Posts Tagged ‘aerial photographs

09
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Balthasar Burkhard’ at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 10th February – 21st May 2018

 

Balthasar Burkhard

Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

As is so often the case with an artist, it is the early work that shines brightest in this posting.

The works from On the Alp possess an essential power; the daring capture of actions and performances by the international avant-garde of the day make you wish you had been there; and the installation photograph of ‘The Knie’, Kunsthalle Basel in 1983 (below) makes me want to see more of his 1980s installations, with their shift in scale and repetitive nature. There are no more examples online, but a couple of photographs can be seen in the first installation photograph below.

I can leave the underwhelming aerial, cloud and landscape work well alone. There are many people in the history of photography who have taken better photographs of such subject matter. His life-sized photographs of animals again do nothing for me. They possess a reductive minimalism riffing on the canvas backgrounds of Avedon blown up to enormous size (as in most contemporary photography, as if by making something large the photograph gains aura and importance) but they lead nowhere. Perhaps in their actual presence (the physicality of the print) I might be transported to another place, but in reproduction they are a one-dimensional non sequitur.

From the energy of the earlier work emerges “a beauty contest between animals in a photo-shoot”, scrupulous studio photos that demand to be taken seriously, but mean very little. Here, passion has lost out to rigorous and deathly control.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Together, Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz will showcase the oeuvre of Swiss artist Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) in a major retrospective. Burkhard’s work spans half a century: from his early days as a trainee photographer with Kurt Blum to his seminal role in chronicling the art of his time, eventually becoming a photographic artist in his own right who brought photography into the realms of contemporary art in the form of the monumental tableau. More than 150 works and groups of works chart not only the progress of his own photographic career, but also the emergence of photography as an art form in the second half of the twentieth century. An exhibition in collaboration with Museum Folkwang, Essen, and Museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana, Lugano.

 

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) from 'On the Alp' 1963

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
from On the Alp
1963
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'oT (Urs Luthi, Balthasar Burkhard, Jean-Frederic Schnyder), Amsterdam' 1969

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
oT (Urs Luthi, Balthasar Burkhard, Jean-Frederic Schnyder), Amsterdam
1969
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Untitled (Jean-Christophe Ammann at Andy Warhol's Factory), New York' 1972

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Untitled (Jean-Christophe Ammann at Andy Warhol’s Factory), New York
1972
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Jean-Christophe Ammann. 'oT (Balthasar Burkhard), USA' 1972

 

Jean-Christophe Ammann
oT (Balthasar Burkhard), USA
Venice, 1972
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

Together, Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz have launched a major retrospective exhibition dedicated to the lifetime achievement of Swiss artist Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010). His oeuvre is almost unparalleled in the way it reflects not only the self-invention of a photographer but also the emancipation of photography as an artistic medium in its own right during the second half of the twentieth century.

The exhibition charts the many facets of Burkhard’s career, step by step, from his apprenticeship with Kurt Blum – in which he adhered closely to the traditional reportage and illustrative photography of the 1960s, and undertook his first independent photographic projects – to his role alongside legendary curator Harald Szeemann, and his documentation of Bern’s bohemian scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Balthasar Burkhard is the author of many iconic images of such groundbreaking exhibitions as When Attitudes Become Form at Kunsthalle Bern in 1969 and the 1972 documenta 5, capturing radical and frequently ephemeral works, actions and performances by the international avant-garde of the day.

Meanwhile, Burkhard endeavoured to make his mark both as a photographer and as an artist, developing his first large-scale photographic canvases in collaboration with his friend and colleague Markus Raetz, trying out his skills as an actor in the USA, and ultimately being invited to hold his own highly influential exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel and Musée Rath in Geneva in 1983 and 1984. These enabled him to liberate photography from its purely documentary role by creating monumental tableaux in which he developed the motif of the body into sculptural human landscapes and site-specific architectures.

Throughout the course of his career, Burkhard turned time and again to portraiture. Whereas his early photographs tended to show artists in action within their own setting, his later portraits adopted an increasingly formalised approach. During the 1990s, he transposed this stylistic reduction to a wide-ranging series of animal portraits reminiscent of the encyclopaedic style of nineteenth century photography.

Another milestone of Burkhard’s oeuvre can be found in his vast aerial photographs of major mega cities such as Tokyo and Mexico City. These images, shot from an aircraft, like his images of the earth’s deserts, were destined to become a personal passion. Balthasar Burkhard’s quest for a morphology, for a formula that could encapsulate both nature and culture, is particularly evident in his later work, which ranges from pictures of waves and clouds, Swiss mountains and rivers, to the delicate fragility of plants. His interest was always focused on the materiality of the image. Alongside the highly idosyncratic and somewhat darkly sombre tonality of his prints, Burkhard constantly sought to explore every aspect of photography’s aesthetic and technical potential.

Encompassing half a century of creativity, the joint exhibition by Fotomuseum and Fotostiftung not only shows individual works, but also reflects on Balthasar Burkhard’s own view of how his photographs should be presented, underpinned by a wealth of documents from the archives of the artist. The exhibition is divided in two parts and shown in parallel in the exhibition spaces of Fotomuseum and Fotostiftung.

Press release

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) / Markus Raetz. 'The Bed' 1969/70

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) / Markus Raetz
The Bed
1969/70
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'oT (Michael Heizer, Berne Depression), Berne' 1969

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
oT (Michael Heizer, Berne Depression), Berne
1969
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Untitled (Richard Serra, Splash Piece), Berne' 1969

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Untitled (Richard Serra, Splash Piece), Berne
1969
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'oT (Harald Szeemann, the last day of documenta 5), Kassel' 1972

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
oT (Harald Szeemann, the last day of documenta 5), Kassel
1972
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

With this major retrospective, Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz pay homage to the Swiss artist Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010). His oeuvre is almost unparalleled in the way it reflects not only the self-invention of a photographer, but also the emancipation of photography as an artistic medium in its own right during the second half of the twentieth century.

Together, the two institutions chart the many and varied facets of Burkhard’s career, step by step. Fotostiftung presents early works from the days of his apprenticeship with Kurt Blum and his first independent documentary photographs. The exhibition also traces Burkhard’s role as a photographer alongside the curator Harald Szeemann and capturing images of Bern’s bohemian scene in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, Burkhard carved his niche as a photographer and artist, developing his first large-scale photographic canvases in collaboration with his friend Markus Raetz and eventually breaking away from the European art world in search of both himself and new inspiration in the USA.

The second part of the exhibition at Fotomuseum shows the work created by Burkhard after his return to Europe, and his exploration of the photographic tableau. It was during this phase that he largely succeeded in emancipating photography from its purely documentary function. Using monumental formats, he translated the motif of the human body into sculptural landscapes and site-specific architectures. He went on to apply his stylistic device of formal reduction to portraits and landscapes. This marked the beginning of a series of experiments in the handling of photographic techniques. From long-distance aerial photographs of mega-cities such as Mexico City and Tokyo to close-up studies of flowers and plants, Burkhard seemed to be constantly seeking a formula that would embrace both nature and culture, encapsulating a sensory and sensual grasp of visible reality.

Encompassing half a century of creativity, the exhibition not only shows individual works, but is also underpinned by applied projects, films and many documents from the archives of the artist. This wealth of material allows a reflection both on Balthasar Burkhard’s own view of how his photographs should be presented in the exhibition space as well as his constant weighing-up of other media.

 

Part I (Fotostiftung Schweiz)

Early photographs

Balthasar Burkhard was just eight years old when his father gave him a camera to take along on a school excursion. Burkhard himself describes this early experience with the camera as the starting point of his career. It was also his father who suggested an apprenticeship with Kurt Blum, one of Switzerland’s foremost photographers, ranking along-side Paul Senn, Jakob Tuggener and Gotthard Schuh. Blum taught the young Balz, as he was nicknamed, all the finer points of darkroom technique as well as the art of large-format photography. The earliest work from Burkhard’s apprentice years is a reportage of the school, in the form of a book, while his documentation of the Distelzwang Society’s historic guildhall in the old quarter of Bern was clearly a lesson in architectural photography. Yet, no sooner had he completed his apprenticeship than Burkhard was already embarking on his very own independent projects inspired by post-war humanist photography, such as Auf der Alp, a study of rural Alpine life, for which he was awarded the Swiss Federal Grant for Applied Arts in 1964.

 

Chronicler of Bohemian Life in Bern

Even during his apprenticeship, Burkhard moved in the Bernese art circles to which his teacher Kurt Blum also belonged. In 1962, he created a first portrait, in book form, of painter and writer Urs Dickerhof. Shortly after that, he became friends with his near-contemporary Markus Raetz, and started taking photographs for the charismatic curator Harald Szeemann, who was director of Kunsthalle Bern from 1961 to 1969. Burkhard immersed himself in the vibrantly dynamic Swiss art scene, documenting the often controversial exhibitions of conceptual art at the Kunsthalle, and capturing the lives of Bern’s bohemian set with his 35mm camera. These visual mementos would later be collated in a kind of photographic journal. Initial collaborative projects with artists included a 1966 artists’ book about the village of Curogna (Ticino) and a window display for the Loeb department store in Bern featuring photographic portraits of the Bernese artist Esther Altorfer, devised in collaboration with Markus Raetz and his later wife, fashion designer Monika Raetz-Müller.

 

Landscapes 1969

Inspired by his friend Raetz, Burkhard photographed bleak and rugged snow-covered landscapes in the Bernese Seeland region. Heaps of earth piled up along the wayside reminded him of Robert Smithson’s Earthworks, which had just emerged in contemporary art. As Burkhard would later explain, “I wanted to leave out everything relating to myself, so that I could truly relate to what remained. I distanced myself from my subject-matter. I succeeded in stepping back both from myself and from my work.”

A close-up of bare agricultural soil, vaguely reminiscent of a lunar landscape, forms the basis for an object with a neon tube created in 1969 for the legendary exhibition When Attitudes Become Form in collaboration with Harald Szeemann, Markus Raetz and Jean-Frédéric Schnyder. In 1969, Burkhard’s brown-toned landscapes were included in the 1969 exhibition photo actuelle suisse in Sion. They were subsequently published as his first independent portfolio by Allan Porter in the May issue of Camera magazine, which was dedicated to avant-garde European photography and its affinity with contemporary art.

 

The Amsterdam Canvases 1969-70

When Markus Raetz took a studio in Amsterdam in 1969, he and Burkhard continued to work on joint projects. Photographs of everyday motifs were enlarged, practically life-sized, onto canvas, and caused a sensation in the spring 1970 exhibition Visualisierte Denkprozesse (Visualised thought processes) at Kunstmuseum Luzern, curated by Jean-Christophe Ammann, who wrote: “On huge canvases, they [Raetz and Burkhard] showed, among other things, a spartan studio space, a bedroom, a kitchen, a curtain. They relativised the purely object-like character by hanging the canvases on clips. The resulting folds enriched the images by adding a new dimension.” In other words, the folds in the canvas created a “quasi ironic and disillusioning barrier.” Burkhard’s large-format works foreshadowed the monumental photographic tableaux that would eventually herald the ultimate march of photography into the museum space some ten years later.

 

Documentarist of the International Art Scene

By the end of the 1960s, Harald Szeemann and his polarising, controversial exhibitions were drawing increasing attention far beyond the boundaries of Switzerland. In particular, his (in)famous 1969 show When Attitudes Become Form unleashed heated debates that ultimately led to Szeemann’s resignation as director of Kunsthalle Bern. Then, in 1970, he shocked the members and visitors of the Kunstverein in Cologne with an exhibition dedicated to Happening & Fluxus. Here, too, Burkhard was on hand with his camera. Jean-Christophe Ammann, with whom Burkhard undertook a research trip to the USA in 1972, photographing many artists’ studios, proved no less controversial a figure. Moreover, Burkhard also photographed artists, actions and installations at the 1972 documenta 5 in Kassel, which was headed by none other than Szeemann himself. Given the expanded concept of art that prevailed at the time, which strengthened the role of performance art and installation works alike, photography, too, gained a newfound core significance. Indeed, it was only through photography that many of these innovative works were preserved for posterity.

 

Chicago and the Self-Invention of the Artist

Following a relatively unproductive period in the wake of documenta 5, during which he worked, among other things, on an unfinished documentary project about the small Swiss town of Zofingen, Burkhard spent the years between 1975 and 1978 in Chicago, where he taught photography at the University of Illinois. It was while he was there that he once again reprised the series of photo canvases he had been working on in Amsterdam between 1969 and 1970. This led to new large-format works portraying everyday scenes such as the back seat of an automobile or the interior of a home with a TV, as well as three now lost photographs of roller skaters and a very androgynous back-view nude study of a young man. In 1977 the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in Chicago presented these canvases together with a selection of the Amsterdam works in what was Burkhard’s first solo exhibition. Critics were impressed by his “soft photographs”. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, enthused: “‘European’ grace is wedded to ‘American’ strength in a supreme artistic fiction that suggests the wide-screen format of film.”

 

Self-Portraits

In Chicago, Burkhard rekindled his friendship with performance and conceptual artist Thomas Kovachevic, whom he had first met at documenta 5 and who now introduced him to the local art scene. At the same time, Burkhard toyed with the notion of trying his chances as a film actor in Hollywood. With Kovachevich’s help, he produced a series of self-portraits, both Polaroids and slides, which he presented in a small snakeskin-covered box as his application portfolio. He approached Alfred Hitchcock and Joshua Shelley of Columbia Pictures, albeit unsuccessfully. His only film role was in Urs Egger’s 1978 Eiskalte Vögel (Icebound; screened in seminar room I). Burkhard later transformed some of his self-portraits into large-scale canvases, through which he asserted his newfound sense of identity as an artist, making himself the subject-matter of his own artistic work. One of these was also shown in the Photo Canvases exhibition at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery.

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'feet 2' 1980

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
feet 2
1980
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'The Knie', Kunsthalle Basel (installation view) 1983

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
‘The Knie’, Kunsthalle Basel 
(installation view)
1983
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Study of The Head' c. 1983

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Study of The Head
c. 1983
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Design for Body II' c. 1983

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Design for Body II
c. 1983
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

 

Part II (Fotomuseum Winterthur)

Body and Sculpture

The 1980s heralded the advent of a particularly productive period for Balthasar Burkhard in which he adopted a more sculptural approach to photography, treating his prints as an integral part of the exhibition architecture. Just as he himself had witnessed how the generation of artists before him had called the classic exhibition space into question, so too did his own latest works now begin to take control of that space. Burkhard became one of the foremost proponents of large-scale photographic tableaux, as evidenced by his groundbreaking exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel in 1983 and Museé Rath, Geneva, in 1984.

It was in the photo canvases he made in Chicago during the late 1970s that Burkhard first turned towards the motif of the body as a sculptural form with which he would continue to experiment over the coming years. Such an overtly sculptural approach to the body and to the nude as landscape soon began to demand a larger format than Burkhard had previously been using. An arm, almost four metres long, framed by heavy steel, or the multipart installation Das Knie (Knee), reflect the very core of his creative oeuvre in all its many facets: monumentality, fragmentation and the breaking of genre boundaries by transposing two-dimensional images into spatially commanding installations.

 

Portraits: Types and Individuals

The increasing formal reduction of Balthasar Burkhard’s images continued in the field of portraiture. He invited fellow artists such as Lawrence Weiner and Christian Boltanski to sit for him. With this series, it seemed that he had finally put behind him his days as a chronicler of the art scene, reliant on the techniques of applied photography.

Portraits of a rather different kind are his profiles of animals, in an equally reduced setting, against the backdrop of a tarpaulin. Redolent of Renaissance drawings or nineteenth century animal photography, his images of sheep, wolves and lions come across as representing ideal and typical examples of their species without anthropomorphising them, while at the same time wrenching them out of their natural environment. These images reached a broad audience through the popular 1997 children’s book “Click!”, said the Camera, which was republished in its second edition in 2017.

 

Architectural Photography

Given his increasing success in the art world, Burkhard could well afford to be selective about his choice of commissioned works. He had already been taking photographs for architects connected with the Bern-based firm Atelier 5 back in the 1960s, and was still accepting commissions in this field in the 1990s. Burkhard’s photographic essay on the Ricola building designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron indicates just how thoroughly his own distinctive artistic syntax permeates his commissioned and architectural photography, right through to the details of fragments and materials. These photographs were shown in the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 1991, having been explicitly designed for this particular exhibition space. As in his artistic oeuvre, Burkhard operates here with spatially commanding installations, skilfully dovetailing the architectural motif with the presentational form.

 

Aerial Photography

In the 1990s, before the art world had even begun to turn its attention to the subject of megacities, Burkhard was already taking a keen interest in the world’s major conurbations. Following in the footsteps of his father, who had been a Swiss airforce pilot, he took bird’s-eye-view photographs from a plane. His panoramic shots of cities such as London, Mexico City and Los Angeles were preceded by small-format studies of clouds: the so-called Nuages series. Having incorporated a study of rural Switzerland into his formative training in 1963 with the series Auf der Alp (On the Alp), he returned once more to focus on the landscape of his homeland in the early 2000s with an entire series of aerial photographs of the Bernina mountain range.

 

Landscape and Flora

In the last two decades of his life, Burkhard concentrated primarily on landscape and flora, turning to historical precedents both in his techniques and in his choice of motif. The desert formations of Namibia, in which all sense of proportion is lost amid the remote and untouched wilderness, set a counterpoint to the sprawling urban expanses of Mexico City and London. The diptych Welle (Wave), by contrast, pays homage to the work of French artist Gustave Courbet, with Burkhard making a pilgrimage to the tide swept shores where the father of Realism had painted in 1870.

In another series, Burkhard adapts the aesthetics of botanical plant studies, which were as widely used around the turn of the twentieth century as the complex photographic process of heliography, and transposes these to larger-than-life formats. Whereas Burkhard, as a young photographer, had captured the exuberant art scene of the 1960s and 1970s, snapshot-style, he later went on, as an artist-photographer, to explore the potential of the photographic tableau, diligently researching near-forgotten techniques and the sensual details of the visible world.

 

Artwork and Commissioned Work

The site-specific installations of his photographs and Burkhard’s own dedicated approach to museum spaces warrant an excursion into the archives of the artist, paying particular attention to four exemplary exhibitions.

One spectacular and iconic show was the Fotowerke (Photo works) exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel in 1983. Curated by artist Rémy Zaugg, the installations can be reconstructed thanks to the catalogue and copious documentation. Contact prints and studies, for instance, help to give an insight into the no longer extant thirteen metre work Körper I (Body I) as well as shedding light on the choice of motif for further body fragments.

A 1984 solo exhibition at the Le Consortium in Dijon, on the other hand, shows how Burkhard responded with his group of works Das Knie (Knee) to an entirely different installation context within the given space. Similarly, at the Musée Rath in Geneva that same year, Burkhard, together with his friend Niele Toroni, instigated a radical juxtaposition of photography and painting based on the pillars of the exhibition venue.

At Grand-Hornu in the Belgian town of Mons, by contrast, his life-sized photographs of animals were mounted at eye level. While Burkhard chose a large format for the exhibition venue, the images in his children’s book “Click!”, said the Camera tell of a beauty contest between animals in a photo-shoot. This apparent discrepancy between artwork and commissioned work never seemed to be relevant to Burkhard. The sheer volume of his studio photos, alone, indicates just how scrupulously precise he was about the way he wanted to be perceived as a serious photographer.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

Installation view of the exhibition 'Balthasar Burkhard' at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February - May 2018

 

Installation views of the exhibition Balthasar Burkhard at Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich February – May 2018

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Balthasar Burkhard in his studio' 1995

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Balthasar Burkhard in his studio
1995
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Camel' 1997

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Camel
1997
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Bull' 1996

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Bull
1996
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'The Reindeer' 1996

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
The Reindeer
1996
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Mexico City' 1999

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Mexico City
1999
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Mexico City' 1999

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Mexico City
1999
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Nuages ​​8' 1999

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Nuages ​​8
1999
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Ecosse' (Scotland) 2000

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Ecosse (Scotland)
2000
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Bernina' 2003

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Bernina
2003
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Silberen' 2004

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Silberen
2004
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010) 'Rio Negro' 2002

 

Balthasar Burkhard (1944-2010)
Rio Negro
2002
© Estate Balthasar Burkhard

 

 

Fotostiftung Schweiz
Grüzenstrasse 45
CH-8400 Winterthur (Zürich)
Tel: +41 52 234 10 30

Opening hours:
Daily 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotostiftung Schweiz website

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400
Winterthur (Zürich)

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Wednesday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed on Mondays

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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21
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Now You See It: Photography and Concealment’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 1st September 2014

 

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

 

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899-1968 New York) 'Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces' January 27, 1942, printed c. 1983

 

Weegee (American, born Ukraine (Austria), Złoczów (Zolochiv) 1899-1968 New York)
Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces
January 27, 1942, printed c. 1983
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 41.4 cm. (12 1/2 x 16 5/16 in.)
Gift of Aaron and Jessica Rose, 1983
Rights and Reproduction: © Weegee / International Center of Photography

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972) 'Occasion for Diriment' 1962

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard (American, 1925-1972)
Occasion for Diriment
1962
Gelatin silver print
18.0 x 18.7 cm (7 1/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
Rogers Fund, 1967
© The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard was a photographer and optician who spent the last two decades of his life in Lexington, Kentucky, producing an eccentric body of work at some remove from the photographic mainstream. He often posed his family and friends in enigmatic tableaux with props such as dolls and rubber masks, imbuing his images with a haunting Surrealist sensibility. The curious title of this photograph stems from Meatyard’s passion for odd names, puns, and peculiar words and phrases. Diriment is a made-up word, a Lewis Carroll-like compound of “dire” and “merriment” that suggests a mood of high-spirited fun and hilarity fraught with anxious undertones.

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born Aberdeen, Washington, 1934) 'Shadow, New York City' 1966, printed 1973

 

Lee Friedlander (American, born Aberdeen, Washington, 1934)
Shadow, New York City
1966, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
16.0 x 24.1 cm. (6 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990

 

Robert Frank (American, born Zurich, 1924) 'Covered Car - Long Beach, California' 1955

 

Robert Frank (American, born Zurich, 1924)
Covered Car – Long Beach, California
1955
Gelatin silver print
21.4 x 32.7 cm (8 7/16 x 12 7/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005

 

 

“Photography is a medium prized for its capacity to expose, lay bare, make visible. For many artists, the camera is, above all, a tool for revealing what would otherwise remain unnoticed. As Diane Arbus once said: “I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.” At the root of this artistic impulse is a keen fascination with that which is hidden, obscure, or hitherto unseen. This exhibition presents a selection of contemporary photographs and video from the permanent collection that variously explores the medium’s dynamic interplay between concealment and revelation.

Some of the artists featured here use the camera to reveal subjects or places ordinarily hidden, as in Vera Lutter’s majestic view of the interior of a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant or Miguel Rio Branco’s lush image of a tapestry’s seamy underside. Others address instances of geopolitical obfuscation: Fazal Sheikh’s aerial photographs of the Negev desert in southern Israel record the traces of Bedouin villages that have been transformed into forests or farmland, while Mishka Henner collects images of stylishly censored high-security sites on Google Earth. In Vault (2011), Thomas Demand takes his inspiration from current events, meticulously re-creating a storeroom in which thirty missing works of art were discovered during a recent police raid.

The tension between publicity and privacy – the simultaneous desire to be looked at and to evade the merciless gaze of the camera – animates the work of artists as diverse as Arbus, Lutz Bacher, Jack Pierson, and Taryn Simon. In her video, The Nightingale (2003), Grace Ndiritu explores the tradition of the veil and its complex poetics of exposure and effacement. Complementing the contemporary works on view is a selection of earlier photographs in which the primary subject is hidden or obscured – a brief anthology of playfulness, shame, and seduction.

 

Fazal Sheikh (American, born 1965) 'Desert Bloom' (various numbers) 2011

 

Fazal Sheikh (American, born 1965)
Desert Bloom (various numbers)
2011
Excerpt from the Erasure Trilogy
Inkjet print
Image: 40 × 60 cm (15 3/4 × 23 5/8 in.) Sheet: 52.1 × 72.1 cm (20 1/2 × 28 3/8 in.) Frame: 73.7 × 53.3 cm (29 × 21 in.)
Purchase, Jane P. Watkins Gift, 2013

 

In 2011 the French photographer Frederic Brenner invited eleven prominent photographers to spend six months in residence in Israel and the Occupied Territories, or West Bank, to explore the area’s complexity and to create bodies of work that might broaden and reframe the conversation about the region. Among those invited was Sheikh, an artist best known for his sensitive black-and-white portraits of people living in displaced and marginalized communities around the world. Sheikh’s project takes the form of a trilogy titled Erasure, of which Desert Bloom is the central part. The images were made during several months of flying above the Negev desert and are intended to articulate the rapid transformation of the region. On the one hand, they invoke the Israeli endeavor to “make the desert bloom,” and on the other, they reveal traces of the Negev’s history: the construction of towns for the Bedouin, the natural erosion of the land, the demolition of local dwellings, the remains of military installations, the afforestation campaigns of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), and the transformation of nomadic desert regions into farmland.

 

demand-vault-WEB

 

Thomas Demand (German, born 1964)
Vault
2012
Chromogenic print
220 x 276.9 cm (86 5/8 x 109 in.)
Purchase, Louis V. Bell Fund; Alfred Stieglitz Society, The Fledgling Fund, through Diana Barrett and Robert Vila, Joseph M. and Barbara Cohen Foundation Inc. and Hideyuki Osawa Gifts, 2013
© Thomas Demand / Artist’s Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Demand’s photographs of the paper constructions he builds in his studio are typically based on photographs related to politically charged real-world events. He begins with an existing image, usually culled from the news media, which he translates into a three-dimensional life-sized model made of colored paper and cardboard. The models are then carefully lit and photographed, after which they are destroyed. Three times removed from the scenes they depict, Demand’s works are masterpieces of pictorial ambiguity that occupy a mesmerizing middle ground between reality and artifice.

Vault is based on a police photograph of a storeroom at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, where thirty paintings and sculptures that had been missing for decades were discovered during a police raid in 2011. The missing artworks belong to the heirs of a French Jewish family displaced during the Holocaust. In Demand’s picture, as in the photograph on which it is based, the framed paintings – which include works by Degas, Manet, and Morisot – are turned to face the walls and remain tantalizingly hidden from view.

 

Vera Lutter (German, born Kaiserslautern, 1960) 'Pepsi Cola Interior II: July 6-13, 2000' 2000

 

Vera Lutter (German, born Kaiserslautern, 1960)
Pepsi Cola Interior II: July 6-13, 2000
2000
Gelatin silver print
Overall installation: 90 3/4 in. × 14 ft. 3/4 in. (230.5 × 428.6 cm) Sheet (A): 90 in. × 55 3/4 in. (228.6 × 141.6 cm) Sheet (B): 90 in. × 55 3/4 in. (228.6 × 141.6 cm) Sheet (C): 90 in. × 55 3/4 in. (228.6 × 141.6 cm) Frame (each): 90 3/4 × 56 1/4 in. (230.5 × 142.9 cm)
Purchase, Joseph M. and Barbara Cohen Foundation Inc. Gift, 2001
© Vera Lutter

 

While the basis for Lutter’s technique – the camera obscura – is older than photography itself, her images and subject matter are wholly modern. This enormous negative print was made inside a room-sized pinhole camera that Lutter built in a derelict Pepsi-Cola bottling plant on the East River in Hunters Point, Queens. After pinning three huge sheets of photographic paper opposite the camera’s pinhole aperture, she worked inside the camera to monitor and manipulate the light during the weeklong exposure. The bottling plant itself closed in 1999 and was later demolished.

 

Mishka Henner (British, born 1976) 'Staphorst Ammunition Depot, Overijssel' 2011, printed 2014

 

Mishka Henner (British, born 1976)
Staphorst Ammunition Depot, Overijssel
2011, printed 2014
From the series Dutch Landscapes
Inkjet print
31 1/2 × 35 7/16 in. (80 × 90 cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2014
© Mishka Henner

 

In his “Dutch Landscapes” series, Henner selects and reproduces images of the Netherlands found on Google Earth. The multicolored shapes punctuating these landscapes were created not by the artist but at the behest of the Dutch government. When Google Earth was introduced in 2005, satellite imagery of the entire planet became freely accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. This sudden visibility created concerns among many governments, who required Google – or its image suppliers – to obscure the details of sites deemed vital to national security. While most nations employed standard techniques, such as blurring, pixilation, or digital cloning, the Dutch chose to conceal hundreds of sites – including royal palaces, army barracks, and fuel depots – with bold, multicolored polygons. “There is of course an absurdity to these censored images,” Henner has written, “since their overt, bold and graphic nature only draws attention to the very sites that are meant to be hidden. Yet this contradiction seems perfectly apt for the absurd fear of terror that has come to dominate the cultural landscape of the last decade.”

 

 

Now You See It: Photography and Concealment, an installation of 25 works at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, focuses on the dynamic interplay between concealment and revelation in contemporary photography and video art. The featured works, all from the Museum’s Department of Photographs, range from a late 19th-century photograph by Pierre-Louis Pierson to a recently acquired work by Thomas Demand.

The installation presents works by artists who use the camera to reveal subjects or places ordinarily hidden from view, as well as works that explore broader themes of secrecy and obscured or partial vision. A highlight of Now You See It is Thomas Demand’s photograph Vault (2012). The image is based on a police photograph of a storeroom at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, where 30 paintings and sculptures that had been missing for decades were discovered during a police raid in 2011. In Demand’s picture, as in the photograph on which it is based, the framed art works are turned to face the walls, remaining tantalizingly hidden from view. Other highlights include Vera Lutter’s haunting view of the seldom seen interior of the Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Queens, New York, Pepsi Cola Interior II: July 6-13 (2000), and Fazal Sheikh’s Desert Bloom (2011), a series of aerial photographs of the Negev desert. In Grace Nditru’s acclaimed video The Nightingale (2003), the artist explores the tradition of the veil and its complex associations of exposure and effacement. Accompanied by a recording of the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, Ndiritu evokes a rapid-fire series of cultural references as she performs a hypnotic, Scheherazade-like series of gestures and movements with a piece of fabric, swiftly transforming it from turban to blindfold, and do-rag to noose to niqab. The tension between publicity and privacy, inherent in the field of photography, is explored in works by artists as diverse as Diane Arbus, Lutz Bacher, Jack Pierson, and Taryn Simon. The 20th-century photographs on view present the theme of concealment in a literal way and include Weegee’s Charles Sodokoff and Arthur Webber Use Their Top Hats to Hide Their Faces (January 27, 1942) and Helen Levitt’s Kids in a Box, on the Street, New York City (c. 1942).

Now You See It: Photography and Concealment is organized by Mia Fineman, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) [Kids in a Box, on the Street, New York City] c. 1942

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
[Kids in a Box, on the Street, New York City]
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
Image approx.: 9 × 6 in. (22.9 × 15.2 cm)
Promised Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt
© Estate of Helen Levitt

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009) [Kids on the Street Playing Hide and Seek, New York City] c. 1942

 

Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
[Kids on the Street Playing Hide and Seek, New York City]
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 × 6 3/4 in. (24.8 × 17.1 cm)
Promised Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt
© Estate of Helen Levitt

 

Attributed to Juliette Alexandre-Bisson (French, 1861-1956) [Birth of Ectoplasm During Séance with the Medium Eva C.] 1919-20

 

Attributed to Juliette Alexandre-Bisson (French, 1861-1956)
[Birth of Ectoplasm During Séance with the Medium Eva C.]
1919-20
Gelatin silver print
11.8 x 8.9 cm (4 5/8 x 3 1/2 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2001

 

Bill Wasilevich (American, active 1940s) 'Jimmy "One Eye" Collins After Arraignment' 1946

 

Bill Wasilevich (American, active 1940s)
Jimmy “One Eye” Collins After Arraignment
1946
Gelatin silver print
18.6 x 14.4 cm (7 5/16 x 5 11/16 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2008
© Steve Schapiro/Corbis

 

 

Grace Ndiritu (British, born 1976)
The Nightingale
2003
Video
Gift of the artist, 2009
© 2003 Grace Ndiritu, Courtesy Grace Ndiritu and LUX, London

 

Before a camera fixed on her face and neck and accompanied by a recording of the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, Ndiritu performs a hypnotic, Scheherazade-like series of gestures and movements with a piece of fabric, swiftly transforming it from turban to blindfold, from do-rag to noose to niqab. Both jubilant and unsettling, the video evokes a rapid-fire series of cultural references, counterposing the enforced modesty of the Islamic world with Western fantasies of exoticism. Ndiritu, who studied textiles at the Winchester School of Art, acquired this simple red-and-white scarf while traveling in India and carried it with her as a talisman through years of global exploration.

 

Jack Pierson (American, born 1960) 'The Lonely Life' 1992

 

Jack Pierson (American, born 1960)
The Lonely Life
1992
Chromogenic print
Frame: 76.2 × 101.6 cm (30 × 40 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2000
© Jack Pierson

 

In 1994, Pierson was invited by the Whitney Museum of American Art to show his photographs alongside a group of works by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) that the artist selected from their vast holdings. Like Hopper, Pierson creates works that are inherently cinematic in their scope and effects; both are primarily concerned with mood, atmosphere, and exhibit a particularly urban kind of melancholy. His greatest asset, however, is an almost overwhelmingly lush palette, which he uses to depict objects of desire or scenes that are unabashedly sensual and emotional. An excellent example of the artist’s high-key chromaticism, The Lonely Life describes the unique brand of loneliness shared by the performer and the fan, both of whom (like Pierson) are doomed to experience existence solely through the intoxications of art.

 

Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913) 'Scherzo di Follia' 1861-67, printed c. 1930

 

Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913)
Scherzo di Follia
1861-67, printed c. 1930
Gelatin silver print from glass negative
39.8 x 29.8 cm (15 11/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005

 

Virginia Oldoini, Countess Verasis de Castiglione (1837-1899), created a sensation when she appeared on the social scene in Paris in 1855, having been sent by the Italian statesman Cavour to secretly win Napoleon III over to the cause of Italian unity by “any means she chose.” Within months, the statuesque beauty was the mistress of Napoleon III and a much-talked-about ornament of the lavish balls so prevalent during the period. After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, she led an increasingly secluded existence, which gave rise to fantastic speculation about her affairs. As the years went by, her mental stability declined and she ventured out only at night, shrouded in veils.

The countess’s raging narcissism found in photography the perfect ally; Pierre-Louis Pierson produced over seven hundred different images of her. In a reversal of roles, the sitter would direct every aspect of the picture, from the angle of the shot to the lighting, using the photographer as a mere tool in her pursuit of self-promotion and self-expression.

 

 

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08
Oct
09

Review: ‘Between Lines’ by Kim Lawler at fortyfive downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 29th September – 10th October 2009

Curator: Amy Barclay

 

 

Kim Lawler 'Between Lines' #4 2009

 

Kim Lawler (Australian)
Between Lines #4
Aerial Photograph, Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia
2009

 

 

I finally made it to Kim Lawler’s exhibition Between Lines at fortyfive downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne and, in many ways, the trip was well worth it. Lawler presents 12 prints from her eponymous series, aerial photographs taken over Western Australia.

Eschewing the essentially topographic state promoted in the “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” of 1975 that have influenced so many photographers in recent decades (including the hyper-real photographs of the West Australian landscape by Edward Burtynsky where there is an emotional distance between the photograph and the viewer), Lawler instead mines the depths of abstraction in landscape photography.

These are visceral photographs – in #4 the river and surrounds almost become vascular and cellular; in #13 the synapses and electrons infiltrate the highway reminding me of bomb craters from a Second World War landscape. In #7 the shrubs, unlike the precision of the New Topographics, become feckless dots, the landing strip a scar on the body; in #12 the toxic unsutured wound bleeds across the surface of the skin, white scar tissue surrounding it.

In these atypical mappings Lawler employs a taxonomy of disorder. The photographs are very soft in focus, soft in printing, big in the grain of the film and there is very little depth of field employed – in other words there is really nothing in focus at all, nothing that the eye and the mind can fix on. These are interstitial spaces (i.e. gaps between spaces full of structure or matter) and the title Between Lines is entirely appropriate for the work. The photographs contain beautiful textures, colours, surfaces.

This is their strength but also their weakness. The eye and the mind longs for something to hold onto, perhaps just a small fraction of the image to be in focus, so that the disorder plays off the order (for one cannot exist without the other!). Mutation only exists if their is something to mutate against. The other two small problems I had with the work were a matter of semantics and others may disagree – personally I found the size of the prints neither here nor there and they could have done with being about 2-3 inches larger and the white frames were too heavy. That is a funny thing to say about contemporary white frames, that they are too heavy for the work, but this is entirely possible: the moulding was too thick and the depth of the box frames to deep for my liking, detracting from the print itself and making the works darker than they needed to be.

Overall then an excellent exhibition that offers a positive variation on the cliched narrative of aerial photography of the Australian outback, one that questions the munificence of human habitation of the body and of the earth.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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

 

Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines #7 (Landing Strip)' 2009

 

Kim Lawler (Australian)
Between Lines #7 (Landing Strip)
Aerial Photograph, Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia
2009

 

Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines #8' 2009

 

Kim Lawler (Australian)
Between Lines #8 (Jones Soak, position approximate)
Aerial Photograph, Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia
2009

 

 

“Beyond romance or nostalgia, Lawler’s lucid visual studies reveal the aesthetic beauty of the stories being written and rewritten onto this responsive and at times fragile environment.”

Amy Barclay, curator

 

Between Lines comprises a series of aerial photographs taken in the Kimberley, far north Western Australia. This remote area is embedded with stories of Indigenous and non-Indigenous inhabitants, transitory visitors and scarred by multinational companies resource development. The artist, Kim Lawler, is concerned with markings, both natural and constructed, that tell stories of places, transitions and interruptions that occur within the landscape.

Between Lines is informed by Lawler’s experience of living in these regions and local perspectives on the displacement of people and their consequential relationship to the land that has taken place. It is also informed by the opposing qualities of abandon and connection that occur as the stories within these landscapes continue to unfold.

Competing demands for natural resources, and the resulting impact upon transitional landscapes, resonate with the stories of many generations of people that continue to flow through or inhabit each region. Attuned to the markings on these landscapes, it is these residual narratives ‘Between Lines’ seeks to record.

The imagery seen in Between Lines extends from Lawler’s previous artwork that interrogated additional Kimberley locations including: the remote Buccaneer Archipelago; the isolated far northern reaches of the Kimberley Coastline; Cockatoo Island iron ore mine and resort and; inland regions such as Warmun Aboriginal Community on the periphery of the Great Sandy Desert.

“Lawler’s eye is arrested by markings, natural and constructed, that trace and recount places, transitions and interruptions; the signifiers of change in a landscape millions of years old.”

Amy Barclay, curator

Text from the fortyfive downstairs website

 

Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines #12' 2009

 

Kim Lawler (Australian)
Between Lines #12
Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, Northern Kimberley, Western Australia
2009

 

Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines #13' 2009

 

Kim Lawler (Australian)
Between Lines #13
Great Northern Highway, Kimberley, Western Australia
2009

 

Kim Lawler. 'Between Lines #16' 2009

 

Kim Lawler (Australian)
Between Lines #16
Cockatoo Island Cyanide Settling Pool, Yampi Sound, Western Australia
2009

 

 

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16
Apr
09

Exhibition: ‘Into the Sunset: Photography’s Image of the American West’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 29th March – 8th June 2009

 

Carelton Watkins. 'View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite' 1865-66

Carelton Watkins. 'View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite' 1865-66

Carelton Watkins. 'View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite' 1865-66

 

Carelton Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Views from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite
1865-66
Albumen silver prints from glass negatives
Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Into the Sunset: Photography’s Image of the American West, a survey of 138 photographic works dating from 1850 to 2008 that chart the West’s complex, rich, and often compelling mythology via photography. The exploration of a large part of the American West in the mid-nineteenth century by European Americans coincided with the advent of photography, and photography and the West came of age together. The region’s seemingly infinite bounty and endless potential symbolised America as a whole, and photography, with its ability to construct persuasive and seductive images, was the perfect medium with which to forge a national identity. This relationship has resulted in a complex association that shapes the perception of the West’s social and physical landscape to this day. With political, cultural, and social attitudes constantly shifting in the region over the last 150 years, Into the Sunset further examines the way photographers have responded to these changes. The exhibition is organised by Eva Respini, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, and is on view in the Special Exhibitions Gallery on the third floor from March 29 to June 8, 2009.

Organised thematically rather than chronologically, Into the Sunset brings together the work of over 70 photographers, including Robert Adams, John Baldessari, Dorothea Lange, Timothy O’Sullivan, Cindy Sherman, Joel Sternfeld, Carleton E. Watkins, and Edward Weston, among others. The exhibition draws extensively from MoMA’s collection, along with private and public collections in the United States, and features new acquisitions from Adam Bartos, Katy Grannan, and Dennis Hopper, with each work also on view for the first time at the Museum.

Ms. Respini states: “Ranging from grand depictions of paradise to industrial development, from pictures taken on the road to prosaic suburban scenes, the photographs included in Into the Sunset do not all picture the West from the same point of view, or even perhaps, picture the same West. Rather, each is one part in a continually shifting and evolving composite image of a region that has itself been growing and changing since the opening of the frontier.”

Into the Sunset begins with the birth of photography and the American West. In the mid-nineteenth century, the region’s seemingly infinite bounty and endless potential symbolised America as a whole, and Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916) captured the grand depictions of an American paradise in his photographs of Yosemite Valley in California. Arguably the world’s first renowned landscape photographer, Watkins made his first photographs there in 1861 – large sized prints made with an 18-by-22-inch mammoth plate camera, well suited to the grandeur of the land. Included are the three contiguous photographs that make up his extraordinarily detailed View from the Sentinel Dome (1865-66).

The exhibition balances the early work of landscape photographers with the twentieth century focus on the failure of the West’s promised bounty. In Joel Sternfeld’s (American, b. 1944) After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California (1979), the photographer documents the impact of a natural disaster, specifically a landslide, shot with neutral tones softly camouflaging the extent of flash flood on this suburban neighbourhood. And in Karin Apollonia Müller’s (German, b. 1963) Civitas (1997), the photographer shows a very different view of California than that of Watkins, with Müller revealing a contemporary Los Angeles as a littered wasteland of freeways and anonymous glass towers.

As highways and interstate travel became more prevalent, the automobile and the open road became synonymous with the region, with Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) as the first great photographer of these open roads. Included is Weston’s iconic Hot Coffee, Mojave Desert (1937), a humorous black-and-white photograph of a road sign revealing a greater thematic shift to the highway and its signage as an inescapable element in picturing the West in the twentieth century.

Once the West became more populated, photographers began to showcase humans’ effects on the land, including images of industrial development. In the 1950s William Garnett (American, 1916-2006) was hired by a real estate company to record the efficiency of mass-produced housing. For this series, Lakewood, California (1950), Garnett took photographs of the neighbourhood from an airplane, resulting in images that are completely devoid of people and focus on the progress of mass-produced construction. However, the series subsequently came to represent all that was wrong with such development and the massive sprawl of the West in the eyes of its critics.

Photographs of the people of the West represent a diversity of archetypes: gold miners and loggers, Native Americans, cowboys, suburbanites, city dwellers, starlets, dreamers, and drifters. Into the Sunset explores these archetypes, and their mutability into the twenty-first century. Included is Half Indian/Half Mexican (1991), from the photographer James Luna (Native American, Pooyukitchum/Luiseno, b. 1950), an artist of Native American ancestry. This tongue-in-cheek self-portrait captures in profile both an identity photograph and a mug shot, and works as a counterpoint to the tokenised portrayals of Native Americans from the past 150 years.

A similar reevaluation of past archetypes occurs in Richard Prince’s (American, b. 1949) Cowboy series from 1980, with one work from the series included in the exhibition. For that series Prince famously photographed Marlboro advertisements, cutting out the text, cropping the images, and enlarging them, highlighting the artifice of the virile image of the cowboy and its potency as a deeply ingrained figure in American mythology.

The suburbs and their inhabitants have been a rich subject for photographers of the West, and included are Larry Sultan’s (American, b. 1946) Film Stills from the Sultan Family Home Movies (1943-1972), in which Sultan chose individual frames from his family’s home movies and enlarged them. Although the images feature the activities that epitomise suburban life, a sense of unease lurks beneath the surface of these images; cropped and grainy, they resemble surveillance or evidence photographs.

Into the Sunset concludes with the theme of the failed promise of Western migration. Dorothea Lange’s well-known 1936 photograph Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, photographed when Lange was employed by the Farm Security Administration, is included and documents the conditions of the West in rural areas during the Great Depression. Her photographs had a humanist purpose and resulted in putting a face on the hardships of that era.

This tradition of capturing the downtrodden of the West continues into this century with Katy Grannan (American, b. 1969), a photographer who recently completed a series of new pioneers, individuals struggling to define themselves in the West of today. In Nicole, Crissy Field Parking Lot (I) (2006), a woman, “Nicole,” poses seductively on a gravel parking lot, with her makeup-streaked face and harsh light alluding to her perilous existence on the fringe of society.”

Text from the MoMA website [Online] Cited 12/04/2009 (no longer online)

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

 

 

Joel Sternfeld. 'After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California' 1979

 

Joel Sternfeld (American, b. 1944)
After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California
1979
Chromogenic colour print, printed 1987
15 15/16 x 20″ (40.5 x 50.8 cm)
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Beth Goldberg Nash and Joshua Nash

 

 

During the 1970s, Joel Sternfeld’s work reflected a trend towards a newly dispassionate, less idealised approach to nature and culture. His photographs have a seductive beauty, even though they often focus on those places where the natural and man-made worlds come together in uncomfortable ways. Working with a large-format camera and luminous colour to create images that are frequently ironic or even humorous, his compositions appear simple but in fact are surprisingly complex and often unsettling. In this photograph of a suburban California neighbourhood in the aftermath of a flash flood, the lovely monochrome tones trick us into not immediately seeing the car that has toppled into the gaping sinkhole or realising that the buildings above could be on the verge of falling, too.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston website

 

Apollonia Müller. 'Civitas' 1997

 

Apollonia Müller
Civitas
1997
From Angels in Fall
Chromogenic colour print
19 3/4 x 24 1/2″ (50.1 x 62.2 cm)
Gift of Howard Stein
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2018 Karin Apollonia Müller

 

William Garnett. 'Foundations and Slabs, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Foundations and Slabs, Lakewood, California
1950
Gelatin silver print
18.9 × 23.8 cm (7 7/16 × 9 3/8 in.)
© J. Paul Getty Museum

 

William Garnett. 'Grading, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Grading, Lakewood, California
1950
Gelatin silver print
18.9 × 24 cm (7 7/16 × 9 7/16 in.)
© J. Paul Getty Museum

 

William Garnett. 'Trenching, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Trenching, Lakewood, California
1950
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.
© J. Paul Getty Museum

 

 

“I was hired commercially to illustrate the growth of that housing project. I didn’t approve of what they were doing. Seventeen thousand houses with five floor plans, and they all looked alike, and there was not a tree in sight when they got through.”

“I was discharged and heard you could hitchhike on the transport taking GIs home. The airplane was full, but the captain let me sit in the navigator’s seat so I had a command view. I was amazed at the variety and beauty of these United States. I had never seen anything like that – in a book, in school, or since then. So I changed my career.”

.
William A. Garnett

 

 

Lakewood, located on the outskirts of Los Angeles, was the location for the second major postwar housing development built in the United States. Some 17,500 tract houses were constructed assembly-line style on 3,500 acres of cleared farmland. Mass production made the houses affordable, so a greater number of people could take part in the American dream of home ownership. The developers hired William Garnett to document different phases of the subdivision’s construction from his Cessna airplane. He often photographed his subjects early in the day, so the angled light would emphasise their otherwise flat-looking forms. The photographs serve a utilitarian purpose but also demonstrate Garnett’s impeccable sense of design. In Trenching Lakewood, California, stacked lumber appears for the foundations, utility poles are installed, and the main roads are carved out. …

William Garnett took his first cross-country flight after serving as a United States Army Signal Corps cameraman during World War II. What he saw below inspired him to learn how to pilot a plane so he could photograph the American landscape. Garnett’s aerial photographs resemble abstract expressionist paintings or views through a microscope. As landscapes, they do not have the conventional grounding of a horizon line. All reveal astonishing patterns that are not seen from the ground. Garnett honed his elegant design sensibility well before earning a pilot’s license. Before the war, he attended Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. Later, he headed the Pasadena Police Department’s photography lab. In the 1940s and 1950s, he began to rack up flying hours around Los Angeles, speaking out about the area’s increasing air pollution. He illustrated Nathaniel Owings’s American Aesthetic, a book about land-use practices. During ten thousand hours of flying, Garnett simultaneously piloted a plane while photographing out the window – traveling above every state and many parts of the world. His light 1956 Cessna plane allowed him to fly to just the right location to capture subjects with precision. At first, he experimented with a variety of camera formats and films but found that two 35mm cameras (one loaded with black-and-white film, the other with colour film) best suited his needs. Garnett’s work defies the stereotype of aerial photography as purely scientific and devoid of artistry. He became the first aerial photographer to earn a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship.

Anonymous. “Historical Witness, Social Messaging,” from the J. Paul Getty Museum Education Department [Online] Cited 13/01/2019

 

William Garnett. 'Framing, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William A. Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Framing, Lakewood, California
1950
Gelatin silver print
18.4 × 24.1 cm (7 1/4 × 9 1/2 in.)
© J. Paul Getty Museum

 

half-mexican-1991

 

James Luna (American, 1950-2018)
Half Indian/Half Mexican (installation view)
1991
Gelatin silver print

 

 

James Luna (February 9, 1950 – March 4, 2018) was a Payómkawichum, Ipi, and Mexican-American performance artist, photographer and multimedia installation artist. His work is best known for challenging the ways in which conventional museum exhibitions depict Native Americans. With recurring themes of multiculturalism, alcoholism, and colonialism, his work was often comedic and theatrical in nature. In 2017 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

 

Richard Prince. 'Untitled (Cowboy)' 1989

 

Richard Prince (American, b. 1949)
Untitled (Cowboy)
1989
Chromogenic print
127 x 177.8cm (50 x 70in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, and Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gift, 2000
© Richard Prince

 

 

In the mid-1970s Prince was an aspiring painter who earned a living by clipping articles from magazines for staff writers at Time-Life Inc. What remained at the end of the day were the advertisements, featuring gleaming luxury goods and impossibly perfect models; both fascinated and repulsed by these ubiquitous images, the artist began rephotographing them, using a repertoire of strategies (such as blurring, cropping, and enlarging) to intensify their original artifice. In so doing, Prince undermined the seeming naturalness and inevitability of the images, revealing them as hallucinatory fictions of society’s desires.

“Untitled (Cowboy)” is a high point of the artist’s ongoing deconstruction of an American archetype as old as the first trailblazers and as timely as then-outgoing president Ronald Reagan. Prince’s picture is a copy (the photograph) of a copy (the advertisement) of a myth (the cowboy). Perpetually disappearing into the sunset, this lone ranger is also a convincing stand-in for the artist himself, endlessly chasing the meaning behind surfaces. Created in the fade-out of a decade devoted to materialism and illusion, “Untitled (Cowboy)” is, in the largest sense, a meditation on an entire culture’s continuing attraction to spectacle over lived experience.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 x 8 9/16″ (28.3 x 21.8 cm)
Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Dorothea Lange took this photograph on assignment for the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) program, formed during the Great Depression to provide aid to impoverished farmers. FSA photographers documented the conditions that Americans faced throughout the course of the Great Depression, a period of economic crisis. Lange’s photograph suggests the impact of these harsh conditions on a 32-year-old mother of seven. She took a number of pictures of the mother with her children and chose this image as the most effective. Her keen sense of composition and attentiveness to the power of historical images of the Madonna and Child have helped this photograph transcend its original documentary function and become an iconic work of art.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Katy Grannan. 'Nicole, Crissy Field Parking Lot (I)' 2006

 

Katy Grannan (American, b. 1969)
Nicole, Crissy Field Parking Lot (I)
2006
Pigmented inkjet print
40 x 50″ (101.6 x 127 cm)
Cornelius N. Bliss Memorial Fund
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Katy Grannan

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #43' 1979

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #43
1979
Gelatin silver print
7 9/16 x 9 7/16″ (19.2 x 24 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Sid R. Bass
Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills is a suite of seventy black-and-white photographs in which the artist posed in the guises of various generic female film characters, among them, ingénue, working girl, vamp, and lonely housewife. Staged to resemble scenes from 1950s and ’60s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films, the printed images mimic in format, scale, and quality the often-staged “stills” used to promote films. By photographing herself in such roles, Sherman inserts herself into a dialogue about stereotypical portrayals of women. Whether she was the one to release the camera’s shutter or not, she is considered the author of the photographs. However, the works in Untitled Film Stills are not considered self-portraits.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Bill Owens (American, b. 1938) 'We're really happy. Our kids are healthy, we eat good food, and we have a really nice home' 1972

 

Bill Owens (American, b. 1938)
We’re really happy. Our kids are healthy, we eat good food, and we have a really nice home
1972
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 x 9 15/16″ (20.4 x 25.3 cm)
Gift of the photographer
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Bill Owens

 

 

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Phone: (212) 708-9400

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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