was a keen observer of everyday urban life: streets with shoppers, city workers on their lunch break and drinkers in the pub were painted in a contemporary, hard-edged realist style.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Rush hour in King's Cross' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Rush hour in King’s Cross
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
41.2 x 40.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Mr A.C. Goode, Fellow, 1987

 

 

During the 1930s the city provided a rich source of imagery for artists working in modern styles, who celebrated the speed and efficiency of modern transport technology and expanding road and rail networks. Yet as car ownership increased during the 1930s, larger cities began to suffer congestion and the rush hour became part of urban life. Throughout the decade the pace and stress of modern life became a topic of public debate, with conservative commentators decrying this transformation of the Australian lifestyle.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Grace Cossington Smith’s The Bridge in-curve at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Grace Cossington Smith. 'The Bridge in-curve' 1930

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia 1892-1984, England and Germany 1912-14, England and Italy 1949-51)
The Bridge in-curve
1930
Tempera on cardboard
83.6 x 111.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1967
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

The slow rise of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above the city was recorded by numerous painters, printmakers and photographers, including Sydney modernist Grace Cossington Smith. Her iconic The Bridge-in-curve depicts the bridge just before its two arches were joined in August 1930, and conveys the sense of wonder, achievement and hope that was inspired by this engineering marvel. By painting the emerging, rather than the complete bridge, Cossington Smith also focuses our attention on the energy and ambition required to create it.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Installation view of Frank Hinder’s Trains passing (1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Trains passing
1940
Oil on composition board
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974

 

 

Frank Hinder was one of the first abstract artists in Australia. After living and studying in the United States, Hinder and his wife, the American sculptor Margel, returned to Sydney in 1934. There they became part of a small avant-garde group that included Grace Crowley, Rah Fizelle, Ralph Balson and the German sculptor and art historian Eleanore Lange, all of whom were interested in Cubist, Constructivist and Futurist art. Hinder later said that this work was inspired by seeing Lange, sitting next to him on a train, reflected in the windows of a passing train.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Commuters' 1938

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Commuters
1938
Tempera on paper on board
Private collection

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976 'The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress' 1937

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976
The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress
1937
Booklet: colour photolithographs and letterpress,
12 pages, cardboard cover
printed by Queen City Printers, Melbourne
20.8 x 26.8 cm (closed)
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Launched in November 1937, The Spirit of Progress express passenger train was a source of immense pride to Victorians. Built in Newport, Victoria, the train featured many innovations, including all-steel carriages and full air-conditioning. Designed in the Art Deco, streamlined style by architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the passenger carriages were fitted out to a level of comfort not previously seen in Australia, and included a full dining carriage. The train ran between Melbourne and the New South Wales state border at Albury, the longest non-stop train journey in Australia at that time, at an average speed of 84 kilometres per hour.

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis' 'Speed!' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis’ Speed! from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924) 'Speed!' 1931

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924)
Speed!
1931
Colour process block print
Art Gallery of South Australia
Adelaide South Australian Government Grant 1986

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s 'Night gown' c. 1938

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s
Night gown
c. 1938
Silk (a) 166.0 cm (centre back) 38.9 cm (waist, flat) (dress) (b) 121.0 cm (centre back) 38.0 cm (waist, flat) (slip)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs A. G. Pringle, 1982

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross left and Frank Hinder’s Jackhammer third from right and Margel Hinder’s Man with jackhammer second right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934) 'Man with jackhammer' 1939

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934)
Man with jackhammer
1939
Cedar
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of J. B. Were & Son, Governor, 2001

 

 

American-born Margel Hinder was one of Australia’s leading modernist sculptors. She had studied art in Boston, where she met and married Sydney artist Frank Hinder. In 1934 they moved to Australia and became an important part of Sydney’s small modern art scene. In Man with jackhammer Hinder has simplified and contained the figure within a square frame, the strong diagonal form of the jackhammer creating a sense of compressed energy and force. Man and machine have fused in this celebration of industry and progress.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Jackhammer' 1936

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Jackhammer
1936
Airbrush on black paper
52.0 x 38.0 cm
Private collection, Sydney
© Enid Hawkins

 

 

Modern Woman

In the 1930s the new ‘Modern Woman’ made her appearance as a more serious and emancipated version of the giddy 1920s ‘flapper’. A woman who worked, she often lived alone in one of the new city apartment buildings, visited nightclubs and showed less interest in traditional marriage and child rearing. A lean body type became fashionable and was enhanced by the lengthened hemlines and defined waists introduced by French couturier Jean Patou in 1929. This slender silhouette was supported by form-fitting foundation garments by manufacturers such as Berlei.

The Modern Woman became one of the most potent images of contemporary life, being celebrated in women’s magazines such as the ultra-stylish Home and the Australian Women’s Weekly, launched in 1933. While such magazines were congratulating her and promoting new consumer goods to the Modern Woman, at the same time she was criticised by conservative commentators. In 1937 photographer Max Dupain wrote: ‘There must be a great shattering of modern values if woman is to continue to perpetuate the race… In her shred of a dress and little helmet of a hat, her cropped hair, and stark bearing, the modern woman is a sort of a soldier… It is not her fault it is her doom’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Peter Purves Smith’s Maisie left, Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Peter Purves Smith’s Lucile at  top right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Lina Bryans The babe is wise at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Maisie' 1938-39

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Maisie
1938-39
Gouache
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Bequest of Lady Maisie Drysdale 2001

 

 

In 1937 the striking, auburn-haired Maisie Newbold was a student at the George Bell School in Melbourne, where she met fellow student Peter Purves Smith and his best friend Russell Drysdale. Maisie and Purves Smith were married in 1946, only three years before latter’s premature death from tuberculosis. Purves Smith painted this portrait at the start of their relationship. It depicts Maisie as a stylish woman wearing the latest fashion, the angularity of her features contrasted by the soft fur of her collar and feathers of her hat. Many years later Maisie married Drysdale.

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig's work 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig’s work Peggy c. 1932
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 - Australia 1909, Australia from 1902) 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 – Australia 1909, Australia from 1902)
Peggy
c. 1932
Oil on canvas
40.4 x 30.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1978
© The Estate of Sybil Craig

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910)
The babe is wise
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962

 

 

Lina Bryans’s portrait of author Jean Campbell is titled after Campbell’s 1939 novel The Babe is Wise, a contemporary story set in Melbourne and in which the main protagonists are European migrants. A well-known figure in Melbourne’s literary circles, Campbell was noted for her ‘quick and slightly audacious wit’. Bryans had begun painting in 1937 with the support of William Frater. In the late 1930s she lived at Darebin Bridge House, which became an informal artists’ colony and meeting place for writers associated with the journal Meanjin.

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Lucile' 1937

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Lucile
1937
Oil on board
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 2011 with funds raised through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37) 'Self-portrait' 1932

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37)
Self-portrait
1932
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Acquired with the assistance of the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2011

 

 

During the first decade of her life as a professional artist, Nora Heysen completed numerous self-portraits. In many of these she depicts herself in the act of drawing or painting, holding a palette and brush or with other accoutrements of the artist, and thereby asserting her professional identity. Yet these are also highly charged works in which Heysen scrutinises herself (and the viewer) with an unflinching and unsmiling gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Arthur Challen’s Miss Moira Madden above chair
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Arthur Challen 'Miss Moira Madden' 1937

 

Arthur Challen
Miss Moira Madden
1937
oil on canvas
89.8 x 77.4 cm (framed)
State Library of Victoria
Gift of Mrs S. M. Challen, 1966
© The Estate of Arthur Challen

 

 

Body culture

The terrible physical losses and psychological traumas of the First World War changed Australian society and prompted anxious concerns about the direction of the nation. For some this meant an inward-looking isolationism, a desire that Australian culture should develop independently and untouched by the ‘degenerate’ influences of Europe.

The search for rejuvenation frequently involved explorations of the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the human body. In the hands of artists, corporeal forms came to symbolise nationhood, most often expressed through references to the art of Classical Greece and mythological subjects. The evolution of a new Australian ‘type’ was also proposed in the 1930s – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by time spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.

This art often has a distinctive quality to it, which in the light of history can sometimes make for disquieting viewing. With the terrible knowledge of how the Nazi Party in Germany subsequently used eugenics in its systematic slaughter of those with so-called ‘bad blood’, the Australian enthusiasm for ‘body culture’ can now seem problematic. Images of muscular nationalism soon lost their cache in Australia following the Second World War, tainted by undesirable fascistic overtones.

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Harvest' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Harvest
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph (25.6 x 30.5 cm)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2000

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Discus thrower' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Discus thrower
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
38.5 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Souvenir of Cronulla' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Souvenir of Cronulla
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of National Australia Bank Limited, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1992

 

 

In the 1930s Max Dupain responded to Henri Bergson’s book Creative Evolution (1907) in which he considered creativity and intuition as central to the renewed development of society, and the artist as prime possessor of these powers. Vitalism, as this philosophy was termed, was believed to be expressed through polarised sexual energies. In this work Dupain focuses on the sexually differentiated ‘energies’ of men and women, associating women with the forces of nature.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Daphne Mayo’s A young Australian in foreground
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25) 'A young Australian' 1930, cast 1931

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25)
A young Australian
1930, cast 1931
Bronze, marble
(a-b) 51.0 x 35.2 x 18.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1930
© 1982 by The Surf Life Saving Foundation and the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust (Q.)

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes and Resting Diana at left; Tom Purvis’ Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations (wall print) at centre rear; and Jean Broome-Norton’s Abundance on plinth at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959) 'Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations' c. 1938

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959)
Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations
c. 1938
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill's 'Neo-classical nudes' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 - Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929) 'Resting Diana' 1931

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 – Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929)
Resting Diana
1931
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

The invocation of the Classical body as a modern prototype was a powerful idea in the 1930s. The Graeco- Roman goddess Diana, the virgin patron goddess of the hunt, was popularly invoked as an ideal of female perfection, and represented with a slender and athletic physique. Dorothy Thornhill’s Diana is a remarkable visualisation of such a ‘modern Diana’, her angular body and defined musculature reflecting the masculinisation of female bodies at this time. She is a formidable presence, the quiver of arrows slung nonchalantly across her shoulders a trophy of her victory over the male gender.

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002) 'Abundance' 1934

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002)
Abundance
1934
Plaster, bronze patination
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of ICI Australia Limited, Fellow, 1994

 

 

“High-rise buildings, fast trains and engineering feats such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge jostled against the Great Depression, conservatism and a looming Second World War during the 1930s, one of the most turbulent decades in Australian history. The major exhibition at the NGV, Brave New World: Australia 1930s, will explore the way artists and designers engaged with these major issues providing a fresh look at a period characterised by both optimism and despair. The exhibition will present a broad-ranging collection of more than 200 works spanning photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and decorative arts as well as design, architecture, fashion, graphics, film and dance.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, commented, “Brave New World explores an important period of Australian art history during which Abstraction, Surrealism and Expressionism first emerged, and women artists arose as trailblazers of the modern art movement. It will offer an immersive look at the full spectrum of visual and creative culture of the period, from Max Dupain’s iconic depictions of the Australian body and beach culture to a vast display of nearly 40 Art Deco radios, which were an indispensable item for the Australian home during the 1930s.”

Presented thematically, Brave New World will show how artists and designers responded to major social and political concerns of the 1930s. The Great Depression, which saw Australia’s unemployment rate rise to 32% by 1932, is seen through the eyes of photographer F. Oswald Barnett in his powerful images of poverty-stricken inner Melbourne suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood and Carlton, and in the works of Danila Vassilieff, Yosl Bergner, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker who were among the first artists to depict Australia’s working class and destitute.

In contrast, many other artists at the time chose to focus upon the vibrant city streets, cafes and buildings of contemporary Australian cities, such as renowned modernist Grace Cossington Smith with her energetic canvasses of flat colours and abstracted forms. Other artists featured in Brave New World including Hilda Rix Nicholas and Elioth Gruner concentrated on more traditional scenes of the Australian bush, which was seen as a place of respite from the frenetic pace of modern city life.

The exhibition will explore artists’ responses to the growing calls for Indigenous rights during the 1930s, which was accompanied by a rising interest in Aboriginal art and particularly the work of Albert Namatjira, the first Indigenous artist of renown in Australia; and the rise of the ‘modern woman’, a female who favoured urban living, freedom and equality over marriage and child rearing.

The 1930s also saw the idea of the ‘Australian body’, a tanned, muscular archetype shaped by sand and surf, come to the fore of the Australian identity. Artists who engaged with this idea, including Max Dupain, Charles Meere and Olive Cotton, will be presented in Brave New World. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 212-page hardback publication, featuring essays by leading writers on each of the exhibition themes. A series of public programs will also be offered including a major symposium, an Art Deco walking tour of Melbourne and a dance performance, recreating Demon machine (1924) by the Bodenweiser company that toured Australia in the late 1930s as well as an original solo by the choreographer, Carol Brown (NZ).

Press release from the NGV

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937) 'Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D'Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour' 1939-40

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937)
Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D’Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour
1939-40
Gelatin silver photograph
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection. Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

The expressive body: dance in Australia

If modern art encapsulated the ideals and conflicting forces of the early twentieth century, then modern dance embodied its restless vitality and the quest for a different kind of subjectivity and expression. To many, modern dance is the pivotal art form for a mid twentieth century concerned with plasticity, the expressive body and tensions between the individual and its collective formation.

The decade of the 1930s is framed by the 1928-29 tour of Anna Pavlova’s dance company and the three tours of the remnant Ballets Russes companies (1936-37, 1938-39,1939-40) that excited many aspiring modernist artists. These tours sowed the seeds for subsequent ballet narratives in Australia, because the eruption of war in 1939 meant that Ballets Russes dancers, including Helene Kirsova and Edouard Borovansky, stayed in the country and established ballet companies. While trained in Russian dance technique, these artists were also influenced by the aesthetics of change in European art and dance that included new bodily techniques, dynamic movement patterns and modern technologies. It was the individual dancers of modern dance, however, including Louise Lightfoot and Sonia Revid, who produced the expressive intensity of a more autonomous art of movement.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA featuring a wall print of Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach c. 1935 by an unknown Australian photographer
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Australia, Unknown photographer. 'Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach' c. 1935

 

Australia, Unknown photographer
Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach
c. 1935
Courtesy of State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Sonia Revid was one of the leading proponents of modern interpretative dance in Melbourne. Born in Latvia, she studied with the great dancer Mary Wigman in Germany before coming to Australia in 1932. Revid is credited with introducing the ‘German Dance’ to Australian audiences, and in the mid 1930s established the Sonia Revid School of Art and Body Culture in Collins Street. She composed her own dances, one of the best known being Bushfire drama (1940), based on the 1939 Victoria Bushfires.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
44.5 x 33.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20) 'Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet' 1936-37

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20)
Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
24.8 x 19.4 cm
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

Choreographed by Léonide Massine in 1933, Les Presages (Destiny) was a popular and avant-garde work during the Ballets Russes tours to Australia in 1936-37. It was one of the first contemporary ballets to be choreographed to an existing musical score, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Portrayed in this picture are two principal dancers from the Monte Carlo Ballets Russes: Hélène Kirsova, who remained in Australia and formed her own ballet company in Sydney in the early 1940s, and Igor Youskevitch, who became a leading American ballet dancer, appearing here in the role of the Hero.

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s 'Dress for Slavonic Dances' 1939

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s
Dress for Slavonic Dances
1939
Cotton, silk (velvet) (appliqué), elastic, metal (zip) for a production of the Bodenwieser Ballet, choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Bodenwieser Collection. Gift of Barbara Cuckson, 2000

 

 

The Slavonic Dances were choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser to represent what she described as the ‘vigour and passionate feelings of the Slavonic people’, and toured with her first company in Australia in 1939. Loosely using folk-dance motifs, this ensemble work would have been a stylish crowd-pleaser in contrast to more serious dances. The appliqué and colourful flower motifs on this dress are similar to designs by Natalia Goncharova for the Ballets Russes, although the simplified appeal of its ‘red bodice, long, swirling skirt, and gathered white sleeves’ were probably designed by one of the company dancers, Evelyn Ippen.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Tamara Tchinarova in Presages' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Tamara Tchinarova in Presages
Published in Art in Australia, February 15, 1937
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Shaw Research Library

 

 

Australia Tunes Into The World

These radios comprise a selection of Australian designed and manufactured tabletop models from the 1930s at a time when this new method of communication became an integral part of every home. They reflect the rapid spread of the streamlined style to Australia from the United States, England and Europe, where industrial designers applied machine-age styling to everyday household appliances. The use of new synthetic plastics (Bakelite) and mass production helped to make radios affordable for ordinary people, even in the depths of the Depression, and radio transmission brought the world into every Australian home. As cheap alternatives to the expensive wooden console in the lounge room, these small, portable radios allowed individual family members to listen to serials, quizzes and popular music in other rooms such as the kitchen, bedroom and verandah, as well as in the workplace.

Radios of the 1930s are now appreciated as quintessential examples of Art Deco styling, and one of the first expressions of art meeting industry. These colourful and elegant radio sets were one of the first pieces of modern styling in the Australian home. They were also a symbol of modern technology and a new future.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer) 'Mullard' 1938

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (white)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (speckled green)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (black)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA 'Egg crate' (various colours)' 1938

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA ‘Egg crate’ (various colours)
1938
Bakelite
21.0 x 33.0 x 19.0 cm (each)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA Radiolette 'Empire State' and cigarette box (green)' 1934

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA Radiolette ‘Empire State’ and cigarette box (green)
1934
Bakelite
(a) 28.0 x 27.0 x 15.0 cm (radio) (b) 8.0 x 8.0 x 4.5 cm (cigarette box)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Sun and surf

The beach was a complex location in the Australian creative imagination. It was a democratic site in which the trappings of wealth and position were abandoned as people stripped down to their bathers. It was a place of hedonistic pleasures that offered sensuous engagement with sun and surf, and a primitive landscape where natural forces restored the bodies of those depleted by modern life. It was a playground for the tourist that was considered distinctively Australian. As war loomed again in the late 1930s, it was also a pseudo-militaristic zone in which the lifesaver was honed for ‘battle’ in the surf.

The lifesavers that helped protect the beach-going public were regularly praised as physical exemplars who could build the eugenic stock of the nation. As the Second World War approached, the connection of these trained lifesavers to military servicemen also became painfully apparent.

Male lifesavers were used by artists in promoting Australia to tourists: a poster commemorating the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 positioned the lifesaver as the quintessential representative of Australian manhood. Douglas Annand and Arthur Whitmore’s virile lifesaver proudly gestures towards the new bridge, his muscles as strong and protective as the steel girders that span the harbour.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'On the beach. Man, woman, boy' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
On the beach. Man, woman, boy
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
39.2 x 47.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Showing a naked family on the beach, Max Dupain’s work is a perfect illustration of social concerns of the times. As Australia moved closer to engagement in another world war, fears about the poor physical fitness of the population were debated, with a ‘national fitness’ campaign instituted by the government in 1938. Dupain’s father, George, was one of the country’s first physical educationalists, opening the Dupain Institute of Physical Education and Medical Gymnastics in 1900 and writing extensively on the subject of health and fitness. Max Dupain attended the gym and was well versed in contemporary concerns about fitness.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Male lifesaver, window' and 'Female lifesaver, window' (both c. 1935)

 

Installation view of Male lifesaver, window and Female lifesaver, window (both c. 1935) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Male lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Male lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.5 x 40.8 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by C. J Dennis

 

 

‘On golden and milky sands, bodily excellence is displayed the year round, clearly defined by the sun in an atmosphere as viewless and benign as the air of Hellas as described by Euripides.’

J. S. Macdonald, 1931

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Female lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Female lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.0 x 40.9 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by Councillor R. T. Bell

 

 

Although much was made of the ‘gods of the golden sand’, as one poet glowingly described lifesavers, lifesaving clubs were not entirely male in membership. Women lifesavers also made their mark, albeit in more limited numbers and with much less recognition. At the Williamstown Lifesaving Club in Melbourne a woman lifesaver was included in this fine and very rare stained glass window that, along with its counterpart featuring a male lifesaver, graced the newly established clubhouse around 1935.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the male and female lifesavers (centre); Max Dupain’s The carnival at Bondi (fourth from right); Sydney Bridge celebrations (second right); and Douglas Annand and Max Dupain’s Australia (right)
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Sunbaker
(1938), dated 1937, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
38.0 x 43.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

 

Taken on a camping trip near Culburra, on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales, in January 1938, Max Dupain’s original version of the Sunbaker was a much darker image that existed at the time only in an album gifted to his friend Chris Van Dyke. Dupain lost the original negative and printed this variant version in 1975 for an exhibition. It is an image that is now considered an icon in Australian photography, and has come to represent key values of the interest in ‘body culture’, celebrating health and fitness in the context of the beach.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'The carnival at Bondi' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
The carnival at Bondi
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

‘The lifesaving teams … are splendid examples of the physique, resourcefulness and vitality of our youth and manhood. They are typical of the outdoor life which Australians lead and they are living testimonies to the value of surfing and the vigor and stamina of our race.’

DAILY EXAMINER, July 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Manly' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Manly
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from funds donated by Hallmark Cards Australia Pty Ltd, 1987

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'The seaside calls - go by train - take a Kodak' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
The seaside calls – go by train – take a Kodak
1930s
Colour lithograph
Printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee

 

 

Gert Sellheim was born to German parents in Estonia, at that time part of the Russian Empire. After studying architecture in Europe he travelled to Western Australia in 1926, before settling in Melbourne in 1931, where he began working as an industrial and commercial designer. Working for the Australian National Travel Association, Sellheim created a series of posters promoting beach holidays, which incorporated Art Deco motifs and typography. His most famous design is the flying kangaroo logo for Qantas, which he created in 1947.

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65) 'Sydney Bridge celebrations' 1932

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65)
Sydney Bridge celebrations
1932
Colour lithograph
47.6 x 63.6 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Australia' c. 1937

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Australia
c. 1937
Colour and process lithograph
105.3 x 68.4 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76) 'Follow the sun - Australia's 150th Anniversary celebrations' 1938

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76)
Follow the sun – Australia’s 150th Anniversary celebrations
1938
Colour lithograph and photolithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

The 1930s were the heyday of the travel poster. Posters were commissioned by railway and tourism groups or shipping companies and airlines to promote Australian holiday destinations, both at home and overseas. The Australian National Travel Association was formed in 1929 to promote Australia to overseas markets. As part of its strategy it commissioned posters from leading graphic artists, such as Percy Trompf, James Northfield and Douglas Annand. From the late 1920s Australia began to actively promote itself to the world by using the beach, sun and surf as motifs.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the work of John Rowell, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Gert Sellheim and Percy Trompf on the far wall, and Robert E. Coates Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) on the projector screen at left
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

The Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair projected an image of Australia as a young and healthy nation, a place of industry, sport and tourism. Designed by John Oldham of Sydney architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the modern design of the building was complemented by Douglas Annand’s interior displays featuring the latest graphic design, and audio-visual and photomontage techniques. These photographs of the Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair were taken by commercial photographer Robert E. Coates.

 

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

 

Installation views of Robert E. Coates’ Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) (digital images, looped)

 

 

Pastoral landscapes

Along with the beach, another national myth evolved around the Australian bush. Although most Australians lived in cities, in the years following the First World War the nation became increasingly informed by a mythology centred on the bush and the landscape. For those who considered the modern city a profoundly depleting force, the bush was a touchstone of traditional ‘values’. It was nostalgically conceived of as an idyllic natural realm whose soil, literally and metaphorically, sustained its people. Both the classical Pastoral ideal of a land in which only sheep and cattle roam, and the Georgic tradition, which celebrated the achievements of agriculture, became dominant themes in landscape art.

Pastoral landscapes were admired above all as representing the antithesis of ‘decadent’ modern life. As art critic and gallery director J. S. Macdonald wrote, such art would ‘point the way in which life should be lived in Australia, with the maximum of flocks and the minimum of factories’. With their emphasis on farming and pastoral industries, such works affirmed white landownership, with Indigenous people largely absent.

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973) 'Blue hills' c. 1936

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973)
Blue hills
c. 1936
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1936

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Spring in the Grampians' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Spring in the Grampians
1930s
Colour photolithograph
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 2000

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The fair musterer' c. 1935

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The fair musterer
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 1971

 

 

As a young artist Hilda Rix Nicholas had a successful career in France before returning to Australia after the First World War. In 1934, several years after the birth of her son, Rix Nicholas returned to painting and depicted her new life living on the family property Knockalong, on the Monaro Plains in New South Wales. Depicting the governess of her young son holding the reins of her horse, dog at her feet, and sheep in the distance, in The fair musterer Rix Nicholas claims for women an active role in the masculine world of pastoral Australia.

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The shepherd of Knockalong' 1933

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The shepherd of Knockalong
1933
Oil on canvas
Collection of Peter Rix, Sydney
Courtesy of Deutscher & Hackett

 

 

Depicting the artist’s husband and young son, The shepherd of Knockalong is a reminder of the traditional importance of the wool industry to the nation’s economy. With his legs firmly connected to the ground and pictured as a large figure dominating the landscape setting, the farmer is the benign owner and ‘shepherd’ of the land spreading out behind him, the presence of his young son ensuring dynastic succession. At a time when Aboriginal people were confined to reservations and denied citizenship, Hilda Rix Nicholas’s painting can also be considered as an assertion of the British colonisers’ right to ownership of Australia.

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Western Australia' c. 1936

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Western Australia
c. 1936
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Indigenous art and culture

During the 1930s Aboriginal people were often pejoratively referred to as a ‘dying race’. The Australian Government continued to enforce a ‘divide and rule’ assimilationist policy. Determined by eugenics, this entailed removing Aboriginal people of mixed descent from their families and reserves, and absorbing them into the dominant society, with consequent loss of their own language and customary ritual practices. Increasingly during this period, Aboriginal people formed their own organisations and agitated for full citizenship rights.

This was also a decade that saw increasing awareness of, and interest in, Indigenous art. Albert Namatjira astonished Melbourne audiences at his first solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1938. Comprising forty-one watercolour paintings, all of his works sold within three days of the opening. The following year the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased one of Namatjira’s works. Indigenous art also inspired non-Indigenous artists, including Margaret Preston and Frances Derham who appropriated design elements in their works. The idea of ‘Aboriginalism’, in which settlers sought an Australian identity in the context of Britishness and the Empire, saw artists travelling to the outback to paint and sketch subjects they believed connected them to Indigenous history.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) Kangaroo and 'Aboriginal motifs' 1925-1940

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo and Aboriginal motifs
1925-1940
Linocut printed in brown ink on buff paper
4.6 x 7.3 cm (image) 12.6 x 10.3 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988
© Estate of Frances Derham

 

 

Best known as a progressive educator and advocate of children’s art, Frances Derham was also an active member of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria, and with potter Allan Lowe shared Margaret Preston’s interest in the appropriation of Indigenous art. From the mid 1920s Derham began to incorporate Aboriginal motifs into her linocuts and in 1929, synchronous with the exhibition Australian Aboriginal Art at the Museum of Victoria, Derham presented a lecture to the Arts and Crafts Society, entitled ‘The Interest of Aboriginal Art to the Modern Designer’.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'Kangaroo (at the zoo)' c. 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo (at the zoo)
c. 1931
Linocut printed in brown ink on Chinese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'The Aboriginal artist' 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
The Aboriginal artist
1931
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19) 'Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales' 1940-1941

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19)
Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales
1940-1941
Oil and gouache on canvas
53.7 x 45.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated from the Estate of Dr Donald Wright, 2008
© Margaret Preston/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

During the 1920s Margaret Preston considered Aboriginal art a source of good design in the decoration of household items. In the 1930s her study of Aboriginal culture intensified, as she developed a greater interest in its anthropological and cosmological elements. In 1940 Preston travelled to the Northern Territory to study Aboriginal art. On her return she developed a more explicit Aboriginal style in paintings featuring earthy tones, strong black outlines and patterns of dots and lines.

 

Unknown Walamangu active (1930s) 'Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)' c. 1935

 

Unknown
Walamangu active (1930s)
Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)
c. 1935
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.), resin
128.3 x 63.9 cm
The Donald Thomson Collection
Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, segregation was the main government policy regarding Aboriginal people. It was re-enforced by the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act, which gave the Aborigines Protection Board the power to control where Aboriginal people lived in New South Wales. In 1937 the Commonwealth Government adopted a policy of assimilation, whereby Aboriginal people of mixed descent were henceforth to be assimilated into white society, while others were confined to reserves. In 1931 Arnhem Land was declared an Aboriginal Reserve by the government and non-Indigenous entry into the region was restricted.

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani Liyagalawumirr active 1930s 'Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story)' 1937

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani
Liyagalawumirr active 1930s
Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story) (installation view)
1937
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.)
The Donald Thomson Collection Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For Yolgnu people, painting on bark or objects is intimately connected with painting on the body, and the Yolgnu term barrawan means both ‘skin’ and ‘bark’. These paintings are transcriptions of the sacred designs that were painted onto men’s bodies and convey the power of the Yolgnu ancestors whose actions created their world. The Wagilag Sisters Dreaming story chronicles the creative acts of the sisters as they travelled across Arnhem Land. Such stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations.

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40) 'Walila, Pintupi tribe' 1934

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40)
Walila, Pintupi tribe
1934
Pencil
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1934

 

 

In 1933, on the invitation of Professor H. Whitridge Davies, Sydney artist Arthur Murch accompanied a research team from Sydney University to Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, south-west of Alice Springs. Murch remained there for six weeks painting the landscapes and making portraits of Indigenous people. These were exhibited in Sydney soon after his return.

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938) 'Thomas Foster' (installation view) 1934

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938)
Thomas Foster (installation view)
1934
Oil on canvas
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Isabelle Leason, 1969
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Thomas Foster was born at Coranderrk Station in 1882, the son of Edward Foster and Betsy Benfield. Foster’s was one of the last portraits painted by Leason as part of the unfortunately titled exhibition The Last of the Victorian Aborigines. These portraits were debuted on 11 September at the Athenaeum Gallery in Collins Street, Melbourne, to great public acclaim. Foster, like most of Leason’s subjects, appears shirtless, his arms folded behind his back, pushing forward his chest and clearly showing his scarification marks.

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Corroboree Australia' 1934

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Corroboree Australia
1934
Colour lithograph printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Australian National Travel Association, 1934

 

 

Dystopian cities

Australia was hit hard by the Great Depression. The worst year was 1932, when unemployment reached nearly thirty-two per cent, and by the following year almost a third of all unemployed men had been without work for three years. With wages cut and unemployment rising, many families were left struggling to survive and this poverty was most evident in run-down, inner-city areas. Two émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner, were the first Australian artists to turn their attention to the plight of the urban poor and the disposed. Their powerful, expressive style was influential upon young artists, including Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Economic hardship fostered bitterness and political unrest, and membership of radical groups on both the left and right increased. Boundaries between political agendas and art production became porous in this decade, and many artists believed, like Bergner, ‘that by painting we would change the world’. The complex enmeshment of the creative and political became a defining feature of the decade, and art in Australia became increasingly political, with the political realm involving itself with art.

By the end of the decade the worsening political situation overseas and a sense that another world war was inevitable contributed to a growing sense of unease. Many artists expressed this anxiety and foreboding in their works.

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90) 'No title (War montage with globe)' c. 1939

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90)
No title (War montage with globe)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.4 x 24.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of Mrs Mem Kirby, Fellow, 2001

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Hot rhythm!' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Hot rhythm!
1936
Silver gelatin photograph
24.7 x 17.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

In this work, Max Dupain has the shadow of a slide trombone seemingly bisect the naked body of a woman in a photograph that, in the context of his known views, is less an erotic celebration of modern jazz culture and nightlife than a comment on the disruptive nature of modernity.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Doom of youth' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Doom of youth
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

In Doom of youth – a title taken from Wyndham Lewis’s 1932 polemical book of the same name – Max Dupain creates an allegorical photograph in which a naked male body represents his vision of modern Australia. Using symbols that suggest disempowerment, Dupain implies that the flywheel of mechanisation has doomed youth (the representatives of a nation’s future) to a bleak fate.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep' 1936-37

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

Referring to Edward Hughes’s 1912 Symbolist work of the same name, Max Dupain has replaced the painter’s dark-winged goddess of the night, who tries to calm the putti (or ‘stars’) that cling to her, with an updated modern version in which city lights replace starlight. The symbolism of the giant breast that towers over the electric lights of the urban landscape suggests an inversion of the natural for the man-made. The personification of night refers to the Greek goddess Nyx, a powerful force born of Chaos, and the mother of children including Sleep, Death and Pain. Given his often gloomy assessment of modernity, Dupain’s invocation of Nyx seems appropriate in the context.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Herbert Badham’s Paint and morning tea second left and Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait third from right
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961) 'Paint and morning tea' 1937

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961)
Paint and morning tea
1937
Oil on cardboard
75.6 x 71.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1937
© The Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker's 'Self-portrait' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the late 1930s Albert Tucker’s contact with émigré artists Yosl Bergner and Danila Vassilieff was to provide important encouragement for him to pursue his artistic vocation and to make art that was responsive to the issues of his time. In 1938 Tucker was a founding member of the Contemporary Art Society, and he became one of the most articulate voices in the often bitter debates between modernists and conservatives. In the 1940s, together with his partner Joy Hester, Tucker was a key member of the group of artists and writers that formed around John and Sunday Reed at Heide.

From 1936 until the early 1940s Albert Tucker chronicled himself with numerous painted and drawn self-portraits. In these works we witness a harrowing disintegration of his physical self, which mirrored the artist’s overwrought emotional state. He recalled: ‘It was a period when the whole world, and all the people I knew, seemed to be seething with ideas and energies and experiences; and my own mind was a seething mess … The highly emotional, overwrought expressionist paintings suited my state at the time’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with work by Danila Vassilieff on the centre black wall including Street scene with graffiti (left), Truth, Woolloomooloo (second left) and Young girl (Shirley) the large painting at right; and F. Oswald Barnett’s photographs of Melbourne slums in the display cabinet
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Street scene with graffiti' 1938

 

Installation view of Danila Vassilieff ‘s Street scene with graffiti (1938) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Truth, Woolloomooloo' 1936

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Truth, Woolloomooloo
1936
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

It is notable that the first artists to depict the poverty of inner-city slums were two recently arrived émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner. Russian-born Vassilieff, who had fought with the white Russian army, first arrived in Australia in 1923 before leaving again in 1929. On his return in 1935 he painted a series of dark streetscapes, depicting the inner suburban areas of Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills in Sydney. Moving to Melbourne, Vassilieff’s expressionist style influenced many young artists, including Lina Bryans, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan.

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Young girl (Shirley)' 1937

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Young girl (Shirley)
1937
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery Society of Victoria Century Fund, 1984

 

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. Rear view of house'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room 48 Palmerston Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne rubbish tip'

 

F. Oswald Barnett (Australia 1883–1972)

Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence
Fitzroy. Rear view of house
North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place
West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion
Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room, 48 Palmerston Street
North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street
West Melbourne rubbish tip

c. 1930-c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph and typewriting on card
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
F. Oswald Barnett Collection
Gift of Department of Human Services, Victoria 2001

 

 

One of the most visible and lasting effects of the Great Depression was the housing crisis in the poor working class areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Many of the nineteenth-century houses had fallen into disrepair, overcrowding was endemic and a great number of families lived in squalid and unhealthy conditions. Throughout the decade ‘slum’ abolition movements in Melbourne and Sydney ran public campaigns to place public housing on the political agenda, leading to the creation of the first state Housing Commissions.

In Melbourne, Methodist layman F. Oswald Barnett led a campaign calling for slum demolition and the rehousing of residents in government-financed housing. He took hundreds of photographs that were used in public lectures and to illustrate the 1937 report of the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board. This led to the creation of the Housing Commission of Victoria in 1938, with its first major project being the Garden City estate at Fishermans Bend. In Sydney a similar campaign led to the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and the construction of the first fifty-six home units at Erskineville. (NGV)

The photographs in the F. Oswald Barnett Collection were taken by Barnett and other unidentified photographers in the 1930s. Many of them were used to illustrate a government report on slum housing and/or made into lantern slides for lectures in a public campaign.  F. Oswald Barnett was born in Brunswick, Victoria. A committed Methodist and housing reformer, he led a crusade against Melbourne’s inner city slums. In 1936 he was appointed to the Slum Abolition Board and from 1938-1948 he was the vice-chair of the Housing Commission. In this position he attempted to shape compassionate public housing policy. He later protested vigorously against proposed high-rise housing (Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th century Australia).

 

 

Scenes from Melbourne during the depression (extract)
c. 1935
Black and white film transferred to media player
1 min. 51 sec. silent (looped)
Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Canberra

 

 

While there is an abundance of newspaper and documentary photographs which document the 1930s shanty towns, slums, relief and charity works, there is very little moving image recordings available. Instead, the moving image medium at the time was primarily focused on providing entertainment that would allow the audience temporary relief from the Depression. This rare footage depicts slum areas of inner Melbourne, and provides great insight into the horrible living conditions that many Australian families experienced.

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30) 'The sundowner' 1932

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30)
The sundowner
1932
Painted plaster
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jack and Zena Cohn, 2016

 

 

Ola Cohn studied sculpture with Henry Moore at the Royal College of Art in London in the 1920s. She returned to Melbourne in 1930, where the following year her solo exhibition established her as a leading proponent of modern sculpture. During the Depression the sight of ‘swagmen’ or ‘sundowners’ became commonplace as unemployed men travelled across the country in order to find work. In 1932 Cohn submitted this maquette of a sundowner to a competition for a full-scale sculpture to be erected in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne: unsurprisingly it was not chosen as the winning entry.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren at centre and Albert Tucker’s The futile city at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith's 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51) 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' 1940

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51)
The advance of Lot and his Brethren
1940
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 2008

 

 

In the early 1930s, artists depicted the city as a modern utopia, a place of triumphant progress and aspiration later in the decades, a new radical iconography of the city as a place of moral decay and corruption appeared. Painted at the start of the Second World War, Lot and his brethren expresses Bernard Smith’s despair at the conflagration that the world had been plunged into. Based on the biblical story of Lot, who fled from God’s destruction of Sodom, Smith depicts Karl Marx as the saviour who leads his people from the burning city.

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60) 'The futile city' 1940

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60)
The futile city
1940
Oil on cardboard
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Melbourne
Purchased from John and Sunday Reed, 1980

 

 

At the start of the Second World War Surrealism was an important influence upon Albert Tucker, as were the writings of T. S. Eliot. The futile city was inspired by Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land (1922): ‘I came on T. S. Eliot, and instantly I recognised a twin soul because here was horror, outrage, despair, futility, and all the images that went with them. He confirmed my own feelings and also became a source … because of the images that would involuntarily form while I was reading the poetry’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner's 'Citizen' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Yosl Bergner was one of approximately 7000-8000 Jewish people, mainly from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, who arrived in Australia between 1933 and 1939 fleeing Nazi persecution. This number included many artists, musicians, architects, writers and intellectuals who were to contribute greatly to Australia’s cultural life. However, government policy remained opposed to large-scale intake of Jewish refugees, and some were met with anti-Semitic sentiments upon their arrival.

 

Yvonne Atkinson (Australia 1918-99) 'The tram stop' 1937

 

Installation view of Yvonne Atkinson The tram stop (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Brave New World' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Brave New World
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 20.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2017

 

 

In 1935 Max Dupain referred to Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World (1932) in his photograph of a woman trapped by technology. Dupain was attracted to this biting satire on the ethical dilemmas of social engineering because it appeared to endorse his own fervently held ideas of how modernity was affecting the individual and national body. At the time his choice to directly reference this book was surprisingly provocative: Brave New World had been banned by the Australian customs department, with existing copies rounded up and burned. Dupain returned again to the theme in 1938, producing this variant version.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Brave New World (wall print) at centre rear with Sideboard and Chest of drawers at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Sideboard and Chest of drawers from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Sideboard' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Chest of drawers' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

Working-class people were the most affected by the high levels of unemployment during the Depression. By 1932 more than 60,000 men, women and children were dependent on the susso, a state-based sustenance payment that enabled families to buy only the bare minimum of food. Many families unable to pay their rent were evicted from their homes. For those suffering economic hardship, ‘making do’ became a way of life, and furniture would be constructed from found items such as kerosene tins and packing crates.

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer) John Long (publisher) 'Upsurge' 1934

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer)
John Long (publisher)
Upsurge
1934
London, March 1934
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Censorship of books was vigorously pursued by federal and state governments during the 1930s. Australia was one of only two countries in the world to ban Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when it was first published in 1932. Australian author J. M. Harcourt’s novel Upsurge (1934) was the first book to be banned following a recommendation by the newly established Book Censorship Board in 1934. Portraying the lives of Western Australia’s working class during the Depression, it was described by one customs official as ‘thinly disguised propaganda on behalf of Communism and social revolution’.

 

Activism

During the 1930s a small number of artists became active in the militant working-class struggle through their involvement in social and cultural organisations affiliated with the Communist Party, such as the Friends of the Soviet Union, the Workers’ Art Club and the Workers’ Theatre Group, which were formed in Sydney, Melbourne and other metropolitan centres. A number of these artists were also involved with a variety of mostly short-lived radical magazines, helping with their production, as well as providing covers and illustrations. Linocuts were a preferred medium for these artists, as the materials were inexpensive and the images reproduced well.

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980) 'Masses' 1932

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980)
Masses
Cover illustration for Masses, vol. 1, no. 1, printed by Bright Printing Services, published by the Workers’ Art Club, Melbourne, November 1932
1932
Linocut printed in red and black ink
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock's cover illustration for 'Strife', vol. 1, no. 1

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock’s cover illustration for Strife, vol. 1, no. 1 (1930) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Edited by eighteen-year-old communist Judah Waten, with Herbert McClintock as art editor, Strife declared itself ‘an organ of the new culture, destructive and constructive’. The first issue was due for release in October 1930; however, a blasphemous poem by Brian Fitzpatrick published in the magazine prompted a police raid on the Strife office and the editor’s hasty destruction of (most) copies of the issue.

 

Installation view of cover illustration for 'Proletariat', vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator

 

Installation view of cover illustration for Proletariat, vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

03
Oct
17

Review: ‘Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines’ at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 23rd June – 8th October 2017

 

Gregory Crewsdon. 'The Haircut' 2014

 

Gregory Crewdson
The Haircut
2014
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian

 

 

End of days

I have written critically and glowingly of Crewdson’s work in the past (see my review of his exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne 2012). With the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines the same elements are extant: life in the back woods of America, the tableaux beautifully staged and presented in large photographic prints throughout the three floors of the expansive spaces of the Photographers’ Gallery, London. And yet there is something particularly “icky”, if I can use that word, about this new body of work. What made me feel this way?

Firstly, I was uncomfortable with the number of naked or half-naked females (compared to men) in the photographs, all looking vulnerable, melancholic and isolated in small, rural town America. This is how Crewdson sees women in the microcosms he creates, women vulnerable in forest and cabin settings, but this incessant observation became/is objectionable to me. These are not powerful, strong, independent women, far from it. These are stateless women who peer endlessly out of windows, or sit on the end of beds looking downcast. It is almost degrading to females that these woman are so passive and objectified. Reinforcing the theme of isolation and desperation is the word “HELP!” painted on the bridge above a naked woman standing on a roadway; reinforcing the feeling of voyeurism is a woman’s bra hanging in a toilet being observed by a man on a pair of skis.

Secondly, compared to the earlier series, the spaces in these new photographs seem to be completely dead. The photographs look handsome enough but they have a very different feel from the previous work. While externally referencing a sense of space and uncertainty present in B grade movies, European and American 19th century landscape paintings (where the human figure is dwarfed by the supposed sublime), and the paintings of Edward Hopper – the spaces in these new works feel closed, locked down and a bit scary. Nothing is real (and never has been) in Crewdson’s work but this time everything seems to be over directed. As my friend Elizabeth Gertsakis observed, “The environmental context is chilling. The palette is extremely cold, there is no warmth at all. The viewer is not welcome, because there is nothing to be welcome to… even for curiosity’s sake. No one is real here – everything is silent.” Or dead. Or lifeless.

The whole series seems apathetic. That is, apathy with extreme effort. While Crewdson observes that the darkness lifted, leading to a reconnection with his artistic process and a period of renewal and intense creativity, this work is clearly at the end of something. As Elizabeth comments, “An invisible wall has come down here…. and there is absolutely no entry. This body of work is so much more pervy because it is so obvious and wooden. The camera here is well and truly in the mortuary and the photographer is the undertaker as well as the man who makes dead faces look ‘human’.” But he doesn’t make them human, and there’s the rub. Which all begs the question: where is this work going?

While Crewdson continues to move down a referential and associative path, the work fails to progress conceptually even as the work ultimately stagnates, both visually and emotionally. These wooden mise en scène are based on a very tired conceptual methodology, that of the narrative of the B grade movie which, if you have the money, time and willingness to invest in, can seem sufficiently sophisticated. Of course, buyers want to keep buying a signatory technique or idea that is easily recognisable and this adds to the cachet of the art… but as a critic you have to ask where the work is going, if an artist keeps repeating the same thing over and over and over again in slightly different contexts. Imagine if Degas had kept painting ballet dancers using the same lighting, the same perspective, the same colour palette, the same psychological investigation painting after painting… what we would be saying about the resulting work. Sure, there is great technical proficiency contained in Crewdson’s work, but is he pushing the work anywhere more interesting? And the simple answer to that question is, no he isn’t. No wonder he has been having a tough time reconnecting with his artistic process.

Marcus

.
All installation photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan, The Photographers’ Gallery and the artist. Please observe that there are reflections in the installation photographs of the surrounding gallery.

 

 

“It was deep in the forests of Becket, Massachusetts that I finally felt darkness lift, experienced a reconnection with my artistic process, and moved into a period of renewal and intense creativity.”

.
Gregory Crewdson

 

 

Room 1

Installation view of Room 1 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 1 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. Woman at Sink 2014

Installation view of Room 1 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 1 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. Woman in Parked Car 2014

Installation view of Room 1 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 1 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

 

Installation views of Room 1 of Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'The Basement' 2014

 

Gregory Crewdson
The Basement
2014
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian

 

 

This is the first UK exhibition of Cathedral of the Pines, a new body of work by acclaimed American artist Gregory Crewdson, and it is also the first time The Photographers’ Gallery has devoted all three of its gallery spaces to one artist.

With this series, produced between 2013 and 2014, Crewdson departs from his interest in uncanny suburban subjects and explores human relations within more natural environments. In images that recall nineteenth-century American and European paintings, Crewdson photographs figures posing within the small rural town of Becket, Massachusetts, and its vast surrounding forests, including the actual trail from which the series takes its title. Interior scenes charged with ambiguous narratives probe tensions between human connection and separation, intimacy and isolation.

Crewdson describes this project as ‘his most personal’, venturing to retrieve in the remote setting of the forest, a reminiscence of his childhood. The images in Cathedral of the Pines, located in the dystopian landscape of the anxious American imagination, create atmospheric scenes, many featuring local residents, and for the first time in Crewdson’s work, friends and family. In Woman at Sink, a woman pauses from her domestic chores, lost in thought. In Pickup Truck, Crewdson shows a nude couple in the flatbed of a truck in a dense forest – the woman seated, the man turned away in repose. Crewdson situates his disconsolate subjects in familiar settings, yet their cryptic actions – standing still in the snow, or nude on a riverbank – hint at invisible challenges. Precisely what these challenges are, and what fate awaits these anonymous figures, are left to the viewer’s imagination.

Crewdson’s careful crafting of visual suspense conjures forebears such as Diane Arbus, Alfred Hitchcock, and Edward Hopper, as well as the influence of Hollywood cinema and directors such as David Lynch. In Cathedral of the Pines, Crewdson’s persistent psychological leitmotifs evolve into intimate figurative dramas. Visually alluring and often deeply disquieting, these tableaux are the result of an intricate production process: For more than twenty years, Crewdson has used the streets and interiors of small-town America as settings for photographic incarnations of the uncanny.

Maintaining his trademark elaborate production processes, Crewdson works with a large crew to produce meticulously staged images with an obsessive attention to detail. Situated between Hollywood cinema and nineteenth-century American and European Romantic landscape painting, these scenes are charged with ambiguous narratives, which prove tensions between human connection and separation, intimacy and isolation.

Text from The Photographers’ Gallery website and wall text

 

Room 2

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. The VW Bus 2013

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. Pregnant Woman on Porch 2013

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. Father and Son 2013

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. The Ice Hut 2014

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. Sisters 2014

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. Sisters 2014 (detail)

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. The Disturbance 2014 (detail below)

Installation view of Room 2 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

 

Installation views of Room 2 of Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'The Disturbance' 2014

 

Gregory Crewdson
The Disturbance
2014
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian

 

Room 3

Installation view of Room 3 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 3 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Gregory Crewdson. Woman on Road 2014

Installation view of Room 3 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 3 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 3 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 3 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 3 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

Installation view of Room 3 of 'Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines' at The Photographers' Gallery

 

Installation views of Room 3 of Gregory Crewdson: Cathedral of the Pines at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

 

 

The Photographers Gallery
16-18 Ramillies Street
London
W1F 7LW

Opening hours:
Mon – Sat: 10.00 – 18.00
Thu: 10.00 – 20.00 during exhibitions
Sun: 11.00 – 18.00

The Photographers’ Gallery website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

Join 2,225 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Lastest tweets

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.

October 2017
M T W T F S S
« Sep   Nov »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Archives

Categories