Archive for the 'landscape' Category

24
Sep
17

Review: ‘Queer British Art 1861-1967’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 5th April – 1st October 2017

Curators: Clare Barlow, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain with Amy Concannon, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain

 

 

Queer British Art book cover

 

Queer British Art 1861-1967 book cover

 

 

 

Very Pauline

Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain examines the “historical reality of same-sex relationships and non-normative sexual identities” from 1861, the year for the end of the death penalty for sodomy in Great Britain, through to 1967 which is when sex between consenting adults in private, obviously male homosexuality is partially decriminalised in England and Wales. The timescale of the exhibition encompasses the beginning of a more considered understanding of gender and sexual identity through to the beginnings of a limited freedom: from repression to liberation.

For a man who came out in London in 1975, only 8 short years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, this exhibition should have been more engaging than it was. While there were some outstanding art works and artefacts presented in the eight rooms of the exhibition, chronologically laid out in the posting below – such as the prison door from Oscar Wilde’s cell at Reading Gaol, Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s book covers, the paintings of Henry Scott Tuke and the photography of Angus McBean – there was little of the passion of being gay in evidence in much of the objects, or how they were presented. It all seemed so very academic, and not in a good way. Other than some stunning erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, Duncan Grant and Keith Vaughan (see below) there was little to suggest that being gay had anything to do with sex, the exhibition living up to that very British of axiom’s, “No sex please, we’re British!” The curators may have thought that sex would be a distraction, for it was all ‘very Pauline’.

The exhibition is full of innuendo, supposition, obfuscation, abstinence, hints, traces, clouded desires and supposed longings – in both the art work and the wall texts which accompanied the work. Of course, this is how artists had to hide their sexuality, same-sex desires and relationships during much of this period for fear of ostracisation from society and possible prosecution, but the presentation came across as little more than “au fait”, so much matter of fact. The exhibition was not helped by illuminating texts such as this: “The exact nature of Thomas and Philpot’s relationship is unknown. Many of Philpot’s depictions of Thomas carry a homoerotic charge and some are exoticising. What Thomas felt about his years with Philpot from 1929 to the artist’s death in 1937 is unknown.” Ugh!

You might as well have said nothing, and let the art work speak for itself.

Other commentaries could have done with a more insightful enunciation of the circumstances of the particular artist, in addition to text on the specific art work. A perceptive anointing of their life would have added invaluably to the frisson of the exhibition. For example, I wanted to know why the painter Christopher Wood died at the young age of 29 as well as the specifics of his painting Nude Boy in a Bedroom (1930, below). According to Wikipedia, Wood – bisexual, addicted to opium and painting frenetically in preparation for his Wertheim exhibition in London – became psychotic and jumped under a train at Salisbury railway station. These are the things that you need to know if you are to fully appreciate the gravitas of a life and a person’s relationship to their art, don’t you think?

Further, no pictures were allowed in the gallery spaces. Whereas I could take photographs of the Rachel Whiteread exhibition at the same venue to my heart’s content (even after being confronted by a guard who said I couldn’t, who was then corrected by a colleague with no apology for his attitude to me), I had to play a Machiavellian game of cunning hide and seek with guards and attendants to get the installation photographs of this exhibition. Why was this so? It almost seemed to be a case of the gallery being ashamed of the art they were exhibiting, as though the attitudes of the past towards art that explores same-sex relationships was being replicated by the duplicity of the gallery itself: the art could be seen but not heard, hidden away in the bowls of an academic institution. I also noted that one of 19 collages that Kenneth Halliwell exhibited at the Anno Domino gallery in 1967 (see below) was purchased by the Tate in 2016. Considering “the exhibition was a failure and Halliwell’s professional frustration contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Orton,” eventuating the murder of the playwright and his own suicide… for some of those very same works to now reside at the Tate is the ultimate irony. I doubt Halliwell would have been laughing in his grave.

The stand out works in this exhibition were by Duncan Grant and Keith Vaughan. Their work explores the strength and beauty of the male form with a vitality of purpose and harmony of composition that was succinct and illuminating for this viewer. Grant’s Bathing (1911, below) ascribes anthropomorphic qualities to distorted figures whose elongated arms, distended chests and exposed buttocks would have been shocking to the people of Belle Epoque Britain. His erotic drawings (below) were the most beautiful, sensitive and sensual art works in the whole exhibition. Vaughan’s simplification of the figuration of the male form into abstract shapes, whilst still retaining the enigma of sensuality, narrative and context, are the triumph of this inverts painting. Their patterning and displacement of time and space onto an intimate other – a copious, coital realm of existence full of feeling, information and matter – were a revelation to me.

While the exhibition enunciates a remarkable range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic, it was a deflating experience. I came away thankful that I had seen the work, that the artist’s had been able to express themselves however surreptitiously, but angry that so much of the world still sees LGBTQI people as second class citizens whose art work has to be examined through the prism of sexuality, rather than on the quality of the work itself.

Marcus

PS. How you can classify Claude Cahun as a British artist I will never know: she lived on the Channel Islands for a few years, but she was the very epitome of a French artist!

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. All installation images are by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Featuring works from 1861-1967 relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities, the show marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England. Queer British Art explores how artists expressed themselves in a time when established assumptions about gender and sexuality were being questioned and transformed.

Deeply personal and intimate works are presented alongside pieces aimed at a wider public, which helped to forge a sense of community when modern terminology of ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ were unrecognised. Together, they reveal a remarkable range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic. With paintings, drawings, personal photographs and film from artists such as John Singer Sargent, Dora Carrington, Duncan Grant and David Hockney the diversity of queer British art is celebrated as never before.

 

 

“Much more fucking and they’ll be screaming hysterics in next to no time.”

.
Joe Orton

 

“For me, to use the word ‘queer’ is a liberation; it was a word that frightened me, but no longer.”

.
Derek Jarman

 

“It’s really interesting as to whether or not we should be concerned with the sexuality of an artist when we consider the merits of his artwork, because really what he does behind closed doors – or she does – has nothing to do, or shouldn’t have anything to do with the impact of the artwork as we see it. But what is important is the artist can use that material of their personal life and create a work that is almost a personal diary but visually.”

.
Estelle Lovatt

 

 

Room 1: Coded Desires

In spite of the Victorian era’s prudish reputation, there are many possible traces of transgressive desire in its art – in Frederic Leighton’s sensuous male nudes, for instance, or Evelyn De Morgan’s depictions of Jane Hales. Simeon Solomon attracted sustained criticisms of ‘unwholesomeness’ or ‘effeminacy’ – terms which suggest disapproval of alternative forms of masculinity as much as same sex desire. Yet other works which might look queer to us passed without comment.

The death penalty for sodomy was abolished in 1861 but it was still punishable with imprisonment. Sex between women was not illegal and society sometimes tolerated such relationships. Yet for most people, there seems to have been little sense that certain sexual practices or forms of gender expression reflected a core aspect of the self. Instead, this was a world of fluid possibilities.

These ambiguities offered scope for artists to produce work that was open to homoerotic interpretation. Queer subcultures developed: new scholarship on same-sex desire in Renaissance Italy and ancient Greece allowed artists to use these civilisations as reference points, while the beautiful youths in Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photographs attracted communities of collectors. As long as there was no public suggestion that artists had acted on their desires, there was much that could be explored and expressed.

 

Installation view of Room 1 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 1 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 1 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Frederic Leighton’s The Sluggard (1885, bronze) in the middle of the room

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene' 1864

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene
1864
Watercolour on paper
330 x 381 mm
Tate. Purchased 1980

 

 

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene is a touching image of female love. The piece is inspired by fragmented poems written by a woman named Sappho in the 4th century BC, in which she pleads that Aphrodite help her in her same-sex relationship. The term ‘lesbian’ derives directly from this poet, as her homeland was the Greek Island of Lesbos. Sappho’s story points to a longer history of same-sex desire. It’s perhaps for this reason that Simeon Solomon, a man who was attracted to men in defiance of the law, painted her. While a depiction of two men kissing would have been completely taboo, this is a passionate depiction of same-sex desire.

Solomon’s own sexual preferences eventually lead to his incarceration. When he was released from prison he was rejected by many of his acquaintances, struggled to find work and soon became homeless; a painful reminder of our repressive past. (Website text)

This strikingly frank image shows the ancient Greek poet Sappho in a passionate embrace with her fellow poet Erinna. Sappho is associated with the Island of Lesbos and her story gives us the word ‘lesbian’. There was a surge of interest in Sappho’s achievements and desires from the 1840s onwards. Solomon may be responding to his friend Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem Anactoria which includes Erinna amongst Sappho’s lovers. While female same-sex desire was considered more acceptable than its male equivalent, Solomon’s depiction of Sappho’s fervent kiss and Erinna’s swooning response is unusually explicit and the image was not publicly exhibited. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love' 1865

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love
1865
Ink on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This work was inspired by a passage from the Gospel of St John which tells how ‘the friend of the bridegroom… rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice’. In Solomon’s drawing, the friend of the bridegroom has the wings of love but his downcast expression identifies him as ‘sad love’, forever excluded. The positioning of his and the bridegroom’s hands hints at the reason for his grief, implying that that they are former sexual partners. He is forced to look on as his lover enters a heterosexual marriage: a fate shared by many men in same-sex relationships in this period. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'Bacchus' 1867

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
Bacchus
1867
Oil paint on paper on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

The classical god of wine, Bacchus also embodies sexual ambiguity and gender fluidity. While grapes and vine leaves identify the god in Solomon’s painting, Bacchus’s full lips, luxuriant hair and enigmatic gaze hint at his elusive sexuality. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1867, the critic of The Art Journal thought the figure looked effeminate, commenting ‘Bacchus is a sentimentalist of rather weak constitution; he drinks mead, possibly sugar and water, certainly not wine’. Solomon’s friend, critic Walter Pater wrote a favourable essay about the painting and poet Algernon Charles Swinburne said he found in Solomon and Bacchus alike, ‘the stamp of sorrow; of perplexities unsolved and desires unsatisfied’. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'The Moon and Sleep' 1894

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
The Moon and Sleep
1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Miss Margery Abrahams in memory of Dr Bertram L. Abrahams and Jane Abrahams 1973

 

 

Made a few years after Solomon’s arrest and social ostracisation, this painting depicts the love of the moon goddess Selene for Endymion, who, in one version of the myth, is given eternal youth and eternal sleep by Zeus. While it ostensibly depicts a heterosexual pairing, the striking similarity of the profiles of the figures in Solomon’s painting gives them both an air of androgyny. This painting was given to Tate by a descendent of Rachel Simmons, Solomon’s first cousin, who helped to support him after his fall from public favour by regularly buying his works for small sums of money. (Wall text)

 

Photographer unknown. 'John Addington Symonds' (installation view) c. 1850s

 

Photographer unknown
John Addington Symonds (installation view)
c. 1850s
Photograph, tinted collodion on paper

 

 

John Addington Symonds was a writer, critic and an early campaigner for greater tolerance of same-sex desire. This photograph probably dates from Symonds’s time at Oxford University (1858-1863). His studies informed his later essay, A Problem in Greek Ethics 1873, one of the earliest attempts at a history of male same-sex desire. Symonds frankly discussed his desires in his diaries and unpublished writings, which he believed would be ‘useful to society’. However, when his friend Edmund Gosse inherited Symonds’s papers in 1926, he burned them all apart from Symonds’s autobiography. This destruction nauseated Symonds’s granddaughter Janet Vaughan. It was not until 1984 that Symonds’s autobiography was finally published. (Wall text)

 

Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947) 'Hope Comforting Love in Bondage' Exhibited 1901

 

Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947)
Hope Comforting Love in Bondage
Exhibited 1901
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

Hope is depicted as a respectably fully-clothed matron, whereas Love’s only costume is his elaborate cloth bindings and the rose briars that are delicately threaded through the feathers of his wings. The flowers and thorns of the roses hint at pleasures and pains combined. Love’s pensive expression and androgynous beauty is reminiscent of the work of Simeon Solomon and, while Hope stretches out her hand to comfort him, his gaze is fixed elsewhere, leaving the object of his affections undefined. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Frederic Leighton's 'Daedalus and Icarus' 1896

 

Installation view of Frederic Leighton’s Daedalus and Icarus 1896 from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) 'Daedalus and Icarus' Exhibited 1869

 

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896)
Daedalus and Icarus
Exhibited 1869
Oil paint on canvas
Private collection

 

 

In a story from the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Daedalus made wings for his son Icarus to escape from Rhodes. Icarus’s golden beauty is here contrasted with his weather-beaten father. When the work was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1869, The Times anxiously remarked that Icarus had the air of ‘a maiden rather than a youth’ and exhibited ‘the soft rounded contour of a feminine breast’. This response may reflect increasing concern amongst educated circles about the pairings of older men and adolescent youths in books such as Plato’s Symposium, as new scholarship explored the eroticism of the original texts. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Henry Scott Tuke's 'A Bathing Group' 1914

 

Installation view of Henry Scott Tuke’s A Bathing Group 1914 from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) 'A Bathing Group' 1914

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929)
A Bathing Group
1914
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by the Royal Academy of Arts, London

 

 

While Henry Scott Tuke used the professional model Nicola Lucciani for this painting, it is similar to his images of Cornish youths in its frank appreciation of the male nude. Lucciani’s torso is illuminated by a shaft of sunlight and he looks towards the second figure, who crouches as if in awe of his godlike beauty. Tuke presented the painting to the Royal Academy on his election as a member. Tuke used professional models when he first moved to Cornwall, but he soon befriended some of the local fishermen and swimmers in Falmouth who modelled for him in many paintings. (Wall text)

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) 'The Critics' 1927

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929)
The Critics
1927
Oil paint on board
Courtesy of Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (Warwick District Council)

 

 

Made just two years before Tuke’s death, The Critics is one of a number of works by Henry Scott Tuke depicting young men bathing off the Cornish coast. There has been much speculation about his relationships with his Cornish models although nothing has been substantiated. It is, however, not difficult to find a homoerotic undercurrent in this painting, as the two men on the shore appraise the swimming technique – and possibly the physique – of the youth in the water. Writer John Addington Symonds was a frequent visitor and he encouraged Tuke in his painting of male nudes in a natural outdoor setting. (Wall text)

 

Room 2: Public Indecency

This room looks at ways in which sexuality and gender identity did – and did not – go public, from the 1880s to the 1920s. Public debate over sexuality and gender identity was stirred up by scandals, campaigns and scientific studies. The trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895 for gross indecency and Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928 for supposed obscenity put a spotlight on same-sex desire. In the field of science, the project of classifying sexual practices and forms of gender presentation into distinct identities, which had been begun by German psychiatrists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing, reached Britain through the work of Havelock Ellis who co-authored his book Sexual Inversion 1896 with John Addington Symonds. However, change was slow, and many people remained unaware of new terminologies and approaches to the self that this new science offered.

 

Installation view of Henry Bishop's 'Henry Havelock Ellis' 1890s

 

Installation view of Henry Bishop’s Henry Havelock Ellis from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Henry Bishop (1868-1939) 'Henry Havelock Ellis' 1890s

 

Henry Bishop (1868-1939)
Henry Havelock Ellis
1890s
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by François Lafitte, 2003

 

 

The sexologist Henry Havelock Ellis’s great work Sexual Inversion, co-authored with John Addington Symonds, defined queer sexualities in Britain for a generation. Published in English in 1897, it drew on the experiences of people such as Edward Carpenter (whose portrait hangs nearby). It was effectively banned in Britain after the prosecution of a bookseller, George Bedborough. This informal portrait was probably made around the time of Bedborough’s trial. It depicts Ellis sitting in a deckchair in Henry Bishop’s studio in St Ives. There is some evidence Bishop was attracted to men and Ellis’s non-judgemental attitudes may have encouraged Bishop to make his acquaintance. He became a lifelong friend. (Wall text)

 

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) 'Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints' 1920

 

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953)
Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints
1920
Tempera on linen over board
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

 

 

Oscar Wilde described the home of the artist and designer Charles Ricketts and his lifelong partner the painter Charles Shannon as ‘the one house in London where you will never be bored’. Here, the couple are playfully depicted by their friend Edmund Dulac in the robes of Dominican friars. These robes possibly hint at the permanence of their bond: monastic vows were, after all, intended to mark entry for life into an all-male community. The peacock feather in Rickett’s hand signals their devotion to aestheticism, an art movement dedicated to beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’. By the 1920s, this was an emblem of a previous era. (Wall text)

 

Charles Buchel (1872-1950) 'Radclyffe Hall' (installation view) 1918

 

Charles Buchel (1872-1950)
Radclyffe Hall (installation view)
1918
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by Una Elena Vincenzo (née Taylor), Lady Troubridge, 1963

 

 

Born ‘Marguerite’ Radclyffe Hall and known as ‘John’ to close friends, Radclyffe Hall was a key figure in provoking debate on female same-sex desire. This portrait was made ten years before Hall found fame as the author of The Well of Loneliness 1928. Despite the pleas of literary figures, including Virginia Woolf, this novel was effectively banned on the grounds of obscenity for its frank depiction of female same-sex desire. It was semi-autobiographical and was influenced by Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion. Hall’s sober jacket, skirt, cravat and monocle in this image reflected contemporary female fashions for a more masculine style of dress. After the trial, Hall’s clothes and cropped hair became associated with lesbianism and this portrait has become a queer icon. It was given to the National Portrait Gallery by Hall’s lover, Una Troubridge. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Room 2 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 2 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 2 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Oscar Wilde’s Prison Door c. 1883

 

 

This is the door of Oscar Wilde’s prison cell at Reading Gaol. Wilde spent three months of his incarceration writing a tortured letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. This was later published as De Profundis (‘from the depths’). Wilde was not allowed to send the letter, although the manuscript was given back to him when he left prison. He told his friend Robert Ross, ‘I know that on the day of my release I will merely be moving from one prison into another, and there are times when the whole world seems to be no larger than my cell, and as full of terror for me’. (Wall text)

 

Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington. 'Oscar Wilde' c. 1881

 

Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington
Oscar Wilde
c. 1881
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, California

 

 

The American artist Harper Pennington gave this portrait to Wilde and his wife Constance as a wedding present in 1884. It captures Wilde as a young man aged 27, on the cusp of success and it hung in Wilde’s home in Tite Street, Chelsea, London. While awaiting trial, Wilde was declared bankrupt and all his possessions, including this portrait, were sold at public auction to pay his debts. Few objects from his extensive collection have been traced. This painting was bought by Wilde’s friend Ada Leverson and it was kept in storage. Wilde told a friend that Ada’s husband ‘could not have it in his drawing-room as it was obviously, on account of its subject, demoralising to young men, and possibly to young women of advanced views’. (Wall text)

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) 'Enter Herodias from 'Salome' by Oscar Wilde' 1890s

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)
Enter Herodias from ‘Salome’ by Oscar Wilde
1890s
Photo-process print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Here Herodias, Salome’s mother makes a dramatic entrance, bare-breasted and positioned at the centre of the composition. The grotesque figure on the left plucks at her cloak, his robe barely concealing his giant phallus, while the slender page appears notably unmoved. They seem to epitomise two forms of masculinity: the grotesquely heterosexual and the elegantly ambiguous. Oscar Wilde is satirised as the showman-like jester in the foreground. (Wall text)

 

Cecil Beaton. 'Cecil Beaton and his Friends' 1927

 

Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)
Cecil Beaton and his Friends
1927
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London. Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1991

 

 

This photograph was taken at Wilsford Manor in Wiltshire, Stephen Tennant’s childhood home. The party depicted here includes Tennant, artist Rex Whistler, society hostess Zita Jungman and Beaton himself, although their elaborate fancy dress and make-up makes it hard to tell them apart. The poet Siegfried Sassoon, Tennant’s lover at this time, wrote in his diary, ‘It was very amusing, and they were painted up to the eyes, but I didn’t quite like it’. (Wall text)

 

Room 3: Theatrical Types

The use of ‘theatrical’ as a euphemism for queer hints at the rich culture on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage. The extent to which audiences were aware of this varied. Music hall male and female ‘impersonation acts’ were wildly popular but were mostly seen as innocent ‘family fun’. In the formal theatre, plays for public production had to be passed by the Lord Chamberlain’s office. While some directors found ways to avoid censorship, there were few positive and explicit depictions of queer lives and experience. Many celebrities who were in same-sex relationships understandably tried to keep their lives from public view, although their desires were often open secrets. Nevertheless, whether as the subject of a moralistic ‘problem’ play or an innuendo in a saucy song, queer perspectives could find public expression on the stage.

 

Installation view of Room 3 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 3 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Unknown photographer, published by The Philco Publishing Company. 'Hetty King (Winifred Ems)' 1910s

 

Unknown photographer, published by The Philco Publishing Company
Hetty King (Winifred Ems)
1910s
National Portrait Gallery

 

 

Angus McBean

Angus McBean’s career was forged in the theatre. Success came in 1936 with his photographs of Max Beerbohm’s The Happy Hypocrite 1896, starring Ivor Novello. In a break with convention, McBean’s close-up images were well lit with studio lights and staged as intimate tableaux. Inspired by the International Surrealist exhibitions of 1936 and 1937, he began to make playful ‘surrealised portraits’, which were initially published in The Sketch. These used complex props and staging to create fantastical scenes and to give the illusion of distorted scale.

The images here all depict sitters who were in same-sex relationships. McBean’s own relationships with men led to a police raid on his house and his arrest in 1942 for criminal acts of homosexuality. He was convicted and sentenced to four years in jail but was released in 1944 and quickly reestablished his reputation as a photographer.

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Sir Robert Murray Helpmann' 1950

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Sir Robert Murray Helpmann
1950
Photograph, bromide print on paper
© Estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

McBean’s portrait of Robert Helpmann, published in The Tatler and Bystander on 28 April 1948, shows him in the role of Hamlet, which he was then playing at Stratford-upon-Avon. The production was designed to be Victorian gothic: an Elsinore of guttering candles and chiaroscuro lighting effects. There is perhaps some suggestion of this in the heavy shadows of McBean’s photograph, while Helpmann’s dramatic make-up emphasises his melancholic expression. The backdrop was created from a blown-up photograph of text from the First Folio of the play. In defiance of the law, Helpmann lived comparatively openly with his partner, the theatre director Michael Benthall. Their relationship lasted from 1938 until Benthall’s death, in 1974. (Wall text)

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Danny La Rue' 1968

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Danny La Rue
1968
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Born Danny Carroll, Danny La Rue was one of the greatest stars in female impersonation. La Rue first performed while in the navy during the Second World War and later toured with all male revues such as Forces in Petticoats before becoming a cabaret star. La Rue’s glamorous appearance on stage, captured here, was undercut by the gruff ‘wotcher mates’, with which he opened his set. La Rue preferred the term ‘comic in a frock’ to ‘female impersonator’ and described his act as ‘playing a woman knowing that everyone knows it’s a fella’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Glen Byam Shaw as 'Laertes'' 1934-5

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Glen Byam Shaw as ‘Laertes’
1934-5
Oil paint on canvas
Kindly lent by the sitter’s grandson, Charles Hart

 

 

The actor Glen Byam Shaw is depicted here as Laertes in John Gielgud’s 1934 critically acclaimed production of Hamlet in a costume designed by Motley: Elizabeth Montgomery, Margaret Percy and Sophie Harris. Glyn Philpot cut down the original three-quarter length portrait after it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1935. This reduction puts even greater focus on Byam Shaw’s face and heavy stage make-up. While the image is typical of productions of the period, the medium of the portrait removes it from its original theatrical context. Coupled with Byam Shaw’s arch expression, the overriding impression is one of high camp. Byam Shaw had almost certainly been the lover of the poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and may have met Philpot through Sassoon. (Wall text)

 

Francis Goodman (1913-1989) 'Oliver Messel' 1945

 

Francis Goodman (1913-1989)
Oliver Messel
1945
Photograph, silver gelatin print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by the estate of Francis Goodman, 1989

 

 

Francis Goodman’s carefully posed photograph depicts Oliver Messel, the foremost British stage designer from the 1920s to the 1950s, surrounded by eclectic props. The producer Charles Cochran recalled how Messel ‘would pull something new out of his pocket – usually something used for domestic work – which he proposed to employ to give the illusion of some other fabric’. Messel was attracted to men and his fascination with dandyish excess, pastiche and artifice has been interpreted as a queer aesthetic. (Wall text)

 

Paul Tanqueray (1905-1991) 'Douglas Byng' 1934

 

Paul Tanqueray (1905-1991)
Douglas Byng
1934
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery. Given by Paul Tanqueray, 1974

 

 

Gay performer Douglas Byng gained the title ‘The Highest Priest of Camp’ with songs such as ‘Doris the Goddess of Wind’, ‘I’m a Mummy (An Old Egyptian Queen)’ and ‘Cabaret Boys’, which he performed with Lance Lester. Coward described him as ‘The most refined vulgarity in London, mais quel artiste!’ Byng’s costume in Paul Tanqueray’s photograph was probably the one he wore for his song ‘Wintertime’. (Wall text)

 

Room 4: Bloomsbury and Beyond

The Bloomsbury Group of artists and writers famously ‘lived in squares and loved in triangles’. Dora Carrington had relationships with men and women but loved and was loved by Lytton Strachey, who was attracted to men. Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell lived together in Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex. A chosen few of Duncan Grant’s male lovers made visits but Paul Roche was forced to camp on the South Downs as he did not meet with Bell’s approval. Bell’s husband Clive lived apart from her but they remained happily married. While sexual intimacy was valued by the Group, it was not the most important bond tying the members together. Their network was a profoundly queer experiment in modern living founded on radical honesty and mutual support.

Bloomsbury’s matter-of-fact acceptance of same-sex desire was unusual but not unique. The objects in this room show a variety of different perspectives, from the quiet homeliness of Ethel Sands’s Tea with Sickert, to Gluck’s defiant self-portrait. Together, they reveal a generation of artists and sitters exploring, confronting and coming to terms with themselves and their desires.

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring Ethel Walker’s Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa 1920

 

Ethel Walker (1861-1951) 'Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa' 1920

 

Ethel Walker (1861-1951)
Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa
1920
Oil paint on canvas

 

 

The composition of this painting reveals Ethel Walker’s fascination with Greco-Roman friezes, as well as the artistic possibilities of the female nude. The painting is inspired by Book IV of Homer’s Odyssey, in which the princess Nausicaa bathes with her maidens. In 1900, Walker became the first woman member of the New English Arts Club, whose select committee reacted to this painting with ‘spontaneous and enthusiastic applause’. There has been some speculation about the nature of Walker’s relationship with painter Clara Christian, with whom she lived and worked in the 1880s, although little evidence survives. This image offers a utopian vision of an all-female community. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring Duncan Grant’s Bathing 1911 (at left in the bottom image)

 

Duncan Grant. 'Bathing' 1911

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Bathing
1911
Oil paint on canvas
2286 x 3061 mm
© Tate. Purchased 1931

 

 

Bathing was conceived as part of a decorative scheme for the dining room at Borough Polytechnic, and it was Duncan Grant’s first painting to receive widespread public attention. Grant’s design takes inspiration from summers spent around the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which was one of a number of sites associated with London’s queer culture. The painting celebrates the strength and beauty of the male form, and its homoerotic implications were not lost on Grant’s contemporaries: the National Review described the dining room as a ‘nightmare’ which would have a ‘degenerative’ effect on the polytechnic’s working-class students. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) 'Bathers by the Pond' (installation view) 1920-21

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Bathers by the Pond (installation view)
1920-21
Oil paint on canvas
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council 1985)

 

 

This painting shows a scene filled with homoerotic possibilities. The setting is possibly Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex, where Duncan Grant lived with Vanessa Bell, her children and his lover David (Bunny) Garnett. Grant’s use of dots of colour shows the influences of the pointillist technique pioneered by Georges Seurat. The nude figure in the foreground basks in the sun while the seated figures behind him exchange appreciative glances. Swimming ponds often served as cruising grounds and it is perhaps unsurprising that this work was not exhibited in Grant’s lifetime. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) 'Paul Roche Reclining' c. 1946

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Paul Roche Reclining (installation view)
c. 1946
Oil paint on canvas
The Charleston Trust

 

 

This painting depicts Duncan Grant’s close friend and possible lover Paul Roche, lying as if asleep. He is depicted against a patterned background reminiscent of colours and fabrics produced by the Omega Workshop, the design collective founded in 1913 by Roger Fry. These soft textures contrast with Roche’s bare torso, which is further emphasised by his briefs, socks and open shirt. Grant and Roche met by chance in July 1946: after making eye contact crossing the road at Piccadilly Circus, the two struck up a conversation. Their friendship lasted until Grant’s death in 1978. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant produced erotic works on paper prolifically throughout his life. These objects were created in private and for personal consumption only. Racially diverse figures are presented in various states of sexual play, and Grant’s range of representation moves from explicit passion to tender post- coital repose. Overlapping bodies are depicted in impossible contortions, and the works reveal Grant’s fascination with the artistic possibilities of the male form as well as the importance of harmonious composition. The objects also demonstrate a characteristically witty approach to sexuality, with some copulating figures playfully masquerading as ballet dancers and wrestlers. As his daughter Angelica Garnett recalled, one of Grant’s favourite maxims was to ‘never be ashamed’, and his private erotica offers an unapologetic celebration of gay male sex and love.

 

Installation view of erotic drawing by Duncan Grant

Installation view of erotic drawing by Duncan Grant

 

Installation views of erotic drawings by Duncan Grant

 

Installation view of Ethel Sands' 'Tea with Sickert' c. 1911-12

 

Installation view of Ethel Sands’ Tea with Sickert c. 1911-12 from Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Ethel Sands (1873-1962) 'Tea with Sickert' c. 1911-12

 

Ethel Sands (1873-1962)
Tea with Sickert
c. 1911-12
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Bequeathed by Colonel Christopher Sands 2000, accessioned 2001

 

 

The scene of this painting is the sitting room Nan Hudson and Sands’s home. Although it features two figures – the artist Walter Sickert and Hudson – the table is set for afternoon tea for three. The composition of the painting is arranged as if the artist was standing behind Nan, and this perspective highlights their position as a couple. In 1912, the work was exhibited as part of Sands and Hudson’s joint exhibition at the Carfax Gallery and it drew mixed reactions: Westminster Gazette called it ‘a daring picture’ but ‘a somewhat overwhelming indulgence in pure orange vermilion’. (Wall text)

 

Clare Atwood (1866-1962) 'John Gielgud's Room' 1933

 

Clare Atwood (1866-1962)
John Gielgud’s Room
1933
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Mrs E.L. Shute 1937

 

 

This picture was painted in Sir John Gielgud’s flat at the time he was playing Richard II in Gordon Daviot’s Richard of Bordeaux at the New Theatre. Rather than emphasising his life in the public eye, this work draws attention to Gieglud’s domestic life. In this way, Clare ‘Tony’ Atwood gently subverts traditional associations of the feminine with private space. Atwood lived in a menage a trois with Gielgud’s second-cousin, Edith (Edy) Craig and the feminist playwright Christopher St John, who had previously lived together as an openly lesbian couple. St John later stated that ‘the bond between Edy and me was strengthened not weakened by Tony’s association with us’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Gluck's 'Self-Portrait' 1942

 

Installation view of Gluck’s Self-Portrait 1942 from Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) 'Self-Portrait' 1942

 

Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein)
Self-Portrait
1942
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London
Given by the sitter and artist, ‘Gluck’ (Hannah Gluckstein), 1973

 

 

Gluck locks gazes with the viewer in this unflinching self-portrait. Born Hannah Gluckstein, Gluck requested that the name Gluck be reproduced with ‘no prefix, suffix or quotes’. Gluck exhibited to great acclaim at the ‘The Gluck Room’ of The Fine Art Society, where visitors included Queen Mary. This painting was painted in 1942, in a difficult period in Gluck’s relationship with Nesta Obermer, Gluck’s ‘darling wife’. Obermer was frequently away, sometimes with her husband Seymour Obermer. In 1944, their relationship broke down and Gluck went to live with Edith Shackleton Herald. Their relationship lasted until Gluck’s death. (Wall text)

 

Gluck (1895-1978) 'Lilac and Guelder Rose' 1932-7

 

Gluck (1895-1978)
Lilac and Guelder Rose
1932-7
Oil paint on canvas
Manchester Art Gallery

 

 

This was one of a number of flower paintings that Gluck made during and immediately after her relationship with society florist and author Constance Spry, who she met in 1932. Spry was a leading figure in cultivating a fashion for white flowers, and often used Gluck’s paintings to illustrate her articles. Many of Spry’s customers also commissioned flower paintings from Gluck. When Lilac and Guelder Rose was exhibited at Gluck’s 1937 exhibition at the Fine Art Society, it was much admired by Lord Villiers, who remarked ‘It’s gorgeous, I feel I could bury my face in it’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Henry Thomas' (installation view) 1934-5

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Henry Thomas (installation view)
1934-5
Oil paint on canvas
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Bequeathed by Mrs Rosemary Newgas, the neice of the artist 2004)

 

 

Henry Thomas was Glyn Philpot’s servant and one of his favourite models. The high-cheekboned angularity of Thomas’s face is echoed in the diagonal lines of the abstracted background, perhaps an allusion to the batik fabric behind. The exact nature of Thomas and Philpot’s relationship is unknown. Many of Philpot’s depictions of Thomas carry a homoerotic charge and some are exoticising. What Thomas felt about his years with Philpot from 1929 to the artist’s death in 1937 is unknown. The words he wrote on Philpot’s funeral wreath, ‘For memory to my dear master as well as my father and brother to me’, hints at the imbalance between them, while also suggesting many complex layers of relationship. (Wall text)

 

Edward Wolfe (1897-1982) 'Portrait of Pat Nelson' 1930s

 

Edward Wolfe (1897-1982)
Portrait of Pat Nelson (installation view)
1930s
Oil paint on canvas
James O’Connor

 

 

Patrick Nelson emigrated from Jamaica to North Wales in 1937, before settling in London to study law the following year. While living in Bloomsbury, Nelson worked as an artists’ model and soon became acquainted with Edward Wolfe. Nelson would also meet other prominent gay artists at this time, including his sometime boyfriend and lifelong friend Duncan Grant. Wolfe’s depiction of Nelson against the rich green background is exoticising and his pose invites the viewer to admire his body. Such objectification was typical of many depictions of black men from this time and reflects an uneven power dynamic, although Nelson’s friendship with members of the Bloomsbury group adds a level of complexity to the relationship between artist and sitter. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Man with a Gun' (installation view) 1933

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Man with a Gun (installation view)
1933
Oil paint on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Bequeathed by Jeffrey Daniels, 1986

 

 

Glyn Philpot developed a strong reputation as a society portraitist until the 1930s, at which point he began to explore modernist forms, as well as express his sexuality more openly. This work depicts Philpot’s friend Jan Erland, who was the subject of a series of paintings by Philpot on the theme of sports and leisure. Erland is depicted cradling a gun which, he recalled, had been specifically borrowed for the occasion. Erland’s firm grip on the gun’s phallic barrel seems suggestive. Writing to his sister Daisy, Philpot described ‘every moment with this dear Jan’ as filled with ‘inspiration and beauty’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Man with a Gun' 1933

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Man with a Gun
1933
Oil paint on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Bequeathed by Jeffrey Daniels, 1986

 

 

Tate Britain today opens the first exhibition dedicated to queer British art. Unveiling material that relates to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ+) identities, the show marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. It presents work from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 – a time of seismic shifts in gender and sexuality that found expression in the arts as artists and viewers explored their desires, experiences and sense of self.

Spanning the playful to the political, the explicit to the domestic, Queer British Art 1861-1967 showcases the rich diversity of queer visual art and its role in society. Themes explored in the exhibition include coded desires amongst the Pre-Raphaelites, representations of and by women who defied convention (including Virginia Woolf), and love and lust in sixties Soho. It features works by major artists such as Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan, Evelyn de Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton alongside queer ephemera, personal photographs, film and magazines.

Work from 1861 to 1967 by artists with diverse sexualities and gender identities is showcased, ranging from covert images of same-sex desire such as Simeon Solomon’s Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864 through to the open appreciation of queer culture in David Hockney’s Going to be a Queen for Tonight 1960. A highlight of the exhibition is a section focusing on the Bloomsbury set and their contemporaries – an artistic group famous for their bohemian attitude towards sexuality. The room includes intimate paintings of lovers, scenes of the homes artists shared with their partners and large commissions by artists such as Duncan Grant and Ethel Walker.

Many of the works on display were produced in a time when the terms ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ had little public recognition. The exhibition illustrates the ways in which sexuality became publically defined through the work of sexologists such as Henry Havelock Ellis and campaigners such as Edward Carpenter. It also looks at the high profile trials of Oscar Wilde and Radclyffe Hall. Objects on display include the door from Wilde’s prison cell, Charles Buchel’s portrait of Radclyffe Hall and erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley.

In contrast to the bleak outlook from the courtroom prior to 1967, queer culture was embraced by the British public in the form of theatre. From music hall acts to costume design, the theatre provided a forum in which sexuality and gender expression could be openly explored. Striking examples on display include photographs of performers such as Beatrix Lehmann, Berto Pasuka and Robert Helpmann by Angus McBean, who was jailed for his sexuality in 1942, alongside stage designs by Oliver Messel and Edward Burra. Theatrical cards of music hall performers such as Vesta Tilley (whose act as ‘Burlington Bertie’ had a large lesbian following) are featured, as well as a pink wig worn in Jimmy Slater’s act ‘A Perfect Lady’ from the 1920s.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 shows how artists and audiences challenged the established views of sexuality and gender identity between two legal landmarks. Some of the works in the show were intensely personal while others spoke to a wider public, helping to forge a sense of community. Alongside the exhibition is a room showing six films co-commissioned by Tate and Channel 4 Random Acts. Created in response to Queer British Art 1861-1967 and featuring figures in the LGBTQ+ community, including Sir Ian McKellen and Shon Faye, they present personal stories prompted by the themes in the show, and invite visitors to relate their own experiences.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 is curated by Clare Barlow, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain with Amy Concannon, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Why is the word ‘queer’ used in the exhibition title?

Queer has a mixed history – from the 19th century onwards it has been used both as a term of abuse and as a term by LGBT people to refer to themselves. Our inspiration for using it came from Derek Jarman who said that it used to frighten him but now ‘for me to use the word queer is a liberation’. More recently, of course, it has become reclaimed as a fluid term for people of different sexualities and gender identities. Historians of sexuality have also argued that it is preferable to other terms for sexualities in the past as these often don’t map onto modern sexual identities. In addition to carrying out audience research, we took advice from Stonewall and other LGBT charities and held focus groups with LGBT people. The advice from all of these sources was overwhelmingly that we should use it. While we tried other titles, no other option captured the full diversity of sexualities and gender identities that are represented in the show.

Text provided by Clare Barlow, curator of Queer British Art.

 

Installation view of Alvaro Guevara's 'Dame Edith Sitwell' 1916

 

Installation view of Alvaro Guevara’s Dame Edith Sitwell 1916 from Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Alvaro Guevara (1894-1951) 'Dame Edith Sitwell' 1916

 

Alvaro Guevara (1894-1951)
Dame Edith Sitwell
1916
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Lord Duveen, Walter Taylor and George Eumorfopoulos through the Art Fund 1920

 

 

The poet Edith Sitwell does not seem to have had sexual relationships but was viciously satirised by the artist and writer Wyndham Lewis as a lesbian. Sitwell described the life of the artist as ‘very Pauline’, referring to the letters of St Paul, which may suggest she thought sex would be a distraction. She was close friends with Alvaro Guevara, the artist of this portrait, who had relationships with men and women. Diana Holman Hunt in her 1974 biography of Guevara suggested that Sitwell and Guevara shared a love that was ‘not physical but certainly romantic and spiritual.’ The bright colours reflect the designs of Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell’s Omega Workshops and Sitwell is sitting on a dining chair designed by Fry. (Wall text)

 

Room 5: Defying Conventions

This room shows how artists and writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenged gender norms. Some, such as Laura Knight, laid claim to traditionally masculine sources of artistic authority by depicting themselves in the act of painting nude female models. Others, such as Vita Sackville-West, had open marriages and same-sex relationships, or, like Claude Cahun, questioned the very concept of gender binaries. This was a period of radical social change. Women took on new roles during the First and Second World Wars, and gained the vote in 1918. Sackville-West worked with the Land Girls. Cahun resisted the Nazis on Jersey and was sentenced to death, imprisoned for a year and only freed by the end of the war. New fashions developed. For women, wearing trousers in public became stylishly avant-garde. Expectations were changing. Public discussion about female same-sex desire offered ways of viewing the self, but it also brought problems. Lives that had previously passed without comment might now be labelled transgressive. But for some, this was a time of liberating possibilities.

 

Installation views of Room 5 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring with at left, Laura Knight’s Self-portrait 1913; second right, William Strang’s Lady with a Red Hat 1918, and at right Alvaro Guevara’s Dame Edith Sitwell 1916

 

Installation view of William Strang's 'Lady with a Red Hat' 1918

 

Installation view of William Strang’s Lady with a Red Hat 1918 from Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

William Strang. 'Lady with a Red Hat' 1918

 

William Strang (1859-1921)
Lady with a Red Hat
1918
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council
Purchased 1919

 

 

This portrait is of writer Vita Sackville-West. According to her son, Nigel Nicolson, she attended sittings with her lover Violet Trefusis. Sackville-West adopted a male persona, ‘Julian’, at some points in this relationship, allowing her and Trefusis to pose as a married couple so they could stay together at a boarding-house. Her fashionable dress in this image, however, gives no sign of such androgynous role-playing. The book in Sackville-West’s hand may refer to her book Poems of East and West 1917. At the time this was painted she was writing Challenge, a novel about her relationship with Trefusis, but this was not published until 1974. (Wall text)

 

Laura Knight (1877-1970) 'Self-portrait' 1913

 

Laura Knight (1877-1970)
Self-portrait
1913
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

When this painting was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1913, the reviewer Claude Phillips wrote ‘it repels, not by any special inconvenience – for it is harmless enough and with an element of sensuous attraction – but by dullness and something dangerously close to vulgarity’. His strong reaction hints at anxieties over women painting the female nude, which subverted the hierarchy of male artist and female model. When Laura Knight was at art school women were not been allowed to attend life classes. Her sensuous depiction of herself painting Ella Naper, a friend, lays claim to a professional artistic identity. In 1936, Knight was the first woman to become an Academician since its foundation. (Wall text)

 

Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980) 'Rest Time in the Life Class' 1923

 

Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980)
Rest Time in the Life Class
1923
Oil paint on canvas
City Art Centre, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries

 

 

This image depicts the life-class Johnstone taught for women at Edinburgh College of Art, which Johnstone presents as a space of friendship and collaboration. In the foreground, one woman comments on another’s drawing while in the background, Johnstone depicts herself gesturing towards the canvas. Johnstone had an intense relationship with Cecile Walton and Walton’s husband Eric Robertson, who were also part of the Edinburgh Group of artists. She later married fellow artist David Macbeth Sutherland. (Wall text)

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Untitled' 1936

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Untitled' 1936

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954)
Untitled
1936
2 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper

 

 

These images (to the left and right of I Extend My Arms), from a larger group of photographs, hint at different narrative possibilities for the sexless manikin. In one, the doll seems to take on a feminine air, posed as if delighting in the long hair that trails round its body. The other is less overtly gendered, wearing a hat made from an upright feather and holding aloft a tiny plant. The porcelain dolls’ heads outside the jar in one image are reminiscent of the masks that repeated occur in Cahun’s work and these images seem to hint at the themes of role-playing that Cahun explored in earlier self-portraits. (Wall text)

 

Room 6: Arcadia and Soho

London was a magnet for queer artists. In the 1950s and 1960s, Soho was the epicentre of queer culture, described by Francis Bacon as ‘the sexual gymnasium of the city’. Many of the artists shown in this room were friends, often living in London, sometimes sharing studios. Several were encouraged by the patron and collector Peter Watson, founder of the influential literary magazine Horizon and co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Their work was often inspired by travel: to the Mediterranean, to costal Brittany, or to the seedy American bars that inspired works such as Edward Burra’s Izzy Orts.

John Craxton, John Minton and Keith Vaughan have been described as ‘neo-romantics’. Craxton, however, preferred the term ‘Arcadian’, referencing a classical utopian vision of a harmonious wilderness, populated by innocent shepherds. Yet, while it is idealised, depictions of Arcadia still sometimes include references to death and its peace can be disrupted by undercurrents of desire.

 

Installation view of Christopher Wood's 'Nude Boy in a Bedroom' 1930

 

Installation view of Christopher Wood’s Nude Boy in a Bedroom 1930 from Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Christopher Wood (1901-1930) 'Nude Boy in a Bedroom' 1930

 

Christopher Wood (1901-1930)
Nude Boy in a Bedroom
1930
Oil paint on hardboard laid on plywood
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

 

 

Christopher Wood’s Nude Boy in a Bedroom depicts the artist’s friend and sometime lover Francis Rose, in a hotel room in Brittany where they stayed with a group of friends in 1930. The group was later joined by Wood’s mistress, Frosca Munster. According to Rose, the work ‘is a nude painting of me washing at a basin’ in which Wood ‘scattered playing cards on the bed’. The cards are tarot cards and the top card shows the Page of Cups reversed, symbolising anxiety about a deception that will be soon discovered, or referring to someone incapable of making commitments. Wood may have included these cards as an oblique reference to his ongoing relationships with his male lover and female mistress. (Wall text)

 

Edward Burra. 'Soldiers at Rye' 1941

 

Edward Burra (1905-1976)
Soldiers at Rye
1941
Tate
© Tate. Presented by Studio 1942

 

 

Edward Burra based Soldiers at Rye on sketches of troops around his home town of Rye between September and October 1940. His macabre sensibility was informed by his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. In the final stages of painting, he added red and yellow Venetian carnival masks, giving the figures the air of predatory birds – a regular symbol in Burra’s work from the 1930s. Seen from behind, the soldiers’ close-fitting uniforms and bulbous physiques led one critic to comment that they had the ‘bulging husky leathery shape’ of ‘military ruffians’. There is an ominous atmosphere to the painting, conveying a dangerous homoeroticism. (Wall text)

 

John Craxton (1922-2009) 'Head of a Cretan Sailor' 1946

 

John Craxton (1922-2009)
Head of a Cretan Sailor
1946
Oil paint on board
On loan from the London Borough of Camden Art Collection
© Estate of John Craxton. All rights reserved, DACS 2016
Photo credit: London Borough of Camden

 

 

The sitter in this portrait was on national service in the Greek Navy when he first met John Craxton in a taverna in Poros. He caught Craxton’s eye with his performance of the Greek dance the zeibékiko, with ‘splendidly controlled steps, clicking his thumbs and forefingers and circling round and round in his white uniform like a seagull’. Craxton followed him to Crete in 1947, where the sailor was now working as a butcher in Herákleion. The island was a revelation and Craxton returned often, eventually partly settling there in 1960. (Wall text)

 

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Robert Medley’s Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists 1950 at left, Keith Vaughan’s Kouros 1960 second left, Keith Vaughan’s Three Figures 1960-1 second right, and his Bather: August 4th 1961 1961 at right

 

Robert Medley (1905-1994) 'Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists' 1950

 

Robert Medley (1905-1994)
Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists
1950
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1992

 

 

Exhibited at the Hanover Gallery in February 1950, Robert Medley’s painting of racing cyclists on a summer’s evening in a Gravesend public park underscores his attraction to cross-class sociability. The river esplanade offers a permissible space for observing the muscular bodies and taut limbs of the youths and their admirers. The title refers to Virgil’s Eclogues, in which pastoral tranquillity is disrupted by erotic forces and revolutionary change. Medley wrote in his autobiography that the eclogue theme provided for ‘a more contemporary subject matter’. One of the cyclists was modelled on fellow artist Keith Vaughan’s lover, Ramsay McClure. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Keith Vaughan's 'Kouros' 1960

 

Installation view of Keith Vaughan’s Kouros 1960 from Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Kouros' 1960

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Kouros
1960
Oil paint on canvas
Private collection

 

 

In a diary entry for 1956, Keith Vaughan wrote of ‘A silver bromide image of Johnny standing naked in my studio, aloof, slightly tense, withdrawn like a Greek Kouros, gazing apprehensively at himself in the mirror, lithe, beautiful…. it lies tormenting me on my table’. This was a photograph of Vaughan’s lover Johnny Walsh who is also represented in this painting. A ‘Kouros’ was a free-standing ancient Greek sculpture of a male youth and the image may also have been inspired by a visit Vaughan made to Greece in 1960. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Three Figures' (installation view) 1960-1

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Three Figures (installation view)
1960-1
Oil paint on board

 

 

Three Figures is typical of Keith Vaughan’s approach to group figure painting. The subjects are depicted in indeterminate locations and the lack of details a makes it to impossible to identify them or guess at their social class or profession. The close proximity of the figures in this image and the contrast between the nudity of the man with his back towards us and the other two men might suggest that this is an erotic encounter. Yet the composition remains intentionally enigmatic. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Bather: August 4th 1961' 1961

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Bather: August 4th 1961
1961
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1962

 

 

Keith Vaughan wrote in his journal, ‘The continual use of the male figure…retains always the stain of a homosexual conception… “K.V. paints nude young men”. Perfectly true, but I feel I must hide my head in shame. Inescapable, I suppose – social guilt of the invert’. He wrestled with the competing impulses of figuration and abstraction in his work, describing how: ‘I wanted to go beyond the specific, identifiable image – yet I did not want to do an “abstract” painting. Bather: August 4th 1961 was the first break through. Every attempt up to then had finally resolved itself into another figure painting or an “abstract”.’ (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan

In contrast over his concerns whether his desires would be shown in his paintings, Keith Vaughan’s private drawings are explicitly erotic. Across them he depicts a range of different encounters, from sadomasochistic fantasies through to moments of tender intimacy. This is perhaps a hint of these fluctuating desires in his descriptions of relationship with his lover Jonny Walsh, of which Vaughan said, ‘I can move from tenderness to sadism in the same harmonic key’.

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Drawing of two men kissing' 1958-73

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Drawing of two men kissing
1958-73
Tate Archive © DACS, The Estate of Keith Vaughan

 

 

Room 7: Public/Private Lives

This room explores the contradictions of queer life in the 1950s and 1960s. Before the partial decriminalisation of sex between men in 1967, the boundaries between public and private were acutely important to couples in same-sex relationships. Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell had separate beds in their tiny flat to maintain the pretence that they weren’t a couple. Such caution was justified. Peter Wildeblood, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Michael Pitt-Rivers were sent to jail in a case that became a rallying point for calls to change the law, which was increasingly attacked as a ‘blackmailer’s charter’. Lesbianism was not illegal, but women faced prejudice. Avant-garde photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer was thrown out of her room after she left a copy of Radclyffe Hall’s banned book The Well of Loneliness out in plain sight.

Yet despite the threat of exposure, couples lived happily together, community flourished, and a few even became queer celebrities.

 

Stephen Tennant (1906-1986) 'Lascar, a story of the Maritime Boulevard' Nd

 

Stephen Tennant (1906-1986)
Lascar, a story of the Maritime Boulevard
Nd
Ink, watercolour and collage on paper
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, London

 

 

In this illustration for Stephen Tennant’s novel Lascar a riotous collage of burly sailors, bright flowers, letters and visiting cards seem to burst forth from the page. Some of Tennant’s initial sketches of sailors were made on visits to the Old Port of Marseilles in the 1930s, but he constantly reworked the illustrations and text, never completing it. In the last two decades of his life, visitors to Wilsford Manor in Wiltshire where Tennant lived in virtual seclusion, found pages of the novel strewn across the decaying interiors. (Wall text)

 

Because We’re Queers

Between 1959 and 1962, couple Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell borrowed and stole books from libraries around Islington. They cut out some of the illustrations, which they used to paper the walls of their flat and to create new collaged covers for the books. They then returned the volumes to the shelves of the libraries and waited to watch reactions.

The covers they created are full of jokes and references to queer culture. The addition of wrestling men turns Queen’s Favourite into an innuendo. Acting family the Lunts become kitsch glass figurines, while The Secret of Chimneys is depicted as a pair of giant cats. Others were more explicit: The World of Paul Slickey gains not only a phallic budgerigar but also a cut out shape of an erect penis. The plays of Emlyn Williams are retitled Knickers must fall and Fucked by Monty.

Orton and Halliwell were eventually caught and jailed for six months for ‘malicious damage’, which Orton claimed was ‘because we’re queers’. Prison destroyed Halliwell. While Orton became a successful playwright, Halliwell became an alcoholic. In 1967, he killed Orton and took his own life. Yet while their lives ended in tragedy, the bookcovers give insight into a playful and subversive relationship.

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. 'The Secret Chimneys by Agatha Christie'

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
The Secret Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Islington Local History Centre

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. 'Queen's Favourite'

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
Queen’s Favourite
Islington Local History Centre

 

Interior of the flat at 25 Noel Rd showing the extent of the collages

 

Interior of the flat at 25 Noel Rd showing the extent of the collages
Image courtesy of Islington Council

 

Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967) 'Untitled' (installation view) 1967

 

Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967)
Untitled (installation view)
1967
Printed papers on hardboard
Tate. Purchased 2016

 

 

This is one of 19 collages that Halliwell exhibited at the Anno Domino gallery in 1967. Unlike the earlier book-covers, these were made by Halliwell alone, yet they are similarly kaleidoscopic in their use of images. An archeological artefact here sits alongside fashion photography, sea-shells, insects and words from newspapers and magazines. Some of these juxtapositions are playful: ‘Eye’ appears where an eye would be. Others are more obscure and the phrases ‘Blackmail’ and ‘dirty word’ perhaps hint at oppression. The exhibition was a failure and Halliwell’s professional frustration contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Orton, who was now established as a playwright. (Wall text)

 

George Elam. 'Joe Orton in Islington, London' 1967

 

George Elam
Joe Orton in Islington, London
1967
George Elam/Daily Mail/REX

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Quentin Crisp' 1941

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Quentin Crisp
1941
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Angus McBean met the writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp while walking in the blackout in 1941 and the two became lovers. McBean later said of Crisp, ‘He was really one of the most beautiful people I have ever photographed. It was a completely androgynous beauty and under different circumstances it would have been difficult to know what sex he was’. This ambiguity is captured in McBean’s photograph, which is posed to emphasise Crisp’s long lashes, glossy lips and elaborate ring, the position of which is suggestive of an earring. Crisp’s refusal to conform to traditional masculine appearance was courageous and unswerving. (Wall text)

 

John Deakin (1912-1972) 'Colin' (installation view) c. 1950s

 

John Deakin (1912-1972)
Colin (installation view)
c. 1950s
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
John Deakin Archive / James Moores Collection

 

 

We don’t know anything about the sitter in this portrait. Deakin’s friend Bruce Bernard, who catalogued John Deakin’s negatives, likely gave it the label ‘Colin’, perhaps from memory, perhaps from an original sleeve note by Deakin. It is therefore not clear whether it depicts a drag performance or whether the glamorous outfit reflects the sitter’s true identity. It is, however, shot in a domestic setting rather than on the stage, leaving open the possibility that it depicts the sitter’s lived experience. (Wall text)

 

John Deakin

John Deakin seems almost to embody queer Soho of the 1950s. A close friend and drinking companion of Francis Bacon, his portrait photographs include many artists, actors, poets and celebrities. His style was often startlingly unflattering, capturing his sitters as they truly were. He said of his work, ‘Being fatally drawn to the human race, what I want to do when I take a photograph is make a revelation about it. So my sitters turn into my victims’. Deakin admitted to a drink problem which led to a chequered career and was twice sacked from Vogue. After his death, many of his photographic negatives were found in a box under his bed and were saved by his friend, writer and picture editor Bruce Bernard.

 

John Deakin (1912-1972) 'The Two Roberts Asleep - Colquhoun and MacBryde' c. 1953

 

John Deakin (1912-1972)
The Two Roberts Asleep – Colquhoun and MacBryde
c. 1953
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
John Deakin Archive / James Moores Collection

 

 

Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde are here shown asleep on each other shoulders in a moment of tender intimacy. They had met on their first day at Glasgow School of Art and became lovers and lifelong partners. This photograph was probably taken at Tilty Mill, the home of the writer Elizabeth Smart, who invited Colquhoun and MacBryde to live with her and her partner the poet George Barker, when they’d been evicted from their studio in London. They spent the next four years there, combining painting with helping to raise Smart and Barker’s four children. The edges of the image show evidence of fire damage from some forgotten occasion. (Wall text)

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer

Barbara Ker-Seymer was a photographer active in the interwar years. After studying at the Chelsea School of Art, she worked for the society portrait photographer Olivia Wyndham. When Wyndham moved to New York to be with her lover, the African-American actress Edna Lloyd-Thomas, Ker-Seymer was left in charge of her studio. She established her own studio on New Bond Street in 1931, and began a successful career as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. She pursued relationships with both men and women, and was associated with the queer subculture known as the Bright Young Things. After the Second World War, she ceased to work as a photographer, opening a laundrette in 1951. Her papers, in Tate Archive, are full of playful images of her friends.

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-1993) 'Photograph album' (installation view) Nd

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-1993)
Photograph album (installation view)
Nd
Tate Archive

 

 

This creatively arranged spread in one of Ker-Seymer’s photograph albums shows images of a number of her friends, including Marty Mann, an American who was for a time Ker- Seymer’s business partner and lover. Mann’s drinking was increasingly a problem and their relationship floundered. She later became an important advocate for the newly formed ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’. (Wall text)

 

Room 8: Francis Bacon and David Hockney

The most fearless depictions of male same-sex desire in the years before 1967 are in the work of Francis Bacon and David Hockney. Bacon told how as a teenager his parents threw him out of their home for trying on his mother’s underwear. He gravitated to London, where he began his visceral exploration of the human figure. Hockney arrived in London in 1959 to study at the Royal College of Art. He was deeply impressed by Bacon’s 1960 exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, commenting ‘you can smell the balls’, but his own style was more playful, experimenting with abstraction and graffiti.

Hockney and Bacon both drew heavily on the visual culture that surrounded them, from well-established artistic sources such as Eadweard Muybridge’s innovative photographs of wrestlers to cheap bodybuilding magazines. They were not alone in spotting the homoerotic potential of this material – artists such as Christopher Wood had already used the trope of wrestlers to hint at queer intimacy. Yet Hockney and Bacon went further, fearlessly stripping away ambiguities.

Their work was controversial. Bacon’s 1955 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts was investigated by the police for obscenity while Hockney once described his early paintings as ‘homosexual propaganda’. They both continued to push the boundaries of what could be depicted in art, breaking new ground.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Two Figures in a Landscape' (installation view) 1956

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Two Figures in a Landscape (installation view)
1956
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

Two Figures in a Landscape combines the homoerotic themes of the ‘crouching nude’ and ‘figures in the grass’ that Francis Bacon explored in multiple paintings throughout the 1950s. He was inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of wrestlers and athletes, along with Michelangelo’s drawings and sculpture. Bacon adapted these to explore his homosexuality with varying degrees of ambiguity. He later explained ‘Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together’ and ‘I manipulate the Muybridge bodies into the form of the bodies I have known’. (Wall text)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Seated Figure' 1961

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Seated Figure
1961
Tate. Presented by J. Sainsbury Ltd 1961
© Estate of Francis Bacon

 

 

This image probably depicts Francis Bacon’s former lover Peter Lacy. Bacon was a masochist and Lacy once told him ‘you could live in a corner of my cottage on straw. You could sleep and shit there’. Lacy’s suit and the inclusion of domestic details such as the exotic rug and chair contrast with the tempestuous abstract backdrop, giving the image an air of suppressed violence. Bacon spoke of his treatment of sitters in his portraits as an ‘injury’ and once said ‘I hate a homely atmosphere. . . I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior and the home’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of David Hockney's 'Life Painting for a Diploma' 1962

 

Installation view of David Hockney’s Life Painting for a Diploma 1962 from Room 8 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

David Hockney (born 1937) 'Life Painting for a Diploma' 1962

 

David Hockney (born 1937)
Life Painting for a Diploma
1962
Oil paint, charcoal and collage on canvas
Yageo Foundation Collection, Taiwan

 

 

Life Painting for a Diploma formed part of David Hockney’s final submission at the Royal College of Art. The hanging skeleton displays Hockney’s skills as a draftsman but it is the well-toned bodybuilder who catches the viewer’s attention. Hockney’s gay American friend Mark Berger introduced him to ‘beefcake’ magazines such as Physique Pictorial. Here, the stereotypical model and inscription PHYSIQUE references this material. Hockney claimed he painted this image to satisfy the RCA’s requirement that students produce a number of life-drawings. The work’s title and its contrast between the arid skeleton and lively model (clearly not painted from life) subtly mocks his instructors. (Wall text)

 

David Hockney (born 1937) 'Going to be a Queen for Tonight' 1960

 

David Hockney (born 1937)
Going to be a Queen for Tonight
1960
Oil paint on canvas
Royal College of Art

 

 

The words ‘queer’ and ‘queen’, both terms for gay men at this time, are scrawled across the surface of this image. Hockney was fascinated with the graffiti in the public toilets at Earls Court Underground station. Here, messages about opportunities for casual sex were mixed with other slogans. The title playfully hints at these possibilities – ‘queen’ but only for the night. It was one of a number of paintings made by Hockney at the Royal College Of Art which reference queer urban life. Hockney described his early works as ‘a kind of mixture of Alan Davie cum Jackson Pollock cum Roger Hilton’. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Wrestlers' 1965

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Wrestlers (installation view)
1965
Watercolour and ink on paper
York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery)
Gifted through the Contemporary Art Society, as a bequest from Dr Ronald Lande, in memory of his life partner Walter Urech, 2012

 

 

Physique Photography In Britain

British Physique photography flourished after the Second World War. Body-building magazines such as Health and Strength or Man’s World could be purchased quite innocently in newsagents. For many gay men, however, these publications were an important first step towards finding a community.

Bodybuilding shots, wrestlers and ‘art studies’ offered a pretext for gay photographers such as Vince, Basil Clavery (alias ‘Royale’ and ‘Hussar’), Lon of London and John Barrington to produce homoerotic imagery. Their work often included references to classical civilisation, an established shorthand for queer culture. Some dropped the pretence of bodybuilding altogether and sold more explicit material directly to a burgeoning private market.

This was a risky business: selling or sending such images through the post could land both photographer and purchaser in jail. Yet for many gay men, the easy availability of physique imagery gave reassurance that they were not alone. Somebody out there understood and shared their desires.

 

Installation view of physique album pages

Installation view of physique album pages

 

Installation view of physique album pages from Room 8 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

 

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19
Sep
17

Exhibition: ‘Autophoto’ at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris

Exhibition dates: 20th April – 24th September 2017

Artists: Robert Adams • Eve Arnold • Bernard Asset • Éric Aupol • Theo Baart Et Cary Markerink • Sue Barr • Valérie Belin • Martin Bogren • Nicolas Bouvier • David Bradford • Brassaï • Alain Bublex • Edward Burtynsky • Andrew Bush • Ronni Campana • Gilles Caron • Alejandro Cartagena • Kurt Caviezel • Philippe Chancel • Larry Clark • Langdon Clay • Stéphane Couturier • Bruce Davidson • Jean Depara • Raymond Depardon • John Divola • Robert Doisneau • William Eggleston • Elliott Erwitt • Walker Evans • Barry Feinstein • Pierre De Fenoÿl • Alain Fleischer • Robert Frank • Lee Friedlander • Bernhard Fuchs • Paolo Gasparini • Óscar Fernando Gómez • Jeff Guess • Andreas Gursky • Fernando Gutiérrez • Jacqueline Hassink • Anthony Hernandez • Yasuhiro Ishimoto • Peter Keetman • Seydou Keïta • Germaine Krull • Seiji Kurata • Justine Kurland • Jacques Henri Lartigue • O. Winston Link • Peter Lippmann • Marcos López • Alex Maclean • Ella Maillart • Man Ray • Mary Ellen Mark • Arwed Messmer • Ray K. Metzker • Sylvie Meunier Et Patrick Tourneboeuf • Joel Meyerowitz • Kay Michalak et Sven Völker • Óscar Monzón • Basile Mookherjee • Daido Moriyama • Patrick Nagatani • Arnold Odermatt • Catherine Opie • Trent Parke • Martin Parr • Mateo Pérez • Jean Pigozzi • Bernard Plossu • Matthew Porter • Edward Quinn • Bill Rauhauser • Rosângela Rennó • Luciano Rigolini • Miguel Rio Branco • Ed Ruscha • Sory Sanlé • Hans-christian Schink • Antoine Schnek • Stephen Shore • Malick Sidibé • Guido Sigriste • Raghubir Singh • Melle Smets Et Joost Van Onna • Jules Spinatsch • Dennis Stock • Hiroshi Sugimoto • Juergen Teller • Tendance Floue • Thierry Vernet • Weegee • Henry Wessel • Alain Willaume

 

 

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue. 'Une Delage au Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France, circuit de Dieppe' June 26, 1912

 

Jacques Henri Lartigue
Une Delage au Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France, circuit de Dieppe
June 26, 1912
Gelatin silver print
30 x 40 cm
Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue, Charenton-le-Pont Photographie Jacques Henri Lartigue
© Ministère de la Culture – France/AAJHL
Exhibition Autophoto from April 20 to September 24, 2017
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris

 

Juergen Teller. 'OJ Simpson no. 5' Miami 2000

 

Juergen Teller
OJ Simpson no. 5
Miami 2000
Giclee print
51 x 61 cm
Collection of the artist
© Juergen Teller, 2017

 

 

I missed this exhibition when I was in Paris recently. A great pity, I would have liked to have seen it. Some rare photographs that I have never laid eyes on before. I especially love Ray K. Metzker’s Washington, DC. The photography in both Paris and London was disappointing during my month overseas. Other than a large exhibition of Gregory Crewdson’s photographs at the Photographers’ Gallery London, there was not much of interest on offer.

Marcus

PS. So many more horizontal photographs than vertical, the automobile obviously lending itself to this orientation. I love this observation: “Photography, a tool of immobility, benefited from the automobile, a mobility tool.” And this from Jean Baudrillard: “Riding is a form spectacular amnesia. Everything to discover, everything to be erased.”

.
Many thankx to Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Photographing is a profession. Craftsmanship. A job that one learns, that one makes more or less well, like all trades. The photographer is a witness. The witness of his time. The true photographer is the witness of every day, they are the reporter. ”

.
Germaine Krull

 

“I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals; I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.”

.
Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Le Seuil, Paris, 1970, p. 150

 

 

Thirty years after the exhibition Hommage à Ferrari, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain will once again focus its attention on the world of cars with the exhibition Autophoto, dedicated to photography’s relationship to the automobile. Since its invention, the automobile has reshaped our landscape, extended our geographic horizons, and radically altered our conception of space and time. The car has also influenced the approach and practice of photographers, providing them not only with a new subject but also a new way of exploring the world and a new means of expression. Based on an idea by Xavier Barral and Philippe Séclier, Autophoto will present over 500 works from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. It will invite us to discover the many facets of automotive culture – aesthetic, social, environmental, and industrial – through the eyes of photographers from around the world. The exhibition will bring together over 90 photographers including both famous and lesser-known figures such as Jacques Henri Lartigue, William Eggleston, Justine Kurland and Jacqueline Hassink, who have shown a fascination for the automobile as a subject or have used it as a tool to take their pictures.

 

Relevé photographique des voies de circulation mondiales réalisé par Michelin c. 1930

 

Relevé photographique des voies de circulation mondiales réalisé par Michelin
c. 1930
Collection Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand
© Michelin

 

Studio portraits, 'China' c. 1950, collected by Thomas Sauvin

 

Studio portraits
China
c. 1950
Collected by Thomas Sauvin
Colourised gelatin silver print
7.5 x 11.5 cm
Collection Beijing Silvermine/Thomas Sauvin, Paris Photo all rights reserved

 

Seydou Keïta. 'Untitled' 1952–55

 

Seydou Keïta
Untitled
1952-55
Gelatin silver print
50 × 60 cm
CAAC – The Pigozzi Collection, Geneva
© SKPEAC (The Seydou Keïta Photography Estate Advisor Corporation)

 

Nicolas Bouvier. 'Entre Prilep et Istanbul, Turquie' 1953

 

Nicolas Bouvier
Entre Prilep et Istanbul, Turquie
1953
Musée de l’Élysée, Lausanne
© Fonds Nicolas Bouvier / Musée de l’Élysée, Lausanne

 

O. Winston Link. 'Hot Shot Eastbound' 1956

 

O. Winston Link
Hot Shot Eastbound
1956
Collection Mathé Perrin, Bruxelles
© O. Winston Link

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Washington, DC' 1964

 

Ray K. Metzker
Washington, DC
1964
Gelatin silver print
20 × 25.5 cm
Courtesy Les Douches la Galerie, Paris/Laurence Miller Gallery, New York
© Estate Ray K. Metzker, courtesy Les Douches la Galerie, Paris/Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

 

Bernard Plossu. 'Sur la route d'Acapulco, Mexique' 1966

 

Bernard Plossu
Sur la route d’Acapulco, Mexique
1966
From Le Voyage mexicain series
Gelatin silver print
18 × 27 cm
Courtesy of the artist/Galerie Camera Obscura, Paris
© Bernard Plossu

 

Bernard Plossu. 'Chiapas, Mexique' 1966

 

Bernard Plossu
Chiapas, Mexique
1966
From Le Voyage mexicain series
Gelatin silver print
18 × 27 cm
Courtesy of the artist/Galerie Camera Obscura, Paris
© Bernard Plossu

 

 

“A panorama framed by the rectangle of the windshield. A long ribbon of asphalt, a line of flight that stretches towards the horizon. For more than a century, we can capture this image and travel the world by car, this photographic “box”. Automotive and photography, two tools to model the landscape, two mechanics of the traction and attraction, have emerged at the end of the nineteenth century, through new rhythms and new rites, the society of modern times. If the photograph allows multiple views and list them, to memorise the movement and leave a trace, the automobile makes it possible to move in space. Photography, a tool of immobility, benefited from the automobile, a mobility tool. And if the automobile like photography is constantly evolving, these two inventions have parallel paths in order to better, to master space-time. “Riding is a form spectacular amnesia. Everything to discover, everything to be erased,”1 writes Jean Baudrillard.”

From the foreword by commissioners of the exhibition Xavier Barral and Philippe Séclier

  1. Jean Baudrillard, Amérique, Grasset, Paris, 1986, p. 15

 

Henry Wessel. 'Pennsylvania' 1968

 

Henry Wessel
Pennsylvania
1968
Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
© Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne.

 

William Eggleston. 'Los Alamos' series 1965-1968

 

William Eggleston
Los Alamos series
1965-1968
Dye-transfer print
40.5 × 50.5 cm
Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
© Eggleston Artistic Trust. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

 

William Eggleston. 'Los Alamos' series c. 1974

 

William Eggleston
Los Alamos series
c. 1974
Inkjet print
56 × 73.5 cm
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Memphis
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, Memphis

 

Bill Rauhauser. 'Detroit Auto Show' series c. 1975

 

Bill Rauhauser
Detroit Auto Show series
c. 1975
Detroit Institute of Arts, don de l’artiste en mémoire de Doris Rauhauser
© 2007 Rauhauser Photographic Trust. All Rights Reserved

 

Langdon Clay. 'Zizka Cleaners car, Buick Electra' 1976

 

Langdon Clay
Zizka Cleaners car, Buick Electra
Series Cars, New York City, 1976
Slide-show
Courtesy of the artist
© Langdon Clay

 

Joel Meyerowitz. 'Upstate New York' 1977

 

Joel Meyerowitz
Upstate New York
1977
Collection Joel Meyerowitz Photography, New York
© Joel Meyerowitz, courtesy Polka Galerie, Paris

 

Bernard Asset. 'Passager d'Alain Prost (Alain Prost au volant d’une Renault RE30B, tests F1 sur le circuit Dijon-Prenois)' 1982

 

Bernard Asset
Passager d’Alain Prost (Alain Prost au volant d’une Renault RE30B, tests F1 sur le circuit Dijon-Prenois)
1982
Collection de l’artiste
© Bernard Asset

 

David Bradford. 'Coaster Ride Stealth' 1994

 

David Bradford
Coaster Ride Stealth
1994
From Drive-By Shootings series
C-print
28 × 35.5 cm
Courtesy of the artist
© David Bradford

 

Andrew Bush. 'Woman Waiting to Proceed South at Sunset and Highland Boulevards, Los Angeles, at Approximately 11:59 a.m. One Day in February 1997' 1997

 

Andrew Bush
Woman Waiting to Proceed South at Sunset and Highland Boulevards, Los Angeles, at Approximately 11:59 a.m. One Day in February 1997
1997
From Vector Portraits series
C-print
122 × 151 cm
Courtesy M+B Gallery, Los Angeles
© Andrew Bush

 

Rosângela Rennó. 'Cerimônia do Adeus' series,1997-2003

 

Rosângela Rennó
Cerimônia do Adeus series
1997-2003
C-print face-mounted on Plexiglas
50 × 68 cm
Courtesy of the artist/Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art, Lisbon
© Rosângela Rennó

 

Valérie Belin. 'Untitled' 2002

 

Valérie Belin
Untitled
2002
Gelatin silver print
61 x 71.5 cm (framed)
Courtesy of the artist/Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels
© Valérie Belin/ADAGP, Paris 2017

 

Stéphane Couturier. 'MELT, Toyota No 8' 2005

 

Stéphane Couturier
MELT, Toyota No. 8
2005
From Melting Point, Usine Toyota, Valenciennes series
C-print
92 × 137 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy La Galerie Particulière, Paris/Brussels
© Stéphane Couturier

 

Óscar Fernando Gómez. 'Windows' series, 2009

Óscar Fernando Gómez. 'Windows' series, 2009

Óscar Fernando Gómez. 'Windows' series, 2009

Óscar Fernando Gómez. 'Windows' series, 2009

Óscar Fernando Gómez. 'Windows' series, 2009

 

Óscar Fernando Gómez
Windows series
2009
Slide show
Courtesy Martin Parr Studio, Bristol
© Óscar Fernando Gómez

 

Alain Willaume. '#5069' 2012

 

Alain Willaume
#5069
2012
From the Échos de la poussière et de la fracturation series
Collection de l’artiste
© Alain Willaume (Tendance Floue)

 

Peter Lippmann. 'Citroën Traction 7' 2012

 

Peter Lippmann
Citroën Traction 7
2012
From the Paradise Parking series
C-print
75 × 100 cm
Collection of the artist
© Peter Lippmann

 

Justine Kurland. '280 Coup' 2012

 

Justine Kurland
280 Coup
2012
Inkjet Print
47 x 61 cm
Courtesy of the artist/Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
© Justine Kurland

 

Melle Smets and Joost Van Onna. 'Turtle 1. Building a Car in Africa' 2016

 

Melle Smets and Joost Van Onna
Turtle 1. Building a Car in Africa
2016
Courtesy des artistes / Paradox, Edam
© Melle Smets et Joost Van Onna

 

Luciano Rigolini. 'Tribute to Giorgio de Chirico' 2017

 

Luciano Rigolini
Tribute to Giorgio de Chirico
2017
Duratrans in lightbox
124 x 154 cm
Collection of the artist
© Luciano Rigolini (appropriation – unknown photographer, 1958)

 

 

First Visions: A New Subject for Photography

In the early 20th century, the automobile and its impact on the landscape had already become a subject of predilection for many photographers, influencing both the form and content of their work. The exhibition will begin by focusing on early photographers like Jacques Henri Lartigue, Germaine Krull, and Brassaï, who used the automobile to varying degrees in their work. They registered the thrill of speed, the chaos of Parisian traffic or the city’s dramatic car-illuminated nocturnal landscape to represent a society in transition at the birth of the modern age. Other photographers of the time were attracted by the promise of freedom and mobility offered by the automobile. Anticipating the modern road trip, Swiss writers and photographers Ella Maillart and Nicolas Bouvier, travelled throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1950s respectively, using their cars and cameras to record their adventures along the way.

 

Auto Portraits

The exhibition will also present a series of “auto portraits”* made by a variety of photographers from the mi-twentieth century to the present. Yashuhiro Ishimoto and Langdon Clay’s photographs, for example, are portraits in profile of cars parked on sparsely inhabited city streets, that immerse the viewer in a different eras and atmospheres. Ishimoto’s black and white photographs, taken in Chicago in the 1950s, emphasise their polished, curved silhouettes in a distanced and serial manner, while Langdon Clay’s colour pictures taken in New York in the 1970s, show their decaying and dented chassis in an eerie nocturnal light. Other works in this section, such as the found photographs of Sylvie Meunier and Patrick Tourneboeuf’s American Dream series, or the flamboyant portraits of African photographers Seydou Keïta and Sory Sanlé, focus on the role of the automobile as a emblem of social mobility showing proud owners posing with their cars.

*A play on words in French: auto portrait meaning self-portrait.

 

The Car as a Medium: New Perspectives on the Landscape

Many photographers have exploited the technical and aesthetic possibilities offered by the automobile, using it like a camera to capture the surrounding landscape through car windows or the reflections in rear-view mirrors.

Cars have determined the framing and composition as well as the serial nature of the photographs of Joel Meyerowitz, Daido Moriyama, John Divola and David Bradford who have all worked from moving cars. From behind their windshields, these photographers capture an amusing store sign, a white car behind a wire fence, a dog running along a dusty road, a highway stretching out into the horizon. Other photographers, including Sue Barr, Robert Adams, Ed Ruscha, and Alex MacLean scrutinize our car-altered environment. Their landscape is no longer one of magnificent mountains, wondrous waterfalls or awe-inspiring canyons, but of a world transformed by the automobile with its suburban housing complexes, parking lots, and highway infrastructure.

 

Our Car Culture: Industry, History and New Ways of Life

Many photographers have explored other aspects of our car culture, from the car industry and its impact on the environment to its role in history and society. Both Robert Doisneau and Robert Frank registered life in the factory, from the machines and productions lines to the activities of the workers lives, the first at the Renault plant in the 1930s and the second at Ford River Rouge in the 1950s. Their photographs, unique in their attention to individual assembly line workers, contrast with the work of contemporary photographer Stéphane Couturier whose deliberately distanced, impersonal pictures taken at a Toyota factory reflect the increasingly dehumanised nature of contemporary industry. Working in Ghana, far from the automated factory photographed by Stéphane Couturier, Dutch artist Melle Smets, and sociologist Joost Van Onna, put industrial waste from the car industry to good use. Collaborating with local craftsman in a region called Suame Magazine, where cars are disassembled and their parts traded, they created a car specifically for the African market called Turtle 1, using parts from different brands that happened to be available. Their installation, which includes photographs, drawings, and videos, documents the entire fabrication process of this car.

Photographers such as Philippe Chancel, Éric Aupol and Edward Burtynsky are concerned with the car industry’s damage to the environment. Philippe Chancel’s work focuses on the city of Flint and its dismantled General Motors factory, while Éric Aupol’s and Ed Burtynsky’s photographs reveal the sculptural yet apocalyptic beauty of industrial waste sites.

Other photographers reveal how the car plays an important role in historical events, in society and in daily life. Arwed Messmer’s Reenactement series brings together photographs from the archives of the Stasi showing how people used cars in unusual ways to escape from East Germany, and Fernando Gutiérrez work, Secuelas, explores the role of the Ford Falcon, a symbol of Argentina’s military dictatorship, in the collective imaginary of the Argentinean people. Jacqueline Hassink’s immersive projection Car Girls investigates the role and status of women who work in car shows around the world. Martin Parr’s series From A to B chronicles the thoughts dreams and anxieties of British motorists. Still other series by photographers such as Rosângela Rennó, Óscar Monzón, Kurt Caviezel and Bruce Davidson show how the car has become an extension of the home, used for weddings and picnics, living and sleeping, arguments and making love.

The Fondation Cartier has also invited artist Alain Bublex to create for the exhibition a series of 10 model cars that cast a fresh eye on the history of automobile design. His installation combines photographs, drawings and models to explore how the car design has evolved over time incorporating new techniques, forms, and practices.

Despite energy crises, ecology movements, and industrial mismanagement, the car remains essential to our daily lives. At a time when we are questioning the role and the future of the automobile in our society, the Autophoto exhibition reexamines, with nostalgia, humour, and a critical eye, this 20th century symbol of freedom and independence.

 

The Catalogue

Bringing together over 600 images, the catalogue of the Autophoto exhibition reveals how photography, a tool privileging immobility, benefited from the automobile, a tool privileging mobility. The catalogue features iconic images by both historic and contemporary photographers who have captured the automobile, and transformed this popular accessible object through their passionate and creative vision. Quotes by the artists, and a chronology of automobile design, as well as interviews and texts by specialists provide a deeper understanding of this vast topic through a variety of aesthetic, sociological, and historical perspectives.

Press release from The Fondation Cartier

 

Peter Keetman. 'Hintere Kotflügel' 1953

 

Peter Keetman
Hintere Kotflügel (Rear fenders)
1953
From Eine Woche im Volkswagenwerk (A week at the Volkswagenwerk) series
Gelatin silver print
27 × 24.5 cm
Nachlass Peter Keetman/Stiftung F.C. Gundlach, Hamburg
© Nachlass Peter Keetman/Stiftung F.C. Gundlach, Hamburg

 

Ed Ruscha. '7133 Kester, Van Nuys' 1967

 

Ed Ruscha
7133 Kester, Van Nuys
1967
Thirtyfour Parking Lots series
Chipmunk Collection
© Ed Ruscha, courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Malick Sidibé. 'Taximan avec voiture' 1970

 

Malick Sidibé
Taximan avec voiture
1970
Gelatin silver print
40 x 30 cm
Courtesy Galerie Magnin-A, Paris
© Malick Sidibé

 

Lee Friedlander. 'Montana' 2008

 

Lee Friedlander
Montana
2008
From the America by Car series
Gelatin silver print
37.5 × 37.5 cm
Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Lee Friedlander. 'California' 2008

 

Lee Friedlander
California
2008
From the America by Car series
Gelatin silver print
37.5 × 37.5 cm
Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Alejandro Cartagena. 'The Carpoolers' series 2011–12

 

Alejandro Cartagena
The Carpoolers series
2011-12
Installation of 15 inkjet prints
55.5 × 35.5 cm (each)
Courtesy Patricia Conde Galería, Mexico City
© Alejandro Cartagena

 

Ronni Campana. 'Badly Repaired Cars' series 2016

 

Ronni Campana
Badly Repaired Cars series
2016
Inkjet print
60 × 40 cm
Collection of the artist
© Ronni Campana

 

 

Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain
261 Boulevard Raspail, Paris

Opening hours: Every day except Mondays, 11 – 8pm
Opening Tuesday evenings until 10pm

Fondation Cartier website

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12
Sep
17

Exhibition: ‘Thomas Struth: Figure Ground’ at Haus der Kunst, Munich

Exhibition dates: 5th May – 17th September 2017

Curator: Thomas Weski

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Thomas Struth: Figure Ground' at Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Installation view of the exhibition Thomas Struth: Figure Ground at Haus der Kunst, Munich
Courtesy of the artist and Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Crosby Street, Soho, New York' 1978

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Crosby Street, Soho, New York
1978
Silver gelatin print
66.0 x 84.0 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Rue de Beaugrenelle, Beaugrenelle, Paris' 1979

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Rue de Beaugrenelle, Beaugrenelle, Paris
1979
Silver gelatin print
66.0 x 84.0 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Thomas Struth: Figure Ground' at Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Installation view of the exhibition Thomas Struth: Figure Ground at Haus der Kunst, Munich
Courtesy of the artist and Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

 

I have always liked this man’s work. His understanding of space, colour, form and photograph as aesthetic experience is sublime. His muscular compositions show evidence of clear thinking and seeing… an investigation into sachlichkeit, that is objectivity: the boundaries between human, animal and machine (the aesthetics of innovation).

And yet Struth’s “unheroic” images also show evidence of subjective forces at work: impulsion, chaos, and serendipity to name a few, capturing a ‘razzmatazz of sensations’ that challenge the existential nature of the human, ‘being’.

Marcus

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

 

 

“Most of the images are very unheroic. I have a strong relationship to clarity. That’s why my compositions and choices are very meticulous.”

.
Thomas Struth

 

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'National Gallery 1, London' 1989

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
National Gallery 1, London
1989
Chromogenic print
180.0 x 196.0 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Thomas Struth: Figure Ground' at Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Installation view of the exhibition Thomas Struth: Figure Ground at Haus der Kunst, Munich with Louvre 4 Paris (1989) centre left
Courtesy of the artist and Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Louvre 4 Paris' 1989

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Louvre 4, Paris
1989
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo' 1991

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Kyoko and Tomoharu Murakami, Tokyo
1991
Chromogenic print
105.5 x 126.0 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Thomas Struth: Figure Ground' at Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Installation view of the exhibition Thomas Struth: Figure Ground at Haus der Kunst, Munich with Paradise 26 (Bougainville), Palpa, Peru (2003) to the right
Courtesy of the artist and Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Bright sunflower - No. 1, Winterthur' 1991

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Bright sunflower – No. 1, Winterthur
1991
Chromogenic print
84.0 x 66.0 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

 

This major exhibition by the pioneering German photographer Thomas Struth (born 1954) presents the most comprehensive survey of his genre-defining oeuvre. Covering four decades of work and every phase of his illustrious artistic career, the exhibition focuses especially on the aspect of Struth’s social interests which represent the important forces of his internationally influential artistic development. Starting with his first series Unbewusste Orte (Unconscious Places) published in 1987 through his current works that deal with the field of research and technology in the globalised world, Struth’s work develops its own specific analytical nature through his choice of subject matter, the manner of its photographic realisation and its modes of presentation. These aspirations are manifested in questioning the relevance of public space and transformation of cities, the cohesive factor of family solidarity, the importance of the relationship between nature and culture, and exploring the limits and possibilities of new technologies. The momentum of participation further characterises these aspirations, as Struth’s extensive pictorial inventions and strategies allow individual interpretation based on collective knowledge.

In this exhibition, early works and research materials related to the artist’s subject matter, and collected over several decades, are shown for the first time in the context of an exhibition, offering access and insight into Struth’s working methods. Together with the photographs, these materials elucidate his longstanding interests behind the different series, demonstrating the process of artistic translation before the perfection of the image.

Featuring around 130 works, two multichannel video installations, and a selection of archival material, the exhibition in Haus der Kunst is the largest survey of Struth’s artistic career to date. The survey links his early ideas to well-known series such as Straßen (Streets), Unbewusste Orte (Unconscious Places), Portraits, Museumsbilder (Museum Pictures), Paradise, and Audiences which are placed in dialogue with site-specific works like Löwenzahnzimmer (Dandelion Room), the landscape- and flower photographs that were made for the patients’ rooms at the Hospital on the Lindberg in Winterthur, Switzerland. It also includes photographs recently shown in the exhibition Nature & Politics. Within this interplay, the exciting ability of the artist to combine analysis and individual pictorial invention in multifaceted works and techniques builds an overarching idea on how to deal with the elementary matters of our times.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication from Schirmer / Mosel Publishers, Munich, designed by Fernando Gutierrez, with texts by Thomas Weski, Ulrich Wilmes, Jana-Maria Hartmann, and an interview with the artist by Okwui Enwezor. The exhibition is organised by Haus der Kunst and curated by Thomas Weski.

Press release from Haus der Kunst

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Wangfujing Dong Lu, Shanghai' 1997

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Wangfujing Dong Lu, Shanghai
1997
Chromogenic print
117.5 x 143.6 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Paradise 10 (Xi Shuang Banna), Yunnan Province, China' 1999

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Paradise 10 (Xi Shuang Banna), Yunnan Province, China
1999
Chromogenic print
182.0 x 227.0 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Self-Portrait, Munich' 2000

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Self-Portrait, Munich
2000
© Thomas Struth

 

“Albrecht Durer painted his self-portrait in 1500, so Struth’s Self-Portrait, Munich 2000 feels like a conversation between artists across 500 years.”

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'National Gallery 2, London' 2001

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
National Gallery 2, London
2001
Chromogenic print
148.0 x 170.4 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Audience 7, Florence' 2004

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Audience 7, Florence
2004
Chromogenic print
179.5 x 291.5 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Audience 11, Florence' 2004

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Audience 11, Florence
2004
Chromogenic print
179.5 x 291.5 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Thomas Struth: Figure Ground' at Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Installation view of the exhibition Thomas Struth: Figure Ground at Haus der Kunst, Munich with Semi Submersible Rig, DSME Shipyard, Geoje Island (2007) at centre
Courtesy of the artist and Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Semi Submersible Rig, DSME Shipyard, Geoje Island' 2007

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Semi Submersible Rig, DSME Shipyard, Geoje Island
2007
© Thomas Struth

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Thomas Struth: Figure Ground' at Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Installation view of the exhibition Thomas Struth: Figure Ground at Haus der Kunst, Munich with Tokamak Asdex Upgrade Periphery, Max Planck IPP, Garching (2009) at left
Courtesy of the artist and Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Tokamak Asdex Upgrade Periphery, Max Planck IPP, Garching' 2009

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Tokamak Asdex Upgrade Periphery, Max Planck IPP, Garching
2009
Chromogenic print
109.3 x 85.8 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Har Homa, East Jerusalem' 2009

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Har Homa, East Jerusalem
2009
Inkjet print
148.6 x 184.8 cm
© Thomas Struth

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Thomas Struth: Figure Ground' at Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Installation view of the exhibition Thomas Struth: Figure Ground at Haus der Kunst, Munich with The Faez Family, Rehovot (2009) second left
Courtesy of the artist and Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'The Faez Family, Rehovot' 2009

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
The Faez Family, Rehovot
2009
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Grazing Incidence Spectrometer, Max Planck IPP, Garching' 2010

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Grazing Incidence Spectrometer, Max Planck IPP, Garching
2010
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Chemistry Fume Cabinet, The University of Edinburgh' 2010

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Chemistry Fume Cabinet, The University of Edinburgh
2010
© Thomas Struth

 

 

Take, for instance, Struth’s photograph “Chemistry Fume Cabinet, The University of Edinburgh” (2010). Ostensibly a photograph of a chemistry fume cabinet at the University of Edinburgh, photographed through a clear, glass window, the work is also a study in colour and form. Within a white background space, the back wall has black horizontal lines running along it, while the side walls have one vertical line each. These opposing lines create what appear to be a haphazard grid. A wide red horizontal structure runs across the front of the room, creating one more line that both breaks up and contributes to the grid. Various machines within the room, two square red panels on the left and right sides of the window, and six coloured balloons provide a series of objects that fit within the finely structured container of the photograph’s frame.

What struck me immediately upon seeing this image was how the various lines and objects interact with one another. Struth presents the viewer with a kind of interactive field in which she can either read the image “as is” – photograph documenting a chemistry fume cabinet – or as a purely aesthetic experience. Or, of course, she can do both, which is what makes Struth’s work so rich and gratifying. It is in the way his mastery of colour and other formal elements coincides with his documentation of the world.

Cynthia Cruz. “Seeing the Deterioration of Technology in Thomas Struth’s Photographs,” on the Hyperallergic website [Online] Cited 05/08/2017

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Thomas Struth: Figure Ground' at Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Installation view of the exhibition Thomas Struth: Figure Ground at Haus der Kunst, Munich with Queen Elizabeth II & The Duke of Edinburgh, Windsor Castle (2010) at left
Courtesy of the artist and Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Queen Elizabeth II & The Duke of Edinburgh, Windsor Castle' 2010

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Queen Elizabeth II & The Duke of Edinburgh, Windsor Castle
2010
© Thomas Struth

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Thomas Struth: Figure Ground' at Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Installation view of the exhibition Thomas Struth: Figure Ground at Haus der Kunst, Munich with Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia (2013) at right
Courtesy of the artist and Haus der Kunst, Munich

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia' 2013

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia
2013
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954) 'Schaltwerk 1 Berlin' 2016

 

Thomas Struth (born 1954)
Schaltwerk 1, Berlin
2016
© Thomas Struth

 

 

Haus der Kunst
Prinzregentenstraße 1
80538 Munich
Germany
Tel: +49 89 21127 113

Opening hours:
Monday - Sunday 10 am - 8 pm
Thursday 10 am - 10 pm

Haus der Kunst website

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01
Sep
17

Exhibition: ‘Written in Light – The First Photographers’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Exhibition dates: 8th April – 3rd September 2017

Curator: Anna Tellgren

 

 

Nils Strindberg. '14/7 1897. The Eagle Balloon after landing' 1897/1930

 

Nils Strindberg
Örnen efter landningen. Ur serien Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd, 14/7 1897
14/7 1897. The Eagle Balloon after landing

From the series The Flight of the Eagle
1897/1930
Gelatin silver print

 

Nils Strindberg. '14/7 1897. After the crash' 1897/1930

 

Nils Strindberg
14/7 1897. After the crash

From the series The Flight of the Eagle
1897/1930
Gelatin silver print
Some rights reserved by Tekniska museet

 

Nils Strindberg. 'Setting up-camp, raising the Swedish flag' 1897/1930

 

Nils Strindberg
Setting up-camp, raising the Swedish flag

From the series The Flight of the Eagle
1897/1930
Gelatin silver print
Some rights reserved by Tekniska museet

 

Nils Strindberg. 'Moving a boat through the icy waters' 1897/1930

 

Nils Strindberg
Moving a boat through the icy waters

From the series The Flight of the Eagle
1897/1930
Gelatin silver print
Some rights reserved by Tekniska museet

 

 

Nils Strindberg (1872-1897)

In July 1897, Salomon August Andrée (1854-1897) embarked on his voyage to the North Pole in the balloon Örnen [The Eagle], accompanied by the engineer Knut Frænkel (1870-1897) and the photographer Nils Strindberg. A few days later, the balloon crashed on the ice, and they were forced to continue their journey on foot. The conditions were severe, and the expedition ended in disaster. After a few months, in October, they made up camp on Kvitøya on Svalbard. This is where their bodies were found thirty years later, along with Strindberg’s camera.
The expedition and the events surrounding it, were widely publicised both at the time of the expedition, and later when they were found. Per Olof Sundman’s book The Flight of the Eagle (1967) was turned into a film by Jan Troell in 1982. Although these photographs were taken as scientific observations, and to document the work of the members of the expedition, they now appear as some of the most remarkable and beautiful photographs in polar history.

John Hertzberg (1871-1935) was a photographer and docent at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. He was commissioned to develop the exposed films, and managed successfully to process ninety-three of Strindberg’s photo­graphs. He made copies of the negatives, which were used to produce the prints on paper that are now at institutions including Moderna Museet, the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm and Grenna Museum – Polarcenter in Gränna.

The original negatives ended up at the Royal Swedish Acad­emy of Sciences in Stockholm. Hertzberg re-touched some of the pictures, and these are primarily the ones that have been published and embody the public perception of the expedition. Moderna Museet has both sets, and the re-touched photographs are shown above the un-retouched versions in this exhibition.

More fascinating insights into the Flight of the Eagle can be found on James McArdle’s excellent website.

 

Nils Strindberg. 'At camp' 1897/1930

 

Nils Strindberg
At camp
From the series The Flight of the Eagle
1897/1930
Gelatin silver print
Some rights reserved by Tekniska museet

 

Nils Strindberg. 'Camp on White Island' 1897/1930

 

Nils Strindberg
Camp on White Island
From the series The Flight of the Eagle
1897/1930
Gelatin silver print
Some rights reserved by Tekniska museet

 

 

While there are some outstanding photographs in this posting, the selection seems rather ad hoc. It is always good to see the work of Julia Margaret Cameron and other illuminati of late 19 century photography, but the highlight in this posting are the ethereal and tragic photographs from the Eagle polar expedition. We can only be grateful that so many negatives have survived, a testament to both the photographer, the developer and the coldness of the ice, leaving us with such transcendent images of human endurance.

Marcus

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

 

William Henry Fox Talbot. 'Four Shelves of Books' 1844

 

William Henry Fox Talbot
Four Shelves of Books
1844
Salted Paper Print

 

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877)

The Scientist William Henry Fox Talbot in Britain experimented with various silver salt solutions on paper. In the mid-1830s, he succeeded in producing a negative image on photosensitive paper in a camera and had thus ingeniously invented the negative.

In 1844-46, he published what could be regarded as the first photographically illustrated magazine, The Pencil of Nature, in which he described the technique and how photography could be used in practice. He himself claimed that its most important use was to produce evidence, but he also had artistic ambitions for his photographic images. It was Talbot who eventually launched the term “photography” (writing with light) for his invention. Many different words and metaphors were used to describe this new medium, but photography was soon established as its proper name.

 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander. 'Lesson' 1860

 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander
Lesson
1860
Albumen silver print

 

Carl Jacob Malmberg. 'The copper quay and the polishing works at Fiskars bruk, Finland' 1872

 

Carl Jacob Malmberg
The copper quay and the polishing works at Fiskars bruk, Finland
1872
Albumen silver print

 

Fiskars (Swedish, Finnish: Fiskari) is a village in the town of Raseborg (Raasepori) in western Uusimaa, Finland. The village is the site of the former Fiskars Bruk, which was founded in 1646 and gave rise to the company Fiskars.

 

 

The exhibition Written in Light – The First Photographers explores Moderna Museet’s collection of photography from the second half of the 19th century. It includes the Museum’s unique collection of daguerreotypes and works by a few of the world’s most famous photographers: Julia Margaret Cameron, Oscar Gustave Rejlander, and Carleton E. Watkins.

Since its invention, photography has developed, changed, and been used for many different aims and purposes. With the breakthrough of digital images, and their omnipresence in social media, photography is once again in a period of change. This gives all the more reason to look back and consider the impact of its legacy on contemporary photography. This exhibition highlights the Museum’s collection of daguerreotypes, but also gives examples of other early photographic techniques.

Thanks to two significant acquisitions in the mid-1960s, the Helmut Gernsheim Duplicate Collection, and the Helmer Bäckström Photographic Collection, some of the most internationally famous photographers in history are represented at Moderna Museet.

 

Before and Behind the Lens

Written in Light and Film Inside an Image are part of the photographic project Before and Behind the Lens, which consists of a series of exhibitions, discussions and guided tours. Before and Behind the Lens examines the role of photographic images in art and the transformation of the medium since the early experiments with new technology in the 19th century, to today’s explorations of the potential of the optical lens. Moderna Museet has one of Europe’s finest collections of photography, ranging from pioneers such as Julia Margaret Cameron to many of the most influential contemporary artists who visualise the world for us with the camera lens.

Press release from Moderna Museet

 

Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill. 'Misses Grierson' c. 1845

 

Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill
Misses Grierson
c. 1845
Salted paper print, calotype

 

 

Robert Adamson (1821-1848) and David Octavius Hill (1802-1870)

The first prominent calotype practitioners were active in Scotland, which was exempt from Talbot’s patent restrictions. David Octavius Hill was a portrait painter, and Robert Adamson an engineer. In 1843, they began collaborating as photographers, after Hill had been assigned to portray a group of clergymen and laymen who had left the Church of Scotland and founded the Free Church of Scotland. Hill wanted to use photographs to create individual portraits of the several hundred participants in this assembly.

It took them more than a year to produce a calotype of each member, and the painting took another 20 years for Hill to complete. They continued working together for four years, until Adamson’s premature death, producing nearly 3,000 photo­graphs of architecture, landscapes, but especially portraits, which they always signed together. They also documented working women and men in the fishing village of Newhaven near Edinburgh in a natural and personal style that was unusual for that period.

 

Salted Paper Print, Calotype

Silver in common salt on/in paper 1839 – c. 1870

A paper is first soaked in a saline solution and then brushed on one side with silver nitrate, forming light-sensitive silver chloride. After allowing the paper to dry in the dark, it is exposed in sunlight for hours, in contact with a negative, until the image appears (printing-out). Excess silver chloride is then subjected to fixation in a strong saline solution or in sodium thiosulphate and is rinsed away in water. Subsequent gold toning (after 1849) lent the picture a richer tonal range and greater permanence. After 1850 they were often waxed and/or sometimes coated with a layer of albumen. Salted paper prints have a matte finish, and the paper fibres of the support are clearly visible in magnification. When fixed in salt, the image tone is reddish brown; in sodium sulphate it is a yellowish orange. Permanence is relatively low, and when faded or discoloured the prints turn to a yellowish brown. This technique was the first used to reproduce an image on paper from a negative. Although the term calotype is sometimes used, a calotype is actually a salted paper negative.

 

Johan Wilhelm Bergström. 'Self-Portrait' c 1850

 

Johan Wilhelm Bergström
Self-Portrait
c 1850
Daguerreotype

 

 

In 1844 Bergström became a photographer, an occupation he would hold for about ten years. As a daguerreotypist he became diligently engaged, and took pictures of the great people of the day. He also took a series of topographic images, which today are of great value. During a visit to Uppsala in 1845, he captured what is today the oldest known photographic image of the city, as well as a stereoscope image.

 

Daguerreotype

Amalgam on silver-coated copper 1839 – c. 1865

A copper plate is coated with a thin layer of silver, buffed and treated with iodine vapour in a closed container, transforming the silver to light-sensitive silver iodide. After being exposed in the camera for 10-30 minutes, the image is developed in heated mercury vapour. Silver and mercury form a white amalgam and the image is a reverse, low contrast positive. The picture was initially fixed in a saline bath, later in a bath of sodium sulphite. A subsequent toning in gold solution strengthened the sharpness and stability of the image. To protect the image against chemical and physical damage, the plate was tightly sealed with mats and glass and often enclosed in a case. Daguerreotypes are detailed, neutral in tone, sometimes hand-tinted, and are easily distinguishable by their alternately negative and positive impressions, depending on the angle of the light in which they are viewed.

 

Marcus Selmer. 'Bride from Birkeland' 1855

 

Marcus Selmer
Bride from Birkeland
1855
Daguerreotype, hand coloured

 

Marcus Selmer. 'Bride from Birkeland' 1855 (detail)

 

Marcus Selmer
Bride from Birkeland (detail)
1855
Daguerreotype, hand coloured

 

 

It is not immediately clear what drew Marcus Selmer (1819-1900), a Danish portrait photographer, to spend most of his life working in Norway. He trained as a pharmacist in his native Denmark, and was working in a chemist owned by his uncle when he discovered daguerreotype photography. He experimented with this new technology in his spare time and began sending his pictures in to local exhibitions. In 1852, Selmer travelled to Norway, to visit some of his uncle’s family in the city of Bergen. He never returned.

He soon found work as a photographer in Bergen and, within a year, was able to establish his own studio. This became the first permanent photographic studio in Bergen, as few photographers who visited would stay all year round. Photographers often visited Bergen in the summer, hoping to capture the fjords and mountains that surround the area, but, as they needed good light for their work, the dark and cold weather had driven most of them away by the time winter rolled around. Selmer ingeniously built his studio almost entirely out of glass, allowing enough light into the space, which enabled him to continue working throughout the year.

Selmer’s work quickly became well-known throughout Norway. He sold many books of his photographs, and sold individual images to the press and the burgeoning tourist industry, before eventually being appointed the royal photographer in 1880. Although his career was varied, Selmer is primarily remembered today for his portraits of local people in national folk costume… These photographs depict the customs, traditions and culture of the Norwegian people, and reflect Selmer’s interest in his adopted home.

Anonymous. “Marcus Selmer’s Photographs of 19th-Century Norwegians,” on the The Public Domain Review website [Online] Cited 05/08/2017

 

Carl Jacob Malmberg. 'Maria Catharina Malmberg with Children' c. 1860

 

Carl Jacob Malmberg
Maria Catharina Malmberg with Children
c. 1860
Ambrotype

 

 

Ambrotype

Silver in collodion on glass
1854 – c. 1880

A glass plate, coated with silver halogens in collodion, is sensitised with silver nitrate and then exposed wet in the camera. After being developed in iron sulphate – occasionally with the addition of silver nitrate – and fixed in potassium cyanide and washed, the plate is allowed to dry. The picture is then lacquered or protected with a sheet of glass, and the back is coated with black lacquer, textile, or cardboard so that the picture – actually a thin negative – is seen as a positive. It is a direct positive which is often tastefully displayed with mats and under glass in cases. Ambrotypes have a neutral tone, but are sometimes hand-tinted. The surface is characterised by a typical “doubleness”, as high-keys can be seen in the negative on the glass surface and low-keys against the dark background lining.

 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander. 'No title (Shoeless boy playing whistle)' c. 1860

 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander
No title (Shoeless boy playing whistle)
c. 1860
Albumen silver print

 

 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-1875)

One of few internationally famous Swedish photographers is Oscar Gustave Rejlander, but little is known of his early life in Sweden. He settled in Britain around 1840, where he worked as a photographer until he died. He had probably studied art and was interested in art history. His works show distinct influences from Italian renaissance, Span­ish baroque, Dutch 17th-century painting and the British Pre-Raphaelites.

In his studio, he would build and photograph a kind of “tableaux vivants”, or staged scenes. Perhaps the most famous of Rejlander’s works is The Two Ways of Life from 1857, a negative montage consisting of some 30 exposures combined into a composition. Rejlander’s oeuvre also includes a series of pictures of poor children and families. Towards the end of his life, Rejlander met Charles Darwin and was commissioned to illustrate his acclaimed book The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander. 'The Two Ways of Life' 1857

 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander
The Two Ways of Life
1857
Albumen silver print

 

 

In 1857 Rejlander made his best-known allegorical work, The Two Ways of Life. This was a seamlessly montaged combination print made of thirty-two images in about six weeks. First exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, the work shows two youths being offered guidance by a patriarch. Each youth looks toward a section of a stage-like tableaux vivant – one youth is shown the virtuous pleasures and the other the sinful pleasures. (Wikipedia)

 

Carleton E. Watkins. 'Down the Valley, Yosemite' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins
Down the Valley, Yosemite
1861
Albumen silver print

 

Carleton E. Watkins. 'Tutueamela, El Capitan, 3000ft, Yosemite' 1861

 

Carleton E. Watkins
Tutueamela, El Capitan, 3000ft, Yosemite
1861
Albumen silver print

 

 

Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916)

Voyages of discovery, nature and landscapes were popular motifs for the early photographers. The growing tourism increased demand for pictures from exotic places, making this a source of income for publishers of photographic literature. The Ameri­can West was one such region, and some of the photographers who began working there also documented the American Civil War. One of the most prominent of these was Carleton E. Watkins, who had travelled and photographed the Yosemite Valley on several occasions in the first half of the 1860s.

In his large-format photographs, so-called mammoth prints, he captured the massive mountain formations, dramatic waterfalls and gigantic trees. His heavy equipment was carried by some ten mules, and it is almost a miracle, considering the difficult conditions, that so many of his photographs survived.

A definite advancement in the process of creating negatives was made by the Brit Frederick Scott Archers (1813-1857), who discovered how to use glass sheets for the negative instead of paper. Collodion was used to bind the necessary silver salt to the glass, but it could only be exposed while wet, hence the term wet plate process. The glass negatives gave sharp details, and a large number of paper prints could be made from one negative.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Mother of Salome' 1870

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
The Mother of Salome
1870
Albumen silver print

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'The Angel at the Tomb' 1870

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
The Angel at the Tomb
1870
Albumen silver print

 

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)

In Victorian Britain, a small group of photographers were the very first to attempt to create and formulate art photography. Julia Margaret Cameron, who belonged to this group, left behind a fantastic collection of intimate portraits of her family and large circle of friends. She was an amateur photographer who was active mainly in the 1860s and 1870s.

Her staged pictures, inspired by myths, biblical stories and English literature, have a characteristically expressive soft focus. Cameron’s photographs are reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites and renaissance painting. The Moderna Museet collection of Julia Margaret Cameron includes portraits of Charles Darwin, Henry Taylor and Alfred Tennyson, along with staged tableaux of The Angel at the Grave and the melodramatic Maud from one of Tennyson’s most famous poems. Cameron’s last major photo­graphic project in the UK, before she and her family moved to Ceylon, present Sri Lanka, was to illustrate Tennyson’s work Idylls of the King (1874-75).

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Maud "There has Fallen a splendid Tear From the Passion Flower at the Gate"' 1875

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Maud “There has Fallen a splendid Tear From the Passion Flower at the Gate”
1875
Illustration to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and Other Poems. Sitter is Mary Ann Hillier
Albumen silver print

 

 

Albumen Silver Print

Silver in albumen on paper 1850 – c. 1900

A paper is brushed with a solution of albumen (egg white) and table salt and is allowed to dry. It is then bathed in silver nitrate and again allowed to dry, this time in darkness. Albumen, salt and silver form an emulsion containing light-sensitive silver salts which are exposed in daylight in direct contact with a negative until the desired image appears (printing-out). Residual light-sensitive silver salts are then removed through fixation, and the picture is washed in water. After 1855, most albumen silver photographs were gold-toned, followed by additional fixation and rinsing. Commercially produced albumen silver paper became available in 1863. Albumen silver prints have a thin paper support and are therefore normally mounted. The surface is usually glossy, and the tone may vary from yellow/red/brown to a violet blue, depending on exposure time and toning. Prints commonly change in tone to yellow/yellow-green in high-keys due to deterioration of the albumen. In magnification characteristic cracks can be seen.

 

Rosalie Sjöman. 'Alma Sjöman' c. 1875

 

Rosalie Sjöman
Alma Sjöman
c. 1875
Albumen silver print, hand coloured

 

 

Rosalie Sjöman (1833-1919)

Rosalie Sjöman was one of many prominent women photographers. She opened a studio in 1864 on Drott-ninggatan 42 in Stockholm, after being widowed with three small children. The photographer Carl Jacob Malmberg had had his studio at this address previously, and there are some indications that Sjöman may have been working for him. Her business prospered, and towards the end of the 1870s Rosalie Sjöman had five female employees, and she seems to have chosen to hire women only. R. Sjöman & Comp. later opened studios on Regeringsgatan 6, and in Kalmar, Halmstad and Vaxholm.

Her oeuvre includes numerous carte-de-visite portraits and larger so-called cabinet cards, with a mixture of classic portraits, various staged scenes, people wear-ing local folk costumes, and mosaics. The expertly hand-tinted photographs are especially eye-catch­ing; several of them portray her daughter Alma Sjöman.

In the 1860s, photography progressed from being an exclusive novelty into a more widespread and popular medium. The popular carte-de-visite were introduced in France in the mid-1850s, but became extremely fashionable when Emperor Napoleon III had his portrait made in the new format (6 x 9 cm). This trend spread rapidly, and portrait studios opened in large cities and smaller towns. This cartomania lasted for a decade, and the market stabilised around the mid-1870s, when the photographic medium entered a calmer phase.

 

Carl Jacob Malmberg. 'No title' From the series 'Gymnastics' c. 1875

 

Carl Jacob Malmberg
No title
From the series Gymnastics
c. 1875
Albumen silver print

 

 

Carl Jacob Malmberg (1824-1895)

The collection Carl Jacob Malmberg left behind includes most photographic techniques and image types. He is also an example of a photographer’s career development after the first innovative period in the 1840s and up to the 1890s. Malmberg was born in Finland and first studied to be a goldsmith in St Petersburg, where he also learned photography.

He moved to Stockholm, where he opened a studio in 1859 on Drottninggatan 42, and later on Norrtullsgatan 2, and finally on Regeringsgatan 6. Around this period, when cartes-de-visite portraits came into fashion, Malmberg’s practice really took off. On a visit to Finland in 1872, he took a series of photographs at Fiskars iron mill, documenting all the workshops and buildings. A slightly odd portfolio in Malmberg’s collection consists of more than 100 pictures of gymnasts. He had been commissioned by Hjalmar Ling at the Gymnastiska Centralinsti­tutet in Stockholm to take these pictures to illustrate the book Förkortad Öfversikt af allmän Rörelselära (Short Summary of General Exercise Physiology, 1880).

 

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. 'William Etty' 1844/c. 1880

 

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson
William Etty
1844/c. 1880
Carbon Print
Reproduction photo: Prallan Allsten/Moderna Museet

 

 

Carbon Print

Charcoal (and colour) pigments and potassium bichromate in gelatin on paper 1864 – c. 1930

An emulsion with pigment and potassium dichromate in gelatin on thin paper is exposed in contact with a negative in daylight. The gelatin is hardened in relation to the amount of light during the exposure. The soaked paper is then turned over and pressed against a new support, coated with insoluble gelatin. The original support comes off in a bath of warm water or may be pulled off, and leaves an image with hardened pigmented gelatin. Any unexposed gelatin can then be washed off. The picture is finally subjected to an alum bath to remove the residual light-sensitive dichromate and to further harden the remaining gelatin. The result is a reversed image. It can be corrected by first reversing the negative or by transferring the image to a new support (Autotype).

Bühler and Höchheimer: A direct process on fabricated papers which were sensitised in alcohol, exposed in contact with a negative and developed in water. Carbon prints have a clear relief character with raised and glossy low-key areas. The tone is usually deep brown or black, but may vary with the choice of pigment. In magnification the emulsion gives a “ragged” impression, especially in high-keys.

 

Carl Curman. 'Waldemarsudde 1888' 1888

 

Carl Curman
Waldemarsudde 1888
1888
Cyanotype

 

 

Carl Curman (1833-1913)

The physician Carl Curman had many interests, and studied both medicine and art as a young man. Eventually, he became a famous balneologist, and initiated the plan for public baths in Stockholm and eventually also the Sturebadet swimming baths.

He built a photographic studio at the Karolinska Institute in the early 1860s, and was a pioneer of medical photography, before being appointed a professor of plastic anatomy at the Royal Acad­emy of Fine Arts in 1869. His lectures have been documented, in pictures showing students gathered around Curman for dissections. These photographic studies of the human anatomy were also used in the emerging field of eugenics – a troubling part of Western history.

Curman was never a professional photographer, but is one of the many practitioners who have made their mark on the history of pho­tography. His more private projects include pictures from Lysekil, where he worked as a balneologist, from Stockholm where he lived, and from various travels abroad, together with his wife Calla Curman, co-founder of the women’s society Nya Idun.

 

 

Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

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27
Aug
17

Exhibition: ‘Lionel Wendt: Ceylon’ at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 10th June 2017 – 3rd September 2017

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

 

Glorious modernist photographs with avant-garde and surrealist overtones: the use of photomontage, double printing and solarisation is particularly effective.

The sensitive figure studies of males in classical pose carry an over current of barely surpressed desire evidencing a sexualised (post-colonial?) gaze falling on the exotic Other – even as Wendt was part of an emerging generation of artists documenting Sri Lanka’s culture and history from the inside.

More interesting than desire hiding through artistic ethnographic study are the landscapes, abstracts of coils of rope and the voluptuous female nudes. Stunning.

The media images were in such poor condition when I received them that I have spent a long time digitally cleaning and balancing them for your pleasure.

Marcus

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

 

 

“Lionel Wendt was the central figure of a cultural life torn between the death rattles of the Empire and a human appraisal of the untapped values of Ceylon.”

.
Pablo Neruda, Memoirs

 

“The proposition that confronted Wendt was that Sri Lanka had a way of life that was very old but which remained, in spite of poverty, squalor and apathy, a vital sense of life. He recognised that here man, living in traditional ways, had not become alienated from his environment… Evidence of his deep regard for Sri Lanka and its traditions are illustrated in the images he chose to capture with his camera, each being a tiny microcosm of a vast and magnificent tapestry. It was recognised by all those who knew him that Wendt had an endless capacity for work. He focussed on the country and the people with unerring judgement and relentless dedication, and in doing this, he stimulated a new consciousness among them and (just as pertinent) in some high places.”

.
Neville Weeraratne

 

“He never spoke much about his photography. I expect he wanted his images to speak for themselves and he never spoke of them or about himself. I suppose he was so critical of everybody else that he did not want to expose himself to the same treatment. He did not reveal himself. He was a very interior person. He showed no emotion though he expressed a great passion for things. Perhaps he was hypocritical.”

.
Lester James Peiris

 

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title (Self-portrait)
Nd
Courtesy Ton Peek (Utrecht)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Courtesy Ton Peek (Utrecht)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Courtesy Ton Peek (Utrecht)
© Lionel Wendt

 

 

There is something special going on with regard to the oeuvre of Ceylonese photographer Lionel Wendt (1900-1944). After a period of relative obscurity, Wendt was rediscovered – or discovered, in fact – worldwide as a unique, individualistic photographer who availed himself of experimental techniques and modern compositions. Wendt’s choice of subjects was eclectic: from sensual and homo-erotic portraits to tropical images of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and from picturesque scenes to compositions for which he used modernist stylistic devices and experimental techniques. After Wendt’s premature death in 1944 his negatives were destroyed, but the work he left behind lives on. This consists of a collection of beautiful experimental prints, of which several are included in the renowned collections of such museums as Tate Modern in London and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This year, Wendt’s work is being exhibited at Documenta 14 in Athens and, from 10 June till 3 September 2017, in a large-scale retrospective exhibit at Huis Marseille, which shines a spotlight on the fascinating work of this photographer in all its facets.

 

Who was Lionel Wendt?

Lionel Wendt was a concert pianist, author, patron of the arts, teacher and, above all, a first-class photographer. After having studied law and musical training as a concert pianist in Great Britain, Wendt returned to the city of his birth, Colombo in Ceylon, at the age of 24. It did not take long for him to dedicate himself fully to the arts after his return: piano, literature and the visual arts. It was particularly in photography that he found an ideal vehicle for expression. In 1934, he established the Photographic Society of Ceylon jointly with Bernard G. Thornley and P.J.C. Durrant, and started running Chitrafoto, the photographic studio of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon and in which he also published a photographic column, in 1938. Wendt developed into a prominent avant-gardist – the ‘Oscar Wilde’ of the Ceylonese arts scene. His first solo exhibition took place in 1938 at the Camera Club in London, at the invitation of Ernst Leitz, the inventor and manufacturer of the Leica. Two years later, a solo exhibition followed in Colombo entitled Camera Work, probably in reference to Alfred Stieglitz’s avantgardist photography magazine of the same name.

 

Tropical modernism, masterful prints

Initially, Wendt used a Rolleiflex for his photography, which he quickly replaced by a Leica. From approximately 1933 onwards, he started to print his film in his own darkroom, where he soon showed himself to be a master. He made refined bromide and gelatine silver prints with subtle shades of grey and gradations of black, which gave his nudes and landscapes a velvet-like quality. Wendt allowed himself to be inspired by the ‘straight photography’ of Paul Strand and Edward Weston and the surrealistic experiments of Man Ray, and experimented with techniques such as photogram, photomontage, double printing and solarisation.

 

Homosexuality, hiding in plain sight

Wendt’s work includes spectacular images of Ceylon: its landscapes, cultural heritage and local population, photographed during everyday activities or traditional rituals. However, his sensual homoerotic nudes are particularly astounding. In a time and at a place where homosexuality was not accepted, Wendt had his male subjects (men and boys) pose in the landscape or in his studio. Through the traditional Ceylonese loincloths worn by his subjects, which leave little to the imagination, and the academic poses he asked them to take, he was able to express his homosexuality under the guise of art and ethnography. He also created portraits of the members of the island’s avant-garde movement. Wendt played a significant role in the development of modernist painting on Ceylon; he acted as a patron of the arts and his house was a meeting place for the ’43 Group, the artistic movement that was a predecessor of Ceylonese modernism.

 

A dormant legacy reawakens

Following Wendt’s early death in 1944 his work sank into oblivion. In the course of time the hundreds of prints that comprise his legacy came into the possession of several collectors, galleries and museums. After having led a dormant existence for several decades, Wendt’s work was once again brought to the attention of the public in 1994.

 

Large-scale museum retrospective in the Netherlands

From 10 June through 3 September 2017, Huis Marseille is presenting the first museum solo exhibition of Lionel Wendt in the Netherlands, in collaboration with the Ton Peek Gallery (Utrecht) and Jhaveri Contemporary Gallery (London/Mumbai). Over 140 prints from various international private and museum collections have been brought together. Concurrent to the exhibition, the publishing house Fw:Books will be presenting the book Lionel Wendt. Ceylon featuring an overview of Wendt’s work (hardcover, 200 pages, design by Hans Gremmen). This is the first monograph since Lionel Wendt. A Centennial Tribute (2000), an extensive and revised version of the very first catalogue of Wendt’s oeuvre: Lionel Wendt’s Ceylon (1950).

Text from Huis Marseille

 

Exhibition: 'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Exhibition: 'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Exhibition: 'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Exhibition: 'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Exhibition: 'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Exhibition: 'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

Exhibition: 'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam,

Exhibition: 'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation views of the exhibition Lionel Wendt: Ceylon at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam

 

Installation of photographs for the exhibition

Installation of photographs for the exhibition

Installation of photographs for the exhibition

Installation of photographs for the exhibition

 

Installation of photographs for the exhibition

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Courtesy Ton Peek (Utrecht)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Courtesy Ton Peek (Utrecht)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Courtesy Ton Peek (Utrecht)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt

 

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
No title
Nd
Private collection
Courtesy Jhaveri Contemporary (London/Mumbai)
© Lionel Wendt

 

'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' book cover

'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' book pages

'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' book pages

'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' book pages

'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' book pages

'Lionel Wendt: Ceylon' book pages

 

Lionel Wendt: Ceylon book

 

 

Huis Marseille
Keizersgracht 401
1016 EK Amsterdam
T +31 20 531 89 89

Opening hours
Tue – Sun, 11 – 18 h

Huis Marseille website

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24
Aug
17

Exhibition: ‘Bill Henson’ as part of the NGV Festival of Photography, NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 10th March – 27th August 2017

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #5' 2011/2012

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #5
2011/2012
archival inkjet pigment print
180 × 127cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #5' 2011/2012 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #5 (detail)
2011/2012
archival inkjet pigment print
180 × 127cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Masterclass

There is nothing that I need to add about the themes, re-sources and beauty of the photographs in this exhibition, than has not been commented on in Christopher Allen’s erudite piece of writing “Bill Henson images reflect the dark past at NGV” posted on The Australian website. It is all there for the reader:

“Figurative works like these, which invite an intense engagement because of our imaginative and affective response to beauty, are punctuated with landscapes that offer intervals of another kind of contemplation, a distant rather than close focus, an impersonal rather than a personal response, a meditation on time and space. …

Henson’s pictorial world is an intensely, almost hypnotically imaginative one, whose secret lies in a unique combination of closeness and distance. He draws on the deep affective power of physical beauty, and particularly the sexually ambiguous, often almost androgynous beauty of the young body, filled with a kind of potential energy, but not yet fully actualised. Yet these bodies are distanced and abstracted by their sculptural, nearly monochrome treatment, and transformed by a kind of alchemical synthesis with the ideal, poetic bodies of art. …

The figures are bewitching but withdraw like mirages, disembodied at the sensual level, only to be merged with the images of memory, the echoes of great works of the past, and to be reborn from the imagination as if some ancient sculpture were arising from darkness into the light of a new life.”

.
What I can add are some further observations. Henson is not so serious as to miss sharing a joke with his audience, as when the elbow of the classical statue in Untitled 2008/09 is mimicked in the background by the elbow of a figure. Henson is also a masterful storyteller, something that is rarely mentioned in comment upon his work. When you physically see this exhibition – the flow of the images, the juxtaposition of landscape and figurative works, the lighting of the work as the photographs emerge out of the darkness – all this produces such a sensation in the viewer that you are taken upon a journey into your soul. I was intensely moved by this work, by the bruised and battered bodies so much in love, that they almost took my breath away.

Another point of interest is the relationship between the philanthropist, the artist and the gallery. Due to the extraordinary generosity of Bill Bowness, whose gift of twenty-one photographs by Henson makes the NGV’s collection of his work the most significant of any public institution, the gallery was able to stage this exhibition. This is how art philanthropy should work: a private collector passionate about an artist’s work donating to an important institution to benefit both the artist, the institution and the art viewing public.

But then all this good work is undone in the promotion of the exhibition. I was supplied with the media images: five landscape images supplemented by five installation images of the same photographs. Despite requests for images of the figurative works they were not forthcoming. So I took my own.

We all know of the sensitivity around the work of Henson after his brush with the law in 2008, but if you are going to welcome 21 photographs into your collection, and stage a major exhibition of the donated work… then please have the courage of your convictions and provide media images of the ALL the work for people to see. For fear of offending the prurient right, the obsequiousness of the gallery belittles the whole enterprise.

If this artist was living in New York, London or Paris he would be having major retrospectives of his work, for I believe that Bill Henson is one of the greatest living photographers of his generation.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the images in the posting and supplying the media images (the images after the press release). All other images are © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria with at left, Untitled #35 2009/2010 and at right, Untitled #8 2008/2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #35' 2009/2010

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #35
2009/2010
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #8' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #8
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
180 × 127cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #1' 2010/2011

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #1
2010/2011
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation views of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria with at left, Untitled 2010/2011 and at right, Untitled #9 2008/2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2010/2011

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled
2010/2011
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #9' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #9
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2010/2011

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled
2010/2011
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria with at left, Untitled #2 2010/2011 and at right, Untitled #10 2011/2012
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #2' 2010/2011

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #2
2010/2011
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #10' 2011/2012 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #10 (detail)
2011/2012
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #3' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #3
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria with at left, Untitled #16 2009/10 and at right, Untitled #10 2008/2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #10' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #10
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #5' 2011/2012

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #5
2011/2012
archival inkjet pigment print
180 × 127cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled #15' 2008/2009

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #15
2008/2009
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2012/13

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled
2012/13
archival inkjet pigment print
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2012/13 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled (detail)
2012/13
archival inkjet pigment print
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled' 2012/13 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled (detail)
2012/13
archival inkjet pigment print
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson. 'Untitled #2' 2009/2010 (detail)

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untitled #2 (detail)
2009/2010
archival inkjet pigment print
127 × 180cm
Gift of William Donald Bowness through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, Bill Henson and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan in front of Bill Henson's 'Untitled' 2009/10

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan in front of Bill Henson’s Untitled 2009/10 which features Rembrandt’s The return of the prodigal son c. 1662 which is in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Photo: Jeff Whitehead

 

 

The solo exhibition, Bill Henson, will showcase recent works by the Australian photographer, who is celebrated for his powerful images that sensitively explore the complexities of the human condition.

The exhibition brings together twenty-three photographs selected by the artist, traversing the key themes in the artist’s oeuvre, including sublime landscapes, portraiture, as well as classical sculpture captured in museum settings.

Inviting contemplation, Henson’s works present open-ended narratives and capture an intriguing sense of the transitory. Henson’s portraits show his subjects as introspective, focused on internal thoughts and dreams; his landscapes are photographed during the transitional moment of twilight; and the images shot on location inside museums juxtapose graceful marble statues against the transfixed visitors observing them.

Henson’s work is renowned for creating a powerful sense of mystery and ambiguity through the use of velvet-like blackness in the shadows. This is achieved through the striking use of chiaroscuro, an effect of contrasting light and shadow, which is used to selectively obscure and reveal the form of the human body, sculptures and the landscape itself.

“Henson’s photographs have a palpable sense of the cinematic and together they form a powerful and enigmatic visual statement,” said Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV. “The NGV mounted Bill Henson’s first solo exhibition in 1975 when Henson was only 19. Over forty years later, audiences to the NGV will be captivated by the beauty of Henson’s images once more,” said Ellwood.

On display at the National Gallery of Victoria as part of the inaugural NGV Festival of Photography, the exhibition has been made possible by the extraordinary generosity of Bill Bowness, whose gift of twenty-one photographs by Henson makes the NGV’s collection of his work the most significant of any public institution.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled 2008/09'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untitled 2008/09
2008-2009
Inkjet print
127 x 180 cm
© Bill Henson

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography Photo by Sean Fennessy

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography
Photo: Sean Fennessy

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled 2008/09'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untitled 2008/09
2008-2009
Inkjet print
127 x 180 cm
© Bill Henson

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untiled 2009/10'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untiled 2009/10
2009-2010
Inkjet print
102.1 x 152.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australia Artist, 2012
© Bill Henson

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untiled 2009/10'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untiled 2009/10
2009-2010
Inkjet print
102.1 x 152.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australia Artist, 2011
© Bill Henson

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography Photo by Wayne Taylor

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Installation view of Untiled 2009/10
2009-2010
Inkjet print
102.1 x 152.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australia Artist, 2011
© Bill Henson

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955) 'Untitled 2008/09'

 

Bill Henson (Australian born 1955)
Untitled 2008/09
2008-2009
Inkjet print
127 x 180 cm
© Bill Henson

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Bill Henson' at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition Bill Henson at the National Gallery of Victoria. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography
Photo: Sean Fennessy

 

 

NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm, closed Tuesdays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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13
Aug
17

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

Exhibition dates: 27th April to 13th August 2017

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

WHAT ABSOLUTE RUBBISH – the second sentence, that is!

Just look at the photographs as pictures.

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

Marcus

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Städel Museum

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

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

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

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

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

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

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'Paradiese 09' 1999

 

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

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

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

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Axel Hütte (*1951)

 

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

 

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

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

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

 

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

 

 

The Bechers

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

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

 

An Overall Concept

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

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

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

 

Photography in Germany

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

The Becher Class: Adoption, Distinction

DÖHNE GURSKY HÖFER HÜTTE RONKHOLZ RUFF SASSE STRUTH WUNDERLICH

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

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

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

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

 

Kiosks and Streets

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

PICTURE PARALLELS

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

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

 

From Near and Far

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

PICTURES GENERATION

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

 

Photos of Faces

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

“Looks good. Continue in colour.”

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

A Question of Mise-en-Scène

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Kitchen, Bath Room and Living Room

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Courtyards and Street Canyons

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

In the Street

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

VARIETY

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The Silence Beside the Storm

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Own Vantage Points

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Libraries as Brand

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The Picture in the Picture

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Family Relations

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

PICTURE EDITING

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

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

 

Digital interventions

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Giant Grid

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

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

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

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

 

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