Archive for the 'printmaking' Category

09
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Life Magazine and the Power of Photography’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA)

Exhibition dates: 9th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

Curators: Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Flame Burner Ann Zarik' 1943, printed about 2000

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Flame Burner Ann Zarik
1943, printed about 2000
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Continuing the illustrated magazine theme from the last Bill Brandt post, here presented are images, cover and photo essay by major photographers such as Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke‑White, Henri Cartier‑Bresson and Gordon Parks which appeared in the influential American magazine Life (1926-1972).

“This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.” (Exhibition text)

Of particular interest in the posting is the contact sheet to Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (1945, below) … in order to note how the artist chose that particular negative out of the four (good exposure, less confusing background to the central characters); how he marked the contact sheet with the usual red pencil that black and white photographers use to indicate his negative preference and the cropping of the image that was required (notice the arrow at bottom left, a crop which was not heeded in the final print); and how the final print is much darker than the contact sheet (notice the dark pavement and lack of detail in the sailors outfits).

In the final print the negative has been cropped up from the bottom to tension the lifting of the nurse’s raised leg as it floats above the ground (here, the distance from the bottom of the shoe to the bottom of the image is critical in order to make the shoe “float”), the man at right now makes half an appearance, and the man at far left has been included and “burnt in” under the enlarger so that he recedes from and does not detract from the importance of the figures in the foreground. The background figures form a triangle behind the sailor and the nurse, forming a stage for them, and a supporting and encircling cast of characters. The vanishing point of the image and the buildings does the rest.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'At the Time of the Louisville Flood' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

'Life', November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White) 1936

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
Life, November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White)
1936
Illustrated periodical
Life Picture Collection
Photo by Life Magazine
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

In the period from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, the majority of photographs printed and consumed in the U.S. appeared on the pages of illustrated magazines. Among them, Life – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both extraordinarily popular and visually revolutionary. Estimates for pass-along readership – the number of people who shared each copy of Life in spaces like waiting rooms and offices – suggest that the magazine may have regularly reached about one in four people in the country. The photographers who worked for Life bore witness to some of the most defining moments of the 20th century – and the magazine’s use of photography shaped the way many Americans experienced, perceived and remembered these events. Co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and the Princeton University Art Museum, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of the publication’s most recognisable, beloved and controversial images and photo essays. The exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including original press prints, contact sheets, shooting scripts, internal memos and layout experiments – drawing on unprecedented access to Life‘s picture and paper archives. Added to the exhibition for its presentation at the MFA, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography also incorporates works by contemporary artists Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, whose critical reflections on photojournalism and the politics of images frame urgent conversations about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is on view at the MFA from October 9, 2022 through January 16, 2023 in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery. Member Preview takes place October 5-8. Timed-entry exhibition tickets, which include general admission, are required for all visitors and can be reserved on mfa.org starting September 14 for MFA members and September 20 for the general public.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is sponsored by Bank of America. Generously supported by Patti and Jonathan Kraft, with additional support from Kate Moran Collins and Emi M. and William G. Winterer. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA. The exhibition is co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Princeton University Art Museum.

“This major exhibition is an invitation for our visitors to experience a time when photographs first began to influence world events and narratives – and how they continue to do so today,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “Life‘s groundbreaking use of photography shaped important 20th-century dialogues in the U.S. around war, race, technology, art and national identity. Through a generous collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum, we are exploring this process in a more critical and complex way than ever done before, and at a moment when technologies of distribution have evolved and disrupted the recording of history.”

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography was curated by Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University. In 2016 the curators were among the first to delve deeply into the Time Inc. Records Archive, which was newly available at the New-York Historical Society. In 2019, the MFA and Princeton University Art Museum became the first museums to be granted full access to the LIFE Picture Collection, the magazine’s photographic archive. (The exhibition debuted at Princeton in February 2020, but closed after three weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.). The exhibition and the accompanying book grew out of these unparalleled research opportunities, which helped to advance new scholarly perspectives on Life’s pictorial journalism. The book was named the 2021 recipient of the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for museum scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be adding three contemporary moments to the exhibition in Boston. Through powerful and provocative works by Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, who each interrogate news media through their practice, viewers are invited to reflect on contemporary media consumption and our inherited historical narratives,” said Gresh.

 

Exhibition Overview

Among the over 30 photographers featured in Life Magazine and the Power of Photography are Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Charles Moore, Gordon Parks and W. Eugene Smith. The exhibition also emphasises the contributions of women to the magazine’s success – not only photographers such as Bourke-White, whose monumental image of the Fort Peck Dam graced the first issue, but also negative and picture editors such as Peggy Sargent and Natalie Kosek. Additionally, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography considers the ways in which the magazine – through the vision of its founder, Henry R. Luce, its editorial teams’ points of view and the demographics of its readers – promoted a predominantly white, middle-class perspective on politics, daily life and culture, even when documenting the country’s reckoning with racism and xenophobia. The exhibition makes a point to trace Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through the inclusion of works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives that captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, ranging from the Holocaust to white supremacist violence of the 1960s.

The exhibition is divided into three historical sections, interspersed with immersive contemporary moments. The first section, “Getting the Picture,” focuses on the creation of Life photographs, exploring multiple factors such as the details of the assignment, the idea for the story developed by the editorial staff, the selection of a particular photographer for the job, and the photographer’s own decisions about how to best capture the images needed to construct a story. Once a photographer completed an assignment, his or her undeveloped rolls of film and notes were sent to Life‘s offices, where editorial teams selected images and determined how to adapt them for the printed page. The second section, “Crafting Photo Stories,” examines the making of a photo-essay, a format with stunning visuals and minimal text that Life claimed to have invented. The complex process involved negative editors, picture editors, art directors, layout artists, writers, researchers and fact-checkers in the construction of each page. The third section, “Life‘s Photographic Impact,” considers the power and reach of the magazine, whose circulation peaked at 8.5 million in 1969. Here, the exhibition explores not only responses from readers – who wrote letters to the editor and even offered assistance to individuals profiled in the magazine – but also how Life perpetuated its own influence by repackaging its photographs and using technical sophistication and business savvy to outpace its competitors.

Contemporary works by Alfredo Jaar (born Santiago, Chile, 1956), Alexandra Bell (born 1983) and Julia Wachtel (1956) appear in immersive moments installed between the three historical sections. Jaar questions the ethics of representation and the politics of images in his photography, installations, films and new media works. The exhibition features Real Pictures (1995) from his Rwanda Project and the U.S. debut of his multimedia installation The Silence of Nduwayezu (1997) from the same series. It also includes the triptych Life Magazine, April 19, 1968 (1995), in which he manipulates the magazine’s iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral procession to point to the disproportionate number of Black mourners relative to white ones. Similarly, works from Bell’s Counternarratives series (2017-2018) highlight racial biases in annotated pages from The New York Times. Finally, in a newly commissioned work by the MFA, Wachtel directly responds to photographs from Life and engages in deep critical discourse about popular culture and politics, as well as media consumption.

 

Publication

The accompanying 336-page book, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, examines Life‘s groundbreaking role in mid-20th-century American culture and the history of photography by considering the complexity of the magazine’s image-making and publishing enterprise. The book includes essays and contributions by the three co-curators and 22 additional scholars of art history, American studies, history and communication studies. It was the winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award, praised for “bring[ing] a new complexity to Life‘s legendary picture-making enterprise and suggest[ing] why Life‘s signal role in fostering consensus and collective memory is ripe for further unpacking.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts , Boston

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984) 'Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps' 1942

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984)
Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps
1942
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes' 1943

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes
1943
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954) 'Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf' 1944

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954)
Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf
1944
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004) '(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)' 1944

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004)
(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)
1944
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, the LIFE Magazine Collection, 2005
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'VJ Day in Times Square' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
VJ Day in Times Square
1945
Gelatin silver print
Alan and Susan Solomont
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Reconsidering the pictures we remember. Revealing the stories we don’t know.

From the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, almost all of the photographs printed for consumption by the American public appeared in illustrated magazines. Among them, Life magazine – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both wildly popular and visually revolutionary, with photographs arranged in groundbreaking dramatic layouts known as photo-essays. This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.

Drawing on unprecedented access to Life magazine’s picture and paper archives as well as photographers’ archives, the exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including vintage photographs, contact sheets, assignment outlines, internal memos, and layout experiments. Visitors can trace the construction of a Life photo-essay from assignment through to the creative and editorial process of shaping images into a compelling story. This focus departs from the historic fascination with the singular photographic genius and instead celebrates the collaborative efforts behind many now-iconic images and stories. Particular attention is given to the women staff members of Life, whose roles remained forgotten or overshadowed by the traditional emphasis on men at the magazine. Most photographs on view are original working press prints – made to be used in the magazine’s production – and represent the wide range of photographers who worked for Life, such as Margaret Bourke-White, Larry Burrows, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Gordon Parks, and W. Eugene Smith.

Interspersed throughout the exhibition, three immersive contemporary “moments” feature works by artists active today who interrogate news media through their practice. A multimedia installation by Alfredo Jaar, screen prints by Alexandra Bell, and a new commission by Julia Wachtel frame larger conversations for visitors about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of Life‘s most recognisable, beloved, and controversial images and photo-essays, while incorporating the voices of contemporary artists and their critical reflections on photojournalism.

The exhibition is accompanied by a multi-authored catalogue, winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Red Jackson, Harlem, New York' 1948

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Red Jackson, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972) '[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]' 1948

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]
1948
From LIFE Magazine, November 1, 1948, pages 96-97
Illustrated periodical
Princeton University Art Museum
Photograph by Gordon Parks. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Text © 1948 LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Untitled (Peiping)' 1948

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Untitled (Peiping)
1948
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) '3-D Movie Contact Sheet' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
3-D Movie Contact Sheet
1952
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) 'Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986) 'Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second' 1962

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986)
Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second
1962
Photograph, colour transparency
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 'Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing' 1969

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing
1969
Photograph, chromogenic print
Abbott Lawrence Fund
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'Life Magazine, April 19, 1968' 1995

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
Life Magazine, April 19, 1968
1995
Suite of three pigment prints on Innova paper
© Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy Alfredo Jaar and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
The Silence of Nduwayezu
1997
One million slides, light table, magnifiers, illuminated wall text
78 7/10 × 118 1/10 in. (200 × 300cm)

 

 

One million slides featuring eyes in close-up of boy who witnessed murder of his parents.

“In 1994, in the face of what he described as “the criminal, barbaric indifference of the so-called world community”, Jaar travelled to Rwanda to witness the horrific aftermath of one of history’s most violent conflicts. Three months prior, an estimated one million Rwandans had been systematically killed during one hundred days of civil unrest. The artist dedicated six years to this project in which he seeks to bring attention to personal stories to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is an installation titled The Silence of Nduwayezu, which comprises one million slides featuring a pair of eyes in close-up. The eyes belong to Nduwayezu, a five year old Tutsi boy who Jaar met at a refugee camp in Rubavu. Like many Rwandan children, Nduwayezu had witnessed the killing of his own parents, a trauma so deep it affected his ability to speak.

“The installation tangibly represents the steadily escalating number of Tutsis killed in the massacre by showing one million identical slides of Nduwayezu’s eyes piled high on a giant light table. […] By borrowing Nduwayezu’s eyes and making them stare at us as if we were gazing in a mirror, Jaar reminds us of the silence of the international community – the absence of images – that exacerbated the calamity and consequences experienced by the people of Rwanda. […] The Silence of Nduwayezu fills the information void left by the silence of the international community, yet at the same time, it is also a meditative gesture, casting doubt on the ability of photographs to ever relay the enormity of raw human experience, or to make it part of the viewer’s world.”

Anonymous text. “Alfredo Jaar: 25 Years Later,” on the Goodman Gallery website January 2022 [Online] Cited 06/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'Gang Leader' 2019

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
Gang Leader
2019
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
25 x 44 inches each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“It’s imperative to show how a turn of phrase or a misplaced photo has real consequences for people at the margins who are still suffering under the weight of unfair and biased representation.” ~ Alexandra Bell

.
Presented as a series of boldly reworked New York Times articles, each of the six works exhibited in Counternarratives perform visual examinations that reveal news media’s complicity in perpetuating racial prejudice in America. Through redactions of original text, revised headlines, and margins replete with red sharpie annotations, Bell reveals the implicit biases that control how narratives involving communities of colour are depicted and in turn disseminated under the aegis of journalistic ‘objectivity.’ Bell identifies misleading frameworks and false equivalencies in journalism’s coverage of events like the murder of the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO police officer, Darren Wilson in 2014, which is explored in her work “A Teenager With Promise.” The series demonstrates the extent to which white-centered, sympathetic news coverage remains pervasive within even liberal news organisations. By arguing back and calling out these inequities, Bell gives voice to the ways in which power operates through language to articulate our lived, bodily experiences in the world.

Anonymous text. “Alexandra Bell: Counternarratives,” on the Charlie James Gallery website 2019 [Online] Cited 07/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)' 2018

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)
2018
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
44 x 35 inches/each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

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28
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘Boris Mikhailov: Ukrainian Diary’ at Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP), Paris

Exhibition dates: 7th September 2022 – 15th January 2023

Curator: Laurie Hurwitz

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Luriki' (Coloured Soviet Portrait) 1971-1985

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Luriki (Coloured Soviet Portrait)
1971-1985
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
61 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

This is the last posting for the year 2022, and what a year it has been… personally, now retired, surviving an appendicitis where they had trouble stabilising me after the operation, and in terms of the world: living with COVID, further destruction of habitat and species, global warming, and the invasion of the sovereign country of Ukraine by a Russian aggressor, and let’s call it what it really is – the war in Ukraine.

Can you imagine a creative, dissident, free-thinking political artist like Boris Mikhaïlov existing, being alive, under the dictatorship of Putin’s Russia if that country were to conquer Ukraine. He’d either be dead or packed off to a forced-labour camp in Siberia, quick smart, unless he escaped to the West.

“Since the 1960s, he has been creating a haunting record of the tumultuous changes in Ukraine that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution. …

Early in his career, he was given a camera in order to document the state-owned factory where he was employed; he used it to take nude photographs of his wife. He developed them in the factory’s laboratory, and was fired after they were found by KGB agents.

Determined to take up the camera full-time, he eked out a living making photographs on the black market, in parallel creating a body of experimental personal work in reaction to the idealised images of Soviet life. He showed his work in “dissident kitchens”, clandestine exhibitions organised among friends in private flats, and became an active member of a collective of non-conformist photographers that would later become the core of the Kharkiv School of Photography.

At the time, taking images of the naked body or unflattering images of daily life, of people who were poor, ill, or in distress, was utterly taboo. Artists whose work did not conform to the official USSR aesthetic risked arrest, interrogation, even imprisonment. Under constant surveillance, Mikhailov was frequently harassed, his cameras broken and his rolls of film destroyed.” (Press release)

Speaking to Le Figaro, Mikhailov reflects on the early years of his career working in the former Soviet Union: “The most terrifying thing was on the street: anyone could call the police just because you took a photo, and you would be questioned. There was a very strong climate of mistrust, an omnipresent spy hunt.” (Lydia Figes)

.
Mikhailov’s lack of formal training as a photographer has served him well for he was able to experiment freely and was not beholden to any aesthetic or photographic style. Through irony, the artist subversively undermined official art, notably “art and its history under the Soviet Union, from the avant-garde montages of Alexander Rodchenko to the kitsch propagandist images of Socialist Realism.” (Lydia Figes) His photographs “range from political scenes to staged photos, landscapes, self-portraits and erotic images, often soiled and blemished by scratches, tears, blotches and hand-colouring.” (Exhibition text)

His surreptitious photographs are full of overlappings, slippages, collages, assemblages, and links to early photographic processes (sepia and cyanotype); full of introduced dust and scratches, application of fixer and hand-colouring; and full of concepts which deconstruct, dissect and disrupt the “official” reading of an image. “By allowing chance to connect disparate images, Mikhailov wants to bring ‘together several topics into a single, common world view inextricably linked to mass culture, memory and the collective unconscious of Soviet people in the 1960 and 1970s’.” (Boris Mikhailov quoted in Lydia Figes)

“Mikhailov has constructed his own distinct artistic language in series that vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach. In an extraordinarily rich body of work that defies categorisation, he challenges visual codes, and uses documentary photography to conceptual ends. Combining numerous working methods, he alternately creates a dialogue between photography and text as well as between the images themselves, in superimpositions and diptychs and with blur, cropping or hand-colouring, giving them a feeling of irony, poetry or nostalgia.” (Exhibition text)

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Mikhailov has constructed his own distinct artistic language, one in which “he combines humour and tragedy, consistently defending a wild and energetic artistic freedom as both a means of resistance to oppression and potential emancipation. For the artist, even the most serious subjects have a deep comedy, and every joke is deadly serious.” (Exhibition text)

His photographs are emotionally powerful, politically astute and uncannily effective conversations with the world… about subjects that should matter to all of us: war, destitution, poverty, oppression, and the power of an authoritarian state to control the thoughts and actions of human beings under its control. They are about the freedom of individual people to live their lives as they choose; and they are about the freedom of a group of people which form a country to not be subjugated under the rule of another country to which they are historically linked. His photographs are about choice and difference, they are about life. They perform a task, that is, they bring into consciousness … the ground on which we stand together, against oppression, for freedom. Of course, no country is without its problems, its historical traumas, prejudices and corruption but the alternative is being ruled over without a choice, which is totally unacceptable.

Against the “failed promises of both communism and capitalism” and the “economic history that is written on the flesh” of the poor, Boris Mikhaïlov’s Ukrainian diary documents day after day the dis-ease and fragility, but also resilience, of his subjects and the world in which they live. He uses his art as a visual tool for cultural resistance. And the thing about his images is: you remember them. They are unlike so much bland, conceptual contemporary photography because these are powerful, emotional images. In their being, in their presence, they resonate within you. Photographs such as those from my favourite series Case History remain with you as a reminder, no, not a reminder, as a prick to your consciousness – never forget! This can so easily happen to you!

Happy New Year to you all.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

PS. What I find so ironic about the current war in Ukraine is the Russian pronouncement that they were invading the country to “denazify” it… to discredit Ukrainian nationalism as Nazism. When they themselves fought to rid themselves of a tyrannical, invading regime.

“One of the Kremlin’s most common disinformation narratives to justify its devastating war against the people of Ukraine is the lie that Russia is pursuing the “denazification” of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has referred to Ukraine’s democratically elected government as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis,” while Russian state media and propagandists have repeatedly called for the “denazification” of the entire population of Ukraine.

By evoking Nazism and the horrors associated with World War II and the Holocaust, the Kremlin hopes to delegitimize and demonize Ukraine in the eyes of the Russian public and the world. The Kremlin attempts to manipulate international public opinion by drawing false parallels between Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine and the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany, a source of pride and unity for many people of the former Soviet republics who made enormous sacrifices during World War II, including both Ukrainians and Russians.

More than 140 international historians have denounced Russia’s “equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression,” calling Moscow’s propaganda “factually wrong, morally repugnant and deeply offensive” to the “victims of Nazism and those who courageously fought against it.””

Anonymous. “To Vilify Ukraine, The Kremlin Resorts to Antisemitism,” on the U.S. Department of State website July 11, 2022 [Online] Cited 28/12/2022

 

A lengthy list of historians signed a letter condemning the Russian government’s “cynical abuse of the term genocide, the memory of World War II and the Holocaust, and the equation of the Ukrainian state with the Nazi regime to justify its unprovoked aggression.”

They pointed to a broader pattern of Russian propaganda frequently painting Ukraine’s elected leaders as “Nazis and fascists oppressing the local ethnic Russian population, which it claims needs to be liberated.”

And while Ukraine has right-wing extremists, they add, that does not justify Russia’s aggression and mischaracterization. …

Laura Jockusch, a professor of Holocaust studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, told NPR over email that Putin’s claims about the Ukrainian army allegedly perpetrating a genocide against Russians in the Donbas region are completely unfounded, but politically useful to him.

“Putin has been repeating this ‘genocide’ myth for several years and nobody in the West seems to have listened until now,” she says. “There is no ‘genocide,’ not even an ‘ethnic cleansing’ perpetrated by the Ukraine against ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in the Ukraine. It is a fiction that is used by Putin to justify his war of aggression on the Ukraine.”

Rachel Treisman. “Putin’s claim of fighting against Ukraine ‘neo-Nazis’ distorts history, scholars say,” on the NPR website March 3, 2022 [Online] Cited 28/12/2022

 

 

The MEP is proud to present, from the 7th of September, 2022 to the 15th of January, 2023, the most important retrospective to date devoted to the Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov (born in 1938 in Kharkiv): Boris Mikhaïlov – Ukrainian diary. Considered one of the most influential contemporary artists from Eastern Europe, he has been developing a body of experimental photographic work exploring social and political subjects for more than fifty years.

 

 

“A photographer is not a hero. He has no great desire to be there at the end of the world to document the most important, the most interesting and the hardest things. A photographer is not a hero.”

“Art can compromise an ideology by aesthetic means.”

“A photographer’s task is to always find this subtle and vague border between the permitted and the prohibited. This border is constantly changing, like life itself.”

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Boris Mikhailov

 

“”Boris Mikhailov: Ukrainian Diary,” which opened recently at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (M.E.P.) in Paris, is the biggest show of his life and – to spell it out – arrives as Ukrainian culture receives attention for the worst possible reason. It includes no fewer than 800 photographs, covering almost all of the series he undertook before and after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are burlesque self-portraits, but also straight reportage from the 2013-14 Maidan Uprising in Kyiv. Conceptual mockery of “lousy” Soviet pictures, as well as aching collages of poetry and everyday snaps. Preparations for the show were well underway when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, and the war has reformatted “Ukrainian Diary” into a show of improbable resistance: to Soviet repression and now to Russian historical revisionism, to the fraudulence of official Communist art and to the global market’s appetite for trauma porn. …

I’d stood there in Kyiv this past summer, looking up at that kitschy angel, who looked back down onto the square that the invading army planned to parade through and never reached. To see it again, through Mikhailov’s eyes, was to see at last how all of the parts fit together: the trashy and the conceptual, the heroic and the parodic, the busted utopias of the past century and the Ukrainian bravery of 2022.

“Soviet history gave us a common culture, and we had a connection to Moscow, but less and less with time,” Mikhailov told me. “And this is why Maidan happened: because people waited and waited and did not get anything.” He showed me a photo from Kyiv, one more ironic record from a lifetime spent under misrule, and said: “Whatever system there might have been, it was broken, and it brought a lot of grief. But on the other hand, that grief made the country.””

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Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Luriki' (Coloured Soviet Portrait) 1971-1985

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Luriki (Coloured Soviet Portrait)
1971-1985
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
61 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

The MEP is proud to present the most important retrospective to date devoted to the Ukrainian artist Boris Mikhailov (born in 1938 in Kharkiv). Considered one of the most influential contemporary artists from Eastern Europe, he has been developing a body of experimental photographic work exploring social and political subjects for more than fifty years.

 

The exhibition

Boris Mikhailov’s pioneering practice encompasses documentary photography, conceptual work, painting and performance. Since the 1960s, he has been creating a haunting record of the tumultuous changes in Ukraine that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution. Conceived in close collaboration with the artist, the exhibition brings together more than 800 images drawing on more than twenty of his most important series, up to his most recent work.

In an extraordinarily rich body of work that defies categorisation, Mikhailov unsettles visual codes. Inventing his own distinct artistic language in series that vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach, he bears witness to the harsh social realities and absurdities of his time.

Combining humour and tragedy, Boris Mikhailov unceasingly defends artistic freedom as both a means of resistance. Through his uncompromising treatment of controversial subjects, he demonstrates the subversive power of art.

For more than half a century, he has been bearing witness to the grip of the Soviet system on his country, constructing a complex and powerful photographic narrative on Ukraine’s contemporary history that in light of current events, is all the more poignant and enlightening.

 

The artist

Born in 1938 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and trained as an engineer, Boris Mikhailov is a self-taught photographer. Early in his career, he was given a camera in order to document the state-owned factory where he was employed; he used it to take nude photographs of his wife. He developed them in the factory’s laboratory, and was fired after they were found by KGB agents.

Today seen as one of the most important figures on the international art scene, he has received many prestigious awards, among them the 2015 Goslar Kaiserring Award, the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (now the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Award) in 2001 and the Hasselblad Award in 2000. He represented Ukraine at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and again in 2017.

His work has been exhibited in major international venues, including the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York, and more recently, the Berlinische Galerie and C/O Berlin in Berlin, the Pinchuk Art Center in Kyiv, the Sprengel Museum in Hannover and the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden Baden.

Boris Mikhailov is represented in Paris by the Suzanne Tarasieve Gallery. He also shows his work at the Sprovieri Gallery in London, Guido Costa Projects in Turin, Barbara Gross in Munich and Galerie Barbara Weiss in Berlin.

He lives between Berlin and Kharkiv with his wife, Vita.

Text from the MEP website

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) 'Untitled' 1997-1998 From the series 'Case History'

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
Untitled
1997-1998
From the series Case History
Chromogenic colour print
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8cm)
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) 'Untitled' 1997-1998 From the series 'Case History'

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
Untitled
1997-1998
From the series Case History
Chromogenic colour print
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8cm)
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

Boris Mikhailov’s pioneering practice encompasses documentary photography, conceptual work, painting and performance. Since the 1960s, he has been creating a haunting record of the tumultuous changes in Ukraine that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous consequences of its dissolution. Conceived in close collaboration with the artist, the exhibition brings together more than 800 images that draw on more than twenty of his most important series, up to his most recent work.

Mikhailov has constructed his own distinct artistic language in series that vary enormously in terms of technique, format and approach. In an extraordinarily rich body of work that defies categorisation, he challenges visual codes, and uses documentary photography to conceptual ends. Combining numerous working methods, he alternately creates a dialogue between photography and text as well as between the images themselves, in superimpositions and diptychs and with blur, cropping or hand-colouring, giving them a feeling of irony, poetry or nostalgia.

The series produced while Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union deconstruct propaganda images and question collective memory, and reflect the societal contradictions that existed at the time. In “Yesterday’s Sandwich”, starting in 1965, the artist shows a dual reality, ambiguous and poetic, juxtaposing beauty and ugliness. In “Red” (1968-1975), he underlines the omnipresence of the colour red, evoking the pervasive presence of the communist regime and the way it introduced itself into individual consciousness and collective memory. The series “Luriki” (1971-1985) and “Sots Art” (1975-1986) are a cynical reflection on the way propaganda images artificially idealise reality. The underside of the proselytised utopia is also revealed in “Salt Lake” (1986), images of bathers taken clandestinely on the shore of a lake in southern Ukraine.

Boris Mikhailov also frequently uses humour as a weapon, a means of resistance to oppression and of potential emancipation. In provocative self portraits, he uses self-deprecation and irony in series such as “Crimean Snobbism” (1982), “I am not I” (1992), “National Hero” (1992) and “If I were a German” (1994), rather than making a more frontal critique of society.

Other series realised during and after the collapse of the USSR bear witness to the failure of both communism and capitalism in Ukraine and shed light on the roots of war, from “By the ground” (1991) and “At Dusk” (1993) to “Case History” (1997-1998), “Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino” (2000-2010) and “The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out” (2013). The iconic series “Case History” depicts a devastating portrayal of the disenfranchised in Kharkiv, left homeless by the new capitalist society; while “The Theater of War” powerfully documents the occupation of Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square in Kyiv, during violent protests that are inextricably linked to the current conflict.

Through his uncompromising treatment of controversial subjects, Boris Mikhailov demonstrates the subversive power of art. For more than half a century, he has been bearing witness to the grip of the Soviet system on his country, constructing a complex and powerful photographic narrative of Ukraine’s contemporary history that in the light of current events, is all the more poignant and enlightening.

The exhibition gathers more than twenty series, most being shown in France for the first time, in loaned works from major institutions and from the artist’s personal collection. From projected images and large-scale installations to small-format vintage prints or artist’s books in display cases, the hanging reflects his indefatigable investigations of photographic techniques and styles as well as his frequent oscillation between conceptual and documentary work as he explores the shifting landscape of his native Ukraine.

The exhibition is curated by Laurie Hurwitz in collaboration with Boris and Vita Mikhailov.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue in French and English published by Morel Books, London, with an introduction by Simon Baker, director of the MEP.

Text from the MEP website

 

 

Reality, aesthetic innovations and the dissolution of the USSR

The first half of the exhibition introduces a number of the artist’s most important aesthetic innovations from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s – black-and-white documentary, conceptual work, superimpositions of slides, hand-colouring prints, combinations of text and image, “bad” photography – in an experimental visual language that is poetic, playful and uncompromising. At certain moments, the order of the works is non-chronological, in order to highlight connections or contrasts between the series.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Luriki' (Coloured Soviet Portrait) 1971-1985

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Luriki (Coloured Soviet Portrait)
1971-1985
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
61 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov. Collection Pinault. Courtesy Guido Costa Projects, Orlando Photo

 

 

“Ironically, it was the Ukrainian’s lack of photographic training that led to his success, providing him with a unique and peripheral perspective. “As an unofficial photographer, I discover, I observe, I clandestinely stalk,” he said. Mikhailov’s proclivity for risk underpinned his career, though it came at a price. Speaking to Le Figaro, Mikhailov reflects on the early years of his career working in the former Soviet Union: “The most terrifying thing was on the street: anyone could call the police just because you took a photo, and you would be questioned. There was a very strong climate of mistrust, an omnipresent spy hunt.” He became known for showing his work in “dissident kitchens”, clandestine exhibitions organised in private flats, and became an active member of a collective of non-conformist photographers, later known as the Kharkiv School of Photography. In the words of his long-term friend and fellow artist Ilya Kabakov, “From the way that Boris takes pictures, I have the complete impression of a catastrophic shot on the verge of self-destruction”.”

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Lydia Figes. “The MEP opens a retrospective of one of the most influential photographers from Eastern Europe, Boris Mikhailov,” on the British Journal of Photography website 22 September 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022.

 

“Mikhailov’s series “Luriki” (1971-85) took found black-and-white photographs of anonymous soldiers and sailors, or of happy families who are all alike, and overpainted them with hand coloring – a common technique in the Soviet Union, where color printing was expensive. These were probably the first artworks in the Soviet Union to use found imagery to capture the Soviet zeitgeist and tweak the regime. Yet their garishness gave him an out with irony-blind censors, to whom he could always explain that he was just trying to make the sitters look prettier.”

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Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022

 

 

Luriki, 1971-1985

Starting in the late 1960s, Mikhailov worked as a commercial photographer and earned extra money enlarging, retouching and hand-colouring family snapshots of weddings or newborns, or of someone lost during the war. In what is considered the first use of found material in contemporary Soviet photography, Mikhailov appropriated the photos in order to conceptualise this technique and create ironic works of art. Often using kitsch colours, he made them more “beautiful” while mocking the way Soviet propaganda glorified mundane events.

 

Sots Art, 1975-1986

The title “Sots Art” refers to a movement created in 1972 by the Moscow born duo Vitally Komar and Alexander Melamid, who deconstructed Socialist Realism and combined it with elements of Western Pop art. Boris Mikhailov took photographs depicting sanctioned socialist imagery (parades, students in military training, athletic youth…), then subverted them using garish colours that reflect his disillusionment with false Soviet ideals.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Yesterday's Sandwich' 1966-1968

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Yesterday’s Sandwich
1966-1968
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“A photographer’s task is to always find this subtle and vague border between the permitted and the prohibited. This border is constantly changing, like life itself.”

 

 

Yesterday’s Sandwich, late 1960s – late 1970s

While developing colour slide film, the artist nonchalantly threw it on the bed and two slides accidentally stuck together “like a sandwich,” he says. “Suddenly, I saw a totally new, metaphoric image”. He began randomly exploring combinations in what he called “programmed accidentality” to create surreal, highly poetic images that act as a metaphor for the duality of Soviet life, between the idealised images imposed by those in power and the drab reality. “Yesterday’s Sandwich” fuses opposites or unrelated images as a way of introducing forbidden imagery, conflating beauty and the grotesque, and visualising the world of memory and the collective unconscious in a visual language not unrelated to the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky. “I made these compositions at a time when, given the scarcity of real news, everyone was on the lookout for the smallest piece of new information, hoping to uncover a secret or read between the lines. Encryption was the only way to explore forbidden subjects such as politics, religion, nudity”, Mikhailov explains. The MEP exhibition presents the work in a large-scale projection set to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which for the artist explores the “exaggeration of beauty” and “a paradise lost”, along with individual prints.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Yesterday's Sandwich' 1966-1968

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Yesterday’s Sandwich
1966-1968
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Black Archive' 1968-1979

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Black Archive
1968-1979
Black-and-white print
24 x 18cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“By adding something previously unacceptable to my photos, I was violating the canons of Soviet photography: I was shooting allegedly wrong things in an allegedly wrong way…”

“As a photographer without official credentials, I discover, I observe, I clandestinely stalk.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

“These unofficial pictures were printed on cheap paper; they incorporated blurs and backlighting and too much headroom; the nudes, especially, could have gotten him packed to Siberia. Mikhailov, along with other artists of what’s now known as the Kharkiv School of Photography, could exhibit only in private, usually in friends’ kitchens. (“They were free artists,” Vita said, “because they didn’t think, ‘We should sell for money’.”) And the lack of public opportunities, not to mention a market, inspired a self-sufficiency guarded long after the Soviet censors faded from view.”

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Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/202

 

 

Black Archive, 1968-1979

Small-format black-and-white vintage prints, “Black Archive” documents everyday life in Kharkiv, often revealing the disparity between outside and inside. In the public space, images taken clandestinely (at the time, anyone making photos on the street could be taken for a spy, and Mikhailov’s studio was frequently searched by the KGB) capture solitary pedestrians, often from behind and at odd angles, while in contrast, the private sphere is seen as a space of liberty, as in joyful shots of naked woman proudly showing off their curves.

The series introduces another of Boris Mikhailov’s concept of “bad” photography: unlike his fellow photographers, who sought technical perfection, his prints were deliberately low-contrast, blurry, full of visible flaws, on poor-quality paper. While it was quite difficult to procure high-quality Soviet-made film, paper or chemicals, these defects more importantly express Mikhailov’s very personal idea of beauty. They were also a way of subverting the glorified imagery of social realism; he felt glossy, impeccably crafted photographs could never reflect the hardships of the life he saw around him.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Black Archive' 1968-1979

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Black Archive
1968-1979
Black-and-white print
24 x 18cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Dance' 1978

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Dance
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.2 x 24.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938) From the series 'Dance' 1978

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Ukrainian, b. 1938)
From the series Dance
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.2 x 24.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

Dance, 1978

“Dance” captures light-hearted moments of open-air dancing in Kharkiv. These scenes reflecting Mikhailov’s interest in photographing very ordinary subjects and anti-heroes, “some sort of general uniqueness, a group of people that could easily be from anywhere.” In many images, women dance together as if preparing subconsciously for war, when the men would be sent away again.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Series of four' 1982-1983

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Series of four
1982-1983
Silver gelatin print, unique copy
From a 20-part series
Each 18 x 23.80cm

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Series of four' 1982-1983

 

Boris Mikhailow (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Series of four
1982-1983
Silver gelatin print, unique copy
From a 20-part series
Each 18 x 23.80cm

 

 

Series of Four, early 1980s

In “Series of Four” Boris Mikhailov printed four small-format, black-and-white pictures on the same sheet, as if creating a single image. Once again an accident, here due to a technical constraint – a shortage of photographic paper – is conceptualised. Multiple viewpoints become a metaphor for a complex reality, an ambiguous, fragmented view of a world in constant flux, one that invites viewers to look for connections between them. Taken in the suburbs of Kharkiv, these “bad” images, poorly aligned and full of imperfections, depict a series of non-events.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Viscidity' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Viscidity
1982
Gelatin silver print with hand-colouring and handwritten texts
© Boris Mikhailov. VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Viscidity, 1982

Combining text and image in a conceptual way, Mikhailov created a new kind of artist’s book, one that would have an enormous influence on his peers and on generations of younger artists. Mikhailov carelessly pasted his photographs onto pieces of paper, then scribbled thoughts – banal, poetic or philosophical – in the margins. His fragmentary thoughts were not meant as captions, nor as an interpretation or elucidation of the photos, and did not even necessarily relate to them; they were also meant to be as important as the images and to inspire unexpected associations. “Viscidity” for Mikhailov talks about a period he calls viscous, “at the threshold of something unknown… no catharsis nor nostalgia – only frozen dayto- dayness”. In this time of “deep political stagnation”, he said “nothing is happening – nothing at all is interesting… There was a kind of certainty that society was at the threshold of something unknown, something everyone was anticipating”.

 

Unfinished Dissertation, 1984

On the back of each yellowed page of a tattered university thesis found in the bin, Mikhailov pasted in two messily printed, black-and-white photographs of insignificant moments, often taken just a few moments apart, then jotted down his thoughts on art and life in the margins. Totally subjective (as its subtitle, “discussions with oneself”, suggests) and bereft of any scientific value, in this project, in which he says the “text gives new life to boring pictures”, Mikhailov puts forth his own “dissertation” about a new aesthetic.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Red' 1968-1975

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Red
1968-1975
Digital chromogenic print
45.5 x 30.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

“The word ‘red’ in Russian contains the root of the word for beauty. It also means the Revolution and evokes blood and the red flag. Everyone associates red with Communism. Maybe that’s enough. But few people know that red suffused all our lives, at all levels.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

Mikhailov’s work is a rich and self-referential homage to art and its history under the Soviet Union, from the avant-garde montages of Alexander Rodchenko to the kitsch propagandist images of Socialist Realism. The series Red appropriates the old-fashioned technique of making hand-coloured prints. The colourful overlaid slides in Yesterday’s Sandwich, to a degree, echo the uncanny montages of the Surrealists. By allowing chance to connect disparate images, Mikhailov wants to bring “together several topics into a single, common world view inextricably linked to mass culture, memory and the collective unconscious of Soviet people in the 1960 and 1970s.”

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Lydia Figes. “The MEP opens a retrospective of one of the most influential photographers from Eastern Europe, Boris Mikhailov,” on the British Journal of Photography website 22 September 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/2022

 

 

Red, 1965-1978

Bridging documentary and conceptual art, the “Red” series brings together 84 colour photographs taken in Kharkiv between 1968 and 1975. All contain the colour red – a powerful symbol of the revolution and the Soviet empire – either in patriotic objects (a flag, a billboard, a military parade) or mundane details (a tomato, a garage door, painted toenails, a headscarf). For the artist, together they showed the extent to which everyday life was permeated by communist ideology. Printed in small format and left unframed, the photographs are hung together in a loose, pseudo-organised grid several meters long, in random order. Drawing visitors into a disjointed vision made up of small, disparate moments, this immersive installation invites viewers to become active participants in the work.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Red' 1968-1975

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Red
1968-1975
Digital chromogenic print
45.5 x 30.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Red' 1968-1975

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Red
1968-1975
Digital chromogenic print
45.5 x 30.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

Performance, social documentary and the roots of war

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'By the Ground' 1991

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series By the Ground
1991
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
11.5 x 29.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

By the Ground, 1991

In two seminal series created before and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mikhailov wandered the streets with a Russian-made swing-lens Horizon camera with a rotating lens that took in a 120-degree panoramic view. Holding the camera at hip height, the artist guides the viewer’s gaze downward, as if to bring us closer to the experience of destitute figures queuing for food or lying in the street.

In “By the Ground”, Mikhailov hand-painted the silver prints with sepia, evoking dirt and dust, while imbuing the pictures with a sense of nostalgia. The bleak street scenes reminded him of Maxim Gorki’s play The Lower Depths (1901-1902) and the extreme poverty of Russia’s lower class it depicts. The artist’s protocol for installation accentuates this effect: hung low, in a single row, they force viewers to stoop down, symbolising the new, destabilising social order.

 

 

“Everything fell, collapsed, died: both the environment and human beings. Space was destroyed, people fell to the ground… I tried to express this photographically, in sepia toned, aged panoramic images.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'At Dusk' 1993

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series At Dusk
1993
Chromogenic print
66 x 132.9 cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

At Dusk, 1993

Taken shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this series is toned with cobalt blue, the colour of twilight, the transition from day into night, alluding to Ukraine’s transition to independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the artist, the colour blue is also linked to the artist’s traumatic memories from World War II, when at age three he was awakened by the wailing of air-raid sirens in the middle of the night: “Blue for me is the colour of the blockade, hunger and the war… I can still remember the bombings, the howling sirens and the searchlights in the wonderful, dark-blue sky…”

A related work, “Green”, a monumental triptych of hand-coloured silver prints, shows a world falling apart: an abandoned factory, surrounded by an overgrown landscape with a figure attempting to reactivate a rusty tractor.

The second part of the exhibition introduces Mikhailov’s performative work. We see him using irreverence and humour as tools for corrosive social criticism, for revealing our fragility and the lies of Soviet propaganda – mise en scène reflects a world in which everyone seems to be playing a role. This part of the exhibition also includes Mikhailov’s best known social photography, bridging documentary work and a conceptual approach, and evoking the failures and tensions that have since led to war.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'At Dusk' 1993

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series At Dusk
1993
Chromogenic print
66 x 132.9 cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“In the Soviet Union, heroism had already been destroyed by ideology. So there could only be an anti-hero.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

 

I Am Not I, 1992

In provocative, dramatically-lit black-and-white images, the naked artist plays the role of anti-hero in burlesque, self-deprecating self-portraits that mock the traditional masculine stereotype idealised by the Soviet regime. At times recalling Buster Keaton or pantomime artist Marcel Marceau, he dons a curly black wig, brandishing a sword or artificial phallus or holding an enema bag; exposing his ageing, vulnerable body, “trying on the icons of Western mass culture, like Rambo,” he assumes pseudo-athletic or contemplative poses that call to mind works by Rodin or Caravaggio. The images are presented here in a composition imagined by the artist especially for the MEP with vintage prints from his archives.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'I am not I' 1992

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series I am not I
1992
Sepia silver print
30 x 20 cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'National Hero' 1991

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series National Hero
1991
Chromogenic print
120 x 81cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

National Hero, 1992

Dressed in Soviet military garb with Ukrainian insignia, Mikhailov creates a seemingly simple portrait of troubling ambiguity, in which the face’s delicate beauty and the pink background challenge classic images of masculinity.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Crimean Snobbism' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Crimean Snobbism
1982
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
15 x 20cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2016

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Crimean Snobbism' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Crimean Snobbism
1982
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
20 x 15cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2016

 

 

Crimean Snobbism, 1982

Mikhailov turned the camera on himself for the first time in tongue-in-cheek snapshots of his holidays with his wife Vita and their friends in Gursuf, a seaside resort on the Crimean Peninsula and a popular destination for Russian intellectuals in the 19th century. Sepia-toned images, like photos from another era, capture the carefree protagonists swimming, sunbathing on the rocks, spouting seawater, frolicking in the park or on the pier. But their idyllic vacation is also a game, “playing at being bourgeois”; on closer inspection, the poses feel forced, exaggerated, as if mimicking the luxurious and carefree lifestyle of the West that was inaccessible to Ukrainians at the time.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Crimean Snobbism' 1982

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Crimean Snobbism
1982
Gelatin silver print, toned sepia
20 x 15cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Tate: Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2016

 

 

If I Were a German, 1994

In the early 1990s, Mikhailov, his wife Vita founded a group called “Fast Reaction” with their artist friends Sergei Bratkov and Sergei Solonski. In this controversial series, they engaged in darkly provocative, satirical role play, staging scenes inspired by interviews with Ukrainians who had witnessed the country’s wartime occupation by the Germans during World War II. At times donning Nazi uniforms, the artists pose in tableaux vivants, some with captions quoting Goethe or Dürer, in scenarios that explore how they might have felt as either victim or oppressor, and probe difficult questions about guilt, accountability and shame: “What if we had been a German? How would we have treated others? Who or what is the real enemy?”

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Salt Lake' 1986

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Salt Lake
1986
Chromogenic print toned sepia
75.5 x 104.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

Salt Lake, 1986

Mikhailov’s large-format sepia prints of bathers were taken on the edge of a lake in Sloviansk, his father’s native city, in the Donbass region of southern Ukraine, whose inhabitants, he was told, were convinced the warm, salty water had healing properties. He found a popular bathing spot where little suggested anything salubrious: a murky, heavily polluted industrial site surrounded by factories. Mikhailov’s clandestine photographs of these scenes in which families enjoying their “freedom” with total indifference to their surroundings are both compassionate and scathing.

 

Promzona, 2011

A guest at the first Kyiv Biennale, Mikhailov returned to abandoned industrial sites in Donetsk, in the Donbass region, long famous as a centre for mining, steel production and machine manufacturing, largely left behind by socioeconomic transformations. The former engineer explores a constructivist aesthetic in compositions that at times echo works by Rodchenko, with their sharp, unusual camera angles and rigid geometry. “For me, these pictures are an anthem to the technologies of a past age,” says the artist.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Salt Lake' 1986

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Salt Lake
1986
Chromogenic print toned sepia
75.5 x 104.5cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

“Only when one sees misery in a picture, does one begin to notice it in the street.”

.
Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino, 2000-2010

In a continuation of “By the Ground”, “At Dusk” and “Case History”, the artist photographs Kharkiv nearly two decades after the fall of the USSR, in an independent Ukraine that has adopted the Western capitalist model. Colourful advertisements and billboards, McDonald’s, an ocean of cheap plastic objects and tote bags, anonymous figures waiting at tram stops, and the cries of street vendors who once sold only tea or coffee, but now propose cappuccino as well – they capture a moment of transition, in between east and west, past and present, and a new era of “doing business” in which “anything can be bought and sold, even children,” says Mikhailov.

Part of “Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino” was first presented in the Ukrainian Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino' 2000-2010

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino
2000-2010
Chromogenic print
25.5 x 80cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out, 2013

In late December 2013, Boris Mikhailov and his wife Vita documented those who had pitched their tents a few weeks earlier on the central square in Kyiv, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, to protest the Ukrainian government’s sudden decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union – a key moment in the ongoing tensions that recently led to war. In photographs of the protestors’ everyday life behind the barricades, their faces express a palpable sense of anxiety. Some of the images recall 19th-century Russian realist paintings. “Emotions were so high”, the artist explains, “that at first glance, the scenes almost felt as if they had been staged”.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out' 2013

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out
2013
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Collection Akademie der Künste, Berlin

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out' 2013

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series The Theater of War, Second Act, Time Out
2013
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Collection Akademie der Künste, Berlin

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
172 x 119cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

“Now the war has sent Ukraine into an economic tailspin, and Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s electrical grid threaten millions with scarcity and worse. Mikhailov never shied from misfortune and crisis, especially in the first years of Ukrainian independence, when the country fell into a spiral of hyperinflation that peaked at 10,000 percent. A new underclass of homeless people appeared in Kharkiv’s city parks, without any state aid to help them.

Out of that misery came the unshrinking “Case History,” for which Mikhailov photographed Kharkiv’s most desperate people and printed them at billboard size. He frequently had them pose nude, laughing or crying in the snow. He posed them in positions that recall a Pietà or the Descent from the Cross. He showed their chapped, burned, infected skin, their tumorous bellies and misshaped genitals; economic history is written on the flesh. Boris and Vita paid these subjects, and often invited them into their home – the 400 or so pictures of “Case History” were not reportage. They were a requiem for all of the failed promises of both communism and capitalism, a danse macabre on the grave of the 20th century.

The “Case History” pictures have compelled, disturbed and enraged viewers for two decades now, with a corpus of academic literature now trailing behind them. They certainly defy Ukraine’s current projection of itself through viral propaganda, though with their indictment of local corruption, the images in “Case History” also call forward to Ukraine’s two revolutions of the 2000s: the Orange Revolution of 2004 and especially the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, which pushed the whole country, Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking alike, into a new democratic era.”

.
Jason Farago. “The Life’s Work of Photography’s Great Trickster, and Ukraine’s Greatest Artist,” on The New York Times website Oct. 28, 2022 [Online] Cited 21/11/202

 

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Case History, 1997-1998

After spending a year in Berlin on a stipend from DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), Mikhailov returned to Kharkiv and saw that the city had changed drastically post-communism. A new ruling elite of millionaires had emerged, but a considerable part of the population had been plunged into poverty, and the number of homeless people, or bomzhes, had swollen dramatically. A series of some 400 raw, difficult, deeply empathetic portraits, “Case History” is Mikhailov’s requiem; it documents the deeply troubling situation of this disenfranchised community. Some embrace in poignant moments of tenderness or gesticulate drunkenly; others pose in compositions that allude to scenes in paintings by Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt or evoke actors in a passion play; many openly exhibit their wounded bodies for the camera.

While these photographs may look like traditional photojournalism (the title even evokes the clinical detachment of a medical history), they also distance themselves from this genre – Mikhailov and his wife Vita paid their subjects, often taking them home to feed them and give them baths, in exchange for posing. Mikhailov intentionally subverted the codes of photojournalism, exploring the limits of objective representation. While this approach was controversial and perceived by some as unethical, he argued that his often theatrical shots might help draw attention to the degradation and suffering of his subjects.

For this exhibition, the artist proposed to show a selection of large-format works along with small-scale prints of the series and medium-format works specially created by the artist for the MEP collection.

 

“The work itself can be difficult to look at. The colour, life-size prints are unsparing in their documentation of the disease and frailty of Mikhailov’s subjects, and the grit and grime of their humble surroundings. Directed to stand naked, clothes in hand, some appear, in his words, ‘like people going to gas chambers.’ Others share heartbreaking moments of tenderness, while a few appear comatose with drink” (Little).

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

Temptation of Death, 2017-2019

This elegiac installation, composed of more than 150 diptychs, was awarded Shevchenko National Prize, the first official recognition of Mikhailov’s work in Ukraine in 2021. The project was inspired by an unfinished building for a working crematorium in Kyiv, where construction, begun in 1968, was fraught with conflict. Sensitive to the fact that the subject of cremation could provoke memories of the mass killing of Ukrainian Jews during World War II, the architects proposed a modernist design that also included a park and a huge bas-relief, “The Wall of Remembrance”. But after more than ten years of work, the government buried the wall under a layer of concrete, calling it inconsistent with the “principles of socialist realism”. Boris Mikhailov juxtaposed new photographs of the structure with images made throughout his career in a dialogue about past and present, raising questions about transformation, vulnerability and mortality.

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Diary' 1973-2016

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Diary
1973-2016
Black-and-white print with hand colouring
29.5 x 21cm
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Courtesy Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève, Paris

 

 

Diary, 1973-2016

In 2016, Boris Mikhailov published “Diary”, bringing together five decades of his work presented as an intimate scrapbook. “Diary” was not conceived in a retrospective manner; and there is no obvious historical narrative or linear progression. The selection of images, many of which are outtakes from his different series, range from political scenes to staged photos, landscapes, self-portraits and erotic images, often soiled and blemished by scratches, tears, blotches and hand-colouring.

In work often marked by irony and self-mockery, Boris Mikhailov plays with a wide range of everyday and propaganda imagery to bear witness, in uncompromising terms, to both the harsh social realities and absurdities of his time. He combines humour and tragedy, consistently defending a wild and energetic artistic freedom as both a means of resistance to oppression and potential emancipation. For the artist, even the most serious subjects have a deep comedy, and every joke is deadly serious. The interplay of these haunting images – by turns beautiful and ugly, disturbing and poignant, brutal and tender – gives rise to a compelling and unique view of history that resonates today more than ever before.

 

Boris Mikhailov

 

Boris Mikhailov
© Nobuyoshi Araki

 

 

Boris Mikhailov a dissident artist

A key figure of the Kharkiv School of Photography (KSOP)

In 1971, Boris Mikhailov was one of eight photographers who established the Vremya group in Kharkiv, an experimental non-conformist art collective that is considered the core of the Kharkiv School of Photography. The group’s members (Boris Mikhailov, Evgeniy Pavlov, Jury Rupin, Anatoliy Makiyenko, Oleg Malyovany, Oleksandr Sitnichenko, Oleksandr Suprun, and Gennadiy Tubalev), thus formalised an underground movement sparked in an informal photo club in the 1960s, to create a visual tool for cultural resistance. Although the name Vremya (Time) sounds banal, it was a call for revolution – a statement of defiance against a painful system from the past. They called their artistic objective the “blow theory”, to produce works whose impact would strike the viewer hard and fast. Boris Mikhailov, who emerged as their informal leader, was the driving force for much of their shared aesthetic.

Vremya developed a diverse but recognisable photographic language that frequently depicted nudes and an unseemly Soviet reality. Persecuted by the party’s ideological watchdogs, routinely searched by the KGB, its only public exhibition of their works, held in Kharkiv in 1983, shut down on opening day, the Vremya collective dissolved in the 1980s. The group nevertheless formed the basis for the school established a few years later.

The group’s influence was far-reaching and continues to be deeply felt throughout Ukraine; a second and third wave of younger artists are still inspired by their ideas today. Boris Mikhailov continues to be a beloved mentor for many of them. In 2018, the Museum of Kharkiv School of Photography was also founded through the initiative of Sergiy Lebedynskyy, a member of the Shilo Group, in close collaboration with Boris and Vita Mikhailov.

 

Biography

Born in 1938 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and trained as an engineer, Boris Mikhailov is a self-taught photographer. Early in his career, he was given a camera in order to document the state-owned factory where he was employed; he used it to take nude photographs of his wife. He developed them in the factory’s laboratory, and was fired after they were found by KGB agents.

Determined to take up the camera full-time, he eked out a living making photographs on the black market, in parallel creating a body of experimental personal work in reaction to the idealised images of Soviet life. He showed his work in “dissident kitchens”, clandestine exhibitions organised among friends in private flats, and became an active member of a collective of non-conformist photographers that would later become the core of the Kharkiv School of Photography.

At the time, taking images of the naked body or unflattering images of daily life, of people who were poor, ill, or in distress, was utterly taboo. Artists whose work did not conform to the official USSR aesthetic risked arrest, interrogation, even imprisonment. Under constant surveillance, Mikhailov was frequently harassed, his cameras broken and his rolls of film destroyed.

Today seen as one of the most important figures on the international art scene, he has received many prestigious awards, among them the 2015 Goslar Kaiserring Award, the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (now the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Award) in 2001 and the Hasselblad Award in 2000. He represented Ukraine at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and again in 2017.

His work has been exhibited in major international venues, including the Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York, and more recently, the Berlinische Galerie and C/O Berlin in Berlin, the Pinchuk Art Center in Kyiv, the Sprengel Museum in Hannover and the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden Baden.

Boris Mikhailov is represented in Paris by the Suzanne Tarasiève Gallery. He also shows his work at the Sprovieri Gallery in London, Guido Costa Projects in Turin, Barbara Gross in Munich and Galerie Barbara Weiss in Berlin.

His work is currently on display in the exhibition This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in Venice, as part of the official program accompanying the Venice Biennale.

Text from the press pack from the MEP website

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938) From the series 'Case History' 1997-1998

 

Boris Mikhaïlov (Russian, b. 1938)
From the series Case History
1997-1998
Chromogenic print
© Boris Mikhailov, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Private collection

 

 

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16
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 12th September, 2022 – 1st January 2023

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 Photo: Emile Askey

 

 

There are so many exhibitions that finish before mid-January 2023 that I am going to post at odd times over the festive season and New Year so that I can fit them all in.

Another exhibition by this superb artist, this time his first museum survey in New York. ‘The decisive logic of his practice is a visual democracy, best summarised by his phrase “If one thing matters, everything matters.”‘

This relationship to the world, of living and loving in the world, of being an aware social and political artist, reminds me of a wonderful quote by that magical Irish poet Thomas Heaney:

“The watergaw, the faint rainbow glimmering in chittering light, provides a sort of epiphany, and MacDiarmid connects the shimmer and weakness and possible revelation in the light behind the drizzle with the indecipherable look he received from his father on his deathbed … Each expression, each cadence, each rhyme is as surely and reliably in place as a stone on a hillside.” ~ Seamus Heaney1

Each of Tillmans’ individual images offer the possibility of an epiphany … collectively, they propose a sure and reliable nonhierarchical nexus of relationships that is revelatory.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Heaney, Seamus. The Redress of Poetry. London: Faber and Faber, 1995, pp. 107-108.

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Download the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition brochure (2.4Mb pdf)

 

The Museum of Modern Art will present Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, the artist’s first museum survey in New York, from September 12, 2022 through January 1, 2023, in the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Center for Special Exhibitions. Unique groupings of approximately 350 of Tillmans’s photographs, videos, and multimedia installations will be displayed according to a loose chronology throughout the Museum’s sixth floor. Informed by new scholarship and eight years of dialogue with the artist, the exhibition will highlight how Tillmans’s profoundly inventive, philosophical, and creative approach is both informed by and designed to highlight the social and political causes for which he has been an advocate throughout his career.

From the outset of his career, Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Germany) has revolutionised the prevailing conventions of photographic presentation, making connections between his pictures in response to a given context and activating the space of the exhibition by hanging photographs in a corner, above a doorframe, on a free-standing column, or next to a fire extinguisher. In developing his own language for these overall installations, Tillmans’s practice verges into a sculptural dimension. The decisive logic of his practice is a visual democracy, best summarised by his phrase “If one thing matters, everything matters.”

 

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 shwoing at left, Tillmans Victoria Park (2007, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Victoria Park' 2007

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Victoria Park
2007
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 shwoing at top left, Tillmans Lacanau (self) (1986, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Lacanau (self)' 1986

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Lacanau (self)
1986
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the bottom image at right, Smokin’ Jo (1995, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Smokin' Jo' 1995

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Smokin’ Jo
1995
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Arkadia I' 1996

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Arkadia I
1996

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at top right in the top image, Arkadia I (1996, above); and at right in the bottom image, Tillmans work Concorde Grid (1997), a series of 56 colour photographs of equal dimensions
Photos: Emile Askey

 

 

A series of fifty-six colour photographs of equal dimensions arranged in a grid four rows high and fourteen columns wide. The series was created in an edition of ten plus one artist’s proof. Tate’s copy is number four. The photographs were taken as part of a commission for the Chisenhale Gallery, London on the occasion of I Didn’t Inhale, Tillmans’ solo exhibition there in 1997. An artist’s book consisting of sixty-two Concorde images was produced to accompany the exhibition. It was published by Walther König, Cologne. Fifty-four of the images in the photographic edition are reproduced in the book. The photographs were taken at a number of sites in and around London, including close to the perimeter fence at Heathrow airport. Several photographs of the airplane landing and taking off from the airport were taken looking through the security fence, which is included in the image as a blurred outline. In another sequence, the jet is viewed taking off dramatically over an expanse of brilliant green grass, suggesting that the artist may have pushed his camera lens between the gaps in the fence so as not to include it in the frame. Further photographs were taken from such vantage points as suburban railway tracks, roads close to the airport, a yard containing parked trucks and an open common. The airplane is depicted in varying scales viewed from a wide variety of angles. At times it resembles a bird, at others (when it flies directly above the camera at close range) an air-borne sting-ray. In several images it is barely visible in the haze of distance and the afterburn of its engines. Tillmans’ project has the flavour of a birdwatcher’s obsessive tracking and recording. He has written:

“Concorde is perhaps the last example of a techno-utopian invention from the sixties still to be operating and fully functioning today. Its futuristic shape, speed and ear-numbing thunder grabs people’s imagination today as much as it did when it first took off in 1969. It’s an environmental nightmare conceived in 1962 when technology and progress was the answer to everything and the sky was no longer a limit … For the chosen few, flying Concorde is apparently a glamorous but cramped and slightly boring routine whilst to watch it in the air, landing or taking-off is a strange and free spectacle, a super modern anachronism and an image of the desire to overcome time and distance through technology.”

(Quoted on the inner sleeve of Concorde)

Elizabeth Manchester. “Concorde Grid,” on the Tate website January 2003 [Online] Cited November 2022

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the top image at left Tillmans work Aufsicht (yellow) (1999, below); and at right in the bottom image, Icestorm (2001, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Aufsicht (yellow)' (View from Above [yellow]) 1999

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Aufsicht (yellow) (View from Above [yellow])
1999
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York/Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Icestorm
2001
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023
Photos: Emile Askey

 

 

“The viewer… should enter my work through their own eyes, and their own lives,” the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans has said. An incisive observer and a creator of dazzling pictures, Tillmans has experimented for over three decades with what it means to engage the world through photography. Presenting the full breadth and depth of the artist’s career, Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear invites us to experience the artist’s vision of what it feels like to live today.

From ecstatic images of nightlife to abstract images made without a camera, sensitive portraits to architectural slide projections, documents of social movements to windowsill still lifes, astronomical phenomena to intimate nudes, Tillmans has explored seemingly every imaginable genre of photography, continually experimenting with how to make new pictures. He considers the role of the artist to be that of “an amplifier” of social and political causes, and his approach is animated by a concern with the possibilities of forging connections and the idea of togetherness.

Tillmans has rejected the prevailing conventions of photographic presentation, continuously developing connections between his pictures and the social space of the exhibition. In his installations, unframed prints are taped to the walls or clipped and hung from pins, and framed photographs appear alongside magazine pages. Constellations of images are grouped on walls and tabletops as photocopies, colour or black-and-white photographs, and video projections, exemplifying the artist’s idea of visual democracy in action. “I see my installations as a reflection of the way I see, the way I perceive or want to perceive my environment,” Tillmans has said. “They’re also always a world that I want to live in.”

Following its presentation at MoMA, the exhibition will travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, and Phil Taylor, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at third left in the second image, Venus, transit (2004, below); and at right in the bottom image, Tillmans Freischwimmer 230 (Free Swimmer 230) (2012, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at left, Freischwimmer 230 (Free Swimmer 230) (2012, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Venus, transit' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Venus transit
2004
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Freischwimmer 230' (Free Swimmer 230) 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Freischwimmer 230 (Free Swimmer 230)
2012
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art will present Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, the artist’s first museum survey in New York, from September 12, 2022, through January 1, 2023, in the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Center for Special Exhibitions. Unique groupings of approximately 350 of Tillmans’s photographs, videos, and multimedia installations will be displayed according to a loose chronology throughout the Museum’s entire sixth floor. Shaped by new scholarship and eight years of dialogue with the artist, the exhibition will highlight how Tillmans’s profoundly inventive, philosophical, and creative approach is both informed by and designed to highlight the poetic possibilities and social and political causes for which he has been an advocate throughout his career. Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear is organised by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator of Photography, with Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, and Phil Taylor, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968, Germany) has explored seemingly every genre of photography imaginable, continually experimenting with how to make pictures meaningful. Since the beginning of his career, Tillmans has revolutionised the prevailing conventions of photographic presentation, making connections between his pictures in response to a given context and activating the space of the exhibition. Spanning the artist’s production from the 1980s to the present, this survey will present iconic photographs alongside his rarely seen significant bodies of work, foregrounding the ways in which Tillmans’s concern with social themes, lived experiences, and the idea of togetherness are inextricable from this ongoing investigation of the medium.

“Social themes form a rich vein throughout his practice,” said Roxana Marcoci. “They motivate Tillmans’s exploration of the questions of how to see and how to communicate seeing.” His approach to art making emphasises the ideas of human connections, with his work reflecting a deep care for his subjects. Tillmans has pictured survival and loss amid the AIDS crisis, mined the media’s aestheticisation of military forces, given voice to LGBTQ+ communities around the world, and tracked the diffusion of globalism. To look without fear will present several different bodies of work and will reflect Tillmans’s distinct strategies of display. In his installations, unframed prints are taped to the walls or hung with clips, and framed photographs appear alongside magazine pages. Constellations of images – colour and black-and-white photographs and photocopies – grouped on walls and tabletops alongside video projections and sonic installations exemplify the artist’s idea of visual democracy in action. “I see my installations as a reflection of the way I see, the way I perceive or want to perceive my environment,” Tillmans has said.

The works that will be installed at the entrance to the exhibition exemplify Tillmans’s engagement with new forms of technology, which is traceable to his childhood passion for astronomy. It was through his early trials with the telescope, and later with the photocopier and video camera, that he ultimately arrived at his photographic practice. Victoria Park (2007), depicting two friends lounging in a park in East London, reflects his long-standing engagement with the laser photocopier, which he first happened upon as a teenager in a local print shop in 1986. Often enlarging images up to 400 percent, Tillmans aspired to expand the limits of photographic materials and techniques, an ambition that aligned with his near-contemporaneous experiments with electronic music. In the 2017 video untitled (leg), a single bare leg rotates slowly in rhythm, recalling 19th-century pre-cinematic motion studies, while its vertical aspect ratio evokes a 21st century-format: the smartphone screen.

In the exhibition’s first gallery, Tillmans’s early photocopies will be installed alongside images that brought him to prominence as a chronicler of youth subculture and nightlife, including Lutz & Alex sitting in the tree (1992) and Chemistry Squares (1992), which were both published in the British alternative magazine i-D in the early 1990s. The persistent presence of magazines in his exhibitions is indicative of how Tillmans harnesses the capacity of his pictures to amplify ideas when they are distributed across media platforms.

The second gallery will include early photographs that foreground Tillmans’s abiding interest in music and performance. His portrait, made for Interview magazine in 1995, of the legendary DJ Joanne Joseph – better known by her stage name, Smokin’ Jo – will be installed near wall of speakers (1992), made on a trip to Kingston, Jamaica, where Tillmans photographed the local ragga music scene. This photograph captures an outdoor festival’s precariously stacked sound system, depicting the structure as both a sculptural object and a means of experimentation capable of producing thunderous bass sounds.

The following gallery will include works that speak to Tillmans’s subversion of traditional art-historical subjects and genres. In the photographs he calls Faltenwurf (German for “drapery”), clothes hang drying on radiators, are crumpled into balls, or lie in heaps, alluding to drawn and painted studies of fabric. Beginning in the late 1990s, Tillmans became increasingly invested in the possibilities afforded by darkroom abstraction, experimenting with new techniques, such as applying coloured tints and using flashlights to manipulate a negative while it developed. In his monumental I don’t want to get over you (2000), a title inspired by the lyrics of a song by the Magnetic Fields, gestural green streaks and dark, thread-like lines fuse with the image of a vast, barren-looking, otherworldly landscape.

Tillmans’s video work – an under-recognised facet of his practice – brings together movement, electronic music, ambient sound, technology, and quotidian imagery. The fourth gallery will feature two such video works. Lights (Body) (2000-2002) focuses on the flashing lights in a busy nightclub, revealing the specks of dust rising off the ravers’ clothes and skin, accompanied by the hypnotic dance beat of Air’s “Don’t Be Light (The Hacker Remix).” Peas (2003), a three-minute study of a pot of boiling peas in close-up, shot in Tillmans’s former East London studio, depicts the mutual rhythm of the vegetables over audible sounds from a Pentecostal church across the street.

A fifth gallery is dedicated to Soldiers: The Nineties (1999), an installation of enlarged newspaper photographs exploring the geopolitical implications of visual culture. Throughout the 1990s, as Cold War tensions eased, the front pages of newspapers often featured images of soldiers engaged in acts of leisure, such as smoking, casually sitting, or playing chess, as thousands of military personnel were deployed to conflict-ridden nations to participate in peacekeeping missions sponsored by the United Nations. Tillmans was intrigued by the erotic undertones of these photographs of anonymous, occasionally bare-chested servicemen, informed by his previous attention to the ways that queer and techno subcultures had adopted camouflage and utility wear.

Gallery six will explore Tillmans’s work at the threshold of abstraction and representation, as well as his deep interest in the materiality of photographic paper. Tillmans first created a body of work called paper drops after he acquired an industrial-sized printer in 2001 and began experimenting with the optical effects of gravity, which allowed the paper to freely bend and curl. “For me, the photo has always been an object,” Tillmans has said. The manipulated colour fields of the Lighter (ongoing since 2005) works expand upon this dynamic. Made without a camera, the photographic paper is either folded in the darkroom or exposed to evoke the effects of folding, and then framed in plexiglass. The Silvers (ongoing since 1992) are also cameraless works made by feeding photographic paper through a developer that Tillmans has purposely not cleaned, allowing interferences of dirt and traces of silver salts be visible.

The centre space of the exhibition will include an iteration of Tillmans’s Truth Study Center, a type of structure first presented by Tillmans in 2005, in which unpretentious wooden tabletops serve as the display architecture for a mix of his own photographs, clippings, and printouts of newspaper and magazine articles. Tillmans introduced this tactic to question notions of absolutism – whether it be the Bush Administration’s claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the war in Iraq, or religious dogma in any form – while also acknowledging the universal human desire to search for truth. Half of the tables in this room contain material from the early 2000s installations while the other half has been composed specifically for the MoMA exhibition using recent material.

Between 2008 and 2012, Tillmans embarked on a major new project that coincided with his adoption of the digital camera. Comprising portraiture, still life, landscape, street photography, and architectural studies, Neue Welt (“New World”) observes the flows of finance, commodities, and people around the world. Alongside these works, gallery seven will feature documents of social movements that bring to the fore the ethics of care at the heart of Tillmans’s practice. One such exemplary work is a 2014 photograph of dancing figures at one of St. Petersburg’s few gay clubs, the Blue Oyster Bar, taken a year after Vladimir Putin signed a bill outlawing the dissemination of “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations.” Another notable example is Black Lives Matter protest, Union Square, b (2014), depicting an outstretched hand at a Black Lives Matter protest in the wake of widely publicised police killings of African Americans.

A highlight of To look without fear will be the first US museum presentation of an audiovisual listening room for Tillmans’s first full-length album, Moon in Earthlight (2021), a quintessential example of his unique style of “audio photography” As a musician and documentarian of music, Tillmans has long engaged with music, its cultural significance, and the shared experience of listening – from images of raves, clubs, and dance parties to videos of the artist himself dancing. Produced primarily during the pandemic, the 53-minute album incorporates spoken word, ambient field recordings, and pulsating electronic beats, emphasising the performative nature of music and its status as a preeminent force that brings people together.

This comprehensive exhibition will conclude with recent and never-before-seen portraits, landscape, and astrophotography, alongside older works. The platform just outside the sixth-floor exhibition space will feature Tillmans monumental collaboration with German sculptor Isa Genzken, Science Fiction / Hier und jetzt zufrieden sein (2001), a dizzying environment comprised of two irregularly gridded mirrored structures by Genzken and wake, the largest photograph Tillmans has ever made, depicting the aftermath of a party bidding farewell to his London studio. The installation’s title is partially drawn from the German phrase meaning “happy in the here and now,” evoking a contemplative mindfulness as visitors depart the exhibition.

Press release from MoMA

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at second right, The Spectrum Dagger (2016, below); and at right, Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I (2014, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Spectrum Dagger' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
The Spectrum Dagger
2016

 

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

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I
2014

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the bottom image at second left, Tillmans Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees (1992, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees' 1992

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees
1992
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

 

The Wandering Image

Roxana Marcoci
Sep 8, 2022

The potential of the “wandering image” – the migrant, incessantly decentralized image, which moves and performs across communication platforms – has been critical to Wolfgang Tillmans since the beginning of his artistic practice.1 The unfettered circulation of images plays an important role in his embrace of mobility, diversity, and the variety and mutability of sexual identity in the world. By transmitting, sharing, and setting images free, by multiplying their lives, he proposes a fully democratized experience of art.

Such a notion of photography’s potential role is not entirely new. As early as the mid-1930s, writer and politician André Malraux praised the medium’s capacity to encompass the globe (a forecast of the digital age). For Malraux, furthermore, photography offered a way to understand the human condition, enabled cross-cultural analysis, and democratized the experience of art by freeing original objects from their contexts and relocating them “closer” to the viewer. In his 1947 book Le musée imaginaire, he advocated for a pancultural “museum without walls,” postulating that art history has in fact become “the history of that which can be photographed.”2 His thesis, forward-thinking as it was, has been challenged recently by scholars who note that Malraux (a player in France’s political sphere in the 1950s and ’60s) indiscriminately brought together works of art from all periods and regions, ruthlessly deracinating them from their history and heritage and repurposing them in service to the ideological interests of colonialism.3

In his practice, Tillmans offers an alternative, even inverse proposition: he links the wandering image to a politics of equality and historical consciousness. The photograph’s reproducibility, its ubiquity across media, counters the aura attributed to the original – and to the ideals of uniqueness and specificity. Photography actualizes art’s potential itinerancy and multiplicity. Indeed, Tillmans’s work raises a number of questions: Might the mediated image at times be more impactful or enduring than a direct experience of the work? Might it be equally significant, even if different? How to see and how to communicate seeing are at the crux of photography’s capacity to articulate the world in relational terms – decentered, nonhierarchical, open to differences. Making connections between images seen for the first time or images looked at again in new configurations or across a spectrum of platforms as if for the first time – all this constitutes the evolving knowledge of the visible.

Tillmans has distributed his photographs and ideas across the pages of magazines and books, postcards and newspaper inserts, music videos and records, posters, billboards, nightclubs, architectural contexts, and the theatrical stage. “His various tactics of distribution,” critic Johanna Burton notes, “enable various permeations, recognizing that there are multiple kinds of cultural repositories, all with different logics and dimensions.”4 Yet each context also invests Tillmans’s peripatetic images with additional meanings. And – paradoxically, but perhaps inevitably – the artist brings light to these meanings through his attentive engagement with the singular image within each singular installation.

The most often used of his platforms is the gallery installation, but even in a familiar space such as this his unorthodox display strategies defamiliarize viewing habits. Sidestepping museological conventions of material, scale, and subject matter, he organizes his installations in relational montages inspired by the aesthetics of cinema and magazine layouts, eschewing a uniformly linear display logic. He activates the images’ latent effects through nonverbal yet resonant associations. Large inkjet prints, attached to the wall with binder clips, bowing slightly along the edges, are juxtaposed with postcard-sized images, photocopies, magazine pages, and glossy chromogenic prints fastened with Scotch Magic Tape. Tillmans organizes each part of the wall almost as though it were a page layout and makes full use of the architecture of the room, hanging photographs in a corner, above a doorframe in the vicinity of the exit sign, on a freestanding column, next to a fire extinguisher. There are also table-based configurations, and crumpled or folded monochrome pictures whose sculptural volumes are encased in acrylic frames. The decisive logic of his practice is the visual democracy he brings to each installation, best summarized by his phrase “If one thing matters, everything matters.”5

Entangled with humanist ideas, Tillmans’s value system revolves around some central questions: What can pictures make visible? What can one know at all? Who deserves attention? How can one connect with other people? How might we foster solidarity? In what do art’s political potential and its ethical worth reside? As he notes: “For me art was the area where I could oppose. Express difference.”6 This desire to observe the world with intention is matched by an empirical openness to nontraditional formats and alternative venues. Operating on the basic premise that all motifs and platforms are worth investigating, Tillmans subjects his own photographic vision to perpetual recontextualization.

This openness to a range of forms and spaces can be seen in his very earliest efforts. In February 1988 Tillmans had his first show, at Café Gnosa in Hamburg. There he presented Approaches (1987-1988), a group of photocopied triptychs made with a Canon laser photocopier, which he utilized like a stationary camera. His exercises with enlarging xerographic images up to 400 percent demonstrate his aspiration to expand the limits of materials and techniques used in making works, and are in a sense aligned with his near contemporaneous experiments with mechanically produced electronic music.

In September 1988 a second exhibition of Tillmans’s work took place, at the Fabrik Fotoforum in Hamburg, where he showed a new selection of Approaches: a sequence of progressive enlargements of vacation shots and newspaper images, together with photographs of video stills of closeup self-portraits he had made with a portable VHS camera. This body of work was featured again, later in the same year, at the Stadtteilbücherei RemscheidLennep.

Tillmans’s intensive observation and engagement with technology can be traced back to his childhood passion for astronomy. His earliest photographs (from 1978, when he was 10 years old) were of celestial bodies, captured by holding his father’s camera up to the eyepiece of his first telescope. Through these incipient trials with the telescope, and later the photocopier and video camera, he ultimately settled on photography. His route there took him through diverse modes of expression, from writing song lyrics to making clothes to painting and drawing to scientific studies and explorations.

In November 1992 Tillmans presented a large picture printed on fabric, Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees, at Maureen Paley’s Interim Art stand at the UnFair in Cologne, an event organized by young galleries in a disused factory an alternative to the city’s official art fair. In the same month, Lutz & Alex was published as part of an eight-page photo spread titled “like brother like sister” in i-D – a British magazine covering anti–high fashion, music, and youth culture – to which he had recently started contributing.7 Two months later, in early 1993, he had his first gallery exhibition, at Daniel Buchholz’s two spaces in Cologne. In the back of an antique bookshop run by Buchholz and his father, Tillmans mounted a completely nonhierarchical installation, interspersing handprinted chromogenic prints, magazine pages, and laser photocopies. Large-scale inkjet prints mounted on fabric were appended directly to the walls in Buchholz’s second space. In the bookshop itself he showed photocopies pegged on clotheslines among the antiquarian prints that were already hanging. The exhibition also included a display case holding four magazines from different countries, all featuring the same photograph by Tillmans, of two men kissing at a EuroPride rally in London, each printed with a slightly different tonality. In the shop window he stuck a grid of techno club pictures from 1991, made in Ghent, London, and Frankfurt, which had been published that year in i-D.

The wide ambit of Tillmans’s installations was thus established in his first exhibitions. As artist and curator Julie Ault observes: “Taken together the installations reflect the artist’s parallel tracks of interest in the singular self-sufficient image and in relationships between images and production types.”8 They also highlight Tillmans’s wide-eyed interest in image networks and the potentials of spatial dynamics. A pioneer of the photographic exhibition itself as spatial medium, he created the conditions with which to communicate his ideas about social and political realities while intensifying visitors’ viewing and sensory experiences.9

As we consider the many platforms, media, and display strategies Tillmans has engaged to articulate his work, the larger principles of his worldview become clear. His relationship to reality is, he points out, always “above all, more ethical than technical, or purely aesthetic.”10

Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, organized by Roxana Marcoci, The David Dechman Senior Curator, with Caitlin Ryan, Curatorial Assistant, and Phil Taylor, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, is on view September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023.

 

  1. The phrase “wandering image” is Tillmans’s own. See Wolfgang Tillmans, interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, The Conversation Series, no. 6 (Cologne: Walther König, 2007), p. 76. See WT Reader, p. 138.
  2. André Malraux, Le musée imaginaire (1947); in English as Museum without Walls (London: Zwemmer, 1949). This was the first volume of a three-part compendium, La psychologie de l’art (The Psychology of Art), which Malraux subsequently expanded and reissued in a single book as Les voix du silence (The Voices of Silence, 1951).
  3. Scholar Hannah Feldman critiques Malraux’s “amnesiac aesthetics,” noting that his cultural policies before and during the time he served as France’s first Minister of Cultural Affairs (1959-1969), under President Charles de Gaulle, coincided with the country’s colonial wars first in Indochina and then in Algeria. See Feldman, From a Nation Torn: Decolonizing Art and Representation in France, 1945-1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), p. 11.
  4. Johanna Burton, “Pictures in the Present Tense,” in Wolfgang Tillmans (London: Phaidon, exp. ed. 2014), p. 190. See also Mark Godfrey, “Worldview,” in Wolfgang Tillmans, ed. Chris Dercon and Helen Sainsbury with Wolfgang Tillmans (London: Tate Publishing, 2017).
  5. This was the title of Tillmans’s retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain (June 6 – September 4, 2003).
  6. Wolfgang Tillmans, interview with Shirley Read, “Oral History of British Photography,” British Library Sound & Moving Image Catalogue (Recording 4, May 4, 2015, 00:17:16, digital file name: 021AC0459X0220XX0004MO.mp3).
  7. Wolfgang Tillmans, “like brother like sister,” i-D, no. 110 (November 1992), pp. 80-87.
  8. Julie Ault, “The Subject Is Exhibition (2008): Installations as Possibility in the Practice of Wolfgang Tillmans,” in Wolfgang Tillmans: Lighter, ed. Daniel Birnbaum, Julie Ault, and Joachim Jäger (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2008), p. 15.
  9. In the 1920s and 1930s groundwork was laid for experimentation with spaces and media technologies in exhibition installations. Notable among these efforts: El Lissitzky’s psychoperceptual Demonstrationsräume (Demonstration Spaces), which marked the emergence of exhibition theory and the exhibition as a medium; Friedrich Kiesler’s exploratory Raumbühne (Space Stage, 1924), by which he proposed dispensing with the old proscenium frame of classical theaters and cinema houses and merging auditorium and stage into an interactive arena; Herbert Bayer’s 1935 spatial scheme for extending the viewing experience – a post-Bauhaus diagram consisting of rings of image panels installed at 360 degrees around the viewer to enhance sensorial agency; and László Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy’s synthesis of typography, photography, sound recording, and film into a generative intermedia experience, in “ProduktionReproduktion,” De Stijl 5, no. 7 (July 1922), pp. 97-101.
  10. Wolfgang Tillmans, interview with Beatrix Ruf, “New World/Life Is Astronomical,” in Tillmans, Neue Welt (Cologne: Taschen, 2012), n.p. See WT Reader, p. 188.

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at second left top, Tillmans The Cock (kiss) (2002, below); and at centre, Anders pulling splinter from his foot (2004, below)
Photo: Emile Askey

 

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

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
The Cock (kiss)
2002
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation view of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023
Photo: Emile Askey

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the top image at centre, The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg (2014, below); in the bottom image at top right inner, NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE (2006, below); and at right, The Spectrum Dagger (2016, above)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

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

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg
2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE' 2006

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE
2006

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing in the bottom image at third left, Tukan (2010, below); and at right, Headlight (f) (2012, below); and at right, Weed (2014, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Tukan (Toucan)
2010
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

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

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Headlight (f)
2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Weed' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Weed
2014

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans: On the Limits of Seeing in a High-Definition World

Aimee Lin
Jan 11, 2022

Edited by Roxana Marcoci and Phil Taylor, the just-released Wolfgang Tillmans: A Reader (2021) is the first publication to present the artist’s contributions as a thinker and writer in a systematic manner, illuminating the breadth of his engagement with audiences across diverse platforms. The interview excerpt below is included in the reader.

Aimee Lin: In the catalogue [DZHK Book 2018] for your Hong Kong exhibition [at David Zwirner] you have reproduced an email conversation with a printing company you contacted in response to a spam email. How did that dialogue start?

Wolfgang Tillmans: It was just by chance. The email caught my eye because it was so unsophisticated and innocent. I thought that, rather than malicious phishers, these might be real people. So I wrote back, and their response was quite touching. They explained they were young and sending out random emails to find customers for their printing business. We think of it as spam, but it is no different from a leaflet through the letter-box. They really were trying to find clients, but I naturally assumed that it was some terrible virus or phishing scam.

Aimee Lin: Why did you want to include this in the catalogue? It’s a very beautiful story, very funny, even flirty.

Wolfgang Tillmans: I see this catalogue as an artist’s book. I like to explore different materialities in books, different ways of thinking. It’s not just a representation of images, it’s a book of poetry. When I was laying out the book, I thought of it as writing. I can’t tell you the story in words, but I feel it in the sequence of pictures. The book is about language, but not necessarily a verbal or literary language. Text is included in my recent pictures, including the works exhibited in this show. And I considered this exchange with the printer “Klaus” as a kind of concrete poetry.

Aimee Lin: The conversation reminded me of Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel Kiss of the Spider Woman. It’s about two inmates, a political prisoner and a thief, and in each chapter one of the guys tells the story of a film they’ve seen.

Wolfgang Tillmans: I never understood myself as speaking only through photography. I feel like I can say almost everything I want to with photography, and I still haven’t gotten tired of it, but on the other hand it is only one medium. More and more, I realize that language is something I care about and have developed as a medium in the shape of interviews and lectures. The lectures are like eighty-minute performances, with language, pictures, and silence. This performative element moved into video and finally back into music. Music is a lot about words being spoken and sung.

Aimee Lin: The exhibition at David Zwirner’s Hong Kong space will include images of Shenzhen, Macau, and Hong Kong, all of which are political and geographical borders inside China. I’m curious about why you chose to photograph those places.

Wolfgang Tillmans: The Macau picture is from 1993, which is the first time I was in Macau and the last time I was in Hong Kong, so there’s been twenty-five years between my two visits. Back then I wanted to see the border with China. I’m interested in understanding the difference across a border when the earth – the ground, the matter – is the same. I never took borders for granted, and I don’t necessarily want to tear them down, but I do want to understand them in their material reality. To feel them. Clothes also interest me, this thin layer of fabric that conceals plain human bodies that are pretty much the same. The putting on of clothes changes so much. A uniform creates authority and distance, which is in a way ridiculous, because it’s just a piece of fabric, it’s nothing. A pair of ripped jeans is seen by a parent as something that should be thrown away, and by a teenager as the most beloved piece of clothing.

Aimee Lin: Clothes are an artificial border against your natural body.

Wolfgang Tillmans: Yes. I acknowledge that there are borders between people, languages, and races. But I think that by looking at them, touching them, smelling them, feeling them, you can also see them for what they are. Strangely, that’s the visible medium of photography. It’s not a scientific way of looking deeper, but it does put me into situations where I can explore those limits, whether that’s being at a border or looking through an extremely large telescope. I spent a weekend in Chile at an observatory, looking at the border of the visible.

Aimee Lin: The far end of the universe.

Wolfgang Tillmans: Astronomy is located at the limit. Can I see something there? Is that a detail or is it just noise in the camera sensor? By going to the limits, to the borders, I find comfort in being in-between. I always felt held in-between the infinite smallness of subatomic space and the infinite largeness of the cosmos. It gives me comfort to feel infinity.

Aimee Lin: How does that experience, that feeling, relate to your high-resolution digital photographs, which are printed at a very large scale? Those images are so massive, contain so much detailed visual information, that they are overwhelming.

Wolfgang Tillmans: I wasn’t originally interested in super-sharp, large-format film, because I wanted my photographs to describe how it feels to look through my eyes. For that, 100 ASA [ISO] 35mm film is close enough to how I feel things look. But since 1995 I have also shown very large photographs, the largest of which is called wake (2001), recently shown at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. Those pictures were made with 35mm negatives, but in 2009 I started to work with a high-resolution digital camera. Suddenly I found myself with an instrument in my hand that was as powerful as a large-format camera. It took me three years to learn how to speak with this new language. By 2012, the whole world had become high-definition. Being able to zoom in on a huge print, and still see detail after detail, is how the world feels now, through my eyes. I’m grateful that I was able to make that development from film to high-resolution digital photography, because it opened up a new language in the history of art. One of the pictures, included in the Hong Kong exhibition, showing the texture of wood and an onion [Sections (2017)], is of such shocking clarity that you find yourself facing an idea of infinity. These pictures contain more information than you can ever remember. Only these large-format prints are able to display the full range of detail, color, and scale, and so digital has actually made the objects almost more unique. The object can only be experienced in the full depth of its presence and its material reality in that room at that time.

Aimee Lin: This material reality is only accessible through the picture. The eyes can’t process so much information in one go.

Wolfgang Tillmans: I find that miraculous. There’s something deeply philosophical in having to learn to let go of information. It’s an analogy for the information age, and the challenge of valuing things at the same time as being prepared to let them go. To understand everything as the same, and yet to decide that some things are more valuable than others. I choose to value certain things, and at the same time to understand that everything is materially equal, if we accept that things are infinite. That’s a strange opposition.

The full article was originally published as “Wolfgang Tillmans: On the Limits of Seeing in a High-Definition World,” by Aimee Lin. ArtReview Asia, Spring 2018, 64-65. Courtesy Aimee Lin and ArtReview Asia.

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at centre, Frank, in the shower (2015, below); and at second right, blue self–portrait shadow (2020, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Frank, in the shower' 2015

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Frank, in the shower
2015
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'blue self–portrait shadow' 2020

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
blue self–portrait shadow
2020
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

Installation view of 'Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear', on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 - January 1, 2023

 

Installation views of Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear, on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from September 12, 2022 – January 1, 2023 showing at second right, blue self–portrait shadow (2020, above); and at right, Concrete Column III (2021, below)
Photos: Emile Askey

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Concrete Column III' 2021

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Concrete Column III
2021
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Page spreads from "like brother like sister" 'i-D', no. 110 (November 1992)

Page spreads from "like brother like sister" 'i-D', no. 110 (November 1992)

 

Page spreads from “like brother like sister”
i-D, no. 110 (November 1992)
layout designed by Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'still life, New York' 2001

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
still life, New York
2001
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'wake' 2001

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
wake
2001
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Installation view, Panorama Bar, Berghain, Berlin' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Installation view, Panorama Bar, Berghain, Berlin
2004
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York/Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'August self portrait' 2005

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
August self portrait
2005
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Faltenwurf (skylight)' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Faltenwurf (skylight)
2009
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Lighter, white convex I' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Lighter, white convex I
2009
Chromogenic print in acrylic hood
25 1/4 x 21 1/16 x 2 3/8″ (64.2 x 54.2 x 6cm)
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'in flight astro ii' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
in flight astro ii
2010
© Wolfgang Tillmans, and courtesy the artist; David Zwirner, New York and Hong Kong; Galerie Buchholz, Berlin and Cologne; Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'sensor flaws and dead pixels, ESO' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
sensor flaws and dead pixels, ESO
2012
© Wolfgang Tillmans, and courtesy the artist; David Zwirner, New York and Hong Kong; Galerie Buchholz, Berlin and Cologne; Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Silver 152' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Silver 152
2013
Chromogenic print
21 5/16 × 25 1/4″ (54.2 × 64.2cm)
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Playing cards, Hong Kong' 2018

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Playing cards, Hong Kong
2018
© Wolfgang Tillmans, and courtesy the artist; David Zwirner, New York and Hong Kong; Galerie Buchholz, Berlin and Cologne; Maureen Paley, London

 

'Wolfgang Tillmans: Fragile' Installation view, Contemporary Art Gallery, Yaoundé, Cameroon, 2019

 

Wolfgang Tillmans: Fragile
Installation view, Contemporary Art Gallery, Yaoundé, Cameroon, 2019
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968) 'Lüneburg (self)' 2020

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
Lüneburg (self)
2020
Image courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York / Hong Kong, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin / Cologne, Maureen Paley, London

 

 

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09
Oct
22

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

Exhibition dates: 16th July – 16th October 2022

A National Gallery Touring Exhibition

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

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

.
Eveline Syme

 

 

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

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

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

Text from the Geelong Gallery website

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the National Gallery of Australia website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press release from the Geelong Art Gallery

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

 

Prints, pigments & poison

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

Grosvenor School of Modern Art

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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14
Aug
22

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

Exhibition dates: 25th March – 21st August 2022

 

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

 

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

 

 

The black and white show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,450

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Text from the NGV International website

 

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

 

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

 

Lloyd Rees. 'Portrait of some rocks' 1948

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

Portraiture

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

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Display case text from the exhibition

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

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

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

Featuring more than two-hundred works by Australian artists including Patricia Piccinini, Atong Atem, Howard Arkley, Vincent Namatjira and Tracey Moffatt, and featuring sitters including Cate Blanchett, Albert Namatjira, Queen Elizabeth II, Eddie Mabo and David Gulpilil, the exhibition explores our inner worlds and outer selves, as well as issues of sociability, intimacy, isolation, celebrity and ordinariness.

The exhibition also questions what actually constitutes portraiture by examining the surprising and sometimes unconventional ways of representing likeness, such as the abstract self-portrait by John Nixon and Boris Cipusev’s typographic portrait of Jeff from The Wiggles. Polixeni Papapetrou’s Magma Man, a photograph which merges sitter and landscape until the two are almost indecipherable, and Shirley Purdie’s multi-panelled evocation of biography and Country further challenge the conventions of the genre and touch upon the intimate connection between artist, sitter and land. Alongside these works, iconic self-portraits will also be displayed by artists including John Brack, Nora Heysen and William Yang.

Tony Ellwood AM, Director, NGV, said: “This exhibition marks the first major partnership between the NGV and the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. By combining our respective portraiture collections and curatorial expertise in this area, we have been able to stage the largest thematic portraiture exhibition in the history of either institution. This presentation will no doubt offer audiences an unprecedented insight into the genre and its place in Australian art history.”

Karen Quinlan AM, Director, National Portrait Gallery, said: “The NPG is thrilled to work with the NGV on this extensive exploration of Australian portraiture. The exhibition comes at a time when, in the current global COVID environment, stories from home, about home, and the artists and identities who have shaped and continue to shape our nation are more compelling and important than ever. It is a privilege to be able to present our collection in conversation with the NGV’s and to explore the idea of Australian identity and its many layers and facets through the lens of portraiture.”

Presented across five thematic sections, the exhibition raises challenging and provocative questions about who we are and how we view others – historically, today and into the future. The exhibition opens by considering the connection between people and place, reflecting on the relationship between artists, sitters and the environment, as well as the personification of the natural world. Highlight works include a conceptual map depicting self and Country by Wawiriya Burton, Ngayaku Ngura (My Country) 2009, as well as the NGV’s recent acquisition Seven Sisters Song 2021 by Kaylene Whiskey, a painted road sign that is filled with personally significant, autobiographical references to pop culture.

A further section explores the artistic tradition of the self-portrait and portraits of artists, as well as how this convention has been subverted or challenged by contemporary artists working today. Works include Hari Ho’s Dadang Christanto 2005, which depicts the artist buried to the neck in sand, referencing the brutal killings of Indonesians in the failed military coup of September 1965, and Alan Constable’s Not titled (Green large format camera) 2013, personifying the act of photography with a hand modelled, ceramic camera.

Ideas of intimacy and alienation are juxtaposed through images of family and community presented alongside those of vulnerability and isolation. Works include Pat Larter’s Marty 1995, a graphic collage depicting a male sex worker, challenging the ease with which society consumes images of female nudity, and Naomi Hobson’s Warrior without a weapon 2019, a photographic series in which the artist challenges stereotypes about Indigenous men from her home community in Coen, by using flowers as a metaphor for male vulnerability.

The exhibition also explores portraiture’s surprising capacity to reveal the inner worlds and mindsets of both the sitter and the artist, as exemplified by Eric Thake’s satirical vignettes of figures in dream-like settings, and Hoda Afshar’s Remain 2018, a video exploring Australia’s controversial border protection policy and the human rights of those seeking asylum.

The final section of the exhibition interrogates Australian icons, identities and how we construct them. Works featured in this section include Michael Riley’s Maria 1986 and Polly Borland’s HM Queen Elizabeth II 2002, two works displayed side by side, drawing connections between archetypal imagery of royalty, with negative renderings of ‘otherness’ found in historical ethnographic portraiture.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is presented by the NGV and the National Portrait Gallery and will be on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Fed Square from 25 March to 21 August 2022 and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra from 1 October 2022 to 29 January 2023.

WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture is generously supported by Major Partner, Deakin University.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria International

 

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

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

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne showing at centre left, Bert Flugelman’s self portrait (1985, below). The legend of the artworks on the wall is below…
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

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

 

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

 

Bert Flugelman (Australian born Austria, 1923-2013, Australia from 1938) 'Self portrait' c. 1985

 

Bert Flugelman (Australian born Austria, 1923-2013, Australia from 1938)
Self portrait
c. 1985
Stainless steel
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2009
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Bert Flugelman/Copyright Agency, 2022

 

 

Herbert ‘Bert’ Flugelman, sculptor, painter and lecturer, came to Australia from his native Vienna in 1938, aged fifteen. In the late 1940s he trained at the National Art School; he travelled and studied overseas through the first half of the 1950s. In 1967 he won first prize at the Mildura Sculpture Triennial with a large cast-iron equestrian piece. His subsequent public commissions include the untitled copper and ceramic mosaic fountain at Bruce Hall at the Australian National University; Spheres 1977 (known locally as Bert’s Balls) for the Rundle Street Mall, Adelaide; and the Dobell Memorial 1978 for Martin Place, Sydney. Controversially, Tumbling cubes (Dice) (Untitled) 1978/1979, originally made for Cameron Offices in Belconnen ACT, was some years ago moved to a nearby park, according to the artist a ‘hopelessly inappropriate site’. Cones 1982 dominates the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia, and the Winged figure (Lawrence Hargrave memorial) 1988 towers 6m high at Mt Keira, near Wollongong. Flugelman taught from 1973 to 1983 at the South Australian School of Art, and from 1984 to 1990 at the University of Wollongong, from which he received an honorary doctorate. There was a retrospective exhibition of his five decades’ work at the Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University in 2009.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 - Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971) 'Self portrait in reflection' 1973 (installation view)

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 – Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971)
Self portrait in reflection (installation view)
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 - Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971) 'Self portrait in reflection' 1973

 

Lewis Morley (Hong Kong 125 – Australia 2013, England 1945-1971, Australia from 1971)
Self portrait in reflection
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Lewis Morley Archive LLC

 

 

Lewis Morley OAM (1925-2013), photographer, was born in Hong Kong and went to the United Kingdom with his family at the end of World War 2. He studied commercial art in London and spent time in Paris before taking up photography in 1954, initially working for magazines like Tatler, London Life and She. In 1961, he founded Lewis Morley Studios in Peter Cook’s London club, The Establishment. Here, he built his reputation with photographs of the celebrities that defined the hip spirit of London in the 1960s, among them Cook, Dudley Moore, Charlotte Rampling, Twiggy, Vanessa Redgrave and Jean Shrimpton. In 1963, Morley took one of the world’s most famous photographic portraits – that of Christine Keeler, short-term shared mistress of a British politician and a Soviet diplomat, naked on a Scandinavian chair. By 1971, Morley’s magazine and theatre work in London was petering out, and he emigrated to Australia, where, he said, ‘bingo! there was the sixties all over again’. Shooting increasingly in colour, Morley took many photographs for Dolly, POL, Belle and other publications that now afford an evocative record of changing Australian culture through the 1970s and 1980s. Many of Morley’s portraits from this era were shown in the National Portrait Gallery’s retrospective exhibition Lewis Morley: Myself and Eye in 2003. His work was also the subject of a major exhibitions staged by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 1989-1990; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2006.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003) 'Albert Namatjira' 1958 (installation view)

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003)
Albert Namatjira (installation view)
1958
Oil on canvas laid on composition board
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds donated by Marilyn Darling AC and the assistance of Philip Bacon Galleries 2000
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Albert Namatjira was a descendant of the Western Arrant people of the Northern Territory. Inspired by the spectacular landforms and vivid colours around his home at the Hermannsuburg Mission in the 1930s, Namatjira fused Western-influenced style of watercolour with unique expressions of traditional sites and sacred knowledge. Sir William Dargie CBE described Namatjira as having ‘tremendous inner dignity’ and within this portrait, he located Namatjira in his country in the MacDonnell Ranges. Holding one of his own landscapes, the portrait represents the intrinsic connection between the artist’s painting and identity. Namatjira was, and still is, an important presence in Australian art and a leading figure in the development of Aboriginal rights.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003) 'Albert Namatjira' 1958 (installation view detail)

 

William Dargie (Australian, 1912-2003)
Albert Namatjira (installation view detail)
1958
Oil on canvas laid on composition board
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds donated by Marilyn Darling AC and the assistance of Philip Bacon Galleries 2000
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003) 'Sharpies, Melbourne' 1973

 

Rennie Ellis (Australian, 1940-2003)
Sharpies, Melbourne
1973, printed c. 1977-1978
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2006

 

 

‘Rather than capturing the subjects unawares I have encouraged them to pause, and even pose, from the camera. In this way they have an opportunity to communicate directly with me and to project whatever image they believe suits them best.’ ~ Rennie Ellis

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Hera Roberts' 1936 (installation view)

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hera Roberts (installation view)
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 cm x 21.4cm
Gift of Rex Dupain 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992) 'Hera Roberts' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Hera Roberts
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 cm x 21.4cm
Gift of Rex Dupain 2003
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Hera Roberts (life dates unknown) was a painter, illustrator, designer, commercial artist and milliner. During the 1920s and 30s she produced many covers for the Home magazine, and arranged photo spreads for the magazine promoting fashionable interiors and furniture. She designed a complete room for the Burdekin House exhibition of 1929, including furniture, and also designed furniture for her companion Sydney Ure Smith. Roberts was regarded as an authoritative commentator on matters of style. She was the student and cousin of the artist Thea Proctor, who was also part of the network of ‘lady artists’ who were able to make their careers in interior decorating and taste arbitration. Co-owner of a millinery shop in Pitt Street called ‘June’, Roberts was also one of the finest female fencers in the Southern Hemisphere, operating out of the Sydney Swords Club.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra website Nd [Online] Cited 23/06/2022

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, 1967-2017) 'Self-portrait, 'I am the Dingo Spirit'' 2015 (installation view)

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, 1967-2017)
Self-portrait, ‘I am the Dingo Spirit’ (installation view)
2015
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Trevor Turbo Brown, or ‘Turbo’ as he was known, was born in Mildura and grew up on Latje Latje Country. In 1981, Turbo moved to Melbourne were he became a celebrity in the Koori community. He trained as a boxer at the Fitzroy Stars Gym from 1986 to 1991 and would do breakdance street performances throughout Melbourne during the 1980s and 1990s. It was here that he got his nickname. Turbo was a regular character on the streets of Brunswick before he passed away in 2017. In this self-portrait Turbo impinges himself as a dingo, wild and free in the night.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, b. 1967) Self-portrait, 'I am the Dingo Spirit' 2015

 

Trevor Turbo Brown (Australian / Latje Latje, b. 1967)
Self-portrait, ‘I am the Dingo Spirit’
2015
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
122.3 x 102.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Vince Sinni in memory of Trevor Turbo Brown through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2018
© the artist’s estate

 

John Brack. 'Self-portrait' 1955

 

John Brack (Australian, 1920-1999)
Self-portrait
1955
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the National Gallery Women’s Association, 2000

 

 

John Brack created images that explore the social rituals and realities of everyday living. Rendered in a subtle but complex colour scheme, with its subject stripped of vanity and dressed in early-morning attire, Self-portrait is a piercing study of a man engaged in the intimacy of shaving. Although images of women at their toilette have been recently depicted by both male and female Australian artists, it is unusual for men to be shown or to show themselves in this context.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

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

 

Installation view of the exhibition WHO ARE YOU: Australian Portraiture at NGV Australia, Federation Square, Melbourne with second from left, Michael Cook’s Tunnel No. 2 (2014, below); at third from left, Ron Mueck’s Two Women (2005, below)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968) 'Tunnel No. 2' 2014 (installation view)

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968)
Tunnel No. 2 (installation view)
2014
From the series Majority Rule
Inkjet print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Ybonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

‘In Majority Rule I created staged scenarios that question Australian history and the dominance of those in power. The series features the same anonymous Indigenous Man, multiplied over and over in each image. Australia’s Indigenous population comprises around three or four percent of our total population. My images seek to defy this reality and ask the viewer to speculate about an Australia where Aboriginal people constitute the majority of the country’s population; they paint a picture of a societal structure reversed … The works also serve as reminders fo the lack of Indigenous representation within Parliament, the judicial system and the business world.’ ~ Michael Cook, 2017

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968) 'Tunnel No. 2' 2014

 

Michael Cook (Australian / Bidjara, b. 1968)
Tunnel No. 2
2014
From the series Majority Rule
Inkjet print
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Ybonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Ron Mueck. 'Two woman' 2005

 

Ron Mueck (Australian born England, b. 1958)
Two women
2005
Polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, polyurethane, aluminium, wire, steel, cotton, nylon, synthetic hair, plastic, metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2007