Archive for the 'colour photography' Category

06
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann’ at Kicken Berlin

Exhibition dates: 24th June – 7th October 2022

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Schöneweide, Berlin' 1972, printed c. 1972

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Schöneweide, Berlin
1972, printed c. 1972
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 34cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

This exhibition finishes tomorrow, Friday 7th October 2022.

I adore the small intimacies and dark German noir of the early 1970s – 1980s photographs of East Berlin and New York – papier-mâché models dancing, shop windows, desolate buildings, bound statues, ballroom encounters and alienated human beings. The photographs have a very pared back aesthetic, a very cool hands off, socialist feel to them.

Masks upon masks upon masks and hostile glances. People lonely, unhappy and isolated, rushing for work with nary a thought for each other. And then the ecstasy and fear of Mauerpark, Berlin (1996, below).

Taking the position of a slightly aloof observer, Bergemann’s urban landscapes and street scenes bare melancholy and beauty. The poetics of the everyday.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Kicken Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in this post. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled (Mitte)' 1968, printed c. 1968

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled (Mitte)
1968, printed c. 1968
Gelatin silver print
26.5 x 17.8 cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Katharina Thalbach, Berlin' 1973, early print

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Katharina Thalbach, Berlin
1973, early print
Gelatin silver print
38.6 x 26cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

Katharina Thalbach (German, actually Katharina Joachim genannt Thalbach, born 19 January 1954) is a German actress and stage director. She played theatre at the Berliner Ensemble and at the Volksbühne Berlin, and was actress in the film The Tin Drum. She worked as a theatre and opera director.

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Berlin' 1975, printed c. 1975

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Berlin
1975, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver print
29.1 x 20cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at left, Bergemann’s Kirsten, Hoppenrade (1975, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Kirsten, Hoppenrade' 1975, posthumous print 2016

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Kirsten, Hoppenrade
1975, posthumous print 2016
Gelatin silver print
29.1 x 43.3cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Sibylle Bergemann’s Clärchens Ballhaus (1976, some photographs below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
17 x 23.4cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
17.4 x 25.9cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
26.1 x 17.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
17.9 x 25.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
24.3 x 16.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
16.4 x 24.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
25.6 x 17.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
16.5 x 24.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
24.3 x 16.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1976, early print From the series 'Clärchens Ballhaus'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1976, early print
From the series Clärchens Ballhaus
Gelatin silver print
16.6 x 24.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Buchholz, Berlin' 1977, printed c. 1977-1979

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Buchholz, Berlin
1977, printed c. 1977-1979
Gelatin silver print
22.6 x 33.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

Clärchens Ballroom

History

Fritz Bühler (1862-1929) and his wife Clara Bühler (1886-1971) opened Bühler’s Ballhaus on September 13, 1913, in the rear building at Auguststrasse 24/25. The house was built around 1895 with two halls: the dance hall on the ground floor and the hall of mirrors on the upper floor. After Fritz Bühler’s death, Clara initially continued to run the dance hall, popularly known as Clärchens Ballhaus after its owner, on her own. In 1932 she married Arthur Habermann (1885-1967), who supported her in her work. The front building was in World War IIdestroyed, but operations resumed after the end of the war. Clärchens Ballhaus always remained a private company during the GDR era. In 1965, after much pressure, the ruins of the former front building were removed, the area is still undeveloped today. From 1967 to 1989 the management of the ballroom went to Clärchen’s stepdaughter Elfriede Wolff (daughter of Arthur Habermann). Then their son Stefan took over the business. After German reunification, Clara Habermann’s biological daughter was granted the property, whose son in turn sold the building in 2003 as the next heir. The new owner, Hans-Joachim Sander, left the family business, which then ceased operations after 91 years.

After the previous operators left the Ballhaus on New Year’s Eve 2004, Christian Schulz and David Regehr took over the location and left it largely unchanged. Since then, the space in front of the Ballhaus has also been managed, where the front building stood before the Second World War. The hall of mirrors on the upper floor, which was only used as a storage room for years, has since been used as an event room.

In the summer of 2018 the house was bought by Yoram Roth. He chose the Berlin catering company Berlin Cuisine Jensen GmbH as a partner for the construction of a new restaurant and as the operator of the location, with which Clärchens Ballhaus reopened in July 2020.

Importance

Clärchen’s ball house is one of the last remaining ball houses from around 1900 in Berlin. During the GDR era, it was known to both East and West Germans as a meeting place. In the media it was repeatedly represented in reports, for example in the film by Wilma Pradetto about the cloakroom operator Günter Schmidtke, in the documentary Edith bei Clärchen ( Andreas Kleinert 1985) or on ZDF . It also served as a filming location for movies Stauffenberg (2004), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and We Do It For Money (2014). In 2019 Max Raabe’s MTV Unplugged concert was recorded in the Ballhaus .

In addition to evening events, dance courses also take place in the Ballhaus.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin' 1978, printed c. 1989

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin
1978, printed c. 1989
Gelatin silver print
22.8 x 34cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Das Denkmal, Gummlin, Usedom, Dezember 1980 (1980, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Das Denkmal, Gummlin, Usedom, Dezember 1980' / 'The Monument, Gummlin, Usedom, December 1980' 1980, printed later

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Das Denkmal, Gummlin, Usedom, Dezember 1980 / The Monument, Gummlin, Usedom, December 1980
1980, printed later
Gelatin silver print
36.2 x 53.9cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at right, Bergemann’s Berlin (Frieda) (1982, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Berlin (Frieda)' 1982, printed c. 1982

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Berlin (Frieda)
1982, printed c. 1982
Gelatin silver print
25.3 x 38cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Bergemann’s New York series (1984, some photographs from the series below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
25.7 x 38cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Bergemann’s New York series (1984, some photographs from the series below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984 From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print, early print
29.2 x 44cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
25.7 x 38.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
30.5 x 45.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print from the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 44.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Union Square' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Union Square
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
24.1 x 36.1cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 36.4cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
19.2 x 29cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
30.1 x 44.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
39.4 x 26.4cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
23.3 x 34.7cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
28.2 x 18.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing a photograph from Bergemann’s New York series (1984, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1984, early print From the series 'New York'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1984, early print
From the series New York
Gelatin silver print
29 x 19.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

As the fourth part of the exhibition series ‘Sheroes of Photography’ started last year and on the occasion of the artist’s comprehensive exhibition this summer at the Berlinische Galerie, Kicken Berlin will be showing a selection of rarely seen series from Sibylle Bergemann’s extensive oeuvre in a cooperation with her estate.

Sibylle Bergemann is considered one of the most important German photographers since the 1970s. Together with her husband, Arno Fischer, she assumed a key position in the GDR’s photo scene and published her works in renowned art and culture journals such as Sibylle, Sonntag and Das Magazin and in book publications. After reunification, she extended her radius to include West German and international commissions. A cofounder of Agentur Ostkreuz in 1990, she helped shape a responsible form of visual journalism. Her photographic essays reflected societal reality without whitewashing it and often moved symbolically beyond. Fashion and portrait photography were on equal footing among her central themes alongside urban landscapes and situative street scenes, just as was the poetics of the everyday. Sibylle Bergemann’s works are held by international museums and collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; and the Berlinische Galerie.

People and places significantly influenced and inspired Bergemann’s work. In Berlin, her home base, the photographer sought out the quiet places on the city’s edge, rather than the representative center, for both private and commissioned works. Travels to “non-socialist places abroad” were strictly regimented and nearly impossible. “I always had Fernweh,” or a longing for the faraway, Bergemann said reminiscing during a conversation with the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation. Already in 1984, however, long before the fall of the Wall, she was able to travel to New York and Los Angeles as a member of the Verband Bildender Künstler (Association of Fine Artists).

From the early 1970s, Sibylle Bergemann assumed a position of observer in Berlin, participating in the situation, yet reserved. She had an eye for particular places and people, for unexpected encounters, for the particularities of foreign quotidian scenes, for melancholy and beauty. The transformations and transitory moments of the everyday never failed to draw the photographer’s attention, be it in the GDR, during the transition of reunification, or thereafter. She exposed a poetic and even visionary potential, such as in the series Das Denkmal (The Monument) about the Marx-Engels monument by sculptor Ludwig Engelhardt.

Her sense of nuance within a milieu, a social microcosm, is made visible in the series Clärchens Ballhaus from the 1970s. Another series about women in the working world in the early 1990s will be shown with several select examples for the first time publicly in Kicken Berlin’s exhibition. Women in a large variety of fields – offices, businesses, workshops, in both urban and rural settings, in primary and secondary sectors – stand before the camera to state their position, quite literally. They retain their own space and their own dignity, even when possibly in a state of upheaval.

Observing her foreign and uncertain but also intriguing and new surroundings, Bergemann moved first through the US and later Western Europe and Africa. In Manhattan she adopted a flaneur’s perspective, drifting through the concrete canyons, falling in step with the flow of people. Her images show her affinity to American masters of street photography like Walker Evans and Garry Winogrand and yet retain their own identity. The photographer turns her marvelling, roaming gaze to this Verwunderte Wirklichkeit (Astonished Reality, the title of a book by Bergemann from 1992).

With the faraway travels in the 1990s and new commissions, colour entered Bergemann’s work as a foundational element. In West Africa and on the edges of Western Europe, in Portugal, the photographer explored the feel and shape of local colours, eventually making them into a constitutive feature of her fashion photography. Strong contrasts were as crucial as finely graduated colour scales, both of which sensitively conveyed the genius loci of each place.

Text from the Kicken Berlin website

 

Biography

Sibylle Bergmann (German, 1941-2010) received a clerical training in East Berlin between 1958 and 1960. She subsequently held a white-collar job. From 1965 to 1967 she worked on the editorial staff of the monthly Das Magazin (The Magazine), where she developed an interest in photography. At this job she first met photographer Arno Fischer in 1966, with whom she lived until her death. He influenced her eventual decision to be an independent photographer, commencing her photographic training with Fischer in 1966. The apartment they shared in Berlin became an intellectual center for the alternative photography community in the GDR. From 1967 on, she worked as a freelance photographer for various magazines, such as for legendary fashion magazine Sibylle, and she became a member of the DIREKT group. In 1990 she became a founding member of Ostkreuz – Agentur der Fotografen (Agency of Photographers) in Berlin, and in 1994 a member of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin. In the 1990s she traveled extensively around the globe to take photos for internationally renowned magazines. Bergemann’s photographs focus on quiet, atmospheric moments, not on strong symbols or grand gestures. She sidestepped the prohibited ideas by opting for fashion photography and everyday shots of her immediate surroundings.

Press release from the Kicken Berlin website

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Marisa and Liane, Sellin, Isle of Rügen' 1981

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Marisa and Liane, Sellin, Isle of Rügen
1981
Gelatin silver print, printed 1981
33.7 x 22.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Annette and Angela, Lustgarten, Berlin' 1982

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Annette and Angela, Lustgarten, Berlin
1982
Gelatin silver print
42.3 x 28.3 cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Das Denkmal (Berlin, Februar 1986) (1986, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Das Denkmal (Berlin, Februar 1986)' / 'The Monument (Berlin, February 1986)' 1986, early print

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Das Denkmal (Berlin, Februar 1986) / The Monument (Berlin, February 1986)
1986, early print
Gelatin silver print
38.1 x 53.9cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at left, photographs from Bergemann’s Workplace series (various dates, see below); and at right, Bergemann’s Berlin (Frieda) (1982, above)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing photographs from Bergemann’s Workplace series (various dates, see below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Untitled' 1990, early print From the series 'Workplace'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled
1990, early print
From the series Workplace
Gelatin silver print
37 x 25cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Benedite Leuwarda, Hamburg' 1994, printed c. 1994

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Benedite Leuwarda, Hamburg
1994, printed c. 1994
From the series Workplace
Gelatin silver print
38 x 25.6cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Telekom, Dortmund' 1990, early print From the series 'Workplace'

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Telekom, Dortmund
1990, early print
From the series Workplace
Gelatin silver print
37 x 24.5cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Oderberger Straße, Berlin' 1990, printed c. 1990

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Oderberger Straße, Berlin
1990, printed c. 1990
Gelatin silver print
25.1 x 16.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kick

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Frieda, New York (1991, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Frieda, New York' 1991, printed c. 1991

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Frieda, New York
1991, printed c. 1991
Gelatin silver print
24.7 x 38cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing Bergemann’s Lily, Berlin (1996, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Lily, Berlin' 1996, printed c. 1996

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Lily, Berlin
1996, printed c. 1996
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 41.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Mauerpark, Berlin' 1996

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Mauerpark, Berlin
1996
Gelatin silver print
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann' at Kicken Berlin

 

Installation view of the exhibition Sheroes of Photography Part IV: Sibylle Bergemann at Kicken Berlin showing at left, Bergemann’s Dakar (2001, below); at centre, Bergemann’s Raky, Dakar (2001, below); and at right, Bergemann’s Shibam, Jemen (1999, below)

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.9 x 32.1cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Raky, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Raky, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.7 x 32cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Shibam, Jemen' 1999, printed c. 1999

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Shibam, Jemen
1999, printed c. 1999
C-print
44 x 32cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Seynabou, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Seynabou, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
32,1 x 43.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Cheick, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Cheick, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.8 x 31.8cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Mad, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Mad, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.9 x 32.1cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010) 'Raky, Dakar' 2001, printed c. 2001

 

Sibylle Bergemann (German, 1941-2010)
Raky, Dakar
2001, printed c. 2001
C-print
43.7 x 32.2cm
© Nachlass Sibylle Bergemann; Ostkreuz / Courtesy Kicken Berlin

 

 

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02
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs’ at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 2nd October, 2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Eight photo booth self-portraits)' Nd

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Eight photo booth self-portraits)
Nd
Gelatin silver prints on whiteboard
Sheet: 8 × 9 1/2 in. (20.32 × 24.13 cm)
Courtesy of the Ray Johnson Estate

 

 

Ray Johnson was an American artist “known primarily as a collagist and correspondence artist, he was a seminal figure in the history of Neo-Dada and early Pop art…” He absorbed from his teachers Josef Albers, Alvin Lustig, and Robert Motherwell and “entered into Zen kinship with two teachers, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and into romantic partnership with another, the sculptor Richard Lippold.” And then he burnt all the early paintings in his possession and took the path less trodden. He developed his own artistic language “through the creation of slight, irregular-shaped, frame-resistant (but mailable) collages he called “moticos”.” (The name was an anagram of the word “osmotic”)

After moving from New York to Locust Valley, Long Island in 1968, Johnson continued to make art but only had two more solo exhibitions, the last one in 1991. “Johnson was forever constructing miniature sets for his own delirious theatre of the absurd: puzzles within puzzles. The sensibility is not unlike Joseph Cornell’s [whose work was a major influence], minus the romance and period nostalgia. Johnson worked in another sort of outsider vernacular – at once banal, vulgar, campy, and deeply sophisticated.”1 The curator Joel Smith refers to “the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation” behind all of the artist’s work.

Towards the end of his life Johnson took up photography and became a master of the throwaway camera, using the machine to create intimate, staged actions “which served the artist as a form of citation: as a way to “reference,” rather than “represent,” his subjects. The hands-off nature of the medium gave Johnson a way to bring topics up yet keep his viewer (his recipient, his reader) focused on something he cared about more: the messaging process itself.”

Each person, each artist has a different reason to communicate. But what are they communicating? In Johnson’s case I think he was expressing his inner alternate reality, a different point of view of the world communicated through a new and fantastical visual language. Inhabited by bunnies and pop stars, Johnson’s work was a collage of the unclassifiable, bizarre, wired, wonderful, pop, performance, licked, action, nothings, dreams, concept, sexual, stamped, eccentric and enigmatic moticos… osmotic and fluidly subversive observational images, staged interventions, obsessive, witty and weird constructions. As Loring Knoblauch observes, “these pictures find new pathways of physical intervention, creating staged installations that combine Johnson’s restless collage combinations and the quirks of photographic vision into something cleverly unexpected.”2

Revelling in his insider-outsider status, Johnson was a naive draftsman / Navy draftsman (he loved a good play on words). There is a “distinctive wit – and the evident delight of discovery – that runs through these photographs.” But it is a dark witticism, as dark one of my favourite movies, Donnie Darko (full of bunnies). His is art as performance… of nothings, of everything, moving everything, setting everything in motion. We follow his in/actions whether it be documenting a flopped stranger wearing a bunny cutout, six Movie Stars in the back of a car, or his prescient undated Eight photo booth self-portraits (above) in which he acts out and obscures different personas.

In his last performance this creative man of nothing (real life) “was seen jumping from a bridge in Sag Harbor… [and] appeared to be doing a backstroke toward the open Atlantic.” He could not swim. As he said of one of his early performances, it (he) “went off into the void in some marvellous fashion…”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Vince Aletti. “A Trove of Snapshots from a Sly Master of Collage,” on The New Yorker website July 22, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022
  2. Loring Knoblauch. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website September 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

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

 

 

Johnson, however, was a prankster. Like the bunny head he adopted as his trademark – a cartoonish line drawing that appeared in much of his work, often bearing the name of a key figure in 20th-century art – he hopped lightly, merrily across this playing field. Revelling in puns and irreverence (an untitled 1973 collage known as “Jackson Pollock Fillets” includes cut-out recipes for Pollock Fillets Amandine and Barbecued Pollock Burgers), conducting his life as a nonstop performance, he revived the Dada tradition embodied by his hero Marcel Duchamp. In contrast to the grandiosity of Minimal art, land art, Pop Art and other macho midcentury movements, he offered something much humbler: collages or drawings of portable size and wry wit. … Johnson created some of the earliest works of Pop Art and was an early influence on conceptual art. …

The contents of Johnson’s pictures fall into several categories. At times, he chopped up the photos and used them to form a collage. Usually, though, and more interestingly, he found or created a collage-like pattern within the photographic frame. He made corrugated cardboard pieces that he called movie stars, and carried them to places where he could photograph them. Sometimes they incorporated images of celebrities: Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kerouac, Johns. Often they were renditions of his signature creation, a bunny with long, erect ears and a pendulous nose that, like a “Kilroy was here” graffiti drawing from World War II, feels both childlike and sexualized. He would inscribe a bunny with a name, thereby transforming it into a standardized personal portrait. And then he would drive his movie stars to a picturesque setting and shoot them with his camera.

.
Arthur Lubow. “An Elusive Artist’s Trove of Never-Before-Seen Images,” on The New York Times website March 23, 2021 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

As a body of work, these photographs by Johnson absolutely feel unfinished, in an open-ended and unwieldy way, as though he was grasping for new ways to communicate. Seen together, there is both dogged teach-yourself inventiveness and a hint of loneliness on display, with a nostalgia for stars of the past and his own younger face percolating through his iterative reworkings. At their best, these pictures find new pathways of physical intervention, creating staged installations that combine Johnson’s restless collage combinations and the quirks of photographic vision into something cleverly unexpected. At the end of his life, Johnson was actually becoming an interesting photographer, and these unearthed leavings provide tantalizing glimpses of what might have been.

.
Loring Knoblauch. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website September 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

 

Overview

Dubbed “New York’s most famous unknown artist” by the New York Times, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was a widely connected downtown figure, Pop art innovator, and pioneer of collage and mail art. After moving from Manhattan to suburban Long Island in 1968, Johnson selectively distanced himself from the mainstream art world, holding only two exhibitions after 1978. Yet even after his last show, in 1991, he remained a prolific and unpredictable artist.

Johnson used photographs in his work for decades, but it was only with his purchase of a single-use, point-and-shoot camera in January 1992 that he embarked on his own “career as a photographer.” By the end of December 1994 he had used 137 disposable cameras. His most frequent subjects were what he called his Movie Stars: meter-high collages on cardboard, often featuring the bunny head that served as his artistic signature. They became ensemble players in the curious tableaux he staged in everyday locales near his Locust Valley home.

At his death by suicide in January 1995, Johnson left a vast archive of art in boxes stacked throughout his house, including over five thousand colour photographs, still in the envelopes from the developer’s shop. This body of work, virtually unseen until now, comprised his final major art project, the last act in a romance with photography that had begun some forty years earlier.

 

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs

A widely connected pioneer of Pop and mail art, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was described as “New York’s most famous unknown artist.” Best known for his multimedia collages, he stopped exhibiting in 1991, but his output did not diminish. In 1992-1994, he used 137 disposable cameras to create a large body of work that is coming to light only now. Staging his collages in settings near his home in Locust Valley, Long Island – parking lots, sidewalks, beaches, cemeteries – he made photographs that pull the world of everyday “real life” into his art. In his “new career as a photographer,” Johnson began making collages in a new, larger format that made them more effective players in his camera tableaux. The vast archive he left behind at his death included over three thousand of the late photographs. Now, his final project makes its debut alongside earlier photo-based collages and works of mail art: fruits of a romance with the camera that spans the four decades of the artist’s career.

 

Hazel Larsen Archer (American, 1921-2001) 'Ray Johnson at Black Mountain College' 1948

 

Hazel Larsen Archer (American, 1921-2001)
Ray Johnson at Black Mountain College
1948
Gelatin silver print
13 3/4 × 9 7/8 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

 

 

As a student at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College from 1945 to 1948, Johnson thrived under the rigorous tutelage of his foundation-course teacher Josef Albers (1888-1976). Johnson also modelled for Archer, a fellow student who would go on to teach photography at the school. This portrait – lush, faceless, and sexually ambiguous – foreshadows the complexity of Johnson’s use of photography throughout his career. Though attracted by the camera’s peerless ability to bestow glamour, he often tried to undercut its role as a transparent conveyor of facts.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ silhouette and wood, Stehli Beach' Autumn 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ silhouette and wood, Stehli Beach
Autumn 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

As an artist, Johnson was a master hunter-recycler, constantly revisiting and reinterpreting images from his past. On a visit to the beach at nearby Oyster Bay in 1992, he brought along a camera and a cardboard cutout of his head. Propping the board against a piece of driftwood log, he created a visual pun: the log’s central rings evoke the swirl of hair that Hazel Archer had once photographed on his (now long-bald) head.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Moticos with KAFKAYLLA)' c. 1953-1954

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Moticos with KAFKAYLLA)
c. 1953-1954
Collage on illustration board
13 × 5 in. (33.02 × 12.7cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson applied one all-purpose noun, “moticos” (both singular and plural), to his short writings, his collages, and the glyph-like shapes he drew. He and his friend Norman Solomon coined the term by reshuffling the word “osmotic,” chosen out of the dictionary. On this moticos made from a flattened box, Johnson paired a photograph of a pigeon with its strange twin: a sort of photo-bird, composed of cookie cutters and a checkerboard. Johnson proposes a second unlikely duo by combining the names of the author Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and the photographer Ylla (Camilla Koffler, 1911-1955), known for her images of animals.

 

Moticos

In the autumn of 1955, artist Ray Johnson walked through the streets of New York City with a slip of paper, asking strangers if they could define the word he’d written on it: “motico.” People gamely racked their brains: “‘Gee, I wish to hell I knew,’ said one. A nun asked, ‘Isn’t it a kind of colour?'” Johnson recalled these encounters in a story that ran that year in the very first issue of The Village Voice, when he was 27 years old and living in Manhattan, and working primarily in painting and collage.

The word was one Johnson had invented. An anagram of osmotic (a word allegedly chosen at random from a book), “moticos” could refer to several different things. Johnson called the small collage panels he made “moticos” but he also used the word to refer to textual representations too. Johnson would paint and transform the cardboard pieces that came with his laundry into parts of his collages, transforming them into silhouettes and then glyphs, new moticos.

Rebecca Bengal. “Photo Dump: Digging into the 5,000 Photographs Ray Johnson Left Behind,” on the Elephant Art website 20 Jul 2022 [Online] Cited 25/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (James Dean in the Rain)' c. 1953-1959

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (James Dean in the Rain)
c. 1953-1959
Collage on illustration board
15 1/2 × 11 3/4 in. (39.37 × 29.85cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

From the early 1950s, Johnson embraced photocollage as a way to inject Hollywood glamour into the cloistered world of avant-garde art. He was appropriating mass-media imagery years before Andy Warhol began populating monumental canvases with celebrity portraits. Here Johnson worked directly upon Dennis Stock’s iconic Life magazine photograph of James Dean walking alone through Times Square, which was published a few months before Dean died in a 1955 car crash. Whether Johnson made this work before or after Dean’s death is unknown. In the 1990s, he would again incorporate the actor’s silhouette in collages and photographs.

 

Elisabeth Novick. 'Untitled (Moticos on floor)' c. 1955

 

Elisabeth Novick
Untitled (Moticos on floor)
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 13 1/4 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
Elisabeth Loewenstein / ArenaPAL
© Elisabeth Loewenstein

 

 

For a short feature in the first issue of the Village Voice (26 October 1955), a reporter walked with Johnson as he approached strangers in Grand Central Terminal and asked them whether they knew what a “moticos” was. As seen here, Johnson also literally took moticos to the streets, staging crowds of them for the camera in disused spaces in downtown Manhattan. Few early moticos have survived intact: over the next several decades, in a practice he called Chop art, Johnson continually disassembled his work and used the fragments to create new pieces.

 

Elisabeth Novick. 'Untitled (Ray Johnson and Suzi Gablik)' 1955

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) '1955 moticos photographs from ladder' January 1992

 

Elisabeth Novick
Untitled (Ray Johnson and Suzi Gablik)
1955
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
Elisabeth Loewenstein / ArenaPAL
© Elisabeth Loewenstein

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
1955 moticos photographs from ladder
January 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In 1955 Johnson asked his friend Elisabeth Loewenstein (later Novick) to bring a camera along on a walk with their mutual friend Suzi Gablik (1934-2022). Novick’s photographs record the impromptu performance that ensued, in which Johnson draped moticos on Gablik’s face and body. A fellow Black Mountain College alum, Gablik would become an influential critic; in her 1969 book on Pop art, she described improvised actions such as this one as the first “informal happenings” – ephemeral events conceived as works of art – in the postwar era.

Johnson preserved the photographs Novick made that day. Nearly forty years later, in one of his earliest experiments with a “throwaway camera,” he laid out the prints in a grid on his driveway and photographed them from atop a ladder.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Correspondence to Frances X. Profumo' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Correspondence to Frances X. Profumo
Undated
Typewritten text on paper, newspaper clippings
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In the mid-1950s, Johnson simultaneously shifted from oil painting to small-scale collage and from gallery exhibitions to the mail as a way of putting his art before an individual viewer. An envelope from Johnson often contained enigmatic clippings from books and magazines, including photographic illustrations drawn from the same stockpile that fuelled his collages. These are items Johnson sent in the 1950s to Frances X. Profumo, whom he befriended when he was a student and she an employee at Black Mountain College. The many visual and textual Xs invoke both Profumo’s distinctive middle initial and the convention of signing a fond letter “with kisses” (XXX).

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Nothing with Brancusi)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Mapplethorpe with moticos)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (book page with umbrella as splint)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Nothing with Brancusi)
Undated
Ink on book page
9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (24.13 × 19.05cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Mapplethorpe with moticos)
Undated
Ink on magazine page
Image: 7 × 7 in. (17.78 × 17.78cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
The Morgan Library & Museum. Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (book page with umbrella as splint)
Undated
Ink on paper
Image: 9 1/2 × 7 in. (24.13 × 17.78cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Over the years, Johnson inducted hundreds or thousands of recipients into what he called the New York Correspondence School by mailing them oblique yet personalised messages. These altered book and magazine pages were among the unmailed works found in his house after his death.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Offset printing plate (Ara Ignatius portrait)' c. 1964

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with a photograph of lips)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with bunnyheads)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Offset printing plate (Ara Ignatius portrait)
c. 1964
Metal
Image: 15 1/2 × 10 in. (39.37 × 25.4cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with a photograph of lips)
Undated
Cut paper on paper
Image: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.94 × 21.59cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with bunnyheads)
Undated
Ink on paper
Image: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.94 × 21.59cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson favoured likenesses that masked as much about him as they revealed. He repeatedly used a headshot that his friend Ara Ignatius made around 1963. It is an unnerving image, lacking the conceit of intimacy that characterises most formal portraits; instead it “stands for” Johnson, in the artless manner of a government-issued ID.

Many pieces of mail art that look like photocopies are in fact products of offset printing – a means of transferring photographs and other images to the page from reusable metal plates. The medium allowed Johnson to return to an image repeatedly, imposing variations that reflected his ever-changing purposes.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled ("I shot an arrow into the air..." with Shirley Temple and Vikki Dougan)' c. 1970-1972

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (“I shot an arrow into the air…” with Shirley Temple and Vikki Dougan)
c. 1970-1972
Ink, wash, collage, vintage photograph on illustration board
18 × 15 in. (45.72 × 38.1cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In this photocollage, two movie actors meet: Vikki Dougan (b. 1929), who became a sex symbol in the 1950s by publicly appearing in backless dresses, and the quintessentially innocent child star Shirley Temple (1928-2014). Temple’s rendering as a blacked-out, moticos-like figure may allude to her adult married name, Shirley Temple Black. Across the bottom of the image, a line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1845 poem “The Arrow and the Song” is altered to refer to Johnson’s forerunner in collage and assemblage art, Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), who lived in Flushing, Queens.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'David Hockney's Mother's Potato Masher' 1972-80-88-94

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
David Hockney’s Mother’s Potato Masher
1972-80-88-94
Collage on cardboard panel
20 3/8 × 15 1/4 in. (51.75 × 38.74cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The title of each collage in the Potato Masher series begins with a notable artist’s or celebrity’s name. The titles then take an abrupt turn away from stardom by alluding first to the famed figure’s mother, and then to her potato masher. Here, Johnson included his own likeness in the form of a headshot, made around 1963 by the photographer Ara Ignatius. His face is covered by black moticos and cut-up fragments of his earlier artworks. Johnson created his collages over a span of weeks, months, or even years, dating each element in pencil as it joined the composition.

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum presents PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs, opening June 17 and running through October 2, 2022. This exhibition explores the previously unknown camera work of the widely connected downtown New York figure, Pop art innovator, and pioneer of collage and mail art. At his death on 13 January 1995, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) left behind a vast archive of art in his house, including over five thousand colour photographs made in his last three years. Small prints, neatly stored in their envelopes from the developer’s shop, the photographs remained virtually unexamined for three decades. Now they can be seen as the last act in a romance with photography that had begun in Johnson’s art some forty years earlier. After retracing the story of Johnson’s use of photography throughout his career, PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE offers an in-depth look at the late work the artist called “my career in photography.”

After moving from Manhattan to suburban Long Island in 1968, Johnson selectively distanced himself from the mainstream art world, holding only two exhibitions after 1978. Yet even after his last show, in 1991, he remained a prolific and unpredictable artist. With his purchase of a single-use, point-and-shoot camera in January 1992, he embarked on an entirely fresh creative enterprise. By the end of December 1994, he had used 137 disposable cameras. His most frequent subjects were what he referred to as his Movie Stars: meter-high collages on cardboard, often featuring the bunny head that served as his artistic signature. They became ensemble players in the curious tableaux he staged in everyday locales near his Locust Valley home.

As an artist, Johnson was a master hunter-recycler, constantly revisiting and reinterpreting images from his past. He appears to have first used a disposable camera for a practical purpose: documenting his enormous backlog of unused collage fragments. He performed that work in his driveway and on the back steps of his house, but soon he was carrying a pocket-size camera on daily outings to nearby beaches, parks, and cemeteries. Johnson’s photographs exhibit a collagist’s instinct for insertion, layering, and surprise: most of them are centred on objects that he placed between himself and a scene as he found it. In his photographs as in his pun-filled writing and his densely worked collages, Johnson used juxtaposition to suggest that everything finds correspondence in something else. The point-and-shoot habit gave him a way to create an image almost as quickly as he could think of it. As curator Joel Smith writes in the book that accompanies the exhibition, “Nowhere in Johnson’s art does he look more intensely engaged by the present tense, more thrilled to be immersed in real life, than in the inventions of his throwaway camera.”

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE offers a rare chance to examine photographs taken by Ray Johnson, an artist known primarily for his brilliant work in collage,” said Colin B. Bailey, Director of the Morgan Library & Museum. “The images, most of which have gone unexplored until now, are truly innovative and ahead of their time. The exhibition also celebrates a significant gift of Johnson’s work, generously made by Ray Johnson estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.”

“These photographs show that in his last years, Ray Johnson remained irrepressibly, explosively creative,” said Smith, the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at the Morgan. “It’s his last great body of work, and its very casualness is prophetic: ten years later, smart phones and social media turned daily life into a constant exchange of personal photographs and commentary. Johnson was still making collages right up to the end – but now he made them in a camera, and the ‘real life’ all around him was his medium.”

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs is accompanied by a book with the same title published by Mack Books, which includes an essay by the exhibition’s curator, Joel Smith.

Press release from the Morgan Library & Museum

 

 Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Photo Booth Collage)' 1972

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Photo Booth Collage)
1972
Collage on illustration board
12 7/8 × 19 in. (32.7 × 48.26cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Here, Johnson (visible at top left) employs a booth as an affordable studio for documenting works from his Potato Masher series. Sitting in the photo booth, he simply held up one collage after another for the automatic camera. The resulting sequence of vertical photo strips combines the qualities of a crude performance document and an art gallery’s inventory sheet. David Hockney’s Mother’s Potato Masher appears, not yet finished, fourth from the left in the bottom row.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Tab Hunter William Burroughs)' c. 1976-1981

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'William S. Burroughs silhouette and kingfisher' Winter 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
William S. Burroughs silhouette and kingfisher
Winter 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gifts of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Tab Hunter William Burroughs)
c. 1976-1981
Collage on cardboard panel
12 × 12 1/2 in. (30.48 × 31.75cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Allen Adler, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In 1976 Johnson began asking friends, art-world figures, and celebrities to sit and have their silhouettes traced onto paper. He thus built a library of nearly three hundred profile templates he could use and reuse. As a portrait form, the silhouette reduces its subject to a graphic shape, identifiable but resistant to psychological interpretation. In this example, Johnson overlapped the profiles of 1950s movie heartthrob Tab Hunter (1931-2018) and avant-garde writer William S. Burroughs (1914-1997).

In the 1990s Johnson photographed one of his stock props, a stuffed kingfisher, in combination with Burroughs’s silhouette. The beak of the bird extends the author’s prominent nose: a bill replacing the bill of a Bill.

 

Even when Johnson avoided direct self-portraiture, his quirky fixations were always evident. (In an essay for the exhibition catalogue, the curator Joel Smith refers to “the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation” behind all of the artist’s work.) In one of the collages on display, William Burroughs’s profile nearly eclipses that of the nineteen-fifties movie star turned gay icon Tab Hunter, and both are all but obscured by a swarm of pebble-like fragments and bits of collage. Johnson was forever constructing miniature sets for his own delirious theatre of the absurd: puzzles within puzzles. The sensibility is not unlike Joseph Cornell’s, minus the romance and period nostalgia. Johnson worked in another sort of outsider vernacular – at once banal, vulgar, campy, and deeply sophisticated. Like John Baldessari, he favored artless lettering and crisp graphic design. The cardboard slats, especially, might be mistaken for portable Baldessaris.

Vince Aletti. “A Trove of Snapshots from a Sly Master of Collage,” on The New Yorker website July 22, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Elvis with Bunny Ears)' 1987

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Elvis with Bunny Ears)
1987
Collage with acrylic and ink on canvasboard
16 × 8 in. (40.64 × 20.32cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Beginning in the 1950s, Johnson made artistic use of photographs of the twentieth-century cultural icon Elvis Presley (1935-1977). Johnson’s most emblematic motif, a stylised bunny face, first appeared beside the artist’s name in 1964. Bunny ears would serve both as a kind of trademark and as a way of turning anyone – Elvis, in this case – into a Ray Johnson character. The enlarged halftone dots that compose Elvis’s image confirm its status as a mass-market photographic reproduction.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Rubble and photo credit' Summer 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Andy Warhol life dates on flowers' July 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Shadow and manhole' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Rubble and photo credit
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Andy Warhol life dates on flowers
July 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Shadow and manhole
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson appears to have first used a disposable camera for a practical purpose: documenting his backlog of unused collage fragments. But in January 1992, he told curator Clive Phillpot, “I’m pursuing my career as a photographer,” and in March he added, “I’m having fun with my throw-away camera.” Always faithful to the rapidity of his own thinking, Johnson found in the “throwaway” Fuji Quicksnap a way to give graphic form to ideas as they occurred to him.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Path of headshots and back steps' Spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Joseph Cornell silhouette and payphone' Spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bills, Stehli Beach' Summer 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Path of headshots and back steps
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Joseph Cornell silhouette and payphone
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bills, Stehli Beach
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6
The Morgan Library & Museum. Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty; 2022.2:11
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson’s first photography studios were the driveway and back steps of his house, but soon he was carrying a pocket-size camera on his daily outings to nearby beaches, parks, and cemeteries. In spring 1992, he threaded a cutout silhouette of Joseph Cornell over the cord of a payphone, then photographed it with one hand while holding the receiver with the other – acting as operator of a hotline to the collage-art pioneer.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'One-legged figure beside back steps' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
One-legged figure beside back steps
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Mondrian's grave and playing card, Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Queens' spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Billboard' Summer 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Mondrian’s grave and playing card, Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Queens
spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Billboard
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Even in his photography, Johnson exhibits a collagist’s instinct for insertion and layering. Most of his photographs are centred on objects that he placed between himself and a scene as he found it. On occasion, though, he used the camera in a conventional way, simply collecting views of sights that drew his interest, such as a billboard advertising nothing or the word HELP on the underside of a boat. Photographs such as these are the field notes of a minutely attentive observer.

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE

Joel Smith

In January 1992, a few weeks after his last lifetime exhibition closed at Moore College in Philadelphia, the artist Ray Johnson began photographing in and around his house in Locust Valley, Long Island, using what he called “my throwaway camera”: a single-use point-and-shoot, preloaded with daylight color film. Thirty-five months and 137 throwaways later, he photographed views through the storefront window of an even-more-final exhibition called Ray Johnson: Nothing. It was up during the Christmas week lull of 1994 in a gallery on the main street of Sea Cliff, a few minutes’ drive from Johnson’s house, and around the corner from that of his friend and frequent mail-art partner, Sheila Sporer. Then, one Friday a couple of weeks into 1995, a man was seen jumping from a bridge in Sag Harbor, an hour and a half’s drive east. Witnesses reported that Johnson – the body, when recovered, proved to be his – appeared to be doing a backstroke toward the open Atlantic. (He could not swim.) Johnson’s presumed suicide is often described as the final work of a career in which art and life had long been inseparable.

In his last three years Johnson made and mailed art incessantly, went out for a drive most days, and ran through about one camera a week. When he finished a twenty-four-frame roll, he would drop off the camera – he used a couple of Kodaks at first and then, consistently, Fujicolor Quicksnaps – at Living Color, a shop in Glen Cove, for developing and printing. After turning sixty-five in October 1992, he often took advantage of a senior discount and ordered duplicate prints. For some forty years his art practice had consisted mainly of collage, relief assemblages, and correspondence art. Though photographs had figured in all three channels of work, they were not photographs made by Johnson himself, but portraits of him by others, or images he cut out of books or magazines. Now, in what he called his new “career as a photographer,” Johnson incorporated a few of his own photographs in modest little collages. He also mailed his photographs to correspondents, usually in the form of photocopies. But in the season after his death, among the dozens of boxes of art and effects Johnson left packed up in every room of his house, over five thousand of the color photos were found, still filed with their negatives and receipts in Living Color envelopes. To say the photographs were found needs qualifying: their existence was recorded, but years would pass before photography registered as a central creative pursuit of his final years.

It is not surprising that this work evaded scrutiny. Physically, these are plain, consumer-grade four-by-six-inch color snapshots, indistinguishable from those anyone would take home from the processor’s – whereas Johnson’s art more often took the form of distinctly, peculiarly altered public imagery. After the rise and canonization of Pop art in the 1960s, his work of a few years earlier, notably his addition of dripping red tears to a fan-magazine photo of Elvis Presley (1956-1957), looked prescient. Johnson, like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, took mass-market imagery for his muse – but, instead of enlarging it to grandiose scale, his instinct was to bestow the status of an artistic “original” upon ordinary, available-to-everyone printed matter itself. His collages, in that sense, define an antipode to Pop painting’s monumentalised appropriations. His prototype, you could say, was the sardonic teenager he had been not long before, scribbling mustaches onto Marilyns in magazines.

Spend time with the color photographs, and Johnson’s playful, punky persona becomes evident – not in anything he did to the pictures, but in their contents. The straight-men in these images are the streets, beachfronts, and parking lots of bucolic, smalltown northern Long Island: Locust Valley, Sea Cliff, Roslyn, Lattingtown, Glen Cove, Bayville. The scribbled mustaches are the dramatis personae Johnson introduces to those spaces. Within a few months of starting his photo-work, he began making, and photographing, collages on what were, for him, large (thirty-two-by-eight-inch) pieces of corrugated cardboard (62). (The cardboard often bears Fuji brand info; it, too, comes from the camera shop, or out of its dumpster.) In a letter to art critic David Bourdon in summer 1993, Johnson introduces ninety-three of these collages by name (Bobby Short, Greta Garbo …) and calls them his Movie Stars (or Move Stars). Indeed, despite their rectilinear format, they read as figures: paper-doll play-actors for his photo-tableaux. They have faces – most frequently Johnson’s signature pop-eyed, schlong-nosed bunny, inscribed with a name or phrase. (Many of those are rendered in mirror letters, correctly sequenced but laterally FLOPPED, as if in a misbegotten effort to address a reader on the other side of a steamy window.) As he did with his collages generally, Johnson would glue new elements onto these figures over time, dating each newly added bit in pencil. As the weeks of photo-shoots roll by, you can watch as a figure that starts as mostly naked cardboard fills up with information. I picture Johnson exiting his little grey house (he described its color as “grey with an e,” but named it The Pink House) with a freshly worked batch of Movie Stars under his arm, loading them into the back of his Volkswagen Golf, and taking them out on a drive, camera in pocket.

About a decade after these photographs were made, smart phones came into use, and everyone began having a camera on their person all the time. In 1992, making a photograph still required deciding and preparing to do so, and not simply asking oneself (or not even asking), “Why don’t I?” Buying the camera, noting how close to frame zero it was getting, dropping it off, returning to pick up the prints: making these pictures called for effort, on a par with the effort of crafting the Movie Stars. The whole enterprise reflects the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation that drives all of Johnson’s work. The art he made was irreducibly personal, if gnomic, and he went to lengths to maintain control over how his collages, punning defacements, paradoxes, and near-nothings would make their way into the world. Johnson’s New York Correspondence School – the vast network he invented for circulating mail art – existed mainly in his head, but this, from his angle, made it no less real than the art world.

In the art-historical fairy tale of postwar New York City, young Ray Johnson must have looked, for a few years, like an avant-garde heir apparent. Born in 1927, the only child of loving working-class parents, he grew up in Detroit and, from 1945 to 1948, attended North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, crucible of every far-seeing artistic impulse of that moment. He was shy and hard-working and he devoured all he could from instructors who included Josef Albers, Alvin Lustig, and Robert Motherwell. He left BMC having entered into Zen kinship with two teachers, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and into romantic partnership with another, the sculptor Richard Lippold. The four of them took up residence in a building in the deep reaches of downtown Manhattan. Johnson earned money working in Ad Reinhardt’s studio and at the Orientalia bookstore. He showed his Albers-sized, minutely rendered geometric paintings as a member of the American Abstract Artists group. In short, he seemed destined for middling highbrow success.

Instead, he became Ray Johnson. Between 1954 and 1956, he ditched his qualifications by burning all the early paintings still in his possession and redirecting his creative effort onto the slight, irregular-shaped, frame-resistant (but mailable) collages he called “moticos.” His move to print-media-based figural collage came at an historical moment far too late to boast a Dada-Surrealist pedigree and too early to get swept neatly up into Pop. The concerted wrongness of this switch makes it, in retrospect, quietly brilliant, and it points to the singularity that doomed Johnson’s crown-prince prospects. (Two of his successors and friends at BMC, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, picked up those prospects and put them to good use.)

Johnson hung onto a number of photographs that documented his fateful conversion. At age sixty-four he arranged twenty of them in a grid on the drive behind his house, then scaled a ladder to re-photograph them (26). In most of these old photographs, moticos in profusion can be seen arrayed in two real-world sites, a pallet on a sidewalk and a large industrial interior. In others – which were made in the street by a friend of Ray’s, the future fashion photographer Elisabeth Novick (then Loewenstein) – you can see Johnson draping moticos all over another friend (and fellow BMC alum), Suzi Gablik. These are, in effect, performance records; Gablik even came to describe Johnson’s moticos-stagings as perhaps the first Happenings in art—a notion that arguably proceeds from their having been photographed. Interviewed in 2015, Novick emphasized how casually this came about. Not long before, she had been given her first camera, and one day, Ray simply asked her to bring it along on a walk. “Suzi just sat there,” Novick said, “and he just threw the things on top of her.” She explains: “He was a very lighthearted sort of whimsical person. […] He wasn’t intense. It was the opposite of intense. If I could look up the opposite word of intense, I would say that was him.”

The “opposite-of-intense” mode of hardly-work Johnson was auditioning that day led him to an art based on play, exchange, and movement; on remaining light-footed enough to follow any association that came to mind, be it ever so slight, silly, or hermetic. Perhaps for just that reason, Johnson’s art found its ideal helpmate in the camera, with its knack for lending graphic form to the ephemeral. In any event, the 1955 documents turn up repeatedly in his color photographs of forty years later (44, 102).

Even more prevalent in these images is the infinitely malleable bunny head (64) that Johnson described as “a sort of self-portrait.” Its partner, equally ever-present, is a headshot of Johnson made by Ara Ignatius around 1963. (Johnson kept on hand an offset plate of this image, from which he could order new printings by the hundreds whenever he needed them.) In one early-1992 photograph, nineteen headshots are laid down in a path leading to Johnson’s backdoor stairs, where he would be staging many more photographs (20). In the summer of 1993, four headshots stare in through the windshield of his car, like a posse of avid fans (126). The headshot rides shotgun with Elvis (108) and, reduced to a pair of eyes, lends consciousness to a mob of moticos on camelback (98).

Johnson’s longtime collector, advocate, and chief interpreter, William Wilson, observed that photographs served the artist as a form of citation: as a way to “reference,” rather than “represent,” his subjects. The hands-off nature of the medium gave Johnson a way to bring topics up yet keep his viewer (his recipient, his reader) focused on something he cared about more: the messaging process itself. Using another photography adjacent tool, the silhouette, Johnson could convert the people he knew into references-to-themselves. Starting in 1976, he used pencil and paper to trace the profile shadows of some 284 sitters. He filed these in two big template binders, ready for use in the studio. Most of his profile subjects were writers, artists, and actors, whose shared characteristic is their publicly traded names.

Some of the silhouettes appear in the colour photographs, as do various celebrity portraits – but many more people show up as bunny faces inscribed with their names. Johnson wrote to Bourdon that seventy-two of his Movie Stars were going to appear in a “RAY JOHNSON OUTDOOR MOVIE SHOW” (see 110, 122, and 124 for variant stagings) that would stand “45 feet in length if ever actually placed next to each other and the wind didn’t blow them down.” In the meantime, he posed individual Movie Stars in the company of obliging strangers (54) or leaned them against the occasional dog (222).

The photographs include some one-offs, such as the shadow cast by Johnson’s mailbox (2) and a tar seam in a parking lot (176). Many of the subjects, though, are ones he revisited dozens of times, such as local beaches, cemeteries, and storefronts, a bathtub he found in a field (106, 107), and himself as a shadow, encountering a manhole cover (4).

Most of the photographs work in a collage-like way: they record Johnson’s alteration of a real-world setting through the addition of some flat thing he has made or chosen, such as one of his grimly cartoony black-on-white graphic characters, hiding amid spiky succulents (18), or an ace of clubs, leaning against Piet Mondrian’s grave marker (42).

At other times he works like a conventional photographer, observing but not intervening, as when he captures the horizon across Long Island Sound (230), a faceless billboard (41), the snapped arrow of a rooftop weathervane (16), or a palm frond splayed on beach sand (92).

Still other images define a mode between these two options, as Johnson finds some noteworthy thing to photograph (dragon’s teeth icicles [6], a mortuary angel [8]), then props up beside it a sign that emblazons the view like a maker’s logo or a graffitist’s tag: “PHOTO BY RAY JOHNSON”; “RAY JOHNSON THE PARIS CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL.”

Here are a few of the subjects that kept Johnson and his 137 cameras coming back most often:

Inside. When Johnson photographed inside his house, the daylight-exposure film in his pre-loaded cameras restricted his work area to patches of direct sunlight. In late afternoon, the window in his front door cast a scalloped picture frame, or spotlight, around whatever he photographed on the floor (132, 168). The window’s shape in turn became a player, alone or in tandem with its mirror image (45).

Telephones. Johnson was as tireless a phone-caller as he was a mailer. Once, while at home, he held the phone for a bunny labeled EAR MUFS, posing between a 1955 photo and a clutch of moticos glyphs (28). Out driving around, he staged momentary installations in payphone boxes (65, 232). He unhooked one phone’s receiver and threaded over its cord a cardboard cutout silhouette of the artist Joseph Cornell, whom he used to visit in Flushing, Queens (12). The cutout void of Cornell’s head frames the telephone’s number-pad, turning Johnson into the operator of a Cornell-box hotline: camera in one hand, receiver in the other, plugged into the head of the master collagist.

Doubles. In Johnson’s universe, doubleness – correspondence – is the norm. No surprise, then, that he should photograph twins, replicas (48, 50), and those spellbinding autocopies, twin-initialed celebrities (Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse [160]). He gives dualism a distinctly photographic turn by pairing things with their reflections or shadows. When photographed, these light-borne modes of doubling assume a concrete presence: they make reality look Johnsonian. A reflection echoes its original, but the two are non-identical. The reflection – being laterally flopped, like Johnson’s mirror letters – is the original’s opposite (52, 172). As for the shadow, it is a flat, graphic version of its original (70), an incorporeal counterpart to reality (136).

Recycling. A collagist traffics in the reincarnation of materials and images. The beginnings of Johnson’s photographs look like an effort to document his vast inventory of “chop art” – his term for the densely-reworked chunks of assemblage he had been building up and cutting apart again for decades (30-33). He abandoned this cataloguing, but his photographs remain as full of junk (130, 131) as his house (228); “WHAT A DUMP.” His movie-reel memory encompassed everything from Bette Davis films to a porn video made famous in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas [150]). He created a deadpan cardboard memorial to his old associate, arch-recycler Andy Warhol, and laid it atop a raked pile of cemetery flowers (142), and, two years later, atop a scattering of donated clothes (144).

Bills. Scavenged out of those clothing drops, most likely, were the many baseball cap visors Johnson photographed. He held them up before the camera, always in C formation, with deep spaces behind them: the sky, or receding railway tracks (34, 78). He arrayed them on Stehli Beach like a school of migrating horseshoe crabs (94). He cut the bill’s crescent-moon shape out of his headshot (33). If they stand for a name, “Bill,” perhaps he is William Wilson. Or the writer William S. Burroughs, who sat for his silhouette in 1976. Johnson laid a cutout of Burroughs down on cardboard, then extended Bill’s prominent nose with the bill of a kingfisher (96).

Photographers. The photographs feature many images drawn from photography’s historical canon, making Johnson-collaborators of, among others, Walker Evans (via Sherrie Levine) (136), Dennis Stock (158), and Félix González-Torres (186). Some Movie Star bunnies are given the names of photographers, including Horst, Duane Michals (154, 170), and Lord Snowdon (snowed-in / snowed-N [236]). The crane in Bill Brandt’s famous photograph of Kew Gardens provides the top half of an awkward composite figure (159, 174). Johnson perched Michals’s book of portraits on the front bumper of his car, making a third headlight of its cyclopean eye (138). He turned Richard Avedon’s An Autobiography face-down to reveal its author photo and dressed the portraitist in a hat (163) that channels Marianne Moore, who is portrayed in that book wearing her signature tricorn (a moticos-like garment that fascinated Johnson). Late one dusk, Johnson photographed the legs of his shadow spanning a copy of Lee Friedlander’s book Like a One-Eyed Cat, laid down open to its frontispiece, one of Friedlander’s many self-portraits in shadow (80).

Please Send. Between July and December 1994, over twenty wrapped packages appear in Johnson’s photographs. They are addressed to or from his mail-art correspondents, most frequently his local friend Sheila Sporer (158, 242). (The ones Sheila opened – those not marked “DO NOT OPEN” – turned out to be stuffed with plain craft paper.) Often the packages are pictured in the midst of what look like obscure rituals. One stands in Johnson’s driveway, tethered to a helium bunny balloon, ready to begin its physically impossible ascent (206). Others he positioned inside the gallery show-window of his late December 1994 un-show, Ray Johnson: Nothing, and then photographed them from out on the sidewalk (169). (He never ventured inside.) A few days later, he posed two packages, tourist-like, at the end of a pier at sunset (214); distressingly, one of them is next seen drifting in the water below (216).

In late December 1994, Johnson photographed himself in a shop window mirror, holding up a bunny inscribed PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE (246). (On the collage, this bunny bears the date December 21; below it, on December 30, Johnson added ONLY YOU [244].) REAL LIFE refers, at one level, to the New York-based art magazine REALLIFE (1979-1994): since late November, Johnson had been urging Sporer to pitch its editor, Thomas Lawson, an article about their three years of collaborative correspondence art.

But the message can mean something else, too – something like: “Here, Life, take this thing I’ve made; I’m going to the other place.” For decades death had been a resolute presence in Johnson’s work, taking such forms as Nothing, pitch-black humor, and a fixation on life dates. Is death palpably present in the photographs of his last three years? It would be silly to deny that it is. And yet it would be trivial to hunt through this large, complex, often comical, always personal body of work for nothing more than a rebus suicide note. Ray Johnson never made himself that easily readable. And nowhere in his art does he look more intensely engaged by the present tense, more thrilled to be immersed in Real Life, than in the inventions of his throwaway camera.

Joel Smith. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE,” in PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs. Mack Books, 2022, pp. 188-195

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show on RJ's car' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show in RJ's backyard' 1 June 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show on RJ’s car
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show in RJ’s backyard
1 June 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The photographs Johnson made between January 1992 and December 1994 feature several dozen collages in a large, vertical format he had never used before. He referred to these works as Movie Stars (or Move Stars), writing that “if the wind didn’t knock them down,” he planned to cast them in a “Ray Johnson Outdoor Movie Show,” lined up like dancers in a musical revue. In the end, still photography was the nearest he came to filmmaking.

 

 

In the same way that Johnson burned his early paintings, renouncing the most reliable route to a successful art career in mid-20th-century New York, he exited the fray of Manhattan. In 1968 he moved to Locust Valley, Long Island, and after 1978 he had only two solo exhibitions – the last one in 1991. He continued to make art, though, and looked to artists like Joseph Cornell, famous for his box assemblages, who lived on Utopia Parkway in Queens. Many of Johnson’s works take Cornell’s idea of the display box filled with quirky objects and expands it to tableaus staged for the camera, using the suburban environment, the woods or the seashore as found theatrical sets. …

Johnson’s presence in many of the photos could be called self-portraiture – but the photos also feel very much like ancestors to the ubiquitous cellphone selfie. The photo “RJ with Please Send to Real Life and camera in mirror” (1994) is an obvious selfie precursor. It includes a number of conceptual twists, however: Johnson appears in a mirror, holding a disposable camera and one of his cardboard signs with an alter-ego bunny and the words “Please Send to Real Life” partially printed in reverse – a reminder of how the camera doesn’t merely document reality, but shapes and potentially distorts it. (This photo might also be a reference to his mail-art practice or the New York art magazine Real Life, published from 1979 to 1994.) …

What is art? What is real? Does the image document reality or create it? “Please Send to Real Life” raises some of these questions and shows how Johnson predicted the growing fuzziness between the realms of photography and IRL (in real life) – from snapshots to social media – suggesting that the relationship between them is porous but also ripe for creative intervention.

Anonymous. “Ray Johnson’s Camera Was Disposable. The Photos Are Unforgettable,” on The New York Times website 24th August 2022 [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (yellow DUANE MICHALS bunny)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (JOSEF ALBERS with cat)' 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (six blue Rays in Rolls)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (yellow DUANE MICHALS bunny)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
13 3/4 × 4 1/2 in. (34.93 × 11.43cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (JOSEF ALBERS with cat)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
17 3/8 × 7 1/2 in. (44.13 × 19.05cm)
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (six blue Rays in Rolls)
Undated
Collage on corrugated cardboard
21 × 8 1/2 in. (53.34 × 21.59cm)
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Movie Stars

Overhead are some of the several dozen collages that appear in photographs Johnson made between January 1992 and December 1994. He referred to these large, vertical pieces as Movie Stars (or Move Stars), writing that “if the wind didn’t knock them down,” he planned to cast them in a “Ray Johnson Outdoor Movie Show,” lined up like dancers in a musical revue. In the end, still photography was the nearest he came to filmmaking. Were the Movie Stars made to be photographed? Or are the photographs mere documents of the Movie Stars? Perhaps the two bodies of work are best understood as complementary parts of a continuous creative cycle. Many of the Movie Stars are made on cardboard that bears photographic product information, suggesting that it was scavenged from the dumpster of the shop where Johnson bought his cameras and turned them in for developing.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Cage and Satie with Orpheus and Eurydice, Planting Fields Arboretum' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Jasper John' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'WIGART grave and Movie Star of RJ between David Bs' April 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Cage and Satie with Orpheus and Eurydice, Planting Fields Arboretum
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Jasper John
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
WIGART grave and Movie Star of RJ between David Bs
April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The Movie Stars feature a roll call of celebrity faces and names that is, in composite, unique to Johnson’s imagination. By photographing the collages, Johnson animated his personal pantheon in the familiar settings of his daily life. Composers Erik Satie and John Cage rest in the arms of a statue of Orpheus, the prophetic music-maker of Greek myth. Artist Jasper Johns punningly marks the door of an outhouse-like wooden structure. Johnson himself rides shotgun in his Volkswagen Golf while Elvis takes the wheel. And art critic David Bourdon and rock star David Bowie (embodiments, in different ways, of Pop’s legacy) join Johnson at the grave of “Wig art.” Once Johnson even photographed the Movie Stars in their staging area at home, ready to be loaded into the car and taken out for a day’s work.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Headshot and Elvises in RJ's car' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show on dumpster' 18 May 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Four Movie Stars, Locust Valley Cemetery' 31 March 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Headshot and Elvises in RJ’s car
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show on dumpster
18 May 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Four Movie Stars, Locust Valley Cemetery
31 March 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Silhouette version of RJ portrait by Joan Harrison, Lattingtown Beach' Autumn 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Silhouette version of RJ portrait by Joan Harrison, Lattingtown Beach
Autumn 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

To create this picture-within-a-picture, Johnson returned to the site of a much-reproduced portrait of him that photographer Joan Harrison made in the early 1980s. In the spot where he once sat, knees raised and arms outstretched, Johnson leaned a card that features a black silhouette of his symmetrical pose. As so often occurs in his photographs, Johnson here strikes an unsettling balance between absence and presence, erasure and memorialisation.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Bill and Railroad Tracks)' Spring 1992)

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bill and Long Island Sound' Winter 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Bill and Railroad Tracks)
Spring 1992)
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bill and Long Island Sound
Winter 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson held up the sky-blue bill of a baseball cap over a railroad crossing and photographed it. When he holds it over the ocean in another image, it resembles a crescent moon. With his “throwaway” camera he photographed arrangements of photographs and photobooks by Walker Evans, Lord Snowden, Richard Avedon, Bill Brandt, and Lee Friedlander. Friedlander-like, Johnson photographed his own shadow, interacting with the places of his solitary visits.

He photographed his own works in infinite arrangements and continuous correspondence: two bunnyheads sitting up conversationally in tall chairs. He photographed his headshot, affixed to the passenger seat of a car, next to a double photo of Elvis, in the driver’s seat. He photographed a blank billboard in a field; he photographed a pier; he photographed the ocean. He photographed a picture of himself in his shadow cast across a mailbox, a bunny head peeking out. The unearthed photographs become the last note sent.

Rrebecca Bengal. “Photo Dump: Digging into the 5,000 Photographs Ray Johnson Left Behind,” on the Elephant Art website 20 Jul 2022 [Online] Cited 25/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ reflected in ice truck and split Duane Michals Movie Star' 11 May 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Back steps and moticos' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ reflected in ice truck and split Duane Michals Movie Star
11 May 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Back steps and moticos
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Twins

In his writing and visual art, Johnson used juxtapositions and puns to suggest that nothing stands alone: everything finds correspondence in something else. Photography’s optical literalness gave him new ways to explore reality’s doubleness. Twins – and photocopied photographs – are nearly alike yet insistently distinct. Mirrors give back a faithful, yet laterally reversed, image of nature. The shadow of a thing echoes its original, but (like a moticos) it is flat and empty of internal detail.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bunny drawn on Felix Gonzalez-Torres's "Untitled"' 2 January 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Long Dong Silver, Lattingtown Beach' 16 November 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Six Movie Stars in RJ's car' April 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bunny drawn on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled”
2 January 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Long Dong Silver, Lattingtown Beach
16 November 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Six Movie Stars in RJ’s car
April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Bunnies

A round-eyed, long-nosed bunny head functioned as Johnson’s signature and, as he said, “a kind of self-portrait.” Despite the bunny’s blank expression, context can render it comical, hapless, sinister, or obscene. Johnson altered Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s photograph of a rumpled empty bed – an iconic image of gay mourning during the AIDS crisis – by resting a lone bunny’s head on one of the two pillows. Johnson cut a face-sized hole out of one bunny, then photographed the view outside his front window through the gap. He gave the same bunny to passersby to wear and, once, laid it suggestively atop his toilet bowl. When a large old tree next door was being chainsawed apart, Johnson found in its branching form a gaunt, eyeless bunny’s face.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Harpo Marx bunny, headshot, and payphone' February 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bunny tree in backyard' 17 April 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (red bunny NOTHING)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ad Rein Hardt Bunny)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Flopped stranger wearing cutout bunny' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Harpo Marx bunny, headshot, and payphone
February 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bunny tree in backyard
17 April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (red bunny NOTHING)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
12 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (31.75 × 19.05cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ad Rein Hardt Bunny)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
12 1/2 × 7 5/8 in. (31.75 × 19.37cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Flopped stranger wearing cutout bunny
Spring 1992
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

What did Johnson intend to do with the thousands of photographs he made between 1992 and 1994? There are few solid indications. He mailed some to correspondents, either in the form of original prints or as photocopies. He also incorporated a handful of his photographs into collages that differ markedly in scale and sensibility from the larger, contemporaneous Movie Stars. In one collage, a photograph of five Movie Stars – arranged like sequential ads beside a road – is punningly combined with a bunny head bearing the name of abstract painter Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967), a friend and employer of Johnson’s in his early New York years.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Shadow of RJ's mailbox' March 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ with PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE and camera in mirror' 23 December 1994

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Shadow of RJ’s mailbox
March 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ with PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE and camera in mirror
23 December 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

This self-portrait appears on a roll of film Johnson turned in for developing about three weeks before his suicide by drowning on 13 January 1995. The flopped lettering on the Movie Star in his hand undergoes a further reversal in the mirror. On a literal level, the words “REAL LIFE” refer to the New York-based art magazine REALLIFE (1979-1994), which Johnson hoped would soon publish an article about his years-long collaboration with a friend, Sheila Sporer. But the message unmistakably announces, too, that the artist was soon to venture beyond the reach of “real life.”

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York, NY
Phone: (212) 685-0008

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday, Saturday – Sunday: 10.30am – 5pm
Friday: 10.30am – 7pm
Closed Mondays

The Morgan Library & Museum website

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18
Sep
22

Photographs: Marcus Bunyan. ‘The sun does not move’ 2017-2022

September 2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Women in orange' London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Women in orange
London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

This posting offers a selection of photographs from my new ninety-eight image sequence The sun does not move (2017-2022). To see the whole extended conversation please visit my website. The text below illuminates the rationale for the work…

 

Two students were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind. “It’s the wind that is really moving,” stated the first one. “No, it is the flag that is moving,” contended the second. A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and interrupted them. “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving,” he said, “It is MIND that moves.”

 

The photographs in this sequence meditate on the idea that it is the mind of the viewer that constructs the spaces and meanings of these images. It is MIND that moves. The title of this sequence the sun does not move is attributed to Italian polymath Galileo Galilei.

The photographs are not a contemporary dissection of some archaic concept or hidden historical moment. They just are. Why do I make them? Because I feel impelled to be creative, to explore the spiritual in liminal spaces that I find across the earth. Ultimately, I make them for myself, to illuminate the journey that this soul is on.

With wonder and affection and empathy and feeling for the spaces placed before it. As clear as light is for the ‘mind’s eye’.

With thankx to the few “fellow travellers” for their advice and friendship.

Marcus

 

98 images
© Marcus Bunyan

VIEW THE WHOLE SEQUENCE ON MY WEBSITE (preferably on a desktop computer)

 

 

“To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence. To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence.”

.
Teilhard de Chardin, Seeing 1947

 

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

Photographs are available from this series for purchase. As a guide, a digital colour 16″ x 20″ print costs $1,000 plus tracked and insured shipping. For more information please see the Store web page.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Brick pattern' London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Brick pattern
London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Sliver' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Sliver
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Bus depot' South London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Bus depot
South London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Gare du Nord' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Gare du Nord
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Blue / White' London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Blue/White
London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Tomb effigy' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Tomb effigy
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Float' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Float
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Scar' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Scar
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Circle, two white lines, four pieces of white and a trail of dark oil' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Circle, two white lines, four pieces of white and a trail of dark oil
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Couple in light' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Couple in light
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The crossing' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The crossing
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Equilibrium' Tuileries, Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Equilibrium
Tuileries, Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Leaving' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Leaving
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The sun does not move, it's your mind that moves...' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The sun does not move, it’s your mind that moves…
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Crystallize' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Crystallize
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Hand in hand' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Hand in hand
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'We might be otherwise – we might be all' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
We might be otherwise – we might be all
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Every kind of pleasure' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Every kind of pleasure
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Eiffel Tower II' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Eiffel Tower II
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Profusion' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Profusion
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Ancient and modern' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Ancient and modern
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Two black holes' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Two black holes
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The Wheel of Time' V&A Museum, London 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The Wheel of Time
V&A Museum, London 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek (Shelley)' France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek (Shelley)
France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'Modernisation' Montparnasse, Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
Modernisation
Montparnasse, Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The light whose smile kindles the universe' Palace of Fontainebleau, France 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The light whose smile kindles the universe
Palace of Fontainebleau, France 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958) 'The unknown thought I' Paris 2017/2022

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian, b. 1958)
The unknown thought I
Paris 2017
From the series The sun does not move 2017-2022
Digital colour photograph

 

 

Marcus Bunyan website

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28
Aug
22

Exhibition: ‘Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 2nd October 2022

Organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator of Photography, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA

 

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Head of the Dancer' 1929

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Head of the Dancer Niura Norskaya
1929
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 × 9 3/8″ (19.1 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

With a focus on people, this is a challenging exhibition that can only scratch the surface of the importance of the photographic work of women artists to the many investigations critical to the promotion of equality and diversity in a complex and male orientated world.

Germaine Krull is always a favourite, as is the work of neutered genius (and my hero), Claude Cahun. Susan Meiselas’s immersive work is also impressive in its “understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject”, especially in her early work Carnival Strippers (1972-1975). I also particularly like the sensibility of the Mexican women photographers: sensitive portraits of strong women.

The most cringe worthy photograph that illustrates some of the ills associated with a male-orientated society is Ruth Orkin’s staged but spontaneous photograph, American Girl in Florence, Italy (1951, below) which was “an instant conversation starter about feminism and street harassment long… [and which is] more relevant now than ever for what it truly represents: independence, freedom and self-determination.”

“The photos ran in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1952 in a photo essay, “When You Travel Alone…”, offering tips on “money, men and morals to see you through a gay trip and a safe one.” The article encourages readers to buy ship and train tickets ahead of time. It reminds them to bring their birth certificate and check in with the State Department. The caption on the photo of Craig walking down the street reflects cultural mores of the era.

“Public admiration … shouldn’t fluster you. Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you’ll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm.”

It’s a far cry from what we tell women these days, but for its time the mere notion of encouraging women to travel alone was progressive. That’s what made the photos so special, Craig says. They offered a rare glimpse of two women – behind and in front of the camera – challenging the era’s gender roles and loving every minute of it.”1

.
Talking of challenging gender roles, I’m rather surprised there aren’t any photographs by Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman or Francesca Woodman for example, critical women photographers who challenge our orientation towards our selves and the world. Many others could have been included as well. But that is the joy and paradox of collecting: what do you collect and what do you leave out. You have to focus on what you like and what is available.

“Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography.” (Press release)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

  1. Emanuella Grinberg. “The real story behind ‘An American Girl in Italy’,” on the CNN website March 30, 2017 [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

How have women artists used photography as a tool of resistance? Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum reframes restrictive notions of womanhood, exploring the connections between photography, feminism, civil rights, Indigenous sovereignty, and queer liberation. “Society consumes both the good girl and the bad girl,” wrote artist Silvia Kolbowski in 1984. “But somewhere between those two polarities, space must be made for criticality.”

Spanning more than 100 years of photography, the works in this exhibition range from Frances Benjamin Johnston’s early documentary photographs of racially segregated education in turn-of-the-century United States, to a contemporary portrait by Chemehuevi artist Cara Romero that celebrates the specificity of Indigenous art forms. A tribute to the generosity of collector Helen Kornblum, Our Selves features women’s contributions to a diversity of practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, avant-garde experimentation, advertising, and performance.

As we continue to reckon with equity and diversity, Our Selves invites viewers to meditate on the artist Carrie Mae Weems’s evocative question: “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition. I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”

Text from the MoMA website

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Self-Portrait
1932
Gelatin silver print
9 × 11 7/8″ (22.9 × 30.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985) 'The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay' c. 1930

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)
The Hands of the Actress Jenny Burnay
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 8 5/8″ (16.5 × 21.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine, the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (Métal) (1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-1930), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!). Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016

 

Ruth Orkin. 'American Girl in Italy' 1951

 

Ruth Orkin (American, 1921-1985)
American Girl in Florence, Italy
1951
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 11 15/16″ (21.6 × 30.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Although this photograph appears to be a street scene caught on the fly-an instance of what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment”  – it was actually staged for the camera by Orkin and her model. “The idea for this picture had been in my mind for years, ever since I had been old enough to go through the experience myself,” Orkin later wrote. While traveling alone in Italy, she met the young woman in the photograph at a hotel in Florence and together they set out to reenact scenes from their experiences as lone travellers. “We were having a hilarious time when this corner of the Piazza della Repubblica suddenly loomed on our horizon,” the photographer recalled. “Here was the perfect setting I had been waiting for all these years… And here I was, camera in hand, with the ideal model! All those fellows were positioned perfectly, there was no distracting sun, the background was harmonious, and the intersection was not jammed with traffic, which allowed me to stand in the middle of it for a moment.” The picture, with its eloquent blend of realism and theatricality, was later published in Cosmopolitan magazine as part of the story “Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Three Harps' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Three Harps
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2″ (24.4 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978) 'School Girl, St. Croix' 1963

 

Consuelo Kanaga (American, 1894-1978)
School Girl, St. Croix
1963
Gelatin silver print
12 13/16 × 8 15/16″ (32.5 × 22.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000) 'Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)' 1930

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)
Untitled (Masked Self-Portrait, Dessau)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 × 5 5/8 in. (22.9 × 14.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903–2000)

Gertrud Arndt (born Gertrud Hantschk in Upper Silicia) set out to become an architect, beginning a three-year apprenticeship in 1919 at the architecture firm of Karl Meinhardt in Erfurt, where her family lived at the time. While there, she began teaching herself photography by taking pictures of buildings in town. She also attended courses in typography, drawing, and art history at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of design). Encouraged by Meinhardt, a friend of Walter Gropius, Arndt was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Enrolled from 1923 to 1927, Arndt took the Vorkurs (foundation course) from László Moholy-Nagy, who was a chief proponent of the value of experimentation with photography. After her Vorkurs, Georg Muche, leader of the weaving workshop, persuaded her to join his course, which then became the formal focus of her studies. Upon graduation, in March 1927, she married fellow Bauhaus graduate and architect Alfred Arndt. The couple moved to Probstzella in Eastern Germany, where Arndt photographed buildings for her husband’s architecture firm.

In 1929, Hannes Meyer invited Alfred Arndt to teach at the Bauhaus, where Arndt focused her energy on photography, entering her period of greatest activity, featuring portraits of friends, still-lifes, and a series of performative self-portraits, as well as At the Masters’ Houses, which shows the influence of her studies with Moholy-Nagy as well as her keen eye for architecture. After the Bauhaus closed, in 1932, the couple left Dessau and moved back to Probstzella. Three years after the end of World War II the family moved to Darmstadt; Arndt almost completely stopped making photographs.

Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'M.R.M (Sex)' c. 1929-1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
M.R.M (Sex)
c. 1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 4 in. (15.2 × 10.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: I’m Juliet Jacques. I am a writer and filmmaker based in London. You’re looking at a photomontage by the French artist Claude Cahun, entitled M.R.M (Sex). It’s a photomontage of Cahun’s self-portraits.

Claude Cahun was born in 1894 in France into a family of prominent Jewish intellectuals and began making photomontages in 1912 when she was 18. The works were often exploring Cahun’s own identity in terms of gender and sexuality, but also this sense of a complex and fragmented personhood. Nonbinary pronouns, as we’d understand them now, weren’t officially in existence in the 1920s. Cahun actually wrote “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” So, I think either she or they is appropriate.

M.R.M was published as one of the illustrations in Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus in 1930. Throughout the book you see this playing with the possibilities of gender expression that are kind of funny, sometimes melancholic, but are very emotionally complicated and do really speak to a sense of sometimes being trapped by the confines of gender and sometimes finding these very playful and beautiful ways to break out of it.

Artists and writers, we’re supposed to be dreamers, I think, and people who want to come up with a better world. And of course Cahun’s work is really suggesting different possibilities of free expression.

It’s hard to know how Cahun might have felt about being included in an exhibition of women artists. But, I think Cahun definitely deserves a place within this feminist canon, if not a strictly female one.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954) 'Aveux non avenus' (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions) 1930

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux non avenus (Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions)
1930
Illustrated book with photogravures
Cover (closed) approx. 8 11/16 × 6 11/16″ (22 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Juliet Jacques: My name is Juliet Jacques.

You’re looking at Claude Cahun’s book Aveux non Avenus, which has been translated variously as “denials” or “disavowals” or “cancelled confessions.”

It’s an autobiographical text that doesn’t just refuse the conventions of memoir, it also really refuses to open up to the reader in a clearly understandable way. It’s this mixture of photography and aphorisms and longer prose-poetic passages. It doesn’t have a formalised narrative. It’s rather just exploring the fragmented and somewhat chaotic nature of their own consciousness and what they are able to access.

I’ve just flipped to page 91. Cahun writes:

“Consciousness. The carver. My enthusiasms, my impulses, my little passions were irksome. … Come on, then. … By a process of elimination, what is necessary about me? … The material is badly cut. I want it to be straightened up. A clumsy snip with the scissors. Bach! Let’s even it up on the other side. … A stain? We’ll cover it up. Let’s trim it again. I no longer exist. Perfect. Now nothing can come between us.”

.
The affinity I felt with Cahun is because I ended up doing a lot of writing that got bracketed as confessional or sort of first-person autobiographical writing. You can get yourself into a situation where you’re constantly expected to give away details about your personal life. And what I have always found really interesting about Cahun is the refusal of that trap, even in the project of putting oneself on the page.

I was always looking for queer and trans writers, and Cahun’s work gave me this gender non-conforming take on art that I thought always should have been there.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo)) 'Vanna Brown, Azteca Style' 1990

 

Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Native American (Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo))
Vanna Brown, Azteca Style
1990
Photocollage
15 11/16 × 22 13/16″ (39.9 × 58cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Veronica Passalacqua: My name is Veronica Passalacqua, and I’m a curator at the C.N. Gorman Museum at the University of California Davis. My research focus is upon contemporary Native American art with a specialty in photography. This is a work called Vanna Brown, Azteca Style by the Navajo-Tuskegee artist Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie.

It’s a hand collage that depicts Tsinhnahjinnie’s friend, dressed in her Azteca dancing regalia within the frame of a Philco television set. It was the beginning of a series of works and videos related to a project called NTV, or Native Television. She wanted to create her own vision of what she’d like to see on television.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: The photograph makes reference to Wheel of Fortune, a televised game show where contestants guess words and phrases one letter at a time. Vanna White has been the show’s co-host for 40 years.

Veronica Passalacqua: Vanna White was always dressed in these elaborate gowns to show the letters of the enduring game show. She was there really as a symbol of the idealised beauty that television was portraying. Tsinhnahjinnie changes the name from Vanna White to Vanna Brown, addressing the beauty that she sees in her friend. What Tsinhnahjinnie wanted to focus on was this notion that you can create these beautiful images when you have a relationship with the sitter.

I’d like to read you a quote by Tsinhnahjinnie: “No longer is the camera held by an outsider looking in, the camera is held with brown hands opening familiar worlds. We document ourselves with a humanising eye, we create new visions with ease, and we can turn the camera to show how we see you.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979) 'Navajo Weaver' 1933

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1881-1979)
Navajo Weaver
1933
Platinum print
13 1/8 × 9 3/8 in. (33.3 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993) 'Frida Kahlo' c. 1945

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1907-1993)
Frida Kahlo
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 × 6 1/4″ (21.3 × 15.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989) 'Frau Finsler' 1926

 

Lucia Moholy (British born Prague, 1894-1989)
Frau Finsler
1926
Gelatin silver print
7 7/8 × 10″ (20 × 25.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'Woman, Locket, Georgia' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
Woman, Locket, Georgia
1936
Gelatin silver print
13 × 9 3/4″ (33 × 24.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952) 'Buffie Johnson, Painter' 1933

 

Margrethe Mather (American, 1885-1952)
Buffie Johnson, Painter
1933
Gelatin silver print
3 3/4 × 2 7/8″ (9.5 × 7.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948) 'Fatman with Edith' 1993

 

Meridel Rubenstein (American, b. 1948)
Fatman with Edith
1993
Palladium print
18 1/2 × 22 1/2″ (47 × 57.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Helen Kornblum: I’m Helen Kornblum. If there’s a theme in my collection, I’d say it’s people. My interest in people, meeting people, knowing people, learning about people.

I have felt about my photographs almost like a third child. Each one actually has its own story for me. Where I found them, who led me to them. I’ve just attached myself in different ways to each one.

One, for instance, is Fatman with Edith by Meridel Rubenstein. With this photograph she conflates war with the feminine. She has the inhumanly destructive warhead, the plutonium bomb, called Fatman, dropped on Nagasaki, juxtaposed with a portrait of a woman, Edith Warner, and a nurturing, warm cup of tea.

Curator, Roxana Marcoci: In the early 1940s Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist in charge of The Manhattan Project developed the first atomic bomb.This photograph belongs to a series that explores encounters in New Mexico between indigenous communities and the scientists who created the bomb. These two worlds collided in the home of Edith Warner, who ran a tearoom in Los Alamos.

Helen Kornblum: Oppenheimer knew Edith Warner, who lived near Santa Fe. And when he came to create the bomb at Los Alamos, he asked Edith if he could bring scientists to her home for a place away from the creation of this bomb, and he would come with them for dinner, all during the Manhattan Project.

Roxana Marcoci: By pairing two seemingly dissimilar images, Rubenstein said she hopes “to enlarge the lives of ordinary people, and strip the mythic characters of history down to their ordinariness.”

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Edith Warner (1893-1951), also known by the nickname “The Woman at Otowi Crossing”, was an American tea room owner in Los Alamos, New Mexico, who is best known for serving various scientists and military officers working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the original creation of the atomic bomb as a part of the Manhattan Project. Warner’s influence on the morale and overall attitude of the people there has been noted and written about by various journalists and historians, including several books about her life, a stage play, a photography exhibition, an opera, and a dance.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952) 'Untitled' 2004

 

Rosemarie Trockel (German, b. 1952)
Untitled
2004
Chromogenic print
20 3/4 × 19″ (52.7 × 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967) 'Interior Cartography #35' 1996

 

Tatiana Parcero (Mexican, b. 1967)
Interior Cartography #35
1996
Chromogenic print and acetate
9 3/8 × 6 3/16 in. (23.8 × 15.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Tatiana Parcero

My name is Tatiana Parcero. I’m from Mexico and I’m a visual artist and a psychologist. The work is called Interior Cartography #35, and belongs to the series of the same name.

Cartography is a science that deals with maps. I am interested in working with the body as a territory, where I can explore different paths at a physical and also in a symbolic level.

I am the one that appears in all the photographs. When I did this specific shot, I wanted to show a moment of introspection and calm. And when you see my hands near my cheeks, I wanted to represent a way to be in touch with myself, not just in a physical way, but in a more spiritual way.

The image superimposed on the face is from the Codex Tudela of the 16th century. The codices are documents that were created by ancient civilisations, like Mayans, Aztecs, that represent the pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico, their amazing universe, and the way that they lived.

When I moved to New York from Mexico, I was feeling a little bit out of place and I wanted to recreate a sense of belonging. The work is a way to connect myself with my country and the ancient cultures that are before me.

I decided to study psychology because I wanted to help people. I wanted to be able to understand emotions and be able to translate personal experiences into images and make them more accessible. It’s important for me to give the viewer several layers so that you can really explore the image and make your own interpretations and reflections. I think art can transform you and take you to a parallel universe. That is where I feel that you can be able to heal and to cure.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954) 'Self-Portraits' 1987

 

Lorie Novak (American, b. 1954)
Self-Portraits
1987
Chromogenic print
22 1/2 × 18 9/16″ (57.2 × 47.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, an exhibition that will present 90 photographic works by female artists from the last 100 years, on view from April 16 to October 2, 2022. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, thanks to a transformative gift of photographs from Helen Kornblum in 2021, the exhibition takes as a starting point the idea that the histories of feminism and photography have been intertwined. Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum is organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Dana Ostrander, Curatorial Assistant, and Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Rather than presenting a chronological history of women photographers or a linear account of feminist photography, the exhibition prompts new appraisals and compelling dialogues from a contemporary, intersectional feminist perspective. African-diasporic, queer, and postcolonial / Indigenous artists have brought new mindsets and questions to the canonical narratives of art history. Our Selves will reexamine a host of topics, countering racial and gender invisibility, systemic racial injustice, and colonialism, through a diversity of photographic practices, including portraiture, photojournalism, social documentary, advertising, avant-garde experimentation, and conceptual photography. Highlighting both iconic and rare or lesser-known images, the exhibition’s groupings and juxtapositions of modern and contemporary works will encourage unexpected connections in the Museum’s fifth-floor collection galleries, which are typically devoted to art from the 1880s through the 1940s.

Our Selves will open with a wall of self-portraits and portraits of female artists by such modernist photographers as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Gertrud Arndt, Lotte Jacobi, and Lucia Moholy, alongside contemporary practitioners including Tatiana Parcero, Rosemarie Trockel, and Lorie Novak. Inviting viewers to consider the structural relationship between knowledge and power, Frances Benjamin Johnston’s Penmanship Class (1899) – a depiction of racially segregated education at the turn of the 20th century in the United States – will hang near Candida Höfer’s Deutsche Bucherei Leipzig IX (1997) – a part of Höfer’s series documenting library interiors weighted by forms of social inequality and colonial supremacy. Lorna Simpson’s Details (1996), a portfolio of 21 found photographs, signals how both the camera and language can culturally inscribe the body and reinforce racial and gender stereotypes.

Works by Native artists including Cara Romero and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, and non-Native practitioners such as Sharon Lockhart and Graciela Iturbide, explore indigeneity and its relationship to colonial history. Photographs by Flor Garduño, Ana Mendieta, Marta María Pérez Bravo, and Mariana Yampolsky attest to the overlapping histories of colonialism, ethnographic practice, and patriarchy in Latin America.

Our Selves is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that features more than 100 colour and black-and-white photographs. A critical essay by curator Roxana Marcoci asks the question, “What is a Feminist Picture?” and a series of 12 focused essays by Dana Ostrander, Caitlin Ryan, and Phil Taylor address a range of themes, from dance to ecology to perception. The catalogue offers both historical context and critical interpretation, exploring the myriad ways in which different photographic practices can be viewed when looking through a feminist lens.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943) 'Mujercita' 1981

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1943)
Mujercita
1981
Gelatin silver print
10 1/8 × 6 3/4″ (25.7 × 17.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002) 'Mujeres Mazahua' 1989

 

Mariana Yampolsky (Mexican, 1925-2002)
Mujeres Mazahua
1989
Gelatin silver print
13 5/8 × 18 1/2″ (34.6 × 47cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957) 'Reina (Queen)' 1989

 

Flor Garduño (Mexican, b. 1957)
Reina (Queen)
1989
Gelatin silver print
12 1/4 × 8 3/4″ (31.1 × 22.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992) 'Corn Stalks Growing' 1945

 

Barbara Morgan (American, 1900-1992)
Corn Stalks Growing
1945
Gelatin silver print
12 3/16 × 9″ (31 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975) 'Plant Detail' 1931

 

Sonya Noskowiak (American born Germany, 1900-1975)
Plant Detail
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 1/2″ (24.6 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design I' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design I
1920
Gelatin silver print
12 7/8 × 9 13/16″ (32.7 × 24.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982) 'Composition Nature Morte' 1931

 

Florence Henri (Swiss born United States, 1893-1982)
Composition Nature Morte
1931
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.6 × 11.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989) 'Eucalyptus Leaves' 1933

 

Alma Lavenson (American, 1897-1989)
Eucalyptus Leaves
1933
Gelatin silver print
12 × 9″ (30.5 × 22.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006) 'Angel Wings' 1943

 

Ruth Bernhard (American born Germany, 1905-2006)
Angel Wings
1943
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 6 1/4″ (24.4 × 15.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998) 'Elizaveta "Lila" Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece' November 1930

 

Nelly (Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari) (Greek born Turkey, 1899-1998)
Elizaveta “Lila” Nikolska in the Parthenon, Athens, Greece
November 1930
Gelatin silver print
6 × 8 1/2″ (15.2 × 21.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949) 'Three Red Petit-Fours' 1990

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949)
Three Red Petit-Fours
1990
Chromogenic print
23 × 35″ (58.4 × 88.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Figurines' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Figurines
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 8″ (21.6 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997) 'Mannequin in Window' 1935

 

Dora Maar (French 1907-1997)
Mannequin in Window
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 6″ (24.1 × 15.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002) 'Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid' 1955

 

Inge Morath (Austrian, 1923-2002)
Siesta of a Lottery Ticket Vendor, Plaza Mayor, Madrid
1955
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 4 3/4″ (18.3 × 12.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Ringl + Pit (German) Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999) Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004) 'Columbus' Egg' 1930

 

Ringl + Pit (German)
Grete Stern (Argentine born Germany, 1904-1999)
Ellen Auerbach (German, 1906-2004)
Columbus’ Egg
1930
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 7 1/2″ (22.2 × 19.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942) 'Untitled' 1935

 

Yva (Else Ernestine Neuländer) (German, 1900-1942)
Untitled
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 6 11/16″ (23 × 17cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017) 'Masks, Boston' 1966

 

Marie Cosindas (American, 1923-2017)
Masks, Boston
1966
Dye transfer print
10 × 7″ (25.4 × 17.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000) 'Man and Candlesticks' c. 1933

 

Kati Horna (Mexican, 1912-2000)
Man and Candlesticks
c. 1933
Gelatin silver print
8 × 7 3/4″ (20.3 × 19.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964) 'Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.' 2010

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)
Exposure #78, NYC, Collister and Hubert St.
2010
Two inkjet prints (diptych)
18 3/4 × 28″ (47.6 × 71.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Barbara Probst (German, b. 1964)

Artist, Barbara Probst: I am Barbara Probst. I’m an artist working with photography. I’m born in Munich, in Germany, and I live in New York.

I’m interested in photography as a phenomenon that seemingly and supposedly depicts reality. But maybe it is the subjectivity of the photographer, which determines the image. And not the objectivity of the world.

I get a set of pictures from the same moment. By comparing these pictures, it becomes quite clear that the link between reality and photography is very thin and fragile because every picture from this moment gives a different take of this moment.

None of these images is more true or more false than any others. They are equally truthful. The viewpoints and angles and settings of the cameras and the framing and all these things determine the picture.

It’s not what is in front of the camera that determines the picture. It’s the photographer behind the camera that decides how reality is translated into an image.

Audio of Barbara Probst from the video “Elles X Paris Photo: Barbara Probst.” © Fisheye l’Agence 2021

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)' 1990

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup)
1990
Gelatin silver print
27 3/16 × 27 3/16″ (69.1 × 69.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“My work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition.”

.
Carrie Mae Weems

 

What does it mean to bear witness to history? The artist Carrie Mae Weems has asked this question for decades through photography, video, performance, installation, and social practice. For Weems, to examine the past is to imagine a different future. “In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition,” she declared in an interview with her friend, the photographer Dawoud Bey. “I’m determined to find new models to live by. Aren’t you?”1

Weems was trained as both a dancer and a photographer before enrolling in the folklore studies program at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1980s, where she became interested in the observation methods used in the social sciences. In the early 1990s, she began placing herself in her photographic compositions in an “attempt to create in the work the simultaneous feeling of being in it and of it.”2 She has since called this recurring figure an “alter-ego,” “muse,” and “witness to history” who can stand in for both the artist and audience. “I think it’s very important that as a Black woman she’s engaged with the world around her,” Weems has said, “she’s engaged with history, she’s engaged with looking, with being. She’s a guide into circumstances seldom seen.”3

In her 1990 Kitchen Table series – 20 gelatin silver prints and 14 texts on silkscreen panels – Weems uses her own persona to “respond to a number of issues: woman’s subjectivity, woman’s capacity to revel in her body, and the woman’s construction of herself, and her own image.”4 Weems, or rather her protagonist, inhabits the same intimate domestic interior throughout the series. Anchored around a wooden table illuminated by an overhead light, scenes such as Untitled (Man smoking) and Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup) portray the protagonist alongside a rotating cast of characters (friends, children, lovers) and props (posters, books, playing cards, a birdcage). In Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Makeup), for example, the woman sits at the table with a young girl; they gaze into mirrors at their own reflections, applying lipstick in parallel gestures. The photograph shows that gender is a learned performance, at the same time tenderly centering its Black women subjects.

With projects such as From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995), the act of witnessing is suggested in the first-person title. The J. Paul Getty Museum commissioned the work in 1994, inviting the artist to respond to 19th-century photographs of African American subjects collected by the lawyer Jackie Napoleon Wilson. In 28 chromogenic photographic prints overlaid with text on glass, Weems appropriated images from a variety of sources: Wilson’s collection, museum and university archives, The National Geographic, and the work of photographers like Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Garry Winogrand. The artist cropped and reformatted these photographs, adding blue and red tints, text, and circular mats resembling a camera lens. Through this reframing, Weems poses a question about power: Who is doing the looking, and for what reasons?

Among the rephotographed images are four daguerreotypes by photographer J. T. Zealy of enslaved men and women – two father-and-daughter pairs, named Renty, Delia, Jack, and Drana – commissioned as racial types by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz in 1850. Weems exposes Agassiz’s racist pseudoscience and the violence of the white Anglo-American gaze through the addition of texts that address the subjects: “You became a scientific profile,” “a negroid type,” “an anthropological debate,” “& a photographic subject.” Discussing the daguerreotypes, the artist has described the sitters as agents of resistance and refusal: “In their anthropological way, most of these photographs were meant to strip the subjects of their humanity. But if you look closely, what you see is the evidence of a contest of wills over contested territory, contested terrain – contested by the by the owner of the Black body and the photographer’s attempt to conquer it vis-à-vis the camera.”5

Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, 2021

 

  1. “Carrie Mae Weems by Dawoud Bey,” BOMB, July 1, 2009, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/carrie-mae-weems/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Weems, quoted in Carrie Mae Weems: The Kitchen Table Series (Houston: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 1996), 6.
  5. Weems to Deborah Willis, “In Conversation with Carrie Mae Weems,” in To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes, eds. Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers, and Deborah Willis (Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum Press; New York, NY: Aperture, 2020), 397.

 

Curator, Roxana Marcocci: We’re looking at a photograph from Carrie Mae Weems’s larger body of work, the Kitchen Table series.

Artist, Carrie Mae Weems: About 1990, I think, I had been really thinking a lot about what it meant to develop your own voice. And so I made this body of work.

It started as a kind of response to my sense of what needed to happen, what needed to be and these ideas about the sort of spaces of domesticity that have historically belonged to women.

Roxana Marcoci: In this image, Weems applies makeup in front of a mirror while a young girl seated in front of another mirror, puts on lipstick and looks at her own reflection. The two enact beauty in a synchronised performance, through posing, mirroring, and self-empowerment.

Carrie Mae Weems: I made them all in my own kitchen, using a single light source hanging over the kitchen table. It just swung open this door of what I could actually do in my own environment. What I’m suggesting really is that the battle around the family, the battle around monogamy, the battle around polygamy, the social dynamics that happens between men and women, that war gets carried on in that space.

The Kitchen Table series would not be simply a voice for African-American women, but more generally for women.

Audio of Carrie Mae Weems in the Art21 digital series Extended Play, “Carrie Mae Weems / ‘The Kitchen Table Series.'” © Art21, Inc. 2011

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977) 'Wakeah' 2018

 

Cara Romero (Native American (Chemehuevi), b. 1977)
Wakeah
2018
Inkjet print
52 × 44″ (132.1 × 111.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Artist, Cara Romero: My name is Cara Romero, and this photograph is called Wakeah.

The inspiration for the First American Girl series was a lifetime of seeing Native American people represented in a dehumanised way. My daughter was born in 2006 and I really wanted her self image to be different. But all of the dolls that depict Native American girls were inaccurate. They lacked the detail. They lacked the love. They lacked the historical accuracy. So the series began with Wakeah.

Wakeah is Wakeah Jhane Myers and she is an incredible artist in her own right. She descends from both the Kiowa and Comanche tribes of Oklahoma. We posed Wakeah in the doll box much like you would find on the store shelves, placing all of her cultural accoutrement around her. She is wearing a traditional Southern Buckskin dress. She has a change of moccasins and her fan that she uses in dance. A lot of people ask me about the suitcase, and this is an inside joke between Native people, many of us carry our regalia in a suitcase as a way to keep it safe.

It took five family members over a year to make her regalia that she wears to compete at the pow wow dance. These contemporary pieces of regalia are really here against all odds. They exist through activism, through resistance.

A lot of what I’m doing is constructing these stories about resisting these ideas of being powerless, of being gone. Instead, I’m constructing a story of power and of knowledge and of presence. I want the viewer to fall in love. I want them to see how much I love the people that I’m working with.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Angela Scheirl' 1993

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Angela Scheirl
1993
Silver dye bleach print
19 5/16 × 15″ (49.1 × 38.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947) 'Sappho and Patriarch' 1984

 

Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947)
Sappho and Patriarch
1984
Silver dye bleach print
39 3/4 × 27 1/2″ (101 × 69.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below before the next installation image are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944) 'Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX' 1997

 

Candida Höfer (German, b. 1944)
Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig IX
1997
C-print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964) 'Untitled' 2010

 

Sharon Lockhart (American, b. 1964)
Untitled
2010
Chromogenic print
37 × 49″ (94 × 124.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation view of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The images below are left to right in the above installation image.

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015) 'Tiny, Halloween, Seattle' 1983

 

Mary Ellen Mark (American, 1940-2015)
Tiny, Halloween, Seattle
1983
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 5/16 × 9″ (33.8 × 22.9cm)
Sheet: 14 × 11″ (35.6 × 27.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965) 'Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Mother and Child, San Joaquin Valley
1938
Gelatin silver print
7 × 9 1/2″ (17.8 × 24.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005) 'Shirley Condit de Gonzales' 1986

 

Anne Noggle (American, 1922-2005)
Shirley Condit de Gonzales
1986
Gelatin silver print
18 1/8 × 13″ (46 × 33cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988) 'Mother and Child' 1940

 

Nell Dorr (American, 1893-1988)
Mother and Child
1940
Gelatin silver print
13 15/16 × 10 13/16″ (35.4 × 27.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Carnival Strippers' book cover 1975

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Carnival Strippers
1976
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Tentful of marks, Tunbridge, VT' 1974

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Tentful of Marks, Tunbridge, Vermont
1974, printed c. 2000
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 11 3/4″ (19.5 × 29.9cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Wary of photography’s power to shape our understanding of social, political and global issues and of the potentially complex ethical relationship between photographer and subject, Susan Meiselas has developed an immersive approach through which she gets to know her subjects intimately. Carnival Strippers is among her earliest projects and the first in which she became accepted by the community she was documenting. Over the summers of 1972 to 1975, she followed an itinerant, small-town carnival, photographing the women who performed in the striptease shows. She captured not only their public performances, but also their private lives. To more fully contextualise these images, Meiselas presents them with audio recordings of interviews with the dancers, giving them voice and a measure of control over the way they are presented.

Additional text from “Seeing Through Photographs online course”, Coursera, 2016

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)

Artist, Susan Meiselas: My name is Susan Meiselas. I’m a photographer based in New York.

Carnival Strippers is my first real body of work. The idea of projecting a self to attract a male gaze was completely counter to my sense of culture, what I wanted for myself. So I was fascinated by women who were choosing to do that. I just felt, magnetically, I need to know more.

The feminists of that period were perceiving the girl shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down. I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard. They should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.

Getting to know the women was very much one by one, obviously I’m in the public fairgrounds making this photograph so there are many other people surrounding me. There weren’t many other cameras. I mean, if we were making this picture today, it’s interesting the differences of how many people would have been with cameras, iPhones, etc. So I don’t think she’s performing for me. She’s performing for the public.

The girl show moves around from town to town. My working process was to be somewhere on a weekend, go back to Boston, which at the time was my base, and process the work and bring back the contact sheets and show whoever was there the following weekend, what the pictures were. And they left little initials saying, I like this one, I don’t like that one.

This negotiated or collaborative space with photography really still fascinates me. It’s a kind of offering, it’s a moment in which someone says, I want you to be here with us. The challenge of making that moment, creating that moment, that’s what still intrigues me, I think, and keeps me engaged with photography.

Transcript of audio from the MoMA website

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
Traditional mask used in the popular insurrection, Monimbo, Nicaragua
1978
Chromogenic print
23 1/2 × 15 3/4″ (59.7 × 40cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbó, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Nicaragua

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948) 'A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier' 1978

 

Susan Meiselas (American, b. 1948)
A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier
1978
Chromogenic print
15 3/8 × 23 1/4″ (39.1 × 59.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

“The camera…gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”

.
Susan Meiselas

 

“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong,” said the photographer Susan Meiselas. “It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” Meiselas studied anthropology before turning to teaching and photography, and her photographic work has remained firmly rooted in those early interests.

Beginning in 1972, Meiselas spent three consecutive summers documenting women who performed stripteases as part of itinerant, small-town carnivals throughout New England. She not only photographed them at work and during their down time, but she made audio recordings of interviews she conducted with the dancers (and the men who surrounded them), to add context and give her subjects a voice. Meiselas later reflected, “The feminists of that period were perceiving the girls’ shows as exploitative institutions that should be closed down, and so I actually was positioned in the place of feeling these voices should be heard, they should self-define as to who they are and what their economic realities are.”1 Meiselas travelled with the dancers from town to town, eventually becoming accepted by the community of women. This personal connection comes across in the intimacy of the scenes. Her photo book Carnival Strippers2 was published in 1976, the same year that Meiselas was invited to join the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos.

Over the last 50 years, Meiselas has remained dedicated to getting to know her subjects, and she maintains relationships with them, sometimes returning to photograph them decades after the initial project. One place she has photographed again and again is Nicaragua, starting with the burgeoning Sandinista revolution. From June 1978 to July 1979, she documented the violent end of the regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In 1990 she returned to the country with her book of photographs made at that time, Nicaragua3, and used it as a tool to track down as many subjects of those photographs as she could: “Now I want to retrace my steps, to go back to the photos I took at the time of the insurrection, and search for the people in them. What brought them to cross my path at the moment they did? What’s happened to them since? What do they think now? What do they remember?”4 She gathered their testimonies and co-directed a film, Pictures from a Revolution 5, that explored the Nicaraguan people’s hardships after the revolution. She went back to Nicaragua yet again in 2004, on the 25th anniversary of Somoza’s overthrow, and worked with local communities to install murals of her photographs on the sites where they were taken.6 It is the job of a photojournalist to bear witness, but Meiselas also considers ways in which she can challenge and confront future communities with the scenes she has witnessed.

In 1997, Meiselas completed a six-year-long project about the photographic history of the Kurds, working to piece together a collective memory of people who faced extreme displacement and destruction. She gathered these memories in a book – Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History7 – an exhibition and an online archive that can still be added to today. Throughout this project Meiselas worked with both forensic and historical anthropologists who added their own specialised context; the innumerable oral accounts from the Kurdish people themselves provide a perspective often left out of history books.

Referring to her early studies in anthropology, Meiselas said, “Those very primary experiences of diversity led me to be more curious about the world, putting me into a certain mode of exploration and openness to difference at a young age.” She has long understood the importance of giving a voice to her often little-known and marginalised subjects, and through her work she draws attention to a wide variety of human rights and social justice issues. Meiselas constantly considers the challenging relationship between photographer and subject, and the relationship of images to memory and history, always looking for new cross-disciplinary and collaborative ways to evolve the medium of documentary storytelling.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography

 

  1. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, “Seeing Through Photographs,” YouTube video, 5:03. February 13, 2019 https://youtu.be/HHQwAkPj8Bc
  2. Susan Meiselas, Carnival Strippers (New York: Noonday Press, 1976) and a revised second edition with bonus CD (New York: Steidl, 2003).
  3. Susan Meiselas, Nicaragua (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981).
  4. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  5. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Richard P. Rogers, Pictures from a Revolution, DVD (New York: Kino International Corp., 1991).
  6. Susan Meiselas, Alfred Guzzetti, and Pedro Linger Gasiglia, Reframing History, DVD (2004).
  7. Susan Meiselas, Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (New York: Random House, 1997).

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952) 'Penmanship Class' 1899

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)
Penmanship Class
1899
Platinum print
7 3/8 × 9 3/8 in. (18.7 × 23.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Helen Kornblum in honour of Roxana Marcoci

 

 

Frances Benjamin Johnston (American, 1864-1952)

After setting up her own photography studio in 1894, in Washington, D.C., Frances Benjamin Johnston was described by The Washington Times as “the only lady in the business of photography in the city.”1 Considered to be one of the first female press photographers in the United States, she took pictures of news events and architecture and made portraits of political and social leaders for over five decades. From early on, she was conscious of her role as a pioneer for women in photography, telling a reporter in 1893, “It is another pet theory with me that there are great possibilities in photography as a profitable and pleasant occupation for women, and I feel that my success helps to demonstrate this, and it is for this reason that I am glad to have other women know of my work.”2

In 1899, the principal of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia commissioned Johnston to take photographs at the school for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The Hampton Institute was a preparatory and trade school dedicated to preparing African American and Native American students for professional careers. Johnston took more than 150 photographs and exhibited them in the Exposition Nègres d’Amerique (American Negro Exhibit) pavilion, which was meant to showcase improving race relations in America. The series won the grand prize and was lauded by both the public and the press.

Years later, writer and philanthropist Lincoln Kirstein discovered a leather-bound album of Johnston’s Hampton Institute photographs. He gave the album to The Museum of Modern Art, which reproduced 44 of its original 159 photographs in a book called The Hampton Album, published in 1966. In its preface, Kirstein acknowledged the conflict inherent in Johnston’s images, describing them as conveying the Institute’s goal of assimilating its students into Anglo-American mainstream society according to “the white Victorian ideal as criterion towards which all darker tribes and nations must perforce aspire.”3 The Hampton Institute’s most famous graduate, educator, leader, and presidential advisor Booker T. Washington, advocated for black education and accommodation of segregation policies instead of political pressure against institutionalised racism, a position criticised by anti-segregation activists such as author W. E. B. Du Bois.

Johnston’s pictures neither wholly celebrate nor condemn the Institute’s goals, but rather they reveal the complexities of the school’s value system. This is especially clear in her photographs contrasting pre- and post-Hampton ways of living, including The Old Well and The Improved Well (Three Hampton Grandchildren). In both images, black men pump water for their female family members. The old well system is represented by an aged man, a leaning fence, and a wooden pump that tilts against a desolate sky, while the new well is handled by an energetic young boy in a yard with a neat fence, a thriving tree, and two young girls dressed in starched pinafores. Johnston’s photographs have prompted the attention of artists like Carrie Mae Weems, who has incorporated the Hampton Institute photographs into her own work to explore what Weems described as “the problematic nature of assimilation, identity, and the role of education.”4

Johnston’s photographs of the Hampton Institute were only a part of her long and productive career. Having started out by taking society and political portraits, she later extensively photographed gardens and buildings, hoping to encourage the preservation of architectural structures that were quickly disappearing. Her pictures documenting the changing landscape of early-20th-century America became sources for historians and conservationists and led to her recognition by the American Institute for Architects (AIA). At a time when photography was often thought of as scientific in its straightforwardness, Johnston recognised its expressive power. As she wrote in 1897, “It is wrong to regard photography as purely mechanical. Mechanical it is, up to a certain point, but beyond that there is great scope for individual and artistic expression.”5

Introduction by Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, 2016

 

  1. “Washington Women with Brains and Business,” The Washington Times, April 21, 1895, 9.
  2. Clarence Bloomfield Moore, “Women Experts in Photography,” The Cosmopolitan XIV.5 (March 1893), 586.
  3. Lincoln Kirstein, “Introduction,” in The Hampton Album: 44 photographs by Frances B. Johnston from an album of Hampton Institute (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1966), 10.
  4. Quoted in Denise Ramzy and Katherine Fogg, “Interview: Carrie Mae Weems,” Carrie Mae Weems: The Hampton Project (New York: Aperture, 2000), 78.
  5. Frances Benjamin Johnston, “What a Woman Can Do with a Camera,” The Ladies’ Home Journal (September 1897): 6-7.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum' at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

 

 

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14
Aug
22

Review: ‘WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture’ at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th March – 21st August 2022

 

Entrance of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Entrance of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The black and white show

This is a challenging and stimulating exhibition at NGV Australia, Federation Square that attempts to answer the question: “who are you” when coming to terms with what it is to be an Australian.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is one of the most comprehensive explorations of portraiture ever mounted in Australia and the first exhibition to bring together the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra… [it] considers portraiture in Australia across time and media, as well as the role of the portraiture genre in the development of a sense of Australian national identity… The exhibition also questions what actually constitutes portraiture by examining the surprising and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness… Presented across five thematic sections, the exhibition raises challenging and provocative questions about who we are and how we view others – historically, today and into the future…

The exhibition opens by considering the connection between people and place, reflecting on the relationship between artists, sitters and the environment, as well as the personification of the natural world… A further section explores the artistic tradition of the self-portrait and portraits of artists, as well as how this convention has been subverted or challenged by contemporary artists working today… Ideas of intimacy and alienation are juxtaposed through images of family and community presented alongside those of vulnerability and isolation… The exhibition also explores portraiture’s surprising capacity to reveal the inner worlds and mindsets of both the sitter and the artist… The final section of the exhibition interrogates Australian icons, identities and how we construct them.” (Press release)

.
This is an ambitious agenda for several large exhibitions, let alone cram so many ideas into one exhibition. And in the end the central question “who are you” is unknowable, unanswerable in any definitive way… for it all depends on your ancestry, and from what point of view you are looking and in what context – and these conditions can change from minute to minute, day to day, and era to era. Identity is always partially fixed and fluid at one and the same time. It is always a construction, a work in progress, governed by social and cultural relations.

“Identity is formed by social processes. Once crystallized, it is maintained, modified, or even reshaped by social relations. The social processes involved in both the formation and the maintenance of identity are determined by the social structure. Conversely, the identities produced by the interplay of the organism, individual consciousness and social structure react upon the given social structure, maintaining it, modifying it, or even reshaping it.”1

.
Identity construction is a self-referential system where identities are produced out of social systems. They (identities) then act upon those very systems to alter them, and then those systems re-act again forming anew, an ever changing identity. “The task of identity formation is to develop a stable, coherent picture of oneself that includes an integration of one’s past and present experiences and a sense of where one is headed in the future.”2 But that identity formation, while seeking to be stable, is both multiple and contestatory. It is through those contests that a future sense of self can challenge hegemonic power differentials. As Judith Butler observes,

“Thus every insistence on identity must at some point lead to a taking stock of the constitutive exclusions that reconsolidate hegemonic power differentials, exclusions that each articulation was forced to make in order to proceed. This critical reflection will be important in order not to replicate at the level of identity politics the very exclusionary moves that initiated the turn to specific identities in the first place … It will be a matter of tracing the ways in which identification is implicated in what it excludes, and to follow the lines of that implication for the map of future community that it might yield.”3

.
In other words, learn from the mistakes of the past and don’t let them repeat themselves in future identities! Do not exclude others in order to reconsolidate the hegemonic status quo. But people always form identities based on the “norm” – how can you change that? As A. David Napier states, “We rely, sometimes almost exclusively it seems, upon the construction and reconstruction of an evolutionary(?) sequence of events that simultaneously excludes outsiders and provides some basis for justifying our social rules and actions. Thus, we minimize diversity by reflecting on who we are, by achieving, that is, a self-conscious state that is not only accepted but considered desirable…”4

Critical reflection is thus so important in challenging who we are, both individually and collectively. In this sense, an exhibition like WHO ARE YOU is important in helping to reshape social relations, helping to challenge hegemonic power differentials, which in turn affects our personal identity construction by reflecting on who we are and changing our point of view, so that we become more informed, and more empathetic, towards different cultures and different people. So that we do not exclude other people and other points of view.

But all is not roses and light in this exhibition with regard to exclusion.

Whilst a lot of people acknowledge and empathise with First Nations people we can have NO IDEA of the ongoing pain and hurt centuries of invasion, disenfranchisement, genocide, massacres, Stolen Generation, lack of health care, massive incarceration, suicide rates and shorter life expectancy, land loss, cultural loss that the violence of the white Anglo gaze has inflicted on the oldest living culture on Earth. While there are moves afoot (as there have been for years) for Aboriginal constitutional recognition through a Voice to Parliament, a permanent body representing First Nations people that would advise government on Indigenous policy; and a treaty that would help secure sovereignty and self-determination, enabling First Nations people make their own decisions and control their own lives, economy and land, free from the effects of changing governments – personally I believe until there is a complete acknowledgement of the pain invasion has caused Aboriginal people by the whole of Australia, nothing will ever change.

Having said that, contemporary Australia is now the most multicultural country it as ever been. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021 Census, 27.6 per cent of the population were born overseas and the top 5 countries of birth (excluding Australia) were, in order, England, India, China, New Zealand and the Philippines.5 In Australia, 812,000 people identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in the 2021 Census of Population and Housing. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represented 3.2% of the population.6

It is interesting to note that when looking through the art works in this exhibition – nearly all of which can be seen in this posting – how much of it is (historical) white art and how much of it is contemporary Aboriginal art, with a sop being made to art made by, or mentioning, other people including Chinese, Afghan, Muslim and Sudanese. Chinese people have been living in Australia for centuries, Afghan people similarly. Greek and Italian people arrived in droves in the 1950s-1960s, Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s, Sudanese, Indian and Sri Lankan people in the late 20th century. More (historical and contemporary) work from these people was needed in this exhibition because they inform the construction of modern Australian identities.

Obviously the inclusion of so much contemporary Aboriginal work is a deliberate curatorial decision, but its disproportionate representation in this exhibition makes it feel like a “catch all”. Why do the curators feel the need to include so much Indigenous work? Is that how they truly see Australian identity? Also, does the inclusion of this art mean it is the best contemporary art that is available in Australia at the moment, or does its inclusion simply exclude other voices from different nationalities and ethnic and religious backgrounds that are just as important in the construction of contemporary Australian identities? While there is no denying the historical significance of invasion there needs to be a balance in such representation, especially in an exhibition purporting to investigate “who are you” over a broad range of references. As it stands the inclusion of so much Indigenous work feels like an agenda, a set point of departure, perhaps even an apologia for white guilt. As the critic John McDonald noted recently, we are living “at a time when museums and commercial galleries have gone completely gaga for such [that is, Aboriginal] work.”

Personally, I would have liked to have seen a greater range of voices expressing themselves in this exhibition. It struck me that the inclusion of so much (historical) white art and so much contemporary Aboriginal art formed a rather limited framework in which to examine “who are you”. Rather, I would have liked a more balanced representation through art of the many voices that contribute to the formation of evolving Australian identities, which ultimately could lead to a greater insight into the construction of our own self-portrait. That is the truly important aspect of any navel gazing exercise.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,450

 

  1. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Allen Lane, London, 1967, p. 194.
  2. Erickson, E. Identity: Youth in Crisis. Norton, New York, 1968
  3. Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. Routledge, New York, 1993, pp. 118-119
  4. A. David Napier. Foreign Bodies: Performance Art, and Symbolic Anthropology. University of California press, Berkeley, 1992, p.143.
  5. “Cultural diversity: Census” 2021 on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website 28/06/2022 [Online] Cited 12/08/2022
  6. “Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population summary” 2021 on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website 28/06/2022 [Online] Cited 12/08/2022

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish some of the photographs in the posting. All installation images © Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing from left to right, Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma Man (2012, below); Karla Dickens’ Mrs Woods and ‘Ere (2013, below); and Kaylene Whiskey’s Seven Sisters Song (2021, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (Australian, 1960-2018) 'Magma Man' 2012

 

Polixeni Papapetrou (Australian, 1960-2018)
Magma Man
2012
From the series The Ghillies 2013
Inkjet print
120.0 x 120.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013
© Polixeni Papapetrou/Administered by VISCOPY, Sydney
Photo: © National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Polixeni Papapetrou’s series The Ghillies shows the artist’s son wearing extreme camouflage costumes that are used by the defence forces to blend in with their environment. The photographs reflect on the passing of childhood, and the journey out of a maternally centred world into a wider existence. Papapetrou proposes that this is a significant moment for many young men as they seek to separate themselves from their mothers, and assume the costumes and identities of masculine stereotypes, often hiding themselves in the process. Papapetrou photographed her children fro most of her career, and explored a range of stereotypes that surround childhood. These works examine the placement of children and adolescents in a society which is determined and defined by adults.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Karla Dickens (Australian / Wiradjuri, b. 1967) 'Mrs Woods and 'Ere' 2013

 

Karla Dickens (Australian / Wiradjuri, b. 1967)
Mrs Woods and ‘Ere
2013
Inkjet print on paper, ed. 3/10
Image: 66.0 x 100.cm
Sheet: 76.5 x 110.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
© Karla Dickens/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Tjayanka Woods (c. 1935-2014) was a senior Pitjantjatjara artist, born near Kalaya Pirti (Emu Water) near Mimili and Wataru, South Australia. She was a cultural custodian, leader and held significant knowledges regarding cultural law and medicine. As an artist, Woods often referred to the Kungkarrangkalpa Tjurkurpa (Seven Sisters) within her artworks. The Kungkarrangkalpa Tjurkurpa is an epic and ancient creation story revolving around the start cluster, also known as Pleiades. In 2013, Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens, spent several weeks with Woods and other senior Pitjantjatjara artists research the creation story. During her time in Pitjantjatjara Country, Dickens photographed Woods as the aware and intelligent cultural leader she was, with dignity and strength.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Kaylene Whiskey (Australian / Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, b. 1976) 'Seven Sisters Song' 2021

 

Kaylene Whiskey (Australian / Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, b. 1976)
Seven Sisters Song
2021
Enamel paint on road sign
120.0 x 180.0cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
© Kaylene Whiskey. Courtesy of the artist, Iwantja Arts and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Kaylene Whiskey seamlessly combines references to daily life in Indulkana with popular culture. Painted on an old road sign, Seven Sisters Song celebrates Whiskey’s witty sense of humour and personal reflection of Kungkarangkalpa Tjukurpa, the Seven Sisters creation story. Imbued within the work themes of sisterhood and kinship bonds, Whiskey brings together two vastly different worlds. Strong female characters including Wonder Woman, Whoopi Goldberg and Dolly Parton are situated within a desert landscape and seen interacting with native plants and wildlife, including traditional Anangu activities like hunting, collecting bush tucker, and cultivating mingkulpa (a native tobacco plant).

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Johannes Heyer (Australian, 1872-1945) 'William Barak at work on the drawing 'Ceremony' at Coranderrk' 1902

 

Johannes Heyer (Australian, 1872-1945)
William Barak at work on the drawing ‘Ceremony’ at Coranderrk
1902
Gelatin silver photograph, sepia toned on paper
8.7 x 8.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with the assistance of the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society 2000

 

 

Wurundjeri artist and ngurungaeta (Head Man) William Barak was an important cultural leader, diplomat and activist. Barak lived near Coranderrk Aboriginal Station, near Healesville, from 1863 until 1903, becoming an influential spokesman for the rights of his people and an informant on Wurundjeri cultural lore. The people of Coranderrk, however, were officially forbidden from observing traditional practices, so Barak began recording them in drawings, often using ochre and charcoals to depict ceremonies and aspects of Wurundjeri culture before colonisation. His artworks are significant expressions of cultural practice, and he is regarded as an important figure int he history of Indigenous Australian art.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Beruk (William Barak) (1824-1903), an elder of the Wurundjeri clan of the Woi-worung, was the most famous Aboriginal person in Victoria in the 1890s. After attending the Reverend George Langhorne’s mission school, Barak joined the Native Police in 1844 and remained there until at least 1851. From 1863 until his death he lived at the government reserve at Coranderrk, at a site near the Yarra River in Victoria. The history of the reserve is one of official interference and mismanagement, and Barak played a significant part in representing the wishes of his community to the government. In the decade of the 1880s he made many paintings and artefacts, mostly of Aboriginal ceremonial subjects.

 

Beruk (1824-1903), artist, activist, leader and educator, was a Wurundjeri man of the Woiwurrung people, one of the five Kulin Nations whose Country encompasses Narrm (Melbourne). It is said that Beruk was present at the signing of the so-called treaty with which John Batman reckoned he’d acquired 240,000 hectares of Wurundjeri land in 1835. In reality, the men with whom Batman negotiated, including one of Beruk’s uncles, had not transferred ownership, but merely given Batman permission to stay temporarily. Beruk was given the name William Barak (a European mispronunciation) in 1844 when he joined the Native Police. He was among the group of people from across Victoria who were the first to join the settlement at Coranderrk, near Healesville, established by the Aboriginal Protection Board in 1863 following several years of petitioning by community leaders. Beruk emerged as a leader at Coranderrk, which developed into a self-sufficient agricultural settlement. Following the passing of his cousin Simon Wonga in 1874, Beruk became Ngurungaeta (head man) of the Wurundjeri people. During the same period, when European pastoral interests started lobbying for Coranderrk to be broken up and sold off, Beruk led the campaign to prevent the settlement’s closure. It was gazetted as a ‘permanent reservation’ in 1881.

By this time, Beruk was recognised as a leader of his people and as a revered custodian of language and cultural knowledge. As the people at Coranderrk were officially forbidden from observing their traditional ceremonies, including corroborees, Beruk began recording his knowledge in drawings, utilising introduced methods and materials including paper, cardboard, and watercolour to preserve and communicate important stories and aspects of culture and spirituality. On the one hand, his drawings and the artefacts he made functioned as a commodity and were sold as souvenirs to increasing numbers of tourists. Museums in Europe began acquiring examples of his work in the late nineteenth century. On the other hand, and more significantly, Beruk’s drawings represent a profound assertion of pride in his heritage and identity, and the survival of a rich and complex culture in the face of concerted attempts to diminish it. As Wurundjeri elder and Beruk’s great-great niece Aunty Joy Wandin Murphy says: “We believe that what he wanted was for people to remember those ceremonies, so that if he painted them … then people would always know about the ceremonies on Coranderrk and of Wurundjeri people.”

This photograph of Beruk was taken by Johannes Heyer, a Presbyterian clergyman called to the parish of Yarra Glen and Healesville in 1900. The drawing that Beruk is shown working on in the photograph is now in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Anonymous text. “William Barak at work on the drawing ‘Ceremony’ at Coranderrk,” on the National Portrait Gallery website Nd [Online] Cited 18/06/2022

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003) 'Migrants arriving in Sydney' 1966

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1961

 

 

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is the first exhibition to comprehensively bring together the rich portrait holdings of both the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Revealing the artistic synergies and contrasts between the two institutions’ collections, this co-curated exhibition considers portraiture in Australia across time and media.

Through the examination of diverse and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness, WHO ARE YOU will question what actually constitutes portraiture – historically, today and into the future. Examples of some of the more abstract notions of portraits in the exhibition include John Nixon’s Self-portrait, (1990), and Boris Cipusev’s typographic portrait of Jeff from The Wiggles, titled Jeff the wiggle, 2009-2013. Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma man, 2013, a photograph that merges sitter and landscape until the two are almost indecipherable, and Shirley Purdie’s multi-panelled evocation of biography and Country, Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018, further challenge the conventions of the genre and touch upon the intimate connection between artist, sitter and land. NGV Collection highlights include new acquisitions: Kaylene Whiskey’s Seven Sisters Song, 2021 – a playful take on portraiture by a living artist and Joy Hester’s Pauline McCarthy,1945, a rare example of Hester producing a portrait in oil.

WHO ARE YOU is the largest exhibition of Australian portraiture ever mounted by either the NGV or NPG, and is the first time the two galleries have worked collaboratively on such a large-scale project.

Text from the NGV International website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing Lloyd Rees' 'Portrait of some rocks' 1948

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing Lloyd Rees’ Portrait of some rocks (1948, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lloyd Rees. 'Portrait of some rocks' 1948

 

Lloyd Rees (Australian, 1895-1988)
Portrait of some rocks
1948
Oil on canvas
76.6 x 102.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1948
© Lloyd Rees/Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

 

 

One of Australia’s leading landscape artists of the mid-twentieth century, Lloyd Rees studied at Brisbane Technical College before moving to Sydney in 1917, where he worked as a commercial illustrator. In the early 1930s he concentrated solely on drawing, particularly the rocky landscapes around Sydney, but by the late 1930s he began painting in an increasingly romantic manner. Rocks were a meaningful subject for Rees because they evoked permanency and represented the constitution of the earth. Rees humanises his subject matter by using the word ‘portrait’ in the title, which suggests the rocks have shifted from inorganic to animate objects.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at right, Marshall Claxton’s An emigrant’s thoughts of home (1859, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at right, Marshall Claxton’s An emigrant’s thoughts of home (1859, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Marshall Claxton (English, 1813-1881, worked in Australia 1850-1854) 'An emigrant's thoughts of home' 1859

 

Marshall Claxton (English, 1813-1881, worked in Australia 1850-1854)
An emigrant’s thoughts of home
1859
Oil on cardboard
60.7 × 47.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1974

 

 

Immigration underlies the European history of Australia. Between 1815 and 1840, more than 58,000 people, predominately from the British Isles, came to Australia in search of a better life. Women migrants were also assisted to curb a gender imbalance in the colonies, to work as domestic servants and to foster marriages and childbirth.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website

 

Immigration is central to the history of Australia. The wistful tilt of this young woman’s head and her thoughtful expression are powerful symbols of the intense nostalgia and fear of the unknown experienced by those in search of a new homeland. Despite its apparent simplicity and sentimentality, the painting captures the issues of poverty, deprivation and emigration that people, especially women, faced in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Peter Drew (Australian, b. 1983) 'Monga Khan 1916' 2016, printed 2019

 

Peter Drew (Australian, b. 1983)
Monga Khan 1916
2016, printed 2019
From the Aussie series 2016
Brush and ink on screenprint
Image: 114.5 x 80.5cm
Sheet: 117.5 x 83.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, NGV Supporters of Prints and Drawings, 2020
© Peter Drew

 

 

Monga Khan was a hawker, and one of the thousands of people who applied for an exemption to the White Australia Policy, a law which came into effect in 1901. Exemptions were considered for cameleers, hawkers and other traders who were considered essential workers. Drew created this poster and others in the Aussie series using photographs from the National Archives of Australia, and pasted them around Australia’s cities.

He explains: ‘When you address the public through the street you’re entering into a tradition that emphasises our fundamental freedom of expression, over the value of property. I enjoy examining our collective identities and my aim is always to emphasise the connections that bind us, rather than the fractures that divide us’.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Maree Clarke’s Walert – gum barerarerungar (2020-2021, below); and at right, Uta Uta Tjangala’s Ngurrapalangu (1989, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Uta Uta Tjangala (Australian / Puntupi, c. 1926-1990) 'Ngurrapalangu' 1989 (installation view)

 

Uta Uta Tjangala (Australian / Puntupi, c. 1926-1990)
Ngurrapalangu (installation view)
1989
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Elizabeth and Colin Laverty, Governors, 2001
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Uta Uta Tjangala forged a new art form at Papunya during 1971-1972 with startling works such as this one. Working for the first time on a discarded scrap of composition board, artists at Papunya rendered visible and permanent ephemeral designs, formerly made only for use in closed and secret ceremonial contexts on bodies, objects or the ground. The painted designs are closely connected to the artist’s cultural identity, his understanding of Country, and of sacred men’s business, unknowable to uninitiated members of the community.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961) 'Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba' 2020-2021 (installation view)

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961)
Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba (installation view)
2020-2021
Possum pelts
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchase, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Maree Clarke is recognised as one of the most respected possum skin cloak makers and teachers in the world. This work represents the first time Clarke produced a cloak to represent her own ancestral identity. Depicted on the cloak are seven important places, which her ancestors come from: Yorta Yorta Country, Trawlwoolway Country, Boonwurrung Country, Muttu Mutti Country and Wamba Wamba Country, as well as Tiperrary in Ideland, and Dunstable in Britain. Clarke has used a rare green ochre to represent her European ancestors. Together, these seven ancestral sites of significance inform Clarke’s identity.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961) 'Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba' 2020-2021 (installation view detail)

 

Maree Clarke (Australian / Mutti Mutti/Wamba Wamba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung, b. 1961)
Walert – gum barerarerungar: Tipperary, Ireland Dunstable, Britain Yorta Yorta Trawlwoolway Boonwurrung, Muttu Mutti, Wamba Wamba (installation view detail)
2020-2021
Possum pelts
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchase, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Portraiture

In its uniting of artist and sitter, the self-portrait is an intriguing facet of portraiture. The self-reflection is a format that appears to grant the viewer the assurance of revelation and intimate access to the artist’s psyche. However, what the artist intends to communicate to their audience through portraiture is highly varied, and the message each artist conveys is as individual as the artist themselves. Additionally, there is room for the viewer to question how the artist has chosen to depict their image.

Self-portraiture is a diverse genre: there are myriad ways an artist can present themselves. A typical way for the artist to portray themselves is in the role of ‘the artist’, including in the work a visual clue to their profession – for instance holding a brush or paint palette – or showing themselves at work in the studio. As part of an investigation of self, these representations can also communicate the complexities of status and gender. This selection of works explores what the artists intend to reveal or exclude about themselves through their self-representations, considering he environment in which the artists are placed, and the props and imagery they choose to include in the works.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979) 'Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits)' 2018 (installation view)

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979)
Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits) (installation view)
2018
Twelve of sixteen papercut silhouette drawings
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Brisbane-born Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling) studied at the Queensland College of Art from 1997 to 1999. She began papercutting during a period when she was without access to a studio, and was subsequently awarded grants that enabled her to study the technique in several centres throughout China. Her method and style resemble Foshan papercutting, which is widely practices in the home of her maternal grandparents, in Guangdong province. These papercuts are from a series investigating the lives of Chinese-Australians who flourished prior to the introduction of the White Australia policy. The works connect and juxtapose European silhouette portraiture and Chinese papercutting traditions, exploring the notion that a silhouette profile provides a means of ‘measuring’ a sitter’s character with the totemic and floral symbols evoking personal narratives, identity and professions.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979) 'Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits)' 2018 (installation view detail)

 

Pamela See (Australian, b. 1979)
Making Chinese Shadows (sixteen silhouette portraits) (installation view detail)
2018
Twelve of sixteen papercut silhouette drawings
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Various unknown photographers (Australian) William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children 1860s-1870s (installation view)

Various unknown photographers (Australian) William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children 1860s-1870s (installation view)

Various unknown photographers (Australian) William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children 1860s-1870s (installation view)

 

Various unknown photographers (Australian)
William and Martha Mary Robertson and their children (installation views)
1860s-1870s
Eight cartes de visite, hand-coloured, contained in red leather presentation case
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Malcolm Robertson in memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

LIU Xiao Xian (Australian born China, b. 1963) 'My other lives, #7' 2000

 

LIU Xiao Xian (Australian born China, b. 1963)
My other lives, #7
2000
From the My other lives series 2000
Type C photograph
102.0 × 145.2cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2002
© LIU Xiao Xian

 

 

Popular in nineteenth-century Australia, stereographs gave the illusion of three dimensions when placed in a handheld viewer. In this work, Liu Xiao Xian enlarges a typical example of this historical form of photographic portraiture and replaces the sitter’s face with his own on one side. Through this double-take, and the playful invitation to imagine an ‘other life’ for this sitter, this work is both a subtle self-portrait and a pointed reminder of the invisibility of the Chinese migrant experience in mainstream conceptions of Australian history and identity.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983) 'Artist and sitter' c. 1938 (installation view)

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983)
Artist and sitter (installation view)
c. 1938
Oil on canvas
122.0 × 94.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1940
© Dr Quentin Noel Porter
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983) 'Artist and sitter' c. 1938

 

A. D. Colquhoun (Australian, 1894-1983)
Artist and sitter
c. 1938
Oil on canvas
122.0 × 94.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1940
© Dr Quentin Noel Porter

 

 

Brush in hand, there is no mistaking A. D. Colquhoun’s occupation or the studio setting. The young, glamorous model is an essential part of this carefully orchestrated self-portrayal. By also including his painting of the model on the easel, Colquhoun presents himself in the company of not one, but two women whose presence asserts his own dominant masculinity. The artist’s gaze meets the viewer, placing them as the subject of the painter’s attention, creating a complex network of visual relationships between the artist, model and viewer.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at right, Shirley Purdie’s Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe (2018, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Shirley Purdie (Australian / Gija, b. 1947) 'Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe' 2018 (installation view)

 

Shirley Purdie (Australian / Gija, b. 1947)
Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe (installation view)
2018
Natural ochre and pigments on canvas (36 parts)
Each: 45.0 x 45.0cm
Overall: 225.0 x 525.0cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2019
© Shirley Purdie/Copyright Agency, 2022
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Shirley Purdie (b. 1947) is a senior Gija artist at the Warmun Art Centre who has been painting for more than twenty years. Purdie has lived on her Country, Western Australia’s East Kimberley, all her life. Inspired by senior Warmun artists, including her late mother, Madigan Thomas, she began to paint sites and narratives associated with her Country in the early 1990s. A prominent leader in the Warmun community, her cultural knowledge and artistic skill allow her to pass on Gija stories and language to the younger generations.

In 2018, Purdie was selected to contribute to the National Portrait Gallery’s 20th anniversary exhibition, So Fine: Contemporary Women Artists Make Australian History. Composed of 36 paintings, Purdie’s self-portrait Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngaginbe is an eloquent and stunning visualisation of personal history, identity and connection to Country. ‘It’s good to learn from old people. They keep saying when you paint you can remember that Country, just like to take a photo … When the old people die, young people can read the stories from the paintings. They can learn from the paintings and maybe they want to start painting too.’ Using richly textured ochres collected on her Country, Purdie’s work is a kaleidoscope of traditional Gija stories and Ngarranggarni passed down to her.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Shirley Purdie is senior Gija woman and a prominent leader within the Warmup Community in Western Australia’s East Kimberley. Combining her cultural knowledge with her art, Purdie creates visual depictions of Gija life and culture. Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, meaning ‘from my women’, is informed by Aboriginal ways of seeing, knowing and understanding oneself within the world. Each of the thirty-six panels shares a story about personal history, identity and Country to produce a non-representational self-portrait of the artist and her ongoing connection to women’s stories. By drawing on the significant women in her life, their relationships and histories, Purdie describes herself through these cultural connections and stories.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing Sam Jink’s Divide (Self portrait) (2011, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sam Jinks (Australian, b. 1973) 'Divide (Self portrait)' 2011 (installation view)

Sam Jinks (Australian, b. 1973) 'Divide (Self portrait)' 2011 (installation view)

 

Sam Jinks (Australian, b. 1973)
Divide (Self portrait) (installation views)
2011
Silicone, resin, horse hair
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2015
© Sam Jinks
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Sam Jinks developed a talent for drawing and constructing his ideas alongside his father, a Melbourne cabinetmaker. Jinks worked as an illustrator before turning to sculpture. He worked in film and television special effects before becoming a fabricator for artist Patricia Piccinini. For the last ten years he has sculpted independently, working in silicone, fibreglass, resin and hair – human, animal and synthetic.

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965) 'Portrait group' 1922

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965)
Portrait group
1922
Oil on canvas
152.8 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1995
© Veronica Martin

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965) 'Portrait group' 1922 (installation view detail)

 

Max Martin (Australian, 1889-1965)
Portrait group (installation view detail)
1922
Oil on canvas
152.8 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1995
© Veronica Martin
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961) 'Self portrait with glove' 1939 (installation view)

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961)
Self portrait with glove (installation view)
1939
Oil on canvas board
Frame: 44.4 x 40.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 1999
© Estate of Herbert Badham
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Herbert Badham was an artist, writer and teacher who specialised in figures, urban life and beach scenes. Having studied for many years at the Julian Ashton School in the 1920s and 1930s, he produced a body of painting that typified the gentle, realist aspect of Sydney modernism of the prewar years. Head of the intermediate art department at East Sydney Tech from 1938 to 1961, he published the populist Study of Australian Art in 1949, and A Gallery of Australian Art in 1954. Badham’s work underwent a minor revival in the late 1980s, with a retrospective show held in Wollongong and Sydney, and three of his urban scenes were selected for the National Gallery’s Federation exhibition of 2001. Arguably the most interesting of several self-portraits of the artist, this painting was featured on the cover of the catalogue of the 1987 retrospective.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961) 'Self portrait with glove' 1939

 

Herbert Badham (Australian, 1899-1961)
Self portrait with glove
1939
Oil on canvas board
Frame: 44.4 x 40.7cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 1999
© Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Janet Dawson (Australian, b. 1935) 'Self Portrait' Between 1951 and 1953

 

Janet Dawson (Australian, b. 1935)
Self Portrait
Between 1951 and 1953
oil on cardboard
Frame: 57.0 x 47.5cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2000
© Janet Dawson/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Janet Dawson (b. 1935) is best known for her contribution to abstract art in Australia. Following her family’s relocation from Forbes to Melbourne in the early 1940s, Dawson attended the private art school run by Harold Septimus Power. In 1951, aged sixteen, she enrolled at the National Gallery School and attended night classes with Sir William Dargie. Five years later, Dawson won a National Gallery of Victoria Travelling Scholarship and went to London, where she studied at the Slade School and the Central School. Returning to Melbourne in 1961, she held her first solo exhibition the same year and in 1963 set up an art school and workshop. Dawson was one of only three women included in the influential exhibition of Australian abstraction, The Field, at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968. Her work is represented in all major public collections in Australia, and has been the subject of exhibitions at the NGV and the National Gallery of Australia.

Outside of her lyrical abstract work, Dawson always practised portraiture and won the Archibald Prize in 1973 with a portrait of her husband, the late writer, actor and playwright Michael Boddy. Painted during an evening class at the National Gallery School, this self portrait shows Dawson wearing an artist’s work shirt over her elegant day clothes, gazing confidently at the viewer.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Lina Bryans’ The babe is wise (1940, below); at middle, Janet Cumbrae Stewart’s Portrait of Jessie C. A. Traill (1920, below); and at right, Evelyn Chapman’s Self portrait (1911, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000) 'The babe is wise' 1940 (installation view)

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000)
The babe is wise (installation view)
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Lina Bryans was an important part of the modern movement and a member of literary and artistic circles in Melbourne during the late 1930s and 1940s. Her vibrant paintings are characterised by bold brushwork and the expressive use of colour. In 1937, Bryans began painting portraits of her friends. Her most famous work, The babe is wise, is a portrait of the writer Jean Campbell, who had recently published a novel of the same name.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Lina Bryans (Australian born Germany, 1909-2000) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

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

 

Janet Cumbrae Stewart (Australian, 1883-1960) 'Portrait of Jessie C. A. Traill' 1920

 

Janet Cumbrae Stewart (Australian, 1883-1960)
Portrait of Jessie C. A. Traill
1920
Pastel
Image and sheet: 55.5 × 45.4cm irreg.
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jessie Traill, 1961
© Courtesy of the copyright holder

 

 

Chiefly known for her use of pastel, Janet Cumbrae Stewart devoted the most significant part of her career to producing sensuous studies of the female nude and portraits of women. Her portrait of fellow artist Jessie Traill shows Traill in the dress uniform of a Queen Alexandra Imperial Nurse. Nursing was one of the few options open to women wanting to serve in the First World War. Traill, who was living in France, volunteered and was stationed in Rouen in Northern France for three and a half years. Cumbrae Stewart and Traill were friends, both having grown up in Brighton, Victoria, and attended the National Gallery School alongside one another in the early 1900s.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Self portrait' 1911 (installation view)

 

Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961)
Self portrait (installation view)
1911
Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Pamela Thalben-Ball 2007
© Estate of Evelyn Chapman
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Self portrait' 1911

 

Evelyn Chapman (Australian, 1888-1961)
Self portrait
1911
Oil on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Pamela Thalben-Ball 2007
© Estate of Evelyn Chapman

 

 

Evelyn Chapman, artist, studied with Antonio Dattilo Rubbo in Sydney and travelled overseas to paint in Paris, where she exhibited at the Salon. A few weeks after the end of World War 1 she took up the opportunity to visit the battlefields of France with her father, who was attached to the New Zealand War Graves Commission. Thus, she became the first Australian female artist to depict the devastated battlefields, towns and churches of the western front. Chapman remained overseas with her father, an organist who played in Dieppe, Venice and elsewhere, and married a brilliant organist, George Thalben-Ball, herself. After she married, she gave up painting, but she encouraged her daughter, Pamela, to pursue art. For the rest of her life, Chapman lived in England, only returning to Australia for a visit in 1960. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has her 1911 portrait of Dattilo Rubbo and a number of her paintings of France, Belgium and England. The Australian War Memorial, too, has several of her evocative French scenes.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, William Yang’s Self Portrait #2 (2007, below); and at centre in case, Alan Constable’s earthenware cameras (see below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Yang (Australia b. 1943) 'Life Lines #3 – Self portrait #2 (1947)' 1947/2008

 

William Yang (Australian, b. 1943)
Self Portrait #2
2007
From the Self Portrait series
Inkjet print
Sheet: 84.0 x 50.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Ms Cora Trevarthen and Professor Andrew Reeves, 2013
© William Yang

 

 

William Yang shares childhood memories in this self-portrait. He recently reflected: ‘… I cal myself Australian, but I claim my Chinese heritage because that’s the way I look. Central to my art practice is my own story, which I tell in performances with projected images and music in theatres. My story is told against a backdrop of the times. This keys into my documentary-style photography. I have done a series of self-portraits of the same stories for exhibition in galleries. So my art and my life have become entwined and they both feed into each other. And I’ve come to terms with the way I look … It’s a great relief to feel comfortable in your own skin’.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Alan Constable’s Green large format camera (2013, below); and at right Alan Constable’s Not titled (Black Mamiya large format camera) (2013, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956) 'Not titled (Green large format camera)' 2013

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956)
Not titled (Green large format camera)
2013
Earthenware
16.5 × 24.0 × 9.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956) 'Not titled (Black Mamiya large format camera)' 2013

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956)
Not titled (Black Mamiya large format camera)
2013
Earthenware
25.0 × 29.0 × 26.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956) 'Not titled (Box Brownie)' 2013

 

Alan Constable (Australian, b. 1956)
Not titled (Box Brownie)
2013
Earthenware
17.0 × 24.5 × 18.5cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

 

Alan Constable’s lifelong fascination with cameras began when he was just eight years old, as he sculpted the objects picture on cereal boxes. Legally blind, Constable’s sculptural practice sometimes extends to other optical objects, such as binoculars and video recorders. Constable’s method involves holding the camera millimetres from his eyes, as he scans and feels the object, before quickly rendering his impressions in clay. Constable has worked at Arts Project Australia since 1991 and held his first solo show in 2011. His works speak to the processes of seeing and looking, and self-reflexively capture the objects that capture the image.

Display case text from the exhibition

 

Christian Thompson. 'Othering the Explorer, James Cook' 2016

 

Christian Thompson (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1978)
Authoring the explorer, James Cook
2015, printed 2016
From the Museum of Others series 2015-2016
Type C photograph on metallic paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of an anonymous donor through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2017

 

 

‘Today, we are still conditioned by historical tropes such as the bust-style portraits of colonial men who had roles in furthering the position of colonial Britain at the height of the imperial pursuit for claiming new frontiers, at the expense of the Indigenous custodians of countries including Australia. However, as famous as these colonial figures still are, I try to demonstrate that it is never too late to pierce, subvert and re-stage the spectres of history to gain agency from the position of the other. Through the work, I am proposing: let us scrutinise your history, your identities, your flaws.’ ~ Christian Thompson, 2017

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is one of the most comprehensive explorations of portraiture ever mounted in Australia and the first exhibition to bring together the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. The exhibition will be on display in Melbourne from 25 March to 21 August 2022 and Canberra from 1 October 2022 to 29 January 2023.

Revealing the rich artistic synergies and contrasts between the two institutions’ collections, this co-curated exhibition considers portraiture in Australia across time and media, as well as the role of the portraiture genre in the development of a sense of Australian national identity.

Featuring more than two-hundred works by Australian artists including Patricia Piccinini, Atong Atem, Howard Arkley, Vincent Namatjira and Tracey Moffatt, and featuring sitters including Cate Blanchett, Albert Namatjira, Queen Elizabeth II, Eddie Mabo and David Gulpilil, the exhibition explores our inner worlds and outer selves, as well as issues of sociability, intimacy, isolation, celebrity and ordinariness.

The exhibition also questions what actually constitutes portraiture by examining the surprising and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness, such as the abstract self-portrait by John Nixon and Boris Cipusev’s typographic portrait of Jeff from The Wiggles. Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma Man, a photograph which merges sitter and landscape until the two are almost indecipherable, and Shirley Purdie’s multi-panelled evocation of biography and Country further challenge the conventions of the genre and touch upon the intimate connection between artist, sitter and land. Alongside these works, iconic self-portraits will also be displayed by artists including John Brack, Nora Heysen and William Yang.

Tony Ellwood AM, Director, NGV, said: “This exhibition marks the first major partnership between the NGV and the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. By combining our respective portraiture collections and curatorial expertise in this area, we have been able to stage the largest thematic portraiture exhibition in the history of either institution. This presentation will no doubt offer audiences an unprecedented insight into the genre and its place in Australian art history.”

Karen Quinlan AM, Director, National Portrait Gallery, said: “The NPG is thrilled to work with the NGV on this extensive exploration of Australian portraiture. The exhibition comes at a time when, in the current global COVID environment, stories from home, about home, and the artists and identities who have shaped and continue to shape our nation are more compelling and important than ever. It is a privilege to be able to present our collection in conversation with the NGV’s and to explore the idea of Australian identity and its many layers and facets through the lens of portraiture.”

Presented across five thematic sections, the exhibition raises challenging and provocative questions about who we are and how we view others – historically, today and into the future. The exhibition opens by considering the connection between people and place, reflecting on the relationship between artists, sitters and the environment, as well as the personification of the natural world. Highlight works include a conceptual map depicting self and Country by Wawiriya Burton, Ngayaku Ngura (My Country) 2009, as well as the NGV’s recent acquisition Seven Sisters Song 2021 by Kaylene Whiskey, a painted road sign that is filled with personally significant, autobiographical references to pop culture.

A further section explores the artistic tradition of the self-portrait and portraits of artists, as well as how this convention has been subverted or challenged by contemporary artists working today. Works include Hari Ho’s Dadang Christanto 2005, which depicts the artist buried to the neck in sand, referencing the brutal killings of Indonesians in the failed military coup of September 1965, and Alan Constable’s Not titled (Green large format camera) 2013, personifying the act of photography with a hand modelled, ceramic camera.

Ideas of intimacy and alienation are juxtaposed through images of family and community presented alongside those of vulnerability and isolation. Works include Pat Larter’s Marty 1995, a graphic collage depicting a male sex worker, challenging the ease with which society consumes images of female nudity, and Naomi Hobson’s Warrior without a weapon 2019, a photographic series in which the artist challenges stereotypes about Indigenous men from her home community in Coen, by using flowers as a metaphor for male vulnerability.

The exhibition also explores portraiture’s surprising capacity to reveal the inner worlds and mindsets of both the sitter and the artist, as exemplified by Eric Thake’s satirical vignettes of figures in dream-like settings, and Hoda Afshar’s Remain 2018, a video exploring Australia’s controversial border protection policy and the human rights of those seeking asylum.

The final section of the exhibition interrogates Australian icons, identities and how we construct them. Works featured in this section include Michael Riley’s Maria 1986 and Polly Borland’s HM Queen Elizabeth II 2002, two works displayed side by side, drawing connections between archetypal imagery of royalty, with negative renderings of ‘otherness’ found in historical ethnographic portraiture.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is presented by the NGV and the National Portrait Gallery and will be on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Fed Square from 25 March to 21 August 2022 and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra from 1 October 2022 to 29 January 2023.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is generously supported by Major Partner, Deakin University.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria International

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at centre left, Bert Flugelman’s self portrait (1985, below). The legend of the artworks on the wall is below…
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Bert Flugelman (Australian born Austria, 1923-2013, Australia from 1938) 'Self portrait' c. 1985

 

Bert Flugelman (Australian born Austria, 1923-2013, Australia from 1938)
Self portrait
c. 1985
Stainless steel
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2009
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Bert Flugelman/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Herbert ‘Bert’ Flugelman, sculptor, painter and lecturer, came to Australia from his native Vienna in 1938, aged fifteen. In the late 1940s he trained at the National Art School; he travelled and studied overseas through the first half of the 1950s. In 1967 he won first prize at the Mildura Sculpture Triennial with a large cast-iron equestrian piece. His subsequent public commissions include the untitled copper and ceramic mosaic fountain at Bruce Hall at the Australian National University; Spheres 1977 (known locally as Bert’s Balls) for the Rundle Street Mall, Adelaide; and the Dobell Memorial 1978 for Martin Place, Sydney. Controversially, Tumbling cubes (Dice) (Untitled) 1978/1979, originally made for Cameron Offices in Belconnen ACT, was some years ago moved to a nearby park, according to the artist a ‘hopelessly inappropriate site’. Cones 1982 dominates the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia, and the Winged figure (Lawrence Hargrave memorial) 1988 towers 6m high at Mt Keira, near Wollongong. Flugelman taught from 1973 to 1983 at the South Australian School of Art, and from 1984 to 1990 at the University of Wollongong, from which he received an honorary doctorate. There was a retrospective exhibition of his five decades’ work at the Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University in 2009.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 - Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971) 'Self portrait in reflection' 1973 (installation view)

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 – Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971)
Self portrait in reflection (installation view)
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 - Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971) 'Self portrait in reflection' 1973

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 – Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971)
Self portrait in reflection
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Lewis Morley Archive LLC

 

 

Lewis Morley OAM (1925-2013), photographer, was born in Hong Kong and went to the United Kingdom with his family at the end of World War 2. He studied commercial art in London and spent time in Paris before taking up photography in 1954, initially working for magazines like Tatler, London Life and She. In 1961, he founded Lewis Morley Studios in Peter Cook’s London club, The Establishment. Here, he built his reputation with photographs of the celebrities that defined the hip spirit of London in the 1960s, among them Cook, Dudley Moore, Charlotte Rampling, Twiggy, Vanessa Redgrave and Jean Shrimpton. In 1963, Morley took one of the world’s most famous photographic portraits – that of Christine Keeler, short-term shared mistress of a British politician and a Soviet diplomat, naked on a Scandinavian chair. By 1971, Morley’s magazine and theatre work in London was petering out, and he emigrated to Australia, where, he said, ‘bingo! there was the sixties all over again’. Shooting increasingly in colour, Morley took many photographs for Dolly, POL, Belle and other publications that now afford an evocative record of changing Australian culture through the 1970s and 1980s. Many of Morley’s portraits from this era were shown in the National Portrait Gallery’s retrospective exhibition Lewis Morley: Myself and Eye in 2003. His work was also the subject of a major exhibitions staged by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1989-1990; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2006.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003) 'Albert Namatjira' 1958 (installation view)

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003)
Albert Namatjira (installation view)
1958
Oil on canvas laid on composition board
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds donated by Marilyn Darling AC and the assistance of Philip Bacon Galleries 2000
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Albert Namatjira was a descendant of the Western Arrant people of the Northern Territory. Inspired by the spectacular landforms and vivid colours around his home at the Hermannsuburg Mission in the 1930s, Namatjira fused Western-influenced style of watercolour with unique expressions of traditional sites and sacred knowledge. Sir William Dargie CBE described Namatjira as having ‘tremendous inner dignity’ and within this portrait, he located Namatjira in his country in the MacDonnell Ranges. Holding one of his own landscapes, the portrait represents the intrinsic connection between the artist’s painting and identity. Namatjira was, and still is, an important presence in Australian art and a leading figure in the development of Aboriginal rights.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003) 'Albert Namatjira' 1958 (installation view detail)

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003)
Albert Namatjira (installation view detail)
1958
Oil on canvas laid on composition board
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds donated by Marilyn Darling AC and the assistance of Philip Bacon Galleries 2000
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003) 'Sharpies, Melbourne' 1973

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Sharpies, Melbourne
1973, printed c. 1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2006

 

 

‘Rather than capturing the subjects unawares I have encouraged them to pause, and even pose, from the camera. In this way they have an opportunity to communicate directly with me and to project whatever image they believe suits them best.’ ~ Rennie Ellis

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Hera Roberts' 1936 (installation view)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hera Roberts (installation view)
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 cm x 21.4cm
Gift of Rex Dupain 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Hera Roberts' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hera Roberts
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 cm x 21.4cm
Gift of Rex Dupain 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Hera Roberts (life dates unknown) was a painter, illustrator, designer, commercial artist and milliner. During the 1920s and 30s she produced many covers for the Home magazine, and arranged photo spreads for the magazine promoting fashionable interiors and furniture. She designed a complete room for the Burdekin House exhibition of 1929, including furniture, and also designed furniture for her companion Sydney Ure Smith. Roberts was regarded as an authoritative commentator on matters of style. She was the student and cousin of the artist Thea Proctor, who was also part of the network of ‘lady artists’ who were able to make their careers in interior decorating and taste arbitration. Co-owner of a millinery shop in Pitt Street called ‘June’, Roberts was also one of the finest female fencers in the Southern Hemisphere, operating out of the Sydney Swords Club.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, 1967-2017) 'Self-portrait, 'I am the Dingo Spirit'' 2015 (installation view)

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, 1967-2017)
Self-portrait, ‘I am the Dingo Spirit’ (installation view)
2015
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Trevor Turbo Brown, or ‘Turbo’ as he was known, was born in Mildura and grew up on Latje Latje Country. In 1981, Turbo moved to Melbourne were he became a celebrity in the Koori community. He trained as a boxer at the Fitzroy Stars Gym from 1986 to 1991 and would do breakdance street performances throughout Melbourne during the 1980s and 1990s. It was here that he got his nickname. Turbo was a regular character on the streets of Brunswick before he passed away in 2017. In this self-portrait Turbo impinges himself as a dingo, wild and free in the night.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, b. 1967) Self-portrait, 'I am the Dingo Spirit' 2015

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, b. 1967)
Self-portrait, ‘I am the Dingo Spirit’
2015
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
122.3 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Vince Sinni in memory of Trevor Turbo Brown through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2018
© the artist’s estate

 

John Brack. 'Self-portrait' 1955

 

John Brack (Australian, 1920-1999)
Self-portrait
1955
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Women’s Association, 2000

 

 

John Brack created images that explore the social rituals and realities of everyday living. Rendered in a subtle but complex colour scheme, with its subject stripped of vanity and dressed in early-morning attire, Self-portrait is a piercing study of a man engaged in the intimacy of shaving. Although images of women at their toilette have been recently depicted by both male and female Australian artists, it is unusual for men to be shown or to show themselves in this context.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne with second from left, Michael Cook’s Tunnel No. 2 (2014, below); at third from left, Ron Mueck’s Two Women (2005, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968) 'Tunnel No. 2' 2014 (installation view)

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968)
Tunnel No. 2 (installation view)
2014
From the series Majority Rule
Inkjet print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Ybonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

‘In Majority Rule I created staged scenarios that question Australian history and the dominance of those in power. The series features the same anonymous Indigenous Man, multiplied over and over in each image. Australia’s Indigenous population comprises around three or four percent of our total population. My images seek to defy this reality and ask the viewer to speculate about an Australia where Aboriginal people constitute the majority of the country’s population; they paint a picture of a societal structure reversed … The works also serve as reminders fo the lack of Indigenous representation within Parliament, the judicial system and the business world.’ ~ Michael Cook, 2017

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968) 'Tunnel No. 2' 2014

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968)
Tunnel No. 2
2014
From the series Majority Rule
Inkjet print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Ybonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Ron Mueck. 'Two woman' 2005

 

Ron Mueck (Australian born England, b. 1958)
Two women
2005
Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, polyurethane, aluminium, wire, steel, cotton, nylon, synthetic hair, plastic, metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007

 

Ron Mueck. 'Two woman' 2005 (detail)

 

Ron Mueck (Australian born England, b. 1958)
Two women (detail)
2005
Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, polyurethane, aluminium, wire, steel, cotton, nylon, synthetic hair, plastic, metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture' at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at left, Pierre Mukeba’s Impartiality (2018, below); at second right, William Frater’s Reclining nude (c. 1933, below); and at right, Pat Larter’s Marty (1995, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Pierre Mukeba (Australian born Democratic Republic of the Congo, b. 1995, Australia from 2006) 'Impartiality' 2018

 

Pierre Mukeba (Australian born Democratic Republic of the Congo, b. 1995, Australia from 2006)
Impartiality
2018
Fibre-tipped pen and printed fabric on cotton
245.0 × 270.0cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Anne Ross, 2018
© Pierre Mukeba, courtesy of GAGPROJECTS

 

 

Pierre Mukeba was a child when he fled with his family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Zambia, where they lived in a refugee camp before joining family in Zimbabwe. Following the Mugabe regime’s arrest order for non-nationals, the family applied for asylum through the Australian Embassy and relocated to Adelaide in 2006. In this work, Mukeba uses patterned Dutch wax print fabrics commonly perceived as being ‘African’, while in reality, they were appropriated from traditional Javanese bark by Dutch colonisers in the nineteenth century, mass produced in Europe and exported to Africa. This painting is part of a group of works by Mukeba, in which he draws on sociocultural standards of beauty and representations of his community.

Wall text rom the exhibition

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974, Australia from 1913) 'Reclining nude' c. 1933 (installation view)

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974, Australia from 1913)
Reclining nude (installation view)
c. 1933
Oil on canvas on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1950
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974, Australia from 1913) 'Reclining nude' c. 1933 (installation view detail)

 

William Frater (Australian born Scotland, 1890-1974, Australia from 1913)
Reclining nude (installation view detail)
c. 1933
Oil on canvas on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1950
Photo: Marcus Bunyan