Posts Tagged ‘Abstract Expressionism

11
Apr
17

Exhibition: ‘Cy Twombly’ at the Centre Pompidou, Paris

Exhibition dates: 30th November 2016 – 24th April 2017

 

This posting is for a friend who is a great Twombly fan.

Of the installation photograph of the series Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963, below) he observes:

“Quite an amazing installation… who would have thought #6 being placed there.
The text(?) which replaces the position of the “main” elements in #4, #5 sets the position of #6 – what a choice!
And it all had to be on one wall apparently – it looks tight, yet it is a success.”

It would take years to understand the intricacies of Twombly’s work, but the main archetypes that we can all interpret are there: themes such as love, war, death and night.

“Roland Barthes famously wrote of Twombly: ‘His work is based not upon concept (the trace) but rather upon an activity (tracing)’. In Twombly’s graphic art, the trace is the record of a gesture. Barthes again: ‘line is action become visible’. Like Olson, Twombly connects heart to line via the body.”

This is a visceral art of smudges, smears, and inscriptions. It is art that tells a story, an art that emotes? evokes deep inward feelings while challenging the intellect.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Centre Pompidou for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“To explore Twombly’s work with the eyes and the lips is therefore to continuously dash the expectations inspired by ‘what it looks like’.”

.
Roland Barthes in Yvon Lambert, ed., ‘Cy Twombly: Catalogue raisonné des oeuvres sur papier’ (Multhipla Edizioni, Milan, 1979) Éditions du Seuil, 1995

 

“My line is childlike but not childish. It is very difficult to fake… to get that quality you need to project yourself into the child’s line. It has to be felt.”

.
Cy Twombly

 

“Each line now is the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate – it is the sensation of its own realisation. The imagery is one of the private or separate indulgences rather than an abstract totality of visual perception.”

.
Cy Twombly, ‘L’Esperienza moderna’, no. 2 (1957)

 

 

“The Centre Pompidou is presenting a major retrospective of the work of American artist Cy Twombly. A key event of the fall 2016, this exceptionally vast exhibition will only be shown in Paris, and will feature remarkable loans from private and public collections from all over the world.

Organized around three major cycles – Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), Fifty Days at Iliam (1978) and Coronation of Sesostris (2000) – this retrospective covers the artist’s entire career in a chronological circuit of some 140 paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs, providing a clear picture of an extraordinarily rich body of work which is both intellectual and sensual. The selection includes many of Twombly’s iconic works, several of them never previously exhibited in France.

Born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia, Cy Twombly died in 2011 at the age of 83 in Rome, where he spent a large part of his life. Unanimously acclaimed as one of the greatest painters of the second half of the 20th century, Twombly, who began dividing his life between Italy and America in the late Fifties, merged the legacy of American abstract expressionism with the origins of Mediterranean culture. From his first works in the early Fifties (marked by the so-called primitive arts, graffiti and writing) to his last paintings with their exuberant colour schemes, by way of the highly carnal compositions of the early Sixties and his response to minimalist and conceptual art during the Seventies, this retrospective emphasises the importance of cycles and series for Twombly, in which he reinvented great history painting. The exhibition is also the occasion to highlight the artist’s close relationship with Paris. The Centre Pompidou had devoted a first substantial retrospective to him as early as 1988.”

Press release from the Centre Pompidou

 

“The exhibition is deployed around three Cycles: Nine Discourses on Commodus, 1963, Fifty Days at Iliam, 1978, and Coronation of Sesostris, 2000. Each of them reinterprets an antique tradition by addressing themes such as love, war, death and night. Next to these exceptional series are exhibited magnificent works in which the artist confronts abstraction and figuration while exploring psychoanalysis, primitivism, writing and painting. The works incorporate names of gods, lyric heroes of Homer and Virgil and confirms his fascination for Classical authors, cosmogony, Greece, Rome and Egypt. Mysterious, obscene, crude, this exhibition confirms that Twombly was one the most original and unexpected of artists of the twentieth century.”

Mercedes Lambarri
Cataloguer, Contemporary art

 

Cy Twombly. 'Still Life, Black Mountain College I' 1951

Cy Twombly. 'Still Life, Black Mountain College II' 1951

Cy Twombly. 'Still Life, Black Mountain College III' 1951

 

Cy Twombly
Still Life, Black Mountain College
1951
Dry print on cardboard
43,1 x 27.9 cm
Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio collection
© Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly 'Untitled (Lexington)' 1951

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Lexington)
1951
Oil-based house paint on canvas
101.6 x 121.9 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Volublis' 1953

 

Cy Twombly
Volubilis
1953
White lead pencil, oil-based house paint, wax crayon on canvas
139.7 x 193 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation, on deposit at the Menil Collection, Houston
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy The Menil Collection

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) III' 1957

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) IV' 1957

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) V' 1957

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) VI' 1957

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) VII' 1957

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Grottaferrata) (No’s 3-7)
1957
Wax crayon and lead pencil on squared paper
7 drawings: 21,6 x 29,9 cm (each)
Private Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, St.

 

 

“Resisting the term ‘graffiti’ (‘naughty or aggressive’ protest) that is often applied to his work, Twombly says that, ‘it’s more lyrical … in the totality of the painting, feeling and content are more complicated, or more elaborate than say just graffiti.’ Barthes suggests that Twombly’s impossible calligraphy invokes ‘what one might call writing’s field of allusions’ – a cultural field as well as feeling and content; a long way from a fine hand. His writing is also epigraphic, in the double sense of alluding to the object or surface on which it is written, and requiring to be deciphered like an ancient inscription. Twombly’s illegible scrawls and polyglot, non-standardised capitals, his interweaving of phrases from high modernist European poets and names from the Graeco-Roman tradition, evoke the longue durée of a commemorative culture that reaches back to Egypt and beyond: cult as well as culture.”

Mary Jacobus. “Time-Lines: Rilke and Twombly on the Nile,” in Tate Papers no. 10

 

Cy Twombly. 'Sperlonga Collage' 1959

 

Cy Twombly
Sperlonga Collage
1959
Pieces of semi-transparent cristal paper, oil-based house paint on paper
85 x 62 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

 

ROOM 1

The 1950s saw Twombly evidence a precocious maturity. After leaving Black Mountain College – the experimental liberal arts college in North Carolina where he encountered the crème de la crème of the US avant-garde – the 24-year-old painter from Lexington, Virginia, set off on a trip to Europe and North Africa in the company of Robert Rauschenberg. On returning to New York in late spring 1953, he produced his first major works, the sounds of their titles recalling villages and archaeological sites of Morocco. These were followed by white canvases covered in script – Twombly disliked the term “graffiti” employed by many of the critics – and its suggestion of triviality. The masterpiece of the decade is undoubtedly the series of white paintings done at Lexington in 1959, which Leo Castelli however refused to show. The austerity of their pictorial language makes outstanding works, economy of means being pushed to an extreme in the combination of white house paint and pencil.

ROOM 2

In the summer of 1957, Cy Twombly returned to Italy to visit his friend Betty Stokes, who was married to Venetian aristocrat Alvise Di Robilant and had just given birth to their first child. The Robilants were then living at Grottaferrata, where Twombly took several photographs of Betty. During his stay, he also made a series of eight wax crayons drawings, which he presented to her. One of these has since been separated from the group, leaving only seven, outstanding in their vigorous hand and lively colour.

 

Cy Twombly. 'School of Athens' 1961

 

Cy Twombly
School of Athens
1961
Oil, oil-based house paint, coloured pencil and lead pencil on canvas, 190,3 x 200,5 cm
Private Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus' 1962

 

Cy Twombly
Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus
1962
259 x 302 cm
Oil, lead pencil on canvas
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Describing space in Twombly’s work, Barthes uses the term ‘rare’ (Latin, rarus): ‘that which has gaps or interstices, sparse, porous, scattered’.

 

Cy Twombly. 'The Vengeance of Achilles' 1962

 

Cy Twombly
The Vengeance of Achilles
1962
Oil, lead pencil on canvas
300 x 175 cm
Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich

 

Roland Barthes famously wrote of Twombly: ‘His work is based not upon concept (the trace) but rather upon an activity (tracing)’. In Twombly’s graphic art, the trace is the record of a gesture. Barthes again: ‘line is action become visible’. Like Olson, Twombly connects heart to line via the body.

 

Cy Twombly. View of the series 'Nine Discourses on Commodus' 1963

 

Cy Twombly
View of the series Nine Discourses on Commodus
1963
Guggenheim Bilbao Museo, Bilbao
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

 

ROOM 4

After Twombly’s marriage to Italian aristocrat Luisa Tatiana Franchetti, celebrated in New York on 20 April 1959, the couple settled in Rome, living in a palazzo on the Via di Monserrato, in a quarter known for its intellectual life. Twombly had just given up using his fluid and viscous house paint for oil paint in tubes with precisely the opposite properties. Between 1960 and 1962 he produced some of his most sexual paintings, Empire of Flora being an evocative example. Partial glimpses of body parts, male and female, are scattered over canvases that seem to preserve the sensual memory of hot Roman nights.

ROOM 5

In late 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Cy Twombly devoted a cycle of nine paintings to the Roman emperor Commodus (161-192), son of Marcus Aurelius and remembered as a cruel and bloodthirsty ruler. In these he conveys the climate of violence that prevailed during his reign, marked by executions and terror. Shown at Leo Castelli’s in New York in the spring of 1964, the paintings were roundly condemned by the critics. Won to the newly emergent Minimalism, the New York public was unable to grasp Twombly’s painterly gifts and his ability to render on canvas the complex psychological phases informing the life and death of the emperor. At the close of the exhibition, Twombly recovered the paintings, which would be sold to an Italian industrialist before being acquired in 2007 by the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.

ROOM6

Having painted a series under the sign of Eros in the very early part of the decade, in 1962 Twombly turned to Thanatos, death, a theme that finds paroxysmal expression in his first two meditations on the Trojan War, Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus and Vengeance of Achilles. In these two paintings, brought together for this exhibition, Twombly gives form to Achilles’ sorrow and fury on the death of his friend. The Ilium triptych, for its part, was broken up at an unknown date, the first panel joining the Eli and Edythe Broad collection in Los Angeles. In the early 2000s, Twombly painted a new version of that panel to recreate the triptych, then owned by collector François Pinault.

 

Cy Twombly. 'Alessandro Twombly' 1965

 

Cy Twombly
Alessandro Twombly
1965
Dry print on cardboard
43.2 x 28 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Night Watch' 1966

 

Cy Twombly
Night Watch
1966
Oil-based house paint, wax crayon on canvas
190 x 200 cm
Private Collection
Courtesy Jeffrey Hoffeld Fine Arts, Inc.
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Cheim & Read

 

Cy Twombly. 'Pan' 1975

 

Cy Twombly
Pan
1975
Oil pastel and collage on paper
148 x 100 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives
Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Apollo' 1975

 

Cy Twombly
Apollo
1975
Oil pastel and lead pencil on paper
150 x 134 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy
Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Venus' 1975

 

Cy Twombly
Venus
1975
Oil Pastel, lead pencil and collage on paper
150 x 137 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola
Del Roscio

 

 

Walter Benjamin’s 1917 essay, ‘Painting, or Signs and Marks’, argues that, ‘The graphic line is defined by its contrast to area’ as opposed to the mark (‘Mal’) and painting (‘Malerei’): ‘the realm of the mark is a medium.’ His distinction between line and mark, drawing and painting, is especially hard to maintain in relation to Cy Twombly: the scribbled pencilling, the smudges and smears, are the marks of an affective body used as a writing instrument. Where Benjamin speaks proleptically to Twombly is in the decisive role he gives to writing, inscription, and naming, along with the spatial marks on monuments and gravestones. ‘[T]he linguistic word’, he writes, ‘lodges in the medium of the language of painting.’ With its collage of quotations, inscriptions, and names, Twombly’s entire oeuvre could be read as a retrospective commentary on this early Benjamin essay.

Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol.1, 19131926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996, pp.84-5 quoted in Mary Jacobus. “Time-Lines: Rilke and Twombly on the Nile,” in Tate Papers no. 10

 

Cy Twombly. 'Fifty Days at Iliam Shield of Achilles (Part 1)' 1978

 

Cy Twombly
Fifty Days at Iliam Shield of Achilles (Part I)
1978
Oil, oil stick, lead pencil on canvas
191.8 x 170.2 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, gift (by exchange) of Samuel S.White 3rd and Vera White 1989-90-1
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphie

 

Cy Twombly. 'Fifty Days at Iliam Shades of Achilles, Patroclus and Hector (Part VI)' 1978

 

Cy Twombly
Fifty Days at Iliam Shades of Achilles, Patroclus and Hector (Part VI)
1978
Oil, Oil Pencil, lead pencil on canvas
299.7 x 491.5 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphie, gift (by exchange) of Samuel S.White 3rd and Vera White, 1989-90-6
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphie

 

 

ROOM 9

Reacting to the Minimalism and Conceptualism that emerged in the United States in the 1960s, in 1966 Twombly, then living in Rome, embarked on a new series of remarkably austere paintings, with backgrounds of grey or black inscribed with simple forms or script-like loops in white wax crayon. He showed these at the Galleria Notizie, Turin, in early 1967. In the autumn, Leo Castelli in New York exhibited a second series, painted in January in a Canal Street loft made available to the painter by curator and collector David Whitney. Among the works shown was Untitled (New York City) (1967, cat. No. 75), which Twombly would later exchange with Andy Warhol for one of his Tuna Fish Disasters.

ROOM 11

Twombly’s sculptures might be described as “assemblages” or “hybridisations”, in that they consist of disparate elements. These combinations of found materials (pieces of wood, electrical plugs, cardboard boxes, scraps of metal, dried or artificial flowers) are unified by a thin coat of plaster. The white in which they are roughly painted catches the light, bringing out subtle nuances in the surface and giving them a spectral appearance. As Twombly explained in an interview with art critic David Sylvester, “White paint is my marble”. Sometimes later cast in bronze, these sculptures suggest myths, symbolic objects, archaeological finds, as in Winter’s Passage Luxor (Porto Ercole) (1985). “Cy Twombly’s sculpture,” wrote Edmund de Waal, “seems more archaic than archaizing, as if the impulse behind its creation were ancient itself.”

ROOM 12

In 1975, Cy Twombly bought a 16th-century house at Bassano in Teverina, north of Rome, and after basic renovations he established his summer studio there. Inspired by Homer’s Iliad, read in Alexander Pope’s 18th-century English translation, he embarked in 1977 on the major cycle “Fifty Days at Iliam,” whose ten paintings were completed over two successive summers. In the word “Ilium”, one of the ancient names for Troy, Twombly replaced the U with an A, preferring the sound. For him, the letter A evoked Achilles, the Greek hero to whom he had devoted two paintings in 1962. After being shown in 1978 at the Lone Star Foundation (now Dia Art Foundation) in New York, the work remained boxed up for 10 years, to be seen again only upon its purchase in 1989 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it is on permanent exhibition in a room devoted to Cy Twombly. This exhibition marks the first time it has been shown in Europe.

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Formia)' 1981

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Formia)
1981
Wood, iron wire, nails, string, white paint
152 x 88.5 x 33.5 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Foundazione
Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Lexington)' 2004

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Lexington)
2004
Wood , screw, rope, scakcloth, plaster, synthetic resin paint
206.5 x 44.5 x 45 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Sammlung Udo and Anette Brandhorst

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Bassano in Teverina)' 1985

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Bassano in Teverina)
1985
Oil, acrylic on wooden panel
181.7 x 181.7 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Wilder Shores of Love' 1985

 

Cy Twombly
Wilder Shores of Love
1985
Oil-based house paint , oil (oil paint stick), coloured pencil, lead pencil on wooden panel
140 x 120 cm
Private Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Summer Madness' 1990

 

Cy Twombly
Summer Madness
1990
Acrylic, oil, coloured pencil, lead
Pencil on paper mounted on wooden panels
150 x 126 cm
Udo and Anette Brandhorst Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Quattro Stagioni: Primavera' 1993-1995

 

Cy Twombly
Quattro Stagioni: Primavera
1993-1995
Acrylic, oil, coloured pencil and et lead pencil on canvas
313.2 x 189.5
Tate, London
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Tate, London 2016

 

 

ROOM 15

“Coronation of Sesostris” is one of the major painting cycles that punctuate Cy Twombly’s career, differing from the purely abstract series in their incorporation of narrative elements. Inspired by the example of the god Râ, whose sun-boat traverses the heavens from dawn to dusk to the end of night, Twombly opens the series with luminous canvasses dominated by sunny yellow and red to close it in black and white with an evocation of Eros from a poem of Sappho’s: “Eros weaver of Myth / Eros, sweet and bitter / Eros, bringer of pain.” Twombly combines fragmentary references to Sesostris I, to ancient Greek poets Sappho and Alcman, and to the contemporary poet Patricia Waters. Begun at Twombly’s house in Bassano, this cycle was completed after the canvases were shipped to Lexington. Sally Mann’s photographs show canvases of different sizes tacked to the walls of the little studio, showing that they were stretched only when finished.

ROOM 17

For the Bacchus series, painted at Twombly’s Gaeta studio in early 2005, in the midst of the Iraq War, the artist remembered again Homer’s Iliad and returned to the very characteristic writing he had explored in the “Black Paintings” of the late 1960s. Here, however, he replaced the white wax crayon with red paint evocative of both blood and wine, allowed to run freely across the vast beige canvases. The first series consisted of eight monumental paintings that were shown in late 2005 at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York. Between 2006 and 2008, Twombly produced another series on the theme of Bacchus, some of these paintings being even larger in format. The two works here are from the first series.

Twombly took up photography at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and never afterwards gave it up. Studying under American photographer Hazel-Frieda Larsen, in 1951 he produced a series of still lifes with bottles and other glass vessels that recall the memory of the work of the Italian painter Giorgio  Morandi. In Morocco in 1953, on his first trans-Atlantic travels, he attentively studied the chairs and draped tablecloths of a Tetouan restaurant. But it was only later, on discovering the square format of the Polaroid, that he discovered his own photographic identity. Reflecting his taste for the blurred, for colours sometimes pastel and sometimes stridently saturated, the dry-printed enlargements evoke a world of contemplation. The photographs evoke the places he lived and his interest in sculpture, flowers and plants. When a friend brought him citrons, Buddha’s hands and other citrus fruits, he captured their sculptural and sensual aspect in a series of Polaroids. Distant from the photographic conventions of the time, Twombly’s images are “succinct and discreet poems.”

 

Cy Twombly 'Lemons (VI)' (Gaète) (detail) 1998

 

Cy Twombly
Lemons (VI) (Gaète) (detail)
1998
Dry print on cardboard
43.1 x 27.9
Fondazione Nicola del Roscio collection
© Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Coronation of Sesostris (Part III)' 2000

 

Cy Twombly
Coronation of Sesostris (Part III)
2000
Acrylic, wax crayon, lead pencil on canvas
206.1 x 136.5 cm
Pinault Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Pinault Collection

 

 

Cy Twombly’s remark that ‘lines have a great effect on painting’ resonates not only with his graphic practice but with his relation to poetry. The importance of the modern German poet Rainer Maria Rilke to Twombly includes the figure of the Orphic poet and their shared interest in the ancient River Nile. Twombly’s Egyptian series, Coronation of Sesostris, 2000, represents a late flowering of his remarkable graphic inventiveness…

Twombly’s ten-part Coronation of Sesostris, 2000, is the culminating synthesis of his ship ideographs and whirling expeditionary chariots: a blazing, triumphal departure that burns itself out on the far side of the Nile. Begun in Gaeta and completed in Virginia, it combines deceptive simplicity with painterly sophistication and poetic adaptation. Twombly calls this multi-media series (drawn, written, painted) one of his favourite sets and ‘very personal’. It incorporates a poem of 1996 by the Southern poet Patricia Waters, not a translation this time, although its title (‘Now is the Drinking’) translates Nunc est bibendum. With a few strokes and deletions, Twombly ‘interprets’ the poem to create his own reticent version:

.
When they leave,
Do you think they hesitate,
Turn and make a farewell sign,
Some gesture of regret?

When they leave,
the music is loudest,
the sun high,

and you, dizzy with wine
befuddled with well-being,
sink into your body
as though it were real,
as if yours to keep.

You neither see their going,
nor hear their silence.

.
Either side of this ambiguous celebration of bodily oblivion, Twombly’s sequence tracks the energetic course of the Pharaonic conquerer, Sesostris II.

Mary Jacobus. “Time-Lines: Rilke and Twombly on the Nile,” in Tate Papers no. 10

 

Cy Twombly. 'Coronation of Sesostris (Part V)' 2000

 

Cy Twombly
Coronation of Sesostris (Part V)
2000
Acrylic, wax crayon, lead pencil on canvas
206.1 x 156.5 cm
Pinault Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Pinault Collection

 

Cy Twombly. 'Coronation of Sesostris (Part VI)' 2000

 

Cy Twombly
Coronation of Sesostris (Part VI)
2000
Acrylic, wax crayon, lead pencil on canvas
203.7 x 155.6 cm
Pinault Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Pinault Collection

 

 

Jonas Storsve: Curator’s point of view

Rich and complex, the work of Cy Twombly, who passed away in 2011, spans a period of some sixty years without ever losing any of its force, even in the very last years of the artist’s life. One of the most productive in recent history, Twombly’s career links the culture of post-war America, dominated artistically by Abstract Expressionism, and the Classical Mediterranean culture that he discovered as a young man and made his own. The artist would remain very close to the world of his birth, that of the Southern United States, better known in Europe for its literature, with William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote and more.

From his childhood and youth in Lexington, Virginia, where he grew up under the attentive eye of his African-American nanny, Lula Bell Watts, he retained the characteristic and sometimes difficult-to-understand accent of the South. The boy’s family environment seems to have stimulated his intellectual curiosity, cultivated his sensibility and encouraged an interest in painting. When in 1952, at the age of 24, he applied for a grant to travel to Europe, he said he wanted “to study the prehistoric cave drawings of Lascaux.” He also planned to view French, Italian and Dutch museums, Gothic and Baroque architecture, and Roman ruins. He also declared himself to be “drawn to the primitive, the ritual and fetishistic elements, to the symmetrical visual order.” Once he had his grant, he invited the artist Robert Rauschenberg, whom he met in New York two years earlier, to accompany him. They took a ship for Naples on 20 August 1952. The rich and original culture that he acquired would nourish his work. His readings were also voyages – Goethe, Homer, Horace, Herodotus, Keats, Mallarmé, Ovid, Rilke, Sappho, Virgil – on which he would draw for his creation. He found inspiration too in less well-known authors, among them Lesley Blanch, Robert Burton, George Gissing and 13th-century Persian poet and mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. This uncommonly refined sensibility found an expressive outlet in his painting.

Yet while Twombly was indeed a highly cultivated and well-read painter, this was only one aspect of his complex personality. The sophistication of his work is accompanied by a constant attention to vernacular realities, visible to varying degrees but always present. Endowed with a rare wit and humour, Twombly could be deliciously irreverent and even dirty-minded when he wanted. In front of his painting Apollo (1963), he remarked laconically to Paul Winkler, who used to be director of the Menil Collection in Houston: “Rachel and I used to love to go dancing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem”. And in a whole series of drawings from 1981-1982, he wrote the phrase “Private Ejaculations”, in the knowledge that in the 17th century it referred to short, intense prayer at regular intervals.

We know today, too, that photography played an important role in Twombly’s work and life. A private, even secretive man, he nonetheless regularly allowed himself to be photographed. Some of the most famous pictures of the artist were taken by Horst P. Horst for Vogue magazine, illustrating an article by Valentine Lawford entitled “Roman Classic Surprise” published in the November 1966 issue. Taken in Twombly’s apartment in the Via Monserrato in Rome, the photographs reveal a dandy living in palatial accommodations. This appearance in Vogue did little to improve his relationship with the United States, at a low ebb since the controversy of the Nine Discourses on Commodus shown at Leo Castelli’s in New York. It was considered too smart and sophisticated: too distant, in brief, from the American idea of an American artist.

Twelve years later, in 1978, Heiner Bastian published the first monograph on Twombly’s painting, for which the artist took care to present himself differently. The cover picture shows him dressed in jeans and pull-over, boots on his feet, sitting on the ground beneath a tree, with sheep close by – an image intended to communicate an idea of an artist close to the earth, living a healthy and simple life. Twombly indeed was probably both, dandy and Roman shepherd.

Sally Mann, a friend from Lexington, often photographed Twombly and his studio toward the end of his life. Thanks to her we have photos that document the development of the Coronation of Sesostris series, which he finished in the city of his birth. Among the most beautiful of the images are those of the studio, empty of work, with just traces of paint on the walls. From some of these ghostly images of a whole phase of Twombly’s work, of his place of work and creation, Mann assembled an album, recently published as Remembered Light.

The Centre Pompidou is staging the first comprehensive retrospective of Cy Twombly’s work in Europe. Unprecedented in scope, bringing together works from public and private collections the whole world over, the exhibition will be shown only in Paris. Organised around three great series – Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), Fifty Days at Iliam (1978) and Coronation of Sesostris (2000) – it offers a chronological survey of the whole of the artist’s career, the 140 paintings, drawings and photographs affording an insight into the complexity of his work as a whole, simultaneously scholarly and sensual. Among the works shown are some of his best-known ones, many never exhibited in France before. Polyphonic in conception, the accompanying catalogue proposes a multiplicity of approaches, with essays on different aspects and periods of Twombly’s career. It also includes reflections and personal impressions by other artists, and accounts of the formation of the two great collections of Twombly’s work – the Brandhorsts’ and Yvon Lambert’s – as well as recollections by his son Alessandro Twombly. The catalogue closes on a lively and joyful portrait of Twombly from the pen of Nicola Del Roscio. Through this varied testimony, readers will discover not only the artist, but also the man, seemingly returned to life before our eyes.”

Jonas Storsve in Code Couleur, no. 26, September – December 2016, pp. 18-23.

 

Cy Twombly. 'Blooming' 2001-2008

 

Cy Twombly
Blooming
2001-2008
Acrylic, wax crayon on 10 wooden panels
250 x 500 cm
Private collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled, (A Gathering of Time)' 2003

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled, (A Gathering of Time)
2003
Acrylic on canvas
215.9 x 267.3 cm
Udo and Anette Brandhorst Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Bacchus)' 2005

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Bacchus)
2005
Acrylic on canvas
317.5 x 417.8 cm
Udo and Anette Brandhorst Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Sans titre' (Gaète) 2007

 

Cy Twombly
Sans titre (Gaète)
2007
Acrylic, wax crayon on wooden panel
252 x 552 cm
Museum Brandhorst, Munich
Udo and Anette Brandhorst Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Camino Real (V)' 2010

 

Cy Twombly
Camino Real (V),
2010
Acrylic on wood panel
252.4 x 185.1 cm
Louis Vuitton Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

Centre Pompidou 
75191 Paris cedex 04
Tel: 00 33 (0)1 44 78 12 33

Opening hours:
Exhibition open every day from 11 am – 9 pm except on Tuesday
Closed on May 1st

Centre Pompidou website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

26
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Rothko to Richter: Mark Making in Abstract Painting from the Collection of Preston H. Haskell’, Class of 1960 at the Princeton University Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 5th October 2014

 

Think about the big 4 colours:  Red Green Blue Yellow – and then there are the browns, the purples, magenta, cyan etc etc… Then have a look at the Gerhard Richter (Abstract Painting (613-3), 1986 below) in that light. A great colourist – but very reliant on the big four. Now compare him to Helen Frankenthaler (Belfry, 1979 below) – with this artist it’s a sort of a green, a sort of a red. And she used that palette in her watercolours as well.

They are both certainly aware of the presence of something else. I don’t know if Helen Frankenthaler would say that, and Gerhard Richter certainly wouldn’t, but there is an energy that is not human in the work of both of these artists. My benchmark in photography has always been the first Paul Caponigro exhibition which was called “In the presence of …” : hardly the vibrancy or the zietgeist of R and F, but he had it right in front of his camera.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Princeton University Art Museum for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Frank Stella. 'Double Scramble' 1978

 

Frank Stella
Double Scramble
1978
Oil on canvas
174.9 x 350.5 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Josef Albers. 'Study for Homage to the Square' 1964

 

Josef Albers
Study for Homage 
to the Square
1964
Oil on paper
30.8 x 33.3 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Study for Homage to the Square reveals a great deal about the series that has done more than any other to establish Josef Albers’s reputation in the United States. More than one thousand Homages to the Square exist, some paintings, others prints. Launched in 1950, the series forecasts many of the key concerns of the 1960s, including seriality and repetition. In its predilection for regular shapes and methodical compositions, as well as spatial and chromatic illusionism, Homage to the Square also lays the foundation for that decade’s romance with geometric abstraction. Importantly, Homages to the Square are rooted in interwar Constructivism. Albers spent more than ten years at the Bauhaus, from 1920 to 1933, experimenting with glass, typography, furniture design, photography, printmaking, and painting. There he was weaned on the insights of artists like Piet Mondrian and fellow teachers Laslo Moholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius. Albers also played an important role in transmitting European modernism to a younger generation of American artists, first at Black Mountain College, where he taught between 1933 and 1949, and then at Yale, where he was an instructor from 1950 to 1958.1

Each work in the Homage to the Square series conforms to one of four formats, all based on nested squares. What distinguishes one format from another is the mathematical ratio governing the intervals between the squares.2 Within this standardized program, however, Albers extracts incredible variety. The squares are rendered in a range of hues that vary in their degree of brightness and saturation, creating “optical reversals” that cause some squares to project and others to recede. Albers once described the Homage to the Square series as a stage on which color might “act.”3 While individual works experiment with different “color climates,” the cycle in its entirety explores the “relational” character of color.4 Color, Albers believed, is one of the most mutable, contingent, even deceptive phenomena in the world: any one color is invariably affected by the colors around it, altering its identity and manipulating perception in the process.5 What we see is never what we see in the Homage to the Square cycle. The paint handling in Study is much looser than in other works from the series, whose smooth, fastidious surfaces are free of what Albers called “hand-writing,” by which he meant texture, impasto, and visual incident.6 However, the very informality of this smaller piece underscores an often overlooked feature of the series as a whole: the gentle, imprecise edges separating one square from another. In finessing the boundaries between shapes, Albers also finessed the boundaries between colors, investing his works with maximum visual intensity. KB

 

1 Richard Anuszkiewicz studied with Albers at Yale between 1953 and 1955.

2 See Werner Spies, Josef Albers (New York: Abrams, 1970), pp. 48-50.

3 See Sewell Sillman, Josef Albers: Paintings, Prints, Projects (New York: Clarke and Way / Associates in Fine Arts, 1956), p. 36.

4 See Spies, Josef Albers, 44. In 1963, Albers published the important Interaction of Color.

5 In this respect, Albers sought to exploit the “discrepancy” between “physical fact” and “psychic effect.” See Hal Foster, “The Bauhaus Idea in America,” in Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, ed. Achim Borchardt-Hume (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 99.

6 Kynaston L. McShine, Josef Albers: Homage to the Square (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1964), n.p. In the same publication, Albers describes his painting technique, which involved applying paint directly from the tube with a palette knife in one thin, even coat to create a “homogenous” “paint film.”

 

Robert Motherwell. 'Untitled (red)' 1972

 

Robert Motherwell
Untitled (red)
1972
Acrylic on canvas
182.6 x 137.3 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Willem de Kooning. 'Untitled (Woman)' 1965

 

Willem de Kooning
Untitled (Woman)
1965
Oil on paper
73.7 x 58.4 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Willem de Kooning. 'Untitled (Woman)' (detail) 1965

 

Willem de Kooning
Untitled (Woman) 
(detail)
1965
Oil on paper
73.7 x 58.4 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Woman II and Untitled (Woman) attest to de Kooning’s pursuit of fluidity and irresolution. Over the course of the 1960s, he altered his materials so as to facilitate his protracted editing process and increase the speed, vitality, and fluency of his brushwork – smooth supports reduced drag while safflower oil and kerosene slowed the drying time of his paints. As de Kooning said in 1960, “I was never interested . . . [in] how to make a good,” as in a perfect, finished “painting.” “I didn’t want to pin it down at all.”

 

Helen Frankenthaler. 'February's Turn' 1979

 

Helen Frankenthaler
February’s Turn
1979
Oil on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Helen Frankenthaler. 'Belfry' 1979

 

Helen Frankenthaler
Belfry
1979
Acrylic on canvas
208.4 x 219.7 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

An intriguing paradox lies at the heart of Helen Frankenthaler’s work. In 1952 the artist started to create paintings that were gestural in appearance but not in fact. Thanks to a novel technique called staining, in which paint is poured onto canvas, Frankenthaler made marks that mimicked the sweeping strokes of Abstract Expressionism but indexed neither her hand nor her distinctive personality. Insofar as she minimized the role of will, choice, and subjectivity, Frankenthaler heralded a paradigm shift in postwar painting, breaking with Abstract Expressionism and planting a wedge between gesture and hand, art and artist. Frankenthaler’s technique, which evolved over time to include implements as unconventional as rags, mops, basters, sponges, squeegees, and windshield wipers,1 also has bearing on the equally paradoxical space of her paintings. In one respect, Frankenthaler strove to acknowledge, through the very act of painting, the feature that distinguishes painting from every other medium – flatness.2 This she did by thinning her paint and applying it to unprimed canvas, allowing the paint to penetrate the fabric. What results is not only a flat surface that reiterates the flat support on which it resides but also an image that is identified exactly with its ground. At the same time,

Frankenthaler’s work generates undoubtedly atmospheric effects. As the artist said in 1971, “Pictures are flat and part of the nuance and often the beauty or the drama that makes a work, or gives it life … is that it presents such an ambiguous situation of an undeniably flat surface, but on it and within it an intense play and drama of space, movements, light, illusion, [and] different perspectives.”3 Belfry and February’s Turn, both from the midpoint of Frankenthaler’s career, rely on just such an ambiguous sensation of space and depth. In their case, however, this ambiguity is exacerbated by the intrusion of marks that contradict the illusion of “aerated” flatness.4 Take the anomalous, almost gratuitous brushstroke in the center right of Belfry, for instance, or the beige clump and the area of black impasto in February’s Turn, all of which lie obstinately on the surface of otherwise dyed canvases.

These marks very clearly qualify as painterly touches. As such, they introduce a degree of materiality to Frankenthaler’s mostly disembodied paintings and recall traditional Abstract Expressionism. Belfry and February’s Turn likewise exemplify a theme that concerned Frankenthaler from the very beginning of her career: landscape. Although abstract, these paintings evoke, through format, palette, and composition, the environments in which the artist lived and traveled, including the waterfront property she bought in Connecticut in 1978 and the arid, sunburned deserts of Arizona, which she visited in 1976 and 1977. KB

 

1 Susan Cross, “The Emergence of a Painter,” After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956-1959 (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1998), p. 41.

2 See, for instance, Clement Greenberg’s, “Modernist Painting [1960-65],” in Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 754-60.

3 Cindy Nemser, “Interview with Helen Frankenthaler,” Arts Magazine 46 (November 1971), p. 54.

4 John Elderfield, Frankenthaler (New York: Abrams, 1989), 66, 255. See also E. A. Carmean, “On Five Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler,” Art International 22, No. 4 (1978): pp. 28-32; and Karen Wilkin, Frankenthaler: The Darker Palette (Savannah, GA: Savannah College of Art and Design), 1998.

 

Paul Caponigro. 'Monument Valley, Utah' 1970

 

Paul Caponigro
Monument Valley, Utah
1970
From Portfolio II
Gelatin silver print

 

Paul Caponigro. 'Rock Wall, Connecticut' 1959

 

Paul Caponigro
Rock Wall, Connecticut
1959
Gelatin silver print

 

Gerhard Richter. 'Abstract Painting (613-3) 1986

 

Gerhard Richter
Abstract Painting (613-3)
1986
Oil on canvas
260.7 x 203 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Few artists have tackled the subject of painting with more self-consciousness, with greater sensitivity to the history, dilemmas, and possibilities of the medium, than Gerhard Richter. For the last five decades, Richter has explored the very nature of painting with and in paint, making his an especially reflexive enterprise. In many ways, contradiction defines his prolific body of work, as does diversity, whether of mode, style, technique, or content. A student of two very different art academies, one in Dresden and the other in Düsseldorf, where he trained with Joseph Beuys, Richter was weaned on Eastern European Social Realism as well as Western Pop and Fluxus. His earliest mature canvases, from the early 1960s, consist of blurry renditions of mostly ready-made photographs representing subjects both banal and chilling, from automobiles and Nazi officials to military aircraft and aerial cityscapes. By 1966, Richter had begun to experiment with abstraction. To this day, he still alternates between objective and nonobjective painting.

The groundwork for pieces like Abstract Painting (613-3) was laid in the early 1970s, when Richter began a series of nonrepresentational paintings based on photographic enlargements of brushstrokes.1 Because they depict, in a highly illusionistic manner, reproductions of otherwise abstract marks, such paintings confuse the handmade and the technological, the original and the copy. Richter continued to duplicate brushstrokes until 1980, when he started to make actual abstract paintings, albeit in unconventional ways.2 Abstract Painting (613-3) exemplifies the technique for which Richter is recognized today, one in which editing, subtraction, and cancellation play crucial roles.3 Here as elsewhere, the artist fleshed out a preliminary composition with ordinary brushes. As it was drying, he covered the hard edge of a squeegee with paint and dragged it across the surface of the canvas, an action that blended some layers but removed others, thereby revealing what was previously concealed.4 The resulting works are tapestries of abrasions and palimpsests, heterogeneous fields of visual incident. Discontinuity is particularly evident in Abstract Painting (613-3), due to variations in the directionality of paint, the combination of cool and warm hues, and the presence of a vertical seam near the middle of the canvas. To the extent that it cedes some control to chance and introduces the specter of mechanicity, Richter’s process “muffles singular signs of personal expression”5 and trades existential drama for moderation, unlike the gestural, virtuosic canvases his paintings superficially resemble. As with many of his abstractions after 1980, Abstract Painting (613-3)’s palette is bright and sumptuous in appearance but not necessarily in tone.6 For Richter, color does not signify “happiness,” he once said, but instead a “tense” or “artificial” “cheeriness” associated with “gritted teeth.”7 KB

 

1 See Robert Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002), 53, pp. 68-69.

2 These new abstractions coincided with a revival of Expressionism, called Neo-Expressionism, in the United States and Europe, a tradition from which Richter felt alienated and to which his works stand in pointed contrast. See “MoMA Interview with Robert Storr, 2002,” in Gerhard Richter: Writings, 1961-2007, ed. Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (New York: D.A.P., 2009), p. 428.

3 See ibid., pp. 71–74.

4 Richter’s squeegees are essentially long pieces of rectangular plastic, often as wide as his canvases, to which handles are attached. While abrading a surface with the squeegee, Richter will sometimes use a brush or a knife to further blend and scrape. See Gerhard Richter Painting, directed by Corinna Belz (Berlin: Zero One Film, 2011), dvd.

5 Hal Foster, “Semblance According to Gerhard Richter,” Raritan 22 (Winter 2003): 160. See also Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter: Abstract Paintings 2009 (Cologne: Walther Kônig, 2009), 89, 95. Richter does not always agree with this reading of his work. See “Interview with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, 1986,” in Gerhard Richter: Writings, p. 180.

6 The stringent quality of this and other abstractions by Richter is due as much to his predilection for bright, sharply contrasting colors as it is to his avoidance of earth tones.

7 See “Interview with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, 2004,” p. 489.

 

Gerhard Richter. 'Abstract Painting (613-3)' 1986 (detail)

 

Gerhard Richter
Abstract Painting (613-3) (detail)
1986
Oil on canvas
260.7 x 203 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Extract from MARK, MAKER, METHOD by Kelly Baum

The paintings in Rothko to Richter narrate a history of postwar art whose greatest points of tension and most important moments of breakthrough revolve around facture, from the Latin facere, meaning “to make.”3 Together they demonstrate a fundamental fact: when painting’s prerogatives change, so too do its procedures. Focusing on select works from the Haskell Collection, this essay explores the nature of marks and mark-making in abstract painting after World War II. In the case of the artists seen here, mark-making was an activity of incredible consequence. The success or failure of any one painting might rest on something as elementary as the choice between oil paint and acrylic paint or a brush and a palette knife. It might depend on the difference between staining and smearing, between choppy strokes and fluid swipes, or between painting dry-on-dry and wet-on-wet.

With this in mind, my essay examines how and what marks signify within a single artist’s work as well as in postwar painting as a whole. How do shifts in the way marks are made signal broader shifts in artistic practice? What are the different, often competing logics of mark-making at any given moment? How do marks reflect or, alternately, disavow the impact of mass media, technology, and photomechanical reproduction in the mid- to late twentieth century? Such an investigation is premised on a particular understanding of the word “mark.” First and foremost, “mark” is a product as well as a process – more specifically, it is an end that cannot be separated from its means. Marks are also structural – as well as vocal – components of any given painting. Not only do they reveal a great deal about a painting’s meaning, they also shape that meaning, give it form and substance, for the viewer. For the purposes of this essay, then, I consider the mechanics of mark-making to be socially, physically, symbolically, and historically important.

Marks are the constituent feature, the backbone, of painting. A painting may be comprised of hundreds, if not thousands, of marks. In most cases, these marks are made in paint, on a support, by the hands of an artist. Even when those hands wield an implement – a brush or palette knife, for example – a physical connection still obtains between artist and mark.4 (What are implements like these, after all, but prostheses that extend the hand’s reach and capability?) Many of the artists in Rothko to Richter exploit this very character of the mark. In their paintings, a direct, transparent relationship exists between mark and method, a one-to-one correspondence between every stroke of paint and every movement of the artist’s hand. Here mark and method are tautological: the former records the latter. However, not every artist in Rothko to Richter subscribes to this approach. Several developed techniques designed to depersonalize the act of mark-making, to literally divorce the mark from the artist’s hand. Some even went so far as to erase the traces their tools left behind, effacing marks as soon as they were created. Instead of flaunting the process by which their paintings were produced, these artists dissimulated.

Dominating the Haskell Collection are Abstract Expressionist painters and their counterparts in Europe, including Appel, de Kooning, Goldberg, Kline, Riopelle, Rothko, and Tworkov.5 To varying degrees, these artists prized immediacy, virtuosity, and expression. Autographic gestures play a key role in their paintings.6 Such marks constitute a kind of painterly handwriting that indexes the artist’s distinct will, personality, and psychological state – his or her very self.

Etymologically, “gesture” derives from the Medieval Latin gestura, meaning “to carry.” In its original form, gesture denoted bearing – that is, the manner in which human beings deport themselves physically. It was also affiliated with rhetoric: in the past, gesture delineated a set of “bodily movements, attitudes, expression of countenance” intended to “giv[e] effect to oratory.”7 Gesture was a supplement to speech, a kind of accent or embellishment, in other words. All such connotations are relevant to the Expressionist canvases in the Haskell Collection: for artists like Goldberg and Kline, gestures were overtures, forms of communication that served to address viewers directly and invite them to participate in a subjective exchange. Gesturing involved gesticulating in the sense we understand that word today. In Appel’s Dans la Tempête (1960) or de Kooning’s Woman II (1961), for instance, the artist’s hand, wrist, and arm – sometimes his entire body – are marshaled so as to externalize otherwise private impulses, instincts, and passions. The affective power of such gestures was in direct proportion to their muscularity, fluidity, and dynamism, traits enthusiastically embraced by American and European Expressionists, who equated intensity of spirit with intensity of brushwork.

As art historian Meyer Schapiro astutely argued in 1957, the new emphasis on gesture among abstract painters of the postwar generation precipitated concomitant changes in technique. “The consciousness of the personal and spontaneous” in painting, Schapiro wrote, “stimulates the artist to invent devices of handling, processing, surfacing, which confer to the utmost degree the aspect of the freely made. Hence the great importance of the mark, the stroke, the brush, the drip, the quality of the substance of paint itself, and the surface of the canvas as a texture and field of operation.”8 This holds true of Appel’s Dans la Tempête (1960), de Kooning’s Untitled (Woman) (1965), Goldberg’s The Keep (1958), and Kline’s Untitled (1960), among other works, whose richly impastoed surfaces and bold, impetuous brushwork register not only heightened emotion but also the presence of the artist.

If Schapiro championed these paintings as enthusiastically as he did, it was because they represented, in his view, the “last hand-made personal objects within our culture.”9 Insofar as Rothko’s and de Kooning’s canvases preserved increasingly obsolete methods of fabrication, privileging manual over industrial forms of production, they “affirmed the individual in opposition to the contrary qualities of the ordinary experience of working and doing.”10 For Schapiro, the importance of painters like Goldberg and Tworkov lay precisely in their efforts to humanize art at a moment when the subject was under assault from the dehumanizing forces of science, technology, and mass media. In his view, Abstract Expressionism represented the last bastion of freedom and individuality in an increasingly homogenous, mechanized world, a bulwark against the intrusion of standardization into every walk of life.

However, by the late 1950s, when Schapiro made this claim, a sea change was already well under way in the world of art. Even then, a younger generation of artists, represented by Rauschenberg and Stella, was beginning to embrace at the level of technique the very shifts in society and subjectivity that Schapiro and the Abstract Expressionists decried. As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, increasing numbers of artists would cease to identify either physically or emotionally with their canvases. Simultaneously, they began to align painting with fabrication, deriving insight from the fields of design and engineering. Gradually, the taste for “the machine-made, the impersonal, and reproducible,” likewise “an air of coolness and mechanical control,” would infiltrate art, heralding a break with Abstract Expressionism.11

 

3 Sometimes reduced to “texture,” facture designates the way a work of art has been made and the manner in which its material components have been manipulated.

4 As much as possible, I have tried to avoid falling into the all-too-common trap of fetishizing the painted mark. Although much can be learned about a painting by deciphering the marks that comprise it, the mark is often conflated with something more problematic, the artist’s touch, a supposed symbol of singularity and authenticity that is inextricably related to the work’s exchange value and its status as a commodity on the market.

5 For more information on Expressionism in Europe, see Serge Guilbaut, “Disdain for the Stain: Abstract Expressionism and Tachisme,” in Abstract Expressionism: The International Context, ed. Joan Marter (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007).

6 As Michael Leja argues, this was a historically, culturally, and ideologically specific self that invested great importance in “irrationality” and reflected new knowledge about the human mind, psyche, and condition. See his Reframing Abstract Expressionism: Subjectivity and Painting in the 1940s (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 2-9, pp. 36-41. See also Ann Eden Gibson, Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997).

7 Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “Gesture,” http://www.oed.com/search?searchType=dictionary&q=gesture&_searchBtn=Search.

8 Meyer Schapiro, “Recent Abstract Painting (1957),” in Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries (New York: George Braziller, 1978), p. 218.

9 Ibid., p. 217.

10 Ibid., p. 218.

11 Ibid., p. 219. As Schapiro notes, if science and engineering were “distasteful” to the Abstract Expressionists, it was due largely to the role they played in World War II and the Holocaust.

 

Franz Kline. 'Untitled' 1960

 

Franz Kline
Untitled
1960
Brush and oil on canvas
47 x 45.1 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Hans Hofmann. 'Composition #3' 1952

 

Hans Hofmann
Composition #3
1952
Oil on canvas
76.8 x 61.3 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Hans Hofmann. 'Midday' 1956

 

Hans Hofmann
Midday
1956
Oil on canvas
46.4 x 35.9 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Hans Hofmann is generally associated with the New York School, but he actually belongs to an earlier generation of artists based in Europe. Indeed, Hofmann witnessed firsthand the invention of abstraction while living in Paris from 1904 to 1914. Between 1933 and 1958, he would impart the lessons of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso as well as those of Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian to the students who attended his art schools in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts.1 Later in life, after the works in the Haskell Collection were made, Hofmann helped broker the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism, a movement that shared his more recent predilection for restraint, objectivity, and pictorial problem-solving.2

Hofmann was never wedded to any one approach to painting. Indeed, “diversity” was in many respects his signature style. Before the late 1940s, he produced paintings of abstracted interiors, still lifes, landscapes, and figure studies, all of which bear the imprint of Cubism and Fauvism. By 1950, however, his paintings were reliably abstract: no, or almost no, recognizable content remained. Characterized by radiant luminosity, brilliant color contrasts, and tactile surfaces, Composition #3 and Midday were created just a few years before the artist closed his two schools, a moment that coincided with his critical recognition as a painter. Color serves a structural role in both paintings, generating form and defining space. In Composition #3, paint is added and subtracted, sometimes ferociously, with implements ranging from fingertips and spatulas to thick brushes and sharp paintbrush handles, all of which register clearly on the canvas. Clement Greenberg could have been describing this work when he wrote, “Klee and Soutine were perhaps the first to address the picture surface consciously as a responsive rather than inert object, and painting itself as an affair of prodding and pushing, scoring and marking, rather than of simply inscribing or covering. Hofmann has taken this approach further, and made it do even more.”3 For its part, Midday exemplifies Hofmann’s distinctive brand of “grandiose Pointillism,” a manner adopted around 1954.4 Covered in a dense crust of paint, the work is made of staccato brush marks that extend from edge to edge, resulting in an atomized, decomposed surface whose impasto projects into space.5 Midday’s resemblance to a mosaic is more than coincidental: in 1950 and 1956, Hofmann received commissions to create monumental mosaics for public spaces. KB

 

1 On the ways in which Hofmann divests the tradition of abstraction embodied by Mondrian and Kandinsky of its social and utopian aspirations, see Sam Hunter, “Introduction,” in Hans Hofmann, ed. James Yohe (New York: Rizzoli, 2002), pp. 15-16.

2 Like many of his contemporaries in Europe and the United States, Hofmann often linked the creation of art to spirituality, on the one hand, and to the artist’s personal temperament, on the other. However, these priorities were far less pronounced in his work than in that of artists such as Mondrian and Rothko. Hofmann’s concern was more for the mechanics – the grammar – of art. Ibid., p. 16, 20.

3 “Hans Hofmann [1958],” in Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), p. 195.

4 Hunter, “Introduction,” p. 29.

5 On the art historical importance of Hoffmann’s “fat” surfaces, which contribute to the perception of his pictures as “objects,” see Clement Greenberg, Hofmann (Paris: G. Fall, 1961), p. 32, 34.

 

Hans Hofmann. 'Midday' 1956 (detail)

 

Hans Hofmann
Midday (detail)
1956
Oil on canvas
46.4 x 35.9 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

IN THE WAKE OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM by Hal Foster

This selection from the Haskell Collection focuses on Abstract Expressionism and its aftermath and, as such, provides an occasion to reflect on the fate of these two terms, abstraction and expression, in the advanced painting of this period. I want to do so briefly here, one term at a time.

In Western painting at least since Rembrandt, we look for expression, first and foremost, in brushwork, especially brushwork that exceeds the task of representation, brushwork that appears as gesture. Gesture in excess of representation tends to be read as the mark of the artist, not only of his distinctive touch but of that touch at a particular moment. We thus take gesture to be singular, original, authentic, in a word, individual – an indication, perhaps, of the very subjectivity of the artist at that instant in time. Now, what happens to this set of associations when we jump two hundred and fifty years, from Rembrandt to Van Gogh (to stay on a Dutch axis), and then move fifty years further, from Van Gogh to Willem de Kooning (who is represented in the Haskell Collection by two oil studies for his great Woman paintings)? In what ways do these associations, these conventions (for that is what they are), come under pressure?

Pitched in this way, the question is too general; so consider the works in the Haskell Collection produced by 1960 or so by Karel Appel, Michael Goldberg, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Jack Tworkov. Can we agree that, in each case, the artist appears to believe in his gesture as defined above, that is, as a bearer of a uniquely subjective touch? All of these pieces, even when not large, conceive the picture as an “arena” for “action” (per the famous account of Abstract Expressionism given by the critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952).1 At the same time, this action is always qualified by calculation: note, for example, how Hofmann minds the edges of his canvases; and this gesture is sometimes willful: note, for instance, how Goldberg seems a little forced in his painterly attack.

Once reiterated, a gesture, whether within one painting or from one painting to another, becomes a performance (not simply an action) as well as a sign (not simply an expression), and in this way it becomes divided from the very presence that it appeared to register in the first place. Jackson Pollock struggled with this conundrum – it was one factor that led to his partial return to figuration as early as 1951 – and we can sense this struggle in some of the works in the Haskell Collection, too (I see it in the Riopelle, among others). This problem of the reiteration of gesture is compounded by the greater difficulty of the repetition of style, that is, the repetition of the set of conventions that is Expressionism. For if de Kooning, Pollock, and friends worked in the wake of German Expressionism, so their followers labored in the aftermath of Abstract Expressionism; thus they were belated Expressionists, in effect, twice over. As gesture came under existential pressure and Expressionism under art historical pressure, they could not help but see that the former might not be as singular, nor the latter as original, as they had once thought.2

Note what occurs after 1960, in part in response to this predicament, in the Color Field painting of Helen Frankenthaler, Paul Jenkins, and Morris Louis: gesture becomes muted, and the paint is loosened from the brush. Letting paint flow is what Frankenthaler learned from the drip paintings of Pollock, and what Louis and others learned from Frankenthaler (they exploited the new fluidity of acrylics here). And yet, however liberated, this paint speaks less of the expressive presence of the painter than of the material conditions of the painting – the fact that acrylic paint runs, mixes, responds to gravity, and stains the canvas (if it is not gessoed) in such a way that its weave becomes apparent and its flatness is foregrounded. “Flatness and the delimitation of flatness”: according to the critic Clement Greenberg, these are, respectively, the essential attribute of painting in general and the distinctive capability of abstract painting in particular.3 In this respect, see how Louis, in the 1962 painting in the Haskell Collection, lets his long bands of paint develop in a way that declares not only the vertical hang of the painting but also its flat surface; here the physical characteristics of paint, color, and canvas are the sole subjects. Indeed, the painting seems to be produced as though by gravity alone, as though it were almost automatic; in comparison with Abstract Expressionism, the expressivity of the artist is here suppressed.

Such is the lesson that Frank Stella took from Louis in paintings like Double Scramble (1978) – a late example of work initiated in the mid-1960s. The critic Michael Fried termed such compositions “deductive structures” because they seemed to derive strictly from the rectangle of the support and the width of the stretcher, that is, they were deduced from the given structure of the painting alone.4 Here we are even further from the expressivity of Abstract Expressionism than we were with Louis: the composition seems to draw itself. Expressivity appears to return in the abstractions of Gerhard Richter, who is also represented in the Haskell Collection, yet the victory is a Pyrrhic one: like his  canvases, his gestures are so numerous and so reiterative that they seem to cancel one another out and so to nullify as much as to register any expressive self.

Like expression, abstraction also comes under pressure during the period surveyed by the Haskell Collection. Although presented in transcendental terms by pioneers of abstract painting such as Wassily Kandinsky in the 1910s, it was largely drained of this metaphysics by the 1960s, to the point where Stella could describe his work in the most positivist of terms: “What you see is what you see.”5 At the same time, abstraction was still endowed with great consequence for art history in general. In 1936, when the curator Alfred H. Barr Jr. presented his famous diagram of “Cubism and Abstract Art” for his show of that title at the new Museum of Modern Art in New York, abstraction served as the through-line of twentieth-century art, one that Greenberg made not only coherent but also ineluctable through his narrative of the progressive self-refinement of “modernist painting.” This story provided continuity as well as goal to twentieth-century art: “I cannot insist enough,” Greenberg wrote in “Modernist Painting” (1961), “that Modernism has never meant, and does not mean now, anything like a break with the past.”6

However, this story soon hit a large bump in the road. As abstract painting focused evermore on its own materiality, its status as an object became impossible to avoid; clearly the next step, it seemed to some avant-gardists, was to dispense with paintings altogether and to produce objects instead. Greenberg already glimpsed this heretical possibility with Stella, and this is why he never included Stella in his canon. Even if Fried still regarded Stella as the exemplar of “modernist painting,” for others, such as his close friend Carl Andre, Stella was on the other side, their side, the side of the Minimalist object as defined by the artist-critic Donald Judd. At this point, then, a “deductive structure” by Stella could be read – was read – as pure painting by some and as specific object by others.

This ambiguous status of abstract painting – as both transcendental force and mere thing, as both full and null – was already glimpsed in its first years. For example, for Kazimir Malevich, the monochrome, in its ideality, pointed to a world beyond this one; for his compatriot Aleksandr Rodchenko, however, the monochrome, in its materiality, underscored that this world was the only one we have. (At times these poles switched their charge: for some artists, transcendental abstraction suggested an emptying out of painting, a sort of Zen nullity of its own, while for others, mundane abstraction suggested a thingly presence, a fullness of its own, but the ambiguous status remained constant.) The paradox of abstraction as both full and null returns in the period surveyed by the Haskell Collection: the canvases by Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and others clearly hold to the metaphysical power of abstract painting, whereas the paintings by Richter, Stella, and others manifestly do not.

Abstract painting was challenged by more than its own objecthood; it also faced an external threat, one that was even more grave. This problem runs back to its early days too, for abstraction emerged, circa 1912 – 13, along with two other avant-garde inventions, the collage and the readymade, which brought the mass-media image and the mass-produced object into the frame of high art. For many artists and critics, abstract painting was all the more important for the stout resistance it offered to these troublesome incursions (this is certainly what Greenberg believed), yet it could not fend off such mediation forever, and in the 1950s and 1960s it mostly gave up.7 De Kooning, for example, used bits of collage in his Woman series, and Robert Rauschenberg, who is also represented in the Haskell Collection, added massive amounts of mediated images to his paintings.8 By the time of Richter, such mediation is fully folded into painting: almost from the start of his career, he has moved back and forth between abstract paintings and figurative ones based on photographs (both appropriated and his own); moreover, as suggested above, his abstract paintings appear mediated in their own ways. And this always-already mediated condition is the very point of departure of the spectacular paintings by Jack Goldstein in the Haskell Collection: however abstract they appear, they are worked up entirely from appropriated images. At this point the categories of abstraction and expression are transformed beyond recognition.9

 

1 Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters,” Art News 51 (December 1952).

2 As represented in the Haskell Collection, some artists, such as Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell, carried on as if these problems didn’t matter much.

3 Clement Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism,” Art International 25 (October 1962), p. 30.

4 Michael Fried, Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella (Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, 1965).

5 Frank Stella, quoted in Bruce Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd,” Art News 65 (September 1966), p. 59.

6 Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” Arts Yearbook 4 (1961), p. 108.

7 It is not clear how opposed abstraction was to these other forms in the first place. For example, a monochrome or a grid painting is already a kind of readymade, and as soon as paint comes from an industrial tube, it is a sort of readymade too.

8 De Kooning was rarely fully abstract; Greenberg comments on his “homeless representation” in “After Abstract Expressionism,” p. 25.

9 These complications continue in the current work of Wade Guyton, Amy Sillman, Christopher Wool, and many others; indeed, they are largely what sustain advanced painting in the present.

 

Karel Appel. 'Dans la Tempête' 1960

 

Karel Appel
Dans la Tempête
1960
Oil on canvas
88.9 x 115.9 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Karel Appel. 'Dans la Tempête' (detail) 1960

 

Karel Appel
Dans la Tempête (detail)
1960
Oil on canvas
88.9 x 115.9 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

“We live always in a tremendous chaos,” Karel Appel stated to an interviewer in 1986, “and who can make the chaos positive anymore? Only the artist.”1 Registering, but also redeeming, social, political, and psychic conflict was an ethical imperative for Appel, who came of age as an artist in the 1940s. Appel witnessed firsthand the brutalization of human beings by war, prejudice, deprivation, and occupation, and he sought to visualize these experiences through art. His canvases are ravaged, quite literally, by brushes, palette knives, and fingers. Choked by thick layers of impasto, their surfaces are as agitated as the animals and figures the paintings depict. Form, color, content, and technique all serve as corollaries to the period of profound turmoil in which Appel worked. Importantly, the artist’s approach to historical trauma was dialectical. The devastation of pre- and postwar Europe, he believed, was a tabula rasa making possible the rebirth of both art and human beings.2

Appel was a founding member of Cobra (1948-51), a group of Expressionist painters from Amsterdam, Brussels, and Copenhagen. Appel shared with other Cobra artists an appreciation for the art of the untutored, including children and the mentally ill, whose supposed alienation from Western, classical tradition granted them privileged access to the wellsprings of creativity: fantasy, passion, and instinct.3 Believing that society had been betrayed by logic and science, Appel turned to the irrational for inspiration. His predilection for the primal aligned him with Jean Dubuffet and Art Brut, an association formalized by his appearance in French critic Michel Tapié’s 1952 exhibition Un Art autreDans la Tempête was painted in 1960, three years after Appel relocated temporarily to New York, where he socialized with Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Upon arriving in Manhattan, Appel was struck not only by the spontaneous, improvisatory spirit of jazz but also by the city’s “unfinished quality.”4 He subsequently sought to translate this contingency into paintings like Dans la Tempête. Trapped in a state of arrested development, this work also demonstrates Appel’s longstanding fascination with the “creaturely,” that is, with the reduction of humans to the condition of animals.5 Here as elsewhere, the artist elides the one and the other, manufacturing from their cross-pollination a grotesque bestiary of mutants whose anatomical deformations evoke distress. Much as Appel blends pigment by painting wet-onwet, so too does he blur the boundaries between things and the grounds they inhabit: permeability trumps both spatial and physical integrity, as seen in Dans la Tempête, where a yellow zoomorphic shape at the left and a barely legible demi-human at the right thrash amongst swirls of paint.6 KB

 

1 Sam Hunter, “Karel Appel in the Spirit of Our Time,” Arts Magazine 62 (January 1988), p. 60.

2 Hal Foster, “Creaturely, Cobra,” October 141 (Summer 2013), p. 7.

3 See Karel Appel, Psychopathological Notebook: Drawings and Gouaches, 1948-1950 (Bern: Gachnang and Springer, 1999).

4 Hunter, “Karel Appel,” p. 62.

5 Foster, “Creaturely, Cobra,” pp. 6-8.

6 Appel described his work from 1955 to 1960 as “nightscapes” that merge “paysage” and “visage.” Helena Kontova and Giancarlo Politi, “Karel Appel,” Flash Art, no. 134 (May 1987), p. 53.

 

Jack Tworkov. 'Bond' 1960

 

Jack Tworkov
Bond
1960
Oil on canvas
154.9 x 91.4 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Jack Tworkov. 'Bond' 1960 (detail)

 

Jack Tworkov
Bond
(detail)
1960
Oil on canvas
154.9 x 91.4 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Jean Dubuffet. 'Mire G119' 1983

 

Jean Dubuffet
Mire G119
1983
Acrylic on paper
135.7 x 99.5 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Modularity, seriality, and repetition – three of his main concerns here – ground us firmly in modernity, in the realm of synthetics and industrial production. Importantly, the title of the series, Mires, has both televisual and physiological connotations: it is French for “test pattern” (a signal used to calibrate television sets), but it also means “sight” as well as “aim,” as in “the sense of focusing sight on a point in an unlimited continuum.” Instead of the visionary, then, the Mires address vision itself. As the artist once wrote, the Mires “represent the spectacles that are offered to our eyes,” by which he meant the myriad optical enticements that bombard viewers in the form of signs, displays, and advertisements. Following from this, we might say that Dubuffet sought in works like Mire G119 to fashion an artistic equivalent for the “mobile,” “dynamic,” “impulsive,” and wholly mediated character of vision in the late twentieth century. KB

 

Richard Diebenkorn. 'Untitled (Ocean Park)' 1983

 

Richard Diebenkorn
Untitled (Ocean Park)
1983
Acrylic, gouache, crayon, and pasted paper on paper
96.2 x 63.5 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Paul Jenkins. 'Phenomena Spanish Cape' 1975

 

Paul Jenkins
Phenomena Spanish Cape
1975
Acrylic on canvas
86.7 x 86.7 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Although his paintings seem to share a great deal with those of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, Paul Jenkins never counted himself a member of the Color Field school – or indeed, of any school at all. Jenkins moved to New York in 1948, during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, but relocated to Paris just five years later, joining an artistic community that included Joan Mitchell, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Michel Tapiés, and Wols. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Jenkins absorbed a dizzying array of writing on matters ranging from art and magic to psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism.1 From this heady brew, he developed a distinctly mystical art that sought to make the invisible visible. The role of the artist, Jenkins believed, was to serve as a conduit, or “medium,” through which memories, emotions, and experiences passed directly onto canvas.2

In 1959-60, Jenkins’s work took a dramatic turn: after visiting a small port on the northeast coast of Spain, near the Cap de Creus, he began to prioritize fluidity as both a style and a concept, a decision that led him to experiment with water-based acrylic. Method played a crucial role in creating the effect of flux that Jenkins sought. In Phenomena Spanish Cape paint is poured directly onto the canvas from a can or watering pot, allowing for continuous, uninterrupted shapes to emerge.3 The downward flow of paint was hastened by gravity but controlled by the artist, who tilted the support right and left, up and down, to encourage the medium in one direction or another. Jenkins used water to mute or lighten tones and ivory knives, which left no discernible trace on the canvas, to spread the paint as it pooled.4 The result is a paradox: a painting born of the artist but from which all evidence of his hand—his labor – has been effaced. Phenomena Spanish Cape suggests expansion, radiation, and suspension. Evoking eddies, clouds, and tides, the sheets of color seem to swell and drift like the natural events whose appearances they distill.5 We might also recognize in the work’s composition – with its veils of color that project out from a dominant red mass into areas of white-primed canvas – an aerial view of a peninsula, perhaps the Spanish cape referenced in the title. In all of Jenkins’s paintings after 1960, the title of the work is prefaced by the word “phenomena,” meaning an event of spiritual and subjective import, a snapshot of “ever-changing reality” objectified on canvas.6 KB

 

1 For more on Jenkins’s spiritual and intellectual background, see Albert Elsen, Paul Jenkins (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1973), pp. 20-21, p. 35, 46, 67.

2 Ibid., p. 19.

3 Ibid., p. 56. Jenkins first experimented with pouring paint in 1953-54.

4 For more on the artist’s technique and materials, which he honed, quite literally, to a science, see ibid., pp. 65-76.

5 On the role of nature in his work, see Jean Cassou, Jenkins (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1963), pp. 13-14.

6 Ibid., p. 6.

 

Mark Rothko. 'Untitled' 1968

 

Mark Rothko
Untitled
1968
Oil on paper laid down on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Mark Rothko. 'Untitled' 1968 (detail)

 

Mark Rothko
Untitled (detail)
1968
Oil on paper laid down on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Princeton University Art Museum
McCormick Hall, Princeton, NJ ‎
T: (609) 258-3788

The Museum is located on the Princeton University campus, a short walk from Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. Once on campus, simply follow the lamppost Museum banners.

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 10.00 pm
Sunday 1.00 – 5.00 pm

Princeton University Art Museum website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

04
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘American Cool’ at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

Exhibition dates: 7th February – 7th September 2014

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Untitled' from the 'Brooklyn Gang' series 1959

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled from the Brooklyn Gang series
1959

 

Danny Lyon. 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville, 1966' 1966

 

Danny Lyon
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville, 1966
1966
Silver gelatin print

 

 

Each cool figure was considered with the following historical rubric in mind and possesses at least three elements of this singular American self-concept:

  1. an original artistic vision carried off with a signature style
  2. cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation
  3. iconic power, or instant visual recognition
  4. a recognized cultural legacy

Every individual here created an original persona without precedent in American culture. These photographs capture the complex relationship between the real-life person, the image embraced by fans and the media, and the person’s artistic work.

What does it mean when a generation claims a certain figure as cool? What qualities does this person embody at that historical moment? American Cool explores these questions through photography, history, and popular culture. In this exhibition, cool is rendered visible, as shot by some of the finest art photographers of the past century.

 

 

When less – less famous, less obvious – is more

I don’t know about you, but the photographs chosen to represent American “cool” in this exhibition – 39 of which are shown in the posting out of a total of 108, but the rest are mainly of the same ilk – seem to me to be a singularly strange bunch of images to choose for such a concept. Personally, I find very few of them are “cool”, that is a mixture of a social charge of rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery with a certain self-made sense of style.

The only images that I find definitely “cool” among this bunch are, firstly Bob Dylan, closely followed by Jackson Pollock (notice the skull lurking behind him) and Susan Sontag. There is no proposition of cool in these three photographs, the people in them just are. The rest of the photographs, and there really are some atrociously plain and boring portraits among this lot (including a poor portrait of James Dean), really don’t speak to me of cool, don’t speak to me of anything much at all. How you could ever think that the portrait of Willie Nelson, 1989 (printed 2009, below) is cool is beyond me… and what is it with the reprints of the photographs, not originals but modern prints made years later? Perhaps the National Portrait Gallery needed to look beyond their own collection for a more rounded representation of American cool.

The two photographs I have included above are my top picks of American cool, and neither are in the exhibition. These iconic American images don’t feature famous people, they are not “posed” for the camera, and yet there is that ineffable something that makes the people in them absolutely, totally cool. THIS IS AMERICAN COOL: their own style, their own rebelliousness and mystery without possibly realising it = a naturalness that comes from doing their own thing, making their own way. Perhaps that is the point that this exhibition misses: you don’t have to be famous to be “cool”. A portrait is not just a mug shot. And an original persona does not have to come with fame attached.

This exhibition just doesn’t cut the mustard. The whole shebang needed a bloody good rethink, from the concept (does a generation have to “claim” someone is cool? is it necessary or desirable to portray American Cool through media images? do they have to be famous or instantly recognisable people to be “cool”) to the choice of images which could better illustrate the theme. Surely the qualities that person embodies changes from moment to moment, from photographer to photographer, from context to context (just look at the portraits of a haggard James Dean). To attempt to illustrate three elements in a single photograph – good luck with that one!

Marcus

PS I have added the videos to add a bit of spice to the proceedings… in them you can, occasionally, feel the charisma of the person.

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

 

Bob Willoughby. 'Billie Holiday' 1951 (printed 1991)

 

Bob Willoughby
Billie Holiday
1951 (printed 1991)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.2 x 35.3 cm. (19 15/16 x 13 15/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Rare live footage of one of the first anti rascism songs ever.

 

Roger Marshutz. 'Elvis Presley' 1956

 

Roger Marshutz
Elvis Presley
1956
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 40.6 x 50.8cm (16 x20″)
© Estee Stanley

 

 

Herman Leonard. 'Frank Sinatra' c. 1956

 

Herman Leonard
Frank Sinatra
c. 1956
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.5 x 24.1cm (6 1/2 x 9 1/2″)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

 

 

Marcia Resnick. 'David Byrne' 1981

 

Marcia Resnick
David Byrne
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.8 x 32.5 cm (8 9/16 x 12 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Julian Wasser. 'Joan Didion' 1970

 

Julian Wasser
Joan Didion
1970
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.3 x 34 cm (9 9/16 x 13 3/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation.

 

Roy Schatt. 'James Dean' 1954

 

Roy Schatt
James Dean
1954
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.7 x 42.2cm (13 11/16 x 16 5/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

William Claxton. 'Steve McQueen' 1962

 

William Claxton
Steve McQueen
1962
Gelatin silver print
Image: 40 x 58.7cm (15 3/4 x 23 1/8″)
Fahey Klein Gallery

 

Martin Schoeller. 'Tony Hawk' 1999 (printed 2010)

 

Martin Schoeller
Tony Hawk
1999 (printed 2010)
Archival pigment print
Image: 58.5 x 58.6 cm (23 1/16 x 23 1/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

What do we mean when we say someone is cool? Cool carries a social charge of rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge and mystery.

Cool is an original American sensibility and remains a global obsession. In the early 1940s, legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young brought this central African American concept into the modern vernacular. Cool became a password in bohemian life connoting a balanced state of mind, a dynamic mode of performance, and a certain stylish stoicism. A cool person has a situation under control, and with a signature style. Cool has been embodied in jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Billie Holiday, in actors such as Robert Mitchum, Faye Dunaway, and Johnny Depp, and in singers such as Elvis Presley, Patti Smith, and Jay-Z. American Cool is a photography and cultural studies exhibition featuring portraits of such iconic figures, each of whom has contributed an original artistic vision to American culture symbolic of a particular historical moment. They emerged from a variety of fields: art, music, film, sports, comedy, literature, and political activism. American Cool is the zeitgeist taking embodied form.

American Cool is captured by a roll call of fine-art photographers from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Annie Leibovitz, from Richard Avedon to Herman Leonard to Diane Arbus. This exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with essays by Joel Dinerstein, the James H. Clark Endowed Chair in American Civilization and Director of the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University, and Frank H. Goodyear III, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and former curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery.

 

Unidentified Artist. 'Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"' 1975

 

Unidentified Artist
Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.3 x 25.1cm (6 13/16 x 9 7/8″)
The Kobal Collection

 

John Cohen. 'Jack Kerouac' 1959

 

John Cohen
Jack Kerouac
1959
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.9 x 24.1cm (6 1/4 x 9 1/2″)
Sheet: 20.2 x 25.4cm (7 15/16 x 10″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Leo Fuchs. 'Paul Newman' 1959 (printed 2013)

 

Leo Fuchs
Paul Newman
1959 (printed 2013)
Modern archival print
Sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14″)
© Alexandre Fuchs

 

William Paul Gottlieb. 'Thelonious Monk at Minton's Playhouse, New York City' 1947

 

William Paul Gottlieb
Thelonious Monk at Minton’s Playhouse, New York City
1947
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 25.4 x 20.3cm (10 x 8″)
Estate of William Gottlieb

 

 

Thelonious Monk Quartet – Round Midnight
Thelonious Monk(p) Charlie Rouse(ts) Larry Gales(b) Ben Riley(ds)
Recorded in Norway 1966 dvd “LIVE in ’66”

 

Peter Hujar. 'Susan Sontag' 1975

 

Peter Hujar
Susan Sontag
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37.1 x 37.6cm (14 5/8 x 14 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Michael O'Brien. 'Willie Nelson' 1989 (printed 2009)

 

Michael O’Brien
Willie Nelson
1989 (printed 2009)
Chromogenic print
Image: 38.1 x 38.1cm (15 x 15″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Introduction

What do we mean when we say someone is cool? To be cool means to exude the aura of something new and uncontainable. Cool is the opposite of innocence or virtue. Someone cool has a charismatic edge and a dark side. Cool is an earned form of individuality. Each generation has certain individuals who bring innovation and style to a field of endeavor while projecting a certain charismatic self-possession. They are the figures selected for this exhibition: the successful rebels of American culture.

The legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young created the modern usage of “cool” in the 1940s. At first it meant being relaxed in one’s environment against oppressive social forces, but within a generation it became a password for stylish self-control. This exhibition does not reflect our opinion of who’s cool. Each cool figure was considered with the following historical rubric in mind and possesses at least three elements of this singular American self-concept:

  1. an original artistic vision carried off with a signature style
  2. cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation
  3. iconic power, or instant visual recognition
  4. a recognized cultural legacy

Every individual here created an original persona without precedent in American culture. These photographs capture the complex relationship between the real-life person, the image embraced by fans and the media, and the person’s artistic work.

What does it mean when a generation claims a certain figure as cool? What qualities does this person embody at that historical moment? American Cool explores these questions through photography, history, and popular culture. In this exhibition, cool is rendered visible, as shot by some of the finest art photographers of the past century.

 

The Roots of Cool: Before 1940

The stage was set for the emergence of cool as a cultural phenomenon in the early 1940s by a series of sweeping transformations in the first decades of the twentieth century. The figures in this first section were not called cool in their day but were leading exemplars of new energies that were changing the social contours of American life. A fresh rebelliousness was revealed in the new film capital of Hollywood, in modernist literature and art, in emerging youth entertainments, and in a new music called jazz. The advent of technologies such as radio, film, and the automobile and the increasing diversity in America’s booming cities accelerated the pace of change. Though Prohibition in the 1920s sought to regulate American morality by ending the consumption of alcohol, this period saw the expression of a new independence among young people and others historically on the margins of public life. In particular, both African Americans and women sought and began to attain freedoms long denied. Cool has long denoted a person’s sense of calm and composure. Charismatic individuals such as those featured here contributed greatly to the changing mores in American society before World War II. Cool would ultimately serve as the term that would describe this new rebel.

The Birth of Cool: 1940-59

Being cool was a response to the rapid changes of modernity: it was about maintaining a state of equipoise within swirling, dynamic social forces. The legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young disseminated the word and concept of cool into jazz culture in the early 1940s, and it quickly crossed over as a rebel masculine sensibility. When Young said, “I’m cool,” he meant, first, that he was relaxed in the environment and, second, that he was keeping it together under social and economic pressure as well as the absurdity of life in a racist society. This mask of cool emerged as a form of American stoicism and was manifested in jazz, film noir, Beat literature, and abstract expressionism. In jazz, a generation of younger musicians rejected big-band swing entertainment to create bebop, a fast, angular, virtuosic style that moved jazz out of dance halls and into nightclubs. In Hollywood, film noir represented postwar anxiety inthrough crime dramas shot through with working-class existentialism and the fear of women’s sexual and economic power. Among Beat writers and abstract painters, cool referred to a combination of wildness and intensity in men unconcerned with social conformity. Starting from jazz, cool was a rebel sensibility suggesting that an individual’s importance could be registered only through self-expression and the creation of a signature style. By 1960 cool was the protean password of a surging underground aesthetic.

 

Cool and the Counterculture: 1960-79

In the 1960s and 1970s, to be cool was to be antiauthoritarian and open to new ideas from young cultural leaders in rock and roll, journalism, film, and African American culture. Cool was a badge of opposition to “the System,” by turns a reference to the police, the government, the military-industrial complex, or traditional morality. Using drugs such as marijuana or even LSD was an indicator of risk taking and expanding one’s consciousness; not experimenting with drugs suggested a fear of opening one’s mind or perspective, of being “uptight” or “square.” The same was true of sexual exploration, social protest, and ethnic politics. The aesthetic of stylized understatement still held power, yet cool itself morphed under the era’s social upheavals. The counterculture valued being authentic and emotionally naked: being cool meant a person was “out-front” with others and comfortable in his or her own skin. For African Americans, what had once been suppressed under the mask of cool transformed into defiant civic engagement in music, sports, and politics. “Cool” meant to communicate a set of emotions without losing control, and rock and roll was the art form (and forum) best suited for this shift, especially for women. Patti Smith, Bonnie Raitt, Deborah Harry, and Chrissie Hynde all carved out new iconic stances, styles, and voices for independent women who were sexy on their own terms. Cool became the supreme compliment for creative public figures who broke new cultural ground and maintained their personal integrity over time.

 

The Legacies of Cool: 1980-Present

In 1980s America, the selling of rebellion as style became ingrained in cool. From highbrow fashion to mass-culture video games, product designers, advertisers, and consumers embraced the cool aesthetic. For many during this era, selling out was no longer a curse, as youth culture increasingly embraced the pursuit of wealth. And though some might proclaim that cool was dead, the concept stayed alive and grew in many quarters. From hip-hop to Seattle grunge, from skateboarding to the Internet, from street graffiti to MTV, cool became central to many of these new cultural forms. While its popularization tended to whiten this phenomenon, African American culture remained central to its growth. By the 1980s cool also had an easily recognizable history, and many figures from its past – like heroes from a bygone era – continued to resonate widely. Indeed, new icons of cool often built careers that owed much to these earlier exemplars. Throughout the twentieth century, cool was America’s chief cultural export. With the rapid growth of global communication and markets, it plays an even larger role both in the world’s understanding of America and in Americans’ own sense of national identity. The figures in this final section are representative of the legacies of cool as a distinct form of American expression.

Press release from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website

 

Martin Munkacsi. 'Fred Astaire' 1936

 

Martin Munkacsi
Fred Astaire
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image (Image, Accurate): 24.1 x 19cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/2″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Audrey Hepburn' 1955

 

Philippe Halsman
Audrey Hepburn
1955
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 34.9 x 27cm (13 3/4 x 10 5/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Dmitri Kasterine. 'Jean-Michel Basquait' 1986

 

Dmitri Kasterine
Jean-Michel Basquait
1986
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.3 x 37.7cm (15 1/16 x 14 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Cass Bird. 'Benicio Del Toro' 2008 (printed 2012)

 

Cass Bird
Benicio Del Toro
2008 (printed 2012)
Inkjet print
Image: 45.3 x 35.3 cm (17 13/16 x 13 7/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Carl Van Vechten. 'Bessie Smith' 1936

 

Carl Van Vechten
Bessie Smith
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 25.2 x 18.6 cm (9 15/16 x 7 5/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

This is not only a landmark because it contains Bessie Smith’s only known film appearance but also for being one of the very first talkies ever made. This is the complete film co-starring Jimmy Mordecai as her gigolo boyfriend.

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Deborah Harry' 1978

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Deborah Harry
1978
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.9 x 34.9cm (13 3/4 x 13 3/4″)
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Humphrey Bogart' 1944

 

Philippe Halsman
Humphrey Bogart
1944
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11.3 x 8.6cm (4 7/16 x 3 3/8″)
Mat: 45.7 x 35.6cm (18 x 14″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Samuel Hollyer. 'Leaves of Grass, 1st Edition' Copy after: Gabriel Harrison 1855

 

Samuel Hollyer
Leaves of Grass, 1st Edition
Copy after: Gabriel Harrison
1855
Book (closed): 28.9 x 20.6 x 1cm (11 3/8 x 8 1/8 x 3/8″)
Private Collection

 

Unidentified Artist. 'Frederick Douglas' 1856

 

Unidentified Artist
Frederick Douglas
1856
Quarter-plate ambrotype
Image: 10.6 x 8.6cm (4 3/16 x 3 3/8″)
Case (open): 11.9 x 19.1 x 1.3cm (4 11/16 x 7 1/2 x 1/2″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Linda McCartney. 'Jimi Hendrix' 1967 (printed later)

 

Linda McCartney
Jimi Hendrix
1967 (printed later)
Platinum print
Image: 51.3 x 35.3 cm (20 3/16 x 13 7/8″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

An incredible live performance of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) by Jimmy and his band in Stockholm, 1969.

 

William Paul Gottlieb. 'Duke Ellington' c. 1946 (printed 1991)

 

William Paul Gottlieb
Duke Ellington
c. 1946 (printed 1991)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.1 x 26.7 cm (13 7/16 x 10 1/2″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Fantastic performance footage of one of Jazz’s greatest stars – Duke Ellington. With performances of song of his most famous songs including “Mood Indigo”, “Caravan” & “Sophisticated Lady”

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and big-band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions. A major figure in the history of jazz, Ellington’s music stretched into various other genres. His career spanned more than 50 years and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, composing stage musicals, and world tours. Several of his instrumental works were adapted into songs that became standards. Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and thanks to his eloquence and extraordinary charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other traditional genres of music. His reputation increased after his death and the Pulitzer Prize Board bestowed on him a special posthumous honor in 1999. Ellington called his music “American Music” rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category.”

 

Mark Seliger. 'Kurt Cobain' 1993 (printed 2013)

 

Mark Seliger
Kurt Cobain
1993 (printed 2013)
Platinum Palladium print
Image: 46.7 × 35.5 cm (18 3/8 × 14″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Marlon Brando' 1950 (printed later)

 

Philippe Halsman
Marlon Brando
1950 (printed later)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.4 x 26.8cm (13 9/16 x 10 9/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Charles H. Stewart. 'Muddy Waters' c. 1960

 

Charles H. Stewart
Muddy Waters
c. 1960
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.4 x 18.4cm (10 x 7 1/4″)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

 

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt. 'Lauren Bacall' 1949 (printed 2013)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt
Lauren Bacall
1949 (printed 2013)
Pigmented ink jet print
Image: 40.3 x 27.9cm (15 7/8 x 11″)

 

Kate Simon. 'Madonna' 1983 (printed 2013)

 

Kate Simon
Madonna
1983 (printed 2013)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 33.7 × 22.9cm (13 1/4 × 9″)
© Kate Simon

 

 

Aram Avakian. 'Miles Davis' 1955 (printed 2012)

 

Aram Avakian
Miles Davis
1955 (printed 2012)
Modern print made from original negative
Image: 34.6 × 24.1cm (13 5/8 × 9 1/2″)

 

 

Unidentified Artist. 'Bix Beiderbecke' c. 1920

 

Unidentified Artist
Bix Beiderbecke
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.1 x 11.4cm (7 1/2 x 4 1/2″)
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University

 

 

Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke (March 10, 1903 – August 6, 1931) was an American jazz cornetist, jazz pianist, and composer.

With Louis Armstrong and Muggsy Spanier, Beiderbecke was one of the most influential jazz soloists of the 1920s. His turns on “Singin’ the Blues” and “I’m Coming, Virginia” (both 1927), in particular, demonstrated an unusual purity of tone and a gift for improvisation. With these two recordings, especially, he helped to invent the jazz ballad style and hinted at what, in the 1950s, would become cool jazz. “In a Mist” (1927), one of a handful of his piano compositions and one of only two he recorded, mixed classical (Impressionist) influences with jazz syncopation.

 

Gerard-Malanga-lou-reed-WEB

 

Gerard Malanga
Lou Reed
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 48.3 x 36.2cm (19 x 14 1/4″)
© Martin Irvine

 

 

Arnold A. Newman. 'Jackson Pollock' 1949

 

Arnold A. Newman
Jackson Pollock
1949
Gelatin silver print
Image: 46 x 36.7cm (18 1/8 x 14 7/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Lynn Goldsmith. 'Patti Smith' 1976 (printed 2012)

 

Lynn Goldsmith
Patti Smith
1976 (printed 2012)
Digital inkjet print
Image: 46.9 x 30 cm (18 7/16 x 11 13/16″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Philippe Halsman. 'Clint Eastwood' 1971

 

Philippe Halsman
Clint Eastwood
1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.3 x 27.3cm (13 1/2 x 10 3/4″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

Richard Avedon. 'Bob Dylan, Singer, New York City, February 10, 1965' 1965

 

Richard Avedon
Bob Dylan, Singer, New York City, February 10, 1965
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 25.4 × 20.3cm (10 × 8″)
© Richard Avedon Foundation

 

 

Eli Reed. 'Tupac Shakur' 1992 (printed 2013)

 

Eli Reed
Tupac Shakur
1992 (printed 2013)
Digitally exposed chromogenic print
Image: 34.6 x 27.3 cm (13 5/8 x 10 3/4″)
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

William Paul Gottlieb. 'Gene Krupa at 400 Restaurant, New York City' June 1946

 

William Paul Gottlieb
Gene Krupa at 400 Restaurant, New York City
June 1946
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 35.6 x 27.9cm (14 x 11″)
Estate of William Gottlieb

 

Eugene Bertram “Gene” Krupa (January 15, 1909 – October 16, 1973) was an American jazz and big band drummer, actor and composer, known for his highly energetic and flamboyant style. In the 1930s, Krupa became the first endorser of Slingerland drums. At Krupa’s urging, Slingerland developed tom-toms with tuneable top and bottom heads, which immediately became important elements of virtually every drummer’s setup. Krupa developed and popularized many of the cymbal techniques that became standards. His collaboration with Armand Zildjian of the Avedis Zildjian Company developed the modern hi-hat cymbals and standardized the names and uses of the ride cymbal, the crash cymbal, the splash cymbal, the pang cymbal and the swish cymbal. One of his bass drums, a Slingerland inscribed with Benny Goodman’s and Krupa’s initials, is preserved at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. In 1978, Krupa became the first drummer inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

 

 

 

 

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
8th and F Sts NW
Washington, DC 20001

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

20
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Wols Photographer. The Guarded Look’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 22nd June 2014

 

Some familiar images that were also seen in the posting Wols’ Photography: Images Regained are complimented by 5 new ones. The two portraits of the artist Max Ernst are eerie (is that a suitable word for a portrait that is strong and unsettling?) and perceptive, Wols responsive to the status of his sitter as a pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

.
Many thankx to the Martin-Gropius-Bau for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Art Informel

The term Art Informel was originated by the French critic Michel Tapié and popularized in his 1952 book Un Art autre (Another art). A Parisian counterpart of Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel emphasized intuition and spontaneity over the Cubist tradition that had dominated School of Paris painting. The resulting abstractions took a variety of forms. For instance, Pierre Soulages’s black-on-black paintings composed of slashing strokes of velvety paint suggest the nocturnal mood of Europe immediately after the war.

 

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Still life - dining table]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Still life – dining table]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Nicole Bouban' Autumn 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 to 1937

 

Wols
Nicole Bouban
Autumn 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 to 1937
© Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Pavilion de l'Elegance - Creating a home with Alix (Germaine Krebs)]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Pavilion de l’Elegance – Creating a home with Alix (Germaine Krebs)]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Germaine Émilie Krebs (1903-1993), known as Alix Barton and later as “Madame Grès”, relaunched her design house under the name Grès in Paris in 1942. Prior to this, she worked as “Alix” or “Alix Grès” during the 1930s. Formally trained as a sculptress, she produced haute couture designs for an array of fashionable women, including the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Dolores del Río. Her signature was cut-outs on gowns that made exposed skin part of the design, yet still had a classical, sophisticated feel. She was renowned for being the last of the haute couture houses to establish a ready-to-wear line, which she called a “prostitution”.

The name Grès was a partial anagram of her husband’s first name and alias. He was Serge Czerefkov, a Russian painter, who left her soon after the house’s creation. Grès enjoyed years of critical successes but, after Grès herself sold the business in the 1980s to Yagi Tsucho, a Japanese company, it faltered. In 2012, the last Grès store in Paris was closed. (Text from Wikipedia website)

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Swiss Pavilion - Wire Figure]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Swiss Pavilion – Wire Figure]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

“Wolfgang Schulze, known as Wols, was born in Berlin in 1913. As a painter and graphic artist he is considered to have been an important trailblazer of Art Informel. For the first time the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin is presenting the largely unknown photographic oeuvre of Wols. These works foreshadow his development in the direction of non-representational art.

Wols grew up in Dresden, where he had an early encounter with photography as a profession through his attendance at a course in the studio of the Dresden photographer Genja Jonas. In 1932, after a brief sojourn in the milieu of the Berlin Bauhaus – then in the process of breaking up – the young Wols set off for Paris to realize his artistic ambitions.

Soon he was involved with the local Surrealists and made the acquaintance of other personalities in the theatrical, literary and art scenes. In this period Wols was mainly active as a photographer. In 1937 his works were exhibited for the first time in the prestigious Parisian Galérie de la Pléiade, which established his reputation as a photographer. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Wols. One of his commissions was to document the Pavillon de l’Elégance at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris.

At the same time he produced striking multiple black-and-white portraits of personalities such as Max Ernst, Nicole Boubant or Roger Blin. Over the years Wols’ imagery became increasingly radical. The representational motifs gradually acquired a more abstract dimension and forced the viewer to see the objects represented in a new light. In particular, an extraordinary set of photograms confirms his interest in replacing representational motifs with non-representational ones. Transferred to painting, this trend would later make him a pioneer of Art Informel.

Immediately after the outbreak of the Second World War Wols spent over a year in various internment camps in the south of France. In this period he turned more to watercolours, most of which were lost while he was fleeing from the Nazis.

Living in straitened circumstances Wols fought a losing battle with alcoholism and poor health. In 1951, as a result of his weakened physical condition, he died of food poisoning in Paris at the early age of 38. After his death, Wols’ work was displayed at the first three documenta exhibitions in Kassel (1955, 1959, 1964) and, in 1958, at the Venice Biennale. On 27 May 2014 he would have been 101.

The show covers all of his photographic work, including multiple portraits of famous artists, actors and writers, photographs of the “Pavillon de l’Élégance”, numerous still lifes, and many hitherto unknown motifs. The exhibition has been curated by the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, where this unique collection will be kept and systematically catalogued.”

Press release from Martin-Gropius-Bau website

 

Wols. 'Max Ernst' Fall 1932 - October / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols
Max Ernst
Fall 1932 – October / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Max Ernst' Fall 1932 - October / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols
Max Ernst
Fall 1932 – October / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

“Wols permanently settled in Paris in 1933, producing his first paintings but also working as a photographer. His photographic work of this period showed the clear influence of Surrealism. In 1936, he received official permission to live in Paris with the help of Fernand Léger; as an army deserter, Schulze had to report to the Paris police on a monthly basis. In 1937, the year in which he adopted his pseudonym WOLS, his photographs began to appear in fashion magazines such as Harper’s BazaarVogueFemina as well as Revue de l’art. Many of these photographs anticipate the displays at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme held in Paris in the following year, in which much use was made of mannequins.

At the outbreak of World War II Wols, as a German citizen, was interned for 14 months in the notorious Les Milles camp – together with some 3500 other artists and intellectuals. He was not released until late 1940. After his release Wols moved for two years to Cassis, near Marseille, where he struggled to earn a living. The occupation of Southern France by the Germans in 1942 forced him to flee to Dieulefit, near Montélimar, where he met the writer Henri-Pierre Roché, one of his earliest collectors. He spent most of the war trying to emigrate to the United States, an unsuccessful and costly enterprise that may have driven him to alcoholism.

After the war Wols returned to Paris where he met Jean-Paul Sartre, Tristan Tzara and Jean Paulhan. He started to paint in oils in 1946 at the suggestion of the dealer René Drouin, who showed 40 of his paintings at his gallery in 1947. The same year Wols began to work on a number of illustrations for books by Paulhan, Sartre, Franz Kafka and Antonin Artaud. He fell ill but lacked the money to go to hospital, and throughout 1948 he worked largely in bed on these illustrations. In 1949 he took part in the exhibition Huit oeuvres nouvelles at the Galerie Drouin, along with Jean Dubuffet, Roberto Matta, Henri Michaux and other artists with whom he had a stylistic affinity.

Undergoing treatment for alcoholism, he moved to the country at Champigny-sur-Marne in June 1951. His early death later that year from food poisoning helped foster the legendary reputation that grew up around him soon afterwards. His paintings helped pioneer Art informel and Tachism, which dominated European art during and after the 1950s as a European counterpart to American Abstract Expressionism. Influenced by the writings of the philosopher Lao Tzu throughout his life, Wols also wrote poems and aphorisms that expressed his aesthetic and philosophical ideas.”

Text from the Weimar blog 2010

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Flea Market]' Autumn 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols
Untitled [Paris – Flea Market]
Autumn 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Palisade]' Fall 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 - August 1939

 

Wols
Untitled [Paris – Palisade]
Fall 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 – August 1939
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Eiffel Tower]' 1937

 

Wols
Untitled [Paris – Eiffel Tower]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Still Life - Grapefruit]' 1938 - August 1939

 

Wols
Untitled [Still Life – Grapefruit]
1938 – August 1939
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Self Portrait with Hat' 1937/38

 

Wols
Self Portrait with Hat
1937/38
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

28
Nov
13

Vale Saul Leiter: the world will be less colour-full, less abstract, less sensual without him

.

“Seeing is a neglected enterprise,” Mr. Leiter often said

.
“I am not immersed in self-admiration,” he said. “When I am listening to Vivaldi or Japanese music or making spaghetti at 3 in the morning and realize that I don’t have the proper sauce for it, fame is of no use.”

.
“He broke all the rules when it came to composing a photograph,” said Mr. Leiter’s assistant, Margit Erb, who confirmed his death, at his home. “He put things into the abstract, he paid attention to color, he threw foregrounds out of focus, which made the photographs feel very voyeuristic. He applied a painterly mentality that the photography world had not seen.”

.
His art was enough.

Marcus

.

.

Saul Leiter. 'Taxi' 1956

.

Saul Leiter
Taxi
1956

.

.

“”In order to build a career and to be successful, one has to be determined,” Mr. Leiter said in an interview for a monograph published in Germany in 2008. “One has to be ambitious. I much prefer to drink coffee, listen to music and to paint when I feel like it.” …

Unplanned and unstaged, Mr. Leiter’s photographs are slices fleetingly glimpsed by a walker in the city. People are often in soft focus, shown only in part or absent altogether, though their presence is keenly implied. Sensitive to the city’s found geometry, he shot by design around the edges of things: vistas are often seen through rain, snow or misted windows.

“A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person,” Mr. Leiter says in [the film] “In No Great Hurry.””

.
Read the obituary of this wonderful artist at “Saul Leiter, Photographer Who Captured New York’s Palette, Dies at 89” on the New York Times website, November 27, 2013

.

Saul Leiter. 'Foot on El' 1954

.

Saul Leiter
Foot on El
1954

.

.

More images

Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter’ at Kunst Haus Wien, Vienna, January – May 2013
Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter Retrospective’ at The House of Photography at Deichtorhallen Hamburg, February – April 2012
Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter: New York Reflections’ at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, October 2011 – March 2012

.

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

17
Jun
13

Review: ‘Johsel Namkung: A Retrospective’ published by Cosgrove Editions, 2013

Published by Cosgrove Editions, Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective is a collection of one hundred exquisite images selected from a remarkable career in photography spanning six decades.

.

.
“I like to give my viewers questions, not answers. Let them find beauty in the most mundane things, like roadside wildflowers and tumbled weeds.”

.
Johsel Namkung

.

“When we can find the abstract in nature we find the deepest art.”

.
Mark Tobey

.

“Photographs give us information; it seems that they give us information that is very packaged and they give us the information that we are already prepared to recognize obviously. It’s as if the words don’t have the weight they should have, so that one of the statements being made by any photograph is: “This really exists.” The photograph is a kind of job for the imagination to do something that we should have been able to do if we were not so disturbed by so many different kinds of information that are not really absorbed. Photographs have this authority of being testimony, but almost as if you have some direct contact with the thing, or as if the photograph is a piece of the thing; even though it’s an image, it really is the thing.”

.
Susan Sontag. Excerpt from a speech, Wellesley College photographic symposium, April 21, 1975

.

.

This is a superlative book by Cosgrove Editions that celebrates the sixty-year life in photography of the now 94-year-old Johsel Namkung. Rather than a retrospective I see this book as testimony to Johsel Namkung’s vision as an artist and the photographs, as Susan Sontag observes above, as testaments that allow the viewer to have some direct contact with the things that Johsel photographed, to see and feel with him the places that he visited and the things that he saw.

Some of the photographs in this book take your breath away. Taken with a large format camera Johsel’s compositions are heavily influenced by music and are almost fugue-like in their structure. They vibrate and sing like few other landscape photographs that I have ever seen. There is the absence of a horizon, so that his photographs seem to agree with the picture-plane rather than with the world at large.1 Rather, Johsel lets his images flow and in that flow he creates patterning that distinctly creates layers of landscape. The juxtaposing of lines on the landscape is reinforced in the sequencing of the book, where binary opposites are paired on facing pages: feminine / masculine, yang / ying, macro / micro. For example Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989 is printed opposite Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979 (feminine / masculine); Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989 is printed opposite Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991 (yang / ying); and the vast Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987 is printed opposite the almost Japanese-like delicacy of Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980 (macro / micro). Although there are links to Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Toby and photographers Ansel Adams, Minor White and Eliot Porter this work is wholly Johsel’s in its compositional structure – the position that the photographer puts himself in, both physically and mentally, to obtain these most beautiful of images.

Johsel has a love of small triangular shapes within the pictorial frame. They act like small punctum or pizzicato in musical terms and these given details are intended as such by the photographer. The little punctum in Johsel’s individual works become an accumulation of small punctum that resonate throughout the whole testimony of his work – through the placement of rocks and twigs, the use of triangles and layers whose presence Johsel so loves within the photograph. In this sense (that the photograph is written by the photographer), these are photographs of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. Working in the manner of Minor White (photographing in meditation, creating a pathway from the self to the object, from the object through the camera and back to the self, forming a circle), harmonising all elements (visual, physical, elemental, spiritual), Johsel exposes himself as much as the landscape he is photographing. This is his spirit in relation to the land, to the cosmos, even. Like Monet’s paintings of water lilies these photographs are a “small dreaming” of his spirit with a section of the land not necessarily, as in Aboriginal art, a dreaming and connection to the whole land.

As Minor White observes of the “recognition” of such dreaming when working with the view camera,

“First, there is a store of images, experience, ego problems, ideals, fears, which the man brings to his seeing at the start. Second, during the activity of seeing they are matched against the images in the visual world, like matching colors. This is done with some conscious effort and a great deal of unconscious participation. At the moment of matching or “recognition” there is a feeling of important at least, and sometimes a merciless impact. This in turn is secured by exposure – like a sudden gust of wind drops a ripe apple. So we can say “recognition” is the trigger of exposure. In view camera work the lapse between recognition and exposure may be relatively long. There is time for analysis and criticism of image and idea, and exposure sums up the entire experience.”2

.
Like the sudden gust of wind drops the ripe apple.

Oh the joy Johsel must have found when he recognised such invocations, by being aware of his surroundings and his relationship to the earth. I know from my own experience that when you find such a place and recognise it for what it is, it is then an entirely different matter to capture it on film for the camera imparts its own perspective. It is almost as if Johsel and the camera are one, and that the camera itself has disappeared into the landscape (I like the way that you can nearly see his camera but it is actually hidden in the photograph at the bottom of the posting). I get the feeling that Johsel is quite consciously working within an adopted aesthetic – sort of like a tea ceremony – and just making things purposefully and having faith that it is some sort “of way” of doing things. At no point is there any sense of difficulty here – it has all been removed. Yet there was so much physical effort: climbing, walking, waiting, patience, no trace of it. What a heroic act this is!

Johsel approaches a metaphysics of the Real, creating authentic visualisations of the world – an idealised, abstracted Real tending towards a (mental) s(t)imulation. In other words, he photographs the world not to reveal a specific place but a particular state of mind. Is the link to indexicality broken? No, but there is no ultimate truth or origin here, for his is an art of transformation (theatricality) through structure (modernism) which is the essence of aesthetic arts.

“This strategy rejects the search for an origin or ultimate Truth and instead interprets reality as composed, contingent and intersubjective; reality is, therefore, theatrical… Theatricality is made of this endless play and of these continuous displacements of the position of desire, in other words, of the position of the subject in process with an imaginary constructive space.”3

.
In Johsel’s photographs desire is displaced, ego is removed and his photographs become images of the mind as much as they are of the landscape. This is Johsel at play recognising, becoming these imaginary, constructive spaces. He is in the zone, he becomes the zone, even. Finally we can say: his photographs and his life are transformational; his imagination is the representation of possibility; his work is testimony to that representation.

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.

Many thankx to Johsel Namkung, Dick Busher and Cosgrove Editions for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Dick Busher allowed me to pick the photographs that I wanted to illustrate this posting and for that I am most grateful. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

The book has recently taken top honors in two different award competitions among independent publishers for photography books: The Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benny Awards, and the Independent Publishers IPPY Awards.

PS. I think that photographer is very aware of: “Let the subject generate its own composition” (MW) – coming from Weston’s “Composition is the strongest way of seeing.”

.

.

 Johsel Namkung. 'Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000' 2000

.

Johsel Namkung
Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000
2000

.

 Johsel Namkung. 'Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991' 1991

.

Johsel Namkung
Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991
1991

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989' 1989

.

Johsel Namkung
Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989
1989

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979' 1979

.

Johsel Namkung
Picture Lake, Mount Baker, Washington July 1979
1979

.

.

“In his photography Johsel brings attention and importance to elements of nature that most people pass by on their way to the grand vistas. One of my favorite locations in Washington is the Palouse as seen from Steptoe Butte; Johsel’s interpretations of the undulating wheat fields just greening with new growth are sensuous and impressionistic. One feels the slope of the earth, the texture of the tilled fields rather than seeing it. The sophisticated simplicity of his vision is highlighted in a simple composition of a dark pond surface, afloat with delicate grasses; the fine lines flowing this way and that give a sense of constant movement, yet it is a still photograph. In a twig reaching out of the snow, the subtle reflection on a pond in late afternoon light, delicate frozen ripples of ice clinging to river rock, the geometric chaos of tree branches covered in snow, the rich patina of weather-beaten stone, Johsel celebrates the minute in a grand way; it becomes the symbol for the greater whole. Textures, rhythm of line and movement become the foremost elements in his work. Some of Johsel’s images are quiet and abstract, singing a single note, while others are full-out symphonies in a celebration of the rhythms. In particular I find his Korean landscapes extraordinary. In winter the alpine hillsides bare their architecture; ridge after ridge, speckled with leafless birch and pyramidal conifers, they overlap in a crescendo of natural beauty.”

Art Wolfe, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989' 1989

.

Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989
1989

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991' 1991

.

Johsel Namkung
Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991
1991

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977' 1977

.

Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977
1977

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983' 1983

.

Johsel Namkung
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983
1983

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Denali National Park, Alaska  September, 1987' 1987

.

Johsel Namkung
Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987
1987

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980' 1980

.

Johsel Namkung
Arrigetch, Alaska September, 1980
1980

.

.

“Photography as a medium is still relatively young. Introduced publicly in 1839, its definition has remained complicated in discourse and practice, oscillating between practical application – whether scientific illustration, family record, or aid to commerce – and aesthetic or expressive concerns. Debates that arose shortly after its invention, contesting whether photography could be an artistic medium, remained heated a century later and beyond, resolving only after Photoshop and other types of photographic manipulation became commonplace. Questions about the role of the photographer, the relative merits of color versus black-and-white, truth to the original shot versus darkroom manipulation, investigations about canon, hierarchy, and genre have continued to multiply, as have the social organizations – art schools, technical assistance and supplies, professional and amateur societies, regular shows and publications – that foster photographic work. Becoming a photographer in the middle of the twentieth century, Johsel Namkung emerged at the intersection of all these social and conceptual shifts. Taking advantage of this opening, he made several unconventional choices: deciding to work in color although it was black and white that signified art photography until the 1970s or later; working abstractly, but hewing to the dictates of straight photography: available light, no darkroom manipulation, print the full negative.

From the acquisition of his first camera, Namkung developed high standards for his photographic practice, recalling to interviewer Alan Lau, “I always had a confidence in myself… I had a sort of a vision toward my photographic future. I knew I was going to be something.”1 Trained first as a musician, from the beginning Namkung defined photography in abstract terms, approaching his motifs in terms of rhythms, tonal relationships, pattern, and texture. Individual works reveal specific affinities. The calligraphic grasses in Lizzard Lake, Stampede Pass, WA, August 1976 suggests Harry Callahan’s images of reeds, which are associated with Abstract Expressionist photography. The lichen-covered stone in Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, WA, September 1976 resembles Jackson Pollock or the famed White Paintings of Namkung’s friend Mark Tobey. The screen of regular tree trunks in Sherman Pass, WA, August 1993, recalls the hatched lines representing driving rain in modern Japanese printmaking. Like limpid watercolor strokes, the rolling hills of the Palouse – distinct in each version of Steptoe Butte, of 1976, 1977, and 1983 – allude to Morris Louis’s color field paintings.

Namkung’s preface here recounts how successive unusual jobs supplied him with professional training as a photographer. Seattle in the postwar boom years also provided a rich and supportive context for his art. Skilled artists from the ranks of first- and second-generation immigrants, from Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines, gathered in the International District but worked and showed farther afield. Art photography had a popular following and many innovative practitioners; Pictorialism – promoted by annual exhibitions like those organized by the Seattle Camera Club – encouraged aesthetic and technical exploration with cameras. The so-called Northwest Mystics represented only one of several artistic communities exploring abstraction, some emphasizing its expressive potential, others seeking formal invention. Creativity was equally celebrated beyond fine art. Rarefied technical challenges were tackled and mastered at The Boeing Company as well as the scientific laboratories of the University of Washington. The richness of this cultural ecology fostered the unique development of Namkung’s career. In return, his thoughtful production has nourished local and international audiences for over four decades.”

Elizabeth Brown, Former Chief Curator, Henry Art Gallery, Introduction to Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective

.
1 Alan Chong Lau interview of Johsel Namkung conducted in Seattle, Washington, on October 5, 1989, for the Archives of American Art Northwest Asian American Project.

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981' 1981

.

Johsel Namkung
Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981
1981

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Bissell, Washington December, 1981' 1981

.

Johsel Namkung
Bissell, Washington December, 1981
1981

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown' Nd

.

Johsel Namkung
Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown
Nd

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976' 1976

.

Johsel Namkung
Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976
1976

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988' 1988

.

Johsel Namkung
Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988
1988

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002' 2002

.

Johsel Namkung
Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002
2002

.

Johsel Namkung. 'Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984' 1984

.

Johsel Namkung
Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984
1984

.

joshel-camera

.

Joshel Namkung on Hurricane Ridge, photographed by his friend Ken Levine

.

.

1. Adapted from Robert Nelson commenting on the painting of Monet. “Impressionist’s ode to beauty trips into light fantastic,” The Age newspaper, Wednesday May 22nd 2013, p.42.

2. White, Minor. “Exploratory Camera,” 1949 in Bunnell, Peter C. (ed.,). Aperture Magazine Anthology – The Minor White Years 1952-1976. Aperture, 2013, p.64.

3. Féral, Josette. “Performance and Theatricality: The Subject Demystified,” in Modern Drama 25 (March) 1982, p.177.

.

.

Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective website

Cosgrove Editions website

Cosgrove Editions is an independent publisher of books on photography. We also provide production and printing assistance for artists who self publish their work. Many of our projects have won some of the highest international awards for printing quality.

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top

18
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter’ at Kunst Haus Wien, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 31st January – 26th May 2013

.

“I like it when one is not certain of what one sees.
We don’t know why the photographer has taken such a picture.
If we look and look, we begin to see and are still left with the pleasure of uncertainty.”

.
“It is not where it is or what it is that matters, but how you see it.”

.
“After the age of 75 you should not be photographed.
You should be painted by Rembrandt or Hals, but not by Caravaggio.”

.
Saul Leiter

.

.
How brave is this photographer, occluding most of the colour image in darkness, something that had never been done before and has rarely been seen since. Look at the last three photographs in this posting to understand what I mean.

Considering that Saul Leiter’s colour photography predates William Eggleston and Stephen Shore by a couple of decades, it can truly be said that he is one of the early masters of colour photography. As the curator Ingo Taubhorn comments, “The older aesthetic views on the hegemony of black-and-white photography and the historical dating of the first artistic use of colour photography to the early 1970s need to be critically reviewed. Saul Leiter’s oeuvre essentially rewrites the history of photography.”  Well said.

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

.

.

Saul Leiter. 'From the El' c. 1955

.

Saul Leiter
From the El
c. 1955
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Nude' 1970s

.

Saul Leiter
Nude
1970s
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Taxi' c. 1957

.

Saul Leiter
Taxi
c. 1957
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

.

KUNST HAUS WIEN is devoting a major retrospective to the oeuvre of the 89-year-old photographer and painter Saul Leiter. The exhibition, which was developed in cooperation with House of Photography / Deichtorhallen Hamburg, presents the wide range of this versatile artist’s works, including early black-and-white and colour photographs, fashion images, painted photographs of nudes, paintings and a number of his sketchbooks. One section of the exhibition is devoted to Saul Leiter’s most recent photographs, which he continues to take on the streets of New York’s East Village.

It is only in the last few years that Saul Leiter has received due recognition for his role as one of the pioneers of colour photography. As early as 1946, and thus well before the representatives of the so-called “new colour” photography in the 1970s, such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, he was one of the first to use colour photography for artistic shots, despite its being frowned upon by other artists of the day. “The older aesthetic views on the hegemony of black-and-white photography and the historical dating of the first artistic use of colour photography to the early 1970s need to be critically reviewed. Saul Leiter’s oeuvre essentially rewrites the history of photography,” comments curator Ingo Taubhorn.

Saul Leiter has always considered himself both a painter and a photographer. In his painting and in his photographs he clearly tends towards abstraction and two-dimensionality. One often finds large deep-black areas, produced by shadows, taking up as much as three quarters of his photographs. Passers-by are not presented as individuals, but as blurred clouds of colour, filtered through misty panes of glass or wedged in between walls of buildings and traffic signs. The boundaries between the abstract and the representational in his paintings and photographs are virtually fluid. Saul Leiter’s street photography – a genre in which his work is matchless – is, in essence, painting metamorphosed into photography.

In Leiter’s works, the genres of street photography, portraiture, still life, fashion photography and architectural photography coalesce. He finds his motifs, such as shop windows, passers-by, cars, signs and – time and again – umbrellas, in the direct vicinity of his apartment in New York, where he has now lived for almost 60 years. The indeterminateness of detail, the blurring of movement and reduced depth of field, the use of shadows or deliberate avoidance of the necessary light, as well as the alienation caused by photographing through windows or as reflections, all combine to create the muted colour vocabulary of a semi-real, semiabstract urban space. These are the works of an as yet almost undiscovered modern master of colour photography.

.
About Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter discovered his passion for art at an early age and started painting as a teenager at the end of the 1940s. His family did not support him in his artistic endeavours; his father, a renowned Talmudic rabbi and scholar, had always hoped his son Saul would one day follow him in the family tradition and become a rabbi. Leiter was self-taught, but by no means uneducated. He read and learned a great deal about art, so that his knowledge and understanding constantly grew. In this way, he made sure that his own ideas and artistic works were duly related to the historical context.

In 1946, shortly after he had moved to New York, Leiter became acquainted with Richard Poussette-Dart, who introduced him to photography, a medium that appealed to Leiter very much and that he quickly made his own. Leiter soon resolved to use photography not only as a means of making art but as a way of earning a living. He started taking fashion photographs, and thanks to his good eye, his playful sense of humour, and his pronounced sense of elegance, swiftly emerged as an extraordinary fashion photographer. In the 1950s, “Life” magazine published photo spreads of Saul Leiter’s first black-and-white series. He took part in exhibitions, for example “Always the Young Strangers” (1953) curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art. From 1958 to 1967, Leiter worked for “Harper’s Bazaar.” Altogether he spent some 20 years photographing for various classic magazines as well as more recent ones: after “Esquire” and “Harper’s” he also worked for “Show”, “Elle”, “British Vogue”, “Queen” and “Nova”.

.

Saul Leiter. 'New York' 1950s

.

Saul Leiter
New York
1950s
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Sign Painter' 1954

.

Saul Leiter
Sign Painter
1954
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Graffiti Heads' 1950

.

Saul Leiter
Graffiti Heads
1950
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Shirt' 1948

.

Saul Leiter
Shirt
1948
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Harlem' 1960

.

Saul Leiter
Harlem
1960
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Hat' 1956

.

Saul Leiter
Hat
1956
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Street Scene' 1957

.

Saul Leiter
Street Scene
1957
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

.

The exhibition chapters

Abstract Painting

Although his photographic oeuvre has dominated his image as an artist, Saul Leiter sees himself first and foremost as a painter. He began his artistic career as a painter, and while working as a photographer he never stopped painting and drawing. Leiter’s passion for art began when he was just a child, even though his ambitions received no support from his family. As a teenager he spent many hours in libraries studying art books. He found inspiration in the paintings of such artists as Vermeer, Bonnard, Vuillard and Picasso, as well as in Japanese graphic art. Leiter, who was self-taught, painted his first pictures in 1940. Most of them were lyrical, abstract compositions that reflected his admiration for the new American avant-garde. His ardent feeling for colour is recognisable even in these early paintings, as is his lifelong predilection for painting small format pastels and watercolours on paper.

After moving to New York in 1946, he sometimes presented his works together with abstract expressionist painters such as Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston. His studio was located on 10th Street in the East Village, which at that time was a neighbourhood very popular with avant-garde artists. Leiter shared these artists’ interest in abstraction and the use of colour, gesture and the element of chance, but he chose a radically different format for his works. Whereas many of his contemporaries, such as Jasper Johns or Franz Kline, painted wall-sized paintings that physically filled the beholder’s entire field of vision, Leiter worked in an intimate, small format. His works were also exhibited at the Tanager Gallery, one of the most important artist-run cooperatives in the East Village at that time. After switching the main focus of his work to photography in the late 1940s, however, Leiter stopped exhibiting his paintings.

.
Figurative Painting

Saul Leiter’s abstract painting frequently unites qualities of intimacy and familiarity with a sense of space reminiscent of an open landscape. Occasionally he also makes figurative sketches. Often these give mere intimations of a face or a body, perhaps a pointed nose, eyes and a mouth. Some of his male figures wear hats, similar to those worn by the religious Jews that peopled Leiter’s world in his youth. Most of these works focus on a single figure; only occasionally do we see a couple, or several figures grouped together. The quality of the line and the subtle suggestion of figures or heads in these paintings are reminiscent of paintings by Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, in which facial features are hinted at through lines and fine shadings of color rather than being defined by careful modelling.

.
Street Photography

When, in 1947, Saul Leiter attended an exhibition of works by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, he became convinced of the creative potential of this medium. He bought himself a 35mm Leica camera at a bargain and began, without any previous training, to take photographs on the streets of New York. At first he used only black-and-white film, but in 1948 he also started using colour film. His black-and-white photographs exhibit some elements of documentary photography but are nevertheless far removed from a photojournalistic style. Rather, they are subjective observations, often concentrating on a single individual in the big city. Leiter’s complex, multilayered works evoke feelings of alienation, melancholy and tension. Leiter underscores this impression by experimenting with strong contrasts, light and shadow, and asymmetrical compositions containing large areas in which the images are blurred.

Thematically and stylistically, there are great similarities between Leiter’s works and the works of other representatives of New York street photography of the same era, for example Ted Croner, Leon Levinstein, Louis Faurer and later Robert Frank and William Klein, today generally known as the New York School. Their radical new, subjective photography had a psychological component that revealed an unusual sensitivity to social turbulences and the uncertainty felt by many Americans during the years following the Second World War.

.
Colour Photography

Until well into the 1970s, colour photography was used almost exclusively for advertising and fashion magazines. Many photographers considered the vivid colours unsuitable for artistic expression. Moreover, they were unable to develop their colour film themselves, which made it a very expensive undertaking. It was not until 1976 that the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave its first exhibition devoted to colour photography, when it presented “Photographs by William Eggleston”.

Saul Leiter was one of the few photographers who did not reject colour photography. As a painter, he took a particular interest in street photography as a genre in which to experiment with colour film. As early as 1948, at the beginning of his career, he bought his first roles of 35mm Kodachrome colour slide film, which had been on the market since 1936. In order to save money, he often used film that had passed its sell-by date. Leiter particularly liked the resulting pictures with their delicate, muted colours.

The innumerable early colour photographs that Leiter took between 1948 and 1960 are of a unique painterly and narrative quality. They stand in contrast to the works of other photographers, in which colour is often the defining element of the composition. This circumstance, coupled with Leiter’s tendency towards abstraction, links Leiter’s photography with his painting. But in contrast to his painting (and his black-and-white photographs), his colour photographs are highly structured. It is the incomparable beauty of these works that has brought Leiter recognition as one of the masters of 20th-century photography.

.
Fashion Photography

In the late 1950s, Saul Leiter worked successfully in the fields of fashion photography and advertising. From the very first, his style was unmistakeable. His images were multilayered and complex, characterised by soft, impressionistic qualities and cubist changes of perspective. He was given his first commercial assignment in 1958 by Henry Wolf, at that time the new Art Director of Harper’s Bazaar, with whom Leiter became friends. Harper’s Bazaar was one of the leading American fashion magazines, presenting trail-blazing fashion series by photographers such as Richard Avedon or Lillian Bassman.

Subsequently, Leiter was given more and more prestigious assignments, and over the years began to spend almost all his time doing commercial work. Apart from Harper’s Bazaar, his fashion and advertising photos appeared in Elle and Show, in British Vogue and Queen and also in Nova. The amazing thing is that during this period, Leiter managed to retain his own narrative, stylised aesthetic, whereas other fashion photographers favoured a rather brittle, graphic style. In the 1970s, partly due to his own dwindling interest in commercial photography, Leiter received fewer and fewer assignments. In 1981 he gave up his studio on Fifth Avenue and in the following years led a quiet life far from the public eye.

.

Saul Leiter. 'Carol Brown, 'Harper's Bazaar'' c. 1958

.

Saul Leiter
Carol Brown, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’
c. 1958
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Soames Bantry, 'Nova'' 1960

.

Saul Leiter
Soames Bantry, ‘Nova’
1960
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Walking' 1956

.

Saul Leiter
Walking
1956
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Reflection' 1958

.

Saul Leiter
Reflection
1958
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

.

“I spent a great deal of my life being ignored. I was always very happy that way. Being ignored is a great privilege. That is how I think I learnt to see what others do not see and to react to situations differently. I simply looked at the world, not really prepared for anything.”

.
Saul Leiter

.

.
Art critic Roberta Smith wrote in 2005: “Mr. Leiter was a photographer less of people than of perception itself. His painter’s instincts served him well in his emphasis on surface, spatial ambiguity and a lush, carefully calibrated palette. But the abstract allure of his work doesn’t rely on soft focus, a persistent, often irritating photographic ploy, or the stark isolation of details, in the manner of Aaron Siskind or early Harry Callahan. Instead, Mr. Leiter captured the passing illusions of everyday life with a precision that might almost seem scientific, if it weren’t so poetically resonant and visually layered.” (from Lens Culture)

.

Saul Leiter. 'Shopping' c. 1953

.

Saul Leiter
Shopping
c. 1953
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Kutztown' 1948

.

Saul Leiter
Kutztown
1948
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

Saul Leiter. 'Pizza, Patterson' 1952

.

Saul Leiter
Pizza, Patterson
1952
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

.

.

KUNST HAUS WIEN
Museum Hundertwasser
Untere Weißgerberstraße 13
1030 Vienna
T: +43-1-712 04 91

Opening hours:
Daily, 10 am – 7 pm

Kunst Haus Wein website

LIKE ART BLART ON FACEBOOK

Back to top




Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

Join 2,191 other followers

Follow Art_Blart on Twitter
Art Blart on Pinterest

Lastest tweets

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

October 2017
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Archives

Categories