Archive for the 'illustration' Category

09
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘Spowers & Syme’ at the Geelong Art Gallery, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 16th July – 16th October 2022

A National Gallery Touring Exhibition

Curator: Dr Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax, Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery showing photographs of both Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme

 

Installation view of the exhibition Spowers & Syme at the Geelong Art Gallery showing photographs of both Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme (below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

My friend and I travelled down the highway from Melbourne to Geelong especially to see this National Gallery of Australia touring exhibition – and my god, was it worth the journey!

I have always loved woodcuts and the Art Deco era so it was a great pleasure to see the work of two very talented artists from this period, who were “enthusiastic exponents of modern art in Melbourne during the 1930s and ’40s.” Modern art that would have challenged the conservative (male) art conventions of the day, much as modernist photographs by Max Dupain challenged the ongoing power of Pictorialist photography in 1930s Australia.

From viewing the exhibition it would seem to me that Eveline Syme has the sparer, more ascetic aesthetic. Her forms are more graphic, her lines more severe, her spaces more “blocky” (if I can use that word – in other words, more positive and negative space), her colour palette more restrained than in the work of Ethel Spowers. But her work possesses its own charm: a wonderful Japanese inspired landscape such as The factory (1933, below), with its mix of modernism and naturalism; silhouetted blue figures full of dynamism, movement in a swirling circular motif in Skating (1929, below); or the flattened perspective and 3 colour palette of Sydney tram line (1936, below) – all offer their own delicious enjoyment of the urban landscape.

But the star of the show is the work of the astonishing Ethel Spowers. Her work is luminous… containing such romanticism, fun, humour, movement, play, intricate design, bold colours, lyrical graphics… and emotion – that I literally went weak at the knees when viewing these stunningly beautiful art works. There is somethings so joyful about Spowers designs that instantly draws you in, that makes you smile, that made me cry! They really touched my heart…

Even now writing about them, they seem to me like stills from a dream, scenes out of a fairy tale: the pattern of the white gulls obscuring the plough; the rays of sunlight striking the ground behind The lonely farm; the mysterious stillness of The island of the dead; the arching leap over the rope in Fox and geese; the pyramid construction of Football; the delicacy of movement and line in Swings; and the butterfly-like canopies in Wet afternoon. I could go on and on about the joy these works brought me when looking at them, their vivaciousness, their intense, effervescent spirit. If you get a chance before the exhibition closes next weekend in Geelong please go to see them.

As you may have gathered I am totally in love with the work of Ethel Spowers. Thank you, thank you to the artist for making them, and thank you to the energy of the cosmos for allowing me to see them in person!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“Is it too great a truism to repeat that the best art is always the child of its own age?”

.
Eveline Syme

 

 

Celebrating the artistic friendship of Melbourne artists Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme, the National Gallery Touring Exhibition Spowers and Syme will present the changing face of interwar Australia through the perspective of two pioneering modern women artists.

The exhibition offers rare insight into the unlikely collaboration between the daughters of rival media families. Studying together in Paris and later with avant-garde printmaker Claude Flight in London, Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme returned to the conservative art world of Australia – where they became enthusiastic exponents of modern art in Melbourne during the 1930s and ’40s.

Much-loved for their innovative approach to lino and woodcut techniques, Spowers and Syme showcases their dynamic approach through prints and drawings whose rhythmic patterns reflect the fast pace of the modern world through everyday observations of childhood themes, overseas travel and urban life.

Text from the Geelong Gallery website

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition Spowers & Syme at the Geelong Art Gallery
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Photographer unknown. 'Portrait of Miss EL Spowers, a passenger on board the 'Orama'' 19 March 1935 (installation view)

 

Photographer unknown
Portrait of Miss EL Spowers, a passenger on board the ‘Orama’ (installation view)
19 March 1935
Fremantle
Reproduction courtesy of The West Australian, Perth
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Photographer unknown. 'Miss Eveline W. Syme, who is in charge of the library section of the Australian Red Cross Society, is seen displaying a typical parcel of books as sent out to hospitals, convalescent depots etc. This parcel contains about forty units, covering a wide range of literature' 13 May 1943 (installation view)

 

Photographer unknown
Miss Eveline W. Syme, who is in charge of the library section of the Australian Red Cross Society, is seen displaying a typical parcel of books as sent out to hospitals, convalescent depots etc. This parcel contains about forty units, covering a wide range of literature (installation view)
13 May 1943
Melbourne
Reproduction courtesy of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The gust of wind' 1931 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The gust of wind (installation view)
1931
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The gust of wind' 1931

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The gust of wind
1931
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Special edition' 1936 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Special edition (installation view)
1936
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Raised in Toorak society, Ethel Spowers was the second daughter of William Spewers, an Aotearoa New Zealand-born journalist and proprietor of The Argus and The Australasian newspapers. The Spowers family lived at Toorak House in St Georges Road. Eveline Syme was the first-born daughter of company director and pastoralist Joseph Syme, who was a partner in competing newspaper The Age until 1891. The Syme family lived at Rotherfield (now Sherwood Hall) in St Kilda. Eveline moved to Toorak in around 1927.

Wall text

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Special edition' 1936 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Special edition
1936
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Melbourne from the river' c. 1924 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Melbourne from the river (installation view)
c. 1924
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A sense of place is important to all of us. For Spowers and Syme, Melbourne (Naarm) was their home and held a special place in their hearts. In the 1920s, Melbourne was an important city. Lively and busy, it was also very accessible to the river and beautiful landmarks. The Yarra River (Birrarung) winding gently through the city and the industrial landscape at Yallourn were worthy subjects to focus on. Spowers’ earlier work Melbourne from the river c 1924 (below) was created looking at the river and is framed by spindly trees.

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Melbourne from the river' c. 1924 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Melbourne from the river (installation view)
c. 1924
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Melbourne from the river' c. 1924

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Melbourne from the river
c. 1924
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Banks of the Yarra' 1935 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Banks of the Yarra (installation view)
1935
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Banks of the Yarra' 1935

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Banks of the Yarra
1935
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The bay' 1932 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The bay' 1932 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The bay (installation views)
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The bay' 1932

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The bay
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

Geelong Gallery is delighted to present National Gallery of Australia Touring Exhibition, Spowers & Syme opening on Saturday 16 July 2022.

Celebrating the artistic friendship of Melbourne artists Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme, the Know My Name touring exhibition presents the changing
face of interwar Australia through the perspective of two pioneering women artists.

The National Gallery’s Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings, Dr Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax hopes that Geelong and Victorian audiences will add the
names Spowers and Syme to their knowledge of ground-breaking women artists from the era including Margaret Preston, Thea Proctor, Dorrit Black and Grace Cossington Smith.

‘Spowers and Syme are often overlooked in Australian art history, yet during the 1930s they were recognised by peers as being among the most progressive artists working in Melbourne.’

‘Exhibiting in Australia and England, they championed key ideas from European modernism such as contemporary art reflecting the pace and vitality of life,’ said Noordhuis-Fairfax.

Much-loved for their dynamic approach to lino and woodcut prints, Spowers & Syme offers rare insights into the creative alliance between the daughters of rival media families from Melbourne-based newspapers The Argus and The Age. After studying art together in Paris and London, Spowers and Syme returned to the conservative art world of Australia where they became enthusiastic exponents of modern art during the 1930s and 1940s.

Geelong Galley Director & CEO, Jason Smith says ‘We look forward to sharing the important works of Spowers and Syme and exploring their contributions further through a number of public and education programs. Spowers & Syme will be further contextualised by modernist works by women artists in our Geelong permanent collection including a major survey of printmaker, Barbara Brash.

Press release from the Geelong Art Gallery

 

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Balloons' c. 1920

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Balloons
c. 1920
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of Chris Montgomery 1993

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The factory' 1933 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The factory (installation view)
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The factory' 1933

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The factory
1933
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Beginners' class' 1956

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Beginners’ class
1956
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1992

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Drawing for the linocut 'School is out'' 1936 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Drawing for the linocut ‘School is out’ (installation view)
1936
Melbourne
Drawing in pen and black ink over pencil
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of Chris Montgomery 1993
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

At the end of 1936 Spowers held her sixth and final solo exhibition. It was a survey of old favourites and new works, spanning a decade of imagination and experimentation. Among the twenty prints and six watercolours shown at Grosvenor Galleries in Sydney were five fresh linocuts: Kites, Football, School is out, Children’s hoops and Special edition. These works were a return to her most treasured themes: children and family.

Wall text

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'School is out' 1936

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
School is out
1936
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme captured the joy and dynamism of movement in sport and play. Through colour, pattern and intersecting lines we see the speed and energy of children skipping, running, reaching to catch a ball and the pace of skaters circling the rink in the icy coldness. Who could forget the wonderful feeling of swinging as high as possible, looking down at the world?

Spowers’ images of children playing are reminiscent of her own childhood and have a whimsical charm about them. They capture the sense of wonder and curiosity seen in young children.

Linoleum (lino) was a floor covering that was invented in 1860. Imaginative artists discovered how effective it was for creating prints. With the right tools, it was easy to carve an image into it and make prints using coloured inks on the exposed surface.

Anonymous text. “Play and Games – Spowers & Syme: Primary School Learning Resource,” on the National Gallery of Australia website Nd [Online] Cited 29/08/2022

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The bamboo blind' 1926

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The bamboo blind
1926
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Ethel Louise Spowers (1890-1947), painter and printmaker, was born on 11 July 1890 at South Yarra, Melbourne, second of six children of William George Lucas Spowers, a newspaper proprietor from New Zealand, and his London-born wife Annie Christina, née Westgarth. Allan Spowers was her only brother. She was educated at the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, Melbourne, and was a prefect in 1908. Wealthy and cultured, her family owned a mansion in St Georges Road, Toorak. Ethel continued to live there as an adult and maintained a studio above the stables.

After briefly attending art school in Paris, Miss Spowers undertook (1911-1917) the full course in drawing and painting at Melbourne’s National Gallery schools. Her first solo exhibition, held in 1920 at the Decoration Galleries in the city, showed fairy-tale drawings influenced by the work of Ida Outhwaite. In 1921-1924 Spowers worked and studied abroad, at the Regent Street Polytechnic, London, and the Académie Ranson, Paris. She exhibited (1921) with fellow Australian artist Mary Reynolds at the Macrae Gallery, London. Two further solo shows (1925 and 1927) at the New Gallery, Melbourne, confirmed her reputation as an illustrator of fairy tales, though by then she was also producing woodcuts and linocuts inspired by Japanese art and covering a broader range of subjects.

A dramatic change in Spowers’ style occurred in 1929 when she studied under Claude Flight (the leading exponent of the modernist linocut) at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, London. Her close friend Eveline Syme joined her there. Following further classes in 1931, during which Spowers absorbed modernist ideas of rhythmic design and composition from the principal Iain Macnab, she published an account of the Grosvenor School in the Recorder (Melbourne, 1932). In the 1930s her linocuts attracted critical attention for their bold, simplified forms, rhythmic sense of movement, distinctive use of colour and humorous observation of everyday life, particularly the world of children. They were regularly shown at the Redfern Gallery, London. The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum purchased a number of her linocuts.

Stimulated by Flight’s proselytising zeal for the medium, Spowers organised in 1930 an exhibition of linocuts by Australian artists, among them Syme and Dorrit Black, at Everyman’s Library and Bookshop, Melbourne. A founding member (1932-1938) of George Bell‘s Contemporary Group, Spowers defended the modernist movement against its detractors. In an article in the Australasian on 26 April 1930 she called on ‘all lovers of art to be tolerant to new ideas, and not to condemn without understanding’.

Frances Derham remembered Spowers as being ‘tall, slender and graceful’, with ‘a small head, dark hair and grey eyes’. A rare photograph of Spowers, published in the Bulletin (3 September 1925), revealed her fashionable appearance and reflective character. In the late 1930s she stopped practising as an artist due to ill health, but continued her voluntary work at the Children’s Hospital. She died of cancer on 5 May 1947 in East Melbourne and was buried with Anglican rites in Fawkner cemetery. Although she had destroyed many of her paintings in a bonfire, a memorial exhibition of her watercolours, line-drawings, wood-engravings and colour linocuts was held at George’s Gallery, Melbourne, in 1948. Her prints are held by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, State galleries in Melbourne and Sydney, and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Victoria.

Stephen Coppel. “Spowers, Ethel Louise (1890-1947),” in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16 , 2002, online in 2006 [Online] Cited 26/08/2022

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The Yarra at Warrandyte' 1931 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The Yarra at Warrandyte' 1931 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The Yarra at Warrandyte (installation views)
1931
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'The Yarra at Warrandyte' 1931

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
The Yarra at Warrandyte
1931
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

Eveline Winifred Syme (1888-1961), painter and printmaker, was born on 26 October 1888 at Thames Ditton, Surrey, England, daughter of Joseph Cowen Syme, newspaper proprietor, and his wife Laura, née Blair. Ebenezer Syme was her grandfather. Eveline was raised in the family mansion at St Kilda, Melbourne. After leaving the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, Melbourne, she voyaged to England and studied classics in 1907-1910 at Newnham College, Cambridge (B.A., M.A., 1930). Because the University of Cambridge did not then award degrees to women, she applied to the University of Melbourne for accreditation, but was only granted admission to third-year classics. She chose instead to complete a diploma of education (1914).

Syme’s artistic career was enhanced by her close friendship with Ethel Spowers. She studied painting at art schools in Paris in the early 1920s, notably under Maurice Denis and André Lhote, and held a solo exhibition, mainly of watercolours, at Queen’s Hall, Melbourne, in 1925. Her one-woman shows, at the Athenaeum Gallery (1928) and Everyman’s Library and Bookshop (1931), included linocuts and wood-engravings. While many of her watercolours and prints drew on her travels through England, Provence, France, and Tuscany, Italy, she also responded to the Australian landscape, particularly the countryside around Melbourne and Sydney, and at Port Arthur, Tasmania. Syme’s chance discovery of Claude Flight’s textbook, Lino-Cuts (London, 1927), inspired her to enrol (with Spowers) in his classes at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, London, in January 1929. In keeping with Flight’s modernist conception of the linocut, she began to produce prints incorporating bold colour and rhythmic design.

Returning to Melbourne in 1929 with an exhibition of contemporary wood-engravings from the Redfern Gallery, London, Syme became a cautious advocate of modern art. She published a perceptive account of Flight and his teaching in the Recorder (1929) and spoke on the radio about wood-engraving; she also wrote a pioneering essay on women artists in Victoria from 1857, which was published in the Centenary Gift Book (1934), edited by Frances Fraser and Nettie Palmer. Syme was a founding member (1932-1938) of George Bell‘s Contemporary Group. She regularly exhibited with the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors and with the Independent Group of Artists. Her linocuts, perhaps her most significant achievement, owed much to her collaboration with Spowers.

During the mid-1930s Syme was prominent in moves to establish a women’s residential college at the University of Melbourne. In 1936, as vice-president of the appeal committee, she donated the proceeds of her print retrospective (held at the gallery of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria) to the building fund. A foundation member (1936-1961) of the council of University Women’s College, she served as its president (1940-1947) and as a member of its finance committee. She was appointed to the first council of the National Gallery Society of Victoria in 1947 and sat on its executive-committee in 1948-1953. In addition, she was a member (1919) and president (1950-1951) of the Lyceum Club.

A tall, elegant and reserved woman, Syme had a ‘crisp, quick voice’ and a ‘rather abrupt manner’. She died on 6 June 1961 at Richmond and was buried with Presbyterian forms in Brighton cemetery. In her will she left her books and £5000 to University Women’s College. Edith Alsop’s portrait (1932) of Syme is held by University College. Syme’s work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, State galleries in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Victoria.

Stephen Coppel. “Syme, Eveline Winifred (1888-1961),” in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16 , 2002, online in 2006 [Online] Cited 26/08/2022

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Spowers & Syme' at the Geelong Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition Spowers & Syme at the Geelong Art Gallery showing at top left, Spowers The timber crane (1926, below); at top right, Spowers The plough (1928, below); at bottom left, Spowers The works, Yallourn (1933, below); and at bottom right, Spowers The lonely farm (1933, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The timber crane' 1926 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The timber crane (installation view)
1926
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The plough' 1928 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The plough (installation view)
1928
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The plough' 1928

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The plough
1928
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Linocut
15.7 x 34.8cm (printed image)
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Bulla Bridge' 1934

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Bulla Bridge
1934
Wood engraving
10.1 x 14.7cm (printed image)
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The lonely farm' 1933 (installation view)

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The lonely farm' 1933 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The lonely farm (installation views)
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Harvest' 1932 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Harvest (installation view)
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Harvest' 1932

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Harvest
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The joke' 1932 (installation view)

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The joke' 1932 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The joke (installation views)
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The joke' 1932

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The joke
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The island of the dead' 1927 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The island of the dead (installation view)
1927
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from seven blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1995
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In January 1927 Spowers and Syme holidayed in Iutruwita / Tasmania. After they visited the penal settlement at Port Arthur, Spowers produced this view of the nearby cemetery of Point Puer. Following this trip, Syme made a monochrome wood-engraving, The ruins, Port Arthur c. 1927

Wall text

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The island of the dead' 1927

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The island of the dead
1927
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from seven blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1995

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Skating' 1929 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Skating (installation view)
1929
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from two blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

When Syme joined Spowers at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in January 1929 she made the two-block linocut Skating, which summarises Claude Flight’s teachings on how a composition ‘builds into a geometrical pattern of opposing rhythms’. Her design is simplified, using the repetition of intersecting lines and curves to suggest action. Although the skaters are frozen mid-turn, the print is filled with light and movement, with Syme’s humorous suggestion of novice efforts captured in awkwardly angled arms and legs.

Wall text

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Skating' 1929

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Skating
1929
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from two blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Fox and geese' 1933 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Fox and geese (installation view)
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Fox and geese' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Fox and geese
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Football' 1936 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Football (installation view)
1936
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1982
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Tug of war' 1933 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Tug of war (installation view)
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Tug of war' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Tug of war
1933
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were lifelong friends who inspired and encouraged each another in their artistic pursuits. They were pioneers in printmaking and modern art and their careers reflected the changing circumstances of women after World War 1. Spowers and Syme were among a core group of progressive Australian artists who travelled widely and studied with avant-garde artists. They were at the forefront of Modernism in Australia.

Both women grew up in Melbourne in very comfortable circumstances. Their fathers ran rival newspapers, so their families had many common interests. Spowers’ father was involved with The Argus and The Australasian, while Syme’s father helped run The Age. Both families were dedicated to many causes and generous in their efforts to help others. They also supported war efforts and the Red Cross.

Spowers was the second child of six siblings and her home life was filled with rich and varied creative experiences. Her family lived in a large home in inner Melbourne called Toorak House, a graceful mansion with large gardens to play in and explore. Syme was also one of six siblings and lived nearby in a large house in St Kilda called Rotherfield.

Spowers and Syme studied and travelled together in Australia and overseas. Both were inspired by the artist Claude Flight who taught them at the Grosvenor School in London. He encouraged his students to capture the joy of movement through colour and rhythmic line and the new method of colour linocut printing. Spowers and Syme became strong supporters of being brave as artists, prepared to experiment and promote new ways of doing and seeing.

Throughout their lives the two friends advocated for important causes. Spowers’ focus was always on the welfare of children through her involvement in kindergarten education and volunteering at the local children’s hospital. Syme was particularly dedicated to the advancement of women’s university education.

Anonymous text. “About the Artists – Spowers & Syme: Primary School Learning Resource,” on the National Gallery of Australia website Nd [Online] Cited 29/09/2022

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'San Domenico, Siena' 1931 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'San Domenico, Siena' 1931 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
San Domenico, Siena (installation view)
1931
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1977
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

An inveterate traveller, Syme produced drawings and watercolours of landscape views from her trips around Victoria, her voyages to England via Colombo, and her travels through Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and the United States of America. In addition to exhibiting her watercolours, Syme often used these compositions as the basis for subsequent prints and oil paintings.

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Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Hong Kong harbour' 1934 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Hong Kong harbour' 1934 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Hong Kong harbour (installation views)
1934
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Swings' 1932 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Swings (installation view)
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Swings' 1932

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Swings
1932
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Sydney tram line' 1936 (installation view)

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Sydney tram line' 1936 (installation view)

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Sydney tram line (installation views)
1936
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Powers and Syme were associated with numerous art and social group, which established intersecting circles of connection and opportunity in Melbourne and Sydney. During the 1930s they both exhibited in Sydney with other progressive artists at Dorrit Black’s Modern Art Centre and with the Contemporary Group co-founded by Thea Proctor. This print is based on an earlier watercolour by Syme, drawn after staying with Spowers’ sister at Double Bay in 1932.

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Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961) 'Sydney tram line' 1936

 

Eveline Syme (Australian, 1888-1961)
Sydney tram line
1936
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1979
© Estate of Eveline Syme

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Still life' 1925 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Still life (installation view)
1925
Melbourne
Wood-engraving, printed in black ink, from one block
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1981
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The noisy parrot' 1926 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The noisy parrot (installation view)
1926
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 2015
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The noisy parrot' 1926

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The noisy parrot
1926
Melbourne
Woodcut, printed in colour inks in the Japanese manner, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 2015

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Wet afternoon' 1930 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Wet afternoon (installation view)
1930
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1983
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In July 1930 Claude Flight included this print in British lino-cuts, the second annual exhibition held at the Redfern Gallery in London. Impressions were acquired by the Victoria & Albert museum and the British Museum. Wet afternoon was exhibited again in September at the annual exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria at Melbourne Town Hall and in the first exhibition of linocuts in Australia held in December at Everyman’s Lending Library in the centre of avant-garde Melbourne.

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Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Wet afternoon' 1930

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Wet afternoon
1930
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1983

 

 

Prints, pigments & poison

The vibrant works by Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme, printed on smooth Japanese gampi papers from 1927 to 1950, demanded special consideration during conservation preparation from the Spowers & Syme exhibition. Andrea Wise, Senior Conservator, Paper, explains the process and details the green pigment with the toxic backstory. …

The typical palette in Spowers & Syme works feature carbon black, yellow and brown ochres, ultramarine, cobalt and cerulean blues, emerald green and two organic lake pigments – alizarin crimson and a distinct lilac. Lake pigments are made by attaching a dye to a base material such as alumina, making a dyestuff into a workable particulate pigment. This process can also extend more expensive dyestuffs, making them cheaper to use. Bound with oil to create printer’s inks, this limited palette was then overprinted to achieve a wider range of colours.

Emerald green commonly recurs throughout the works. A highly toxic vivid green, invented in the 19th century, it was still commercially available until the early 1960s. Many historical pigments are toxic, based on arsenic, mercury and lead.

Today we are increasingly aware of the health and safety issues related to work of art, but this was not always the case. Emerald green belongs to a group of copper acetoarsenate pigments that were extensively used for many household goods including furniture and wallpapers. A similar pigment, Scheele’s green, was used on the wallpaper in Napoleon’s apartments on St Helena and has been suggested as the cause of his death. Large amounts of arsenic (100 times that of a living person) were found on Napoleon’s hair and scalp after he had died. While poisoning theories still abound, it has been confirmed through other medical cases from the period that arsenic dust and fumes would be circulated in damp Victorian rooms sealed tight against the drafts that were thought to promote ill health.

Anonymous text. “Prints, pigments & poison,” on the National Gallery of Australia website Nov 18, 2021 [Online] Cited 30/08/2022

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Children's Hoops' 1935

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Children’s Hoops
1935
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from five blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Bank holiday' 1935 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Bank holiday (installation view)
1935
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from six blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Bank holiday' 1935

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Bank holiday
1935
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1976

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'The Junior Red Cross works in every land' 1941 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
The Junior Red Cross works in every land (installation view)
Linocut, printed in colour, from six blocks
Reproduced in Joan and Daryl Lindsay
The story of the Red Cross Melbourne, 1941
National Gallery of Australia Research Library
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Powers made one final linocut print around 1941 for inclusion in a published history of the Australian Red Cross Society compiled by Joan and Daryl Lindsay. The Spowers family had a long philanthropic connection with this cause, and Eveline Syme became the first chairperson of the Red Cross Society Picture Library. Reproduced as a lithographic illustration, the long narrow composition is based on the picnicking families in Spowers’ earlier linocut Bank holiday 1935 (see above).

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Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947) 'Cuthbert and the dogs' c. 1947 (installation view)

 

Ethel Spowers (Australian, 1890-1947)
Cuthbert and the dogs (installation view)
c. 1947
Digest Juvenile Productions, Melbourne
National Gallery of Australia Research Library
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in the mid-1930s, Spowers stopped printmaking and began a series of short stories for children. During the last decade of her life, she wrote and illustrated at least seven books. Their charm drew on stories the Spowers siblings wrote together as children, yet these were cautionary tales in which youthful characters were often reformed by the results of their actions. Of these, only Cuthbert and the dogs was published.

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Grosvenor School of Modern Art

This progressive private school was established in 1925 by Scottish wood-engraver Iain Macnab at 33 Warwick Square in Pimlico. Formerly the London studio and house of Scottish portraitist James Rannie Swinton, the ground-floor interior was repurposed into studios for tuition in drawing, painting and composition, with the basement set up for lithography, etching and block printing. With no entrance examinations or fixed terms, students could attend classes at any time by purchasing a book of fifteen tickets, with each ticket permitting entry to a two-hour session.

Merchant hand-selected a small team of similarly anti-academic staff, including Claude Flight. For five years Flight taught weekly afternoon classes on colour linocuts. He emphasised that art must capture the vitality of the machine age and taught his students a new way of seeing that analysed the activities of urban life and condensed these into dynamic compositions bursting with rhythm and energy.

 

Frank Weitzel (New Zealand, 1905 - England 1932) 'Slum street' c. 1929 (installation view)

 

Frank Weitzel (New Zealand, 1905 – England 1932)
Slum street (installation view)
c. 1929
Sydney
Linocut, printed in black ink, from one block
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1993
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The son of German immigrants, Weitzel has a volatile upbringing in Aotearoa New Zealand where his father interned as an enemy alien. At the age of 16, Wentzel emigrated with his mother to the united States of America, where he studied sculpture in California. After travels through Europe, he relocated to Sydney in 1928 were he produced a series of linocuts in response to the city and was invited by Dorrit Black to exhibit with the Group of Seven. Black arranged for Wentzel to meet Claude Flight in London in 1930; Flight included his prints in the annual linocut exhibitions at Redfern Gallery in 1930 and 1931.

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Frank Weitzel was known mainly as a sculptor but in his studio over Grubb’s butcher shop at Circular Quay, he worked in the tradition of the artist-craftsman, producing linocut batik shawls and wall-hangings, lamp shades, book-ends etc. He also played violin in the Conservatorium Orchestra and designed a modern room (with Henry Pynor) at the Burdekin House Exhibition in 1929. In 1931, looking for work in London he sought out David Garnett, a publisher and member of the Bloomsbury Group of artist-craftsman. While Garnett was not interested in Weitzel’s drawings for publication, he became an admirer of his sculpture and invited Weitzel to care-take his property ‘Hilton Hall’ and commissioned him to do heads of children. Weitzel came to be praised also by Jacob Epstein, Roger Fry, Paul Nash and Duncan Grant. Garnett describes Weitzel in his autobiography as “small, thin, with frizzy hair which stood piled up on his head, blue-eyed, with a beaky nose. I guessed he was not eating enough… He was proletarian, rather helpless, very eager about art and also about communism”. At around this time Weitzel wrote to Colin Simpson back in Australia, “Now I am working on a show of my own which is being arranged for me by some terrific money bags”. The exhibition was never held. Weitzel contracted tetanus apparently from minerals which got under his finger nails while digging for clay for his sculptures. He died on the 22 February 1932 at the age of 26. A posthumous exhibition was organised by Dorrit Black at the Modern Art Centre, 56 Margaret Street, Sydney, on the 7 June 1933- opened by another supporter of modernism, the artist John D. Moore. The works had been brought back to Sydney by Weitzel’s sister Mary, who had travelled to England to collect them. This small show (41 works) included illustrations to a poem by Weitzel, poster designs for the Empire Marketing Board, Underground Railways, Shell Motor Spirit, Barclay’s Lager and the Predential Insurance Company, as well as sculpture, drawings and linocuts which had been exhibited with Grosvenor School artists in London.

Anonymous text. “Frank Weitzel (1905-1932),” on the Christie’s website Nd [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

Lill Tschudi (Swiss, 1911-2004) 'Fixing the wires' 1932 (installation view)

 

Lill Tschudi (Swiss, 1911-2004)
Fixing the wires (installation view)
1932
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from two blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of the artist 1990
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In December 1929, at the age of 18, Tschudi enrolled at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art where she studied under Claude Flight for six months. She also studied in Paris with progressive teachers including André Lhote. Flight was a lifelong supporter of Tschudi and using Fixing the wires as an empale in his 1934 textbook on linocut techniques nothing that ‘the most important point to consider … is the arrangement whereby each colour block is considered as a space-filling whole, as well as part of the final composition made up of the superimposition of all the colour harmonies’.

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Lill Tschudi (Swiss, 1911-2004) 'Fixing the wires' 1932

 

Lill Tschudi (Swiss, 1911-2004)
Fixing the wires
1932
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from two blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of the artist 1990

 

Claude Flight (English, 1881-1955) 'Brooklands' c. 1929 (installation view)

 

Claude Flight (English, 1881-1955)
Brooklands (installation view)
c. 1929
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

At the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London, Claude Flight taught his students the art of the modern colour linocut. He emphasised the importance of composition, building his images of urban life out of simplified form and pattern. Flight’s own practice drew on an exciting mix of avant-garde ideas: from the abstraction of British Vorticism to the dynamism of Italian Futurism to the bold geometric energy of Art Deco and the Arts and Crafts Movement’s emphasis on the handmade.

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Claude Flight (English, 1881-1955) 'Brooklands' c. 1929

 

Claude Flight (English, 1881-1955)
Brooklands
c. 1929
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'Speedway' 1934 (installation view)

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
Speedway (installation view)
1934
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Andrews first studied art by correspondence while working as a welder at an airbase in bristol during the First World War. After meeting her mentor Cyril Power in Bury St Edmonds, they moved to London to study art before Andrews joined the Grosvenor School of Modern Art as a school secretary. Like Flight, Andrews and Power believed that art should reflect the spirit of the time. Andrews showed her work in joint exhibitions with Power at Redfern Gallery, and often explored the them of manual about. She left London in 1938 and emigrated to Canada with her husband Walter Morgan in 1947, where she eventually established a practice as artist and teacher.

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Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'Speedway' 1934

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
Speedway
1934
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from four blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

Cyril E Power (English, 1872-1951) 'Skaters' c. 1932 and Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'The winch' 1930 (installation view)

 

Cyril E Power (English, 1872-1951)
Skaters (installation view)
c. 1932
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
The winch (installation view)
1930
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'The winch' 1930 (installation view)

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
The winch (installation view)
1930
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992) 'The winch' 1930

 

Sybil Andrews (English-Canadian, 1898-1992)
The winch
1930
London
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Purchased 1978

 

George Bell (Australian, 1876-1966) 'The departure' 1931 (installation view)

 

George Bell (Australian, 1876-1966)
The departure (installation view)
1931
Melbourne
Linocut, printed in colour inks, from three blocks
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
Gift of Mrs B Niven 1988
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

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02
Oct
22

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Overview

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

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

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

 

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Moticos

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Morgan Library & Museum

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE

Joel Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Movie Stars

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Twins

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Bunnies

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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07
Aug
22

Exhibition: ‘Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander’ at Centre Pompidou, Paris

Exhibition dates: 11th May – 5th September 2022

 

Ludwig Meidner (German, 1884-1966) 'Selfportrait' 1913 (installation view)

 

Ludwig Meidner (German, 1884-1966)
Selfportrait (installation view)
1913
Oil on canvas
Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

A portent of things to come…

In Germany, the years 1919-1933 were an extraordinary period of turbulence, emancipation, depravation and creativity. After the humiliation of defeat at the end of the First World War, revolution swept Germany which led to the establishment of democracy through the Weimar Republic, which was born out of the struggle for a new social order and political system.

The flowering of German Expressionism (modern art labelled by Hitler Entartete Kunst or “Degenerate Art” in the 1920s) in painting and sculpture took place under the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and the country emerged as a leading centre of the avant-garde. This exhibition focuses on the art and culture of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), a style which was a challenge to Expressionism and which advocated a return to realism and social commentary in art. “As its name suggests, it offered a return to unsentimental reality and a focus on the objective world, as opposed to the more abstract, romantic, or idealistic tendencies of Expressionism.”1

This multidisciplinary exhibition is structured into eight thematic sections corresponding to the groups and sociocultural categories created by August Sander in his seminal work Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the 20th century), “intended, as he stated, to be “a physiognomic image of an age,” and a catalogue of “all the characteristics of the universally human.””2 In other words, Sander focused more on “archetypes” than on individuals, using his photographs to classify groups of people, to create a taxonomic ordering of society. At the time physiognomy (the art of discovering temperament and character from outward appearance) – today classified as a pseudoscience but at the time regarded as a genuine science – used photography to classify individuals and groups, notably used by the Nazis to classify Untermensch, that is, “non-Aryan “inferior people” notably Jews, Roma, and Slavs (Poles, Serbs, Ukrainians, and Russians). The term was also applied to Mixed race and Black people. Jewish, Polish and Romani people, along with the physically and mentally disabled, as well as homosexuals and political dissidents were to be exterminated in the Holocaust.” (Wikipedia)

“[Johannes] Molzahn, [László] Moholy-Nagy and others anticipated photography’s eventual achievement of a universally accessible and highly efficient form of communication. Germany’s immediate future did not fulfil such emancipatory predictions. By the end of the Weimar Republic, it was clear that one of photography’s most significant achievements was repackaging physiognomy, the ancient practice of identifying and classifying people according to racial and ethnic type, as a modern visual language… Declarations of photography as a new universal language and its revival of physiognomic looking went hand in hand with the racialized and metaphysical pursuits of National Socialist photography. This continuity points to uncomfortable connections between Weimar modernism and the fascist ideology of totalitarian regimes. As Eric Kurlander points out … scholars acknowledge that National-Socialist-era culture developed from – rather than broke with – Weimar aesthetic traditions.”3

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The Weimar Republic and its culture is full of contradictions. On the one hand you have changes in gender norms, such as the open appearance of homosexuality, the emergence of the emancipated female, the establishment of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee and World League for Sexual Reform which carried out “the first advocacy for homosexual and transgender rights”, and the disclosed existence of people such as Lili Elbe, who was a Danish painter and transgender woman, and among the early recipients of sex reassignment surgery. At the time of Elbe’s last surgery, her case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. “Artists are also interested in changes in gender norms, like August Sander, who photographs “La femme” in Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts. With an almost sociological eye, they construct a typology of the emancipated Neue Frau (New Woman): Bubikopf (short variant of the bob cut), cigarette, wearing of a shirt or even a tie become recurring attributes in the female portraits of the time.” (Text from the exhibition)

On the other hand you have male artists whose depiction of women – and not just the emancipated female – is highly misogynistic. Women are seen as a threat to men … and in many art works from this period, women’s bodies are mutilated, decapitated and hung. These art works attest to the misogyny of many male artists,4 to the desire of men to control women, to see them as fantasies (to be disfigured or killed), or to see them as unfit for purpose.

For example, Rudolf Schlichter’s smiling / grimacing Mutilated proletarian woman (1922-1923) who is missing a hand and half her forearm whilst still holding a child (which can just be seen in an installation image below), presages against her ability to be a “good” mother; Schlichter’s Der Künstler mit zwei erhängten Frauen (The Artist with Two Hanged Women) (1924) focuses on private fantasies of sexualised murder which was a recurrent theme within this period and the public interest in the rise of suicide; Otto Dix’s group of Lustmord (Sex Murder) paintings (one of which is pictured below) “attest to the anxieties of ’emasculated’, defeated men toward newly independent women. Such depraved fantasies of control, accomplished not by gunshots but gashes, were exploited and sensationalized in the rightwing press”5; and Heinrich Maria Davringhausen’s The Dreamer (1919, below) “is an especially surreal example: a grey-faced figure sits at a table, staring out; a bloody straight razor lays by his hand, while in the corner is a woman with her throat cut; above, the ceiling phases into a beach.”6

“The post-war period saw an emancipation of women, which influenced fashion towards masculinity: short hair, shirt, tie and flat chest. you see women active in all the technical fields previously reserved for male heroes. But… these are exceptions reserved for a certain urban high society because the traditional woman remains KKK (Kirchen, Küchen, Kinders: church, kitchen, children).

It is also the time of a liberation of morals, where Jeanne Mammen draws lesbian encounters… and Christian Schad of boys lovingly entwined… But, an opposite current is born towards a biological determinism of homosexuality, artists make violent reminders of the norm and Rudolf Schlichter, Karl Hubbuch or Otto Dix, for example, multiply the representations of sexual crimes by patients: the emancipated female is seen as a threat.”7

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The interwar German interregnum was a period of incredible sensitivity and brutality at one and the same time. It was a period of disease (Spanish Flu), disfigurement (homecoming soldiers after the First World War), and economic depression and inflation (especially during the Great Depression of 1929). It was a period of the rise of the machine (machine gun, tank, aeroplane, total war). It saw the rise of aerodynamics, modernist architecture, graphic design, new typography, and photography (notably through the Bauhaus) as prolific forms of visual communication in which reading would be an obsolete skill. ‘”Stop reading! Look!” will be the motto in education,’ Molzahn wrote, ‘”Stop Reading! Look!” will be the guiding principle of daily newspapers’.”8 The period also saw the development of archetypes as socio-cultural norms, of the montage of “things” and their standardisation and rationalisation as utilities to be used (and abused).9

In Europe, the interwar period was one of the most wonderful eras of creativity the world has ever seen, the one to which I would most like to return if I had the possibility of going back in time. It was a period of transgression and experimentation, in which the new possibilities and new points of view opened up to the inquiring mind. The cabaret of life was in full flow in Europe in the interwar years: revolution and street battles, poverty and perversion, living for the moment… for tomorrow might never come, evidenced by the brutality a disillusioned society had witnessed during the First World War. The advances to social freedom and female emancipation which occurred during the period were only the scab that covered a gaping wound beneath, a wounding that would be brutally exposed anew during the repression, genocide and conflagration leading up to and during the Second World War. The depictions of life and death, of the i/rational, in the “objective” art of Neue Sachlichkeit were a portent of things to come…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,235

 

Footnotes

1/ Anonymous text. “New Objectivity,” on the German Expressionism MoMA website Nd [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

2/ Anonymous text. “August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century. A Photographic Portrait of Germany,” press release on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website 2004 [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

3/ Pepper Stetler. “Photo Lessons: Teaching Physiognomy during the Weimar Republic,” in Christopher Webster (ed.,). Photography in the Third Reich, Open Book Publishers, 2021, p. 15-28 [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

4/ “During the years following World War I, and until the consolidation of the Nazi party in 1933, paintings and drawings of butchered, semi-nude women proliferated in the art galleries and publications of the Weimar Republic.2 This phenomenon coincided with the sensationalized serial killings of women and children by men who were known as – among other names – Lustmörders. Lustmord, a term derived from criminology and psychology, was the label assigned to this sensational genre.3 The Weimar Lustmördes clearly bother modern scholars, who are faced with the challenge that Weimar critics failed to comment on how these paintings represented the disfiguring of women. The misogyny of these works, uncommented upon in their own time, has become the central focus of much modern Lustmord scholarship, which ultimately defines this treatment of the female form as implicit attacks on the so-called New Woman, a name given to middle- and upper-class women pushing against the traditional roles and restrictions imposed upon them by society.”4
Stephanie Bender. “Lady Killers and Lust-Murderers: The Lustmord Paintings of Weimar Germany,” in Athanor XXIX (Vol. 29), 2011, pp. 77-83. Florida Online Journals [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

5/ Travis Diehl. “New Objectivity,” in Frieze magazine 10 March 2016 [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

6/ Ibid.,

7/ Anonymous text. “la Nouvelle Objectivité, Allemagne années 20,” on the Almanart website Nd [Online] Cited 04/08/2022 (translated from the French by Google translate)

8/ Johannes Molzahn. ‘Nicht mehr lessen! Sehen!’ Das Kunstblatt 12: 3 (1928), p. 80, quoted in Pepper Stetler, Op cit.,

9/ “Rationality is an important aspect of literary representations of Lustmord, and the suggestion of the metropolis as a rational sphere is linked to the role of the male protagonist.14 The male figure is depicted as intellectual and cultured, and even though he commits Lustmord, it is because his rational foundation has been somehow destroyed.15 The manifestation of this violence, this monstrosity that overtakes the rational male, is rooted in the feminine and consequently lashes out at women.”
Jay Michael Layne. “Uncanny Collapse: Sexual Violence and Unsettled Rhetoric in German-Language Lustmord Representations, 1900-1933” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2008, pp. 60-671) quoted in Stephanie Bender. “Lady Killers and Lust-Murderers: The Lustmord Paintings of Weimar Germany,” in Athanor XXIX (Vol. 29), 2011, pp. 77-83. Florida Online Journals [Online] Cited 07/08/2022

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Many thankx to the Centre Pompidou for allowing me to publish some of the images in the posting. Thankx also to Aubrey Perry for the use of most of the installation photographs of the exhibition (except the five noted below)

 

0 – Introduction
1 – Prologue

2 – Standardisation

What is standardisation? The singularities are erased, in favour of recourse to models, standardised types, simple forms reproducible in series. Here we see paintings like those of George Grosz, with his faceless figures, schematic human beings with neutral expressions set in empty towns. This corresponds, in architecture, to the launch in Germany of major programs of housing estates, as in Frankfurt, for which the habitat is designed from standardized models. Here we see engravings made by Gernd Arntz, where people are schematized and geometricized. The silhouettes appear in a simple and subtle game of black and white: the stripes of a prisoner play with the grid, the attitudes of the workers are repeated to the rhythm of the wheels of the machine.

[Anglea Lampe, curator of the exhibition]: The attention of the artists is focused on the social belonging of the people. The sociological notion becomes important, especially with the group which was created in Cologne with the artists Gerd Arntz, Heinrich Hoerle, Franz W. Seiwert, who form the Cologne Progressives group with whom  August Sander exhibits. Arntz produced the series of engravings Häuser der Zeit (12 Houses of the Time), where he represents social classes according to a set of codes. It’s a very political speech of the time. Arntz continues to develop this approach with the philosopher and economist Otto Neurath, who works in Vienna: he develops a universal visual language, called isotype. Isotype is the acronym for “international system of typographic picture education”, in other words it is the precursor of the pictogram or emoticons.

In the 1920s, there was the desire, this dream to create universal languages. These pictograms, which are associated with a colour code, make up, for example, a typology of professions, social categories or elements of daily life, for a democratization of knowledge. Economic and societal problems could be visualised and broadcast thanks to this new visual system… it really is a system of infographics before the letter.

 

3 – Visages de ce temps (Face of our time)

[Florian Ebner, curator of the “August Sander” section]: This two-part exhibition explores the dialogue between August Sander and the Progressive artists of Cologne. We see on the wall the portraits that Sander dedicated to artists and next to it, paintings by artists like Heinrich Hoerle, Franz Seiwert and Anton Räderscheidt. We see how much Sander is inspired by their art and it is a magical moment.

We see on a large table the exchanges between Sander and the Progressives of Cologne: the letters, but also the reproductions he made of their paintings. And at that moment, there is an opening in the picture rail which gives the perspective on the Sander corridor and we see the first group, Les Paysans (Farmers). We see these two forces that run through his work, both rooted in the land – he comes from Westerwald – and revolutionary energy. These are twelve sources of energy that make part of the productive tensions that marked his work.

“By seeing, observing and thinking, with the aid of the photo apparatus and adding a date indication, we can fix universal history and, thanks to the expressive possibilities of photography as a universal language, influence all of humanity.” ~ August Sander

[Florian Ebner]: To return to photography as a universal language, the 1920s in Germany are marked by discussions on the different types of society. It is a society that has asked many questions about itself.

“The fundamental idea of ​​my photographic work People of the Twentieth Century, which I began in 1910 and which contains about five to six hundred photos, a selection of which was published in 1929 under the Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), is nothing but a profession of faith in photography as a universal language and the attempt to paint a physiognomic portrait of the German man, based on the optical-chemical process of the photography, therefore on the pure shaping of light.” ~ August Sander

[Florian Ebner]: I think Sander’s portraiture embodies something specific in photography: he invites people to stage themselves in front of his camera, to take a posture for several seconds. It is therefore a “self-portrait assisted”, according to photography historian Olivier Lugon, and at the same time he assigns these people a place in his theory of society.

The idea of ​​editing society is exactly that: then in his photographic archives, he assigns models and their images a place in these seven groups and 45 portfolios. Face of our time, his book, allows people to understand in a subtle and fine way the class differences of the Weimar Republic.

 

4 – Montage

Photomontage appeared during the war among Dada artists. A few years later, this technique is taken up in painting, photography, cinema, literature, to be put at the service of the analysis of society. The mix of patterns or information, dissociated in reality, allows artists to offer a form of visual synthesis of the time.

 

5 – Les Choses (Things)

The scrutinising gaze of New Objectivity artists brings them take objects as models. Due to its supposedly objective technique, photography seems adapted to the precise rendering of things in their materiality. A dialogue is established between the two arts, painting and photography.

[Angela Lampe]: The paintings are animated by this tension between this inert plant and this bare and geometric environment which gives the false appearance of a bourgeois interior but which is completely artificial and fictitious. Architecture, geometric, abstract, these are the attributes that fascinate artists.

[Sophie Goetzmann]: No photo is objective from the moment there is a framing, a choice of motif, a choice of object photographed, we are in the order of choice. There is a whole practice of plant staging, sometimes point-based original views, close-ups, with attention to rendering detail and matter of these plants. These plants are photographed truly as objects. We are not interested in plants as living beings; they have no vividness, whether in paintings or photographs, they are very rigid, they are placed in neutral and empty environments. They are still life very dead!

 

6 – Persona froide (Cold persona)

The four murderous years of the war that ended in defeat cause general disappointment. Humiliation breeds a culture of shame. In the 1920s appears what the university specialist in culture German Helmut Lethen calls the “cold persona”.

[Sophie Goetzmann]: Helmut Lethen explains that guilt and shame are two different things. Guilt is having made a mistake and racking your brain, torturing yourself with this mistake to try to fix it; so the guilt, according to him, has to do with interiority.

Shame is having made a mistake but, instead of going into introspection, it’s about thinking outward, to think, “What are people going to think of me? How do I save face with others, how do I erase this shame?”. This is what he calls the culture of shame, people are dominated by a shame of ideas that they never had before the First World War, in particular because everyone had gone merrily to war. The war was a real moment of patriotism in Germany as in France, and all these people found themselves face to face with the reality of war: mutilation, dead, traumatised, bereaved families. At the end of the First World War there is a kind of shame that takes hold people compared to their ideas of four years ago.

How is it transcribed in portraits and in attitudes in general? Through a new way of being, of playing the detached person, of protecting oneself using a mask of indifference. In portraits, people don’t smile, do not display any particular expression, are detached on a neutral background. At the same time, portraits say something about people. In place to express their interiority, they show their position in the social order or their occupation. New Objectivity artists put people in boxes and represent people according to their profession, their place of work.

The portraits say something in general, which is to hide one’s feelings. In this section, there is a portrait of a woman putting on makeup. The make-up is a symbol of this new social attitude which is to put a layer of make-up on oneself so as not to reveal one’s torment, one’s feelings to others, it becomes something embarrassing to do that. Another example is the painter Otto Dix who represents the journalist Sylvia von Harden without complacency, as a typical emancipated intellectual of the Weimar Republic. She has short hair, wears a monocle, smokes and drinks a glass of alcohol. His sentimental torments are reflected in the choice of attributes: her bottom is undone, her pose is constrained, she is uncomfortable in a feminized pink universe. Its interior is exposed.

[Florian Ebner] There is a second meeting point where the two paths intersect. This is Chapter 6: The Cold Persona for the New Objectivity Exposition and  group 3 of Sander dedicated to the woman. For women, he thinks about five portfolios that attempt to describe the role of women in society. The first three describe the woman passively; it is always someone else who defines the woman: The Woman and the Child, The Woman and the Man, The Family. It’s still a quite conservative design about society and the role of women. The last two portfolios, The Elegant Woman, The Intellectual Woman underline the new role and type of woman, the Neue Frau, the new woman. We can see together, the very beautiful portrait painted by Otto Dix of the journalist Sylvia von Harden and that of a German radio secretary photographed by Sander: the game of gestures, the hand, the cigarette, the clothes, they could be sisters, twins.

It is a conception of the portrait that no longer speaks of the interiority of a person but how to describe a person by external attributes, by gesture, accessories, the habitus. At this point, the dialogue between the painted portraits and the photographs of August Sander is very rich.

 

7 – Rationalité (Rationality)

After the war, it was the economic crisis in Germany, which experienced hyperinflation. In 1924, the Dawes Plan aimed to help Germany reconnect with the growth, thanks to the injection of American capital. It then develops in Germans a fascination for America which has invested generously. The model society of the United States is methodical, harmonious, innovative because it is governed by technology. It is in this context that rationalisation infuses culture in Germany, from how to organise interiors to popular entertainment, through graphic design.

[Angela Lampe]: The rationalisation of work developed by Taylor is imported into German companies, leading to rapid industrialisation and a mechanisation of tasks. The principle of rationalisation soon becomes a new norm that structures social and cultural life itself. For example, the graphic designer Paul Renner develops the Futura font, based on geometric shapes elementary. This new standard of rationality also applies to the development interior. Viennese architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, who works in Frankfurt, designs a modern and functional kitchen.

 

8 – Utilité

New musical styles imported from America appear in Germany in the 1920s and became very popular. especially jazz and dance music like foxtrot. Composers Ernst Krenek, Kurt Wild or Paul Hindemith drew inspiration from it to create a new musical genre, the Zeitoper, in French: topical opera. The plots take place in the contemporary world, the sets incorporate modern machines like trains, cars, telephones. The opera then addresses a wide audience and draws its references from popular culture.

[Angela Lampe]: There is a great democratisation of this, let’s say, elitist medium, which was the opera. An important figure in the theatre of the 1920s was Bertolt Brecht. At the antipodes of the lyrical outpourings of expressionism it was he, Bertolt Brecht, with the director Erwin Piscator, who developed new forms of theatre, what is called epic theatre, episches theater. In fiction, they introduce scenic devices into their plays that allow the viewer to analyse the plot in order to participate in its awakening Politics. They work from the effects of distancing. The introduction, for example, of the narrator or the break in the unity of the action are all elements generating a distance that encourages reflection. The goal is really to make the spectator.

There are other moments, which can be called moments of neo-objectivity, so Neue Sachlichkeit, in Brecht. It is the theme of sport, he is keen on sport. Moreover, he compares the theatre to sporting events, especially boxing, which really becomes a very important reference for his pieces. There is also his dry and very sober style, which distinguishes it as a representative of this New Objectivity, especially in his poetry.

It is prose that takes precedence over poetry. It’s really another form of literature, which is with an approach, let’s say, rather sociological than poetic. Brecht shares with the New Objectivity also the concern for a democratisation of art. He was interested in the possibilities offered by mass broadcasting devices. For example, he works with recorded poems and radio plays, so broadcast on the radio which spread very quickly in German homes during that time. It’s really a novelty of the mass media, as they say today, which makes it possible to disseminate and democratise culture.

 

9 – Transgressions

[Sophie Goetzmann]: We have two forms of transgression which are shown in these rooms. The transgression of gender norms, first: the idea of gender norms that will shift, especially in expression, in clothes, for example, that we are going to choose, and in particular the women of that time.

So, often, the women of the upper middle class, who live in the big cities, will resort to men’s fashion, dress boyishly, wear short hair, a flat torso, ties, to modify the feminine fashion of the time. So transgression of gender norms and transgression of heterosexuality because, in the Berlin of the 1920s, there was a whole
very important homosexual subculture, in particular through clubs, meeting places, restaurants, bars.

[Angela Lampe]: The painter and designer Jeanne Mammen creates watercolours featuring the daily life of lesbian meeting places, depicting the relationships between women with a certain tenderness, just like Christian Schad, who draws two young boys lovingly embraced. Otto Dix, in his portraits, depicts on the other hand its models according to a more heteronormative vision. The dancer Anita Berber, an openly bisexual star with multiple escapades, is caricatured as a personification of sin. All in red, she is presented as a figure really out of hell. She is truly the embodiment of Babylon, sinful.

[Sophie Goetzmann]: It is these two forms of transgression that are shown in the first two rooms. The last room in the section shows what is rather the opposite of a transgression, i.e. a reminder of the norm and the attitude of most male artists in the face of these transgressions, which is an attitude of anguish, which is an attitude of fear of seeing lesbian women who openly display their sexuality, to see gender norms that are blurred.

Doesn’t that open the door to a mix, too, of gender roles, a take on the power of women over men? So many of these men will multiply the images of women bruised, murdered, butchered, which also echoes the various facts of the time, where there is a whole phenomenon with serial killers that make the headlines, photographs of murders that are broadcast in the press. These are images that draw a lot of inspiration from this visual culture, almost, murder at that time. These are works that translate a certain anguish of these artists in the face of all these transgressions of the standards of gender and these transgressions of heterosexuality.

The shame felt by the men following the defeat of Germany after the First World War, is expressed through representations of violence against women because, too, women progressed on the social ladder during the First World War. Most of the time, positions that have been left vacant by men who went to the front were taken by women.

 

10 – Regard vers le bas (Look back)

In this last section, we are interested in artists who have been excluded, the losers from the appearance of Taylorism, who are obviously the workers who are
exploited and which become an interchangeable mass and simple cogs in enormous machinery that overtakes them. But also, all the people who live in a form of marginality, whether war-disabled, or the unemployed, or people who live on the fringes of cities and who do not go to shows, operas or Zeitoper, or Brecht’s shows which are visible in city centres, but who are completely excluded from all this entertainment and who are doomed to a form of marginality in their life, in their place of living, and who are completely crushed by the capitalist economic machinery.

[Angela Lampe]: Far from the bustling boulevards and their neon signs, the painters like Hans Baluschek and Hans Grundig paint those excluded from urban entertainment, like poor families moving through these terrains, waves relegated to the fringes of cities. During these years, there was really a gap between what we call the rich and poor, between underprivileged backgrounds and bourgeois backgrounds, even industrialised capitals. This gap was widening during these years.

[Florian Ebner]: So Sander is going to dedicate portfolio 11 to this group, La grande ville, where we also see the youth of the big city, the young high school girl, the young high school student, dressed in a very chic way, but we also see the uprooted from society, we also see the invalids of the First World War, we see the left-behinds of the system capitalist.

There is a portfolio called The People Who Came to My Door, which is as a sort of mise-en-abyme of his method. That is to say, he invites people who came to ask for money (beggars, hawkers, unemployed), to have their photograph taken in the frame of their door, in front of the entrance wall. It is a true typology of these people. And there is a very beautiful sentence, a very nice idea, where he asks himself: “Can you imagine taking in all the employment offices in Germany, at the same time, a photograph. What strong image would that give of poverty?”

“Here, the photo speaks a very cultured language that can be heard by everybody; it is another language, but just as expressive, as photography would speak if cameras were installed in the 365 existing unemployment offices today on the sole territory of the German Reich and if we made them work simultaneously. If we photographed the people in these offices, then we gathered the results thus obtained and we added the date, 1931, the tragedy of this photographic language would certainly be understandable, without further comment, by all men today and in times to come.” ~ August Sander

11 – Epilogue

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Text from the exhibition podcast transcription on the Centre Pompidou website translated from the French by Google translate

 

This exhibition on the art and culture of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) in Germany is the first overview presented in France of this artistic trend. Apart from painting and photography, the project brings together architecture, design, film, theatre, literature and music.

People of the 20th century, the masterwork by photographer August Sander, establishes the motif of a cross-section of a society, an “exhibition in the exhibition”, as a structural principle, the two interlinked perspectives opening up a large panorama of German art in the late 1920s.

This multidisciplinary exhibition is structured into eight thematic sections corresponding to the groups and sociocultural categories created by August Sander.

A review of German history in the context of contemporary Europe with populist movements and divergent societies in the throes of the digital revolution invites us to observe the political resonances and media analogies between yesterday’s situations and those of today.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation views of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at right in the bottom image, works by Rudolf Schlichter: from left to right, Arbeiter mit Mütze (Worker with hat), 1926; Verstümmelte Proletarierfrau (Mutilated proletarian woman), 1922-1923; and  Schwachsinnige II (Imbeciles II), 1923-1924
Photos: Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

 

Les choses / Things

The artists of the New Objectivity were particularly interested in the genre of still life and represented objects with great clarity, their gaze being both scrutinising and cutting. Because of its supposed objectivity, photography seems particularly suited to the precise rendering of things in their materiality. Inspired by this hyperrealistic fidelity, the painters appropriated the visual language of photography. Rubber cacti and fig trees were very popular in 1920s Germany, where they were sought after for their exoticism. Artists are passionate about these plants then perceived as the plant equivalent of crystalline stone: architectural, geometric, abstract. Xaver Fuhr and Alexander Kanoldt paint figs with great meticulousness, in uncluttered compositions that bring out their clear structure. Georg Scholz values ​​the stiffness of the cactus, in resonance with the rigid pictorial style of the New Objectivity.

This reified nature is part of a broader fascination with the world of objects. Photographers and painters are also interested in glass objects, light bulbs and tableware, often depicted in plunging or unusual perspectives.

 

Persona froide / Cold persona

The four murderous years of the war ended in defeat engendered a form of general disillusion in Germany. According to literary historian Helmut Lethen, the humiliation inflicted by the victors gave rise to a culture of shame, characterised by widespread embarrassment about pre-war utopias. If guilt implies an introspective approach and supposes questioning oneself about one’s wrongs, shame is external and requires above all to preserve one’s image with others. In the 1920s, what Lethen called the “cold persona” appeared, a new social type that consisted of seeking to escape feelings of humiliation by displaying a mask of coldness and indifference.

This new behaviour profoundly modifies the practice of portraiture. Previously turned towards the interiority and the psychological expression of the model, it now focuses on the external signs of individuals. The artists of the New Objectivity thus represent less personalities than social types, defined by their profession. Often displayed in the very title of the work (businessman, textile merchant, doctor, etc.), it is also identifiable through attributes that allow it to be recognised.

In Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the 20th century), August Sander devotes a group to “Socio-professional categories”, photographing less individual characters than occupations.

Like Julius Bissier, who represents himself forging his own image without emotion or affect (see below), the portraits appear cold, emptied of all feeling, in resonance with their often neutral and deserted backgrounds. The subjects appear alone and wear a detached expression, an absent, even empty gaze. Like the young girl represented by Lotte Laserstein, they seem to seek to disguise their feelings behind an impenetrable appearance.

Artists are also interested in changes in gender norms, like August Sander, who photographs “La femme” in Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts. With an almost sociological eye, they construct a typology of the emancipated Neue Frau (New Woman): Bubikopf (short variant of the bob cut), cigarette, wearing of a shirt or even a tie become recurring attributes in the female portraits of the time.

 

Rationalité / Rationality

The economic crisis and spectacular post-war inflation were followed by a period of stabilisation and relative growth, favoured in particular by the Dawes Plan and the injection of American capital in 1924. A fascination for America and its model of society seen as methodical and harmonious, governed by technique, was born in Germany.

The rationalisation of work developed by Taylor is imported into German companies, leading to rapid industrialisation and the mechanisation of tasks. The aestheticisation of machines is found in the artists of the New Objectivity, who praise their beauty. Carl Grossberg’s paintings show sparkling clean industrial sites in clean, meticulously detailed compositions. The cult of technology continued with the appearance of the radio, a new domestic machine perceived by the painter Max Radler or the playwright Bertolt Brecht as a potential tool for emancipation.

The principle of rationalisation soon becomes a new norm that structures social and cultural life. The interior layout of the small-sized accommodation is studied by the architects and designers to optimise the space. Along the same lines, Marcel Breuer and Franz Schuster developed sleek, space-saving furniture that freed up as much space as possible. The architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky has designed a modern and functional kitchen in Frankfurt, organised as a workspace to limit the movements of the housewife. This concern to improve the daily life of women is part of a general desire for emancipation: the 1920s are those of the appearance of a financially independent Neue Frau (New Woman), who leaves her traditional role to confront to modern technology or to sports previously reserved for men.

 

Transgressions

In Germany, traditional gender roles were redefined after the First World War. After occupying vacant positions during the conflict, women are now established in the labor market, and obtain the right to vote in 1918. This new position leads them to adopt an androgynous appearance by appropriating the codes of masculinity: short hair, shirt, tie and flat chest, as shown in Selbstbildnis als Malerin (Self-Portrait as a Painter) (1935, below) by Kate Diehn-Bitt (1900-1978), oil on plywood.

In Berlin, in the famous Eldorado cabaret, transvestite artists push this confusion of genres even further. An important homosexual subculture develops in these clubs tolerated by the police. The painter and designer Jeanne Mammen creates watercolours that capture the daily life of lesbian meeting places, depicting the relationships between women with a certain tenderness.

The portraits of Otto Dix, on the other hand, are more imbued with the homophobic stereotypes of the time. The dancer Anita Berber, openly bisexual star with multiple escapades, is caricatured as a personification of sin. Jeweller Karl Krall appears with disproportionately scooped and wide hips, echoing physiologist Eugen Steinach’s ideas about “feminized men”.

Transgressions of heterosexuality and decompartmentalisation of genres generate anxiety in some male artists which is reflected in their works by a violent reminder of the norm. Rudolf Schlichter, Karl Hubbuch or Otto Dix multiply the representations of Lustmörder, sexual crimes showing women violently murdered by knife or hanging.

 

Regard vers le bas / Look down

The fascination for industry and machines clashes with the harsh reality of the daily life of the most modest populations. Driven by a desire to represent the reverse side of triumphant capitalism, certain artists of the New Objectivity turn their gaze towards those invisible things that technical progress excludes or condemns. Although pretending to a representation objective of the social world, they refuse political neutrality, most of them being committed to the Communist Party.

Karl Völker and Oskar Nerlinger create portraits of anonymous crowds of workers in the oppressive environment of industrial architecture: de-individuated, they are no more than simple cogs in the capitalist economic machine. Using a detached style, the artists represent the precarious populations living on the edge of large modern urban centres, showcases of German capitalism. Far from the bustling boulevards and their neon signs, Hans Baluschek and Hans Grundig paint those excluded from urban entertainment, poor families living in vacant lots on the outskirts of cities.

 

Max Radler (1904-1971) 'Der Radiohörer' (The Radio Listener) 1930

 

Max Radler (1904-1971)
Der Radiohörer (The Radio Listener)
1930
Oil on canvas

 

Wilhelm Heise (German, 1892–1965) 'Verblühender Frühling. Selbstbildnis als Radiobastler' (Faded Spring. Self-portrait as a radio amateur) 1926

 

Wilhelm Heise (German, 1892–1965)
Verblühender Frühling. Selbstbildnis als Radiobastler (Faded Spring. Self-portrait as a radio amateur)
1926
Oil on canvas

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971) 'Mechanischer Kopf (Der Geist Unserer Zeit)' The Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time) 1919

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971)
Mechanischer Kopf (Der Geist Unserer Zeit) The Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time)
1919
Assemblage
Wooden hairdresser’s puppet and various objects attached to it: telescopic beaker, a leather case, pipe stem, white cardboard bearing the number 22, a piece of a seamstress’ tape measure, a double decimeter, a watch cog, a roll of character d printing
32.5 x 21 x 20cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1974

 

 

“I wanted to unveil the spirit of our time, the spirit of everyone in its rudimentary state.”

Reducing the individual to a series of figures, this head criticises a harmful mechanisation revealed by the Great War. It also constitutes the announcement of a new, rational and impersonal man in tune with modern society. Anti-bourgeois and corrosive, does Raoul Hausmann reject the present or does he project himself into the future?

 

The most famous work by Hausmann, Mechanischer Kopf (Der Geist Unserer Zeit), “The Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time)”, c. 1920, is the only surviving assemblage that Hausmann produced around 1919-1920. Constructed from a hairdresser’s wig-making dummy, the piece has various measuring devices attached including a ruler, a pocket watch mechanism, a typewriter, some camera segments and a crocodile wallet.

Der Geist Unserer Zeit – Mechanischer Kopf specifically evokes the philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). For Hegel… everything is mind. Among Hegel’s disciples and critics was Karl Marx. Hausmann’s sculpture might be seen as an aggressively Marxist reversal of Hegel: this is a head whose “thoughts” are materially determined by objects literally fixed to it. However, there are deeper targets in western culture that give this modern masterpiece its force. Hausmann turns inside out the notion of the head as seat of reason, an assumption that lies behind the European fascination with the portrait. He reveals a head that is penetrated and governed by brute external forces.”

Jonathan Jones. “The Spirit of Our Time – Mechanical Head, Raoul Hausmann (1919),” on The Guardian website Saturday 27th September 2003 quoted in “Raoul Hausmann,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/08/2022

 

Carl Grossberg (German, 1894-1940) 'Jacquard-Weberei' (Jacquard weaving workshop) 1934

 

Carl Grossberg (German, 1894-1940)
Jacquard-Weberei (Jacquard weaving workshop)
1934
Oil on wood

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935) 'Sommernacht' (Summer Evening) 1929 (installation view)

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935)
Sommernacht (Summer Evening) (installation view)
1929
Oil on canvas
120 x 151cm
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935) 'Sommernacht' (Summer Evening) 1929

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935)
Sommernacht (Summer Evening)
1929
Oil on canvas
120 x 151cm

 

Hans Baluschek (German, 1870-1935)

Hans Baluschek (9 May 1870 – 28 September 1935) was a German painter, graphic artist and writer.

Baluschek was a prominent representative of German Critical Realism, and as such he sought to portray the life of the common people with vivid frankness. His paintings centred on the working class of Berlin. He belonged to the Berlin Secession movement, a group of artists interested in modern developments in art. Yet during his lifetime he was most widely known for his fanciful illustrations of the popular children’s book Little Peter’s Journey to the Moon (German title: Peterchens Mondfahrt).

Hans Baluschek, after 1920, was an active member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which at the time still professed a Marxist view of history.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at left, Karl Hubbuch’s Twice Hilde II and Twice Hilde (c. 1929, below); and at right, Otto Dix’s An die Schönheit (Selbstbildnis) (To the beauty (Selfportrait)) (1922, below).
Photo: Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979) 'Zweimal Hilde II' (Twice Hilde II) c. 1929 (installation view)

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979)
Zweimal Hilde II (Twice Hilde II) (installation view)
c. 1929
Oil on canvas mounted on masonite
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bomemsiza, Madrid
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979) 'Zweimal Hilde' (Twice Hilde) c. 1929 (installation view)

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979)
Zweimal Hilde (Twice Hilde) (installation view)
c. 1929
Oil on canvas mounted on masonite
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bomemsiza, Madrid
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Karl Hubbuch, who was originally from Karlsruhe, often travelled to Berlin. It was there that he met George Grosz and Rudolf Schlichter, with whom he joined the radical Novembergruppe and Rote Gruppe, and later the Neue Sachlichkeit. Despite his radical ideological stance, the critical accent of his painting was tempered by the more moderate and classical style characteristic of the Karlsruhe artists.

Twice Hilde II is a double image of Hubbuch’s wife, whom he painted on numerous occasions. Hilde Isai (1905-1971), one of his drawing from life students at the Karlsruhe academy, whom he married in 1928, was an energetic and independent woman who eventually left her husband to devote herself to her passion for photography at the Dessau Bauhaus. The composition, in the manner of a Doppelgänger, was initially designed as a quadruple portrait which the artist later cut into two after the central part was damaged by a leak. The two pieces, which were exhibited together on a few occasions, and the preparatory drawings provide a progressive sequence of Hilde’s personality. Hubbuch, who was very fond of multiple portraits, instead of attempting to capture Hilde’s personality in a single figure, breaks it down into numerous facets, from the image on the left – which shows her seated with crossed legs on a modern tube chair designed by Marcel Breuer in a serious, prim pose wearing glasses that give her an intellectual air – to the provocative, coquettish woman in her underclothes on the far right of the Munich double portrait. Like most of the members of the German New Objectivity movement, Hubbuch was attracted by everyday scenes and by rendering various objects and textures in minute detail.

Although the painting has often been dated to 1923, in the catalogue of the retrospective exhibition of the painter’s work in 1981, the first serious critical study of his oeuvre, Wolfgang Hartmann ascribed it to 1929 on the grounds of particular stylistic features and the fact that Hubbuch did not meet Hilde until 1926.

Paloma Alarcó. “Karl Hubbuch,” on the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bomemsiza website Nd [Online] Cited 02/08/2022

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979) 'Zweimal Hilde II' (Twice Hilde II) c. 1929

 

Karl Hubbuch (German, 1891-1979)
Zweimal Hilde II (Twice Hilde II)
c. 1929
Oil on canvas mounted on masonite
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bomemsiza, Madrid

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'An die Schönheit (Selbstbildnis)' (To the beauty (Selfportrait)) 1922

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
An die Schönheit (Selbstbildnis) (To the beauty (Selfportrait))
1922
Oil on canvas
139.5 x 120.5cm
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Wuppertal
© Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970) 'The Dreamer II' 1919 (installation view)

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970)
The Dreamer II (installation view)
1919
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970)

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (1894-1970) spent his youth in Aachen and studied sculpture at the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1913-14, where he met Carlo Mense. Rhenish Expressionism, with its leanings towards Fauvism, Cubism and Futurism, exerted a formative influence on Davringhausen’s palette and composition.

In the years that followed, Davringhausen travelled constantly and met Georg Schrimpf at the Monte Verità artists’ colony near Ascona. Several portraits were done of him in a realistically overpainted manner which show the artist against a coloured Futurist background. The loss of an eye in his childhood ensured that Davringhausen was spared military service when the first world war broke out. Heinrich Maria Davringhausen returned to Germany, moved to Munich in 1918 and joined the group of Düsseldorf artists known as Das junge Rheinland.

Under the influence of the Cologne “progressives”, Davringhausen now painted primarily abstract pictures with colour surfaces, some of them conceived in series. Between 1924 and 1925 the artist lived in Toledo, Spain, but chose to settle in Cologne in 1928, where he founded “Gruppe 32” with Anton Räderscheidt et al.

After he married Lore Auerbach, the daughter of a Jewish industrialist, Davringhausen emigrated with his wife to Cala Ratjada on Mallorca in 1933. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 compelled Davringhausen to flee to Ascona via Marseilles and Paris. A year later his work was shown in the exhibition of Degenerate Art. In 1939 Davringhausen was expelled from Switzerland and moved with his family to Haut-de-Cagnes near Nice. After managing to escape from Les Milles, where he was interned in 1939-1940, Davringhausen hid with his wife in Auvergne, returning to Haut-de-Cagnes after the war.

Most of Davringhausen’s work was lost during the war due to his being outlawed by the National Socialists and being continually on the run. In the postwar years Davringhausen exhibited his work, which reveals a close affinity with “Neue Sachlichkeit”, at many galleries across the world.

By the close of the 1950s art history was beginning to take notice of the New Objectivist style. As a result, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen’s early work was shown at numerous exhibitions and was included in publications dealing with the “Neue Sachlichkeit” movement. The artist’s comprehensive body of late work is primarily geometric and abstract yet it did not win much recognition. Heinrich Maria Davringhausen died in Nice on 13 December 1970.

Kraftgenie. “Heinrich Maria Davringhausen,” on the Weimar website, Tuesday, June 8, 2010 [Online] Cited 02/08/2022

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970) 'The Dreamer' 1919

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970)
The Dreamer
1919

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982) 'Die Melancholische' (The Melancholy) 1931 (installation view)

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982)
Die Melancholische (The Melancholy) (installation view)
1931
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Christian Schad (21 August 1894 – 25 February 1982) was a German painter and photographer. He was associated with the Dada and the New Objectivity movements. Considered as a group, Schad’s portraits form an extraordinary record of life in Vienna and Berlin in the years following World War I.

 

 

The four devastating years of World War I, which ended in defeat for Germany, led to a general sense of disillusionment among the people. Abandoning the visionary, spiritual and psychological aesthetics of expressionism, the disabused artists turned to reality. In painting, this paradigm shift was reflected in the emergence of a more neutral and less expressive figurative style that tended towards greater objectivity.

The German empire was succeeded by a new political regime, the Weimar Republic, which promoted the development of a new democratic culture focused on the masses. The exaltation of the individual was replaced by an ideal of standardisation: singularities were erased in favour of models, standardised types and simple forms reproduced in series. In urban development, the unprecedented shortage of housing at the end of World War I led to the construction of large housing blocks with simple and identical forms, designed according to a principal of rationalisation. The notion of utility which was linked to the new objectivity movement, emerged in theatre, music and literature. This new concept promoted the creation of works intended for a wide audience, strongly anchored in their time and designed to be immediately understandable.

Art also expressed the social upheavals under the new German democracy. After World War I, women joined the labour market and obtained the right to vote in 1918; this very definition of traditional gender roles was a subject explored by painters and photographers. From 1924 onwards, the injection of American Capital ushered in a period of relative economic stabilisation, but many Germans remained excluded from the benefits of growth. Artists who are members of the communist party depicted labourers, the unemployed and beggars, driven by a desire to represent the underside of triumphant capitalism.

 

 

August Sander. 'Malerehepaar' (Couple of painters) (Martha and Otto Dix)

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Malerehepaar (Couple of painters) (Martha et Otto Dix)
1925-1926
Modern gelatin silver print
20.6 x 24.3 cm
Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne/ Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Painter (Marta Hegemann)' c. 1925

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Painter (Marta Hegemann)
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 7 3/8″ (25.8 × 18.7cm)
© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln / Adagp, Paris

 

Carl Grossberg (German, 1894-1940) 'Self portrait' 1928

 

Carl Grossberg (German, 1894-1940)
Self portrait
1928
Oil on panel
70.1 x 60cm

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Hausierer' (Peddler) 1930

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Hausierer (Peddler)
1930
Gelatin silver print
17.5 x 11.8cm (6.9 x 4.6 in)

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Bailiff' c. 1930

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Bailiff
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 7 3/8″ (25.8 × 18.7cm)

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) '[Unemployed Man in Winter Coat, Hat in Hand]' 1920

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
[Unemployed Man in Winter Coat, Hat in Hand]
1920
Gelatin silver print
23.0 x 14.7cm (9 1/16 x 5 13/16 in)

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Frau eines Architekten (Dora Lüttgen)' (Architect's Wife (Dora Lüttgen)) 1926

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Frau eines Architekten (Dora Lüttgen) (Architect’s Wife (Dora Lüttgen))
1926
Gelatin silver print
25.8 × 18.7cm

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Rothaarige Frau (Damenporträt)' Red-haired woman (female portrait) 1931 (installation view)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Rothaarige Frau (Damenporträt) (Red-haired woman (female portrait))
1931
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Rothaarige Frau (Damenporträt)' Red-haired woman (female portrait) 1931 

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Rothaarige Frau (Damenporträt) Red-haired woman (female portrait)
1931

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at centre left, Rudolf Schlichter’s Margot (1924, below); and at second right, Otto Dix’s Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden) (1926, below)
Photo: Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955) 'Margot' 1924

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)
Margot
1924
© Städel Museum

 

 

The prostitute Margot was portrayed several times by Rudolf Schlichter around 1924. Margot, portrayed in the pose of baroque portraits of rulers with a challenging look and self-confident right arm on her hips, bob haircut and cigarette, presents the type of the new woman. She buys her emancipation with the sale and – her swollen left eyelid indicates it – with the maltreatment of her body. The background shows a dreary tenement barracks, their “kingdom” is the street.

Text from the Städel Museum website

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)

Rudolf Schlichter (or Rudolph Schlichter) (December 6, 1890 – May 3, 1955) was a German painter and one of the most important representatives of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement.

Schlichter was born in Calw, Württemberg. After an apprenticeship as an enamel painter at a Pforzheim factory he attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Stuttgart. He subsequently studied under Hans Thoma and Wilhelm Trübner at the Academy in Karlsruhe. Called for military service in World War I, he carried out a hunger strike to secure early release, and in 1919 he moved to Berlin where he joined the Communist Party of Germany and the “November” group. He took part in a Dada fair in 1920 and also worked as an illustrator for several periodicals.

A major work from this period is his Dada Roof Studio, a watercolour showing an assortment of figures on an urban rooftop. Around a table sit a woman and two men in top hats. One of the men has a prosthetic hand and the other, also missing a hand, appears on closer scrutiny to be mannequin. Two other figures in gas masks may also be mannequins. A child holds a pail and a woman wearing high button shoes (for which Schlichter displayed a marked fetish) stands on a pedestal, gesturing inexplicably.

In 1925 Schlichter participated in the “Neue Sachlichkeit” exhibit at the Mannheim Kunsthalle. His work from this period is realistic, a good example being the Portrait of Margot (1924, above) now in the Berlin Märkisches Museum. It depicts a prostitute who often modelled for Schlichter, standing on a deserted street and holding a cigarette.

When Adolf Hitler took power, bringing to an end the Weimar period, his activities were greatly curtailed. In 1935 he returned to Stuttgart, and four years later to Munich. In 1937 his works were seized as degenerate art, and in 1939 the Nazi authorities banned him from exhibiting. His studio was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1942.

At the war’s end, Schlichter resumed exhibiting works. His works from this period were surrealistic in character. He died in Munich in 1955.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955) 'Damenkneipe' (Ladies' Bistro) c. 1925

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)
Damenkneipe (Ladies’ Bistro)
c. 1925
Watercolour, India ink and pencil on paper

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden' (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden) 1926 (installation view)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden) (installation view)
1926
Oil and tempera on wood
121 x 89cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1961
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden' (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden) 1926

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden (Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden)
1926
Oil and tempera on wood
121 x 89cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1961
© Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Audrey Laurans – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP

 

 

Who is this woman who dares to appear in public alone, cigarette in hand, at a table of the Romanische Café, a haunt of the Berlin art worlds?

Sylvia von Harden was a journalist in Berlin in the 1920s. Her nonchalant stance is a statement of her emancipated intellectual role. Otto Dix undermines her arrogance with the detail of a loose stocking and her rather awkward pose. Her red-check dress contrast with the pink environment, typically Art Nouveau. The cold, satirical realism typifies the New Objectivity movement to which the painter belonged. Inspired by early 16th-century German masters (Cranach, Holbein), he embraced the tempera on wood panel technique as well as the choice to exhibit the ugliness.

 

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Sekretärin beim Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Köln (Secretary at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne)
1931
Gelatin silver print
28.6 x 20.5cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1979
© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Guy Carrard – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Der Maler Anton Räderscheidt' (Painter Anton Räderscheidt) 1926

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Maler Anton Räderscheidt (Painter Anton Räderscheidt)
1926
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 21.9cm
Pompidou Centre collection
Purchase, 1979
© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Adam Rzepka – Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI /Dist. RMN-GP

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970) 'Junger Mann mit gelben Handschuhen' (Young man with yellow gloves) 1921

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)
Junger Mann mit gelben Handschuhen (Young man with yellow gloves)
1921
Oil on panel
27.4 x 18.6cm

 

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)

Anton Räderscheidt (October 11, 1892 – March 8, 1970) was a German painter who was a leading figure of the New Objectivity.

Räderscheidt was born in Cologne. His father was a schoolmaster who also wrote poetry. From 1910 to 1914, Räderscheidt studied at the Academy of Düsseldorf. He was severely wounded in the First World War, during which he fought at Verdun. After the war he returned to Cologne, where in 1919 he cofounded the artists’ group Stupid with other members of the local constructivist and Dada scene. The group was short-lived, as Räderscheidt was by 1920 abandoning constructivism for a magic realist style. In 1925 he participated in the Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”) exhibition at the Mannheim Kunsthalle.

Many of the works Räderscheidt produced in the 1920s depict a stiffly posed, isolated couple that usually bear the features of Räderscheidt and his wife, the painter Marta Hegemann. The influence of metaphysical art is apparent in the way the mannequin-like figures stand detached from their environment and from each other. A pervasive theme is the incompatibility of the sexes, according to the art historian Dennis Crockett. Few of Räderscheidt’s works from this era survive, because most of them were either seized by the Nazis as degenerate art and destroyed, or were destroyed in Allied bombing raids. His work was also part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1932 Summer Olympics.

His marriage to Marta ended in 1933. In 1934-1935 he lived in Berlin. He fled to France in 1936, and settled in Paris, where his work became more colourful, curvilinear and rhythmic. He was interned by the occupation authorities in 1940, but he escaped to Switzerland. In 1949 he returned to Cologne and resumed his work, producing many paintings of horses shortly before adopting an abstract style in 1957.

Räderscheidt was to return to the themes of his earlier work in some of his paintings of the 1960s. After suffering a stroke in 1967, he had to relearn the act of painting. He produced a penetrating series of self-portraits in gouache in the final years of his life. Anton Räderscheidt died in Cologne in 1970.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970) 'Junger Mann mit gelben Handschuhen' (Young man with yellow gloves) 1921 (installation view)

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)
Junger Mann mit gelben Handschuhen (Young man with yellow gloves)
1921
Oil on panel
27.4 x 18.6cm
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970) 'Painter with Model (Self Portrait)' 1928 (installation view)

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)
Painter with Model (Self Portrait)
1928
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970) 'Painter with Model (Self Portrait)' 1928

 

Anton Räderscheidt (German, 1892-1970)
Painter with Model (Self Portrait)
1928

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Zirkusarbeiter' (Circus Workers) 1926-1932

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Zirkusarbeiter (Circus Workers)
1926-1932
Gelatin silver print
28 x 21.10cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne/ Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber' (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber) 1925 (installation view)

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber' (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber) 1925 (installation view)

 

Installation views of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing Otto Dix’s Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber) (1925, below)
Photos: Aubrey Perry

 

Wall text from the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Anita Berber in real life

 

This is Anita Berber in real life. The painted portrait was her at 26. She died three years later. “Sex, drugs, and rock & roll”

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber' (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber) 1925

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Bildnis der Tänzerin Anita Berber (Portrait of the dancer Anita Berber)
1925
© Sammlung Landesbank Baden-Württemberg im Kunstmuseum Stuttgart
Photo: Frank Kleinbac

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) Lustmord (Sex Murder) 1922 (installation view)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Lustmord (Sex Murder) (installation view)
1922
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Otto Dix Sex Murder (Lustmord), 1922

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Lustmord (Sex Murder)
1922

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Transvestitenlokal' (Local transvestite) c. 1931

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Transvestitenlokal (Local transvestite)
c. 1931
Watercolour and pencil
29.50 x 58cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Dietmar Katz

 

Heinrich Hoerle (German, 1895-1936) 'Selfportrait' c. 1931

 

Heinrich Hoerle (German, 1895-1936)
Selfportrait
c. 1931
Oil on canvas
41 x 29cm

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Painter [Heinrich Hoerle]' 1928-1932

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Painter (Heinrich Hoerle)
1928-1932
Gelatin silver print

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959) 'Porträt des Schriftstellers Max Herrmann-Neiße' (Portrait of the writer Max Herrmann-Neisse) 1925 (installation view)

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959)
Porträt des Schriftstellers Max Herrmann-Neiße (Portrait of the writer Max Herrmann-Neisse) (installation view)
1925
Oil on canvas
100 x 101.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Wall text from the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959) 'Porträt des Schriftstellers Max Herrmann-Neiße' (Portrait of the writer Max Herrmann-Neisse) 1925

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959)
Porträt des Schriftstellers Max Herrmann-Neiße (Portrait of the writer Max Herrmann-Neisse)
1925
Oil on canvas
100 x 101.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© The estate of George Grosz, Princeton, N.J. / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Cem Yücetas

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Proletarian Intellectuals' [Else Schuler, Tristan Rémy, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, Gerd Arntz] c. 1925

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Proletarian Intellectuals [Else Schuler, Tristan Rémy, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, Gerd Arntz]
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
From the Pompidou Centre collection

 

Heinrich Jost (German, 1889-1948) 'Werbefaltblatt "Für Fotomontage Futura"' (Promotional leaflet "For photomontage Futura") Nd

 

Heinrich Jost (German, 1889-1948)
Werbefaltblatt “Für Fotomontage Futura” (Promotional leaflet “For photomontage Futura”)
Nd
Press advertisement in four inserted pages
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Photo credits: © Archiv der Massenpresse P. Rössler

 

Erich Wegner (German, 1899-1980) 'Wirtshaustheke' (Pub bar) c. 1927

 

Erich Wegner (German, 1899-1980)
Wirtshaustheke (Pub bar)
c. 1927
Canvas on plywood

 

Walter Schulz-Matan (German, 1899-1965) 'Der Fayencesammler' (The faience collector) 1927

 

Walter Schulz-Matan (German, 1899-1965)
Der Fayencesammler (The faience collector)
1927
Oil on canvas
© Münchner Stadtmuseum

 

Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978) 'Gläser' (Glasses) 1927 (installation view)

 

Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978)
Gläser (Glasses) (installation view)
1927
Oil on canvas
77.50 x 77.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Better known for her Dadaist collages and photomontages, the Berlin artist Hannah Höch creates here a hyperrealistic still life whose composition is strongly influenced by photography of the time: overhanging point of view, tight framing, neutral space, absence of context particular. The texture of the glass objects is rendered with great precision: this transparency symbolises a new conception of painting, which must show the objects in a limpid manner, without filter. In the very foreground, in an inverted reflection, the painter has represented herself at her easel in front of a window.

 

Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978) 'Gläser' (Glasses) 1927

 

Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978)
Gläser (Glasses)
1927
Oil on canvas
77.50 x 77.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image MHK

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Gläser' (Glasses) 1926-1927

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Gläser (Glasses)
1926-1927
Gelatin silver print
From the Pompidou Centre collection
© Albert Renger-Patzch-Archiv / Ann & Jürgen Wilde / Adagp, Paris
Photo credits: © Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Bärwurz' Between 1926-1928

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Bärwurz
Between 1926-1928
Gelatin silver print
48 x 35.50cm
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Photo credits: © Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich

 

Sasha Stone (1895, Russia - 1940, France) 'Wenn Berlin Konstantinopel wäre' (If Berlin were Constantinople) Before 1929

 

Sasha Stone (1895, Russia – 1940, France)
Wenn Berlin Konstantinopel wäre (If Berlin were Constantinople)
Before 1929
Photo montage
From the Pompidou Centre collection
Public domain
Photo credits: © Museum Folkwang Essen – ARTOTHEK

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation views of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at second left, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert’s Wandbild für einen Fotografen (Mural for a Photographer) (1925, below); and at right, George Grosz’s Konstruktion (Ohne Titel) (1920, below)
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933) 'Wandbild für einen Fotografen' (Mural for a Photographer) 1925 (installation view)

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)
Wandbild für einen Fotografen (Mural for a Photographer)
1925
Oil on canvas
109.5 × 154.5cm
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933) 'Wandbild für einen Fotografen' (Mural for a Photographer) 1925

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)
Wandbild für einen Fotografen (Mural for a Photographer)
1925
Oil on canvas
109.5 × 154.5cm

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959) 'Construction (Untitled)' (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel]) 1920 (installation view)

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959)
Konstruktion (Ohne Titel) (Construction (Untitled)) (installation view)
1920
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

George Grosz. 'Construction (Untitled) (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel])' 1920

 

George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross) (German, 1893-1959)
Konstruktion (Ohne Titel) (Construction (Untitled))
1920

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933) 'Freudlose Gasse' (Joyless Street) 1927 (installation view)

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)
Freudlose Gasse (Joyless Street) (installation view)
1927
Oil on canvas
65.5 x 80cm
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (March 9, 1894 – July 3, 1933) was a German painter and sculptor in a constructivist style. He was also politically active as a communist making significant contributions, both graphic and theoretical to Die Aktion.

Seiwert was born in Cologne. He was seriously burned in 1901, at the age of seven, in an experimental radiological treatment. As a result, he subsequently lived with the fear that his life would be short.

He studied from 1910 to 1914 at the Cologne School of Arts and Crafts. In 1919 he met Max Ernst and took part in Dada activities. He was invited to exhibit in the large Dada exhibit in Cologne but withdrew at the last moment. In that same year he formed the Stupid group which included Heinrich Hoerle and Anton Räderscheidt. According to Ernst, “Stupid was a secession from Cologne Dada. As far as Hoerle and especially Seiwert were concerned, Dada’s activities were aesthetically too radical and socially not concrete enough”.

His first large solo exhibition was in Cologne at the Kunstverein in 1923, and by the mid-1920s he was a leader of the “Group of Progressive Artists”, who sought to reconcile constructivism with realism while expressing radical political views. In 1929 he founded the magazine “a-z”, a journal of progressive art. This became a vehicle for the exposition of Figurative Constructivism.

Seiwert was actively involved in the international discussions concerning proletarian culture during the revolutionary upsurge following the First World War. “Throw out the old false idols! In the name of the coming proletarian culture.”

Seiwert was the leading theorist of Figurative Constructivism describing its origins as “From the expressionist-cubist art-form abstract constructivism was developed, which in turn led into Figurative Constructivism”.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Seiwert briefly fled to the mountain range Siebengebirge, but his health was badly deteriorating, and friends brought him back to Cologne, where he died on July 3, 1933.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933) 'Freudlose Gasse' (Joyless Street) 1927

 

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (German, 1894-1933)
Freudlose Gasse (Joyless Street) (installation view)
1927
Oil on canvas
65.5 x 80cm

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at left, Kate Diehn-Bitt’s Self Portrait as an Artist (1935, below); at middle, Gert Wollheim’s Untitled (Couple) (1926, below); and at right, Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Jeweller Karl Krall (1923, below).
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Kate Diehn-Bitt (German, 1900-1978) 'Self Portrait as an Artist' 1935 (installation view)

 

Kate Diehn-Bitt (German, 1900-1978)
Self Portrait as an Artist (installation view)
1935
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Gert Wollheim (German, 1894-1974) 'Untitled (Couple)' 1926 (installation view)

 

Gert Wollheim (German, 1894-1974)
Untitled (Couple) (installation view)
1926
Oil on canvas
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Gert Heinrich Wollheim (German, 1894-1974)

Gert Heinrich Wollheim (11 September 1894 – 22 April 1974) was a German expressionist painter later associated with the New Objectivity, who fled nazi Germany and worked in the United States after 1947.

Gert Heinrich Wollheim was born in Dresden-Loschwitz. From 1911 to 1913, he studied at the College of Fine Arts in Weimar , where his instructors included Albin Egger-Lienz and Gottlieb Forster. From 1914-1917 he was in military service in World War I, where he sustained an abdominal wound. After the war he lived in Berlin until 1919, when Wollheim, Otto Pankok (whom he had met at the academy in Weimar), Ulfert Lüken, Hermann Hundt and others created an artists’ colony in Remels, East Frisia.

At the end of 1919, Wollheim and Pankok went to Düsseldorf and became founding members of the “Young Rhineland” group, which also included Max Ernst, Otto Dix, and Ulrich Leman. Wollheim was one of the artists associated with the art dealer Johanna Ey, and in 1922 he was taken to court over a painting displayed at her gallery. In 1925, he moved to Berlin, and his work, which always emphasised the theatrical and the grotesque, began a new phase of coolly objective representation. His work was part of the art competitions at the 1928 Summer Olympics and the 1932 Summer Olympics.

After Hitler seized power in 1933 Wollheim’s works were declared degenerate art and many were destroyed. He fled to France and became active in the Resistance. He was one of the co-founders of the Union des Artistes Allemandes Libres, an organisation of exiled German artists founded in Paris in autumn 1937. In that same year, he became the companion of the dancer Tatjana Barbakoff. Meanwhile, in Munich, three of his pictures were displayed in the defamatory Nazi exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) in 1937.

From Paris, Wollheim fled to Saarbrücken and later to Switzerland. He was arrested in 1939 and held in a series of labour camps in France (Vierzon, Ruchard, Gurs and Septfonds) until his escape in 1942, after which he and his wife hid in the Pyrénées with the help of a peasant woman. At war’s end in 1945 he returned to France.

In 1947 he moved to New York and became an American citizen. He died in New York in 1974.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Gert Wollheim (German, 1894-1974) 'Untitled (Couple)' 1926

 

Gert Wollheim (German, 1894-1974)
Untitled (Couple)
1926
Oil on canvas

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Portrait of the Jeweller Karl Krall' 1923 (installation view)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Portrait of the Jeweller Karl Krall (installation view)
1923
Kunst- und Museumsverein im Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

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

In the years following, some 260 of his works were confiscated by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. Several of these works, including The Jeweller Karl Krall 1923, appeared in the Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) exhibition of 1937-1938. The exhibition was staged by the Nazis to destroy the careers of those artists they considered mentally ill, inappropriate or unpatriotic.

 

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

 

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

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Portrait of the Art Dealer Alfred Flechtheim' 1926 (installation view)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Portrait of the Art Dealer Alfred Flechtheim (installation view)
1926
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Alfred Flechtheim entered the art world as a collector of Far Eastern art. In 1910, he married the daughter of a wealthy Dortmund merchant. This union helped provide him with the means to open a gallery in 1913. On the eve of the First World War, Flechtheim’s gallery was filled with works by the French avant-garde. He had a reputation as Francophile with a particular affection for Cubism. In Düsseldorf, local artists unfairly suggested that he had turned his back on German art. In this unflattering, uncommissioned work by Dix, he is surrounded by Cubist works. He clutches one in one hand and bills in another. To Dix, he’s little more than a salesman in a cheap suit, hawking foreign merchandise for the local Bourgeoisie.

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Portrait of the Art Dealer Alfred Flechtheim' 1926

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Portrait of the Art Dealer Alfred Flechtheim
1926

 

Julius Bissier. 'Bildhauer mit Selbstbildnis' (Sculptor with Self-portrait) 1928

 

Julius Bissier (German, 1893-1965)
Bildhauer mit Selbstbildnis (Sculptor with Self-portrait)
1928
Oil on canvas
77 x 61cm
Museum für Neue Kunst, Städtische Museen Freiburg, Germany

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Two Women, Dancing' c. 1928 (installation view)

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Two Women, Dancing
c. 1928
Watercolour and pencil on paper
48 x 36cm
Private Collection, Berlin
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

She was born in Germany in 1890, but her family moved to Paris where she enjoyed a carefree and progressive upbringing (including art studies at the Académie Julian, as well as at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels). In 1914, she returned to Germany and, from 1919, worked from a small fourth-floor, two-room living-quarters-cum-studio at Kurfürstendamm 29 in Berlin for more than 60 years, until her death in 1976.

During her lifetime, she gained a reputation beyond Berlin as a chronicler of life in the city, providing for herself largely by designing film posters for the then booming UFA studios and selling her illustrations to fashion and satirical magazines, including Simplicissimus, Uhu and Jugend. Especially during the 20s and 30s, when out and about, she was never without her sketchbook – several of which are included in the exhibition – capturing the goings-on in cafes, bars and on the streets…

In her early years in Berlin, Mammen lived with her sister Mimi. She was close friends with Hans Uhlmann, later visiting him in prison, following his arrest for distributing flyers in 1933, and some posit more than a friendship between the two artists; others, however, in particular the scholar Laurel Lampela, suppose that Mammen may have been more attracted to women, arguing that such intimate and tender paintings of lesbian couples could only have been made from experience.

Whatever the case, Mammen often withdrew from the world entirely, with repeated periods of isolation. She survived the years of dictatorship from 1933-1945 with the help of friends and mini-commissions, as well as by selling used books from a handcart. Although she had the opportunity to seek exile abroad, she did not want to start afresh for a second time in a foreign country. Instead, she lived the life of a recluse, working by candlelight after her building had been bombed, and often scarcely leaving her studio for days at a time. When she did, she noted (in the only interview she ever gave, carried out a year before her death): “I have always wanted to be just a pair of eyes, walking through the world unseen, only to be able to see others.”

Anna McNay. “Jeanne Mammen: The Observer. Retrospective (1910-75),” on the Studio International website 16/12/2017 [Online] Cited 02/08/2022

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Two Women, Dancing' c. 1928

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Two Women, Dancing
c. 1928
Watercolour and pencil on paper
48 x 36cm
Private Collection, Berlin
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976) 'Valeska Gert' 1928-1929

 

Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976)
Valeska Gert
1928-1929
Oil on canvas

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Café Nollendorf' c. 1931

 

Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Café Nollendorf
c. 1931
Watercolour and India ink over pencil on paper

 

Georg Scholz (German, 1890-1945) 'The House of Gatekeeper' 1924 (installation view)

 

Georg Scholz (German, 1890-1945)
The House of Gatekeeper (installation view)
1924
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Georg Scholz (German, 1890-1945)

Georg Scholz (October 10, 1890 – November 27, 1945) was a German realist painter.

Scholz was born in Wolfenbüttel and had his artistic training at the Karlsruhe Academy, where his teachers included Hans Thoma and Wilhelm Trübner. He later studied in Berlin under Lovis Corinth. After military service in World War I lasting from 1915 to 1918, he resumed painting, working in a style fusing cubist and futurist ideas.

In 1919 Scholz became a member of the Communist Party of Germany, and his work of the next few years is harshly critical of the social and economic order in postwar Germany. His Industrial Farmers of 1920 is an oil painting with collage that depicts a Bible-clutching farmer with money erupting from his forehead, seated next to his monstrous wife who cradles a piglet. Their subhuman son, his head open at the top to show that it is empty, is torturing a frog. Perhaps Scholz’ best-known work, it is typical of the paintings he produced in the early 1920s, combining a controlled, crisp execution with corrosive sarcasm.

Scholz quickly became one of the leaders of the New Objectivity, a group of artists who practiced a cynical form of realism. The most famous among this group are Max Beckmann, George Grosz and Otto Dix, and Scholz’s work briefly vied with theirs for ferocity of attack. By 1925, however, his approach had softened into something closer to neoclassicism, as seen in the Self-Portrait in front of an Advertising Column of 1926 and the Seated Nude with Plaster Bust of 1927.

In 1925, he was appointed a professor at the Baden State Academy of Art in Karlsruhe, where his students included Rudolf Dischinger. Scholz began contributing in 1926 to the satirical magazine Simplicissimus, and in 1928 he visited Paris where he especially appreciated the work of Bonnard.

With the rise to power of Hitler and the National Socialists in 1933, Scholz was quickly dismissed from his teaching position. Declared a Degenerate Artist, his works were among those seized in 1937 as part of a campaign by the Nazis to “purify” German culture, and he was forbidden to paint in 1939.

In 1945, the French occupation forces appointed Scholz mayor of Waldkirch, but he died that same year, in Waldkirch.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Isolatorenkette' (Chain of insulators) 1925

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Isolatorenkette (Chain of insulators)
1925
Vintage gelatin silver print
27.30 x 37.50cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Triebwerk einer Lokomotive' (Engine of a locomotive) 1925

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Triebwerk einer Lokomotive (Engine of a locomotive)
1925
Vintage gelatin silver print
17 x 21.2 cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Nockenwelle einer Dampfmaschine' (Camshaft of a steam engine) 1927

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Nockenwelle einer Dampfmaschine (Camshaft of a steam engine)
1927
Gelatin silver print

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Musterzimmer im Fagus-Werk Benscheidt in Alfeld' (Shoe trees at the Fagus factory, Alfeld) 1928

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Musterzimmer im Fagus-Werk Benscheidt in Alfeld (Shoe trees at the Fagus factory, Alfeld)
1928
Vintage gelatin silver print
16.9 × 22.8cm
Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) 'Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation, Faguswerk Alfeld [Shoemakers' irons, Fagus factory, Alfeld]' 1928

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation (Irons for shoemaking)
1928
Gelatin silver print
22.7 × 16.9 cm
Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich
© Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv / Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich / Adagp, Paris, 2022

 

Anonymous artist. 'Isotype Brochure' Around 1935

 

Anonymous artist
Isotype Brochure
Around 1935
Sheet, front
University of Reading, Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection

 

Anonymous artist. 'Isotype Brochure' Around 1935

 

Anonymous artist
Isotype Brochure
Around 1935
Sheet, front
University of Reading, Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at right, Grethe Jürgens’s Stoffhändler (Fabric Merchant) (1936, below)
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Grethe Jürgens (German, 1899-1981)

Grethe Jürgens (February 15, 1899 – May 8, 1981) was a German painter associated with the New Objectivity.

Jürgens was born in Holzhausen and grew up in Wilhelmshaven.[1] In 1918 she enrolled in the Berlin Technical College, where she studied architecture. From 1919 until 1922 she studied at the Hanover School of Arts and Crafts under Fritz Burgr-Mühlfeld. She was employed in advertising as a draftswoman for the Hackethal Wire Company in Hanover from 1923 to 1927, and continued afterward to work as a freelance commercial artist. Her paintings from this period, such as Garden Picture (1928) and Employment Exchange (1929), show the influence of French artists such as Henri Rousseau and Auguste Herbin.

From 1931 to 1932, Jürgens edited the 12-issue run of the magazine Der Wachsbogen, which served as a theoretical organ of the Hanover artists of the New Objectivity movement. In an essay she published in the magazine, she described the group’s artistic approach:

“One paints a landscape, trees, houses, vehicles, and sees the world in a new way. Unemployed people, tramps, or beggars are painted, not because they are “interesting characters” … or through a desire to appeal to the sympathy of society, but because one suddenly realizes that it is in these people that the most powerful expression of the present time is to be found.”

.
In 1932, she participated in the exhibition “Neue Sachlichkeit in Hanover” (“New Objectivity in Hanover”) at the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick. In 1933 she had a solo exhibition in Cologne. After 1933, she worked extensively as an illustrator and designer of book covers. In 1951, the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hanover presented a retrospective exhibition of her works. Jürgens died in 1981 in Hanover.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Grethe Jürgens (German, 1899-1981) 'Stoffhändler' (Fabric Merchant) 1936

 

Grethe Jürgens (German, 1899-1981)
Stoffhändler (Fabric Merchant)
1936

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at left, Lotte Laserstein’s Russian Girl with Compact (1928, below); and at right, Rudolf Schlichter’s Margot (1924, below)
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Lotte Laserstein (German-Swedish, 1898-1993) 'Russian Girl with Compact' 1928

 

Lotte Laserstein (German-Swedish, 1898-1993)
Russian Girl with Compact (Russisches Mädchen mit Puderdose)
1928
Oil on panel
31.7 x 41cm
Städel Museum
Acquired in 2014 with means provided by the Werner Wirthle bequest

 

 

With a critical gaze, the Russian Girl with Compact examines her face in her pocket mirror. Her other hand is holding a fluffy powder puff. Facing the viewer, she is nonetheless interested only in what is hidden from our view. And yet the viewer still gets to see the young woman’s reflection, in the profile of her in the mirror on the wall. This duplication heightens her presence, as does the red colour of her elegant blouse. Lotte Laserstein repeatedly painted different types of women. Here, she portrays a modern woman of the 1920s: her bob hairstyle, clothing and use of make-up point to this new type of emancipated woman.

Text from the Städel Museum website

 

Lotte Laserstein (28 November 1898 – 21 January 1993) was a German-Swedish painter. She was an artist of figurative paintings in Germany’s Weimar Republic. The National Socialist regime and its anti-Semitism forced her to leave Germany in 1937 and to emigrate to Sweden. In Sweden, she continued to work as a portraitist and painter of landscapes until her death. The paintings she created during the 1920s and 1930s fit into the movement of New Objectivity in Germany.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955) 'Margot' 1924

 

Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)
Margot
1924

 

Bernhard Dörries (German, 1898-1978) 'Breakfast Still Life' 1927 (installation view)

 

Bernhard Dörries (German, 1898-1978)
Breakfast Still Life (installation view)
1927
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Bernhard Dörries (German, 1898-1978)

Bernhard Dörries ( May 26, 1898 in Hanover – July 15, 1978 in Bielefeld ) was a German painter and art writer .

Bernhard Dörries was a son of the Protestant theologian Bernhard Dörries (1856-1934), his older brother was the church historian Hermann Dörries (1895-1977).

In 1917 Dörries studied architecture at the Technical University of Hanover, but through Kurt Schwitters he began painting and studied at the Art Academy in Berlin. During study visits he got to know Italy, Spain and France. From 1924 he became a board member of the Kunstverein Hannover. In 1933 Dörries joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). At the Paris World Exhibition of 1937 he won a “Grand Prix” for a portrait of a girl. After the death of Georg Schrimpf in 1938, he received a professorship at the Art Academy in Berlin, which he held until the end of the Second World War held. From 1937 to 1944, Dörries was represented with 10 paintings at seven major German art exhibitions in Munich.

After the war, Dörries lived in Langenholtensen near Northeim until 1949 and then in Hanover. In 1955 he became a professor again at the Berlin University of the Arts and retired in 1970. From 1973 he was a member of the German Association of Artists.

Text translated from the German Wikipedia website

 

Bernhard Dörries (German, 1898-1978) 'Breakfast Still Life' 1927

 

Bernhard Dörries (German, 1898-1978)
Breakfast Still Life
1927

 

Gert Heinrich Wollheim (German, 1894-1974) 'Abshied von Düsseldorf' (Farewell from Dusseldorf) 1924 (installation view)

 

Gert Heinrich Wollheim (German, 1894-1974)
Abshied von Düsseldorf (Farewell from Dusseldorf) (installation view)
1924
Oil on canvas
Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

 

Gert Heinrich Wollheim (German, 1894-1974)

Gert Heinrich Wollheim (11 September 1894 – 22 April 1974) was a German expressionist painter later associated with the New Objectivity, who fled Nazi Germany and worked in the United States after 1947.

Gert Heinrich Wollheim was born in Dresden-Loschwitz. From 1911 to 1913, he studied at the College of Fine Arts in Weimar , where his instructors included Albin Egger-Lienz and Gottlieb Forster. From 1914-1917 he was in military service in World War I, where he sustained an abdominal wound. After the war he lived in Berlin until 1919, when Wollheim, Otto Pankok (whom he had met at the academy in Weimar), Ulfert Lüken, Hermann Hundt and others created an artists’ colony in Remels, East Frisia.

At the end of 1919, Wollheim and Pankok went to Düsseldorf and became founding members of the “Young Rhineland” group, which also included Max Ernst, Otto Dix, and Ulrich Leman. Wollheim was one of the artists associated with the art dealer Johanna Ey, and in 1922 he was taken to court over a painting displayed at her gallery. In 1925, he moved to Berlin, and his work, which always emphasised the theatrical and the grotesque, began a new phase of coolly objective representation. His work was part of the art competitions at the 1928 Summer Olympics and the 1932 Summer Olympics.

After Hitler seized power in 1933 Wollheim’s works were declared degenerate art and many were destroyed. He fled to France and became active in the Resistance. He was one of the co-founders of the Union des Artistes Allemandes Libres, an organisation of exiled German artists founded in Paris in autumn 1937. In that same year, he became the companion of the dancer Tatjana Barbakoff. Meanwhile, in Munich, three of his pictures were displayed in the defamatory Nazi exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) in 1937.

From Paris, Wollheim fled to Saarbrücken and later to Switzerland. He was arrested in 1939 and held in a series of labor camps in France (Vierzon, Ruchard, Gurs and Septfonds) until his escape in 1942, after which he and his wife hid in the Pyrénées with the help of a peasant woman. At war’s end in 1945 he returned to France.

In 1947 he moved to New York and became an American citizen. He died in New York in 1974.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Gert Heinrich Wollheim (German, 1894-1974) 'Abshied von Düsseldorf' (Farewell from Dusseldorf) 1924

 

Gert Heinrich Wollheim (German, 1894-1974)
Abshied von Düsseldorf (Farewell from Dusseldorf)
1924
Oil on canvas
Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Karton zum "Groβstadt-Triptychon"' (Cartoon for "The Grande Ville triptych") 1927-1928 (installation view)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Karton zum “Groβstadt-Triptychon” (Cartoon for “The Grande Ville triptych”) (installation view)
1927-1928
Charcoal, chalk, pencil, sanguine, gouache on drawing paper laid down on tile
3 panels
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Wall text from the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) Karton zum "Groβstadt-Triptychon" (Cartoon for "The Grande Ville triptych") 1927-1928 (installation view detail)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Karton zum “Groβstadt-Triptychon” (Cartoon for “The Grande Ville triptych”) (installation view detail)
1927-1928
Charcoal, chalk, pencil, sanguine, gouache on drawing paper laid down on tile
3 panels
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) Karton zum "Groβstadt-Triptychon" (Cartoon for "The Grande Ville triptych") 1927-1928 (installation view detail)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Karton zum “Groβstadt-Triptychon” (Cartoon for “The Grande Ville triptych”) (installation view detail)
1927-1928
Charcoal, chalk, pencil, sanguine, gouache on drawing paper laid down on tile
3 panels
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) Karton zum "Groβstadt-Triptychon" (Cartoon for "The Grande Ville triptych") 1927-1928 (installation view detail)

 

Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Karton zum “Groβstadt-Triptychon” (Cartoon for “The Grande Ville triptych”) (installation view detail)
1927-1928
Charcoal, chalk, pencil, sanguine, gouache on drawing paper laid down on tile
3 panels
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Georg Scholz (German, 1890-1945) 'Weiblicher Akt auf dem Sofa' (Female nude on the sofa) 1928

 

Georg Scholz (German, 1890-1945)
Weiblicher Akt auf dem Sofa (Female nude on the sofa)
1928
Oil on canvas

 

Hans Grundig (German, 1901-1958) 'Am Stadtrand' (On the outskirts) 1926

 

Hans Grundig (German, 1901-1958)
Am Stadtrand (On the outskirts)
1926
Oil on canvas

 

 

Hans Grundig (German, 1901-1958)

Hans Grundig (February 19, 1901 – September 11, 1958) was a German painter and graphic artist associated with the New Objectivity movement.

He was born in Dresden and, after an apprenticeship as an interior decorator, studied in 1920–1921 at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts. He then studied at the Dresden Academy from 1922 to 1923. During the 1920s his paintings, primarily portraits of working-class subjects, were influenced by the work of Otto Dix. Like his friend Gert Heinrich Wollheim, he often depicted himself in a theatrical manner, as in his Self-Portrait during the Carnival Season (1930).

He had his first solo exhibition in 1930 at the Dresden gallery of Józef Sandel. He made his first etchings in 1933.

Politically anti-fascist, he joined the German Communist Party in 1926, and was a founding member of the arts organisation Assoziation revolutionärer bildender Künstler in Dresden in 1929.

Following the fall of the Weimar Republic, Grundig was declared a degenerate artist by the Nazis, who included his works in the defamatory Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich in 1937. He expressed his antagonism toward the regime in paintings such as The Thousand Year Reich (1936). Forbidden to practice his profession, he was arrested twice – briefly in 1936, and again in 1938, after which he was interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 1940 to 1944.

In 1945 he went to Moscow, where he attended an anti-fascist school. Returning to Berlin in 1946, he became a professor of painting at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. In 1957 he published his autobiography, Zwischen Karneval und Aschermittwoch (“Between Shrovetide carnival and Ash Wednesday”). He was awarded the Heinrich Mann Prize in Berlin in 1958, the year of his death.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Hanna Nagel (German, 1907-1975) 'Untitled (Bare-Breasted Woman in Front of a Printing Press)' 1929

 

Hanna Nagel (German, 1907-1975)
Untitled (Bare-Breasted Woman in Front of a Printing Press)
1929
Graphite and watercolour on paper
46 x 60.5cm

 

 

Hanna Nagel (German, 1907-1975)

The daughter of a merchant and a teacher, Hanna Nagel was trained as a bookbinder before enrolling in the Fine Arts School in Karlsruhe in 1919. In an institution that had set up a lithographic and engraving studio at the beginning of the century, the young artist naturally turned towards these techniques, in which she demonstrated great skill. She took courses with Walter Conz, Wilelm Schnarrenberger and, most importantly, Karl Hubbuch, head of the Baden branch of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), the post-war German movement that advocated for a realist representation of the contemporary world. This began the first period in the artist’s work: she followed the example of her professor in terms of themes, highly social content, as well as in her bold and sharp style, which was generally unflattering for models. However, contrary to K. Hubbuch, she chose to treat her figures alone, isolated in their environment, giving them a strange presence (Zigeunerin (gypsy), Munich, 1928; Mädchen mit Blauem Mantel (girl in blue coat), 1929). In 1929, she moved to Berlin, where she took courses with Hans Meid and Emil Orlik at the Fine Arts Academy. She married the painter Hans Fischer in 1931. This marked the end of her realist period.

Marie Gispert. “Hanna Nagel,” on the AWARE (Archives of Women Artists Research & Exhibitions) website 2013 [Online] Cited 04/08/2022. From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices. Translated from French by Katia Porro. © 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque © Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982) 'Graf St. Genois d'Anneaucourt' 1927 (installation view)

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982)
Graf St. Genois d’Anneaucourt (installation view)
1927
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982) 'Graf St. Genois d'Anneaucourt' 1927

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982)
Graf St. Genois d’Anneaucourt
1927

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982) 'Anna Gabbioneta' 1927

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982)
Anna Gabbioneta
1927
Oil on canvas

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982) 'Bildnis Dr. Haustein' (Portrait of Dr. Haustein) 1928

 

Christian Schad (German, 1894-1982)
Bildnis Dr. Haustein (Portrait of Dr. Haustein)
1928
Oil on canvas

 

Willi Müller-Hufschmid (German, 1890-1966) 'Akademie modell' (Academic model) c. 1922

 

Willi Müller-Hufschmid (German, 1890-1966)
Akademie modell (Academic model)
c. 1922
Oil on paper on plywood

 

 

Willi Müller-Hufschmid studied from 1908 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe. During this time he got to know Rudolf Schlichter, Georg Scholz and other painters from the “Rih” group. He became known as a representative of the New Objectivity towards the end of the 1920s. In the 1950s he turned to abstract painting.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander' at Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Germany / 1920s / New Objectivity / August Sander at Centre Pompidou, Paris showing at left, Georg Scholz’s Kacteen und Semaphore (Cacti and semaphores) (1923, below); at centre, Rudolf Dischinger’s Grammophon (Gramophone) (1930, below); and at right, Franz Xaver Fuhr’s Stillleben (Gummibaum) (Still life (Rubber tree)) (c. 1925, below)
Photo: Aubrey Perry

 

Georg Scholz (German, 1890-1945) 'Kacteen und Semaphore' (Cacti and semaphores) 1923

 

Georg Scholz (German, 1890-1945)
Kacteen und Semaphore (Cacti and semaphores)
1923
Oil on hardboard

 

Franz Xaver Fuhr (German, 1898-1973) 'Stillleben (Gummibaum)' (Still life (Rubber tree)) c. 1925

 

Franz Xaver Fuhr (German, 1898-1973)
Stillleben (Gummibaum) (Still life (Rubber tree))
c. 1925
Oil on canvas

 

 

Franz Xaver Fuhr (German, 1898-1973)

Franz Xaver Fuhr was born in Mannheim-Neckarau on 23 September 1898. As a painter Fuhr was an autodidact. Obeying his father’s wishes, he learned the painter’s trade. When Fuhr presented his watercolours at the Mannheim “Kunsthalle” for appraisal, the “Kunsthalle” immediately bought several works. As a token of his high esteem of Fuhr’s work the director of the Kunsthalle, Gustav Hartlaub, offered the artist financial support as well as a studio and an apartment in the Mannheim palace.

The artist exhibited watercolours in the autumn exhibition at the Berlin Akademie in 1927 as well as at the Gallery Nierendorf in 1928. Exhibitions in Danzig, Königsberg, Düsseldorf and Lübeck followed.

Fuhr was admitted to the “Deutscher Künstlerbund” and participated regularly in the association’s exhibitions. A sign of public appraisal was the award of the Prize of the “Preußische Akademie” and the Villa-Romana-Prize in 1930 and 1931. During this period Fuhr’s work is characterised by a delicate, flowing colour combined with a grid-like, austere linearity which structures the composition. The artist consistently elaborated this compositional principle during the early 1930s. His works became less austere for the benefit of a more painterly aspect. The deteriorating economic situation and the effects of National Socialist cultural politics also effected Fuhr. The “Städtische Kunsthalle” took his works off show as early as 1934 and three years later 23 of his works were confiscated in German museums. Several works were shown in the exhibition “Degenerate Art”. Fuhr was banned from pursuing his profession.

When his apartment in Mannheim was hit during an air-raid in 1943 the painter decided to leave his home town. He moved to Nabburg, where he stayed until 1950, and then took up residence in Regensburg. The painter was appointed professor at the “Akademie der Bildenden Künste” in Munich in 1946, a post which he held for 20 years.

Franz Xaver Fuhr retreated during the last years of his life and died on 16 December 1973.

Anonymous text. “Franz Xaver Fuhr,” on the Art Directory website Nd [Online] Cited 03/08/2022

 

Rudolf Dischinger (German, 1904-1988) 'Grammophon' (Gramophone) 1930

 

Rudolf Dischinger (German, 1904-1988)
Grammophon (Gramophone)
1930
Oil on plywood

 

 

Rudolf Dischinger studied at the Baden State Art School with Georg Scholz and Karl Hubbuch. In 1927 he graduated from school with the drawing teacher examination and worked as a teacher in Freiburg until 1939. During this time he painted urban landscapes and still lifes in the New Objectivity style. From 1939 until he was wounded in 1942 he was a soldier in France and Russia. From 1946 he lived again as a freelance artist in Freiburg. There he taught at the art academy until it was closed in 1954. He then worked again in school until his retirement in 1965. In 1976 he received the Reinhold Schneider Prize of the City of Freiburg. After 1945 he started abstract painting. In his last years he turned back to representational painting.

 

Alexander Kanoldt (German, 1881-1939) 'Stillleben mit Gitarre' (Still Life with Guitar) 1926

 

Alexander Kanoldt (German, 1881-1939)
Stillleben mit Gitarre (Still Life with Guitar)
1926
Oil on canvas

 

 

Alexander Kanoldt (German, 1881-1939)

Alexander Kanoldt (29 September 1881 – 24 January 1939) was a German magic realist painter and one of the artists of the New Objectivity. …

Alexander Kanoldt was born on 29 September 1881 in Karlsruhe in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. His father was the painter Edmund Kanoldt [de], a late practitioner of the Nazarene style.

After studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Karlsruhe he went to Munich in 1908, where he met a number of modernists such as Alexej von Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter. He became a member of the Munich New Secession in 1913, with Jawlensky and Paul Klee.

After military service in World War I from 1914 to 1918, the still lifes Kanoldt painted show the influence of Derain and an adaptation of cubist ideas.

By the early 1920s Kanoldt developed the manner for which he is best known, a magic realist rendering of potted plants, angular tins, fruit and mugs on tabletops. He also painted portraits in the same severe style, as well as geometrical landscapes. In 1925 he was made a professor at Breslau Academy, a post he held until 1931. During this time he came into conflict with the Bauhaus faction at the Academy, and he was increasingly at odds with the avant garde. From 1933 until his resignation in 1936 he was the director of the State School of Art in Berlin.

With the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933 Kanoldt attempted accommodation, painting in a romantic style, but nonetheless many of his works were seized by the authorities as degenerate art in 1937. He died in Berlin on 24 January 1939.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Franz Lenk (1898-1968) 'Amaryllis' 1930

 

Franz Lenk (German, 1898-1968)
Amaryllis
1930
Egg tempera on canvas on wood
66 x 44cm

 

 

Franz Lenk (German, 1898-1968)

Franz Lenk (June 21, 1898 Langenbernsdorf, Germany – September 13, 1968 Schwäbisch Hall, Germany) was a landscape artist and co-founder of the group “The Seven”.

After an apprenticeship as a decorative painter and lithograph from 1912 to 1915, Franz Lenk studied at the Dresden Academy in 1916. Lenk was drafted for military service, and after from 1922 onwards he continued his studies. In 1928, Lenk was co-founder of the “Die Sieben” group and in 1929 Lenk was a member of the Berlin Artists’ Association, a member of the Berlin Secession in 1936, and a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1937.

From 1933 to 1936 Franz Lenk was a member of the presidential council of the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste. Also in 1933, he was appointed professor to the United States School in Berlin. In 1937, Lenk denied his participation in the Great German Art Exhibition at the House of German Art and laid down his lecture at the United State School in protest against the defamation of his colleagues and against the repressive “art policy” in the “Third Reich”.

In 1950, he received a teaching assignment at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. In 1959, Lenk settled in Schwäbisch Hall, where he became the city’s cultural commissioner.

Anonymous text. “Lenz, Frank,” on the Hundertmarkartfair website Nd [Online] Cited 03/08/2022

 

Franz Lenk (German, 1898-1968) 'Stillleben mit gelber Tüte' (Still life with a yellow bag ) 1927

 

Franz Lenk (German, 1898-1968)
Stillleben mit gelber Tüte (Still life with a yellow bag)
1927
Mixed technique on canvas

 

Oskar Nerlinger (German, 1893-1969) 'Straßen der Arbeit' (Labour routes) 1930

 

Oskar Nerlinger (German, 1893-1969)
Straßen der Arbeit (Labour routes)
1930
Tempera on cardboard

 

Karl Völker (German, 1889-1962) 'Beton' c. 1924

 

Karl Völker (German, 1889-1962)
Beton
c. 1924
Oil on canvas

 

Karl Völker (German, 1889-1962) 'Industriebild' (Picture of Industry) 1924

 

Karl Völker (German, 1889-1962)
Industriebild (Picture of Industry)
1924
Oil on canvas

 

Karl Völker (German, 1889-1962) 'Bahnhof' (Train station) 1924-1926

 

Karl Völker (German, 1889-1962)
Bahnhof (Train station)
1924-1926
Oil on wood

 

 

Centre Pompidou 
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31
Oct
21

Exhibition: ‘Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards’ at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York

Exhibition dates: 10th July – 28th November, 2021

Curated by Ian Berry in collaboration with the Ellsworth Kelly Studio, and with Jessica Eisenthal, Independent Curator

 

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Gauloise Blue with Red Curve' 1954

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Gauloise Blue with Red Curve
1954
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

 

An intimate change of pace now.

I love these playful interventions which “catch something that’s a flash, a mysterious thing, the beginning of something, a primal thing.”

Starting with the solid base of a printed postcard Kelly constructs and abstracts his collages on their surface, using shifting positions, using his vision rather than his mind. He intuitively feels what is needed, what essence is required to compliment or complicate the existing scene.

As Dr. Jessica Eisenthal insightfully observes, “The collages involve a fundamental interplay between concealment and exposure, with every card containing both a secret and its revelation, a construction and a deconstruction.”

And then there is the simplicity and beauty of his interventions. The clear seeing and feeling expressed in a few pieces of cut or torn paper, promising “a compilation of experiences, a journal of travel, creative play, and relationships.” The thickness and irregularity of the white line over Statue of Liberty (1957); the emptiness and ambiguity of the blue in Moon Over Manhattan (1964); the abstraction of a black “diamond” over Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium (1980) baseball park; and the textural beauty of three disparate bodies of water in St. Martin – Baie Rouge (2005).

Reminding me of the felt immediacy of Gerhard Richter’s overpainted photographs, Kelly’s postcards speak to the heart rather than the head. Their intimate, jewel-like size draw the viewer in to imbibe of the transformative scene, to drink in an unbounded space of creative freedom those glances that we sometimes catch – in the light of revelation – of our life dis/continuous. The fabric and structure of existence itself.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the art works in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

 

In all his postcards, Kelly’s drive to upset perception, to create moments of uncertainty and “mystery,” is apparent. As he explained in 1991:

“As we move, looking at hundreds of different things, we see many different kinds of shapes. Roofs, walls, ceilings are all rectangles, but we don’t see them that way. In reality they’re very elusive forms. The way the view through the rungs of a chair changes when you move even the slightest bit – I want to capture some of that mystery in my work. In my paintings I’m not inventing; my ideas come from constantly investigating how things look.47

While his goal was to achieve visual ambiguity, Kelly began with images of visual certainty, from the postcard images themselves to the photographic reproductions from which he cut or tore his fragments, for example, those of celebrities, advertisements, or homoeroticism.

.
Tricia Y. Paik. “Sights of His Life,” in Berry, Ian and Eisenthal, Jessica (eds.,). Elsworth Kelly: Postcards. Delmonico Books, 2021, pp. 318-319.

 

 

Over the course of more than 50 years, renowned American artist Ellsworth Kelly made approximately 400 postcard collages, some of which served as exploratory musings and others as studies for larger works in other mediums. They range from his first monochrome in 1949 through his last postcard collages of crashing ocean waves, in 2005.

Together, these works show an unbounded space of creative freedom and provide an important insight into the way Kelly saw, experienced and translated the world in his art. Many postcards illustrate specific places where he lived or visited, introducing biography and illuminating details that make these pieces unique among his broader artistic production. Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards is the most extensive publication of Kelly’s lifelong practice of collaged postcards.

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) was born in Newburgh, New York. In 1948 he moved to France, where he came into contact with a wide range of classical and modern art. He returned to New York in 1954 and two years later had his first exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, organised his first retrospective in 1973. Subsequent exhibitions have been held at museums around the world, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Tate in London, Haus der Kunst in Munich and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

 

 

Jack Shear (American) 'Ellsworth Kelly's Studio' 1994

 

Jack Shear (American)
Ellsworth Kelly’s Studio
1994
Photo: Courtesy Ellsworth Kelly Studio

 

Installation view of the title wall of exhibition 'Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards' at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of the title wall of the exhibition Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of Gallery A of the exhibition 'Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards' at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of Gallery A of the exhibition Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of Gallery B of the exhibition 'Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards' at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of Gallery B of the exhibition Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

 

American painter Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) is one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. His abstract paintings, sculptures, and prints are masterworks in the exploration of line, form, and colour. In a lesser-known part of his practice, Kelly made collaged postcards, some of which served as exploratory musings and others as preparation for larger works in other media. From 1949 to 2005, Kelly made just over 400 postcard works. They show a playful, unbounded space of creative freedom for the artist and provide an important insight into the way Kelly saw, experienced, and translated the world in his art.

Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards will present a comprehensive survey of Kelly’s postcard collages, with 150 works on view. Many postcards reveal specific places where Kelly lived or visited, such as Paris, where Kelly lived in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and where he often returned, or other areas in New York City – My New Studio (1970), is a picture postcard of downtown Old Chatham, New York, with a stapled arrow pointing to the second-floor windows of his new studio building.

This kind of overt biography and revealing details make the postcard collages unique among Kelly’s works. Flashes of the artist’s playfulness show through, which is less visible in his formally rigorous paintings and sculpture.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-colour catalogue featuring newly commissioned writings and never-before published images.

Text from the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery website

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'EK as Velázquez' 1988 

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
EK as Velázquez
1988

 

 

Foreword to catalogue

Widely regarded as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) is known for paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints that are masterworks in line, form, and colour. Having played a pivotal role in the development of postwar abstract art, Kelly’s inventive approach to abstraction draws on found composition and observation of the physical world. In a rarely seen aspect of his practice, Kelly made approximately four hundred postcard collages over the course of six decades. Some were exploratory musings, while others served as studies for larger works in other media or a means to revisit important concepts from years prior. Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards is the first survey of Kelly’s postcard collages, starting with his first monochrome painted on a postcard in 1949 and ending with his final collages of crashing ocean waves made in 2005. Resisting clear taxonomies of abstraction and representation, these works show an unbounded space of creative freedom and provide important insight into the way Kelly saw, experienced, and translated the world in his art.

Many postcards illustrate specific places where the artist lived or visited, introducing biography and context that make these works unique among his broader artistic production. During his lifetime, most of these works were held privately by the artist, only occasionally making their way into institutional collections. Many were sent to friends and colleagues as personal correspondences, though many more were kept in his studio. Revealing an unrestrained curiosity and the breadth of his practice, Kelly’s postcard collages are as humorous and intimate as they are formal and discerning.

Kelly began his studies at Pratt Institute in New York from 1941 to 1942, then continued at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from 1946 to 1948. While on his tour of duty in Europe during World War II he visited Paris for the first time. He returned with funds from the GI Bill in 1948 and stayed until 1954. Those years in France were formative; this was when Kelly first painted and collaged on picture postcards, which, at the time, he mostly sent to artist and friend Ralph Coburn. In 1954, Kelly moved from Paris to New York, where he rented a studio in Coenties Slip in downtown Manhattan, as part of a community of artists that included Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, and Jack Youngerman. The influence of that fertile time can be seen in several New York postcards of the 1950s.

Throughout the literature on Kelly’s oeuvre, scholars have consistently noted the cyclical process of his art making, his tendency to revisit ideas from years, even decades, earlier. In keeping, the production of the postcard collages was rhythmic and episodic, punctuated by other artistic and life activities. One can trace the years of prolific and less prolific output to align with important life events, including new bodies of work, retrospectives, and studio moves. For instance, Kelly made a great number of cards in 1970, the year he moved to Spencertown, New York, and in 1974 while traveling in Europe following his 1973 Museum of Modern Art retrospective.

Mapping the postcard collage production onto a timeline of Kelly’s life and work also reveals that the postcards were not a part of his general studio practice, but rather constituted a kind of freedom from the studio. In this sense, they comprise a compilation of experiences, a journal of travel, creative play, and relationships. The decade of the 1970s includes a significant number of cards made in St. Martin in the Caribbean, where he would travel to stay with artist Jasper Johns, who had a home on the island. The mid-1980s – particularly around the time he met photographer Jack Shear, who would become his life partner – was another prolific period for Kelly’s postcard collages. This intensity of collage production waned in the 1990s, in part due to the decline in print quality of mass-produced picture postcards, which Kelly did not appreciate.

The postcard collages use a wide variety of found materials, including pieces of vinyl records, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, wine labels, and even sections of his own prints. For example, in 1964, Kelly used torn proofs from his own lithographs in a series of postcard collages with Paris monuments, as studies for sculptures. This source material is discussed in a new essay for this book by Dr. Tricia Y. Paik. Her essay reviews Kelly’s biography and outlines key features of his iconic work that can be found in specific examples of the postcard collages. Dr. Lynda Klich surveys the advent of the picture postcard itself and points to the use of postcards by modernist artists of the early twentieth century – from Art Nouveau and Futurism, to Surrealism and Dada. Dr. Jessica Eisenthal focuses on the mostly hidden, double-sided aspect of the postcard collages. She reveals that Kelly not only used the backs of the cards for personal notes but also to continue compositions and create even more experimental and, at times, teasing imagery. The book begins with the artist’s own words from a brochure that accompanied the exhibition Kelly organised from MoMA’s collection in 1990, Artist’s Choice: Ellsworth Kelly, Fragmentation and the Single Form. In this essay, Kelly discusses breaking up the visual world into fragments and provides key insights into his ways of seeing and presenting his art.

The vast majority of the postcard collages in the plates section of this book have never before been reproduced. Over the course of this project, new works were discovered in the artist’s archive, and others came to light from personal collections. May this project be the start of more discovery and continued scholarship on this distinctive and revealing body of work.

Ian Berry (curator)

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Columbus Circle' 1957

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Columbus Circle
1957
Postcard collage
5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards' at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College

 

Installation view of the exhibition Ellsworth Kelly: Postcards at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College showing at left, Columbus Circle 1957 (above); and at second left, Four Greens, Upper Manhattan Bay, 1957 (below)

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Four Greens, Upper Manhattan Bay' 1957

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Four Greens, Upper Manhattan Bay
1957
Postcard collage
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Coenties Slip' 1957

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Coenties Slip
1957
Postcard collage
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Statue of Liberty' 1957

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Statue of Liberty
1957
Postcard collage
5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

 

Kelly’s Strategies through Postcard Analogies

 

“During the day, we see so much at one time. I want to catch something that’s a flash, a mysterious thing, the beginning of something, a primal thing.”

~ Ellsworth Kelly, 2008

 

Aided with the clarity of five decades of hindsight, this exhibition and catalogue afford us the opportunity to observe the breadth of Kelly’s postcard experimentation, the myriad ways he explored strategies, ideas, and shapes to which he returned time and time again. It can be argued that these postcard objects, more than his other works on paper, allow us the closest entrée into what caught his eye, what he pondered, and what he altered, giving us glimpses into his intuitive and transformative vision. These postcard collages allow us to revisit some of “the sights of his lifetime,” how he found what looked “right” to him at different moments during more than half a century. Indeed, his manipulated postcards tangibly analogise how the artist investigated vision. In 1973, at the time of his mid-career retrospective at MoMA, Kelly admitted to his intriguing relationship with the real world; despite his important reliance on empirical observation, he confessed, “I’ve always felt competitive with reality.”34 Postcards – unchanging templates of predetermined realities – offered him controlled environments with which he could actively compete through his pasted papers.

To create his abstractions drawn from the real world, Kelly relied on various artistic impulses that he learned to follow and trust. He explained in 1992:

“I automatically distance the idea of what I’m looking at. I play with what I see, forget what it is, which colour it is, perceive the changes through my shifting positions. I don’t look at it with a thinking mind but with the possibilities of my vision.”35

.
Kelly enacted this strategy of distancing through collage, both “placing” and “ellipsis” as previously described by Motherwell. In doing so, he was able to “compete” with reality by obscuring and fragmenting the view. In 1973, the artist explained, “I’ve always been interested in fragmentation, through apertures, doors and windows. When you look through them, that fragmented view changes as you move, and you get a series of different pictures.”36 Through fragmentation, he was able to isolate his forms to arrive at singular shapes. Collage also allowed Kelly to deploy another key artistic goal that further distanced his art from his original sources – to reiterate flatness through the flat piece of collage itself, to push out space, to “flatten”37 the experience of vision. Kelly’s act of collage, his intrusion into the scene, also results in a shaped obstruction, an “ellipsis” of the original postcard view, diminishing our ability to discern and recognise the entire scene and thus achieving the ambiguity he desired, “an open, incomplete situation.”38

Now considering Kelly’s postcard output holistically, there is no observable consistency in how these objects relate to his finished body of work. Sometimes his postcard explorations correlate with what he was exploring in paintings and sculptures at the time, while sometimes there is minimal connection. Although most do not serve as actual studies per se for a completed work, a small number of these postcards, in fact, do. Other times his postcard collages are retrospective, returning to shapes and ideas already produced in work finished years prior – such as La dune du Pyla III, 1983 (p. 183); Blue Yellow (Saint-Michel, Paris), 1985 (p. 267); Seascape, 1985 (p. 274); and Blue Red Rocker / St. Martin, 1986 (p. 275).39 While some postcards appear deliberate and “worked,” some can be understood as quickly collaged “sketches.” During the period of his postcard output from 1949 to 2005, there are specific years when Kelly regularly manipulated the postcard – 1957, 1964, 1974, 1977-1978, and 1984-1985; in particular, 1974, 1977, and 1984-1985 proved to be periods of great experimentation, with as many as seventy-six documented postcards from 1984, the most in any given year.40 In some years there is no documented evidence of any activity; however, perhaps in the future, postcards that Kelly might have made and sent out during the mid to late 1960s (from which only one extant card remains) or other years could resurface. One consistent fact is how much delight Kelly took with the postcard, whether as communication mailed to those within his circle, or as private visual dialogue saved for himself.

Tricia Y. Paik. “Sights of His Life,” in Berry, Ian and Eisenthal, Jessica (eds.,). Elsworth Kelly: Postcards. Delmonico Books, 2021, pp. 316-318.

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Study for Green and White Sculpture for les Invalides' 1964

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Study for Green and White Sculpture for les Invalides
1964
Postcard collage
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Study for Blue and White Sculpture for Les Tuileries' 1964

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Study for Blue and White Sculpture for Les Tuileries
1964
Postcard collage
3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Study for Yellow and White Sculpture for la Tour Eiffel' 1964

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Study for Yellow and White Sculpture for la Tour Eiffel
1964
Postcard collage
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Moon Over Manhattan' 1964

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Moon Over Manhattan
1964
Postcard collage
3 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches
Private collection
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Nose / Sailboat' 1974

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Nose / Sailboat
1974
5 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Horizontal Nude or St. Martin Landscape' 1974

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Horizontal Nude or St. Martin Landscape
1974
4 x 5 7/8 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Marilyn Monroe / Shadows' 1974

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Marilyn Monroe / Shadows
1974
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015) 'Study for Dark Gray and White Rectangle I' 1977

 

Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923-2015)
Study for Dark Gray and White Rectangle I
1977
4 x 6 inches
Collection of Ellsworth Kelly Studio and Jack Shear
© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation