Archive for the 'digital photography' Category

13
Aug
17

Exhibition: ‘Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class’ at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Exhibition dates: 27th April to 13th August 2017

Curator: Dr Martin Engler, Head of the Collection of Contemporary Art, Städel Museum
Co-curator: Dr Jana Baumann, Städel Museum

Artists: Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich

 

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet' 1963

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet
1963
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
75.3 x 91.4 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

 

The Bechers depict the half-timbered houses from the Siegerland in a sober and restrained fashion. The picture removes the buildings from their original context. One view follows the next. Thus the form of the single building becomes more important than its function. In the photographs the half-timbered houses become aesthetic objects with a sculptural character. Bernd and Hilla Becher do not present their images individually, but in a grid. Not the single photo is the work, but the total of the typology is.

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' (detail) 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses (detail)
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' (detail) 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses (detail)
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

 

 

“What the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher sparked off – and their students developed further – is a new conception of the artwork according to which the boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography dissolve in terms of media and aesthetics alike. In other words, in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.” (Press release)

WHAT ABSOLUTE RUBBISH – the second sentence, that is!

Just look at the photographs as pictures.

The Bechers and their students’ photographs might invoke a new concept of the pictorial but that does not mean the death of photography far from it. In fact, this conceptualisation opens up an expanded terrain of becoming for photography (continuing the theme of the last post on the work of Walker Evans). In this sense, the work of these artists is vital to an understanding of the place of photography within the observation, construction and taxonomy of contemporary culture and its pictorial representation.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Städel Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For more information please see the interactive website.

 

One of the most radical changes in art’s relation to its aesthetic, media, and economic contexts is closely associated with the students of the first Becher Class at the Düsseldorf art academy – but even more so with the names of their teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher. The exhibition brings together 200 major works, some in large format, by these important artists, as well as a selection of their early works.

 

 

Candida Höfer (*1944) 'Weidengasse Cologne VIII 1977' 1977 (2013)

 

Candida Höfer (*1944)
Weidengasse Cologne VIII 1977
1977 (2013)
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
42.6 x 36.7 cm
Loan from the artist
© Candida Höfer, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Volker Döhne (*1953) 'Untitled (Colourful)' 1979 (2014)

 

Volker Döhne (*1953)
Untitled (Colourful)
1979 (2014)
Colour print from colour transparency
37 x 47 cm
Private collection
© Volker Döhne, Krefeld 2017

 

Thomas Ruff (*1958) 'Interior 1 D' 1982

 

Thomas Ruff (*1958)
Interior 1 D
1982
Chromogenic colour print
47 x 57 cm
Loan from the artist
© Thomas Ruff; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Andreas Gursky (*1955) 'Doorman, Passport Control' 1982 (2007)

 

Andreas Gursky (*1955)
Doorman, Passport Control
1982 (2007)
Inkjet print
43.2 x 52.5 cm
Loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers
© Andreas Gursky / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017 / Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London

 

Axel Hütte (*1951) 'Moedling House' 1982-1984

 

Axel Hütte (*1951)
Moedling House
1982-1984
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
66 x 80 cm
Loan from the artist
© Axel Hütte

 

Petra Wunderlich (*1954) 'Fossa Degli Angeli, Italy' 1989

 

Petra Wunderlich (*1954)
Fossa Degli Angeli, Italy
1989
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
61 x 75,2 cm
Private collection
© Petra Wunderlich; VG Bild-Kunst 2017

 

 

From 27 April to 13 August 2017, the Städel Museum is staging a comprehensive survey on the Becher Class at the Düsseldorf art academy and the major paradigm shift in the medium of artistic photography with which the Bechers and their students are associated. With the aid of some 200 photographs by Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich – a group of whom some enjoy international renown and others are due for rediscovery – the exhibition will examine the influence exerted by Bernd and Hilla Becher on their students at the Düsseldorf school. What unites the students’ works with those of their teachers? How do they differ? Is there really such a thing as the “Becher School” or is it ‘merely’ a matter of several highly successful photographers who happened to be studying at the ‘right place’ at an especially propitious moment in history? And how have those artists influenced our present conception of what a picture is? Taking the artist duo’s work as a point of departure, the exhibition “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class” will acquaint viewers with the radical changes in the medium of artistic photography that became manifest in the works of the Becher pupils in the eighties and above all the nineties, and investigate the art-historical impact of this development up to the very present. It will feature major large-scale works as well as key early endeavours by the members of what is presumably the most influential generation of German photographers in the field of fine art.

The students of the first in a long line of Becher Classes at the Düsseldorfer art academy introduced elementary changes to contemporary art’s aesthetic, media and economic contexts. They not only contributed decisively to shaping international photography in the 1990s, but also fundamentally redefined the status and perception of artistic photography in general. Their works can be considered as one of the most self-confident emancipations of photography as art in the mediums history, while at the same time reflecting the (not merely digital) moment when the boundaries between the media dissolve.

“Bernd and Hilla Becher’s first – meanwhile world-famous – students played a tremendously important role in establishing photography as an expressive medium on a par with other art forms. The nine artists featured in our show occupy a realm where the distinction between painting and photography is no longer clear. The permeability of the boundary between the media is deliberate in their work, and in that respect they mirror one of the key focuses of the Städel Museum’s collection of contemporary art,” observes Städel director Dr Philipp Demandt. And exhibition curator Dr Martin Engler adds: “What the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher sparked off – and their students developed further – is a new conception of the artwork according to which the boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography dissolve in terms of media and aesthetics alike. In other words, in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.”

The founding of a chair for artistic photography at the Düsseldorf art academy in 1976 provided perhaps the single most important impulse for a change in how the medium of photography was perceived. In close cooperation with his wife Hilla Becher, Bernd Becher held that chair until 1996. Even before their appointment to the Düsseldorf school, the Bechers had been taking pictures of historical industrial architecture, subscribing to a work concept that exceeded the scope of a common documentary approach in photography. They portrayed mining headframes, blast furnaces, gas tanks, water towers and other testimonies to a vanishing industrial culture – frontally, in central perspective, with fascinating depth of field, and where possible before the backdrop of a uniformly grey sky. They arranged the individual shots in grids to form large-scale tableaus they called typologies. The concern here was no longer merely the illustration of reality, but its perception. Reality could no longer be depicted singly, but only in a multiplicity of simultaneous images. From the formal aesthetic point of view, the staging of the pictorial subjects was now far more than documentary in nature. The affinity to minimal and concept art – evident in the rigour of the pictorial vocabulary, the industrial aesthetic and the new perception of a work in stages – is unmistakable.

Especially in their early work, the students of the first Becher Class explored their teachers’ artistic strategy with great intensity. Yet as they continued to pursue it in the nineties, they did so ever more independently, and in their own highly individual styles. With the aid of various strategies in terms of scale, presentation and motif, and not least of all with abstract pictorial inventions provoked by digital image techniques, they took the interpenetration of the mediums of painting and photography to an extreme. The result was a new concept of the picture that blurs aesthetic and media distinctions. “The dissolution of media boundaries, but also the use of technical innovations, are characteristic of the works of the first Becher Class. It is here that the impact of a changing media culture is felt,” explains Dr Jana Baumann, the co-curator of the exhibition.

A show devoted to such a complex phenomenon on the one hand, and such productive teaching activities on the other, must inevitably be limited in scope. “Photographs Become Pictures” concentrates deliberately on the students of the early years of the Becher Class, beginning with Höfer, Döhne, Hütte and Struth in 1976 and ending with the completion of Gursky’s and Sasse’s studies in 1987/1988. In retrospect, it is precisely in the heterogeneity of the first Becher Class – with its wide range of approaches that have influenced our present-day understanding of the pictorial image – that the success of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s teachings is evident.

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) is known above all for her pictures of public interiors such as libraries, universities, museums and waiting rooms. Nevertheless, the purely documentary aspect is ultimately of secondary importance to her, as is also true of her teachers. Particularly when she turned to colour photography, she began producing iconically clear shots of meaning-charged interiors extremely striking in their rigorous aesthetic. In composition, repetition and rhythm as well as the sculptural emphasis, Höfer’s formal staging of her interiors is reminiscent of the Becher typologies.

A distinct affinity to the typologies is also evident in early street shots by Thomas Struth (b. 1954), such as West Broadway, Tribeca, New York (1978) or Sommerstrasse, Düsseldorf (1980). He proceeded in a manner similar to his teachers, but broadened his spectrum of motifs. He is concerned in his work with cultural structures; in addition to streets he also depicts museums or religious cult sites and portrays families. With the aid of social and ethnological allusions he reveals orders and interrelationships, thus achieving a universal survey of human and their lifeworld in imagery.

Petra Wunderlich‘s (b. 1954) black-and-white series depict details of churches or quarries that the artist has introduced to a new, abstract compositional framework. By this method she reduces architecture visually to its stereometric tectonics in such a way that elementary architectonic forms unexpectedly emerge from the “broken” surfaces of nature. Wunderlich’s photographs, like those by the Bechers, can be read as sociological and historical testimonies.

The workgroups of Volker Döhne (b. 1953) closely resemble Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ typologies with regard to concept and motif alike. He developed series such as Small- Scale Iron Industry (1977/78) or Small Railway Bridges and Underpasses in the Bergisches and Märkisches Land (1979). With his experimental Colour (1979) series, he then emancipated himself from his teachers.

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) was interested primarily in factory gates, shop windows, beverage kiosks and snack bars, which she photographed in the even light of grey days. Many aspects of these works are strongly reminiscent of the Becher photographs: the consistent placement of the subject at the pictorial centre, the unchanging size of the prints, but also the serial, typologically comparative approach.

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) is likewise deeply indebted to his teachers’ serial method, which we encounter in his work in ever-different formulations. His portraits as well as the strongly enlarged nocturnal shots of, in part, found material, convey his fundamentally sceptical attitude towards photography’s claim to truth and documentation. His persistent investigations of new pictorial sources and technologies are perhaps the most impressive demonstrations of the manner in which Ruff continues the approach of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Axel Hütte‘s (b. 1951) early architectural details investigate social situations using a mode of photographic expression distinguished by distance and anonymity. Within this context, he devotes himself as much to spoiled landscapes as to supposedly untouched nature which nevertheless has always been formed by human intervention. A conspicuous aspect of his work is the strong reference to historical landscape painting, whose formal compositional principles he both copies and deconstructs. Whereas the Bechers directed their attention to the sculptural or conceptual potential of their pictures, Hütte focusses on painting as the leading medium of modern art.

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) initially devoted himself to highly artificial and at the same time prosaic arrangements of petit-bourgeois domestic culture. His later “tableaus” represent a virtual antithesis to the reductive rigour of these early works. Using digital and analogue techniques alike, he began processing found pictures as well as images of his own making, in which context he blurred the distinction between painting and photograph beyond recognition.

Andreas Gursky‘s (b. 1955) early photographs are likewise characterised by a keen interest in everyday surroundings – the private as well as the public sphere, the context of work as well as leisure time. Like Sasse, he investigates the aesthetic boundary between photographic and painterly image production. By means of digital manipulations he uses to duplicate and mount the pictorial motif to the point of abstraction, he creates perplexing pictorial architectures that merge construction and reality in large-scale colour prints.

The development of the Becher Class shows how concept art’s expanding notion of the artwork led to a new concept of the pictorial including photography. What the teachers introduced in rudiments was taken by their students and the following generation of artists to a momentous change in the picturing of reality. The realisation that photography cannot reproduce reality impartially does not detract from the medium. On the contrary, it means an enhancement in terms of artistic potential. What is more, the lack of focus in the portrayal of reality – in the literal and figurative sense alike – enriches photography’s complexity. It is not least of digital changes that enables innovative pictorial invention. Yet the boundaries of the photographic image also became fluid in the development from individual work to typology and series, and from detail to overall image. The answer to all questions about the significance, classification, doctrine and conception of what we refer to as the “Becher School” can thus be found in an insight as simple as it is surprising: in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.

Press release from the Städel Museum

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

At left, Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner) (detail) 1988 (2003)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Candida Höfer (left) and Thomas Struth (*1954) Louvre 3, Paris 1989 1989 (2012) (right)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Struth (*1954) Paradiese 09 Xi Shuang Banna, Provinz Yunnan, China, 1999

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'Paradiese 09' 1999

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
Paradiese 09
Xi Shuang Banna, Provinz Yunnan, China, 1999

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) with House No. 1 I 1987 (right)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Axel Hütte (*1951)

 

Axel Hütte (*1951) 'Castellina' 1992 (2015)

 

Axel Hütte (*1951)
Castellina
1992 (2015)
Chromogenic colour print
98.4 x 120.3 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung © Axel Hütte

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Struth (*1954) The Consolandi Family, Mailand, 1996 (2014) (left)

 

Exhibition views “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class”
Photo: Städel Museum

 

 

The Bechers

For their photographs Bernd and Hilla Becher are awarded the “Golden Lion” in the category of “sculpture” at the Venice Biennale in 1990. How is that possible? Surprisingly at the time there was no separate category for photography at the Biennale. But this is not the real reason. Already in 1969 the first larger exhibition of the Bechers is called “Anonymous Sculptures”, just like their first volume of photographs. The artists very consciously link the genres of photography and sculpture. This idea informs their entire oeuvre.

Bernd Becher and Hilla Wobeser begin to collaborate in 1959. At the time both study at the art academy Düsseldorf. Two years later they marry. During the following five decades the artist couple produces mostly tableaus of several parts – consisting of three, nine, twelve or more photos; they call them typologies. Their subjects are disused headstocks, furnaces, oil refineries, water reservoir towers, grain silos, gasometres or even half-timbered houses in former workers’ settlements – all of them testimonies of a declining industrial culture.

 

An Overall Concept

When Hilla and Bernd Becher presented their works at the Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 1969, this coincided with an exhibition on US-American minimal art – a juxtaposition that was to prove programmatic. In 1972 the American sculptor Carl Andre mentioned the insightful connection of the Bechers’ works and the movements of minimal and conceptual art. This prominent, art-theoretical connection significantly contributed to the great international success of the Bechers. This is also why – especially in the USA – the two are considered concept artists more than photographers.

The Bechers’ method of working – ostensibly – is concerned with sobriety and anonymity, rigidity and objectivity. They work in series, where the whole and a part of this whole, total view and detail are balanced. Setting their photographs into the context of sculpture, they test the boundaries of the genres of photography and sculpture. Working and presenting their works in series, they move the photograph beyond the individual work: the viewer can never see everything at once; instead the eye oscillates between detail and general context.

The artist couple directs the attention to formal, creative aspects of the photographed edifices at the same time allowing them to disappear in the typology’s grid. The rigidity of their pictorial vocabulary and the interest in an industrial aesthetic evidences the close proximity of the Bechers’ creative work to minimal and concept art.

 

Photography in Germany

“In principle it [photography] was a fallow field, where nothing ‘noteworthy’ had taken place in the past fifty years. We saw us in the tradition of objective photography of the 1920s; Bernd and Hilla Becher were the first to reconnect to this. There was absolutely nothing that we could fight or needed to disengage with. We could start from scratch.” ~ Thomas Ruff

 

“New Objectivity” this was the motto of the 1920s – also in photography. It was no longer the pictorial language of painting, but precision, focus and truth to detail, characteristics of photography that had garnered the artists’ interest.

The photographer August Sander focused on the society of the Weimar Republic and created a typology: in 1925 his pictorial atlas People of the 20th Century, where he systematically assembled hundreds of portraits of stereotypes of people of the most diverse social backgrounds and occupations. All of his sitters are portrayed frontally, which makes the photographs comparable. Sander also engaged in the photography of landscapes, industrial sites and cities.

Two more representatives of the photography of New Objectivity are also worth mentioning here: Albert Renger-Patzsch recorded industrial buildings and machinery in a sober directness. Karl Blossfeldt adopted scientific standards and photographed plants – always before a neutral background, removed from their natural setting.

Bernd and Hilla Becher draw on these approaches and develop them in their works. With a few exemptions, photography was not considered an autonomous artistic medium in Germany. Still in the 1960s, photography in art predominantly served as a means of documentation of actions, happenings and performances. Yet painting and photography interact. The painter Gerhard Richter for example, used photos as templates for his paintings since the early 1960s. The Bechers in turn greatly contributed to the recognition of photography as autonomous artistic medium with their photographs.

 

The Becher Class: Adoption, Distinction

DÖHNE GURSKY HÖFER HÜTTE RONKHOLZ RUFF SASSE STRUTH WUNDERLICH

These are the students of the first Becher class. In 1976 Bernd Becher is appointed first professor for photography at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In close cooperation with his wife Hilla he teaches there for twenty years. Their first students become artists, who will have a formative influence on photography in the 1980s and the 1990s internationally. The Becher students intensely study their teachers’ work. Especially in their early works comparable approaches develop: a distanced perspective, an interest in architecture and striving for technical precision.

The Bechers are preoccupied with an industrial architecture in decline, representative also of the social changes affecting the respective region. Taking this as a starting point, their students consider their direct surroundings and social contexts. They seek to identify systems of classification and in their photographs investigate the relationship of individual work and series. In the process the Becher students adopt their own positions. They discover new themes, techniques and creative strategies. Regardless of the distinctions they are indebted to the conceptual approach of their teachers, which they then developed in their individual ways.

In their teaching and their work Bernd and Hilla Becher explore a concept of the image, where medial and aesthetic distinctions of sculpture, painting and photography dissolve. Their students continue this work in very different ways. In the 1980s and 1990s their enquiries lead to a critical reflexion of the possibilities of representing reality. The lack of focus in the depiction of reality – literally and figuratively – represent an increase in artistic complexity. Innovative pictorial creations were now possible by way of digital intervention.

The borders of the photographic image blur at the stage between single work and typology and series. The alternation of perception, oscillating between detail and total image extend the possibilities of photography. The meaning of what is called “Becher school” can be summarised in a simple and surprising statement: at the historic moment, when photography becomes an independent medium, it also realises its potential and explores its limits. Photography reaches its limits, transgresses it and thus ultimately questions its existence.

 

Kiosks and Streets

The developments in American photography are also important to the Becher-students: Ed Ruscha, whose photos show everyday subjects, is one of their role models. In 1966 he creates Every Building on the Sunset Strip. With a simple handheld camera Ruscha photographs every building on the Los Angeles boulevard of that name; he presents his pictures in a fanfold or an artist’s book. This quickly reveals the serial principle behind the work. Volker Döhne’s approach in Reconstruction II is similar. He, too, documents the commercial architecture, largely determining the surrounding.

Ice cream parlour, garage, drug store, stationers, dwelling house, shoe shop – nicely aligned. Volker Döhne focuses on the urban space dominated by nondescript post war architecture and empty sites. Other than his American colleague Ed Ruscha, Döhne always positions his camera head-on in the same angle. Surprisingly this emphasises the buildings’ volume. Like his teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher he emphasises the three-dimensional, sculptural aspect of buildings and pursues a concept that he determined before he began to photograph.

The Bechers assemble identical, yet different photographs to a static tableau. Döhne on the other hand, required the viewer to move along the strip and proceed down the row of photographs. Above all the viewer must add together the photos of the Krefelder Straße by himself: the work forms as a result of the viewer’s active viewing and perception.

 

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Ostwall corner Rheinstraße, (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Ostwall corner Rheinstraße, (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 82 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 82 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 84 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 84 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 86 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 86 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 88 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 88 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Beverage kiosk, Düsseldorf, Hermannstraße 31' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Beverage kiosk, Düsseldorf, Hermannstraße 31
1978
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
41.2 x 51.2 cm
Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Köln/Dauerleihgabe der Sparkasse KölnBonn
© Tata Ronkholz, Nachlassverwaltung Van Ham Art Estate 2017

 

 

Cigarette and gumball machines are fixed to exterior walls. Advertising posters overlap. Beverages, magazines and sweets are visibly lined up behind glass. It is Tata Ronkholz’ serial presentation that enables the comparison of the kiosks and their study as a social phenomenon in urban contexts.

Kiosks are everyday meeting points and the setting for social life. At the same time their role fundamentally changed in the past decades. Ronkholz photographs kiosks as socially grown places. She positions them centrally in their architectural environment – people are absent. This is what the photos have in common with Becher-photographs. Like her teachers, Ronkholz is committed to the conservation and archiving of a changing urban culture.

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Dusseldorf, Sankt-Franziskusstraße 107' 1977

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Dusseldorf, Sankt-Franziskusstraße 107
1977
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne / Permanent Loan of the Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Without title' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Without title
1978
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Foundation Culture, Cologne / Dauerleihgabe der Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Düsseldorf, Germany, Konkordiastraße 85' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Düsseldorf, Germany, Konkordiastraße 85
1978
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne / Permanent Loan of the Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

 

PICTURE PARALLELS

Bernd and Hilla Bechers students are linked to the work of their teachers in many ways. And yet they devote themselves, in part, to new motifs, subjects, and picture formats during their studies. In addition to architecture, they also photograph interiors, simple everyday objects or people.

In the early 1980s the Becher-students Axel Hütte and Thomas Ruff turn to portrait photography practically at the same time. They capture their models with neutral facial expressions, generally head-on before a monochrome background. The extreme setting makes the individual recede while the surface of the background dominates. In the series the single faces turn into an interchangeable motif somewhere between person and typology.

 

From Near and Far

The directions of the persons’ gazes differs. Nothing distracts from their faces. The neutral background and the close details are reminiscent of giant passport photographs. One almost overlooks that some of the sitters are famous artists today.

Axel Hütte’s portraits with their conscious play with blurring and sharpness are irritating: some areas in the photo show up the slightest detail, while others are slightly blurred – a conscious reference to the Bechers’ works, characterised by their extreme depth of focus. When observing Hütte’s works from close-up the face becomes a surface of structures. If one wants to see it in focus, one needs to distance oneself. Thus the viewer is kept at bay and always in motion.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) '15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)' 1988 (2003)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)
1988 (2003)
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
113 x 91 each cm
Loan from the artist

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) '15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)' (detail) 1988 (2003)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner) (detail)
1988 (2003)
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
113 x 91 each cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

PICTURES GENERATION

Thomas Ruff explores the gap between reality and image. This is something he shares with the American artists of the so-called “Pictures Generation” from the 1970s and 1980s. This informal group of artists, among them Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Richard Prince, grew up with a flood of pictures in cinema, television and the print media. Their works show distrust for the media, as well as a fascination with it. The artists make use of existing images from film, advertising and art. They copy, quote and redesign this material – more subtly than the artists from American Pop Art in the 1960s. Instead of working with found images in print, collage or painting, the artists of the “Pictures Generation” make small interventions. By introducing minor changes or by producing a practically identical copy of an image they very consciously play with conventional ways of perception. In their works they draw attention to mechanisms of picture production and the methods of artificial construction of reality through pictures.

 

Photos of Faces

Like Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff does not believe in an image of human character. He is convinced that only the exterior reality – the appearance – can be represented. In this sense Ruff’s portraits are photos of faces that resemble expressionless surfaces. The monochrome background hides any hint at a recognisable location.

The face becomes a surface and thus resembles a projection screen for an advertising message. The serial juxtaposition turns the individual in Ruff’s photographs into a type that also represents a particular generation. The stereotypes communicated by mass media and the influence of images on individual and collective opinion-forming are being questioned.

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'Portrait (G. Benzenberg)' 1985

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
Portrait (G. Benzenberg)
1985
Chromogenic colour print
41 × 33 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

“Looks good. Continue in colour.”

The bed, bath and living rooms, the kitchen unit and the furniture of the 1950s and 1970s, Thomas Ruff finds at the homes of relatives and friends in the Black Forest, where he comes from. Bernd and Hilla Becher preferably work in black and white. Ruff on the other hand starts experimenting with colour photography early on during his studies:

“At some point I started, making use of the colour practice, which I […] had developed, in my interiors, and I thought this looked better than in black and white photos. The colleagues said, you cannot do this. Then I also asked Bernd Becher and he said: “Looks good. Continue in colour.”

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'Interior 3 A' 1979

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
Interior 3 A
1979
Chromogenic paint removal
45.7 x 39.4 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

A Question of Mise-en-Scène

The two clips on yellow ground look like two flies. The bright background emphasises the form of the represented objects. Their original function becomes secondary. The simple stationary objects become worthy of the photographer’s meticulous attention. Jörg Sasse uses and parodies the strategies of advertising photography, ever concerned with presenting an object as something special.

From the start, Sasse’s work shows a painterly tendency as well as a penchant for abstraction. This is also apparent in a sequence of still lives with reduced colour and shapes. In his early work Sasse is interested in his immediate environment. He seeks to capture the unusual in the everyday. This links his work with the typologies of his teachers. Other than they do, Sasse does not give titles to his works; instead he gives them random numbers. This allows him to remove the represented object even further from its original context without offering a new interpretation.

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 'ST-84-12-06' 1984

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
ST-84-12-06
1984
Chromogenic paint removal
18 × 24 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

Kitchen, Bath Room and Living Room

Almost in symmetry Jörg Sasse’s photo shows a light blue jug and a glass jug on two hobs. It belongs to a series, which Sasse dedicated to modest interiors between the post war years and the economic miracle. Sometimes the photos show individual objects, sometimes a combination of two or three objects. They capture details of tiles, furniture or floors.

They give the impression as if the objects were arranged by coincident or as if the inhabitants had left them behind like this. At the same time the scenes appear to be very artificial. Sasse transforms colour, shape and structure of the interior settings into individual, abstract compositions. He focuses on formal contrasts, sequences and similarities. According to the artist it is “not the preoccupation with interiors but with the picture.” The photographer is more interested in the painterly composition than in the representation of reality.

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 'W-84-02-13, Dusseldorf' 1984

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
W-84-02-13, Dusseldorf
1984
Chromogenic paint removal
57.2 × 67.6 cm
Courtesy Gallery Wilma Tolksdorf

 

 

Courtyards and Street Canyons

The artists Axel Hütte and Thomas Struth share an interest in urban non-spaces, indistinct streets or architectures.

In the 1980s modernist residential dwellings like the brutalist, square James Hammett House in London, become increasingly less popular and are turned into social housing. The raw concrete façade of the London block of flats spreads across almost the entire picture. The empty square in front of it is abandoned. There is no sign of inhabitants: a forbidding place.

Like Bernd and Hilla Becher in their pictures of industrial buildings, Axel Hütte emphasises the angular and unwieldy shapes of the architecture in his London series. From a distance the sad, functional façade appears to be an abstract pattern of rhythmically changing shades of grey, behind which the architecture recedes.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 'James Hammett House' 1982-1984

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
James Hammett House
1982-1984
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
66 x 80 cm
Loan of the artist

 

 

In the Street

The row of houses on New York’s 21st Street seems never ending. Old houses and modern high rises alternate and form a sequence of textures and geometric forms rich in contrast. Thomas Struth was struck by the deep street canyons of the metropolis. He took his photos from the middle of the street, positioning the camera at eye-level – a method that resembles that of his teachers. It is an unusual perspective unfamiliar to both pedestrians and drivers.

Struth begins capturing urban spaces already when in Cologne and Düsseldorf. A stipend takes him to New York in 1978. His photographic approach offers a completely new view of the city’s urbanity and structure.

“I may very well stem from the legacy of documentary photography and do use its means and perspective, but my true concern exceeds this. […] To me the street is a space, where manifold influences and historical events convene and become apparent. The public space has a subconscious language, addressing us continuously.”

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York' 1978 (1987)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York
1978 (1987)
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
66 x 84 cm
DZ BANK art collection at the Städel Museum
© Thomas Struth

 

 

VARIETY

Landscapes, families, places of leisure, libraries, museums – the subjects of the Becher-students are equally as varied as their approach to photography. Their own positions develop more and more, while shared characteristics with their teachers’ oeuvre become apparent.

“Not the subject, but the representation of a landscape is what matters to me.” ~Axel Hütte

Almost two thirds of the picture are concealed by thick fog. The rocks in the foreground, however, are razor sharp. In Furka Axel Hütte plays with the contrast of diffusion and focussed parts of the picture. He explores landscape photography and thus consciously enters into competition with the genre of painting.

Foggy landscape is of great importance in the paintings of German Romanticism. This art movement, which began in the late 19th century, is characterised by mystic nature, where religious ideas are intertwined with subjective sentiment. Caspar David Friedrich is recognised as one of the most important representatives of Romanticist landscape painting. To him nature mirrored the human soul. In his painting Mountains in the Rising Fog, which he painted around 1835, the hills are veiled and only the outlines can be made out. In his photographs, Hütte refers to this tradition and employs similar techniques to guide the viewer’s gaze and to compose the picture. The landscape can be sensually grasped. The atmosphere and the subjective experience come to the fore. While his teachers sought the proximity to sculpture, Hütte’s work reflects the strategies of painting.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 'Furka' 1994 (2012)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
Furka
1994 (2012)
Chromogenic colour print
56.7 × 65.7 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung

 

 

The Silence Beside the Storm

Andreas Gursky’s works are dedicated to traffic hubs, mass events, economic centres, transit zones or places of leisure. Gursky’s focus is always on the common denominator and questions the relationship of man with nature and society. The photograph Teneriffa, Swimming Pool shows a holiday resort from a bird’s eye perspective that makes the tiny holidaymakers almost disappear. The force of nature represented by the foaming sea is in stark contrast with the artificial silence of the adjacent pool.

Like his teachers, Gursky keeps a distance to his subject. But unlike them he does not work in series and concentrates on single works. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s compositions are always about one centrally positioned object. Gursky’s images on the other hand are rich in detail and the motives are spread across the picture plane in captivating sharpness – he plays with visual challenge.

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) 'Teneriffa, Swimming Pool' 1987

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955)
Teneriffa, Swimming Pool
1987
Chromogenic colour print
104.5 × 127 cm
On loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers

 

 

Own Vantage Points

Candida Höfer too, photographs public spaces. Her photographs follow the architecture of the buildings she finds. At the same time she chooses unusual positions for her camera and thus resists the symmetries or views prescribed by the spaces. Her photos defy architectural hierarchies and structures and thus communicate the spatial experience in a particular way.

Waiting Room Cologne III 1981 is an early example of Höfer’s artistic method. The furniture reaches diagonally into the space, a dynamic underscored by the pattern of the parquet flooring. The row of tables and chairs in the bottom corner is cut off by the edge. Instead of creating a balanced symmetrical composition, she works with alternative vantage points.

This allows Höfer to emphasize her personal view of the interior architecture. Concurrently she is enquiring how the architectural space is influenced by the way people use it in the course of time. The Waiting Room with Neo-Baroque décor dating from the second half of the 19th century forms a stark contrast to the simple furniture that is easily 100 years less old.

“By means of the print I then create my own space once again. It is not my intention to show the space in a manner as realistic as possible.”

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) 'Waiting Room Cologne III 1981' 1981

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944)
Waiting Room Cologne III 1981
1981
Chromogenic colour print
155 × 155 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

Libraries as Brand

Above all Candida Höfer is famous for her large-scale interior views of libraries devoid of people. The workspaces in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris are lined up like books in libraries. The artist frequently focuses on places that preserve and order knowledge and culture. Apart from libraries she also worked on museums or operas. She is interested in how humans influence architecture through their culture. Her photos are always determined by a cool sobriety. This is what they have in common with the photographs of the Bechers. However, Höfer always works with the light and the space present in each situation. She strives to capture the atmosphere and aura of a space.

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) 'Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998' 1998

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944)
Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998
1998
Chromogenic colour print
155 × 215 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

The Picture in the Picture

In his series Museum Photographs Thomas Struth focuses on imposing interior spaces such as the gallery at the Louvre in Paris – unlike Höfer, he always shows the visitors, too. They become a multifaceted continuation of the figures in the paintings on the wall. Through the photograph Struth establishes a connection of pictorial space and real space, the painterly and photographic space. Here, the formerly competing media painting and photography enter into a dialogue as equals.

Simultaneously the viewer is confronted with different levels of viewing: those who contemplate Struth’s photos inevitably also observe the visitors at the Louvre contemplating the art works there. Thus the artist prompts a reflection on how we deal with art and its history, with seeing and being seen. Struth does not influence the positions of the visitors in his Museum Photographs. He waits for situations that can serve as the basis of his compositions. Struth merely decides on the space and the visual angle he takes.

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'Louvre 3, Paris 1989' 1989 (2012)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
Louvre 3, Paris 1989
1989 (2012)
Chromogenic colour print
152.2 × 168.3 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung im Städel Museum, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

 

 

Family Relations

The photo The Consolandi Family, Milano by Thomas Struth belongs to the series Family Portraits, which shows relationships that are complex and full of tension. The viewer is challenged to explore the connections of the family, reflected in subtle looks, mimics or posture.

The Family Portraits evolved from an unpublished project, which Struth and a friend of his, a psychoanalyst, pursued in the early 1980s. Patients were asked to submit a couple of photographs that were typical of their families, which Struth then combined in a portfolio. Drawing on this project, the photographer began to work with family portraits he took. He photographed people he knew in their homes. The individuals were asked to choose their position in a space that the artist had selected. Struth’s psychological interest in the family as a social fabric is evident. The order resembles a sociagram after all.

Like the Bechers’ works, Struth’s photographs are determined by an intrinsic dynamic full of tension. While his teachers work with industrial fields of force, he balances psychological energies. This results in an alternation of perception – the eye sways between single pictorial elements and the total composition.

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'The Consolandi Family, Milan 1996' 1996 (2014)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
The Consolandi Family, Milan 1996
1996 (2014)
Chromogenic colour print
178 × 214.2 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

PICTURE EDITING

In February 1982 the first great scandal about a digitally edited press picture occurs: for the title of the periodical National Geographic – actually indebted to scientific exactitude – the pyramids at Gizeh have been pushed closer together so they would fit the portrait format. This represents a fundamental shift in photo and media culture that also affects the work of the Becher students.

Ruff, Sasse and Gursky especially, develop their works digitally. This inevitably distances them from their teachers’ documentary approach more and more. The artists do not depict reality they create their own reality. This results in photographs that cannot be explained through analogue camera technology. The truth in the pictures is questioned, just like the viewer’s perception. In nascent form this approach is already present in the typologies created by the Bechers.

 

Digital interventions

This photo of an average residential block from 1987 marks a turning point in Thomas Ruff’s oeuvre. Things – namely a tree and a street sign – are missing. Ruff decided to have these details erased. He also retouched an opened skylight. This is one of the first digitally edited pictures in the circle of the Becher students. Ruff’s idea is to emphasise the symmetrical appearance and the hermetic quality of the building. Still, he is not really meddling with the picture’s structure of reality.

Ruff’s photos of the House Series confront the viewer with urban banality. The enormous scale of the works, measuring nearly 2 x 3 metres exaggerates the uneventfulness as a crucial characteristic of this architecture. From the 1980s the Becher students increasingly use large formats. They become a trademark of the group. Mostly presented with a wooden frame the artists elevate the photos to the level of paintings. Like the Bechers, Ruff worked in series, but no longer arranged his works in typologies. His series preserve the suspicion of a single image that might represent the world.

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'House No. 1 I' 1987

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
House No. 1 I
1987
Chromogenic colour print
179 × 278 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

Giant Grid

In photos like Paris, Montparnasse Andreas Gursky enlarges the image to a monumental scale of over four metres in width. He, too, relies on digital editing. The frontal view of the residential block is presented in strictly right-angular lines. The building is so wide that it would be impossible to capture it in a single photo. Hence, Gursky used two photos and joined them on the computer.

From a distance, the geometrical grid of the building looks abstract. The skeleton structure of the block also means that the windows offer hundreds of single images. However, it is impossible to simultaneously perceive the detail as well as the overall structure. Gursky requires the viewer to constantly alternate his focus between close-up and distance.

“My pictures are always composed for two aspects […]. The smallest detail can be read from close up. From afar they are mega-signs.”

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

 

Exhibition view “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class”
Photo: Städel Museum

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) 'Paris, Montparnasse' 1993 (before 2003)

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955)
Paris, Montparnasse
1993 (before 2003)
Chromogenic colour print
207 × 422 cm
On loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers

 

 

Pixel and Pixel and Pixel

Sasse’s work 1546 (1993) also plays with perception at the border of abstraction. The single pixels as a trace of the digital reworking are immediately visible. The realistic representation of a curtain is ruptured. Instead pixel and square colour fields become the focus, while the original sense of space is lost. The photo appears two-dimensional.

Sasse takes up a basic issue with the illusion of space that has a long art historic tradition. Already in early Renaissance the artist and scholar Leon Battista Alberti considers painting as a window to the world. He considered it important for an illusionist way of painting to conceal the two-dimensionality of the canvas. In his oeuvre Sasses draws on this issue. He questions photography and painting’s claim to realism and questions the possibility of pictorially representing reality at all.

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 1546, 1993 (centre) and Jörg Sasse (*1962) 7341, 1996 (right)

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) '1546' 1993

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
1546
1993
Chromogenic colour print
137 × 200 cm
Private collection

 

Jörg Sasse (*1962) '7341' 1996

 

Jörg Sasse (*1962)
7341
1996
Chromogenic colour print
93 x 150 cm
DZ BANK art collection at the Städel Museum
© Jörg Sasse; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

 

Städel Museum
Schaumainkai 63
60596 Frankfurt

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Friday – Sunday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Wednesday and Thursday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm

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03
Aug
17

Review: ‘Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker’ at the Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th May – 6th August 2017

“A GREAT review Marcus. As always. A master piece.” ~ Peter Barker, artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the entrance to the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' c. 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Sunbaker
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1980

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection acquired 1997

 

 

The misery of too much sun

Simply put (where the work in this exhibition is anything but), this is one of the most depressing Australian group photography exhibitions that I have seen in a very long time. I left the exhibition feeling like I wanted to slit my wrists.

“Reimagining” an image is always going to be problematic, especially such an iconic photograph as Max Dupain’s no-face, monolithic, Uluru-shaped, low depth of field, wet, British male tourist lying on Culburra Beach, New South Wales in the 1930s – an image that “supposedly conveys a quintessential Australian identity,” a “casual holiday snap that came to symbolise leisure and freedom in the 1970s [which] was taken in the uncertain economic times before the Second World War.”

The scope for such a contemporary conceptual exercise is vast and the artists in this exhibition don’t waste the opportunity. Variously but not exclusively we have:

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Breakfast Club (1985), a movie in which five teenagers navigate identity issues
  • Indigenous massacres in Australia … positions of the planets between 1789 and 1928, when 63 massacres of Indigenous peoples took place
  • Samoan culture – malu – the female-Samoan tattoo (tatau)
  • The lifeless body of three-year-old refugee Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on a beach in Turkey which now haunts the figure of the Sunbaker
  • Sufi-inspired choreography, the dancers wearing a hammam cloth
  • 1920s swimwear based on wartime camouflage schemes
  • Reclaiming of the feminist body both as a medium of deliberate submission and active resistance through women’s strength, endurance and resilience by undertaking physical and psychological experiments that test the limits of her body, playfully and painfully
  • Denunciating the violence of the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its peoples
  • Grandfather opal-mine worker in South Australia excluded from Aboriginal rights until 1967
  • Paradox of a nation seen as a sun-blessed paradise while its shores have been a place of contestation and misery
  • Memories of childhood landscapes and research into the Massacre Map published by the Koorie Heritage Trust, which identified sites where Indigenous massacres occurred between 1836 and 1853
  • Digitally animated Sunbaker to make it resonate as a symbol of the 229 years since colonisation

.
How you get from a holiday snap of a tourist visiting Australia, having a swim, flopping down on the beach and all the joy that this entails to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Breakfast Club, female-Samoan tattoos, camouflage schemes, reclaiming the feminist body and more contestation and misery than you can poke a stick at – massacres, more massacres, symbol of 229 years of colonisation and a body of a three-year-old refugee which now supposedly haunts the figure of Sunbaker – is mind boggling. And no, the powerful image of that small body does not haunt Sunbaker. It never will. Only in the titular imagination of the artist!

Some of these reconceptualisations draw such a long bow that the arrow fell out of the sky long before the art work was finished. The trajectory of most of this work is so cerebral that you wonder whether the artists actually thought about visual and associative outcomes, something that the viewer would make connection to and with, before they started making the work. Is this really a good idea? Does the image, Sunbaker, actually evoke any of these relationships? For example, what have positions of the planets between 1789 and 1928 and identified sites where Indigenous massacres occurred between 1836 and 1853 have to do with a sun baker… other than to assuage white guilt over the invasion of Aboriginal land? That is the crux of the matter: it’s all about white guilt.

There is such a thing as acknowledging the past and letting it go, while taking responsibility for the present and the future. As a black American friend of mine said to me recently, he doesn’t blame white people for slavery, and neither do most black Americans… it’s history, acknowledge it and move on; take responsibility for present injustices. Of course, past, present and future time are linked; memory and history influence culture, narrative and identity. But to constantly conceptualise, as much contemporary Australian photography does, the past AS the present through existential angst ridden explorations that produce forgettable images simply beggars belief. Let’s have more contestation and misery; let’s perpetuate the cycle of guilt, shame, misery and despair that we acknowledge was totally wrong. Let’s invert Sunbaker into a demon – a fractured, negative identity – both literally and metaphysically. Two artists literally do this, as though by inverting an image using this trope, you give the negative image profound power.

Other than Anne Zahalka’s wonderful feminist re-imag(in)ing of Sunbaker, the most evocative excavation of relationship to the original image comes from that gorgeous photographer William Yang. Just a celebration of sun, sand, sea, and male identity through beautiful, intimate images of the male body – “At Bondi Beach, people were sunbathing. There was an attractive openness in the atmosphere…” An atmosphere and a generosity of spirit sorely lacking in the rest of the work.

Marcus

PS. And it’s Sunbaker not The Sunbaker!

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

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Sara Oscar’s Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution) (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW) 'Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)' 2017

 

Sara Oscar (born 1975, Sydney, NSW)
Pleasant Island (The Pacific Solution)
2017
Inkjet print on Hahnemuehle paper
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Sara Oscar draws connections between the present and the past. Interested in how time changes the meaning of images, her practice is drawn to allegory and metaphor.

In late 2015, photographs circulated widely of the lifeless body of three-year-old refugee Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on a beach in Turkey. The pose has come to symbolise the plight of all refugees and now haunts the figure of the Sunbaker. Nauru – a picturesque island in Micronesia that imprisons refugees to Australia under the Pacific Solution – is the subject of this series that draws connections between the themes of colonialism, beach culture and immigration.

 

 

Nasim Nasr (born 1964, Tehran, Iran; lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Still for Eighty Years
2017
Courtesy the artist and Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Monash Gallery of Art and Nasim Nasr

 

 

Nasim Nasr’s multimedia practice explores the cultural differences between East and West, looking at the complex identities that exist at their nexus.

Shot on Culburra Beach, NSW – where Dupain photographed the Sunbaker – Still for Eighty Years juxtaposes traditional motifs from the Middle East with the Australian beach landscape. Here, the beach becomes a place for cross-cultural dialogue. Inviting us to contemplate their mesmerising Sufi-inspired choreography, the dancers wear a hammam cloth specifically woven for the performance. Nasr’s work is a meditation on the transient nature of identity.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Nasim Nasr’s Still for Eighty Years (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

Nasim Nasr. 'Still for Eighty Years' 2017

 

Nasim Nasr (born 1964, Tehran, Iran; lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Still for Eighty Years
2017
Production stills from video
Courtesy the artist and Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Justene Williams’ Home security: out of the sun (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Justene Williams (born 1970, Sydney, NSW) 'Home security: out of the sun' 2017

 

Justene Williams (born 1970, Sydney, NSW)
Home security: out of the sun
2017
Dye sublimation print on chromaluxe metal
Courtesy of the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Home security is inspired by Dupain’s involvement in the Department of Home Security during the Second World War as part of the Sydney Camouflage Group. Working for the Australian Government, the group deployed visual illusions inspired by surrealism, cubism and abstraction to conceal military equipment. With his astute photographic eye for shadows, exposure and patterns, Dupain contributed to The Art of Camouflage, a manual that described techniques he later taught to soldiers in Darwin and Papua-new Guinea.

Inspired by the sheltering trees of the Sydney College of the Arts Callan Park Campus and 1920s swimwear based on wartime camouflage schemes, this work continues Williams exploration of the poetics and politics of camouflage.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Daniel von Sturmer’s Sunbaker (MGA replica) (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

 

Continuing his After Images series (begun in 2013), Daniel von Sturmer has photographed the shadow cast by the replica of Dupain’s Sunbaker held in the Monash Gallery of Art collection. Using a specially constructed ‘set’, the resulting work – a 1:1 image of the Sunbaker shadow – questions the aura held by the original, iconic image. How relevant is the original when multiple reproductions exist?

Examining the ability of photography to accurately capture the real world, this abstract black square draws connections between an image’s meaning and how significance is transferred from the original to the shadow.

 

Daniel von Sturmer. 'Sunbaker (MGA replica)' 2017

 

Daniel von Sturmer (Born 1972, Auckland, Aotearoa, New Zealand Lives and works in Melbourne, Vic)
Sunbaker (MGA replica)
2017
Unique archival pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne / Sydney

 

 

Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker is a large-scale exhibition of new works commissioned from 15 artists responding to Australian photographer Max Dupain’s iconic ‘Sunbaker’ image. Artists include Peta Clancy, Christopher Day, Destiny Deacon, Michaela Gleave, Nasim Nasr, Sara Oscar, Julie Rrap, Khaled Sabsabi, Yhonnie Scarce, Christian Thompson, Angela Tiatia. Kawita Vatanajyankur, Daniel Von Sturmer, Justene Williams and William Yang. Under the sun is a travelling exhibition produced by the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP).

MGA Curator Stella Loftus-Hills said, “MGA is delighted to be hosting Under the sun and to be revisiting Max Dupain’s ‘Sunbaker’ (1937) 80 years after its creation. Dupain’s iconic photograph entered MGA’s collection in 1980 and this exhibition is a wonderful opportunity for our audiences to view the work in the context of contemporary art and to reflect upon its relationship to current ideas around national identity.”

Under the sun explores views of our culture, our identity and our nationhood through works that surprise, challenge and enthuse audiences. Commissioned by ACP, the mix of artists reflects Australia’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith nature, enabling a creative and often very personal exploration of the question ‘is there something new under the sun?’ These artists contemplate, challenge and interpret the representation of Max Dupain’s photograph – which became an icon of a particular time and a particular vision of Australian culture – while offering unique perspectives on what it could possibly signify in our current society.

ACP Curator, Claire Monneraye said: “Max Dupain’s ‘Sunbaker’, remains an iconic representation of the Australian way of life and a milestone in the history of Australian photography. In this exhibition, the 15 artists have interrogated the social and political implications embedded within this image but also challenged the status of this photograph in our visual culture. Pushing the boundaries of the photographic medium, their works expose the aesthetical complexities at play in discussions around collective identity.

Examining the legacy of the past and questioning the relevance that this image might retain in the future, the exhibition draws on a range of diverse practitioners and creative forms to consider questions of representation and cultural pluralism while also reflecting on the depiction of the idealised body, discussing gender issues, cultural and political ideas relating to immigration and colonisation, and our relationship with the land.”

Press release from the Monash Gallery of Art

 

 

Kawita Vatanajyankur (Born 1987, Bangkok, Thailand Lives and works Bangkok and Sydney, NSW)
Carrier (extract)
2017
Video, duration: approx. 5 mins
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Monash Gallery of Art and Kawita Vatanajyankur

 

 

In this video work, Kawita Vatanajyankur reflects on her experience of migrating to Australia, exploring the resulting shift of identity. Celebrating women’s strength, endurance and resilience, Vatanajyankur’s captivating, seductive – and yet disquieting – videowork critiques the challenges faced by migrant Asian women in relation to everyday labour.

Referring to her performances as ‘meditation postures’, the artist undertakes physical and psychological experiments that test the limits of her body, playfully and painfully. The artist’s self-objectification is part of a feminist art tradition that reclaims the female body, both as a medium of deliberate submission and active resistance.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Kawita Vatanajyankur’s Carrier (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Kawita Vatanajyankur. 'Carrier' 2017

Kawita Vatanajyankur. 'Carrier' 2017

 

Kawita Vatanajyankur (Born 1987, Bangkok, Thailand Lives and works Bangkok and Sydney, NSW)
Carrier
2017
Video stills
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Destiny Deacon’s Sand minding and Sand grabs (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand minding' 2017

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand grabs' 2017

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand grabs' 2017

Destiny Deacon. 'Sand grabs' 2017

 

Destiny Deacon (Born 1957, Maryborough, Qld Lives and works Melbourne, Vic KuKu (Cape York) and Erub/Mer (Torres Strait) peoples)
Sand minding
2017
Archival inkjet pigment print
Sand grabs
2017
Archival inkjet pigment prints
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Throughout her career Destiny Deacon has orchestrated a personal and political theatre of kitsch and poignant ‘Aboriginalia’ to expose and deconstruct Indigenous issues. Deacon’s anti-art aesthetic confronts us with the cruelty of racism and the sombre reality of Australia’s colonial history.

Acknowledging the sand as central to Dupain’s photograph, Destiny Deacon denunciates the violence of the sand mining industry on the ecosystem, the land and its peoples. While hands are performing a destructive soil surgery, two uncanny dolls emerge from the sand. Both whistleblowers and guardians of the land, they invite us to consider a topical issue and its consequences.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Christopher Day’s Untitled (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Christopher Day. 'Untitled' 2017

 

Christopher Day (Born 1978, Melbourne, Vic, 1978 Lives and works Melbourne, Vic)
Untitled
2017
Pigment print

 

 

After processing, developing and scanning the photographs shot on his 35 mm camera, Christopher Day assembles, crops, combines and rearranges his images, again and again. Blending personal and historical narratives, Day’s complex imagery is ambiguous, humorous and allegorical, challenging simplistic definitions of identity and gender.

In this work a shiny round apple bearing visible teeth marks alludes to the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – each character embodying a set of clichés including Snow White herself, whose beauty and feminine charm become her undoing. The artist also refers to The Breakfast Club (1985), a movie in which five teenagers navigate identity issues.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Michaela Gleave’s Under One Sun (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Michaela Gleave. 'Under One Sun' (detail) 2017

 

Michaela Gleave (Born 1980, Alice Springs, NT Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Under One Sun (detail)
2017
Silver gelatin prints
Courtesy the artist and Anna Pappas Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

Under One Sun highlights the complexity of colonial history and the ambivalence of representing identity. Using Wikipedia’s listing of Indigenous massacres in Australia, Michaela Gleave highlights the lack of the associated verified historical data. Her zoomed out installation documents the positions of the planets between 1789 and 1928, when 63 massacres of Indigenous peoples took place.

James Cook’s first Pacific voyage, to document the 1769 Transit of Venus and investigate the existence of Terra Australis Incognita, opened the way for the European settlement of Australia. Drawing parallels between the development of photography, science and colonisation, the artist reminds us that technological advances in astronomy and navigation helped expand the British Empire, with science often justifying the atrocities committed.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Yhonnie Scarce’s Working Class Man (Andamooka Opal Fields) (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Yhonnie Scarce (Born 1973, Woomera, SA Lives and works Melbourne, Vic and Adelaide, SA Kokatha and Nukunu peoples)
Working Class Man (Andamooka Opal Fields)
2017
Inkjet print on cotton rag paper, vintage metal bucket, blown glass
Courtesy the artist and This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

In this deeply personal work, Yhonnie Scarce pays tribute to her grandfather, who endured many hardships during his life as an opal-mine worker in South Australia. Looking at this family photograph, Scarce felt compelled to tell the story of a man who provided for his family and contributed to society, yet remained excluded from the rights of Australian citizenship until 1967.

Beyond the nostalgic, Scarce includes vernacular photographs in her installations not only to control her personal narrative but also to reaffirm the presence of unsung heroes. ‘Politically motivated and emotionally driven’, Working Class Man (Andamooka Opal Fields) epitomises the experience of many Indigenous Australians while interrogating the effects of colonisation on future generations.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Angela Tiatia’s Dark Light (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Angela Tiatia (Born 1973, Auckland, Aotearoa, New Zealand Lives and works in Sydney, NSW)
Dark Light
2017
Video, duration: 4 min, self-adhesive inkjet pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne

 

 

With Dark Light, Angela Tiatia deconstructs every element of the Sunbaker to reconfigure its exact opposite. The sensual tension created by this process forces us to re-examine the familiar.

Tiatia also reveals deeper contradictions. A chandelier symbolising opulence and power is hung over the artist’s body which is baring the malu – the female-Samoan tattoo (tatau). In pre-Christian times, the malu signified protection and shelter as young women entered womanhood. However, it was condemned by missionaries alongside their male equivalent (pe’a) and some Samoan communities still forbid women to publicly expose the malu. Dark Light sees Tiatia resisting the forces of colonialism embedded within Samoan culture.

 

Christian Thompson (Born 1978, Gawler, SA Lives and works in London, England Bidjara people) 'This Brutal World' 2017

 

Christian Thompson (Born 1978, Gawler, SA Lives and works in London, England Bidjara people)
This Brutal World
2017
Inkjet pigment print
Courtesy the artist and Michael Reid, Sydney / Berlin

 

 

With This Brutal World, Christian Thompson focuses on portraiture and its ability to trouble the relationship between past and present.

Where Dupain’s Sunbaker supposedly conveys a quintessential Australian identity, Thompson reminds us of assimilation policies first outlined at the Aboriginal Welfare Initial Conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal Authorities in 1937. Here the artist wears a costume borrowed from London’s National Theatre. His eyes are covered with dried roses and his body is superimposed on the glittering shallow creek beds – images captured during trips to his traditional homelands in outback Queensland. Thompson employs references to the natural world to evoke spirituality.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Julie Rrap’s Speechless (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Julie Rrap (Born 1950, Lismore, NSW Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Speechless' 2017

Julie Rrap (Born 1950, Lismore, NSW Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Speechless' 2017

 

Julie Rrap (Born 1950, Lismore, NSW Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Speechless
2017
Bronze and steel
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Julie Rrap’s long interest in the politics of the human body informed her investigation of the Sunbaker pose. A casual holiday snap that came to symbolise leisure and freedom in the 1970s, Dupain’s photograph was taken in the uncertain economic times before the Second World War.

Exploring the ambivalence of the pose and transposing this contradiction to now, Rrap draws attention to the paradox of a nation seen as a sun-blessed paradise while its shores have been a place of contestation and misery. Speechless places the viewer in two positions, showing the viewpoint of both the person who speaks out and the one who keeps their head down.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Peta Clancy’s Fissures in time (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #3' 2017

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #1' 2017

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #2' 2017

Peta Clancy. 'Fissures in time #4' 2017

 

Peta Clancy (Born 1970, Melbourne, Vic, Lives and works Melbourne, Vic)
Fissures in time (L to R) #3 #1 #2 #4
2017
Archival pigment prints
Courtesy the artist

 

 

Drawing on memories of childhood landscapes, Peta Clancy repeatedly visited several locations in Victoria, taking photographs with her large-format camera. Informed by her research into the Massacre Map published by the Koorie Heritage Trust, which identified sites where Indigenous massacres occurred between 1836 and 1853, the artist has produced placeless images that question our relationship to landscapes of trauma and how we perceive reality.

After photographing a site, Clancy returned to install a large print on a custom-designed frame in front of the same landscape; slicing through the paper, then revealing sections of the scene behind before re-photographing it. The resulting images challenge you to see with fresh eyes.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of William Yang’s SUMMER, A suite of images and My Time at South Bondi (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
SUMMER, A suite of images
2017
Digital pigment prints
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

My Time at South Bondi
2017
Video with music by Daniel Holdsworth
Duration: 4 min
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

A prolific documentary photographer, storyteller and performer, William Yang creates works that tell an intimate, autobiographical story.

For this installation, William Yang draws on his extensive archive of images, memories and sensual experiences, showing the unique atmosphere of freedom that prevailed on Sydney beaches in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Taken around Bondi and Tamarama, Yang has captured the joy of an era and the beauty of the elements with humour and generosity. More than reminiscence or exposé, Yang’s images reveal sensitive connections and insightful reflections about cultural identity.

 

William Yang. 'Golden Summer' 1987/2016

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Golden Summer
1987/2016
Digital print with gold foil
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Lifesaver Double' 1987/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Lifesaver Double
1987/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Lifesavers #3' 1987/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Lifesavers #3
1987/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #1' 1994/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Splashproof #1
1994/2017
Digital print with digital text
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #2' 1994/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Splashproof #2
1994/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Splashproof #3' 1994/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Splashproof #3
1994/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Bondi Beach (1970s)' 1970s/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Bondi Beach (1970s)
1970s/2017
Digital print with text
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang. 'Tamarama Lifesavers' 1981/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Tamarama Lifesavers
1981/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang 'Checking Out Bondi' 1981/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Checking Out Bondi
1981/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW) 'Childhood of Icarus' 1975/2017

 

William Yang (Born 1943, Mareeba, Qld Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
Childhood of Icarus
1975/2017
Digital print
Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Khaled Sabsabi (Born 1965, Tripoli, Lebanon Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
229 (extract)
2017
Three-channel video with sound
Duration: 3 min 49 sec
Hand-painted laser prints on transparencies
C-type prints
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Monash Gallery of Art and Khaled Sabsabi

 

 

Khaled Sabsabi has recreated the negative of the Sunbaker by reframing the image and playing with the essential codes of the photographic medium. Sabsabi has multiplied, handpainted and digitally animated the photograph to make it resonate as a symbol of the 229 years since colonisation.

229 challenges the representation of race by inverting black and white, forcing us to question the almost imperceptible alterations, and examine notions of copyright and origin. Ultimately, 229 asks the viewer to be actively engaged and socially responsible.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Under the sun Reimagining Max Dupain's 'Sunbaker'' at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Installation views of Khaled Sabsabi’s 229 (2017) from the exhibition Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker at Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

 

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

Khaled Sabsabi. '229' 2017

 

Khaled Sabsabi (Born 1965, Tripoli, Lebanon Lives and works Sydney, NSW)
229
2017
Production stills from video
Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

 

 

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Victoria 3150 Australia
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20
Jul
17

Exhibition: ‘Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition’ as part of the NGV Festival of Photography at NGV Australia, Melbourne Part 1

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 30th July 2017

 

Individual art works from the NGV collection (in artist alphabetical order) appearing in Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia

 

” … from an air guitar to Being and nothingness … “

 

Part 1 of this bumper posting. More to follow.

My hand is progressing slowly. A return to part-time work in the next couple of weeks, for which I will be grateful. It has been tough road dealing with this injury.

Marcus

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

 

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875) 'Walking lion' c. 1840

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875)
Walking lion
Lion qui marche
c. 1840, cast 1900
Bronze
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1927

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875) 'Walking tiger' c. 1841

 

Antoine-Louis Barye (France 1796-1875)
Walking tiger
Tigre qui marche
c. 1841, cast 1900
Bronze
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1927

 

John Armstrong (England 1893-1973) 'Invocation' 1938

 

John Armstrong (England 1893-1973)
Invocation
1938
Tempera on plywood
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with funds donated by Ian Hicks AM and Dorothy Hicks, 2006

 

 

Invocation is one of a series of paintings, which John Armstrong begun in the 1930’s as a direct statement against the rise of Fascism in Europe. John Armstrong observed Fascism in Italy at first hand and became an active left wing campaigner against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He was commissioned as an official war artist, designing a cover for a leaflet in the 1945 election campaign and contributed occasional articles and poetry to left wing journals. In his painting Victory, he imagined the result of a nuclear holocaust, which attracted the attention at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1958.

Text from the Leicester Galleries website

 

Eugène Atget (France 1857-1927) 'Eclipse' 1911, printed 1956- early 1970s

 

Eugène Atget (France 1857-1927)
Eclipse
1911, printed 1956- early 1970s
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1978

 

 

Surrogates and the Surreal

Atget’s photograph Pendant l’éclipse (During the eclipse) was featured on the cover of the seventh issue of the Parisian Surrealists’ publication La Révolution surréaliste, with the caption Les Dernières Conversions (The last converts), in June 1926. The picture was uncredited, as were the two additional photographs reproduced inside. Although Atget firmly resisted the association, his work – in particular his photographs of shop windows, mannequins, and the street fairs around Paris – had captured the attention of artists with decidedly avant-garde inclinations, such as Man Ray and Tristan Tzara. Man Ray lived on the same street as Atget, and the young American photographer Berenice Abbott (working as Man Ray’s studio assistant) learned of the French photographer and made his acquaintance in the mid-1920s – a relationship that ultimately brought the contents of Atget’s studio at the time of his death (in 1927) to The Museum of Modern Art almost forty years later.

Text from Art Blart posting Eugène Atget: “Documents pour artistes” at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

 

Pierre Bonnard (France 1867-1947) 'Siesta' 1900

 

Pierre Bonnard (France 1867-1947)
Siesta
La Sieste
1900
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1949

 

Eugène Boudin (France 1824-98) 'Low tide at Trouville' 1894

 

Eugène Boudin (France 1824-98)
Low tide at Trouville
Trouville, Mareé basse
1894
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1939

 

John Brack (Australia 1920-99) 'Self-portrait' 1955

 

John Brack (Australia 1920-99)
Self-portrait
1955
Melbourne, Victoria
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Women’s Association, 2000

 

 

Striking in its candour, 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 frequently depicted by both male and female Australian artists, it is unusual for men to be shown or to show themselves in this context. Modest in scale, Brack’s image is conceived in a complex yet subtle colour scheme, applied with clarity and precision. ~ Geoffrey Smith

 

Britains Ltd, London manufacturer (England 1860-1997) 'Milk float and horse' c. 1950

 

Britains Ltd, London manufacturer (England 1860-1997)
Milk float and horse
no. 45F from the Model home farm series 1921-61
c. 1950
Painted lead alloy
National Gallery of Victoria
Presented by Miss Lucy Kerley and her nephew John Kerley, 1982

 

Jacques Callot (France 1592-1635) 'The firing squad' 1633

 

Jacques Callot (France 1592-1635)
The firing squad
L’Arquebusade
Plate 12 from Les Misères et les malheurs de la guerre
(The miseries and misfortunes of war) series
1633
Etching, 2nd of 3 states
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1950

 

Paul Caponigro (born United States 1932) 'Nahant, Massachusetts' 1965

 

Paul Caponigro (born United States 1932)
Nahant, Massachusetts
1965
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1977

 

Jean Charles Cazin (France 1841-1901, lived in England 1871-75) 'The rainbow' late 1880s

 

Jean Charles Cazin (France 1841-1901, lived in England 1871-75)
The rainbow
L’Arc-en-ciel
late 1880s
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1913

 

Marshall Claxton (England 1813-81, lived in Australia 1850-54) 'An emigrant's thoughts of home' 1859

 

Marshall Claxton (England 1813-81, lived in Australia 1850-54)
An emigrant’s thoughts of home
1859
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria
Presented by the National Gallery Women’s Association, 1974

 

 

Marshall Claxton’s painting An emigrant’s thoughts of home (1859) belongs to a clutch of works, both fine and popular, both pictorial and literary, that for an Australasian audience are perhaps the most resonant of the many products of Victorian culture. Emigration, a social and political phenomenon for mid-nineteenth-century Britain, and the essential lubricant of British imperialism, inspired a profusion of paintings, prints, novels, plays, poems, essays and letters that speak eloquently about the realities and myths of Victorian Britain and its role in the world, engaging concepts of the family, womanhood, the artist’s role and function and, indeed, the meaning of life. ~ Pamela Gerrish Nunn

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003) 'Teacup ballet' 1935, printed 1992

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003)
Teacup ballet
1935, printed 1992
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1992

 

 

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003) 'The sleeper' 1939, printed 1992

 

Olive Cotton (Australia 1911-2003)
The sleeper
1939, printed 1992
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 4/25
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1992

 

 

The sleeper 1939, Olive Cotton’s graceful study of her friend Olga Sharp resting while on a bush picnic, made around the same time as Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, presents a different take upon the enjoyment of life in Australia. The woman is relaxed, nestled within the environment. The mood is one of secluded reverie.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Edward Curtis (United States 1868-1952) 'Kalóqutsuis - Qágyuhl' 1914, printed 1915

 

 

Edward Curtis (United States 1868-1952)
Kalóqutsuis – Qágyuhl
1914, printed 1915
Photogravure
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Ms Christine Godden, 1991

 

 

Not only was he one of the greatest ethnographic photographers of all time (as well as being an ethnographer recording more than 10,000 songs on a primitive wax cylinder, and writing down vocabularies and pronunciation guides for 75 languages) … he was also an aesthetic photographer. Looking at his photographs you can feel that he adhered to the principles of the nature and appreciation of beauty situated within the environment of the Native American cultures and peoples. He had a connection to the people and to the places he was photographing…

Curtis created a body of work unparrallleled in the annals of photography – an ethnographic study of an extant civilisation before it vanished (or so they thought at the time). Such a project stretched over thirty years, producing 45-50 thousand negatives “many of them on glass and some as large as fourteen by seventeen inches” of which 2,200 original photographs appeared in his magnum opus, The North American Indian…

While all great photographers have both technical skill and creative ability it is the dedication of this artist to his task over so many years that sets him apart. That dedication is critically coupled with his innate ability to capture the “spirit” of the Native American cultures and peoples, their humanity.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987) 'Building the bridge' 1929

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987)
Building the bridge
1929
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Kerry Dundas (born Australia 1931, lived in Europe 1958-67) 'A girl is carried away under arrest' 1961-63

 

Kerry Dundas (born Australia 1931, lived in Europe 1958-67)
A girl is carried away under arrest
from the Youth against the Bomb series
1961-63
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1971

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992) 'Bondi' 1939

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992)
Bondi
1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.3 × 29.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75) 'Hitchhikers, near Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75)
Hitchhikers, near Vicksburg, Mississippi
1936, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75) 'Auto dump, near Easton, Pennsylvania' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Walker Evans (United States 1903-75)
Auto dump, near Easton, Pennsylvania
1935, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

William Frater (born Scotland 1890, arrived Australia 1913, died 1974) 'The blue nude' c. 1934

 

William Frater (born Scotland 1890, arrived Australia 1913, died 1974)
The blue nude
c. 1934
Oil on canvas on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mrs Lina Bryans, 1969

 

 

His contribution to art in Australia was, however, as a painter who introduced Post-Impressionist principles and challenged the notion that art was an imitation of nature.

Frater’s oeuvre developed between 1915 and 1920 towards a simplification of design, an interplay of massed lights and shadows, and sonorous low-keyed colour that reflected his interest in the classical seventeenth century painters in interaction with the analytical tonal theory of Max Meldrum. Notable examples of his predominantly figure and portrait paintings are ‘The artist’s wife reading’ (1915) and ‘Portrait of artist’s wife’ (1919). An experimental Colourist phase followed in the next decade. His first solo exhibition was held in May 1923 at the Athenaeum, Melbourne, and he exhibited with the Twenty Melbourne Painters from the late 1920s, and the Contemporary Group of Melbourne in the 1930s.

His approach in the 1930s was markedly indebted to Cézanne, especially in the portraits which predominated until his retirement… Frater gave aggressive leadership to the small group of modernists in the 1920s. His example, teaching, lecturing and crusty style of polemic did much to disrupt the academic style as the arbiter of pictorial values and to pioneer a change of taste in the community.

Text from the Australian Dictionary of Biography website

 

Emmanuel Frémiet (France 1824 - 1910) 'Gorilla carrying off a woman' 1887

 

Emmanuel Frémiet (France 1824 – 1910)
Gorilla carrying off a woman
Gorille enlevant une femme
1887
Bronze
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of the artist, 1907

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934) 'Hillcrest, New York' 1970, printed c. 1977

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934)
Hillcrest, New York
1970, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1977

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934) 'Mount Rushmore' 1969, printed c. 1977

 

 

Lee Friedlander (born United States 1934)
Mount Rushmore
1969, printed c. 1977
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1977

 

 

The ‘tourist gaze’

As Grundberg notes, Friedlander’s terse depiction shows both the sight and the tourists themselves, being brought into existence through the effects of looking, reflecting, framing and imaging. These, he adds, are all linked to the general project of culturally appropriating the natural world. ‘Natural site has become acculturated sight’ (Grundberg 1990: 15).

As the image makes clear, the ‘sight’ or the ‘site’ is a ‘seeing’ without a subject, for it pre-exists the arrival and activity of any individual tourist-photographer, who, once located there, is framed as much as framing. The sight is not so much an object to be viewers an already structured condition of seeing, a situation which places the sightseer even as he or she freely choose to look or shoot.

The effects of photography’s presence in the tourist system merely completed a process under way before photography’s birth. As tourists, even at the moment of photographing, even if touring cameraless, we are not so much looking as looking at images, or looking for images. Tourism provides us less with experience than with events to be seen, Or rather, events to look at. The privileging of the visual grants us separation from our own experience… We look on or look in through the distancing arrangements of the camera or through eyes educated to see with the same ontological remoteness. The world of the tourist is ‘over there’, in the past-present, in the exotic-ordinary. It is framed off, the object of imaging or description, in some spectacular distance, or set back as performance (Greenwood in Smith 1989).

Peter Osborne. Traveling Light: Photography, Travel and Visual Culture. Manchester University Press, 2000, pp. 81-82.

 

Barbara Hepworth (England 1903-75) 'Eidos' 1947

 

Barbara Hepworth (England 1903-75)
Eidos
1947
Stone, synthetic polymer paint
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased with the assistance of the Samuel E. Wills Bequest to commemorate the retirement of Dr E. Westbrook, Director of Arts for Victoria, 1981

 

 

Eidos a Greek term meaning “form” “essence”, “type” or “species”. The early Greek concept of form precedes attested philosophical usage and is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision, sight, and appearance. The words, εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) come from the Indo-European root *weid-, “see”. Eidos (though not idea) is already attested in texts of the Homeric era, the earliest Greek literature. This transliteration and the translation tradition of German and Latin lead to the expression “theory of Ideas.” The word is however not the English “idea,” which is a mental concept only.

The meaning of the term εἶδος (eidos), “visible form”, and related terms μορφή (morphē), “shape”, and φαινόμενα (phainomena), “appearances”, from φαίνω (phainō), “shine”, Indo-European *bhā-, remained stable over the centuries until the beginning of philosophy, when they became equivocal, acquiring additional specialised philosophic meanings. (Theory of Forms Wikipedia)

 

Lewis Hine (United States 1874-1940) 'Sam Pine, 8 year old truant newsboy who lives at 717 West California Street' 1917

 

Lewis Hine (United States 1874-1940)
Sam Pine, 8 year old truant newsboy who lives at 717 West California Street
1917
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1980

 

David Hockney (born England 1937, worked in United States 1964-68, 1975- ) 'Reclining figure' 1975

 

David Hockney (born England 1937, worked in United States 1964-68, 1975- )
Reclining figure
1975
Etching and liftground etching, ed. 38/75
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Margaret Toll, 2006

 

Edmond-François Aman-Jean (France 1860-1936) 'Woman resting' c. 1904

 

Edmond-François Aman-Jean (France 1860-1936)
Woman resting
La Femme couchée
c. 1904
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1905

 

Max Klinger (Germany 1857-1920) 'Cast of artist's hands' 1920

 

Max Klinger (Germany 1857-1920)
Cast of artist’s hands
1920
plaster
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mrs Marcelle Osins, 1994

 

Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died) 'Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham' c. 1871

 

Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died)
Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham
c. 1871
Albumen silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

 

 

The best of the landscape photographs have nothing to do with Arcadian, pastoral life at all. For me, Kruger’s photographs only start to come alive when he is photographing gum trees against the sky. Anyone who has tried to photograph the Australian bush knows how difficult it is to evince a “feeling” for the bush and Kruger achieves this magnificently in a series of photographs of gum trees in semi-cleared land, such as Bush scene near Highton (c. 1879). These open ‘parklike’ landscapes are not sublime nor do they picture the spread of colonisation but isolate the gum trees against the sky. They rely on the thing itself to speak to the viewer, not a constructed posturing or placement of figures to achieve a sterile mise-en-scène.

Dr Marcus Bunyan from a posting on the NGV exhibition Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes.

 

Kusakabe Kimbei (Japan 1841-1934) 'No title (Couple with a cabinet photograph and ghost in background)' 1880s

 

Kusakabe Kimbei (Japan 1841-1934)
No title (Couple with a cabinet photograph and ghost in background)
1880s
Albumen silver photograph, colour dyes
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 2004

 

 

Kimbei Kusakabe arrived in Yokohama in 1856 and became Felice Beato’s pupil, hand-coloring his photographs until 1863. In 1881, he opened his own studio and promptly became one of the most prosperous and influential photographers of his generation, rivalling the Western artists that had until then dominated the market. With his coloured portraits, everyday scenes and landscapes, he is the purveyor of souvenir images for Westerners visiting Japan. Kimbei Kusakabe depicted men in serene social and economic contexts while women – his favourite subjects – were represented in romantic portraits as well as domestic and cultural scenes. The young mysterious and submissive geisha was particularly appealing to Western audiences and the Japanese photographer helped establish their visual identity as icons of feminine beauty and social etiquette. Kimbei Kusakabe’s rare images are a rich resource for the comprehension of a Japan that has now disappeared. (Text from The Red List website)

Kusakabe Kimbei worked with Felice Beato and Baron Raimund von Stillfried as a photographic colourist and assistant before opening his own workshop in Yokohama in 1881, in the Benten-dōri quarter, and from 1889 operating in the Honmachi quarter. He also opened a branch in the Ginza quarter of Tokyo. Around 1885, he acquired the negatives of Felice Beato and of Stillfried, as well as those of Uchida Kuichi. Kusakabe also acquired some of Ueno Hikoma’s negatives of Nagasaki. He stopped working as a photographer in 1912-1913. (Wikipedia)

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Towards Los Angeles, California' 1936, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965)
Towards Los Angeles, California
1936, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965) 'Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Dorothea Lange (United States 1895-1965)
Ditched, stalled and stranded, San Joaquin Valley, California
1935, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Russell Lee (United States 1903-86) 'Interlude, after watching the Fourth of July Parade, Vale, Oregon' 1941, printed c. 1975

 

Russell Lee (United States 1903-86)
Interlude, after watching the Fourth of July Parade, Vale, Oregon
1941, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

José López (born Cuba 1941, lived in United States c. 1961-92, died United States 1992) Luis Medina (born Cuba 1942, lived in United States 1961-85, died United States 1985) 'Boy asleep by the beach' 1976

 

José López (born Cuba 1941, lived in United States c. 1961-92, died United States 1992)
Luis Medina (born Cuba 1942, lived in United States 1961-85, died United States 1985)
Boy asleep by the beach
1976
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1978

 

Ruth Maddison (born Australia 1945) 'No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)' 1977-78

 

Ruth Maddison (born Australia 1945)
No title (Woman collecting a Christmas present from the car)
from the Christmas Holidays with Bob’s Family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland series
1977-78, printed 1979
Gelatin silver photograph, coloured pencils and fibretipped pen, ed. 1/5
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1980

 

 

This was a very hands on process, an observation confirmed by artist Ruth Maddison. “The process was like hand watering your garden, an intense exchange and engagement with the object. When I started I was completely untrained, but I loved the process. I just experimented in order to understand what medium does what on what paper surface. There was the beauty of its object and its physicality. I just loved the object.” Her series Christmas holiday with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland (1977/78, below), photographed over Christmas Day and several days afterwards, evidences this magical transformation. Vernacular photographs of a typical Australia Christmas holiday become something else, transformed into beautiful, atypical representations of family, friendship, celebration and life.

Dr Marcus Bunyan commenting on the National Gallery of Australia exhibition Colour My World: Handcoloured Australia Photography.

 

Henri Matisse (France 1869-1954) 'Reclining nude on a pink couch' 1919

 

Henri Matisse (France 1869-1954)
Reclining nude on a pink couch
Nu couché sur canapé rose
1919
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1952

 

Amedeo Modigliani (born Italy 1884, lived in France 1906-20, died France 1920) 'Nude resting' c. 1916-19

 

Amedeo Modigliani (born Italy 1884, lived in France 1906-20, died France 1920)
Nude resting
c. 1916-19
Pencil on buff paper; laid down
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1948

 

László Moholy-Nagy (born Hungary 1895, lived in Germany 1920-34, lived in United States 1935-37, United States 1937-46, died United States) 'Helsinki' 1927, printed 1973

 

László Moholy-Nagy (born Hungary 1895, lived in Germany 1920-34, lived in United States 1935-37, United States 1937-46, died United States)
Helsinki
1927, printed 1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

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

 

David Moore (Australia 1927-2003)
Migrants arriving in Sydney
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1991

 

 

In this evocative image Moore condenses the anticipation and apprehension of immigrants into a tight frame as they arrive in Australia to begin a new life. The generational mix suggests family reconnections or individual courage as each face displays a different emotion.

Moore’s first colour image Faces mirroring their expectations of life in the land down under, passengers crowd the rail of the liner Galileo Galilei in Sydney Harbour was published in National Geographic in 1967.1 In that photograph the figures are positioned less formally and look cheerful. But it is this second image, probably taken seconds later, which Moore printed in black-and-white, that has become symbolic of national identity as it represents a time when Australia’s rapidly developing industrialised economy addressed its labour shortage through immigration. The strength of the horizontal composition of cropped figures underpinned by the ship’s rail is dramatised by the central figure raising her hand – an ambiguous gesture either reaching for a future or reconnecting with family. The complexity of the subject and the narrative the image implies ensured its public success, which resulted in a deconstruction of the original title, ‘European migrants’, by the passengers, four of whom it later emerged were Sydneysiders returning from holiday, alongside two migrants from Egypt and Lebanon.2 Unintentionally Moore’s iconic image has become an ‘historical fiction’, yet the passengers continue to represent an evolving Australian identity in relation to immigration.

1. Max Dupain and associates: http://www.mdaa.com.au/people/moore-05.php. Accessed 17.06.2006
2. Thomas D & Sayers A 2000, From face to face: portraits by David Moore, Chapter & Verse, Sydney

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

From a posting on the exhibition The Photograph and Australia at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Henry Moore (England 1898-1986) 'Reclining figure distorted - Sectional line' 1979

 

Henry Moore (England 1898-1986)
Reclining figure distorted – Sectional line
1979
Chalk, charcoal, wax crayon, ballpoint pen and watercolour over pencil
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Ginny Green, Sandra Bardas OAM family, Vicki Vidor OAM and Bindy Koadlow in memory of their parents Loti Smorgon AO and Victor Smorgon AC through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2014

 

William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917) 'Startled tigers, dish' c. 1880

 

William De Morgan & Co., London (manufacturer, England 1872-1911)
William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917)
Startled tigers, dish
c. 1880
Earthenware
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1980

 

Helen Ogilvie (Australia 1902-93) '(Four figures seated at a table listening to a phonograph through earpieces)' c. 1947

 

Helen Ogilvie (Australia 1902-93)
(Four figures seated at a table listening to a phonograph through earpieces)
Illustration to Flinders Lane: recollections of Alfred Felton by Russell Grimwade. Melbourne University Press,Carlton, 1947
c. 1947
Wood-engraving on Japanese paper, proof
National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

“What interested me I think were the English wood engravers. I would have seen them in reproductions in books … I think it appealed to me as an artistic expression because it was done so directly with the hand. I know that when a painter is painting the hand is connected with the brain. But with wood engraving it seemed to me it was almost more so. And I got very worked up about it, but I had no way of learning … I know how I got started. Eric Thake was the man who said to me, “I’ll show you how to use your tool.”‘

from Anne Ryan, ‘Australian etchings and engravings 1880s-1930s from the Gallery’s collection’, AGNSW, Sydney 2007

 

John Perceval (Australia 1923-2000) 'Lover's walk in the corn, summer, England' 1964

 

John Perceval (Australia 1923-2000)
Lover’s walk in the corn, summer, England
1964
Oil and toy mouse on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Fingal Pastoral Property Limited, Fellow, 1997

 

Peter Peryer (born New Zealand 1941) 'Seeing' 1989

 

Peter Peryer (born New Zealand 1941)
Seeing
1989
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1996

 

G. B. Poletto (Italy 1915-88) 'No title (Ava Gardner in wardrobe still for On the beach: Street)' 1957

 

G. B. Poletto (Italy 1915-88)
No title (Ava Gardner in wardrobe still for On the beach: Street)
1957
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 2003

 

David Potts (Australia 1926-2012, lived in England 1950-55) 'Cat show, London' 1953

 

David Potts (Australia 1926-2012, lived in England 1950-55)
Cat show, London
1953
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased through the KODAK (Australasia) Pty Ltd Fund, 1975

 

August Sander (Germany 1876-1964) 'Itinerant basket makers' 1929

 

August Sander (Germany 1876-1964)
Itinerant basket makers
from the People of the Twentieth Century project
1929, printed 1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1974

 

 

Nomadism

In the literature on nomadism, there is considerable disagreement over the range of societies that should be designated as “nomadic,” but there is some consensus that at least three categories of mobile peoples should be recognised. The first category, to which many wish to restrict the term “nomadic,” is that of pastoral nomads… The second broad category of nomads is that of hunter-gatherers, whose mode of subsistence sets them apart from both pastoralists and sedentary farmers…

The third basic category is that of Gypsies, itinerant basket-makers, tinkers, weavers, mimes, magicians, musicians, horse dealers, nostrum traders, carnival people, circus performers, and so on. Characterised the variously as “service nomads,” “economic nomads,” “commercial nomads,” “craftsman nomads,” “non-food producing nomads,” “floating industrial populations,” “peripatetic tribes,” “peripatetic peoples” or plain “peripatetics,” these are spatially mobile peoples who primarily exploit resources in the social environment. They exploit what Berland and Salo call a distinct peripatetic niche: “the regular demand for specialised goods and/or services that more sedentary or pastoral communities cannot, or will not, support on a permanent basis.”

Ronald Bogue. Deleuze’s Way: Essays in Transverse Ethics and Aesthetics. London and New York: Routledge, 2007, pp. 114-115.

 

Ben Shahn (born Lithuania 1898, lived in United States c. 1925-69, died United States 1969) 'A deputy with a gun on his hip during the September 1935 strike in Morgantown, West Virginia' 1935, printed c. 1975

 

Ben Shahn (born Lithuania 1898, lived in United States c. 1925-69, died United States 1969)
A deputy with a gun on his hip during the September 1935 strike in Morgantown, West Virginia
1935, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1975

 

Athol Shmith (Australia 1914-90) 'Misses Mary and Rae Plotkin, bridesmaids at the wedding of Mrs Edith Sheezel' 1940

 

Athol Shmith (Australia 1914-90)
Misses Mary and Rae Plotkin, bridesmaids at the wedding of Mrs Edith Sheezel
1940
Hand-coloured gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Gift of Mary Lipshut through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gift’s Program, 2012

 

Baron Raimund von Stillfried (Austria 1839-1911, lived throughout Europe and Asia 1871-1910) 'No title (Tattooed bettōs, porters)' c. 1875, printed c. 1877-80

 

Baron Raimund von Stillfried (Austria 1839-1911, lived throughout Europe and Asia 1871-1910)
No title (Tattooed bettōs, porters)
c. 1875, printed c. 1877-80
Albumen silver photograph, colour dyes
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of The Herald & Weekly Times Limited, Fellow, 2001

 

 

“There are two employments which I have mentioned among those of domestic servants because they would be so classed by us, but which in Japan rank among the trades. The jinrikisha man and the groom belong, as a rule, to a certain class at the bottom of the social ladder, and no samurai would think of entering either of these occupations, except under stress of severest poverty. The bettōs, or grooms, are a hereditary class and a regular guild, and have a reputation, among both Japanese and foreigners, as a betting, gambling, cheating, good-for-nothing lot. An honest bettō is a rare phenomenon.”

Alice Mabel Bacon. Japanese Girls and Women. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company The Riverside Press, 1891, p. 319.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (born Japan 1948, lived in United States and Japan 1976- ) 'Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount' 1993

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (born Japan 1948, lived in United States and Japan 1976- )
Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount
1993
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 8/25
National Gallery of Victoria
Bowness Family Fund for Contemporary Photography, 2009

 

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s famous series Theaters is represented in the exhibition by the work Winnetka Drive-In, Paramount (1993) where  Sugimoto “photographs auditoriums of American movie theaters, and drive-in movies, during showings. The exposure time used for the photograph corresponds with the projection time of the film. This allows him to save the duration of the entire film in a single shot. What remains visible of the film’s time-compressed, individual images is the bright screen of the movie theater, which illuminates the architecture of the space. That its content retreats into the background makes the actual film a piece of information, manifesting itself in the (movie theater) space. As a result, instead of a content-related event, film presents itself here as the relationship between time and spatial perception.”3

If we think of the camera lens as being fully open, like an eye without blinking, for the duration of the length of the film then the shutter of the lens has to be set on “B” for Bulb which allows for long exposure times under the direct control of the photographer. “The term bulb is a reference to old-style pneumatically actuated shutters; squeezing an air bulb would open the shutter and releasing the bulb would close it… It appears that when instantaneous shutters were introduced, they included a B setting so that the familiar bulb behaviour could be duplicated with a cable release.”4 In other words light waves, reflecting from the surface of objects, are controlled by the photographer over an indefinite period (not the short “snap” of the freeze frame / the decisive moment), accumulating light from thousands of years in the past through the lens of the camera onto the focal plane, coalescing into a single image, controlled and constructed by the photographer.

Dr Marcus Bunyan from a review of the NGV exhibition Light Works (2012)

3. Kellein, Thomas and Sugimoto, Hiroshi. Time Exposed. Thames & Hudson, First edition, 1995, p. 91, quoted on the Media Art Net website. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.
4. Anon. “Bulb (photography),” on the Wikipedia website. Nd. [Online] Cited 08/09/2012.

 

James Thomas (England 1854-1921, lived in Italy 1889-1906) 'Thyrsis' 1914

 

James Thomas (England 1854-1921, lived in Italy 1889-1906)
Thyrsis
1914
Bronze, patina
National Gallery of Victoria
Felton Bequest, 1915

 

Joseph Turner (active in Australia 1856- 1880s) 'No title (Laying the foundation stone of the Geelong clock tower)' 1856

 

Joseph Turner (active in Australia 1856- 1880s)
No title (Laying the foundation stone of the Geelong clock tower)
1856
Daguerreotype leather, wood, silk, gilt metal and glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1974

 

 

Market Square was a town square located in the centre of Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Consisting of eight acres (2.9 hectares) of land, the area was reserved by Governor Sir George Gipps as a town square during the initial surveying of Geelong. The area later became a produce market, before being progressively built upon. Today the Market Square Shopping Centre occupies the site, having been opened in 1985 by the City of Geelong…

A clock tower was built in the centre of the square in 1856. It was the idea of the second mayor of Geelong James Austin, who offered to pay for a clock tower in Geelong to mark his term as mayor. The clock was featured in The Illustrated London News in March 1855. Components for the clock arrived in Geelong on November 13, 1855 from England, but the location for the clock had yet to be decided. Suggestions of high ground at top of Moorabool, Yarra or Gheringhap Streets were put forward at the time, the indecision lasting into early 1856. In July 1857 a decision was made, and the foundation stone was finally laid in the Market Square…

The clock tower remained until October 1923 when it was demolished to make way for the CML Building. There was a public outcry, and no one was willing to demolish it. However, it was deemed too impractical to move intact, and was brought down by steel cables attached to traction engine. The site of the clock tower is marked by a plaque in the Market Square Shopping Centre.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

William Wegman (born United States 1943) 'Horned hound' 1991

 

William Wegman (born United States 1943)
Horned hound
1991
Polaroid photograph
National Gallery of Victoria
Purchased, 1992

 

 

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

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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16
Jul
17

Exhibition: ‘Irving Penn: Centennial’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Part 2

Exhibition dates: 24th April – 30th July 2017

 

'Irving Penn: Centennial' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Irving Penn. The high priest of high modernist photography.

I know a lot of people adore his photography but I am not an acolyte, quietly accepting his elevation to sainthood in the high temple of art museums.

I find Penn’s aesthetic aesthetic, his performing photography if you like, unappealing. To me his work is more about the photographer than it is about the subject. His photographs, in whatever style – portraiture, nude, still life – seem cold and lifeless. Like a dead fish. There is little pleasure to be gained from looking at his photographs or the people in them. I find little celebration of photography in his work, as in, this is what the camera does at its best, a dialogue between photographer and subject.

Penn was a commercial photographer who had aspirations of being an artist. As Mark L. Power observes, “One of the characteristics of the Penn style was the expressive silhouette or outline around the figure, a sculptural delineation of form, at once beautiful and austere, whether his subject was a still life, a fashion model or a portrait.” My god did he love silhouette and shadow, usually played off against a plain backdrop.

There is that key word, play. There is no sense of spontaneity in his photographs, no sense of fun, no sense of an understanding of the aura of the subject.

I think of the portraits of August Sander or Richard Avedon’s series In the American West (the latter using a plain backdrop), both with their depth of vision and feeling for the people they were photographing … and then I look at the Cuzco portraits of Penn. I get nothing back about the lives of these people in Penn’s photographs. I think of the distorted nudes of Bill Brandt with their sensuality and sublime angles … and then I look at the nudes of Penn. They just don’t stack up, they feel clumsy, trite. I look at his colour still life, and I imagine the colour work of Paul Outerbridge, the absolute intensity of feeling that I can recall from Outerbridge’s still life in my mind’s eye. No such feeling exists in Penn’s still life.

If you watch the video of Penn at work in Morocco in 1971 (below), everything is controlled to within an inch of its life. A tilt of the head here, a raise of the chin there. This is a commercial studio photographer at work. As I said earlier, the work is not a celebration of photography but about the control of the photographer through the pose of the subject. Jammed into a wedge of scenery the sitters perform for his camera – Schiaparelli, Capote, Charles James et al – flaccid characters, almost caricatures in their positioning. Other than variants such as the intense eye of Pablo Picasso, or the blindness of Ingmar Bergman, I don’t believe that Penn was ever, will ever be, a great portraitist. He has no feeling for his sitters.

Of course, there is “the relationship of content to form – a relationship that underpins all art” at which Penn excels, but he is no Atget, Evans or Eggleston, where we are constantly surprised at where the photographer places the camera, how they place the frame, how they “form the starting point of the image’s visual structure,” how we wonder at the results, how we day dream the narrative. As Victor Burgin observes, “… what the world ‘is’ depends extensively upon how it is described: in a culture where the expression ‘old bag’ is in circulation to describe an ageing woman that is precisely what she is in perpetual danger of ‘being’.”

In Penn’s work the photograph and its representation is never in any danger of “becoming”, it already is. Penn’s “old bag” never changes. By repeating the same trope over and over – the formalist aesthetic, the silhouette, the plain back drop, the controlled pose – his work never evolves, never moves with an illusive quality to a place that the viewer does not feel they already know. The world of murky imperfection, uncertainty and ephemeral juxtapositions to which our mortal senses have access is replaced by a world of perfection and light in which everything has its predestined place.

Perhaps I just long for the fundamental contradictions of life in art, antinomies, options for now and the future.

Marcus

 

 

 

Irving Penn on Location in Morocco, 1971

This 8mm film footage, shot by Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in 1971, shows Irving Penn at work in his portable studio on location in Morocco. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Irving Penn: Centennial,” on view at The Met Fifth Avenue from April 24 through July 30, 2017.

 

 

Irving Penn Centennial

A preview of the exhibition Irving Penn Centennial April 24 – July 30, 2017 at The Met, featuring Jeff Rosenheim, Curator in Charge, Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Maria Morris Hambourg, Independent Curator and Former Curator in Charge, Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

“As a way of beginning, one might compare the art of photography to the act of pointing. All of us, even the best-mannered of us, occasionally point, and it must be true that some of us point to more interesting facts, events, circumstances, and configurations than others. It is not difficult to imagine a person – a mute Virgil of the corporeal world – who might elevate the act of pointing to a creative plane, a person who would lead us through the fields and streets and indicate a sequence of phenomena and aspects that would be beautiful, humorous, morally instructive, cleverly ordered, mysterious, or astonishing, once brought to our attention, but that had been unseen before, or seen dumbly, without comprehension. This talented practitioner of the new discipline (the discipline a cross between theater and criticism) would perform with a special grace, sense of timing, narrative sweep, and wit, thus endowing the act not merely with intelligence, but with that quality of formal rigor that identifies a work of art, so that we would be uncertain, when remembering the adventure of the tour, how much of our pleasure and sense of enlargement had come from the things pointed to and how much from a pattern created by the pointer.”

.
John Szarkowski. “Atget, Pointing”

 

“The word classic is often used about Penn’s work; it entails a certain gravitas characterised by rigour almost to the point of aloofness, an awareness of beauty throughout many genres, a graphic elegance of line and contour that is uniquely his, and a relationship of his work to artists of the past, usually painters rather than photographers. Although it could be said his photography was an advertisement for a haut monde world, his work was sometimes a subtle and somewhat sly subversion of the values of that lifestyle.”

.
Mark L. Power. “Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty,” at Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.

 

 

The most comprehensive retrospective to date of the work of the great American photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009), this exhibition will mark the centennial of the artist’s birth. Over the course of his nearly 70-year career, Penn mastered a pared-down aesthetic of studio photography that is distinguished for its meticulous attention to composition, nuance, and detail.

The exhibition follows the 2015 announcement of the landmark promised gift from The Irving Penn Foundation to The Met of more than 150 photographs by Penn, representing every period of the artist’s dynamic career with the camera. The gift will form the core of the exhibition, which will feature more than 200 photographs by Penn, including iconic fashion studies of Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, the artist’s wife; exquisite still lifes; Quechua children in Cuzco, Peru; portraits of urban labourers; female nudes; tribesmen in New Guinea; and colour flower studies. The artist’s beloved portraits of cultural figures from Truman Capote, Picasso, and Colette to Ingmar Bergman and Issey Miyake will also be featured. Rounding out the exhibition will be photographs by Penn that entered The Met collection prior to the promised gift.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Young Quechuan Man, Cuzco' December 1948, printed 1949

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Young Quechuan Man, Cuzco
December 1948, printed 1949
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 15/16 x 7 3/16 in. (20.1 x 18.2 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

In Cuzco, Penn photographed both residents and visitors who came to the city from nearby villages with goods to sell or barter at the Christmastime fiestas. Many arrived at the studio to sit for their annual family portraits. Penn later recalled that they “found me instead of him [the local photographer] waiting for them, and instead of paying me for the pictures it was I who paid them for posing.”

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cuzco Children' December 1948, printed 1968

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cuzco Children
December 1948, printed 1968
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 1/2 x 19 7/8 in. (49.5 x 50.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Two Men in White Masks, Cuzco' December 1948, printed 1984

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Two Men in White Masks, Cuzco
December 1948, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 9/16 x 10 7/16 in. (26.8 x 26.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cuzco Father and Son with Eggs' December 1948, printed January 1982

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cuzco Father and Son with Eggs
December 1948, printed January 1982
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 11 3/4 x 11 5/16 in. (29.8 x 28.7 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 18' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 18
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 41 x 38.4 cm (16 1/8 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 42' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 42
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.1 x 37.5 cm (15 3/8 x 14 3/4 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 57' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 57
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.4 x 37.5 cm (15 1/2 x 14 3/4 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 72' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 72, New York
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.7 x 37.5 cm (15 5/8 x 14 3/4 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 130' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 130
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 40 x 38.1 cm (15 3/4 x 15 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Kerchief Glove (Dior), Paris' 1950, printed 1984

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Kerchief Glove (Dior), Paris
1950, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 3/8 x 15 5/16 in. (39.1 x 38.9 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Balenciaga Sleeve (Régine Debrise), Paris' 1950

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Balenciaga Sleeve (Régine Debrise), Paris
1950
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 3/16 x 10 7/16 in. (25.9 x 26.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

In general, daughters from nice families were not encouraged to be in-house models. “Being a studio model was viewed as preferable,” said Régine Debrise, who posed for the photographers Irving Penn and Henry Clarke before becoming an editor at French Vogue, “because the hours were contained and the conditions were better. Being in-house meant sharing the cabine, often a cramped room, with 10 other girls, and it lacked any kind of privacy.”

“Cabine fever: inside Dior’s fitting room,” on The Telegraph website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Balenciaga Mantle Coat (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris' 1950, printed 1988

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Balenciaga Mantle Coat (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris
1950, printed 1988
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 21 15/16 x 17 5/8 in. (55.7 x 44.7 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Lisa Fonssagrives (May 17, 1911 – February 4, 1992), born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone was a Swedish fashion model widely credited as the first supermodel.

Before Fonssagrives came to the United States in 1939, she was already a top model. Her image appeared on the cover of many magazines during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, including Town & Country, Life, Time, Vogue, and the original Vanity Fair. She was reported as “the highest paid, highest praised, high fashion model in the business”. Fonssagrives once described herself as a “good clothes hanger”.

She worked with fashion photographers including George Hoyningen-Huene, Man Ray, Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld, George Platt Lynes, Richard Avedon, and Edgar de Evia. She married Parisian photographer Fernand Fonssagrives in 1935; they divorced and she later married another photographer, Irving Penn, in 1950. She went on to become a sculptor in the 1960s and was represented by the Marlborough Gallery in Manhattan.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris' 1950, printed 1968

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris
1950, printed 1968
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 22 x 15 11/16 in. (55.9 x 39.9 cm
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast (Fr.)

 

 

Jeanne LaFaurie was a Paris couturiere working from 1925 until 1958. The house was known for dependable, if not spectacular, clothing and fine draping. Courreges worked there as a draftsman in 1947. Michel Goma became the house designer 1950 – 58, when he bought the house and renamed it. It closed in 1963.

Text from the Vintage Fashion Guild website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Rochas Mermaid Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris' 1950

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Rochas Mermaid Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris
1950
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 7/8 x 19 11/16 in. (50.5 x 50 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Rochas is a fashion, beauty, and perfume house founded in 1925 by French designer Marcel Rochas (born 1902, died 1955) the first designer of 2/3-length coats and skirts with pockets. “His designs could be seen as the polar opposite of Chanel’s simplicity. Dresses were proper gowns and came with the optimum amount of frills, with lace, wide shoulders and nipped-in waists.”

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Large Sleeve (Sunny Harnett), New York' 1951, printed 1984

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Large Sleeve (Sunny Harnett), New York
1951, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in. (37.5 x 37.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Annemarie Margot “Sunny” Harnett (1924 – May 1987) was an American model in the 1950s and actress. She can be found in fashion magazines throughout that era – including frequently on the cover of Vogue – and was often a model of choice by photographer Edgar de Evia. Harper’s Bazaar ranks her as one of the 26 greatest models of all time.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Marchand de Concombres [Cucumber Seller]' 1950, printed 1976

 

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Marchand de Concombres [Cucumber Seller]
1950, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Purchase, The Lauder Foundation and The Irving Penn Foundation Gifts, 2014
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Marchande de Ballons, Paris' 1950, printed 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Marchande de Ballons, Paris
1950, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 15 3/4 × 12 9/16 in. (40 × 31.9 cm)
Purchase, The Lauder Foundation and The Irving Penn Foundation Gifts, 2014
© Les Editions Condé Nast S. A.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Window Washer' 1950, printed 1967

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Window Washer
1950, printed 1967
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 7/8 × 14 13/16 in. (50.5 × 37.6 cm)
Purchase, The Lauder Foundation and The Irving Penn Foundation Gifts, 2014
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Fishmonger, London' 1950, printed 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Fishmonger, London
1950, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 11/16 × 14 13/16 in. (50 × 37.6 cm)
Purchase, The Lauder Foundation and The Irving Penn Foundation Gifts, 2014
© Condé Nast Publications Ltd.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes' 1957, printed February 1985

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes
1957, printed February 1985
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 18 5/8 x 18 5/8 in. (47.3 x 47.3 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

When Penn arrived at Picasso’s house in the south of France, the artist pretended not to be home. But after Penn’s assistant climbed over the locked gate, Picasso granted the photographer ten minutes. Covering his sweat-shirt with a Spanish cape, Picasso tried to playfully deflect him. Variants of this image show how Penn patiently worked the pose, allowing the artist his costume play while progressively boring in to isolate the riveting gaze of his left eye.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Ingmar Bergman, Stockholm, 1964' 1964, printed 1992

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Ingmar Bergman, Stockholm, 1964
1964, printed 1992
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 1/16 x 14 15/16 in. (38.3 x 37.9 cm
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Single Oriental Poppy, New York' 1968, printed 1989

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Single Oriental Poppy, New York
1968, printed 1989
Dye transfer print
Image: 21 7/8 x 17 1/8 in. (55.5 x 43.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Naomi Sims in Scarf, New York, c. 1969' c. 1969, printed 1985

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Naomi Sims in Scarf, New York, c. 1969
c. 1969, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 1/2 x 10 3/8 in. (26.6 x 26.3 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

Naomi Ruth Sims (March 30, 1948 – August 1, 2009) was an American model, businesswoman and author. She was the first African-American model to appear on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal, and is widely credited as being the first African-American supermodel. …

She became one of the first successful black models while still in her teens, and achieved worldwide recognition from the late 1960s into the early 1970s, appearing on the covers of prestigious fashion and popular magazines. The New York Times wrote that (her) “appearance as the first black model on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in November 1968 was a consummate moment of the Black is Beautiful movement”. She also appeared on the cover of the October 17, 1969 issue of Life magazine. This made her the first African-American model on the cover of the magazine. The images from the 1967 New York Times fashion magazine cover and the 1969 Life magazine cover were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an exhibition entitled The Model as Muse.

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Ungaro Bride Body Sculpture (Marisa Berenson), Paris, 1969' 1969, printed 1985

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Ungaro Bride Body Sculpture (Marisa Berenson), Paris, 1969
1969, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 15/16 x 9 5/16 in. (30.3 x 23.7 cm.) Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Emanuel (Maffeolit) Ungaro (born 13 February 1933) is a retired French fashion designer, who founded the fashion house that bears his name in 1965. At the age of 22, he moved to Paris. Three years later he began designing for the House of Cristobal Balenciaga for three years before quitting to work for Courrèges. Four years later, in 1965 with the assistance of Swiss artist Sonja Knapp and Elena Bruna Fassio, Emanuel Ungaro opened his own fashion house in Paris.

Vittoria Marisa Schiaparelli Berenson (born February 15, 1947) is an American actress and model. A fashion model who came to prominence in the 1960s – “I once was one of the highest paid models in the world”, she told The New York Times – Berenson appeared on the cover of the July 1970 issue of Vogue as well as the cover of Time on December 15, 1975. She appeared in numerous fashion layouts in Vogue in the early 1970s and her sister Berry was a photographer for the magazine as well. She was known as “The Queen of the Scene” for her frequent appearances at nightclubs and other social venues in her youth, and Yves Saint Laurent dubbed her “the girl of the Seventies”.

Eventually, she was cast in several prominent film roles, including Gustav von Aschenbach’s wife in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice, the Jewish department store heiress Natalia Landauer in the 1972 film Cabaret, for which she received acclaim (including two Golden Globe nominations, a BAFTA nomination and an award from the National Board of Review), and the tragic beauty Lady Lyndon in the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon (1975).

Texts from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Three Asaro Mud Men, New Guinea, 1970' 1970, printed 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Three Asaro Mud Men, New Guinea, 1970
1970, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Dimensions:Image: 20 1/8 x 19 1/2 in. (51.1 x 49.6 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Three Dahomey Girls, One Reclining, 1967' 1967, printed 1980

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Three Dahomey Girls, One Reclining, 1967
1967, printed 1980
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 11/16 x 19 11/16 in. (50 x 50 cm.)Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Tribesman with Nose Disc, New Guinea, 1970' 1970, printed 2002

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Tribesman with Nose Disc, New Guinea, 1970
1970, printed 2002
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 1/2 x 15 3/8 in. (39.4 x 39.1 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cigarette No. 52, New York' 1972, printed April 1974

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cigarette No. 52, New York
1972, printed April 1974
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 23 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (59.7 x 47 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cigarette No. 85, New York' 1972, printed Fall 1975

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cigarette No. 85, New York
1972, printed Fall 1975
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 18 1/8 x 23 1/16 in. (46.0 x 58.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cigarette No. 98, New York' 1972, printed June 1974

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cigarette No. 98, New York
1972, printed June 1974
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 23 3/16 x 17 1/16 in. (58.9 x 43.3 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Deli Package, New York' 1975, printed March 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Deli Package, New York
1975, printed March 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 15 7/8 x 20 11/16 in. (40.3 x 52.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Two Miyake Warriors, New York, 1998' June 3, 1998, printed January-February, 1999

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Two Miyake Warriors, New York, 1998
June 3, 1998, printed January-February, 1999
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 21 x 19 5/8 in. (53.4 x 49.8 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

Issey Miyake (born 22 April 1938) is a Japanese fashion designer. He is known for his technology-driven clothing designs, exhibitions and fragrances…

In the late 1980s, he began to experiment with new methods of pleating that would allow both flexibility of movement for the wearer as well as ease of care and production. In which the garments are cut and sewn first, then sandwiched between layers of paper and fed into a heat press, where they are pleated. The fabric’s ‘memory’ holds the pleats and when the garments are liberated from their paper cocoon, they are ready-to wear. He did the costume for Ballett Frankfurt with pleats in a piece named “the Loss of Small Detail” choreographed by William Forsythe and also work on ballet “Garden in the setting”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Phone: 212-535-7710

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01
Jul
17

Review: ‘Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy’ at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 27th April – 8th July 2017

This project has been supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria

 

PLEASE NOTE: I am still recovering from my hand operation which is going to take longer than expected. All of the text has been constructed using a dictation programme and corrected using only my right hand – a tedious process. I have to keep my mental faculties together, otherwise this hand will drive me to distraction… Marcus

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1-3' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1-3
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type prints
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 1' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 1
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Christian Thompson. 'Black gum 2' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Black gum 2
C-type print
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

 

“While I’m interested in portraiture – I don’t consider my work as portraiture because that suggests that I’m trying to portray myself, my own visage, my own image. I employ images, icons, materials, metaphors to capture and idea and moment in time. There are many different things at play; taking a picture of myself is really the last thing that’s on my mind.”

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Christian Thompson in conversation with Hetti Perkins, catalogue extract

 

“I’m interested in simple aesthetic gestures that can say something … something quite profound about the world that we live in. I tend to build images how I create a sculpture. I borrow from the world around me.”

On being away from home: “You’re able to remove yourself from the local discourse, and romanticise home. When you’re displaced you tend to gravitate towards certain memories … But this is who I am. It would be weird not to express that somehow. I combine memories of my past with my lived experience and an idea of where I’d like to be … it’s all montaged into one.”

.
Christian Thompson

 

“But Thompson makes things up. His ‘We bury our own’ does not let us see the early daguerreotype but improvises a series of fugues on its spiritual essence. This is the crucial step that Thompson has taken: if you repeat the spectacle you cannot escape the past. But if you, a spiritual descendant, transmogrify yourself in keeping with the aura of the image’s subject, during the prolonged period of encounter and immersion, you can ‘repatriate’ that forebear. Or so he desires.”

“Through these conjurings of the language his people spoke before colonisation set out to strip them of their culture as well as their land, Christian Thompson performs private ceremonies – to reach beyond visual statements of personal presence and reawaken the knowledge of his forebears, and allow us, his listeners and viewers, into their living story.”

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Marina Warner. “Magical Aesthetics,” extracts from the catalogue essay

 

 

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… not dying.

This is a strong survey exhibition of the work of contemporary Australian Indigenous artist and Bidjara man exploring the world, Christian Thompson. As with any survey exhibition, it can only give us a glimpse into the long standing development of the artist’s work, inviting the viewer to then research more fully the themes, conceptual acts and bodies (of work) that have led the artist to this point in his artistic development. Having said that the exhibition, together with its insightful catalogue essays and additional images that do not appear in the exhibition, allow the viewer to be challenged intellectually, aesthetically and most importantly … spiritually. And to be somewhat conflicted by the art as well, it has to be said.

Thompson’s “multidisciplinary practice explores notions of cultural hybridity, along with identity and history, creating works that transcend cultural boundaries.” His self-reflexive and self-referential bodies of work, often with the artist using his body as an “armature for his characters, costumes and various props,” are intuitive and imaginative in how they relate Aboriginal and Australian/European history, taking past time into present time which influences future time. Time, memory, history, space, landscape are conflated into one point, enunciated through acts of ritual intimacy. These ritual intimacies, these performative acts, are enabled through an understanding of a regularised and constrained repetition of norms (in this case, the declarative power of colonialism), where the taking of a photograph of an Aboriginal person (for example), is “a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production…” (Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 95).

What is so heartening to see in this exhibition is a contemporary Indigenous artist not relying on re-animating colonial images of past injustices, but re-imagining these images to produce a spiritual connection to Country, to place, to people in the present moment. As Charlotte Day, Director, MUMA and Hetti Perkins, guest curator observe in the wall text at the beginning of the exhibition, “Rather than appropriating or restaging problematic ethnographic images of indigenous ancestors held in the Museum’s photographic collection, Thompson has chosen to spend significant periods of time with these images, absorbing their ‘aura’ and developing a personal artistic and deferential response that is decisively empowered.” As Marina Warner states in her excellent catalogue essay “Magical Aesthetics”, these ritual intimacies are a “magical re-animation and adopt time-honoured processes of making holy – of hallowing. Adornment is central to ritual and a prime way of glorifying and consecration.” What Thompson is doing is not quoting but translating the source-text into new material. As Mary Jacobus notes of the work of the painter Cy Twombly, “Quotation involves the repurposing of an existing text: translation requires a swerve from the source-text as it finds new directions and enters unknown terrain.” (Mary Jacobus. Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint.  Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016, p. 7).

This auto-ethnographic exploration and adornment leads to a deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of time in a heterotopic space, juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites of contestation – Thompson’s travels and research from around the world, the embodiment in his own culture and that of contemporary Australia, pop culture, fashion, music and language – where, as Hetti Perkins says, “the unknowable is a lovely thing” and where Thompson can affect and influence “the Zeitgeist through more subversive means.” These spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia, these fragmented images, become a process and a performance in which Thompson seeks to ameliorate the objects aura through a process of ‘spiritual repatriation’. Thompson’s performativity is where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Here, in terms of ‘aura’ and ‘spirit’, I am interested in the word “repatriation”. Repatriation means to send (someone) back to their own country – from the verb repatriare, from re- ‘back’ + Latin patria ‘native land’. It has an etymological link to the word “patriot” – from late Latin patriota ‘fellow countryman’, from Greek patriōtēs, from patrios ‘of one’s fathers’, from patris ‘fatherland’ – and all the imperial connotations that are associated with the word. So, to send someone back (against their own will? by force?) or to be patriotic, as belonging to or coming from, the fatherland. A land that is father, farther away. Therefore, it is with regard to a centralised, monolithic body and its materialities (for the body is usually centrally placed in Thompson’s work) in Thompson’s instinctive works, that relations of discourse and power will always produce hierarchies and overlappings which are going to be contested. As Judith Butler notes,

“That each of those categories [body and materiality] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.” (Judith Butler. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp. 66-67)

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Thus performativity is the power of discourse, the politicisation of abjection, and the ritual of being.

This is where I become conflicted by much of this work. Intellectually and conceptually I fully understand the instinctive, intuitive elements behind the work (crystals, flowers, maps, butterflies, dreams) but aesthetically I feel little ‘aura’ emanating from the photographs. Thompson’s “peripatetic life and your bowerbird, magpie-like fascination” (p. 107) lead to all sorts of influences emerging in the work – orange from The Netherlands, Morris dancers from England, Jewish heritage, Aboriginal and Australian heritage, fashion, pop culture, music, language – all evidenced through “acts of concealment in his self-portraits.” (p. 75). Now there’s the rub!

In Thompson’s ritual intimacies the intimacy is performed only once, for the camera. It is not didactic, but it is interior and hidden, leaving much to the feelings of the viewer, looking. The re-presentation of that intimacy is performed by the viewer every time they look at the art. I think of the work of one of my favourite performance artists, Claude Cahun, where the artist inhabits her personas, adorning her androgynous face with costume after costume to become something that she wants to become – a buddha, a double, a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. Cahun is always and emphatically herself, undermining a certain authority… and she produces indelible images that sear the mind.

I don’t get that from Thompson. I don’t know who he really is. Does it matter? Yes it does. In supposedly his most autobiographic work (according to Hetti Perkins), the video Heat (2010, below) the work emerges out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland where “heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair.” Perhaps for him or someone from the desert country like Hetti Perkins (as she states in the catalogue), but not for me. I feel no ‘heat’ from these three beautiful woman standing in a contextless background with a wind machine blowing their hair. The only ‘heat’ I felt was perhaps the metaphoric heat of colonisation, violence and abuse thrust on a vulnerable culture.

Talking of vulnerable cultures, in the work Polari (2014, below) Thompson invokes the history of languages in an intimate ritual “as he seeks to reanimate and repossess vanishing knowledge. Polari is a private language … a kind of code used by sailors, circus and fairground folk, and in gay circles. … Thompson’s Polari series warns us that the artist has a language of his own, which we can overhear but not fully understand: something is withheld, in contrast to the imposed and implacable exposure which the subjects of scientific collections were made to suffer in the past.” (Warner, p. 74) But why is he using Polari specifically, a language that is strongly associated with the libertine gay culture of the 1950s-70s? Does he have a right to use this word and its linguistic heritage because he is gay? It is never stated, again another thing left hidden, concealed and unresolved.

Although no culture can ever fully own its language (language is a construct after all) … if Thompson is not gay, then I would take exception to his invoking the Polari language, just as an Indigenous artist would take exception to me using Bidjara language in an art work of my own. I remember coming out in London in 1975 and speaking Polari myself when it was still being used in pubs and clubs such as the A + B club in Soho. It was not being used as a language of resistance, far from it, but as a language of desire. It was a language used to inculcate that desire. As a video on YouTube observes of speaking Polari, “you didn’t think, oh God I’m so oppressed I can never speak about myself, you just did it, you just slipped into it without thinking.” It was your own language, like a comfortable pair of slippers. Does Thompson understand how using that word to title a body of work could be as offensive to some people as he finds the denaturing of his own culture? For me this is where the work really becomes problematic, when an artist does not enunciate these connections, where things, like sexuality, remain hidden. Similarly, with historical photographs of Indigenous people taken for ethnographic study, Thompson fails to acknowledge the work of academics such as Jane Lydon and her important books Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians (2005) and Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (2016) where she unpacks the historical baggage of the images and notes that the photographs were not solely a tool of colonial exploitation. Lydon articulates an understanding in Eye Contact that the residents of Coranderrk, an Aboriginal settlement near Healsville, Melbourne, “had a sophisticated understanding of how they were portrayed, and they became adept at manipulating their representations.” Again, there is more than meets the eye, more than just ‘spiritual repatriation’ of aura.

For me, the magic of this exhibition arrives when Thompson lets go all obfuscation, let’s go all actions that make something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible. Where his ritual intimacies become grounded in language, earth and spirit. This happens in the video works, Desert slippers (2006, below), Refuge (2014, below), Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) (2011) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) (2011, below). In these videos, the Other’s gaze disintegrates and we are left with poignant, heart felt words and actions that engage history, emotion, family and Country.

The video Desert slippers “features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.” It is simple, eloquent, powerful, present. The other videos feature two baroque singers from Europe and Thompson singing in his native tongue Bidjara (Bidyara, Pitjara), a language that Wikipedia states “is an extinct Australian Aboriginal language. In 1980 it was spoken by twenty elders in Queensland, between Tambo and Augathella, Warrego and Langlo rivers.” Spelt out in black and white. Extinct. To hear Thompson sing a berceuse (French, from bercer ‘to rock’), or lullaby in his native language, a language taught to him by his father, is the most emotional of experiences. The work “combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture,” and “is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.” Amen to that.

This is the real hallowing, not the dress ups or the concealments. It is in these videos that the raw material of his and his cultures experience is transmuted into living, breathing stories, in an alchemical transmutation, a magical re-animation of past time into present and future time. My transfiguration into a more spiritual state was complete when listening in quiet contemplation. For I was given, if only for a very brief moment, access to the pain of our first peoples and a vision of hope for their future healing.

Still singing, still Dreaming,
still loving… and certainly not dying.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 2,053

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

 

 

“At the heart of my practice is a concern with aura: what it is, how it can be photographed and how it can be repatriated.”

.
Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled #6' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled #6
2010
From the series King Billy
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Berceuse (2017)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse (extract installation view)
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

Christian Thompson
Berceuse
2017
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.47 minutes
Sound design: Duane Morrison

 

 

In this newly commissioned work, Thompson sings a berceuse – a cradle song or lullaby – that combines evocative chanting and electronic elements to invoke the cultural experiences and narratives of his Bidjara culture. Intended as a gesture of re-imagining his traditional Bidjara language, which is been categorised as extinct, the work is premised on the notion that if one word of Bidjara is spoken, or sung in this case, it remains a living language.

Thompson makes subtle reference to his maternal Sephardic Jewish roots by ruminating in this work on the lullaby Nani Nani:

 

Lullaby, lullaby
The boy wants a lullaby,
The mother’s son,
Who although small will grow.

Oh, oh my lady open,
Open the door,
I come home tired,
From ploughing the fields.

Oh, I won’t open them,
You don’t come home tired,
You’ve just come back,
From seeing your new lover.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Museum of Others (2016)

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers) 2016

 

Christian Thompson. 'Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Anthropologist, Walter Baldwin Spencer)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Installation view of 'Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)' 2016

 

Installation view of Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook) 2016

 

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

 

Christian Thompson
Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook)
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Equilibrium' 2016

 

Christian Thompson
Equilibrium
2016
From the series Museum of Others
C-type print

 

 

Museum of others is Thompson’s most recent photographic series and continues to reflect on his time at the University of Oxford. It features several ‘dead white males’ from the pantheon of British and Australian culture. The explorer, the ethnologist and the anthropologist all had roles in the process of colonisation in Australia but the art critic is particular to Thompson; Ruskin was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at University of Oxford, just as Thompson was one of its first Australian Aboriginal students. Thompson explains his motivation for the series:

“Historically, it was the western gaze that was projected onto the ethnic other and I thought I’ll create a ‘museum of others’ and I’ll be the one othering, so to speak. ‘Equilibrium’ is based around the idea that the vessel is the equaliser. The vessel is the cradle of all civilisations. We all have that in common.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series We bury our own 2010 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

We bury our own is a body of work that was developed in response to the historic collection of photography, featuring Aboriginal people from the late nineteenth century, at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Thompson noted in 2012 that these early images “have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and they have pushed me into new territory, they have travelled with me… I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs…”

Each of Thompson’s lyrical photographic images from We bury our own and Pagan sun feature himself partially disguised with props and costumes. The works are virtually monochromatic with elements highlighted in full colour, and his eyes, or face, are partially concealed or painted. The use of votive objects is explained in his equally lyrical 2012 statement: “I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Energy Matter' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Energy Matter
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Lamenting the flowers' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Lamenting the flowers
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Forgiveness of Land' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Forgiveness of Land
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

Christian Thompson. 'Down Under World' 2010

 

Christian Thompson
Down Under World
2010
From the series We bury our own
C-type print

 

 

“I conceived the We Bury Our Own series in 2010 after curator Christopher Morton invited me to develop a body of work that would be inspired by and in dialogue with the Australian photographic collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum…

The archival images have permeated my work over the last year. They have remained at the forefront of every artistic experiment and pushed me into new territory; they have travelled with me to residencies at the Fonderie Darling in Montreal and Greene Street Studio, New York. I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs. The simplicity of a monochrome and sepia palette, the frayed delicate edges and the cracks on the surface like a dry desert floor that reminded me of the salt plains of my own traditional lands.

I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt, employing crystals and other votive objects that emit frequencies that can heal, ward off negative energies, psychic attack, geopathic stress and electro magnetic fields, and, importantly, transmit ideas.

I lamented the passing of the flowers at the meadow, I lit candles and offered blood to the ancestral beings, looked into the black sparkling sea, donned the Oxford garb, visited the water by fire light and bowed at the knees of the old father ghost gum. I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work, I think with surprising results. Perhaps this is what art is able to do, perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present?

I heard a story many years ago from some old men, they told me about a ceremony where young warriors would make incisions through the flesh exposing the joints, they would insert gems between the bones to emulate the creator spirits, often enduring infection and agonizing pain or resulting in death. The story has stuck with me for many years, one that suggests immense pain fused with intoxicating beauty. The idea of aspiring to embody the creators, to transgress the physical body by offering to our gods our spiritual heart, freeing ourselves of suffering by inducing a kind of excruciating decadent torture. This was something that played on my mind during the production of this series of photos and video work. The deliverance of the spirit back to land – the notion that art could be the vehicle for such a passage, the aspiration to occupy a space that belongs to something higher than one’s physical self.”

Christian Thompson

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints) and a still from the video dead tongue 2015
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In Dead tongue Thompson continues to interrogate the implications of England’s empirical quest on the former colonies of the British Empire through the threat to or loss of Indigenous languages. In works such as this, Thompson actively challenges the perception that Aboriginal culture has become reduced to a captured trophy of Empire.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Ship of dreams, Ancient bloom, Death’s second self, and Gods and kings from the series Imperial relic 2015 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

In … Imperial relic, he continues to use himself as the ‘armature for his characters, costumes and various props’. Drawing on his background in sculpture, he has created ‘wearable sculptures’ including a trumpet shaped shirt collar, an eruption of white flowers from a union jack hoodie, and an armature of maps. In each his face is partially or fully obscured again. “I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination,” he says. “So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

Text from the Turner Galleries website

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ancient bloom' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ancient bloom
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ship of dreams' 2015

 

Christian Thompson
Ship of dreams
2015
From the series Imperial relic
C-type print on fuji pearl metallic paper
100 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

The series title Imperial relic, summarises the fundamental philosophy underpinning the colonial occupation of Australia. Like the nearby series We bury our own, it is closely connected to Thompson’s studies in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum and shares with the Australian graffiti series Thomson’s physical presence is standing in for the Australian landscape.

The work Ancient bloom alludes to the phonograph horn out which might be heard the voice of Fanny Cochran Smith, who’s wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only historical audio recordings of any of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages. Is also represents a Victorian-era shirt collar – a motif that has appeared in Thompson’s work since his Emotional striptease series of 2003 – but here is exaggerated into a soft-sculptural form that both projects and stifles the voice.

In Death’s second self the artist’s face is uncovered but distorted by make up and digital postproduction effects.The title quotes William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:

As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In God and Kings Thompson is cloaked with a map of Aboriginal language groups like a coat of armour. In the Ship of dreams he reprises the motif of Australian flora obscuring his face but here his hoodie is stitched together from several flags: the red ensign (flown by British registered ships), the RAAF flag and the Australian flag.

 

“I’m interested in ideas of submission and domination … So the trumpet headpiece is beautiful, but it also potentially muffles or silences the voice. The same thing with maps: they are purporting different kinds of historical narrative, depending who is telling the story. One is about the history of Indigenous people, one is about the history of white colonisers and then one is about the idea of charting the land and of discovery. I’m wearing it as an armature over my own body: that’s part of my own history but also of Australian history.”

.
Christian Thompson

 

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring Isabella kept her dignity, I’m not going anywhere without you, Dead as a door nail and Hannah’s diary from the series Lost together 2009 (C-type prints)
Photo: Andrew Curtis

 

 

On 13 February 2008 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an official apology to Aboriginal Australians for the Stolen Generations – the children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 under the respective Federal and State government policies of assimilation. At the time, Thompson was preparing to leave Australia for further studies aboard and felt this historic gesture allowed him to proudly take his culture and history with him as he ventured into the world.

Thompson photographed the series Lost together in the Netherlands while studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance at Amsterdam University. The theme of the orange throughout the series is a reference to the national colour of the Netherlands, while the tartan patterning refers to early clan societies in the United Kingdom. The combination of these different styles is based on counter-cultural aesthetics – particularly punk collage of 1970s London.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Hannah's Diary' 2009

 

Christian Thompson
Hannah’s Diary
2009
From the series Lost Together
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

MUMA | Monash University Museum of Art is proud to announce the first major survey exhibition of the work of Bidjara artist, Christian Thompson, one of Australia’s leading and most intriguing contemporary artists.

Thompson works across photography, video, sculpture, performance and sound, interweaving themes of identity, race and history with his lived experience. His work is held in the collections of major state and national art museums in Australia and internationally.

Thompson made history as one of the first two Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into the University of Oxford as a Charlie Perkins Scholar, where he completed his Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art) in 2016. Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy opens as the artist looks forward to the graduation ceremony in July, when he will be conferred his degree.

Featuring a major new commission created for this exhibition, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy will survey Thompson’s diverse practice, spanning fifteen years, and will also be accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on the artist’s career and work, including essays by Brian Catling RA and Professor Dame Marina Warner DBE, CBE, FBA, FRSL.

The specially commissioned installation will be an ambitious multichannel composition, developing the sonic experimentation that is a signature of Thompson’s work. Incorporating Bidjara language, it will invite viewers into an immersive space of wall-to-wall imagery and sound:

“Bidjara is officially an endangered language but my work is motivated by the simple yet profound idea that if even one word of an endangered language is spoken it continues to be a living language,” Thompson says.

Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy explores the unique perspective and breadth of Thompson’s practice from the fashioning of identity through to his ongoing interest in Indigenous language as the expression of cultural survival. The new multichannel work will develop musical ideas Thompson has previously explored.

“It will be a much more ambitious iteration of a song in Bidjara. At one stage I’m singing on one screen and then other versions of me appear singing the melodies. I really see it as an opportunity to do something that’s more complex musically, more textured sonically – I also want it to be more intricate with my use of language,” the artist says.

Ritual Intimacy is curated by MUMA director Charlotte Day and guest curator Hetti Perkins. Day explains that the exhibition is part of MUMA’s Australian artist series, which affords the opportunity to look at each artist’s practice in depth. “Christian’s exhibition traces a particularly productive period of research and development, from early well-known works such as the Australian Graffiti series to more recent experiments with language in sound and song works,” Day says.

A long-time curatorial collaborator with Thompson, Perkins is the writer and presenter of art + soul, the ABC’s acclaimed television series about contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. Thompson was accepted to Oxford University on an inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholarship, set up to honour Hetti Perkins’s famous father – a leader, activist and the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from university. Perkins says the MUMA exhibition is well-earned recognition for Thompson’s work, which she featured in the second series of art + soul.

“Christian has spent periods of his adult life, as a practicing artist, away from home, but there is a common thread in his work, and it’s this connection to home or Country,” Perkins says. “In terms of the rituals or rites of the exhibition title, he is constantly reiterating that connection to home – through words, through performance, through his art, through ideas and writing,” she says.

Alongside performance and ritual, Thompson’s concept of “spiritual repatriation” is central to his work. Working with the Australian collection at famed ethnographic storehouse the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, the artist was offered copies of colonial photographs of Aboriginal people but preferred not to work this way. Instead, he chose to spend significant periods of time with these ancestral images, absorbing their “aura” in order to then make his own artistic response that did not reproduce those original problematic images.

Dr Christian Thompson is a Bidjara contemporary artist whose work explores notions of identity, cultural hybridity, and history; often referring to the relationships between these concepts and the environment. Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance, and sound. His work focuses on the exploration of identity, sexuality, gender, race, and memory. In his live performances and conceptual anti-portraits he inhabits a range of personas achieved through handcrafted sculptures and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.

Press release from MUMA

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring the series Polari (2014)

 

 

‘Polari’ is a form of cant or cryptic slang that evolved over several centuries from the various languages that converged in London’s theatres, circuses and fairgrounds, the merchant navy and criminal circles. It came to be associated with gay subculture, as many gay men worked in theatrical entertainment or joined ocean liners as waiters, stewards and entertainers at a time when homosexual activity was illegal. This slang rendered the speaker unintelligible to hostile outsiders, such as policeman, but fell out of use after the Sexual Offences Act (1967) effectively decriminalised homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Attracted to the theatricality and defiant nature of Polari (which he likens to the situation of Australian Indigenous languages under assimilationist policies), Thompson borrowed its name for the series which examines how subcultures express themselves.

 

Christian Thompson. 'Siren' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Siren
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity II' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity II
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Trinity III' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Trinity III
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ariel' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ariel
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson. 'Ellipse' 2014

 

Christian Thompson
Ellipse
2014
From the series Polari
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

 

Polari was a form of slang used by gay men in Britain prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, used primarily as a coded way for them to discuss their experiences. It quickly fell out of use in the 70s, although several words entered mainstream English and are still used today. For more about Polari see Wikipedia.

 

 

Author and academic Paul Baker of Lancaster University discusses a form of gay slang known as Polari that was spoken in Britain. It was a secret type of language used mainly by gay men and some lesbians and members of the trans, drag and other communities in the United Kingdom in the 20th century until it largely died out by the early 1970s.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Refuge
2014
Video and sound
4 mins 18 secs

 

Refuge is a video work by contemporary Australian artist Christian Thompson. Thompson sings in the endangered Bidjara language of his heritage. A collaboration with James Young formerly of ‘Nico’ and recorded the original track in Oxford, United Kingdom.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring stills from the video Heat (2010)

 

 

Christian Thompson
Heat (extract)
2010
Three-channel digital colour video, sound
5.52 minutes

 

 

Like the Australian graffiti photographs [see photographs below], Heat come out of Thompson’s memories of growing up in the desert surrounding Barcaldine in central west Queensland. Barcaldine is famous for its role in the foundation organised labor in Queensland and ultimately the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It also holds historical significance for Thompson’s family as it is where his great-great-grandfather, Charlie Thompson, surreptitiously bought a block of land before Aboriginal people could legally buy land, creating a safe haven for his family and other Aboriginal families at the time when Aboriginal people had few legal rights. For Thompson, heat captures the sensation that he associates with being on his country: the dry wind blowing through his hair. It features the three granddaughters of Aboriginal rights pioneer Charlie Perkins, who are the daughters of Thompson’s Long time collaborator Hetti Perkins.

 

'Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy', installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017

 

Christian Thompson: Ritual intimacy, installation view: Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne 2017 featuring photographs from the series Australian graffiti (2007)

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (Blue Gum)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (blue gum)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Image courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin

 

Christian Thompson. 'Untitled (banksia)' 2007

 

Christian Thompson
Untitled (banksia)
2007
From the series Australian graffiti
C-type print
Monash University Collection

 

 

Australian graffiti was the last work that Thompson made before leaving Australia for Europe. It connects with his memories of growing up in the outback and its desert flowers, which he perceives to be both fragile and immensely powerful. I adorning himself with garlands of these flowers and flamboyant garments of the 1980s and 1990s – the period in which he grew up – Thompson juxtaposes these elements against his own Bidjara masculinity. By wearing native flora he also stands in for the landscape, invoking an Indigenous understanding of the landscape as a corporeal, living ancestral being.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Desert slippers
2006
Single-channel digital colour video, sound
34 seconds

 

 

Desert slippers was made at the time the Northern Territory government commissioned research into allegations of the abuse of children in Aboriginal communities. When the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report was tabled the following year, the federal government under John Howard staged the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which quickly became known as ‘the intervention’. This action was enacted without consultation with Indigenous people and ignored the substantive recommendations of the report to which it was allegedly responding.

Thompson made this video, involving his father, and the ceremonial aspects of their daily lives, during this period. Desert slippers features a Bidjara ritual in which a father and son transfer sweat. The desert slipper is a native cactus that symbolises the transferal of the spirit back to earth as the plant grows.

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother) 
(extract installation view)
2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Christian Thompson
Dhagunyilangu (Brother)

2011
Single-channel digital colour video, sound, subtitled
2.19 minutes

 

 

Gamu Mambu (Blood Song) and Dhagunyilangu (Brother) were made in England and in the Netherlands respectively. While studying at the DasArts Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, a centre for the study of early musical styles such as the baroque, Thompson realised that his own Bidjara language could be interpreted through the matrix of another cultural context and sphere. He undertook operatic training with this in mind, choosing in the end to work with specialist singers Sonja Gruys and Jeremy Vinogradov to realise the two works.

 

 

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA)
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900 Dandenong Road,
Caulfield East, VIC 3145
T: 61 3 9905 4217

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09
Jun
17

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 11th June 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The State We're In, A' 2015

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The State We’re In, A (Room 14)
2015
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Cock (Kiss)' 2002

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Cock (Kiss)
2002
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

If one thing matters, everything matters
(A love letter to Wolfgang Tillmans)

I believe that Wolfgang Tillmans is the number one photo-media artist working today. I know it’s a big call, but that’s how I see it.

His whole body of work is akin to a working archive – of memories, places, contexts, identities, landscapes (both physical and imagined) and people. He experiments, engages, and imagines all different possibilities in and through art. As Adrian Searle observes, “Tillmans’ work is all a kind of evidence – a sifting through material to find meaning.” And that meaning varies depending on the point of view one comes from, or adopts, in relation to the art. The viewer is allowed to make their own mind up, to dis/assemble or deepen relationships between things as they would like, or require, or not as the case may be. Tillmans is not didactic, but guides the viewer on that journey through intersections and nodal points of existence. The nexus of life.

Much as I admire the writing of art critic John McDonald, I disagree with his assessment of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern (see quotation below). Personally, I find that there are many memorable photographs in this exhibition … as valuable and as valid a way of seeing the world in a contemporary sense, as Eggleston’s photographs are in a historic visualisation. I can recall Tillmans’ images just an intimately as I can Eggleston’s. But they are of a different nature, and this is where McDonald’s analysis is like comparing apples and pears. Eggleston’s classical modernist photographs depend on the centrality of composition where his images are perfectly self-contained, whether he is photographing a woman in a blue dress sitting on a kerb or an all green bathroom. They are of their time. Times have changed, and how we view the world has changed.

For Tillmans no subject matter is trivial (If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters – the title of a 2003 exhibition at Tate Britain), and how he approaches the subject is totally different from Eggleston. As he says of his work, his images are “calls to attentiveness.” What does he mean by this? Influenced by the work of the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti whom I have also studied, a call to attentiveness is a way of being open and responsive to the world around you, to its infinite inflections, and to not walk around as if in a dream, letting the world pass you by. To be open and receptive to the energies and connections of the world spirit by seeing clearly.

Krishnamurti insightfully observed that we do not need to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.1 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life. But being aware is not enough, we must be attentive of that awareness and not make images just because we can or must. This is a very contemporary way of looking at the world. As Krishnamurti says,

“Now with that same attention I’m going to see that when you flatter me, or insult me, there is no image, because I’m tremendously attentive … I listen because the mind wants to find out if it is creating an image out of every word, out of every contact. I’m tremendously awake, therefore I find in myself a person who is inattentive, asleep, dull, who makes images and gets hurt – not an intelligent man. Have you understood it at least verbally? Now apply it. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. And if anybody says something to you, you are tremendously attentive, not to any prejudices, but you are attentive to your conditioning. Therefore you have established a relationship with him, which is entirely different from his relationship with you. Because if he is prejudiced, you are not; if he is unaware, you are aware. Therefore you will never create an image about him. You see the difference?”2

.
Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. You are attentive and tremendously awake.

This is the essence of Tillmans work. He is tremendously attentive to the images he is making (“a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view” as he puts it) and to the associations that are possible between images, that we make as human beings. He is open and receptive to his conditioning and offers that gift to us through his art, if we recognise it and accept it for what it is. If you really look and understand what the artist is doing, these images are music, poetry and beauty – are time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. They are archaic and shapeless and fluid and joy and magic and love…

They are the air between everything.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131
  2. Ibid., pp. 130-131

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

 

 

“To look at Eggleston alongside those he has inspire [Wolfgang Tillmans and Juergen Teller for example] is to see a surprisingly old-fashioned artist. No matter how instinctive his approach or how trivial his subjects, Eggleston believes in the centrality of composition. His images are perfectly self-contained. They don’t depend on a splashy, messy installation or a political stance. …

In the current survey of Tillmans’s work at Tate Modern photos of every description are plastered across the walls in the most anarchic manner, with hardly a memorable composition. Yet this shapeless stuff is no longer reviled by the critics – it’s the height of fashion.”

.
John McDonald “William Eggleston: Portraits”

 

“For a long time in Britain, there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017', which includes the latest iteration of the 'truth study centre' project

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail), which includes the latest iteration of the truth study centre project, with
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

 

The Tate show includes a room full of his “truth study centres”, which comprise often contradictory newspaper cuttings as well as photographs and pamphlets that aim to show how news is manipulated according to the political loyalties of those who produce it. As activists go, though, Tillmans is defiantly centre ground. “This is about strengthening the centre. I can understand left-wing politics from a passionate, idealistic point of view, but I do not think it is the solution to where we are now. The solution is good governance, moderation, agreement. Post-Brexit, post-Trump, the voices of reason need to be heard more than ever.”

Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on The Guardian website

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail), which focuses in on Tillmans’ portraiture with Eleanor / Lutz, a (2016) at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Eleanor / Lutz, a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Eleanor / Lutz, a
2016
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Portrait of Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern Boiler House, Level 3, 14/02/2017 in front of his works, Transient 2, 2015 and Tag/Nacht II, 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tag/Nacht II' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tag/Nacht II
2010
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

The State We’re In, A, is part of Neue Welt [New World], the loose family of pictures I began at the end of the last decade. These had two points of departure: “What does the outside world look like to me 20 years after I began photographing?” and “What does it look like in particular with a new photographic medium?”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

“This exhibition is not about politics, it’s about poetry, it’s about installation art. It’s about thinking about the world. I’ve never felt that l can be separated, because the political is only the accumulation of many people’s private lives, which constitute the body politics…”

“My work has always been motivated by talking about society, by talking about how we live together, by how we feel in our bodies. Sexuality, like beauty, is never un-political, because they relate to what’s accepted in society. Two men kissing, is that acceptable? These are all questions to do with beauty.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on the Art News website

 

“There is music. There is dancing. Bewilderment is part of the pleasure, as we move between images and photographic abstractions. Tillmans’ asks us to make connections of all kinds – formal, thematic, spatial, political. He asks what the limits of photography are. There are questions here about time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. After a while it all starts to tumble through me.”

.
Adrian Searle review on the Guardian website

 

 

What are we to make of the world in which we find ourselves today? Contemporary artist Wolfgang Tillmans offers plenty of food for thought.

This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style. Alongside portraiture, landscape and intimate still lifes, Tillmans pushes the boundaries of the photographic form in abstract artworks that range from the sculptural to the immersive.

The year 2003 is the exhibition’s point of departure, representing for Tillmans the moment the world changed, with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. The social and political form a rich vein throughout the artist’s work. German-born, international in outlook and exhibited around the world, Tillmans spent many years in the UK and is currently based in Berlin. In 2000, he was the first photographer and first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize.

 

Room one

Static interference typically appears on a television screen when an analogue signal is switched off. This can occur when a station’s official programme finishes for the night or if a broadcast is censored. In Tillmans’s Sendeschluss/End of Broadcast 2014 it represents the coexistence of two different generations of technology. The chaotic analogue static was displayed on a digital television, which allowed Tillmans’s high-resolution digital camera to record the pattern as it really appeared, something that would not have been possible with a traditional cathode ray tube television. This work shows Tillmans’s interest in questioning what we believe to be true: the seemingly black-and-white image turns out to be extremely colourful when viewed very close up.

Other works in this room reflect on digital printmaking and photography today. For example, the technical ability to photograph a nightscape from a moving vehicle without blurring, as in these images of Sunset Boulevard, is unprecedented. Itself the subject of many famous art photographs, this iconic roadway appears here littered with large format inkjet prints in the form of advertising billboards. In Double Exposure 2012-13 Tillmans juxtaposes images of two trade fairs – one for digital printers, the other for fruit and vegetables. Encounter 2014 shows a different photo-sensitive process. A pot had been left on top of a planter preventing light from reaching the sprouts underneath and leaving them white, while the surrounding growths that caught the daylight turned green.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
107 1/2 × 161 1/2″ (273.1 × 410.2 cm)
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Television white noise that the artist photographed while in Russia. For Tillmans, the image signifies resistance on his part to making clear images, but without the text its ostensibly radical nature would not be known.

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014, at left

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, 2014, at left

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Double Exposure' 2012-13

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Double Exposure
2012-13
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room two

Tillmans spends much of his time in the studio, yet he only occasionally uses it as a set for taking portraits. Instead, it is where prints are made and exhibitions are planned in architectural models, and where he collects materials and generates ideas. Over the years this environment has become a subject for his photographs, presenting a radically different view of the artist’s studio to the more traditional depictions seen in paintings over the centuries.

These works made around the studio demonstrate Tillmans’s concern with the physical process of making photographs, from chemical darkroom processes and their potential to create abstract pictures without the camera, to digital technology that is vital to the production of contemporary images, and the paper onto which they are printed. Tillmans’s understanding of the material qualities of paper is fundamental to his work, and photographs can take on a sculptural quality in series such as Lighter, 2005-ongoing and paper drop, 2001-ongoing, seen later in the exhibition.

In CLC 800, dismantled 2011 Tillmans uses photography to record a temporary installation, the result of unfastening every single screw in his defunct colour photocopier. He prefers to photograph his three-dimensional staged scenarios rather than actually displaying them as sculptures. He has often described the core of his work as ‘translating the three dimensional world into two dimensional pictures’.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'paper drop' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Perhaps as a continuation of his more textural photographs – depicting fabrics and still lifes so close up they become difficult to read – experiments in abstraction followed suit, many of them featuring what is perhaps his favourite motif: the fold, which, as the exhibition’s curator Chris Dercon kindly reminded us, was considered by the philosopher Leibniz as one of the most accurate ways to depict the complexities of the human soul.

Text from the Art News website

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'CLC 800, dismantled' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
CLC 800, dismantled
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room three

Having spent the preceding decade working largely on conceptual and abstract photographs, in 2009 Tillmans embarked on the four-year project Neue Welt. Looking at the world with fresh eyes, he aimed to depict how it has changed since he first took up the camera in 1988. He travelled to five continents to find places unknown to him and visited familiar places as if experiencing them for the first time. Interested in the surface of things as they appeared in those lucid first days of being in a new environment, he immersed himself in each location for just a brief period. Now using a high resolution digital camera, Tillmans captured images in a depth of detail that is immediately compelling, but also suggests the excess of information that is often described as a condition of contemporary life.

Communal spaces, people, animals, and still-life studies of nature or food are just some of the subjects that feature in Neue Welt. Seen together, these images offer a deliberately fragmented view. Rather than making an overarching statement about the changing character of modern life, Tillmans sought only to record, and to create a more empathetic understanding of the world. Over the course of the project, however, some shrewd observations about contemporary worldviews did emerge. One related to the changing shape of car headlights, which he noted are now very angular in shape, giving them a predatory appearance that might reflect a more competitive climate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'astro crusto, a' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
astro crusto, a
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation shot of room 3 from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 3 (detail), with Headlight (f) 2012, at left; and Munuwata sky, 2011 at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Headlight (f)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Headlight (f)
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Munuwata sky' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Munuwata sky
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room four

In the mid-2000s, prompted by global events, such as the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Tillmans became interested in the assertions made by individuals, groups or organisations around the world that their viewpoint represented the absolute truth about a number of political and ethical questions.

He began his wryly-named truth study center project in 2005. Photographs, clippings from newspapers and magazines, objects, drawings, and copies of his own images are laid out in deliberate – and often provocative – juxtapositions. These arrangements reflect the presentation of information by news outlets in print and online. They also draw attention to gaps in knowledge, or areas where there is room for doubt. For each installation, the material presented in the truth study centers is selected according to its topical and geographic context. In 2017, the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse across the world. This iteration of the project focuses in particular on how constructions of truth work on a psychological and physiological level.

The Silver 1998-ongoing prints connect to reality in a different way. Made by passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper through a dirty photo-developing machine, they collect particles and residue from the rollers and liquids. This makes them, in effect, a record of the chemical and mechanical process from which they originate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'truth study center' 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
truth study center
2017
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room five

Tillmans has described how, as a photographer, he feels increasingly less obligated to reflect solely on the outside world through documentary images. In his abstract works, he looks inwards: exploring the rudiments of photographic processes and their potential to be used as a form of self-expression.

Like the Silver works in the previous room, the abstract Greifbar 2014-15 images are made without a camera. Working in the darkroom, Tillmans traces light directly onto photographic paper. The vast swathes of colour are a record of the physical gestures involved in their construction, but also suggest aspects of the body such as hair, or pigmentation of the skin. This reference to the figurative is reflected in the title, which translates as ‘tangible’.

Tillmans has observed that even though these works are made by the artist’s hand, they look as though they could be ‘scientific’ evidence of natural processes. For him, this interpretation is important, because it disassociates the works from the traditional gestural technique of painting. That the image is read as a photographic record, and not the result of the artist’s brushstroke, is essential to its conceptual meaning.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Greifbar 29' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Greifbar 29
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room six

Tillmans is interested in social life in its broadest sense, encompassing our participation in society. His photographs of individuals and groups are underpinned by his conviction that we are all vulnerable, and that our well-being depends upon knowing that we are not alone in the world.

Tillmans has observed that although cultural attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality have become more open over the three decades since he began his artistic practice, there is also greater policing of nightlife, and urban social spaces are closing down. His photographs taken in clubs, for example, testify to the importance of places where people can go today to feel safe, included, and free.

This concern with freedom also extends to the ways in which people organise themselves to make their voices heard. Images of political marches and protests draw attention to the cause for which they are fighting. They also form part of a wider study of what Tillmans describes as the recent ‘re-emergence’ of activism.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans