Archive for April, 2018

27
Apr
18

Exhibition: ‘In the Beginning: Minor White’s Oregon Photographs’ at the Portland Art Museum Phase 1, Part 2

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2017 – 6th May 2018

Curated by Julia Dolan PhD, the Minor White Curator of Photography

 

Over two postings, Phase 1 of this exhibition which features one of the greatest collections of early photographs by Minor White!

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Dock)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Dock)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

Catching fire

It is a memorable experience to be able to observe a great artist experimenting with his craft, which is exactly what MW is doing in the photographs in these two postings. Here is an artist at the start of the path, honing his skills as a “creative photographer”: for these are creative, public photographs not expressive, private ones.

The photographs are a strange mix… part modernism, part romanticism, with a large dose of Pictorialism (dare I mention the word!) thrown in for good measure. I can see influences of the night work of Brassaï; the architectural photographs of Charles Sheeler; the photographs of Albert Renger-Patzsch and the German New Objectivity; the urban and urbane photographs of Walker Evans (The Customer, c. 1939 and Joseph, Oregon (Joseph Cemetery) c. 1940 below); the spatiality, surrealism and detail of Eugene Atget’s Paris photographs; and the landscape work of Ansel Adams. Overlay these influences with feelings of spirituality, sexuality and the atmosphere of place and you have a heady mix. And yet these photographs are purely his own.

What a time MW was having when he made these photographs. There were no limits to where he could point his camera.

As I talk to my friend and mentor about photography, we have brave conversations about artists, vision, looking, previsualition, representation, the print, and more generally life, words, spirit. He observed of this group of photographs:

.
“There were things that looked like photographs that other people had made.
There were things that were naively interesting to him for what they were.
There were things that allowed him to experiment with ideas of metaphor.
There was a combination of subject matter and light that enabled him to touch upon a world of symbol and ritual without him ever really being confident
in that world (at this time).

There were also affirmations of how he could organise the world through his camera. He knew he was really accomplished with organising the edges of his image (particularly the right hand edge) and how this segued into the centre of his images where he hoped he could also organise subject matter – but he was not as skilled with this. He was still learning his craft.

He also knew that he could escape reality by changing scale, changing the lightness of his subject matter, changing the mood of his images with print colour (cold events printed warm) and then affirming the mood of his images with print colour. He knew there must be more with how he printed – was he beginning to understand that there his knowledge of printing chemistry could also be applied to film chemistry? Maybe there was an inkling of this but he was never extremely skilful with this. And he was not trying to expose and change film development techniques according to the subject matter – but there were emerging confused questions about this that would be exceptionally refined later.

I don’t think he applied labels like modernist or romantic to himself – but he was burningly aware of his authorship – and it excited him to the bone. Sometimes he was aware that he was walking an edge between various worlds and this was starting to take a form where he was both teacher and student – he could sense it starting to appear in his images and this made him secretly full of delight.”

.
My friend has such a tremendous knowledge of the work of MW and of photography and life in general. I most appreciate the passing on of these observations to me. You really can feel that the artist is walking an edge between various worlds and that the photographs embody a critical shift in consciousness, from “truth in appearances” to a longing for transcendence. The work is full of symbolic and metaphorical allusions/illusions.

That MW’s photographs still offer these affirmations to the viewer nigh on 80 years later show’s the intensity of their visualisation. They are a gift from the cosmos to one human being and back to the cosmos (in the form of an ensō, or Zen circle), and should be accepted as such.

Marcus

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

 

“A banquet of frustration”: Minor White penned the phrase in 1939, after reading T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land. “I perceived that if one could put out the energy to produce a banquet of frustration, then frustration had power,” White commented. “It was worth pursuing.”(1)

(1) Minor White, “Memorable Fancies,” 1932-37; quoted in Peter C. Bunnell, Minor White: The Eye That Shapes (Princeton and Boston: The Art Museum, Princeton University; Bulfinch/Little, Brown, 1989), 19.

“The duplicity one senses in White’s career, in both his writing and his images, stems certainly from this frustration about sexuality (as Peter Bunnell has written,”White’s sexuality underlies the whole of the autobiographical statement contained in his work”),(6) but it also mirrors a much larger countertradition found within modernism itself, a romantic tradition that draws from Romanticism, Symbolism, Dada, and Surrealism. More specifically, White’s frustration coincides with the collapse of modernist ideals during the postwar era. This passage in the history of photography, if examined at all, is normally pinned to the arid vision of Robert Frank.(7) Aesthetically, White’s vision was less dark than Frank’s, and in no sense nihilistic. Yet White’s work embodies a critical shift in consciousness, from the heroic modernist notion of “truth in appearances” toward the acknowledgment – and even the cultivation – of illusion, deception, and buried meanings. White’s banquet of frustration would look like a tea setting compared to the theoretical abattoirs of generations of later artists; nevertheless, the historical narrative of photographic modernism’s dissolution owes an early chapter to White and his longing for transcendence, which he seems not to have attained.”

Extracts from Kevin Moore. “Cruising and Transcendence in the Photographs of Minor White,” on the Aperture website [Online] Cited 27/04/2018

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Propeller)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Propeller)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Freight Depot' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Freight Depot
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Girder)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Girder)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Portland Lumber Mills)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Portland Lumber Mills)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Log Boom' c. 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Log Boom
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Boats at Dock' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Boats at Dock
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'East Side of Willamette' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
East Side of Willamette
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Boards' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Boards
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Lily Pads and Pike' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Lily Pads and Pike
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Patch' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
The Patch
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Horsetail and Skunk Cabbage' 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Horsetail and Skunk Cabbage
1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Tree Root' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Tree Root
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Detail (California Foundry)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Detail (California Foundry)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Detail (227 Southeast Front Street)' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Detail (227 Southeast Front Street)
1938
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Front and Burnside' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Front and Burnside
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Ladd and Tilton Bank (1868 Southwest First and Stark Streets)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976
Ladd and Tilton Bank (1868 Southwest First and Stark Streets)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Pioneer Post Office and Portland Hotel Gate' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Pioneer Post Office and Portland Hotel Gate
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Southwest Fourth and Salmon Streets, Courthouse' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Southwest Fourth and Salmon Streets, Courthouse
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Kamm Building (Southwest Pine near First Avenue)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Kamm Building (Southwest Pine near First Avenue)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Fifth at Yamhill (Public Service Building)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Fifth at Yamhill (Public Service Building)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'New on Old (Southeast Corner, First and Burnside)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
New on Old (Southeast Corner, First and Burnside)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Iron Fronts' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
The Iron Fronts
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Front Street' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Front Street
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Arches of the Dodd Building (Southwest Front Avenue and Ankeny Street)
1938
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, no known copyright restrictions

 

 

In 1939 White was living at the Portland YMCA, where he had organised a camera club and had built a darkroom and modest gallery for exhibiting pictures. White’s photographs from this period concentrate on the environs of Portland, particularly the area of the commercial waterfront, which was undergoing demolition for redevelopment. Hired by the Oregon Art Project, an arm of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), White trawled the city’s Front Avenue neighbourhood, documenting the nineteenth-century buildings with cast-iron façades that were about to be torn down.(8) White’s photographs are anything but clinical. His street views, many taken at night, have a ghostlike quality, with the occasional lone figure haunting the wet pavement; boarded-up doorways are cast in deep shadow; and mercantile objects, heaped onto the sidewalk before emptied warehouses, take on a forlorn anthropological character.(9)

Among these pictures is a group of five depicting a handsome young man leaning in a doorway on Front Avenue. He is dressed like a labourer in jeans, work shirt, and boots, but there is something of the dandy in the raffish positioning of the man’s newsie cap, the tight cut of his trousers, pulled high and cinched at the waist, and the studied nonchalance of his pose. In one image, his hand is shoved into a pocket, leaving the index finger exposed and pointing downward toward a prominent bulge. Most importantly, he gazes – not at the photographer but down the street – intently and expectantly, as if anticipating something that has not yet come into view. A second photograph shows the man from behind, revealing the nape of his neck, a pair of rounded buttocks, and white stains splashed down the right thigh of his trousers. The pose suggests that he is urinating in this abject doorway with its peeling paint and debris underfoot; he could be taken for a plasterer relieving himself during a break. Another image, taken in a different boarded-up doorway, shows the man leaning with one arm raised and smiling coyly (again, not at the photographer), with his thumbs slipped under his belt and his fingers cupped, calling attention once again to his bulge. An “Air Circus” poster behind him advertises “Tex Rankin and other famous flyers” as well as “stunts” and “thrills.”

The scene is both explicit and coded, even to contemporary eyes. This handsome loitering man might have been taken by certain passersby for an ordinary labourer, on break or looking for work. Others might have recognised him as a man looking for sex (or for another kind of work) with other men. White’s sexual interest in men and his approach to looking at things “for what else they are” stratify the two narratives, establishing layers of meaning on parallel planes. This man is both a labourer and a cruising homosexual. He is, then, just what the photographic image in general would come to signify for White: a common trace from the visible world, transformed into another set of charged meanings.(10)

.
Extract from Kevin Moore. “Cruising and Transcendence in the Photographs of Minor White,” on the Aperture website [Online] Cited 27/04/2018

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Doorway, Dodd Building' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Doorway, Dodd Building
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

White’s earlier Portland series, by contrast, is the darker product of a romantic turn of mind and conveys not the affirmative, civic-minded Whitman of poems such as “A Broadway Pageant” but the melancholy, searching Whitman of the “Calamus” poems.(13) In Portland, we see White engaging Front Avenue for its sense of mystery and possibility, an investigation among darkened doorways and in the silhouettes of passing strangers for moments of revelation. More than simply a celebration of the manifold aspects of the city, the desired charge might be specified as the possibility of an erotic connection, however ephemeral, as proposed by Whitman in “City of Orgies”:

City of orgies, walks and joys,
City whom that I have lived and sung in your midst will one
   day make you illustrious,
Not the pageants of you, not your shifting tableaus, your
   spectacles, repay me,
Not the interminable rows of your houses, nor the ships
   at the wharves,
Nor the processions in the streets, nor the bright windows
   with goods in them,
Nor to converse with learn’d persons, or bear my share in
   the soiree or feast;
Not those, but as I pass O Manhattan, your frequent and
   swift flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering response to my own—these repay me, 
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.(14)

.
Extract from Kevin Moore. “Cruising and Transcendence in the Photographs of Minor White,” on the Aperture website [Online] Cited 27/04/2018

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Pilaster and Hood Molding, Dodd Building (Southwest Front and Ankeny)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Pilaster and Hood Molding, Dodd Building (Southwest Front and Ankeny)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Door of Iron - First Brick Building in Portland, 1852 (Ladd and Tilton Building)' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Door of Iron – First Brick Building in Portland, 1852 (Ladd and Tilton Building)
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'China Town' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
China Town
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Morrison Bridge - Winter' 1938

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Morrison Bridge – Winter
1938
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'St. Johns Bridge' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
St. Johns Bridge
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Catherine Creek' c. 1941

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Catherine Creek
c. 1941
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Joseph, Oregon (Joseph Cemetery)' c. 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Joseph, Oregon (Joseph Cemetery)
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Hurricane Creek (Trees and Rock)' 1941

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Hurricane Creek (Trees and Rock)
1941
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Ice Lake' 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Ice Lake
1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'The Customer' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
The Customer
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) '1323-29 Southwest First Avenue' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
1323-29 Southwest First Avenue
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Young Man)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Young Man)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Shipmates Visit the Photographer' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Shipmates Visit the Photographer
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Woman Sitting)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Woman Sitting)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Man Praying)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Man Praying)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

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20
Apr
18

Exhibition: ‘Brassaï’ at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Exhibition dates: 20th February – 13th May 2018

Curator: Mr. Peter Galassi

 

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Vista per sota del Pont Royal cap al Pont de Solférino [View through the pont Royal toward the pont Solférino]' c. 1933

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Vista per sota del Pont Royal cap al Pont de Solférino
View through the pont Royal toward the pont Solférino

c. 1933
[Nuit / Night 53]
40.1 x 51 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

 

For those who know how to look

Not everyone can see. It takes a great eye and a great mind, and the liberation of that mind, to be able to transform the mundane, the everyday, the vernacular – into art. Brassaï’s folklore, his mythology of life, suggests that the life of others (those living on the edge) is as valuable and essential to the formation of culture as any other part of existence.

Brassaï’s work comes alive at night and, as Alejandra Uribe Ríos observes, “The night was undoubtedly the great muse of his work, his inspiration.” While he got some of his friends to stage scenes for his book Paris by night – acting as prostitutes and customers hanging around in back alleys – it matters not one bit. The artist was embedded in this world and represents what he knows, what he has seen in his mind’s eye.

The density of his photographs is incredible – their atmosphere thick and heavy; revealing and beautiful. “In certain photographs, objects take on a particular light, a fascinating presence. Vision has fixed them “as they are in themselves” […]. It confers a density that is entirely foreign to their real existence. They are there, one might say, for the first time, but at the same time for the last.” The first and last, a circular compaction of time and space into the eternal present, objects as they are in themselves and will always be.

That fascinating presence can be felt even today, for that is what the time freeze of photography does: it “look backwards and forwards in the same instance.”

Brassaï saw something clearly, so that we might see it now. Look at the seemingly mundane space portrayed in Concierge’s Lodge, Paris (1933, below) from his book Paris de jour / Paris by Day. The photograph could be taken at night, but it is day! The small amount of sunlight falls on the tied-back curtain in the doorway; the crumpled mat lies outside the door; the two doors compete for our visual attention – one the solid presence that holds up the left hand side of the image, the other the vanishing point in the distance; and the eye is led down to this door by the pavement and the gutter with a band of water emphasising the form. The verticality of the worn and ancient stone work is emphasised by the modern metal box in front of it, leading the eye up to the Concierge sign only, mind you, for numbers 5 & 7. But then the mystery… what is going on above the ancient door at the rear – the sky, a ceiling, another wall lit by the last rays of the sun? Such a dense, complex image that requires an intimate knowledge of the mystery of place, in both the artist and the viewer.

Here we see Brassaï in Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris 14ème, standing in the snow at night, heavy overcoat, hat, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, squinting through his camera to previsualise not just the photograph he is taking, but it’s final, physical embodiment, the print. In our world today of Insta-photos, millions and millions of photographs that mean basically nothing, and where anyone without training can pick up a camera and think of themselves a photographer, there is something to be said for taking the time to train and educate your eye and your mind. Only then might you reveal something about the world and, possibly, yourself as well.

Marcus

@mapfrefcultura #expo_brassai

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

 

 

“I was eager to penetrate this other world, this fringe world, the secret, sinister world of mobsters, outcasts, toughs, pimps, whores, addicts, inverts. Rightly or wrongly, I felt at the time that this underground world represented Paris at its least cosmopolitan, its most alive, its most authentic, that in these colourful faces of its underworld there had been preserved from age to age, almost without alteration, the folklore of its most remote past.”

.
Brassaï, 1976

 

“In certain photographs, objects take on a particular light, a fascinating presence. Vision has fixed them “as they are in themselves” […]. It confers a density that is entirely foreign to their real existence. They are there, one might say, for the first time, but at the same time for the last.”

.
Brassaï, undated note

 

“To oblige the model to behave as if the photographer isn’t there really is to stage a comic performance. What’s natural is precisely not to dodge the photographer’s presence. The natural thing in that situation is for the model to pose honestly.”

.
Brassaï, undated note

 

“The night suggests, he does not teach. The night finds us and surprises us by its strangeness; it liberates in us the forces that, during the day, are dominated by reason.”

“Night does not show things, it suggests them. It disturbes and surprises us with its strangeness. It liberates forces within us which are dominated by our reason during the daytime.”

.
Brassaï

 

“The night was undoubtedly the great muse of his work, his inspiration. The train tracks, the lovers, the fog, the posters, the ballet and the cabarets. Everything is worthy of portraying for those who know how to look and that is undoubtedly one of Brassai’s merits: embodying the everyday, rescuing the magical, the lyrical, the mystery of common life, and doing it with elegance, converting the seemingly trivial into a artwork.”

.
Alejandra Uribe Ríos

 

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Porteria, París [Concierge's Lodge, Paris]' 1933

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Porteria, París
Concierge’s Lodge, Paris

1933
[Paris de jour / Paris by Day 686]
29.3 x 22.2 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'The Eiffel Tower seen through the Gate of the Trocadéro' 1930-32

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
La Torre Eiffel vista a través del reixat del Trocadéro
La torre Eiffel vista a través de la reja del Trocadero
The Eiffel Tower seen through the Gate of the Trocadéro

1930-32
[Nuit / Night 1; variant of Paris de nuit / Paris by Night, plate 57]
30 x 23.6 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Extinguishing a Streetlight, rue Émile Richard' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Apagant un fanal, Rue Émile Richard
Apagando una farola, rue Émile Richard
Extinguishing a Streetlight, rue Émile Richard

c. 1932
[Nuit / Night 267]
22.9 x 28.1 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Avenue de l'Observatoire' 1934

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Avenue de l’Observatoire
1934
Gelatin silver print
23.4 x 30.1 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Streetwalker, near the place d’Italie' 1932

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Meuca, a prop de la Place d’Italie
Prostituta, cerca de la Place d’Italie
Streetwalker, near the place d’Italie
1932
[Plaisirs / Pleasure 333]
29.9 x 22.9 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

 

Introduction

Fundación MAPFRE is launching its 2018 exhibition programme in Barcelona with the exhibition Brassaï, a comprehensive survey of the career of this celebrated Hungarian-born French photographer whose work helped to define the spirit of Paris in the 1930s. Brassaï was one of the most important of the group of European and American photographers whose work in the inter-war years greatly enriched photography’s potential as a form of artistic expression.

The artist began to take photographs in 1929 or 1930, maintaining an intense level of activity throughout the 1930s. Brassaï’s principal subject was Paris, where he settled in 1924, intending to become a painter. Around the end of World War I the artistic centre of the city had shifted from Montmartre to Montparnasse where most of the artists, constituting a major international community, lived like a large family. Brassï was fascinated by the French capital and later said that he started to take photographs in order to express his passion for the city at night. Soon, however, he also began to take portraits, nudes, still life, images of everyday life and depictions of picturesque corners of the city and moments captured during the day.

Brassaï’s confidence in the power of blunt, straightforward photography to transform what it describes, as well as his talent for extracting from ordinary life iconic images of lasting force, won him an important place among the pioneers of modern photography.

This exhibition offers a survey of the artist’s career through more than 200 works (vintage photographs, a number of drawings, a sculpture and documentary material) grouped into twelve thematic sections, of which the two devoted to Paris in the 1930s are the most important. Produced by Fundación MAPFRE and curated by Peter Galassi, chief curator of the Department of Photography at the MoMA, New York, from 1991 to 2011, this is the first retrospective exhibition on Brassaï to be organised since 2000 (Centre Pompidou) and the first to be held in Spain since 1993.

The exhibition benefits from the exceptional loan of the Estate Brassaï Succession (Paris) and other loans from some of the most important institutions and private collections in Europe and the United States, including: The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Fine Arts (Houston), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), The Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou (París), The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, David Dechman and Michel Mercure, ISelf Collection (London) and Nicholas and Susan Pritzker.

 

The Photographer – Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)

Brassaï (the pseudonym of Gyulá Halász) was born in 1899 in Brassó, Transylvania (present-day Braşov in Rumania), from where he subsequently took his name for signing his photographs (Brassaï means “from Brassó”).

After studying art in Budapest and Berlin, he moved to Paris and very soon began to earn occasional money and establish a reputation by selling articles and caricatures to German and Hungarian magazines. Photographs were rapidly replacing traditional magazine illustrations and Brassaï also functioned as a one-man photo-agency. Eventually he started making photographs himself, abandoning painting and sculpting, disciplines for which he nevertheless retained great interest and to which he returned during his career. Around 1900, an aesthetic movement had justified its claim that photography was as a fine art by imitating the appearance of the traditional arts. It was not until the 1920s and 1930s that a new generation rejected that approach and began exploring the artistic potential of plain, ordinary photographs. When the tradition that they launched began to achieve widespread recognition in the 1970s, Brassaï would be recognised as one of its leading figures.

During the German occupation of Paris, Brassaï was obliged to stop taking photographs and he thus returned to drawing and writing. In 1949 he obtained French nationality. After the war he once again devoted part of his time to photography and traveled regularly to undertake commissions for the American magazine Harper’s Bazaar. He died in Beaulieu-sur-Mer (France) in 1984 without ever returning to his native Brassó.

 

The sections of the exhibition

Paris by Night

Paris by Night was in fact the result of a commission which the publisher Charles Peignot gave to the young and still unknown Brassaï. The book, of which a copy is presented in the exhibition, was published in December 1932 and was extremely successful thanks in part to its modern design, pages without margins and richly toned photogravures. Brassaï continued to explore nocturnal Paris throughout the 1930s, developing a personal vision that is embodied in numerous prints in the exhibition.

They evoke the city’s dynamic, vibrant mood: the close-up image of a gargoyle on Notre Dame Cathedral rather than a conventional view of that building, or the Pont Royal seen from the water rather than from above. These are almost always silent images in which time seems to stand still.

Pleasures

When Brassaï reorganised his archive just after World War II, gathered under the rubric Plaisirs he included his pictures of small-time criminals and prostitutes and other figures of Parisian low life together with images of Parisian entertainments, including cheap dance halls to local street fairs to the annual entertainments designed to flout bourgeois conventions. Brassaï obtained permission to work backstage at the famous Folies Bergère, which allowed him to observe everything that was happening from a high viewpoint. His images of Parisian low life transpose to the vivid new medium of photography a vital mythology that had been elaborated in literature and the traditional visual arts.

No one photographed Paris by night as skilfully as Brassaï but he also built up a considerable collection of images of the city by day. Its famous monuments, picturesque corners and details of everyday life are the subject of many of these photographs. Some of his images of the early 1930s reveal his interest in daring geometrical forms and abrupt truncation, for example his famous images of the city’s cobblestones. But even his boldest graphic experiments reflect his abiding fascination with the continuities of an enduring human civilisation.

Paris by day

Nobody photographed Paris at night as accurately as Brassaï, but also accumulated a considerable collection of images of the city in daylight. Monuments, picturesque corners or details of everyday life play a large part in these scenes.

Some of his photographs from the thirties also reflect his interest in geometric styles or abrupt cuts, as shown by the famous cobblestone images of city streets. But even these bolder graphic experiments reflect, like the rest of his images of the city, his permanent fascination with what for him was presented as a remote and inexhaustible tradition, in constant development.

Graffiti

The notion of graffiti as a powerful art form first emerged in the 20th century. Like African tribal objects, children’s art or that of the mentally ill, graffiti was considered more expressive and vital than the refined forms of traditional western art.

Brassaï was in fact one of the first to focus on this subject matter. He was an inveterate hoarder who throughout his life collected all types of cast-off objects and from almost the moment he began to take photographs he used the medium to record the graffiti he saw on the walls of Paris. He preferred examples of graffiti that had been incised or scratched to drawn or painted ones, as well as those in which the irregularity of the wall itself played an important role in aesthetic terms. He took hundreds of images of this type of which only a small selection is on display here.

Minotaure

Between the time of his arrival in Paris in early 1924 and his first steps in photography taken six years later, Brassaï built up a large circle of friends within the international community of artists and writers in Montparnasse. They included Les deux aveugles [The two blind men], as the art critics Maurice Raynal and the Greek-born E. Tériade referred to themselves. In December 1932, the same month that Paris de nuit was published, Tériade invited Brassaï to photograph Picasso and his studios to illustrate the first issue of Minotaure, the deluxe art magazine that would be published in 1933 by the Swiss publisher Albert Skira. Copies of various different issues are on display in this section. This collaboration marked the starting point of Brassaï’s friendship with Picasso, one of the most important of his entire life. Over the following years Brassaï would play an important role in the life of the magazine, particularly with the projects for which he collaborated with Salvador Dalí and as an illustrator to texts by André Breton, although in some cases as an artist in his own right. The first number of the magazine included a series of nudes by Brassaï and his growing graffiti series, while number 7 devoted several pages to Brassaï’s nocturnal visions. All these evoke the artist’s modernity and his relationship with the most important circles of the Parisian avant-garde.

Personages / Characters

In 1949 in his prologue to Camera in Paris, a monograph on contemporary photographers, Brassaï paraphrased Baudelaire in The Painter of modern Life and established a line of continuity between the art of the photographer and that of some of the great artists of the past such as Rembrandt, Goya and Toulouse-Lautrec. In this sense he explained how, like them, photography could elevate ordinary subjects to the level of the universal. The people depicted in this gallery reflect that idea as not only do we see a worker at Les Halles market, a transvestite or a penitent in Seville, but through the dignity given to them by the image all of them exceed their individuality and come to represent a collective.

Places and things

One of Brassaï’s earliest projects, which was never produced, was a book of photographs of cacti. Many years later, in 1957, he made a short film on animals. Most of his photographs of objects or places, however, focus on human creations, reflecting his boundless curiosity about the people that made them, used them or lived in them.

During his trips Brassaï took numerous photographs of which a small selection are on display here: a view of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia from a high viewpoint, a painted wall in Sacromonte, Granada, and a shop window in New Orleans. In some of these images, such as Vineyard, Château Mouton-Rothschild (June 1953), the viewpoint jumps sharply from the foreground to the background, splitting the image in half along its horizontal axis – a pictorial device invented by Brassaï.

Society

During the mid-1930s and just after World War II, Brassaï photographed at more than two dozen gatherings of Parisian high society – costume balls, fancy soirées, and other events both at private homes and such elegant venues as the Ritz – as well as the famous Nuit de Longchamp (the race course just outside of Paris) every summer from 1936 to 1939. At these events he had much less opportunity to intervene in the action than in Parisian dance halls and bars, but he nonetheless was able to create lasting images of a distinct social reality. Perhaps the most extraordinary of them is his photograph of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Art Nouveau interior of the swank restaurant Maxim’s (completed just a few years before the Casa Garriga Nogués). Although that image has been famous since it was made in 1949, Brassaï’s series on Parisian high society is poorly known, and several of the photographs are presented for the first time in this exhibition.

Body of a woman

During the occupation of Paris (1940-1944), Brassaï declined to work for the Germans and so was unable to photograph openly. His only income seems to have come from a clandestine commission from Picasso to photograph the master’s sculptures. Partly at Picasso’s urging, Brassaï returned to drawing. Most of the drawings that he made in 1943-45, like most of the drawings that survive from his time as an art student in Berlin in 1921-22, are female nudes. The same is the case with many of the sculptures that he started to produce after the war, often made from stones worn by the effect of water.

It would be foolish to attempt to disguise the intensity of Brassaï’s male gaze behind the curtain of a purely aesthetic pursuit of “form.” What is distinctive and powerful in his images of the female body is their unembarrassed carnal urgency.

Portraits: artists, writers, friends

Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Henry Miller (who gave Brassaï the sobriquet “The eye of Paris”), Pierre Reverdy, Jacques Prévert, Henri Matisse and Léon-Paul Fargue are just a few of the subjects of the portraits on display in this section of the exhibition.

Most of Brassaï’s portraits are of people that he knew and perhaps as a result of that closeness they convey a powerful spirit of frankness, unencumbered by posturing. It is also true; however, that Brassaï regularly achieved that spirit even when he did not know the subject.

Sleep

Broadly speaking, the hallmark of advance European photography in the 1920s and 1930s was a new sense of mobility and spontaneity. But spontaneity was alien to Brassaï’s sensibility, which instead sought clarity and stability. Instead of the popular, hand-held camera, a 35mm Leica, Brassaï chose a camera that used glass plates and often stood on a tripod. As if to declare his independence from the aesthetic of mobility, he chose sleeping in public as a recurrent motif.

The street

Brassaï’s work for Harper’s Bazaar led him to travel in France and in numerous other places, from Spain to Sweden, the United States and Brazil. While the roots of his talent lay in Paris he thus produced an extensive body of photographs taken in places that were unfamiliar to him. The exhibition includes a number of these works, three of them depicting Spain.

Press release from Fundación MAPFRE

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Chez Suzy' 1931-32

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Chez Suzy
1931-32
[Plaisirs / Pleasure 352]
30 x 23.8 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Nude in the Bathtub' 1938

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Nu a la banyera
Desnudo en la bañera
Nude in the Bathtub
1938
[Nu / Naked 199]
23.5 x 17.3 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Four Seasons Ball, rue de Lappe' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Bal des Quatre Saisons, rue de Lappe
Four Seasons Ball, rue de Lappe
c. 1932
[Plaisirs / Pleasures 2]
49.8 x 40.4 cm
Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris © Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'At Magic City' c. 1932

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Al Magic City
En Magic City
At Magic City
c. 1932
[Plaisirs / Pleasures 439]
23.2 x 16.6 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Lovers at the Gare Saint-Lazare' 1937

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Amants a l’estació de Saint-Lazare
Amantes en la Gare Saint-Lazare
Lovers at the Gare Saint-Lazare
c. 1937
[Plaisirs / Pleasures 143]
23.6 x 17.3 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Haute Couture Soirée' 1935

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Vetllada d’alta costura
Velada de alta costura
Haute Couture Soirée
1935
[Soirées 85 (image reversed)]
17.6 x 21.1 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Lobster Seller, Seville' 1951

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Venedor de marisc, Sevilla
Vendedor de marisco, Sevilla
Lobster Seller, Seville
1951
[Étranger / Foreign 401]
49.3 x 37 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'New Orleans' 1957

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
New Orleans
1957
[Amérique / America 451]
35.9 x 29.4 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Montmartre' 1930-31

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Montmartre
1930-31
[Paris de jour / Paris by day 472.C]
29.8 x 39.6 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Jean Genet, Paris' 1948

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Jean Genet, Paris
1948
[Arts 787.E]
39.7 x 30.2 cm
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Picasso Holding One Of The Sculptures' 1939

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Picasso Tenant Une De Les Sculptures
Picasso Holding One Of The Sculptures

1939
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Portrait of Picasso in His Studio at 23 rue de La Boëtie, Paris' 1932

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Portrait of Picasso in His Studio at 23 rue de La Boëtie, Paris
1932
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

23 rue de La Boëtie, Paris

 

23 rue de La Boëtie, Paris

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 - 1984) 'Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris 14ème' c. 1931-1932

 

Brassaï (Gyulá Halász, 1899 – 1984)
Self-portrait, Boulevard Saint-Jacques, Paris 14ème
c. 1931-1932
© Estate Brassaï Succession, Paris

 

 

Fundación MAPFRE – Instituto de Cultura
Casa Garriga i Nogués exhibition space
Calle Diputació, 250
Barcelona

Opening hours:
Mondays from 2 pm to 8 pm
Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 am to 8 pm
Sundays/holidays from 11 am to 7 pm

Fundación MAPFRE website

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15
Apr
18

Exhibition: ‘In the Beginning: Minor White’s Oregon Photographs’ at the Portland Art Museum Phase 1, Part 1

Exhibition dates: 9th December 2017 – 6th May 2018

Curated by Julia Dolan PhD, the Minor White Curator of Photography

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Union Station Loading Platform)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Union Station Loading Platform)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

Phase 1 of this exhibition, over two postings on Art Blart, features one of the greatest collections of early photographs by Minor White!

In this posting it’s so nice to see the great man metaphorically getting his hands dirty – feet in the water, hand cupped to the eye looking through it to gauge the composition (his previsualisation), before getting under the black cloth to make final adjustments to his 4×5 view camera.

Other things to note in the Minor White During a Workshop photographs of MW using his camera are this:

  • MW has tilted forward the front of the camera to extend the depth of field that recedes away from him, for example the sand or the surface of the water
  • MW has also raised the front of the camera slightly
  • MW is using a large Majestic tripod
  • MW is possibly using a Weston light meter, for which he gave specific instructions in the first edition of his Zone System manual. The light meter can be seen still in it’s leather case with hanging strap in various images, with MW’s thumb on the dial in two images. In one image you can see him calculating his light meter exposure
  • His glasses case is in his top shirt pocket, and he is wearing a well used hat (so important when taking photographs) with sweat stains on its brim

.
In these valuable pictures, the 51 year-old Minor White is making tiny adjustments to the camera movements to control the depth of field.

Paul Caponigro, a student of Minor White, observed that watching MW use the view camera was more than instructive, it was a joy. The very last sentence in the Fourth Sequence colophon reinforces the notion that the camera’s strongest point was its photographic authenticity, that is, a faithful camera technique leads to an authentic photograph, or to authenticity.1

“For technical data – the camera was faithfully used.” ~ MW

Further comment on the photographs in Part 2 of the posting.

Marcus

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

  1. Andrew E. Hershberger. “White’s Theory of Sequential Photography, ” in Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (ed.,). Analecta Husserliana: The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research Vol. LXXXVII. Human Creation Between Reality and Illusion. Springer, 2005, p.212.

 

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981) 'Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)' 1959

 

Maxwell Allara (American, born Italy, 1906-1981)
Untitled (Minor White During a Workshop)
1959
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist by his family: Helen D. Allara, Morgan F. Allara, and Mitchell W. Allara
© Maxwell Allara

 

 

Long before co-founding Aperture magazine or establishing the groundbreaking photography program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, renowned modernist photographer Minor White (American, 1908-1976) moved to Portland, where he sowed the seeds of what would become a forceful artistic vision. This exhibition of White’s rarely exhibited early works celebrates the artist’s influence on the region, and honours the Portland Art Museum’s dedication to acquiring and exhibiting photography as the institution enters its 125th year.

In 1937, after traveling to Portland from Minnesota and taking up residence at the downtown YMCA, White joined the Oregon Camera Club, using its darkroom and library to hone his photography skills. He instituted a darkroom, education, and exhibition program at the YMCA, and in 1938 was hired as a “creative photographer” for the Oregon Art Project, a division of the federal government’s Works Progress Administration. Charged with documenting the Front Avenue buildings slated for demolition as well as the waterfront factories, he captured the beauty of iron-front facades, the distinct forms of industrial architecture, and the cultural undercurrents of a city under transition. These photographs, much more than straightforward government documents, mark a critical period in Portland’s history and hold clues to White’s mature modernist approach.

In 1942, after touring the nation, White’s WPA images returned to Portland and became the first photographs to be accessioned into the Museum’s permanent collection. That same year, the Museum gave White his first solo exhibition and commissioned him to photograph two historic Portland homes. White was drafted into the Army later that spring, and although he never returned to live in the city, his bonds to the community remained strong, resulting in multiple Oregon-based workshops in the 1950s and 1960s. To this day he remains a significant influence on photographic practice in the Northwest and beyond.

The first phase of In the Beginning (on view December 9, 2017, through May 6, 2018) presents approximately 60 photographs of waterfront industrial buildings, Portland Civic Theatre portraits, night scenes, and images of Minor White teaching workshops in Oregon during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The second phase of the exhibition (on view May 6 through October 21, 2018) will feature downtown and Front Street scenes, photographs of Eastern Oregon, and images of two historic houses that White photographed for the Museum in 1942.

Text from the Portland Art Museum website

 

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Plane Study' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Plane Study
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Plane Study' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Plane Study
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Grain Elevators)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Grain Elevators)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Grain Tanks' c. 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Grain Tanks
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Grain Loading Depot' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Grain Loading Depot
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Elevator, Tree, Car)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Elevator, Tree, Car)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Grain Elevator from the Water)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Grain Elevator from the Water)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Ship and Grain Elevator)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Ship and Grain Elevator)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Dagmar Salen)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Dagmar Salen)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Water Street, Portland' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Water Street, Portland
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'After the Fire Architecture (1211 Southwest First Avenue at Madison)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
After the Fire Architecture (1211 Southwest First Avenue at Madison)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (House at 27th Southwest Hall Street)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (House at 27th Southwest Hall Street)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Houses at Hall and First Street)' 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Houses at Hall and First Street)
1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Jacobs House (Jacobs-Dolph House, Southwest Park and Montgomery)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Jacobs House (Jacobs-Dolph House, Southwest Park and Montgomery)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (St. Mary's Academy, Third Avenue Entrance)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (St. Mary’s Academy, Third Avenue Entrance)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Beach and Pilings)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Beach and Pilings)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Portland' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Portland
1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Hand Forge' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Hand Forge
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Sawdust)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Sawdust)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Municipal Market, from a Barge on East Side of the River)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Municipal Market, from a Barge on East Side of the River)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Untitled (Pier B Municipal Terminal No. 1)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Untitled (Pier B Municipal Terminal No. 1)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Design (Portland Dry Docks)' c. 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Design (Portland Dry Docks)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Design' 1939

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Design
1939
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 1/2 in x 10 3/8 in; sheet: 13 1/2 in x 10 3/8 in
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration. Commissioned through the New Deal art projects

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Design (Cable and Chain)' c. 1940

 

Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Design (Cable and Chain)
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
Commissioned through the New Deal art projects, public domain

 

 

Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97205

Opening hours:
Tues – Wed, Sat – Sun 10am – 5pm
Thurs – Fri 10am – 8pm
Closed Monday

Portland Art Museum website

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11
Apr
18

Vale Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)

April 2018

 

My god, what a loss.

I am very sorry to hear of the passing of Polixeni Papapetrou. Sadness indeed…

Poli was a wonderful spirit and an incredibly gifted artist. Condolences to Robert Nelson and all of the family.

A selection of some of my favourite Papapetrou images are posted below – but really, there are so many memorable images, she leaves behind an indelible and lasting legacy.

From an earlier posting:

 

“What we should do is honour this talented and determined artist for creating so many memorable images over the years, for following her passion and her heart with courage and conviction. For the rest of my life I will always remember the spaces, the ambiguous vistas, the fantastical archetypes, the fables of her work. Images of drag queens and Dreamkeepers, Ghillies and goblins are etched in my memory. I will always remember them. You can’t ask much more from the work of an artist than that.”

 

You can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream.

Marcus

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Drag queen wearing cut out dress' 1993

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Drag queen wearing cut out dress
1993
From the series Drag Queens 1988-1999
Gelatin silver photograph
28.5 x 28.5 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.”

.
Paul Klee. Creative Credo [Schöpferische Konfession] 1920

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Three young men paying homage to Elvis on the 13th anniversary of Elvis’ death, Elvis Memorial Melbourne' 1990

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Three young men paying homage to Elvis on the 13th anniversary of Elvis’ death, Elvis Memorial Melbourne
1990
From the series Elvis Immortal 1987-2002
Selenium toned gelatin silver photograph
40.7 x 40.7 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Mr Wrestling' 1992

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Mr Wrestling
1992
From the series Wrestlers 1992
Pigment ink print
100 x 100cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Indian Brave' 2002

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Indian Brave
2002
From the series Phantomwise 2002-03
Pigment ink print
85 x 85 cm
Courtesy the artist and Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Lost' 2005

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Lost
2005
From the series Fairy Tales 2004-2014
Type C print
100 x 100 cm
Courtesy the artist, Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney + Berlin and Jarvis Dooney Galerie, Berlin
Reproduced with permission

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'In the Wimmera 1864 #1' 2006

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
In the Wimmera 1864 #1
2006
From the series Haunted country 2006
Pigment ink print
105 x 105cm
Geelong Gallery Collection

 

 

In the Wimmera 1864 #1 from the Haunted country series is amongst the earliest works by the artist to have been staged in the Australian landscape and is one in which she explores the narrative of the ‘lost child’. The work references the story of three children lost in Mallee scrub near their home outside Horsham in the Wimmera District and is reminiscent, as the artist intends, of Frederick McCubbin’s late 19th century paintings of children lost or at least wandering absent-mindedly through the Australia bush. (Text from the Culture Victoria website)

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'Hanging Rock 1900 #3' 2006

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
Hanging Rock 1900 #3
2006
From the series Haunted country 2006
Pigment ink print
105 x 105 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Provider' 2009

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Provider
2009
From the series Between Worlds 2009-2012
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Mourner' 2012

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Mourner
2012
From the series Between Worlds 2009-2012
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Joy Pedlars' 2011 from 'The Dreamkeepers' 2011

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Joy Pedlars
2011
From the series The Dreamkeepers 2012
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Wanderer No. 3', 2012 from 'The Dreamkeepers'

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Wanderer No. 3
2012
From the series The Dreamkeepers 2012
Pigment print
105 x 105cm

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (1960-2018) 'Ocean Man' 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (1960-2018)
Ocean Man
2013
From the series The Ghillies 2013
120 cm x 120 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou. 'Scrub Man' 2012

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (1960-2018)
Scrub Man
2012
From the series The Ghillies 2013
120 cm x 120 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

Review of the exhibition Polixeni Papapetrou: Lost Psyche at Stills Gallery, 2014

When “facing” adversity, it is a measure of a person’s character how they hold themselves, what face they show to the world, and how their art represents them in that world. So it is with Polixeni Papapetrou. The courage of this artist, her consistency of vision and insightful commentary on life even while life itself is in the balance, are inspiring to all those that know her.

Papapetrou has always created her own language, integrating the temporal dissemination of the historical “case” into a two-dimensional space of simultaneity and tabulation (the various archetypes and ancient characters), into an outline against a ground of Cartesian coordinates.1 In her construction, in her observation and under her act of surveillance, Papapetrou moves towards a well-made description of the states of the body in the tables and classification of the psychological landscape. Her tableaux (the French tableau signifies painting and scene (as in tableau vivant), but also table (as in a table used to organize data)) are a classification and tabulation that is an exact “portrait” of “the” illness, the lost psyche of the title. Her images lay out, in a very visible way, the double makeover: of the outer and inner landscape.

These narratives are above all self-portraits. The idea that image, archetype and artist might somehow be one and the same is a potent idea in Papapetrou’s work. What is “rendered” visible in her art is her own spirit, for these visionary works are nothing less than concise, intimate, focused self-portraits. They speak through the mask of the commedia dell’ arte of a face half turned to the world, half immersed in imaginary worlds. The double skin (as though human soul, the psyche, is erupting from within, forcing a face-off) and triple skin (evidenced in the lack of depth of field of the landscape tableaux) propose an opening up, a revealing of self in which the anatomy (anatemnein: to tear, to open a body, to dissect) of the living is revealed. The images become an autopsy on the living and the dead: “a series of images, that would crystallize and memorize for everyone the whole time of an inquiry and, beyond that, the time of a history.”2

Papapetrou’s images become the “true retina” of seeing, close to a scientific description of a character placed on a two dimensional background (notice how the stylised clouds in The Antiquarian, 2014 match the fur hat trim). In the sense of evidence, the artist’s archetypes proffer a Type that is balanced on the edge of longing, poetry, desire and death, one that the objectivity of photography seeks to fix and stabilise. These images serve the fantasy of a memory: of a masked archetype in a made over landscape captured “exact and sincere” by the apparatus of the camera. A faithful memory of a tableau in which Type is condensed into a unique image: the visage fixed to the regime of representation,3 the universal become singular. This Type is named through the incorporated Text, the Legend: I am Day Dreamer, Immigrant, Merchant, Poet, Storyteller.

But even as these photographs seek to fix the Type, “even as the object of knowledge is photographically detained for observation, fixed to objectivity,”4 the paradox is that this kind of knowledge slips away from itself, because photography is always an uncertain technique, unstable and chaotic, as ever the psyche. In the cutting-up of bodies, cutting-up on stage, a staging aimed at knowledge – the facticity of the masked, obscured, erupting face; the corporeal surface of the body, landscape, photograph – the image makes visible something of the movements of the soul. In these heterotopic images, sites that relate to more stable sites, “but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror or reflect,”5 Papapetrou’s psyche, “creates the chain of tradition which passes a happening on from generation to generation.”6 In her commedia dell’ arte, an improvised comedy of craft, of artisans (a worker in a skilled trade), the artist fashions the raw material of experience in a unique way.7 We, the audience, intuitively recognise the type of person being represented in the story, through their half masks, their clothing and context and through the skilful dissemination of collective memory and experience.

Through her storytelling Papapetrou moves towards a social and spiritual transformation, one that unhinges the lost psyche. Her landscape narratives are a narrative of a recognisable, challenging, unstable non-linear art, an art practice that embraces “the speculative mystery of ancient roles…  They’re all souls with divided emotions, torn between dream and reality, who like us, converge on the collective stage that is the world.” They are archetype as self-portrait: portraits of a searching, erupting, questioning soul, brave and courageous in a time of peril. And the work is for the children (of the world), for without art and family, extinction.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Adapted from Didi-Huberman, Georges. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 24-25. I am indebted to the ideas of Georges Didi-Huberman for his analysis of the ‘facies’ and the experiments of Jean-Martin Charcot on hysteria at the Hôpital Salpêtrière in Paris in the 1880s.
2. 
Ibid., p. 48
3. Ibid., p. 49
4. Ibid., p. 59
5. Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces,” in Diacritics Spring 1986, p. 24 quoted in Fisher, Jean. “Witness for the Prosecution: The Writings of Coco Fusco,” in Fusco, Coco. The Bodies That Were Not Ours. London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 226-227
6. Fisher, Ibid., p. 227-228
7. “One can go on and ask oneself whether the relationship of the storyteller to his material, human life, is not in itself a craftsman’s relationship, whether it is not his very task to fashion the raw material of experience, his own and that of others, in a solid, useful, and unique way.”
Benjamin
, Walter. Illuminations (trans. by Harry Zohn; edited by Hannah Arendt). New York: Schocken Books, 1968 (2007), p. 108

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Immigrant' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Immigrant
2014
From the series Lost Psyche 2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

Polixeni Papapetrou. 'The Storyteller' 2014

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (1960-2018)
The Storyteller
2014
From the series Lost Psyche 2014
Pigment print
100 x 150 cm

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou website

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06
Apr
18

Exhibition: ‘Zbigniew Dłubak – Heir of the Avant-Garde’ at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 17th January – 29th April 2018

Curator: The exhibition is curated by Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, curator at the Centre Pompidou.

 

Photography, the object, conceptual art, reality and the empty sign.

An interesting artist who warrants further investigation. The text and images provide an introduction, but I really need further evidence before I can make informed comment.

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

 

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) 'Untitled' c. 1946

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
Untitled
c. 1946
© Armelle Dłubak/Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

 

“I’m not interested in stylistic effects, whether they’re derived from modern art or conceptualism. I use shapes, ideas, colours, words, photographs and actions as my materials in a way that best suits my art, to create an empty sign in the context of the reality I live in.”

.
“The social role of art consists in introducing the factor of negation into the human consciousness, it challenges the rigidity of systems and conventions in the rendering of reality. Art itself is evolution, it’s the introduction of all new means of expression.”

.
“Photography is in phase with the rhythm of life. It impatiently looks for new images. The more effigies it accumulates, the greater its appetite; it’s increasingly obsessive. Not only does it record but, subject to the imagination, it also creates new phenomena. It constantly takes us on new adventures, it shakes us up, and does not allow us to rest.”

.
Zbigniew Dłubak

 

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) 'I recall the solitude of the straits' 1948

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
I recall the solitude of the straits
1948
Illustration for Pablo Neruda’s poem “Le coeur magellanique”
© Armelle Dłubak / Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) 'The streets are for the sun and not for people' 1948

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
The streets are for the sun and not for people
1948
© Armelle Dłubak / Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

 

In the post-war period, Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) was one of the driving forces behind the profound changes in the Polish artistic scene. A great experimenter of photographic forms, he was also a painter, art theoretician, teacher and editor of the Fotografia magazine for twenty years, introducing into this publication a robust photographic critique and interdisciplinary approach to the medium.

Although Dłubak was primarily known as a photographer, he initially aspired to become a painter, tirelessly searching for materials for drawing during the war. Very active in these two traditionally separate disciplines, he greatly influenced the decompartmentalisation of artistic forms. He also defended the right of photography to exist as a completely separate discipline. His first photographic experiments reveal a diversity of inspirations characteristic of pre-war practices, stemming from constructivist and surrealist traditions.

This exhibition proposes to highlight the similarities and complementary focuses on two decisive periods in the artist’s life: the year 1948, which marks the beginning of his career and places it within the avant-garde movement, and the 1970s, which symbolise his ambiguous position regarding conceptual art. The selection presents iconic works and hitherto unseen photographs.

Curated by Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, a specialist in Dłubak’s work, the exhibition is accompanied by a book published by Éditions Xavier Barral under the direction of Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska. The exhibition is being organised in collaboration with the Fundacja Archaeologia Fotografii in Warsaw, with the support of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and the Polish Institute in Paris.

Text from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) 'Untitled' c. 1950

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
Untitled
c. 1950
© Armelle Dłubak

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) Sketch for the series 'Ammonites' 1959-1961

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
Sketch for the series Ammonites
1959-1961
© Armelle Dłubak

 

 

The Zbigniew Dłubak – Héritier des avant-gardes exhibition is being held at the Fondation Henri Cartier- Bresson between January 17 and April 29, 2018. In the post-war period, Zbigniew Dłubak (1921- 2005) was one of the driving forces behind the profound changes in the Polish artistic scene. A great experimenter of photographic forms, he was also a painter, art theoretician, teacher and editor of the Fotografia magazine for twenty years, introducing into this publication a robust photographic critique and interdisciplinary approach to the medium. He enjoyed a certain notoriety in Poland during his lifetime. Several monographic exhibitions were dedicated to him and some of his major works are part of Polish public collections.

Although Dłubak was primarily known as a photographer, he initially aspired to become a painter, tirelessly searching for materials for drawing during the war. Very active in these two traditionally separate disciplines, he greatly influenced the decompartmentalisation of artistic forms. He also defended the right of photography to exist as a completely separate discipline.

His first photographic experiments reveal a diversity of inspirations characteristic of pre-war practices, stemming from constructivist and surrealist traditions. Fascinated by linguistics, Dłubak then moves towards the mechanisms of a systematic approach and then onto the disappearance and fading of signs.

The work carried out by the Fundacja Archaeologia Fotografii where his archives have been deposited offers a new insight into his oeuvre and a new way of looking at it. Continuing in this vein of offering a different reading, this exhibition proposes to highlight the similarities and complementary aspects of photography and painting in his work. It focuses on two decisive periods in the artist’s life: the year 1948, which marks the beginning of his career and places it within the avant-garde movement, and the 1970s, which symbolise his ambiguous position regarding conceptual art. The selection presents iconic works and hitherto unseen photographs.

Press release from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) From the series 'Existences' 1959-1966

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
From the series Existences
1959-1966
© Armelle Dłubak / Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) From the series 'Existences' 1959-1966

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
From the series Existences
1959-1966
© Armelle Dłubak / Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) Study for 'Iconosphere I' 1967

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
Study for Iconosphere I
1967
© Armelle Dłubak / Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

 

Extracts from the book

Éditions Xavier Barral

The first photographic images created by Dłubak, who taught himself to paint and draw in the early 1940s, were undoubtedly strictly utilitarian: they documented the activities of the clandestine army he joined and then, when he was deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp after his participation in the Warsaw uprising in 1944, they were dictated by the tasks the Nazis assigned to him in the camp’s photography studio (touchups and perhaps portraits or reproductions). The images he shows in Krakow1 were however preceded by a few more artistic attempts, created in 1947 and early 1948, which show the desire to understand from within two significant trends of what photographic modernism might have constituted in the eyes of a Polish novice. On the one hand, Dłubak creates images of trees using a low-angle shot or fragments of ground using a sharp high-angle shot, stemming from a sort of pictorialism marked by a superficial link with the Germanic New Vision, in keeping with Jan Bułhak, then considered the father of Polish modern photography. On the other hand, he arranges compositions of insignificant little objects (like matches, springs, buttons, screws and so on) on tables, which he photographs like abstract not-to-scale landscapes, as practised by constructivists and notably Florence Henri (some of whose images he might have known, even though he never seems to have mentioned them). However, nothing in these two series really prepares for what can be seen in the photographs shown in 1948. […]

Dłubak’s key originality comes from the fact that he focuses less on producing the supernatural and more on finding it, by blurring the too-certain habits of ordinary vision but without the factual origin of his image obscuring its poetic efficacy. […]

So, for Dłubak, it’s not just about reconciling previously separate artistic traditions, but dismantling the traditional opposition between abstraction and figuration. The use of the extreme close-up (on the scale of macro photography) and technical manipulations (solarisation or pseudo-solarisation, presentation of the negative as a positive) must not be seen as a distancing from external reality but, on the contrary, as a way of penetrating its core; less like a hidden thing than a spiritual vision, and less like burying than a revelation of what is latent within, giving us a subtler understanding of it. As Dłubak writes in 1948 in an article on method called “Reflections on photography”: “Photographic realism is a different kind of realism and, fittingly, the faithfulness and attachment to the object, which has the nature of a raw material here, prohibits any artifice, because it is immediately unmasked. Such realism requires one to rely essentially on nature avoiding any narration.”2

Éric de Chassey
Extracts from “1948-1949: un réalisme de l’extrême proximité”

 

  1. At the “1st Exhibition of Modern Art” [I Wystawa Sztuki Nowoczesnej] opened on 19 December 1948. This exhibition included artists from across the country, often young (the vast majority were under thirty): painters, sculptors but also, and this was a huge novelty in Poland, photographers. Zbigniew Dłubak was even one of the key organisers of the event
  2. Zbigniew Dłubak, “Rozmyślania o fotografii II,” Świat fotografii, no 11, January-February 1949, reproduced in Lech Lechowicz and Jadwiga Janik (dir.), cat. exp. Dłubak, fotografie photographs, 1947- 1950, Lodz, Muzeum Sztuki, 1995, p. 47

 

Two events occurred in 1970 which are traditionally considered by Polish historiography as key manifestations of conceptual art: the Wrocław Symposium ’70 and the Świdwin-Osieki ’70 (Osieki open air events). It would of course be illusory to bring the appearance of conceptual art in Poland down to this one year, since it was a much more complex process, as demonstrated by Piotr Piotrowski and Luiza Nader in particular. However, referring to these events helps explain the work and engagement of Zbigniew Dłubak during these years. Organised thanks to a close collaboration between local authorities and artistic circles, they brought together artists and art critics, representing various experimental trends in Polish art. The aim of the Wrocław Symposium was to attract an audience not accustomed to experimental art. The primary idea, justifying the participation of local organisations, was to bring contemporary art into the public space, particularly social housing areas, squares and undefined suburban sites. […]

Finally, for Dłubak, 1970 marks the beginning of a series to which he is to dedicate the next eight years: Systems – Gesticulations. This series which, at first glance perfectly conforms to the codes of conceptual art, in reality indicates Dłubak’s break from conceptualism. Although he saw theoretical activity as an integral part of his artistic practice, he was convinced of the need to preserve a role of mediation in the artistic object. So why did Zbigniew Dłubak, one of the ardent protagonists of the development of conceptualism in Poland, finally break away from the movement?

His writings suggest some answers to this question. In 1977, when the movement was still very much alive, he wrote: “In aspiring to total purification, conceptual art has created a list of ‘don’ts’ regarding methods of recording and transmission. […] But conceptualism immediately developed a morphology of its own means [of expression] and became frozen.”1 In an (undated) manuscript, he added: “The causes of the failure of conceptualism: an erroneous interpretation of art (false models of ancient art); an under-estimation of the fight against aestheticism in the first half of the 20th century; too much attention paid to ways of recording ideas; unjustified faith in the existence of the idea outside its recording; the belief in the advent of a new era of art through the choice of another material for realising ideas.”2 He too relied on this new morphology but tried nevertheless to preserve his autonomy. He didn’t believe in the annihilation of the artistic object, considering the work of art as the result of an encounter. The object started the social dialogue.

Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska
Extracts from “1970: l’art du concept (non) assimilé”

 

  1. Uwagi o sztuce i fotografii [Comments about art and photography], 1977, Fotografia, no 8, 1969
  2. Untitled text, reproduced in Teoria sztuki Zbigniewa Dłubaka [Theory of art of Zbigniew Dłubak], Magdalena Ziółkowska (dir.), Warsaw, Fundacja Archeologia Fotografii, 2013, p. 145

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) 'Untitled' c. 1970

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
Untitled
c. 1970
© Armelle Dłubak / Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) 'Tautologies' 1971

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
Tautologies
1971
© Armelle Dłubak / Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) 'Gesticulations' 1970-1978

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
Gesticulations
1970-1978
© Armelle Dłubak / Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005) 'Desymbolisations' 1978

 

Zbigniew Dłubak (1921-2005)
Desymbolisations
1978
© Armelle Dłubak / Archeology of Photography Foundation, Warsaw

 

 

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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