Posts Tagged ‘American contemporary photography

07
Mar
21

Exhibition: ‘Dawoud Bey: An American Project’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2020 – 14th March 2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man in a Bowler Hat, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Early in his career, Bey realised the importance of collaborating with his subjects to make a picture that would also serve as a dialogue between artist and subject: “I wanted to photograph this man in the bowler hat who was talking to a group of three friends and I had no idea how to interrupt their conversation in order to do so. This is when I first realised that it wasn’t just about the photograph; it was also about establishing a relationship out of which comes the photograph.”

 

 

I have always admired artists who have a social conscience, who investigate their subject matter with intelligence, empathy and insight.

I have always admired artist who examine their subject matter from different perspectives, turning the diamond of the world in light, to probe the moral and existential questions of existence.

I have always admired artists who develop their practice, never repeating for the sake of it the same constructs over and over – from a lack of imagination, to be successful, or to follow the money trail.

One such artist is Dawoud Bey.

From formal to informal portraiture, through conceptual “bodies”, Bey’s work visualises Black American history in the present moment, not by using the trope of reusing colonial photographs or memorabilia, but by presenting afresh the history of injustice enacted on a people and a culture, picturing their ongoing pain and disenfranchisement – in the here and now – through powerful and deeply political photographs. As the press release observes, Bey “has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history.”

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

From his early street photographs through the later large format Polaroid work and on to the conceptual series, Bey’s photographs have an engaging directness and candour to them. There are no photographic or subjective histrionics here, just immensely rich social documentary photographs that speak truth to subject. The subjects stare directly at the camera and reveal themselves with a poignant honesty.

The series that affected me most deeply was The Birmingham Project.

“On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.”

All the suffering, all the ongoing pain and misery of an unfair world was, to me, wrapped up in these unforgettable images. The violence against other human beings, against people of difference 50 years ago brought into the present. Thinking about what these people could have achieved in the world, what life they would have led, what they would have looked like. Photography transcending time and space, Bey intelligently bringing past into present future. As Bey says, “I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence… I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility.”

In my imagination I try to construct this tragic loss of possibility through the agency of Bey’s photographs. They produce sadness, anger, and empathy in me. They bring the possibility of change to the forefront of my mind, and an acknowledgment that we can all do better, that the world must do better. And that experience is a powerful thing.

Dr Marcus Bunyan.

.
Many thankx to the High 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.

 

 

“I’ve come to believe that the best works tend to result not from the imposition of an idea on a situation, but to be responsive to what’s going on once you get there.”

“How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?”

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Dawoud Bey

 

“Dreams are spaces that do not yet exist, except by escape through an unknown night.”

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Anna Mirzayan

 

“I Never Had White Folks That Was Good To Me, EVER… We all worked jest like dogs and had about half enough to eat and got whupped for everything. Our days was a constant misery to us… My old Master was Dave Giles, the meanest man that ever lived. He didn’t have many slaves, my mammy, and me, and my sister, Uncle Bill, and Truman. He had owned my grandma but he give her a bad whupping and she never did git over it and died. We all done as much work as a dozen niggers – we knowed we had to. I seen old Master git mad at Truman and he buckled him down across a barrel and whupped him till he cut the blood out of him and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places. It looked like Truman would die it hurt so bad. I know that don’t sound reasonable that a white man in a Christian community would do such a thing but you can’t realise how heartless he was. People didn’t know about it and we dassent tell for we knowed he’d kill us if we did. You must remember he owned us body and soul and they wasn’t anything we could do about it. Old Mistress and her three girls was mean to us too. One time me and my sister was spinning and old Mistress went to the well-house and she found a chicken snake and killed it. She brought it back and she throwed it around my sister’s neck. She jest laughed and laughed about it. She thought it was a big joke. Old Master stayed drunk all the time. I reckon that is the reason he was so fetched mean. My, how we hated him! He finally killed hisself drinking and I remember Old Mistress called us in to look at him in his coffin. We all marched by him slow like and I jest happened to look up and caught my sister’s eye and we both jest natchelly laughed – Why shouldn’t we? We was glad he was dead. It’s a good thing we had our laugh fer old Mistress took us out and whupped us with a broomstick. She didn’t make us sorry though.”

.
Annie Hawkins, formerly enslaved Afrikan who was sold from Georgia to Texas. This interview was done in Colbert, Oklahoma where her and her family moved after emancipation. Interview, conducted Spring, 1937 with a date stamp of August 16, 1937. Ms. Hawkins was 90 years old at the time of the interview and what she relates occurred in Texas. Source: Library of Congress

 

 

Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s, Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) has used his camera to create poignant meditations on visibility, race, place, and American history. From early street portraits made in Harlem to a recent series imagining an escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad, Bey explores photography’s potential to reveal communities and stories that have been underrepresented or even unseen. Both a form of personal expression and an act of political responsibility, Bey’s art insists on the power of photography to transform stereotypes, convene communities, and create dialogue.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project traces these through lines across the forty-five years of Bey’s career and his profound engagement with the young Black subject and African American history. The title intentionally inserts his photographs into a long-running conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera. The questions of who is considered an American photographer, or simply an American, and whose story is an American story are particularly urgent today. Bey’s work offers a potent corrective to the gaps in our picture of American society and history – and an emphatic reminder of the ongoing impact of those omissions.

 

 

Dawoud Bey on visualising history

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s work grapples with history. The artist asks, “How can one visualise African American history and make that history resonate in the contemporary moment?” Here he discusses several series, sited from Harlem to Birmingham to the Underground Railroad routes of northeastern Ohio, each of which works to make histories visible.

 

 

Dawoud Bey: An American Project – Part 1

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Boy in Front of the Loew's 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976' 1976

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Boy in Front of the Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976
1976
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The Street

Bey’s landmark black-and-white 1975-78 series “Harlem, USA” documents portraits and street scenes with locals of the historic neighbourhood in New York. As a young man growing up in Queens, Bey was intrigued by his family’s history in Harlem, where his parents met and where he visited family and friends throughout childhood. The series premiered at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979, when Bey was just 26.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977' 1977

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, Harlem, NY, 1977
1977
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In his hands, portraiture conveys contradiction – diffident joy, resistant sorrow – and tells the truth.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978' 1978

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, 1978
1978
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“His art is grounded in the concept of citizenship, community and belonging, and especially in centring the experiences and histories of Black Americans at the forefront of our culture. His photographs actively work to provide space, voice and visibility for communities who have long been excluded from dominant narratives, especially in institutions like museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Boys at a Handball Court, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Throughout the 1980s, Bey continued to use a handheld 35 mm camera. This lightweight apparatus allowed him to respond intuitively and quickly to whatever captivated his eye, and his photographs during this time reflect his knowledge of contemporary street photography and his growing interest in capturing flux, movement, and the play of light and shadow. Although he continued to photograph people, he moved away from formal portraiture, instead endeavouring to capture individuals in more spontaneous ways.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985' 1985

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Clothes Drying on the Line, Syracuse, NY, 1985
1985
Gelatin silver print
20 x 24 inches
Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986' 1986

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Combing Hair, Syracuse, NY, 1986
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

In 1985, during a residency at Light Work, a photography nonprofit affiliated with Syracuse University, New York, Bey photographed the city’s African American community. For him, it was both a political and aesthetic choice: “By then I felt that was part of my agenda: to make the African American subject a visible and resonant presence through my photographs […] it was as much about making a certain kind of photograph, and operating within a certain tradition, as it was a deliberate choice to foreground the black subject […] giving them a place … on the wall of galleries and museums.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman at Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

By the end of the 1980s, Bey had thoroughly digested the lessons of working spontaneously with a small camera and desired to work in a way that would allow him to engage more directly with his subjects. He began to make formal “street portraits” with a large-format (4- × 5-inch) camera and Polaroid Type 55 film, which produced both instant pictures that he gave to the sitters and negatives that he used to make large-scale, highly detailed prints that could be enlarged to create monumental portraits. Bey was increasingly ambivalent about the ethics of traditional documentary photography and sought more equitable, reciprocal relationships with his sitters. He began to approach the strangers he wished to portray openly and deliberately, giving, as he writes, “the black subjects [a space] to assert themselves and their presence in the world, with their gaze meeting the viewer’s on equal footing.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Girl Striking A Pose, Brooklyn, NY, 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988' 1988

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with Buttons Brooklyn NY 1988
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Woman Coming from the Store, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Young Man with His Hair Brush, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Alfonso, Washington, DC, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Woman Wearing Denim, Rochester, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Man with a Towel, Brooklyn, NY 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Poppy Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Poppy, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989' 1989

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Girl Holding a Hotdog and Gum, Brooklyn, NY, 1989
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Few images of tenderness have such resounding power as this lush portrait of a young, stylish couple embracing in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Note how perfectly their bodies fit together as he relaxes his shoulders, allowing her to easily wrap her arms around him protectively, declaring with the upward tilt of her chin and her direct gaze at us that they are together, united in love. Pictures as openly intimate as this one emerged from Bey’s deep and abiding interest in “wanting to describe the Black subject in a way that’s as complex as the experiences of anyone else.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990' 1990

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990
1990
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, Stephen Daiter Gallery, and Rena Bransten Gallery
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

For more than four decades, renowned photographer Dawoud Bey has created powerful and tender photographs that portray underrepresented communities and explore African American history. From portraits in Harlem and classic street photography to nocturnal landscapes and large-scale studio portraits, his works combine an ethical imperative with an unparalleled mastery of his medium. The High Museum of Art celebrates his important contributions to photography as the exclusive Southeast venue for Dawoud Bey: An American Project, the artist’s first full career retrospective in 25 years.

Co-organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the exhibition features approximately 80 works that span the breadth of Bey’s career, from his earliest street portraits made in Harlem in the 1970s to his most recent series reimagining sites of the Underground Railroad (2017).

The High has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Bey, who was commissioned in 1996 for the Museum’s inaugural “Picturing the South” series, which asks noted photographers to turn their lens toward the American South. For his project, Bey collaborated with Atlanta high school students to create empathetic, larger-than-life portraits. Made with the monumental 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera, these photographs explore the complexity of adolescence as a time of critical identity formation and expand the concept of portraiture. The High now holds more than 50 photographs by Bey, one of the most significant museum collections of his work.

“Bey’s portraits are remarkable for their keen sensitivity and for how they elicit and honour their subjects’ sense of self, which is partly an outcome of the artist’s collaborative practice,” remarked Sarah Kennel, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography. “Given the museum’s long relationship with Bey and the strength of our holdings, we are thrilled to present this important retrospective. We look forward to sharing the artist’s photographs and his powerful and moving reflections on African American history and identity in their country with our visitors.”

Bey, born in 1953 in Queens, New York, began to develop an interest in photography as a teenager. He received his first camera as a gift from his godmother in 1968, and the next year, he saw the exhibition “Harlem on My Mind” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Widely criticised for its failure to include significant numbers of artworks by African Americans, the exhibition’s representation of Black subjects nonetheless made an impression on Bey and inspired him to develop his own documentary project about Harlem in 1975. Since that time, he has worked primarily in portraiture, making tender, psychologically rich and direct portrayals, often in collaboration with his subjects. More recently, he has explored seminal moments in African American history through both portraiture and landscape.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project includes work from the artist’s eight major series and is organised to reflect the development of Bey’s vision throughout his career and to highlight his enduring engagement with portraiture, place and history.

Press release from The High Museum of Art

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dawoud Bey: An American Project' at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dawoud Bey: An American Project at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Images courtesy of the artist and High Museum. Photos by Mike Jensen.

 

Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey
Photo: Sean Kelly Gallery

 

 

About Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey was born in Queens, New York, and began his career as a photographer in 1975 with a series of photographs, Harlem, USA, that were later exhibited in his first solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979.

Since then his work has been featured in exhibitions at numerous institutions worldwide, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Fogg Museum, Harvard University; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP), Chicago; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, among many others.

His photographs are represented in collections worldwide, and his critical writings on photography have appeared in numerous publications and exhibition catalogues. Bey received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” fellowship in 2017 and is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University and is currently Professor of Art and a Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago, where he has taught since 1998.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003' 2003

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL, 2003
2003
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Class Pictures series:

“It was a sort of snapshot of America through its young people at that particular moment. I started working in Chicago, then to New York, California and Florida. I wanted it to be geographically representative of the country. I’ve always been acutely aware that photographs tell you a lot less than what they do tell you. There’s certain things you would never know just from looking at them. You wouldn’t know from a portrait if someone is an only child, whether they have siblings, who their parents are. There’s a lot of information outside of a photograph. For Class Pictures, I thought that was important to bring that information into the construct of work and to create a space of self-representation. The young people who I photographed could give a sense of who they were.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006' 2006

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA, 2006
2006
Inkjet print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Bey has long understood that the act of representation – as well as the corollary act of being seen – is both powerful and deeply political. In this series, he once again turned his attention to teenagers, a population he felt was underrepresented and misjudged, seen either as “socially problematic or as engines for a certain consumerism.” Class Pictures (2001-2006) originated during a residency at the Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, where Bey began working with local high school students. He later expanded it to capture a geographically and socioeconomically diverse slice of American adolescence.

Working in empty classrooms between class periods, Bey made formal colour portraits of teens that attend, carefully and tenderly, to their gestures and expressions. He also invited them to write brief autobiographical statements, giving his subjects visibility as well as voice. Class Pictures can also be understood as a play on words, for in several cases, Bey chose to photograph students at elite private schools as well as teens from nearby, poorer neighbourhoods, bringing together these subjects in a single space.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Don Sledge and Moses Austin' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Don Sledge and Moses Austin
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, murdering four African American girls inside. Two Black boys were also killed later that same day in the violence that ensued. Bey’s series The Birmingham Project commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of this horrific event, rendering it painfully immediate. Bey made formal portraits of Birmingham children the same ages as the victims and adults fifty years older – the ages the victims would have been had they lived. He then paired the photographs in diptychs that both honour the community’s unthinkable loss and make tangible the continued impact of racism, violence, and trauma in the present.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Mary Parker and Caela Cowan' 2012

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Mary Parker and Caela Cowan
2012
From The Birmingham Project
Inkjet prints
Rennie Collection, Vancouver
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“Together the sitters for The Birmingham Project are simultaneously surrogates, mourners, witnesses, community, and agents of their own narratives. These subjects, then are not symbols but flesh and bone.”

 

In 2012, the project was created as a commission from the Birmingham Museum of Art. It memorialises the victims of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Four African-American girls were killed in the bombing, and two boys were later killed in riots that followed.

“I decided to make portraits of young African-Americans in Birmingham who were the exact same ages as those six young people who had been killed that day. I wanted to give those young people a more tangible, less-mythic, palpable presence.” Bey continues, “It still felt somewhat complete. I wanted to figure out how to show the passage of time and the tragic loss of possibility. Then, I started thinking about making portraits of African-Americans in Birmingham who were the ages of the six young people would have been their age today. I begun pairing those portraits with those young people, which embodied 50 years.”

Summer Evans. “Photographer Dawoud Bey Shines A Light On America’s Underrepresented Communities,” on the WABE website Nov 18, 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Night Coming Tenderly, Black

Dawoud Bey’s large-scale photographs dive into art and literary history while trying to re-create the experience of slaves fleeing on the Underground Railroad.

“I consider myself to be making photographs both in conversation with the history of photography and also the history of Black representation within photography. I wanted to use what I learned early on from looking at photographs by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Walker Evans and Mike Disfarmer – along with what I learned from Roy DeCarava, who was African American – and apply all of that to my own African American subjects as I began to build my vocabulary of picture-making. Because I’m African American myself, and because so few representations of African Americans are made from inside that experience, I set out to make that my space, to make work that operated at the level of those other photographs but with Black subjects, since those were the people I knew best. I also wanted to add something to the history of Black expressive culture. …

Night Coming Tenderly, Black continues my interest in visualising African American history by visualising the past in the contemporary moment. It takes as its conceptual touchstones the photographs of DeCarava, which are about the Black subject and often printed very darkly, some almost black. The blackness of his prints is a very beautiful and materially lush blackness. And the Black subjects inhabit this wonderful material darkness in a way that is not foreboding but is beautiful.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey. ‘Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)’ 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The photographs in this series are some of the most sensual and layered. These are sights that are at first confining then liberating when you understand them through the lens of history.

In their grandeur and mystery, they transform houses masked in darkness, bodies of water, and fields into an emblematic hope. A pristine fencepost and a homestead visible through the haze of the darkness; a wetland glistening in nightfall; a jungle thick with small trees; an image of Lake Erie, with the expansive sky and horizon forewarning the freedom that lies beyond.

 

The Underground Railroad

Night Coming Tenderly, Black contains 25 large-scale images of homesteads with wooded or grassy grounds that are believed to have formed the part of the said Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is an actual invisible web of routes and safe houses believed to have made the final way station for more than 100,000 fugitive slaves escaping to Canada. But according to the artist himself, some of the images may be of actual Underground Railroad.

 

The meaning of the title

This series is also a tribute to poet Langston Hughes (1901-1967) and photographer Roy DeCarava (1919-2009), who each played significant roles in addressing the experience of African Americans by representing what DeCarava described as a world shaped by blackness. Bey was inspired by DeCarava’s incredible ability to print a spectrum of dark hues, making him picture landscapes of twilight uncertainty.

On the other hand, Hughes Langston wrote a poem titled Dream Variations in 1926, in which he yearned for a time when the black American worker, extremely tired by the daily hustle of hard labor and prejudice, might be truly free. However, this freedom, he imagined, would not be obtained in the glare of daylight, but instead under the ominous, protective cover of the night.

Upending a dominant literary conceit, blackness, rather than whiteness, functioned as an allegory for hope and transcendence. A night coming tenderly, black like me, (Hughes poem), helped the fight for racial equality and justice. The metaphor in the poem is central to Dawoud Bey’s series Night Coming Tenderly, Black.

 

Influenced by Roy DeCarava

Bey has never stopped waxing lyrical on the influence of the two figures that inspired his artistic career, especially Roy DeCarava, who was one of the most prominent photographers of his generation. The images he took were visually rich and redolent, and they pushed the aesthetic limits of photography…

Dawoud Bey noted that DeCarava’s images were characteristically printed in dark and rich colour range. In this context, the dark prints served as a symbol for black subjects and experience. Bey says:

“DeCarava used blackness as an affirmative value, as a kind of beautiful blackness through which his subjects both moved and emerged. His work was formative to my own thinking early on, and these dark landscapes are a kind of material conversation with his work, using the darkness of the landscape and the photographic print as an evocative space of blackness through which the unseen and imaginary black fugitive subject is moving.” …

The artist printed these images in a large size to encase the viewer and deliberately dark to reveal his subject matter: He took the photos of the sites in and near Cleveland associated with the Underground Railroad that guided the slaves to liberation.

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #11 (Bent Branches)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #12 (The Marsh)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #12 (The Marsh)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I ranged far and wideout there since there were expansive rural landscapes that looked as they might have in the 18th and 19th centuries. The landscape and the history there have not been built over…

Some of the photographs, to the extent that we know, are actual Underground Railroad sites, and the majority of them are placed in the landscape that I identified in proximity to some of those locations, where I could make work that suggested the movement of fugitive slaves through the landscape…

I wanted the photographs to almost involuntarily pull you back to the experience of the landscape through which those fugitive black bodies were moving in the 19th century to escape slavery. So I had to learn, for the first time, how to make photographs in the kind of space…

It is a tender one, through which one moves. That is the space I imagined the fugitive black subjects moving through as they sought their self-liberation, moving through the dark landscape of America and Ohio toward freedom under cover of a munificent and blessed blackness.” ~ Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown's Tannery)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #14 (Site of John Brown’s Tannery)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #17 (Forest)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #17 (Forest)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Bey’s most recent work imagines the flight of enslaved Black Americans along the leg of the Underground Railroad that operated in Ohio – the last fifty or so miles before they reached the vast expanse of Lake Erie, on the other side of which lay Canada, and freedom.

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #19 (Creek and Trees)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

Behind his Night Coming Tenderly, Black series:

“The photographs are meant to imagine or reimagine the path of self-liberation in Northeastern Ohio along what is called the ‘Underground Railroad’. Formerly slaved Africans, and then African-Americans moved towards freedom by way of Lake Eerie in Ohio. I began to think about the fugitive moving through this tender space of blackness.”

Anonymous. “Dawoud Bey’s somber ‘Night Coming Tenderly, Black’ project,” on the Public Delivery website  January 30, 2021 website [Online] Cited 02/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #20 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse I)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

The gelatin silver prints in Night Coming Tenderly, Black are moody and dim, overlaid with a sheen that is almost gritty in texture thanks to the coated paper they are printed on. The trees, fences, lakes, and buildings in the photos are initially obscured, purposefully made more difficult to see through Bey’s printing methods (which take advantage of the light sensitivity of silver particles as well as their ability to be chemically “toned” through the introduction of other substances). These images resist both reproduction and easy interpretation. That one also has to wait for one’s eyes to adjust to the darkness, before slowly traveling over the terrain of each picture, reminds the viewer that the formerly enslaved people who traversed these sites often did so under cover of darkness. Darkness here is multivalent: its obscuring power, which prevents viewers from immediately processing the whole of Bey’s photographs, aided formerly enslaved people in their escape. The Underground Railroad, as the artist has noted, occupies a semi-mythological place in American history, and some of the places Bey photographs are only cannot be confirmed to have been stops on the Railroad. Like the experience of slavery, these places are unrepresentable. They are half-shrouded locales that evade being captured on a map or in a photo.

Though these photographs are dark, they are shot in the daylight and processed in such a way as to make them initially appear to be taken at night. They bring to mind Hiroshi Sugimoto’s eerily beautiful “Seascapes” series (1980- ongoing), which are shot at night, the film exposed for different lengths of time in order to reveal how light plays even after dark. Yet there is no analogous method for bringing night to the day. Bey may make his photos dark, but this is achieved through processing and glazing the finish image, which occurs after the initial act of taking the photograph. How can we account for Bey’s artificial night?

The philosopher François Laruelle’s 2011 book The Concept of Non-Photography suggests one answer to this question. In essence, Laruelle starts with the premise that works of art cannot and do not represent anything, be it objects, thoughts, concepts, or movements. He posits art as an entirely self-sufficient engagement with the world (which he calls the Real), independent even of viewer and creator. Art is a machine; the medium, processes, and even the artist are its materials. What art “shows,” Laurelle argues, is only the world according to itself – which he terms the world-in-painting, the world-in-photo, and so on. He turns to photography in part because of its connection to modern scientific advancement and its attempts literally to illuminate the world “objectively.” Non-photography aims to re-conceptualise the photographic flash, which Laruelle associates with the flash of logos or reason, as a form of potential insurrection against its traditional association with illumination, and against photography’s constant reproduction of the asymmetrical dichotomy between light and dark.

Anna Mirzayan. “”Artificial night”: on Dawoud Bey’s America,” on the Art Agenda website December 15 2020 [Online] Cited 01/03/2021

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #23 (Near Lake Erie)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

“I was thinking about this narrative of the Black subject — the unseen Black subject, in this case — a fugitive slave moving through the darkness of night,” Bey explains. “And that darkness of night being the kind of Black space that would lead to liberation.”

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953) 'Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)' 2017

 

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953)
Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky)
2017
From the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Gelatin silver print
© Dawoud Bey

 

 

As a covert network of safe houses and churches, the sites of the Underground Railroad were by necessity secret, and Bey’s landscapes suggest, rather than document, the experience. Photographed by day but printed in shades of grey and black so deep they resemble nocturnes, the sensuous prints conjure a darkness at once ominous and lush. The series title, which is drawn from the last couplet of Langston Hughes’s poem “Dream Variations” (1926), suggests a black night that envelops the fugitives in a darkness that serves as a protective embrace: “Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”

 

 

The High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA
30309

Opening hours:
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Sunday 12 – 5pm
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08
Sep
17

Exhibition: ‘Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 30th April – 30th July 2017

The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Exhibition Gallery, sixth floor

 

 

Louise Lawler. 'Pollyanna (adjusted to fit) distorted for the times' 2007/2008/2012

 

Louise Lawler
Pollyanna (adjusted to fit) distorted for the times
2007/2008/2012
As adjusted for the MoMA exhibition WHY PICTURES NOW, 2017
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Pollyanna (adjusted to fit)' 2007/2008/2012

 

Louise Lawler
Pollyanna (adjusted to fit)
2007/2008/2012
As adjusted for the MoMA exhibition WHY PICTURES NOW, 2017
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Produced in 1988, Purchased in 1989; Produced in 1989, Purchased in 1993 (adjusted to fit), distorted for the times' 1995/2010

 

Louise Lawler
Produced in 1988, Purchased in 1989; Produced in 1989, Purchased in 1993 (adjusted to fit), distorted for the times
1995/2010
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

(Note on reproducing Lawler’s Adjusted to Fit works: Each time these images are reproduced, they should be stretched to the space given to the reproduction. The original file (un-stretched) is the origin point for anything that is then adjusted by the photo editor.)

 

Louise Lawler. 'Produced in 1988, Purchased in 1989; Produced in 1989, Purchased in 1993 (adjusted to fit)' 1995/2010

 

Louise Lawler
Produced in 1988, Purchased in 1989; Produced in 1989, Purchased in 1993 (adjusted to fit), distorted for the times
1995/2010
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

 

I missed the closing date for this exhibition due to the ongoing problems with my hand. However, I believe it is valuable to post these images because Louise Lawler is an always provocative, thoughtful and interesting artist. She shines a light or, more possibly, pokes a big stick at patriarchal systems of value in art – turning perceived points of view, ways of seeing, and “the cultural circumstances that support art’s production, circulation, and presentation” on their head.

“… behind Ms. Lawler’s shape-shifting works lies a poetic intelligence, a political sharpness and an understanding of the artwork as a form of value, but also as a source and an object of love.” Well said.

Lawler possesses a unique understanding of the forms of culture embodied within images and also an intimate knowledge of the archetypal forms buried deep within their bones. Is the pattern immanent in the paper (the cosmos), or is the paper a blank slate to be written on by the creator?

Distorted, restaged, reframed and re-presented for the times…

Marcus

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

#art #moma #museumofmodernart #museum #modernart #nyc #education #artist #photography #womenartists #femaleartists #louiselawler #whypicturesnow

 

Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW is the first major survey in New York of the artist Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947), spanning the 40-year creative output of one of the most influential artists working in the fields of image production and institutional critique. The exhibition takes its title from one of Lawler’s most iconic works, Why Pictures Now (1982), a black-and-white photograph showing a matchbook propped up in an ashtray. Reminiscent of an advertising photograph or a film noir still, it asks the viewer to consider why the work takes the form of a picture, and why the artist is making pictures now. Lawler came of age as part of the Pictures Generation, a loosely knit, highly independent group of artists named for an influential exhibition, Pictures, organised in 1977 by art historian Douglas Crimp at Artists Space in New York. These artists used photography and appropriation-driven strategies to examine the functions and codes of representation. Lawler’s signature style was established in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when she began taking pictures of other artists’ works displayed in collectors’ homes, museums, storage spaces, and auction houses to question the value, meaning, and use of art.

WHY PICTURES NOW is organised by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, with Kelly Sidley, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

 

 

“Ms. Lawler and Roxana Marcoci, the exhibition’s curator, have devised something quite different: an open, airy survey with lots of room for roaming, some chairs for sitting and two conjoined, markedly different halves focusing on Ms. Lawler’s activities with pictures and then words. The first half is dominated by photographs in various shapes and guises, including mural-size images. The second, which seems almost empty at first, contains two large vitrines of ephemera that show off Ms. Lawler’s gifts for graphic design and for language, with displays of everything from matchbook covers and napkins to exhibition announcements and art books that she photo-edited. …

Ms. Lawler’s images have multiple lives, exposing the ceaseless flexibility of photographs. Constantly recycled, they go from framed and portable to paperweights to the wall-covering murals of her “adjusted to fit” series. In the show’s first half, four “adjusted” photos cover immense, staggered walls, looming like ocean liners sliding out of their docks. Their monumentality thrills but also chides the art world for its embrace of spectacle and the overblown. …

It is hard to know if these words [“Why Pictures Now”] proclaim the power, or the worthlessness, of pictures. Probably both. Either way, behind Ms. Lawler’s shape-shifting works lies a poetic intelligence, a political sharpness and an understanding of the artwork as a form of value, but also as a source and an object of love.”

.
Roberta Smith. “Louise Lawler’s Stealth Aesthetic (and Muted Aura),” on the New York Times website

 

 

 

Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW | MoMA LIVE

Join us for a conversation with MoMA director Glenn Lowry and curator Roxana Marcoci on the opening of the exhibition, Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW. The first New York museum survey of the work of American artist Louise Lawler, this exhibition is an exploration of her creative output, which has inspired fellow artists and cultural thinkers alike for the past four decades.

Among the most intriguing aspects of Lawler’s working process is her continuous re-presentation, reframing, or restaging in the present, a strategy through which she revisits her own images by transferring them to different formats – from photographs to paperweights, tracings, and works she calls “adjusted to fit” (images stretched or expanded to fit the location of their display). Lawler’s critical strategies of reformatting existing content not only suggest the idea that pictures can have more than one life, but underpin the intentional, relational character of her farsighted art.

 

 

Louise Lawler | HOW TO SEE the artist with MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci

Can the exact same image have a completely different meaning if its title or medium is changed? Explore the work of one of today’s most influential female artists, Louise Lawler, in the new exhibition Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW.

MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci gives us a tour of the exhibition that charts Lawler’s continuous re-presentation, reframing, or restaging of the present, a strategy through which Lawler revisits her own images by transferring them to different formats – from photographs to paperweights, tracings, and works she calls “adjusted to fit” (images stretched or expanded to fit the location of their display).

 

 

Louise Lawler’s Birdcalls at MoMA

You’re not hearing things. For the duration of the Louise Lawler exhibition, a stroll through our Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden places you squarely in the middle of Birdcalls, the artist’s defiant, humorous critique of the art world’s captivation with male artists. Find out what exhibition inspired Lawler’s sole sound piece with MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci.

 

Installation view of 'Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW' at The Museum of Modern Art

Installation view of 'Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW' at The Museum of Modern Art

Installation view of 'Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW' at The Museum of Modern Art

Installation view of 'Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW' at The Museum of Modern Art

Installation view of 'Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW' at The Museum of Modern Art

Installation view of 'Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW' at The Museum of Modern Art

Installation view of 'Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW' at The Museum of Modern Art

Installation view of 'Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW' at The Museum of Modern Art

Installation view of 'Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW' at The Museum of Modern Art

 

Installation views of Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW
© 2017 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: Martin Seck

 

 

Lawler’s study of art in its commercial context will be complemented by the display of a work by a younger artist that highlights a different kind of economy. The sculpture New York State Unified Court System (top photo), by artist Cameron Rowland, included in the artist’s knockout exhibition at Artists Space this winter, takes the form of four oak benches used in courtrooms and built using prison labour. (Text from the Artnet website)

 

Louise Lawler. 'Why Pictures Now' 1981

 

Louise Lawler
Why Pictures Now
1981
Gelatin silver print
3 x 6” (7.6 x 15.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired with support from Nathalie and Jean-Daniel Cohen in honour of Roxana Marcoci
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Why Pictures Now (traced)' 1981/2013

 

Louise Lawler
Why Pictures Now (traced)
1981/2013
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. '(Roy Lichtenstein and Other Artists) Black' 1982

 

Louise Lawler
(Roy Lichtenstein and Other Artists) Black
1982
Silver dye bleach print
28 ½ x 37 ¼” (72.4 x 94.6 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. '(Andy Warhol and Other Artists) Tulip' 1982

 

Louise Lawler
(Andy Warhol and Other Artists) Tulip
1982
Silver dye bleach print
38 ½ x 60 ½” (97.8 x 153.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Monogram' 1984

 

Louise Lawler
Monogram
1984
Silver dye bleach print
39 1/2 × 28″ (100.3 × 71.1 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

 

“Swimming among the show’s images are words and wordplay that can have a few layers. One of Ms. Lawler’s better-known photographs shows Jasper Johns’s creamy “White Flag” (1955) hanging above a bed with an equally creamy monogrammed satin spread. The image is sensibly titled “Monogram,” all the more fittingly since “Monogram” is also the title of one of Robert Rauschenberg’s combines from the 1950s, when he and Mr. Johns were lovers.

Roberta Smith. “Louise Lawler’s Stealth Aesthetic (and Muted Aura),” on the New York Times website

 

Louise Lawler. 'Untitled, 1950-51' 1987

 

Louise Lawler
Untitled, 1950-51
1987
Silver dye bleach print
29 3/8 × 39 1/4″ (74.6 × 99.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Does Andy Warhol Make You Cry?' 1988

 

Louise Lawler
Does Andy Warhol Make You Cry?
1988
Silver dye bleach print with text on Plexiglass wall label
Image (shown): 27 ¼ x 39” (69.2 x 99.1 cm); Label: 4 3/8 x 6 3/8 in. (11.1 x 16.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Gabriella de Ferrari in honour of Karen Davidson
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

 

“Lawler’s suspicion of the image is nothing new. In WHY PICTURES NOW, her career survey currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art, the Pictures Generation artist is again and again engaged in taking the familiar – a famous work of art, different forms of banal ephemera – and making it abnormal through clever subversion. There is a timid jostling of her male peers, a slight nudge off the pedestal of reverence, which is evident in much of her work and makes it eminently appealing – even if some of its institutional critique is diminished under the museum’s glow of prestige. But what is often obscured in Lawler’s work is the way that it’s not only questioning the apparatus of making and displaying art, but also its reception – the formalised way that we, the spectators, are looking.”

.
Craig Hulbert on the Hyperallergic website

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art announces Louise Lawler: WHY PICTURES NOW, the first major survey in New York of the artist Louise Lawler (American, b. 1947). Spanning the 40-year creative output of one of the most influential artists working in the fields of image production and institutional critique, the exhibition will be on view from April 30 to July 30, 2017, in The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Exhibition Gallery, sixth floor, along with one sound work, Birdcalls (1972-81), which will be installed in The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. The exhibition takes its title from one of Lawler’s most iconic works, Why Pictures Now (1982), a black-and-white photograph showing a matchbook propped up in an ashtray. Reminiscent of an advertising photograph or a film noir still, it asks the viewer to consider why the work takes the form of a picture, and why the artist is making pictures at this moment. Lawler came of age as part of the Pictures Generation, a loosely knit, highly independent group of artists named for an influential exhibition, Pictures, organised in 1977 by art historian Douglas Crimp at Artists Space in New York. These artists used photography and appropriation-driven strategies to examine the functions and codes of representation. Lawler’s signature style was established in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when she began taking pictures of other artists’ works displayed in collectors’ homes, museums, storage spaces, and auction houses to question the value, meaning, and use of art. WHY PICTURES NOW is organised by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, with Kelly Sidley, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography.

Lawler’s work offers a defiant, witty, and sustained feminist analysis of the strategies that inform art’s production and reception. In 1971, she was invited to assist several artists for independent curator Willoughby Sharp’s Pier 18, an exhibition that featured 27 male artists on an abandoned pier on the Hudson River. While walking home after leaving the pier one evening, Lawler began to mimic birdlike sounds in order to ward off any unwanted interactions, chanting “Willoughby! Willoughby!” This parody evolved into Birdcalls, a seven-minute audio piece in which Lawler squawks, chirps, and twitters the names of famous male artists, from Vito Acconci to Lawrence Weiner – an astute critique of the name recognition enjoyed by her male contemporaries. Birdcalls thematises Lawler’s strategy of resistance to the authoritative and the patronymic proper name. This work will be played throughout the course of the exhibition, in MoMA’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden.

An intriguing aspect of Lawler’s practice is her process of continuous re-presentation, reframing, or restaging in the present: she revisits her own work by transferring her images to different formats, from a photograph to a tracing, and to works that she calls “adjusted to fit.” The “tracings” are large-format black-and-white line versions of her photographs that eliminate colour and detail, functioning instead as “ghosts” of the originals. “Adjusted to fit” images are stretched or expanded to fit the location of their display, not only suggesting the idea that pictures can have more than one life, but also underpinning the intentional, relational character of Lawler’s farsighted art.

The exhibition consists of a sequence of mural-scale, “adjusted to fit” images set in dynamic relation to non-linear groupings of photographs – of collectors’ homes, auction houses, and museum installations – distinctive of Lawler’s conceptual exercises. Additionally, a deceptively empty gallery presents black-and-white tracings of Lawler’s photographs that have been printed on vinyl and mounted directly on the wall. A display of the artist’s ephemera from the 1970s to today highlights the feminist and performative undercurrents of her art. Lawler’s long history of artistic collaborations, with Sherrie Levine, Allan McCollum, Andrea Fraser, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Christopher d’Arcangelo, Peter Nadin, and Lawrence Weiner, among others, come full circle in the ephemera on display. Furthermore, on the platform outside the gallery space, two “adjusted to fit” images are shown together with Cameron Rowland’s work New York State Unified Court System. Comprised of four oak courtroom benches, it was included in Rowland’s exhibition 91020000, presented at Artists Space in 2016. Lawler and Rowland share an interest in examining the imbalances of exploitative economies, the use value and exchange value of art, the politics of space, and the interplay of power between human relations and larger institutional structures, including markets, museums, prisons, and governments. Additionally, Andrea Fraser will perform her work May I Help You? in the exhibition space. In foregrounding her work’s relationship to the economies of collaboration and exchange, Lawler shifts focus from the individual picture to the broader history of art. Her careful attention to artistic contexts, modes of presentation, and viewers’ receptions generates witty, affective situations that contribute to institutional transformation.

Press release from MoMA

 

Louise Lawler. 'Untitled (Salon Hodler)' 1992

 

Louise Lawler
Untitled (Salon Hodler)
1992
Paperweight (silver dye bleach print, crystal, felt) with text on wall
Paperweight: 2″ (5.1 cm) high, 3 1/2″ (8.9 cm) diam.
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Salon Hodler (traced)' 1992/1993/2013

 

Louise Lawler
Salon Hodler (traced)
1992/1993/2013
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Sentimental' 1999/2000

 

Louise Lawler
Sentimental
1999/2000
Silver dye bleach print
40 ¾ x 46 ¾” (103.5 x 118.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'WAR IS TERROR' 2001/2003

 

Louise Lawler
WAR IS TERROR
2001/2003
Silver dye bleach print
30 × 25 3/4″ (76.2 × 65.4 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Nude' 2002/2003

 

Louise Lawler
Nude
2002/2003
Silver dye bleach print
59 1/2 × 47 1/2″ (151.1 × 120.7 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'White Gloves' 2002/2004

 

Louise Lawler
White Gloves
2002/2004
Silver dye bleach print
29 × 27 1/2″ (73.7 × 69.9 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York
© 2017 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Life After 1945 (Faces)' 2006/2007

 

Louise Lawler
Life After 1945 (Faces)
2006/2007
Silver dye bleach print
40 x 33 ¼” (101.6 x 84.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Triangle (adjusted to fit)' 2008/2009/2011

 

Louise Lawler
Triangle (adjusted to fit)
2008/2009/2011
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'No Drones' 2010/2011

 

Louise Lawler
No Drones
2010/2011
Chromogenic colour print
29 ¼ x 19 ¾” (74.3 x 50.2 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Marie +270' 2010/2012

 

Louise Lawler
Marie +270
2010/2012
Chromogenic colour print
59 x 45 ½” (149.9 x 115.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Promised gift of Ricki Gail Conway
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Pollock and Tureen (traced)' 1984/2013

 

Louise Lawler
Pollock and Tureen (traced)
1984/2013
Dimensions variable
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Endowment
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

 

One of her most famous images, “Pollock and Tureen” (1984), shows a fragment of a painting by Jackson Pollock above an antique soup tureen. In the photograph, the colour relationships are clear, offering insight into the choices of the collectors who “arranged” (a favourite word of Lawler’s) the scene. The work is about class, capitalism, and domesticity, not to mention reality and fiction. But when all the site-specific context is removed [in the tracing] … all we’re left with is contemplating the original Lawler artwork’s role in art history and the market.

In Benjamin Buchloh’s essay for Lawler’s retrospective last year at the Museum Ludwig, one of his most cogent points is about the nature of melancholy in her original photographs. “[H]er images,” he writes, “leave equally little doubt that there is hardly a more melancholic space than that of a fulfilled and seemingly satisfied utopian aspiration, one that has, however, not quite lived up to the originary promises … ”

Hrag Vartanian on the Hypoallergic website

 

Louise Lawler. 'Hand on Her Back (traced)' 1997/1998/2013

 

Louise Lawler
Hand on Her Back (traced)
1997/1998/2013
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Evening Sale' 2010/2015

 

Louise Lawler
Evening Sale
2010/2015
Silver dye bleach print
50 x 36 5/8” (127 x 93 cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Big (adjusted to fit)' 2002/2003/2016

 

Louise Lawler
Big (adjusted to fit)
2002/2003/2016
Dimensions variable
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of The Modern Women’s Fund and The Contemporary Arts Council
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Still Life (Candle) (adjusted to fit)' 2003/2016

 

Louise Lawler
Still Life (Candle) (adjusted to fit)
2003/2016
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

Louise Lawler. 'Arranged by Donald Marron, Susan Brundage, Cheryl Bishop at Paine Webber Inc. (adjusted to fit)' 1982/2016

 

Louise Lawler
Arranged by Donald Marron, Susan Brundage, Cheryl Bishop at Paine Webber Inc. (adjusted to fit)
1982/2016
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures
© 2016 Louise Lawler

 

 

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New York, NY 10019
Phone: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
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03
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘John Divola: As Far As I Could Get’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 6th October 2013 – 6th July 2014

 

John Divola. 'Cone, 87CN09' 1987

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Cone, 87CN09
1987
Black and White Polapan Print (Polaroid)
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

 

FINALLY… two postings on consecutive days by conceptual artists who use photography to document their staging, performance, sculpture, body, earth-body, action art, found art, land art – WORK THAT I REALLY LIKE AND CAN REALLY CARE ABOUT.

I care about both artists work not so much because of the quality of the photography but because of their passion, insight, ideas and general human nous, their need to understand humans and the worlds we inhabit: that INTELLIGENCE necessary for understanding what is true or real, using their intuition to root out, to dig down into the human psyche.

In this posting Divola eloquently investigates the mysterious process of creation through imagination (only for the original “model” then to be destroyed); the notion of photographic authenticity and an interrogation of the human impulse to master the natural world; photography at its most deceptively naturalistic revealing hidden, dead animals; and the landscape altered by human presence and staged to serve as a theatre for creative activity through the “captured” act of running away.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of 'John Divola: As Far As I Could Get' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation view of 'John Divola: As Far As I Could Get' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation view of 'John Divola: As Far As I Could Get' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

 

Installation views of John Divola: As Far As I Could Get at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
© John Divola
Photo
© 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

John Divola. 'Man in Vortex, 87CA2' 1987

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Man in Vortex, 87CA2
1987
Black and White Polapan Print (Polaroid)
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

 

In Divola’s words, the Polaroids feature “The photograph as an object has an relationship to that which it represents, something like the relationship the snake skin has to the snake that sheds it. The relationship of something dead to something living.” The Polapan prints especially lend themselves to this associate with skin. Their plasticity and their alchemical marks bear witness to a mysterious process of creation; their subject matter conjured up, and then discarded. Divola’s “studio constructions,” as he called them, were temporary structures made solely for the purpose of photographic depiction, including funnels, human and animal figures, and expressively painted backdrops. Divola’s photographs are themselves echo chambers: they replicate and reverberate light from objects that have long since vanished.

Divola’s process has important photo-conceptual precedents: Richard Long’s photographic records of lines made by walking, Jan Dibbets’ play with optical illusion through the camera’s lens, or Robert Smithson’s Yucatan Mirror Displacements. Divola’s work, though, is equally in conversation with the work of Jasper Johns. Johns, known for his paintings of numbers, flags, maps, and targets, focused on flat subjects as a means to conjoining the surface of subject matter with a painting’s flat picture plane. Divola has transmuted the achievements and medium-specificity of high modern painting into images that explore photography’s mimetic qualities and its sheer surface. These are images are about a recognisable reality we cannot access, dim echoes of a familiar world, yet one that has vanished.

“JOHN DIVOLA – Echo Chamber” on the Gallery Luisotti website [Online] Cited 01/07/2014. No longer available online

 

John Divola. 'Rock and Water #1, 88RW1' 1988

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Rock and Water #1, 88RW1
1988
Black and White Polapan Print (Polaroid)
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'Cells, 87CA1' 1987-89

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Cells, 87CA1
1987-89
Internal Dye-diffusion print
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'Man on Hill, 89MHA1' 1987-89

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Man on Hill, 89MHA1
1987-89
Internal Dye-diffusion Print
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

 John Divola. 'Moon, 88MOA1' 1988

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Moon, 88MOA1
1988
Internal Dye-diffusion print
20 x 24 inches
Courtesy of the artist
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'Rabbit, 87RBA1' 1987

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Rabbit, 87RBA1
1987
Internal Dye-diffusion print
20 x 24 inches
Courtesy of the artist
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Artificial Nature (detail, 1 of 36)
2002
Gelatin Silver Print
8 x 10 in.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Ralph M. Parsons Fund and the Photographic Arts Council, 2013
© John Divola

 

 

Across the gallery is a series of found photographs, “Artificial Nature” (2002), made up of continuity stills (the photographs taken on film sets to make ensure uniformity from scene to scene) from mid-century films. The photographs show fabricated landscapes created in studio backlots. The images zero in on the notion of photographic truth – the idea that when you look at a photograph, what you’re seeing is an accurate representation of the world – by presenting a false natural landscape. Without outside knowledge, upon first glance, the photographs look like ordinary landscapes.

Maxwell Williams. “John Divola’s SoCal Moment,” on the Art in America website [Online] Cited 01/07/2014. No longer available online

 

“Artificial Nature” (2002) stands out, and as with many of Divola’s series, the bluntness of the title belies the delicacy and actual locus of interest. Composed of thirty-six “continuity stills”, these black and white prints have been repurposed from movie studio archives, framed and hung in a tight grid. Ranging in provenance from the 1930s to the 1960s, each picture documents a movie set dressed as a lush, natural landscape. A clapperboard sign planted in the foreground might identify the scene as “wooded hillside” or “the beach.” At once romantic and businesslike, the series opens a delicious gap between intention and effect. To view these pictures only through the lens of nature vs. artifice would be reductive and superficial at best. Treat them instead as a peek into the cabinetry of early pop mechanics, or evidence of a peculiar temporality where worlds should be fixed with a sign because they so routinely congeal and vanish.

Kristin Posehn. “John Divola: As Far As I Could Get,” on The Miami Rail website [Online] Cited 01/07/2014.

 

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Artificial Nature (detail, 4 of 36)
2002
Gelatin Silver Print
8 x 10 in.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Ralph M. Parsons Fund and the Photographic Arts Council, 2013
© John Divola

 

 

With a career compromising four decades, John Divola is as distinctive for his commitment to the photographic community as for his thought-provoking work, Divola’s influence within the field of photography is widely recognised by curators, critics, scholars and photographers throughout the country; yet, his work has remained largely uncelebrated. Many of his former students have achieved illustrious careers and far more recognition, even as Divola continues to mentor and inspire both undergraduate and graduate students in contemporary practice.

As Far As I Could Get is the first over-arching presentation of Divola’s work and is a collaborative project led by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA), shown simultaneously at SBMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and the Pomona College Museum of Art (PCMA) in the fall of 2013. Though Divola’s photographic series are diverse in subject matter, this approach as one exhibition among three Southern California venues emphasises the consistent conceptual and performative threads that run through Divola’s entire body of work.

Divola was born in Los Angeles in 1949. After graduating with a BA from California State University, Northridge, he entered the MFA program at the University of California Los Angeles. There, under the tutelage of Robert Heineken, the artist began to develop his own unique photographic practice, one that merges photography, painting, and conceptual art. In addition to his own studio practice, he teaches contemporary art in the underserved California inland empire and writes on current photographic practice for a national audience.

John Divola’s photos of photographs range widely but the intellectual rigour from which they spring is unvarying. Whether testing the visual limits of photography by vandalising abandoned houses, interrogating the iconography of the divine through paint, flour, and film, or emphasising the distance between image and reality through the blurred figure of a running dog, Divola’s work is simultaneously fun and philosophical, visually appealing as well as intellectually stimulating.

LACMA On view: Four series of John Divola’s work in the Ahmanson Building, 2nd Floor

The series 20 x 24 Polaroids is Divola’s earliest work exhibited at LACMA, shot between 1987 and 1989. Hastily fabricated sculptures created out of impermanent materials attempt, on one level, to approximate actual physical objects in the world – branches, a rabbit, the moon, etc. At the same time, the roughly-hewn surfaces and ticky-tacky backdrops insist on the artificiality of what is depicted. These works express Divola’s ambivalence to the idea of photography as a descriptive medium with a one-to-one relationship to the real. Photography, in this case, is not employed in the service of documentary truth, but instead is held up as a crucial interlocutor in a creative exercise.

Artificial Nature (2002) offers a clear example of Divola’s interrogation of the human impulse to master the natural world. The work is a collection of 36 continuity stills from films made between the 1930s and the 1960s. These photographs, taken on film sets to establish consistency across multiple cuts (to ensure that the placement of objects remains constant from take to take), document fabricated landscapes contained within the artificial space of the film studio. Representing the diversity of natural topographies add weather patterns, the images also include accessories such as signage and clapperboards, highlighting the distance between ourselves and the natural world – a distance that is only accentuated by cinematic representation.

Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit (1995) is a series of details from the Keystone Mast collection of stereographic negatives housed at the California Museum of Photography, University of California Riverside. Stereoscopy, a three-dimensional imaging technology popular from the mid 19th to the early 20th century, exemplifies photography at its most deceptively naturalistic. When Divola began to examine the original glass-plate negatives in the Keystone collection, he found a wealth of detail, such as the birds and rabbit nestled amidst the foliage that gave the series its title.

The series As Far As I Could Get (1996-2010), five works of which are included in the LACMA exhibition, has Divola once again engaging with the natural environment, but this time in a more performative vein. Divola positioned his camera on a tripod, set the timer for ten seconds, and then ran straight into the established frame. At one level, this was a completely dispassionate endeavour. On another level, because the resulting pictures depict a man in a landscape, not in a controlled experimental setting, the viewer cannot suppress a frisson of physical and emotional tension. The works engage the viewer with the natural landscape – a landscape altered by human presence and staged to serve as a theatre for creative activity.”

Press release from the LACMA website

 

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' 1995 (detail)

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' 1995 (detail)

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' 1995 (detail)

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' 1995 (detail)

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' 1995 (detail)

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' 1995 (detail)

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit (details)
1995
Gelatin Silver Print on Linen
20 x 20 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get (R02F09), 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
As Far As I Could Get (R02F09), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get (R02F06), 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
As Far As I Could Get (R02F06), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

 

“Divola is a photographer who works in distinct conceptual series that span and stretch the reaches of photography as art. For instance, at LACMA, the works include a series called “As Far As I Could Get” (1996-2010), where Divola sets a 10-second timer and sprints as far from the camera as he can. It’s performative, simple, amusing and alienating – a tiny body in full physical exertion, far off in the landscape.”

Maxwell Williams. “John Divola’s SoCal Moment,” on the Art in America website [Online] Cited 01/07/2014. No longer available online.

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get (R02F33), 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
As Far As I Could Get (R02F33), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get, 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
As Far As I Could Get, 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get, 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
As Far As I Could Get (R02F33), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get, 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola (American, b. 1949)
As Far As I Could Get (R02F33), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA, 90036
Phone: 323 857 6000

Opening Hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: noon – 8pm
Friday: noon – 9pm
Saturday, Sunday: 11am – 8pm
Closed Wednesday

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17
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘Color! American Photography Transformed’ at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

Exhibition dates: 5th October 2013 – 5th January, 2014

 

Alex Prager (b.1979) 'Crowd #1 (Stan Douglas)' 2010

 

Alex Prager (American, b. 1979)
Crowd #1 (Stan Douglas)
2010
Dye coupler print
© Alex Prager, courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery

 

 

A very big subject to cover in one exhibition.

Marcus

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

 

Jack Delano (1914-1997) 'Chopping cotton on rented land near White Plains, Greene County, Georgia, 1941' 1941

 

Jack Delano (American, 1914-1997)
Chopping cotton on rented land near White Plains, Greene County, Georgia, 1941
1941
Inkjet print, 2013
Courtesy the Library of Congress

 

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979) 'Still Life with Peaches' 1912

 

Laura Gilpin (American, 1891-1979)
Still Life with Peaches
1912
Lumière Autochrome
© 1979 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

 

Jan Groover (1943-2012) 'Untitled' 1978

 

Jan Groover (American, 1943-2012)
Untitled
1978
Dye coupler print
© 1978 Jan Groover
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

 

Unknown photographer. 'Untitled (Woman with two daughters)' c. 1850s

 

Unknown photographer 
Untitled (Woman with two daughters)
c. 1850s
Salted paper print with applied color
Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

Gregory Crewdson (b. 1962) 'Untitled (Dylan on the Floor)' from the 'Twilight Series' 1998-2002

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Dylan on the Floor) from the Twilight Series
1998-2002
Dye coupler print
© Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

On October 5, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art opens Color! American Photography Transformed, a compelling examination of how colour has changed the very nature of photography, transforming it into today’s dominant artistic medium. Color! includes more than 70 exceptional photographs by as many photographers and is on view through January 5, 2014.

“Colour is so integral to photography today that it is difficult to remember how new it is or realise how much it has changed the medium,” says John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs.

The exhibition covers the full history of photography, from 1839, when Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) introduced his daguerreotype process, to the present. From the start, disappointed that photographs could only be made in black and white, photographers and scientists alike sought with great energy to achieve colour. Color! begins with a rare direct-colour photograph made in 1851 by Levi L. Hill (1816-1865), but explains how Hill could neither capture a full range of colour nor replicate his achievement. It then shows finely rendered hand-coloured photographs to share how photographers initially compensated for the lack of colour.

When producing colour photographs became commercially feasible in 1907 in the form of the glass-plate Autochrome, leading artists like Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) were initially overjoyed, according to Rohrbach. Color! offers exquisite examples of their work even as it explains their ultimate rejection of the process because it was too difficult to display and especially because they felt it mirrored human sight too closely to be truly creative.

“Although many commercial photographers embraced colour photography over succeeding decades, artists continued to puzzle over the medium,” Rohrbach explains. Color! reveals that many artists from Richard Avedon (1923-2004) to Henry Holmes Smith (1909-1986) tried their hand at making colour photographs through the middle decades of the 20th century, and it shows the wide range of approaches they took to colour. It also shares the background debates among artists and photography critics over how to employ colour and even whether colour photographs could have the emotional force of their black-and-white counterparts.

Only in 1976, when curator John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art in New York heralded the young Memphis photographer William Eggleston’s (b. 1939) snapshot-like colour photographs as the solution to artful colour, did fine art colour photography gain full acceptance.

“Eggleston revealed how colour can simultaneously describe objects and stand apart from those objects as pure hue,” Rohrbach says. “In so doing, he successfully challenged the longstanding conception of photography as a medium that found its calling on close description.”

Color! illustrates through landmark works by Jan Groover (1943-2012), Joel Meyerowitz (b. 1938) and others the blossoming of artists’ use of colour photography that followed in the wake of Szarkowski’s celebration of Eggleston. It also reveals artists’ gradual absorption of the notion that colour could be used flexibly to critique cultural mores and to shape stories. In this new colour world, recording the look of things was important, but it was less important than conveying a message about life. In this important shift, led by artists as diverse as Andres Serrano (b. 1950) and Laurie Simmons (b. 1949), the exhibition explains, photography aligned itself far more closely with painting.

Color! shows how the rise of digital technologies furthered this transformation, as photographers such as Gregory Crewdson (b. 1962), Richard Misrach (b. 1949) and Alex Prager (b. 1979) have explicitly embraced the hues, scale, and even subjects of painting and cinema.

“Photography still gains its power and wide popularity today from its ability to closely reflect the world,” explains Rohrbach, “but Color! reveals how contemporary artists have been using reality not as an end unto itself, but as a jumping off point for exploring the emotional and cultural power of colour, even blurring of line between record and fiction to make their points. These practices, founded on colour, have transformed photography into the dominant art form of today even as they have opened new questions about the very nature of the medium.”

The exhibition will include an interactive photography timeline enabling visitors to contribute to the visual dialogue by sharing their own colour images. The photographs will be displayed along the timeline and on digital screens in the museum during the exhibition to illustrate how quantity, format and colour quality have evolved over time.

“By telling the full story of colour photography’s evolution, the exhibition innovatively uncovers the fundamental change that colour has brought to how photographers think about their medium,” says Andrew J. Walker, museum director. “The story is fascinating and the works are equally captivating. Photography fans and art enthusiasts in general will revel in the opportunity to see works by this country’s great photographers.

Press release from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art website

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Patrick Nagatani (b. 1945) and Andree Tracey (b.1948) 'Alamogordo Blues' 1986

 

Patrick Nagatani (American, b. 1945)
Andree Tracey (American, b. 1948)
Alamogordo Blues
1986
Dye diffusion print
© Patrick Nagatani and Andree Tracey
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

 

Laurie Simmons (b. 1949) 'Woman/Red Couch/Newspaper' 1978

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949)
Woman/Red Couch/Newspaper
1978
Silver dye-bleach print
© Laurie Simmons
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ralph M. Parsons Fund

 

Sandy Skoglund (b. 1946) 'Revenge of the Goldfish, 1980' 1980

 

Sandy Skoglund (American, b. 1946)
Revenge of the Goldfish, 1980
1980
Silver dye-bleach print
© 1981 Sandy Skoglund
St. Louis Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Fielding Lewis Holmes

 

Mark Cohen (b. 1943) 'Boy in Yellow Shirt Smoking' 1977

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
Boy in Yellow Shirt Smoking
1977
Dye coupler print
© Mark Cohen
Courtesy the artist and ROSEGALLERY

 

John F. Collins (1888?-1988) 'Tire' 1938

 

John F. Collins (American, 1888?-1988)
Tire
1938
Silver dye-bleach print
Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

 

Richard Misrach (b.1949) 'Paradise Valley (Arizona), 3.22.95, 7:05 P.M.' 1995

 

Richard Misrach (American, b.1949)
Paradise Valley (Arizona), 3.22.95, 7:05 P.M.
1995
Dye coupler print
© Richard Misrach, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles and Pace/MacGill Gallery, NY

 

Henry Holmes Smith (1909-1986) 'Tricolor Collage on Black' 1946

 

Henry Holmes Smith (American, 1909-1986)
Tricolor Collage on Black
1946
Dye imbibition print over gelatin silver print
© Smith Family Trust
Indiana University Art Museum, Henry Holmes Smith Archive

 

Mitch Epstein (b. 1952) 'Flag' 2000

 

Mitch Epstein (American, b. 1952)
Flag
2000
Dye coupler print
© Black River Productions
Private collection

 

Trevor Paglen (b. 1974) 'The Fence (Lake Kickapoo, Texas)' 2010

 

Trevor Paglen (American, b. 1974)
The Fence (Lake Kickapoo, Texas)
2010
Dye coupler print, 2011
© Trevor Paglen
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

 

Joaquin Trujillo (b. 1976) 'Jacky' 2003

 

Joaquin Trujillo (American, b. 1976)
Jacky
2003
From the series Los Niños
Inkjet print, 2011
© Joaquin Trujillo 2013
Amon Carter Museum of American art, purchase with funds provided by the Stieglitz Circle of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

James N. Doolittle (1889-1954) 'Ann Harding' c. 1932

 

James N. Doolittle (American, 1889-1954)
Ann Harding
c. 1932
Tricolor carbro print
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO

 

 

Amon Carter Museum
3501 Camp Bowie Boulevard
Fort Worth, TX 76107-2695

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday:
 10am – 5pm
Thursday: 10am – 8pm
Sunday: 12am – 5pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays.

Amon Carter Museum of American Art website

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19
Sep
13

Exhibition: ‘Cindy Sherman – Untitled Horrors’ at the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo

Exhibition dates: 4th May – 22nd September 2013

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #92' 1981

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #92
1981
Chromogenic colour print
61 x 121.9cm
The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo

 

 

Like a mouthful of cinders.

Marcus

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

 

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #167' 1985

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #167
1985
Chromogenic colour print
150 x 225cm
Astrup Fearnley Collection

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #32' 1979

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #32
1979
Gelatin silver print
69.5 x 87.2cm
Astrup Fearnley Collection

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #150' 1985

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #150
1985
Chromogenic colour print
121 x 163.8cm
Collection of Cynthia and Abe Steinberger

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #56' 1980

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #56
1980
Gelatin silver print
15.5 x 22.8cm
Moderna Museet
Donation from The American Friends of the Moderna Museet, Inc., 2010

 

 

Cindy Sherman (born 1954) is one of the leading and most influential artists of our time. She belongs to a generation of postmodern artists who redefined the photograph and its place in an ever more visually oriented culture. Taking female roles in photographic representations as her starting point, Sherman creates recognisable pictures that mirror the human condition in its many nuances. Sherman’s pictures became key works in a time of turbulence for the very concept of art, and continue to challenge concepts of representation, identity and portrait.

Cindy Sherman’s allegorical pictures reflect our own conception of the world and open up for new interpretations of familiar phenomena. She uses herself as a model and equally portrays film stars and pin-up girls, as well as abnormal monsters from fantasy worlds. Sherman’s assertive use of masks, wigs and prosthetics has a disturbing effect, which is further reinforced in pictures where the human presence is gradually reduced in favour of posed dolls or traces of waste and decay.

The exhibition Cindy Sherman – Untitled Horrors has been composed to emphasise the disturbing, grotesque and disquieting sides of Sherman’s pictures. These are aspects that are visible in her exploration of well-established photographic genres such as film stills, fashion photography or classic portraits, as well as in series with titles such as Fairy Tales, Disasters, Sex Pictures, Civil War and Horror & Surrealist. This exhibition seeks to highlight these key aspects in her artistry and to examine their relevance through a dedicated selection of works from the beginning of her career in the mid-1970s up to the present day.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a richly illustrated catalogue is being published in cooperation with art publishers Hatje Cantz Verlag. The idea behind the catalogue is to explore and examine the more disquieting sides of Sherman’s art by inviting contributions from authors who have touched on similar themes in their own works. Contributors are well-known artists, dramatists and authors including Lars Norén, Miranda July, Sibylle Berg, Sjón, Sara Stridsberg, Karl Ove Knausgård and Kathy Acker.

Press release from the Astrup Fearnley Museet website

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #402' 2000

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #402
2000
Chromogenic colour print
88 x 60cm
Astrup Fearnley Samlingen / Collection

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #132' 1984

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #132
1984
Chromogenic colour print
176.3 x 119.2cm
Kunsthaus Zürich

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #199-A' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #199-A
1989
Chromogenic colour print
63.3 x 45.7cm
Astrup Fearnley Collection

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #152' 1985

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #152
1985
Chromogenic colour print
184.2 x 125.4cm
Astrup Fearnley Samlingen/ Collection

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #470' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #470
2008
Chromogenic colour print
216.5 x 147.5cm
Acquired with founding from The American Friends of the Moderna Museet Inc.,

 

 

Astrup Fearnley Museet
Strandpromenaden 2, 0252 Oslo
Phone: +47 22 93 60 60

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 12-17
Thursday 12-19
Saturday, Sunday 11-17
Mondays closed

Astrup Fearnley Museet website

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25
Jul
13

Exhibition: ‘Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity’ at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City

Exhibition dates: 9th May – 28th July 2013

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Fred with Tires - Bodyshop Series, Hollywood' 1984

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Fred with Tires – Bodyshop Series, Hollywood
1984
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

 

I admit that I went through a stage of disliking Herb Ritts photographs – no longer!
In contemplation, his formal aestheticism confirms a serene beauty – spare, refined, erotic.

Marcus

 

Fred with Tires became the archetypal photograph of the male body in the 1980s and made the world-wide reputation of its commercial photographer, Herb Ritts. Gay men flocked to buy it, myself included. I was drawn by the powerful, perfectly sculpted body, the butchness of his job, the dirty trousers, the boots and the body placed within a social context. At the time I realised that the image of this man was a constructed fantasy, ie. not the ‘real’ thing, and this feeling of having been deceived has grown ever since. His hair is teased up and beautifully styled, the grease is applied to his body just so, his body twisted to just the right degree to accentuate the muscles of the stomach and around the pelvis. You can just imagine the stylist standing off camera ready to readjust the hair if necessary, the assistants with their reflectors playing more light onto the body. This/he is the seduction of a marketable homoeroticsm, the selling of an image as sex, almost camp in its overt appeal to gay archetypal stereotypes.

Herb Ritts, whether in his commercial work or in his personal images such as those of the gay bodybuilders Bob Paris and Rod Jackson, has helped increase the acceptance of the openly homoerotic photograph in a wider sphere but this has been possible only with an increased acceptance of homosexual visibility within the general population. 
Openly gay bodies such as that of Australian rugby league star Ian Roberts or American diver Greg Luganis can become heroes and role models to young gay men coming out of the closet for the first time, visible evidence that gay men are everywhere in every walk of life. This is fantastic because young gay men do need gay role models to look up to but the bodies they possess only conform to the one type, that of the muscular mesomorph and this reinforces the ideal of a traditional masculinity. Yes, the guy in the shower next to you might be a poofter, might be queer for heavens sake, but my God what a body he’s got!”

Marcus Bunyan. “Historical Pressings,” from Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (Phd thesis) 2001

.
Many thankx to Oklahoma City 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.

 

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Djimon with Octopus, Hollywood' 1989

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Djimon with Octopus, Hollywood
1989
Gelatin silver print
44.5 x 38.7cm (17 1/2 x 15 1/4 in.)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Tony with shadow, Los Angeles' 1988

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tony with shadow, Los Angeles
1988
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Point Dume
1987
Gelatin silver print
31.9 x 25.4cm (12 9/16 x 10 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb-Ritts-Versace-Dress,-Back-View,-El-Mirage,-1990-WEB

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage
1990
Gelatin silver print
137.2 x 109.2 cm (54 x 43 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

 

The American photographer Herb Ritts produced a body of work in the 1980s and 1990s that seems to embody the outdoor lifestyle and glamour of the southern California beautiful set. This photograph, taken at El Mirage Dry Lake in California, appeared on the cover of Italian designer Gianni Versace’s September 1990 catalogue and incorporates a formalism and contemporary sensuality characteristic of Ritts’s aesthetic. Ritts’s photograph appeals through its boldly contrasting lights and darks.

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage' 1990

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Versace Veiled Dress, El Mirage
1990
55.8 x 44.6cm (21 15/16 x 17 9/16 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Now and Zen 1, El Mirage' 1999

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Now and Zen 1, El Mirage
1999
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

 

Herb Ritts: Beauty and Celebrity will be on view at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art from May 9 through July 28, 2013. Organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston with the support of the Herb Ritts Foundation and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, this exhibition will feature over eighty large-scale black-and-white photographs by acclaimed photographer, Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002). Ranging in scale from intimate portraits to ten foot murals, the exhibition will highlight the diversity of the artist’s work. Known for his innovative approach to fashion, intimate portraiture of celebrities, and the classical treatment of the nude, Ritts emerged in the 1980s to become one of the most successful celebrity and fashion photographers of the late twentieth century and an important part of the history of American photography.

Herb Ritts grew up in Los Angeles and maintained his studio in Hollywood. A self-taught photographer, Ritts first began taking photographs in the late 1970s after studying economics at Bard College. The intimate publicity images that he made of Richard Gere were among his first serious portraits and helped to launch his career. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ritts built his reputation as a leading celebrity portraitist and fashion photographer, contributing regularly to publications such as GQMademoiselleVogue, andVanity Fair. From 1988, he also made music videos and commercials for which he won numerous awards.

The photographs included in the exhibition represent some of Herb Ritts’s most iconic works which incorporate the natural light of the California sun while emphasising shapes, unusual juxtapositions, and the beauty of the human form. Ritts celebrates nature and the human body in evoking the tactile appeal of surface textures of grains of sand, veiled fabric, drying mud, and cascading water seen in Waterfall 4 (1988), Backflip (1987), and Woman in Sea (1988). Fashion photographs on view include such asVersace Veiled Dress, El Mirage (1990), Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood (1989), and Djimon with Octopus (1989). Examples of celebrity portraiture include Richard Gere, Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Johnny Depp, Bruce Springsteen, Drew Barrymore, David Bowie, Matthew McConaughey, and Mick Jagger. Also included in the exhibition are poetic and eternal images in Ritts’s Africa series, taken in 1993 when he traveled to East Africa, and examples from the rare Corps et Ames (1999) series of photographs, portraying dancers in motion.

This exhibition – drawn from the photography collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Herb Ritts Foundation – present Herb Ritts’ style and the range of his career.

Press release from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles
1987
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles' 1989

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles
1989
Platinum print
46.4 x 38.4cm (18 1/4 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Backflip, Paradise Cove' 1987

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Backflip, Paradise Cove
1987
Gelatin silver print
90 x 70 in. (228.6 x 177.8cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Corp et Âmes - 14, Los Angeles' 1999

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Corp et Âmes – 14, Los Angeles
1999
Gelatin silver print
14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 27.9cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Chrissy Turlington, Versace 3, Milan' 1991

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Chrissy Turlington, Versace 3, Milan
1991
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Madonna (True Blue Profile), Hollywood' 1986

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Madonna (True Blue Profile), Hollywood
1986
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Matthew McConaughey, Palmdale' 1996

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Matthew McConaughey, Palmdale
1996
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Loriki with Spear, Africa' 1993

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Loriki with Spear, Africa
1993
Gelatin silver print
45 x 41 in. (114.3 x 104.1cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Tony Ward' 1986

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Tony Ward
1986
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Waterfall IV, Hollywood' 1988

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Waterfall IV, Hollywood
1988
Platinum print
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.64cm)
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Woman in Sea, Hawaii' 1988

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Woman in Sea, Hawaii
1988
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 in. (60.9 x 50.8cm)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Bill T. Jones VI, Los Angeles' 1995

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Bill T. Jones VI, Los Angeles
1995
Gelatin silver print
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Man with Chain, Los Angeles' 1985

 

Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Man with Chain, Los Angeles
1985
Gelatin silver print
47.8 x 38.4 cm (18 13/16 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of Herb Ritts. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Herb Ritts Foundation

 

 

Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm
Sunday: noon – 5pm
Closed: Mondays, Tuesdays and Major Holidays

Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

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17
Jun
13

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

June 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.

 

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Big Meadow, Washington Pass, Washington September, 2000
2000

 

 

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

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Johsel Namkung

 

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

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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 recognise 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.”

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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 colours. 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

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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

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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

  • 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

 

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 honours 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. 'Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991' 1991

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Cougar Lake, Oregon June 1991
1991

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Rainy Pass, Washington July, 1989
1989

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
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 favourite 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 (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Steptoe Butte, Washington January, 1989
1989

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Oak Creek, Washington March, 1991
1991

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1977
1977

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Steptoe Butte, Washington October, 1983
1983

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Denali National Park, Alaska September, 1987
1987

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
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 colour 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 organisations – 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 colour 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 colour 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 organised 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 emphasising 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

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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 (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Shi Shi Beach Buoy, Olympic National Park, Washington August, 1981
1981

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Bissell, Washington December, 1981
1981

 

Johsel Namkung. 'Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown' Nd

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Alaska Lichens, Date Unknown
Nd

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Blue Mountain, Olympic National Park, Washington September, 1976
1976

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Weston Beach, Point Lobos, California May, 1988
1988

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Frenchman Coulee, Washington May, 2002
2002

 

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

 

Johsel Namkung (Korean American, 1919-2013)
Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington October, 1984
1984

 

Joshel Namkung on Hurricane Ridge

 

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

 

 

Johsel Namkung • A Retrospective 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.

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22
Mar
13

Exhibition: ‘Catherine Opie’ at Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 23rd February – 29th March 2013

 

Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #4' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Untitled #4
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4cm)
Edition 1/5, +2 APs

 

 

In a nutshell: good presentation, good idea – just needs really good pictures. In fact the presentation is too good for the pictures, so in the end it feels a bit ridiculous.

There IS something here (the relationship between young and old, wisdom and penitence, love and abuse, tondo and ethereal landscape), but it seems a bit of a muddle. For me, too many easy decisions have been made – obvious opposites, too much reliance on “black”, sometimes caricature rather than real observation… but then again there is occasionally something inside that caricature.

This feeling of muddling through is not helped by an abysmal press release. Along with zen and ironic (both of which seem to have any meaning a writer wants today), we now have sublime joining the pack. Maybe if anything is out of focus (such as these forgettable landscapes) it is sublime. As I go through each sentence I get shivers from either how generic or incorrect or meaningless or (especially) SELF-SERVING they are (… and now the new photographs make a trajectory… and now Opie draws on documentary photography AND the history of photography… and seduction, and formalism, and painting, and high aesthetic, and abstraction, and conceptualisation, a(n)d nauseum… )

I have seen “the Unphotographable” … and it is not as good as one hoped!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. When you walk across a room, you can remark about your chiaroscuro.

.
Many thank to Regen Projects for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles © Catherine Opie

 

 

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013 Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013 Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013 Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013 Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013 Photography by Brian Forrest

Installation view Regen Projects, Los Angeles February 23 - March 29, 2013 Photography by Brian Forrest

 

Installation views
Regen Projects, Los Angeles
February 23 – March 29, 2013
Photography by Brian Forrest

 

 

Catherine Opie. 'Jonathan' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Jonathan
2012
Pigment print
50 x 38.4 inches (127 x 97.5cm) Oval
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

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Catherine Opie. 'Idexa' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Idexa
2012
Pigment print
50 x 38.4 inches (127 x 97.5cm) Oval
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

 

 

Regen Projects is pleased to announce an exhibition of new portraits and landscapes by Catherine Opie. These photographs mark both a progression and a departure for the artist. Opie’s work has always investigated the figure in relation to the landscape, disregarding the polarities typically found within these approaches. This new body of work draws upon Opie’s beginnings in documentary photography, the traditions of painting, and the history of photography.

Opie’s new portraits evoke the sublime and the inner psychological space of both the viewer and subject. Utilising techniques of chiaroscuro, colour, and formal composition found in classical 17th century portraiture, Opie arranges her subjects in allegorical poses that suggest an emotional state. Evoking formal classicism, these beautifully elegant and technically masterful compositions immerse and seduce the eye. Opie’s subjects have always been part of her personal community, and the range of individuals in these new works illustrates how this community has shifted and expanded.

Catherine Opie’s work is deeply rooted in the history of photography. The new landscapes draw upon this trajectory – both contemporary and historical. In addition to utilising motifs that informed the California Pictorialists, these works reference the painterly tradition. Images of iconic landscapes float in abstraction and are reduced to elementary blurred light drawings. The viewer no longer relies on traditional markers of recognition of place, but instead on the visceral reaction to the sensate images Opie captures. These painterly, poetic, and lyrical visions resonate with oblivion, the sublime, and the unknown.

Catherine Opie’s complex and diverse body of work is political, personal, and high aesthetic – the formal, conceptual, and documentary are always at play. Her work consistently engages in formal issues and maintains a formal rigour and technical mastery that underscores an aestheticised oeuvre. Visual pleasure can always be found in her arresting and seductive images.

Opie very knowingly engages art-historical conventions of representation like this in order to seduce her viewers: “I have to be interested in art history since so much of my work is related to painting and photography history. It gives me the ability to use a very familiar language that people understand when looking at my work and seduce the viewer into considering work that they might not normally want to look at. It is very classical and formal in so many ways… In a way, it is elegant in the seduction I was talking about earlier, that this device really can draw the viewer in through the perfection of the image. It is like wearing armour for a battle in a way, the battle for people to look into themselves for the prejudices that keep them from having an open mind.”

(Jennifer Blessing. “Catherine Opie: American Photographer” in Catherine Opie: American Photographer, published by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008, p. 14).

Press release from the Regen Projects website

 

Catherine Opie. 'Diana' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Diana
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

 

Catherine Opie. 'Mary' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Mary
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

 

Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #5' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Untitled #5
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

 

Catherine Opie. 'Oliver & Mrs. Nibbles' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Oliver & Mrs. Nibbles
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5cm)
Edition 2/5, + 2 APs

 

Catherine Opie. 'Kate & Laura' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Kate & Laura
2012
Pigment print
77 x 58 inches (195.6 x 147.3cm)
Edition 2/5, 2 APs

 

Catherine Opie. 'Guinevere' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Guinevere
2012
Pigment print
33 x 25 inches (83.8 x 63.5cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

 

Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #2' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Untitled #2
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

 

Catherine Opie. 'Friends' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Friends
2012
Pigment print
24 x 18 inches (61 x 45.7cm)
Edition 1/5, + 2 APs

 

Catherine Opie. 'Untitled #1' 2012

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Untitled #1
2012
Pigment print
40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 152.4cm)
Edition 1/5, +2 APs

 

 

Regen Projects
6750 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038, United States
Phone: +1 310-276-5424

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 10 – 6pm

Regen Project website

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20
Oct
12

Review: ‘Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th September – 11th November 2012

 

Installation photographs the series 'Beneath the Roses' (2003-2008) from the exhibition 'Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs the series 'Beneath the Roses' (2003-2008) from the exhibition 'Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Blue Period)' 2003-2005

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Blue Period)
2003-2005
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

 

 

Details of one of Gregory Crewdson’s works from the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

 

 

“The American middle-class nightmare: nothing is clean, orderly, idyllic, or romantic. In his perfectly staged, hyperrealistic tableaux, photographer Gregory Crewdson reveals the claustrophobic limbo and abyss of spiritual repression that is the typical suburb. Here, hushed-up violence, alienation, isolation, and emptiness are nothing new or unfamiliar, but rather part of the everyday neighbourhood experience.”

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Gregory Crewdson, ‘In a Lonely Place’, Abrams Publishing, New York, 2011

 

“I have always been fascinated by the poetic condition of twilight. By its transformative quality. Its power of turning the ordinary into something magical and otherworldly. My wish is for the narrative in the pictures to work within that circumstance. It is that sense of in-between-ness that interests me.”

.
Gregory Crewdson

 

 

Downfall of a dream: (n)framing the enigma in Gregory Crewdson’s

Beneath the Roses

After the excoriating, unreasonably subjective diatribe by Robert Nelson in The Age newspaper (“Unreal stills, unmoving images” Wednesday October 17 2012) I hope this piece of writing will offer greater insight into the work of this internationally renowned artist. With some reservations, I like Crewsdon’s work, I like it a lot – as do the crowds of people flocking to the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Fitzroy to see the exhibition. Never have I seen so many people at the CCP looking at contemporary photography before and that can only be a good thing.

Let’s get the basics out of the way first. The early series Fireflies are small silver gelatin photographs that capture “the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night.” These are minor works that fail to transcend the ephemeral nature of photography, fail to light the imagination of the viewer when looking at these scenes of dusky desire and discontinuous lives. The series of beautiful photographs titled Sanctuary (2010) evidence the “ruin of the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini.” Wonderful photographs of doorways, temples, dilapidated stage sets with excellent use of soft miasmic light creating an atmosphere of de/generation (as though a half-remembered version of Rome had passed down through the generations) interfaced with contemporary Rome as backdrop. The digital prints show no strong specular highlights, no deep blacks but a series of transmutable grey and mid tones that add to the overall feeling of romantic ruin. It is a pity that these photographs are not printed as silver gelatin photographs, for they would have had much more depth of feeling than they presently possess. They just feel a little “thin” to me to sustain the weight of atmosphere required of them.

But it is the series Beneath the Roses (2003-2008) that has made Crewdson truly famous. Shot using a large format camera, Crewdson makes large-scale photographs of elaborate and meticulously staged tableaux, which have been described as “micro-epics” that probe the dark corners of the psyche. Working in the manner of a film director, he leads a production crew, which includes a director of photography, special effects and lighting teams, casting director and actors. He typically makes several exposures that he later digitally combines to produce the final image. Photographs in the series of “brief encounters” include external dioramas (shot in a down at heel Western Massachusetts town), where Crewdson shuts down streets and lights the whole scene; to interior dialogues where houses are built on sound stages and the artist can control every detail of the production. Influences on these works include, but are not limited to:

David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks), Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo), Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters), the paintings of Edward Hopper, Diane Arbus (the detritus of her photographic interiors), film noir, psychoanalysis, American suburbia, the American dream, the photographs of Walker Evans, Cindy Sherman and surrealism. Concepts that you could link to the work include loneliness, alienation, apathy, resignation, mystery, contemplation and confusion, identity, desire, memory and imagination.

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Now to the nuts and bolts of the matter.

Another major influence that I will add is that of the great Italian director Federico Fellini (La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life) who shot most of that film on the sets at Cinecittà studios in Rome. It is perhaps no coincidence that Crewdson, on his first overseas film shoot, shot the series Sanctuary at the very same location. Crewdson’s photographs in the series Beneath the Roses are an American form of  “The Sweet Life.” In 1961, the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther praised Fellini’s “brilliantly graphic estimation of a whole swath of society in sad decay and, eventually, a withering commentary on the tragedy of the over-civilized… Fellini is nothing if not fertile, fierce and urbane in calculating the social scene around him and packing it onto the screen. He has an uncanny eye for finding the offbeat and grotesque incident, the gross and bizarre occurrence that exposes a glaring irony. He has, too, a splendid sense of balance and a deliciously sardonic wit that not only guided his cameras but also affected the writing of the script. In sum, it is an awesome picture, licentious in content but moral and vastly sophisticated in its attitude and what it says.”1 The same could equally be said of the Crewdson and his masterpieces in Beneath the Roses. Crewdson is in love with Fellini’s gesture – of the uplifting of the characters and their simultaneous descent into “sweet” hedonism, debauchery and decadence using the metaphor of downfall (downfall links each scene in La Dolce Vita, that of a “downward spiral that Marcello sets in motion when descending the first of several staircases (including ladders) that open and close each major episode.”)2 Crewdson’s “spectacular apocalypses of social enervation”3 mimic Fellini’s gestural flourishes becoming Crewdson’s theme of America’s downfall, America as a moral wasteland. Crewdson’s is “an aesthetic of disparity” that builds up a cumulative impression on the viewer that finds resolution in an “overpowering sense of the disparity between what life has been or could be, and what it actually is.”4

Crewdson’s cinematic encounters are vast and pin sharp when seen in the flesh. No reproduction on the web can do their physical presence justice; it is the details that delight in these productions. You have to get up close and personal with the work. His dystopic landscapes are not narratives as such, not stills taken from a movie (for that implies an ongoing story) but open-ended constructions that allow the viewer to imagine the story for themselves. They do not so much evoke a narrative as invite the viewer to create one for themselves – they are an “invitation” to a narrative, one that explores the anxiety of the (American) imagination, an invitation to empathise with the dramas at play within contemporary environments. For me, Crewdson’s extra ordinary photographs are a form of enigma (a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation), the picture as master puzzle (where all the pieces fit perfectly together in stillness) that contains a riddle or hidden meaning. Clues to this reading can be found in one of the photographs from the series (Blue Period, see detail image, above) where Crewdson deliberately leaves the door of a bedside cupboard open to reveal a “Perfect PICTURE PUZZLE” box inside. The viewer has to really look into the image and understand the significance of this artefact.

Another reading that I have formulated is of the transience of space and time within Crewdson’s series. In the disquieting, anonymous townscapes people look out from their porches (or the verandas are lit and empty), they abandon their cars or walk down desolate streets hardly ever looking directly out at the viewer. The photographs become sites of mystery and wonder hardly anchored (still precisely anchored?) in time and space. This disparity is emphasised in the interior dialogues. The viewer (exterior) looks at a framed doorway or window (exterior) looking into an scene (interior) where the walls are usually covered with floral wallpaper (interior / exterior) upon which hangs a framed image of a Monet-like landscape (exterior) (see detail image, above). Exterior, exterior, interior, interior / exterior, exterior. The trees of the landscape invade the home but are framed; exterior/framed, interior/mind. There is something mysterious going on here, some reflection of an inner state of mind.

In his visual mosaics Crewdson engages our relationship with time and space to challenge the trace of experience. His tableaux act as a kind of threshold or hinge of experience – between interior and exterior, viewer and photograph. His photographs are a form of monism in which two forces (interior / exterior) try to absorb each other but ultimately lead to a state of equilibrium. It is through this “play” that the context of the photographs and their relationship to each other and the viewer are “framed.” This device emphasises the aesthetic as much as information and encourages the viewer to think about the relationship between the body, the world of which it is part and the dream-reason of time.5 This intertextual (n)framing (n meaning unspecified number in mathematics) encourages the viewer to explore the inbetween spaces in the non-narrative / meta-narrative,”and by leaps (intuitive leaps, poetic leaps, leaps of faith)”6 encourage escapism in the imagination of the viewer. It is up to us as viewers to seek the multiple, disparate significances of what is concealed in each photograph as “felt knowledge” (Walter Benjamin), recalling to mind the sensory data placed before our eyes, something that can be experienced but cannot be explained by man: “the single moment of the present amidst the transience of life and searching for some kind of eternal truth.”7

Finally, in a more adverse reading of the photographs from the series Beneath the Roses, I must acknowledge the physically (not mentally) static nature of the images where every detail of the mise-en-scène is fully articulated and locked down: from the perfect trickle of blood running from the woman’s vagina in Blue Period, to the reflections in mirrors, the detritus of living scattered on the bedroom floor, the dirty telephone, packed suitcases and keys in locks to the desolate looks of the participants that never engage with the viewer. Despite allusions of despair, in their efficacy (their static and certain world order), there is no real chthonic madness here, no real messiness of the capture of death, murder and the wastage of human life (famine, AIDS, cancer or the blood running over the pavement in one of Weegee’s murder scenes for example). This is Fellini’s gross and bizarre LITE. Americurbana “is being addressed with the same reserve and elegance that ensures that the institution – artistic, political, what you will – is upheld and never threatened. It is pre-eminently legible, it elicits guilt but not so much as to cause offence.”8 I must also acknowledge the male-orientated viewpoint of the photographs, where men are seated, clothed, lazy or absent and all too often women are doing the washing or cooking, are naked and vulnerable. In their portrayal of (usually) half dressed or naked females the photographs evidence a particularly male view of the world, one that his little empathy or understanding of how a female actually lives in the world. For me this portrait of the feminine simply does not work. The male photographer maintains control (and power) by remaining resolutely (in)visible.

Overall this is a outstanding exhibition that thoroughly deserves that accolades it is receiving. Sitting in the gallery space for an hour and a half and soaking up the atmosphere of these magnificent works has been for me one of the art experiences of 2012. Make sure that you do not miss these mesmerising prophecies.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

  1. Crowther’s review first published in The New York Times, April 20, 1961. In Fava and Vigano, 105 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita
  2. Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita
  3. Sultanik, Aaron. Film, a Modern Art. Cranbury, N.J: Cornwall Books, 1986, p. 408
  4. Richardson, Robert. “Waste Lands: The Breakdown of Order,” in Bondanella (ed.), Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism, p. 111 quoted in Anon. “La Dolce Vita,” on Wikipedia Footnote 30 [Online] Cited 20/10/2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Dolce_Vita
  5. Bacon, Julie Louise. “Liquid Archive: On Ambivalence,” in Liquid Archive. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2012, p. 119
  6. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “The Museum – A Refuge for Utopian Thought,” in Rüsen, Jörn; Fehr Michael, and Ramsbrock, Annelie (eds.). Die Unruhe der Kultur: Potentiale des Utopischen. Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2004. In German.
  7. Kataoka, Mami commenting on the work of Allan Kaprow. “Transient Encounters,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p. 174
  8. Geczy, Adam. “A dish served lukewarm,” in Broadsheet: Criticism, Theory, Art Vol 41.3, September 2012, p. 177

 

Many thankx to the artist, Gagosian Gallery and the Centre for Contemporary Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Special thankx to Director of the CCP Naomi Cass and Ms. James McKee from Gagosian Gallery for facilitating the availability of the media images. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

All photographs © Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Installation and detail photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Maple Street)' 2003-2005

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Maple Street)’ 2003-2005
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Shane)' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Shane)
2006
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Brief Encounter)' 2006

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Brief Encounter)
2006
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (Railway Children)' 2003-05

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (Railway Children)
2003-05
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

In a Lonely Place presents selections from three major series by Gregory Crewdson, Fireflies (1996), Beneath the Roses (2003-2008), Sanctuary (2010) and, presented for the first time, the video Field Notes (2009). The exhibition title comes from Nicholas Ray’s 1950s film noir of the same name, one of many films that inspired Crewdson. In a Lonely Place is evocative of an underlying mood-a quiet feeling of alienation and loneliness that links the three series selected by curators Estelle Af Malmborg, Jens Erdman Rasmussen and Felix Hoffmann. In a Lonely Place presents the first comprehensive exhibition of Crewdson’s work in Australia.

In Beneath the Roses, anonymous townscapes, forest clearings and broad, desolate streets are revealed as sites of mystery and wonder; similarly, ostensibly banal interiors become the staging grounds for strange human scenarios. Crewdson’s scenes are tangibly atmospheric: visually alluring and often deeply disquieting. Never anchored precisely in time or place, these and the other narratives of Beneath the Roses are located in the dystopic landscape of the anxious American imagination. Crewdson explores the American psyche and the dramas at play within quotidian environments.

In his most recent series, Sanctuary (2010), Crewdson has taken a new direction, shooting for the first time outside the US. During a trip to Rome, he visited the legendary Cinecittà studios, which was founded by Mussolini in the 1930s and is associated with the great Italian film director Federico Fellini. Crewdson discovered fragments of a past glory, with occasional unexpected views of the surrounding contemporary Roman suburbia. Cinecittà is a lonely place deserted by the film crews who once used the site to recreate settings of ancient Rome, medieval Italy and nineteenth-century New York.

In the intimate photographs of Fireflies, Crewdson portrays the mating ritual of fireflies at dusk, capturing the tiny insects’ transient moments of light as they illuminate the summer night. Unlike the theatrical scale of the Beneath the Roses and Sanctuary series, Fireflies is a quiet meditation on the nature of light and desire, as the images reflect not only upon the fleeting movements of the insects in their intricate mating ritual, but upon the notion of photography itself, in capturing a single ephemeral moment.

Gregory Crewdson received a BA from the State University of New York, Purchase, New York in 1985 and an MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut in 1988. He has exhibited widely in the United States and Europe. He is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Photography at the Yale School of Art, Yale University. Gregory Crewdson is represented by Gagosian Gallery and White Cube Gallery.

Press release from the Gagosian Gallery website

 

Installation photographs the series 'Sanctuary' (2010) from the exhibition 'Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs the series 'Sanctuary' (2010) from the exhibition 'Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place' at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs the series Sanctuary (2010) from the exhibition Gregory Crewdson: In A Lonely Place at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy, Melbourne (Photos: Dr Marcus Bunyan)

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (1)' 2009

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (1)
2009
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (17)' 2009

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (17)
2009
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (8)' 2009

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (8)
2009
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled (2)' 2009

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled (2)
2009
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

Gregory Crewdson. 'Untitled' 1996

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled
1996
© Gregory Crewdson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

 

Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
Phone: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Gagosian Gallery website

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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08
Jun
12

Exhibition: ‘Cindy Sherman’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 26th February – 11th June 2012

 

Cindy Sherman society portraits (2008) to left and centre at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman society portraits (2008) to left and centre at MoMA, New York

 

 

Ceaselessly inventive, the bodies (literally) of work of Cindy Sherman are a wonder to behold. From film stills to head shots, from history portrait to society portraits, Sherman constantly reinvents herself, her variations of identity exploring “the complexity of representation in a world saturated with images,” her iterations into the construction of femininity and masculinity constantly “provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.”

Where to next? Her recent series of digitally altered landscapes and portraits (Cindy Sherman at Metro Pictures, New York, April – June 2012) seem less resolved than her earlier work, becoming almost a pastiche of themselves. Despite their massive size they seem to lack resolution, the great female impersonator of our time relying for effect on Self as feminine earth (m)Other, tricked up in dubious, quasi-ethnic regalia. Sherman is almost sacrosanct with regard to criticism but it’s about time someone said it: these images are pretty awful.

After so many simulacra, so many layerings and expositions of identity isn’t it about time Sherman got back to basics and ditched these grandiose notions of identity sublime. The sublimation (an unconscious defence mechanism by which consciously unacceptable instinctual drives are expressed in personally and socially acceptable channels) of her/Self, her actual body, the energy of her (non) presence is finally starting to wear thin. Will the real Cindy Sherman (if ever there is such a thing) please stand up and tell us: what do you really stand for, where as a human being, is your spirit really at?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

Cindy Sherman history portraits (1988-90) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman history portraits (1988-90) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman headshots (2000-2002) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman headshots (2000-2002) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #21' 1978

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #21 
1978
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 1/2″ (19.1 x 24.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #6' 1977

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #6 
1977
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 x 6 1/2″ (24 x 16.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #56' 1980

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #56 
1980
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (16.2 x 24cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd

 

 

Gallery 2

In fall 1977, Sherman began making pictures that would eventually become her groundbreaking Untitled Film Stills. Over three years, the series (presented here in its entirety) grew to comprise a total of seventy black-and-white photographs. Taken as a whole, the Untitled Film Stills – resembling publicity pictures made on movie sets – read like an encyclopaedic roster of stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films. But while the characters and scenarios may seem familiar, Sherman’s Stills are entirely fictitious; they represent clichés (career girl, bombshell, girl on the run, vamp, housewife, and so on) that are deeply embedded in the cultural imagination. While the pictures can be appreciated individually, much of their significance comes in the endless variation of identities from one photograph to the next. As a group they explore the complexity of representation in a world saturated with images, and refer to the cultural filter of images (moving and still) through which we see the world.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #137' 1984

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #137 
1984
Chromogenic colour print
70 1/2 x 47 3/4″ (179.1 x 121.3cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1985

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #458' 2007-08

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #458 
2007-08
Chromogenic colour print
6′ 5 3/8″ x 58 1/4″ (196.5 x 148cm)
Glenstone

 

 

Gallery 3

Fashion – a daily form of masquerade that communicates culture, gender, and class – has been a constant source of inspiration for Sherman and a leading ingredient in the creation of her work. Throughout her career the artist has completed a number of commissions for fashion designers and magazines, and this gallery gathers many of these works. Sherman’s fashion pictures challenge the industry’s conventions of beauty and grace. Her first such commission, made in 1983, parodies typical fashion photography. Rather than projecting glamour, sex, or wealth, the pictures feature characters that are far from desirable – whether goofy, hysterical, angry, or slightly mad. Later commissions resulted in more extreme images of characters with bloodshot eyes, bruises, and scars. These exaggerated figures reached ostentatious heights in a 2007-08 commission, in which fashion victims – including steely fashion editors, PR mavens, assistant buyers, and wannabe fashionistas – wear clothing designed by Balenciaga and ham it up for the camera. Sherman’s interest in the construction of femininity and the mass circulation of images informs much of her work; the projects that take fashion as their subject illustrate the artist’s fascination with fashion images but also her critique of what they represent.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #424' 2004

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #424 
2004
Chromogenic colour print
53 3/4 x 54 3/4″ (136.5 x 139.1cm)
Holzer Family Collection

 

 

Gallery 5

Sherman, who photographs alone in her studio, has used a variety of techniques to suggest different locations and imaginary (sometimes impossible) spaces, extending the narrative possibilities of her images. In her first foray into colour, in 1980, the artist photographed herself in front of rear-screen projections of various cityscapes and landscapes, evoking films from the 1950s and 1960s that used similar techniques to create the illusion of a change in location. In later series, such as the head shots (2000-2002), clowns (2003-04), and society portraits (2008), the artist used digital tools to create a variety of environments. The garish fluorescent colours in a clown picture contribute to the disturbing quality of the portrait, while a fairy tale forest provides a dreamy backdrop for a well-to-do lady.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents the exhibition Cindy Sherman, a retrospective tracing the groundbreaking artist’s career from the mid-1970s to the present, from February 26 to June 11, 2012. The exhibition brings together 171 key photographs from the artist’s significant series – including the complete Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), the critically acclaimed centerfolds (1981), and the celebrated history portraits (1988-90) – plus examples from all of her most important bodies of work, ranging from her fashion photography of the early 1980s to the breakthrough sex pictures of 1992 to her 2003-04 clowns and monumental society portraits from 2008. In addition, the exhibition features the American premiere of her 2010 photographic mural. An exhibition of films drawn from MoMA’s collection selected by Sherman will also be presented in the Museum’s theatres in April. Cindy Sherman is organised by Eva Respini, Associate Curator, with Lucy Gallun, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Cindy Sherman is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential artists of our time and her work is the unchallenged cornerstone of post-modern photography. Masquerading as a myriad of characters in front of her own camera, Sherman creates invented personas and tableaus that examine the construction of identity, the nature of representation, and the artifice of photography. Her works speak to an increasingly image-saturated world, drawing on the unlimited supply of visual material provided by movies, television, magazines, the Internet, and art history.

Ms. Respini says, “To create her photographs, Sherman works unassisted in her studio and assumes multiple roles as photographer, model, art director, make-up artist, hairdresser, and stylist. Whether portraying a career girl or a blond bombshell, a fashion victim or a clown, a French aristocrat or a society lady of a certain age, for over 35 years this relentlessly adventurous artist has created an eloquent and provocative body of work that resonates deeply with our visual culture.”

The American premiere of Sherman’s recent photographic mural (2010) will be installed outside the galleries on the sixth floor. The mural represents the artist’s first foray into transforming space through site-specific fictive environments. In the mural Sherman transforms her face via digital means, exaggerating her features through Photoshop by elongating her nose, narrowing her eyes, or creating smaller lips. The characters, who sport an odd mix of costumes and are taken from daily life, are elevated to larger-than-life status and tower over the viewer. Set against a decorative toile backdrop, her characters seem like protagonists from their own carnivalesque worlds, where fantasy and reality merge. The emphasis on new work presents an opportunity for reassessment in light of the latest developments in Sherman’s oeuvre.

Entering the galleries, the exhibition strays from a chronological narrative typical of retrospectives, and groups photographs thematically to create new and surprising juxtapositions and to suggest common threads across several series. A gallery devoted to her work made for the fashion industry brings together commissions from 1983 to 2011. Sherman’s interest in the construction of femininity and mass circulation of images informs much of the work that takes fashion as its subject, illustrating not only a fascination with fashion images but also a critical stance against what they represent. A gallery exploring themes of the grotesque focuses on bodies of work from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, including disasters (1986-89) and sex pictures (1992). Sherman’s investigation of macabre narratives followed a trajectory of the physical disintegration of the body, and features prosthetic parts as a stand-in for the human body. A gallery devoted to Sherman’s exploration of myth, carnival, and fairy tales pairs works from her 2003 clowns with her 1985 fairy tales series. These theatrical pictures revel in their own artificiality, with menacing characters and fantastical narratives.

Galleries devoted to single bodies of work are interspersed among the thematic rooms. Sherman’s seminal series the Untitled Film Stills, comprising 70 black-and-white photographs made between 1977 and 1980, are presented in their entirety (the complete series is in MoMA’s collection). Made to look like publicity pictures taken on movie sets, the Untitled Film Stills read like an encyclopaedic roster of female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films. While the characters and scenarios may seem familiar, Sherman’s Stills are entirely fictitious. Her characters represent deeply embedded clichés (career girl, bombshell, girl on the run, housewife, and so on) and rely on the persistence of recognisable manufactured stereotypes that loom large in the cultural imagination.

Other series presented in depth include Sherman’s 1981 series of 12-colour photographs known as the centerfolds. Originally commissioned by Artforum magazine, these send-ups of men’s erotic magazine centerfolds depict characters in a variety of emotional states, ranging from terrified to heartbroken to melancholic. With this series, Sherman plays into the male conditioning of looking at photographs of exposed women, but she turns this on its head by taking on the roles of both (assumed) male photographer and female pinup. The history portraits investigate the relationships between painter and model, and are featured in depth in the exhibition. These theatrical portraits borrow from a number of art historical periods, from Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical. This free-association sampling creates an illusion of familiarity, but not with any one specific era or style (just as the Untitled Film Stills evoke generic types, not particular films). The subjects (for the first time, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonna and child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milkmaids, who pose with props, elaborate costumes, and obvious prostheses.

Sherman has explored the experience of ageing in a youth- and status-obsessed society with several bodies of work made since 2000. For her headshots from 2000-2002 (sometimes called Hollywood / Hamptons), the artist conceived a cast of characters of would-be or has-been actors (in reality secretaries, housewives, or gardeners) posing for head shots to get an acting job. With this series, Sherman underscores the transformative qualities of makeup, hair, expression, and pose, and the recognition of certain stereotypes as powerful transmitters of cultural clichés. Her monumental 2008 society portraits feature women “of a certain age” from the top echelons of society who struggle with today’s impossible standards of beauty. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through in the unrelenting honesty of the description of ageing and the small details that belie the attempt to project a certain appearance. In the infinite possibilities of the mutability of identity, these pictures stand out for their ability to be at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.

Press release from the MOMA website

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #193' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #193 
1989
Chromogenic colour print
48 7/8 x 41 15/16″ (124.1 x 106.5cm)
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #213' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #213 
1989
Chromogenic colour print
41 1/2 x 33″ (105.4 x 83.8cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #216' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #216 
1989
Chromogenic colour print
7′ 3 1/8″ x 56 1/8″ (221.3 x 142.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser

 

 

Gallery 7

Sherman’s history portraits (1988-90) investigate modes of representation in art history and the relationship between painter and model. These classically composed portraits borrow from a number of art-historical periods – Renaissance, baroque, rococo, Neoclassical – and make allusions to paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Fragonard, and Ingres (who, like all the Old Masters, were men). This free-association sampling creates a sense of familiarity, but not of any one specific era or style. The subjects (for the first time for Sherman, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonnas with child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milk-maids, who pose with props, costumes, and obvious prostheses. Theatrical and artificial – full of large noses, bulging bellies, squirting breasts, warts, and unibrows – the history portraits are poised between humorous parody and grotesque caricature.

A handful of Sherman’s portraits were inspired by actual paintings. Untitled #224 was made after Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus (c. 1593), which is commonly believed to be a self-portrait of the artist as the Roman god of wine. In Sherman’s reinterpretation, the numerous layers of representation – a female artist impersonating a male artist impersonating a pagan divinity – create a sense of remove, pastiche, and criticality. Even where Sherman’s pictures offer a gleam of art-historical recognition, she has inserted her own interpretation of the canonised paintings, creating contemporary artefacts of a bygone era.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #359' 2000

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #359 
2000
Chromogenic color print
30 x 20″ (76.2 x 50.8cm)
Collection Metro Pictures, New York

 

 

Gallery 8

After almost a decade of staging still lifes with dolls and props, in her 2000-2002 head-shots series Sherman returned to a more intimate scale and to using herself as a model. The format recalls ID pictures, head shots, or vanity portraits made in garden-variety portrait studios by professional photographers. First exhibited in Beverly Hills, the series explores the cycle of desire and failed ambition that permeates Hollywood. Sherman conceived a cast of would-be or has-been female actors posing for head shots in order to get acting jobs; later, for an exhibition in New York, she added East Coast types. Whichever part of the country they’re from, we’ve seen these women before – on reality television, in soap operas, or at a PTA meeting. With these pictures, Sherman underscores the transformative qualities of makeup, hair, expression, and pose, and the power of stereotypes as transmitters of cultural clichés. She projects well-drawn personas: the enormous pouting lips of the woman in Untitled #360 suggest a yearning for youth, while the glittery makeup and purple iridescent dress worn by the character in Untitled #400 indicate an aspiration to reach a certain social status. In her role as both sitter and photographer, Sherman has disrupted the usual power dynamic between model and photographer and created new avenues through which to explore the very apparatus of portrait photography itself.

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #465' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #465 
2008
Chromogenic colour print
63 3/4 x 57 1/4″ (161.9 x 145.4cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Photography Committee, 2009

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #466' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #466
2008
Chromogenic colour print

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #474' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #474 
2008
Chromogenic colour print
7′ 7″ x 60 1/4″ (231.1 x 153cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor, Michael Lynne, Charles Heilbronn, and the Carol and David Appel Family Fund

 

 

Gallery 10

Set against opulent backdrops and presented in ornate frames, the characters in Sherman’s 2008 society portraits seem at once tragic and vulgar. The figures are not based on specific women, but the artist has made them look entirely familiar in their struggle with the impossible standards of beauty that prevail in a youth – and status – obsessed culture. At this large scale, it is easy to decipher the characters’ vulnerability behind the makeup, clothes, and jewellery. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through the unrelenting honesty of their description of ageing, the tell-tale signs of cosmetic alteration, and the small details that belie the characters’ attempts to project a polished and elegant appearance. Upon careful viewing, they reveal a dark reality lurking beneath the glossy surface of perfection. As with much of her work, in her society portraits Sherman has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to channel the zeitgeist. These well-heeled divas presaged the financial collapse of 2008, the end of an era of opulence – the size of the photographs alone seems a commentary on an age of excess. Among the numerous iterations of contemporary identity, these pictures stand out as at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #475' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #475 
2008
Chromogenic colour print
7′ 2 3/8″ x 71 1/2″ (219.4 x 181.6cm)
The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica

 

 

Gallery 11

Because the majority of Sherman’s pictures feature the artist as model, they showcase a single character. In the 1970s Sherman experimented with cutouts of multiple figures, in her whimsical 1975 stop-motion animated short film Doll Clothes and her rarely seen 1976 collages, which were achieved through a labor-intensive process of cutting and pasting multiple photographs. When Sherman began working digitally in the early 2000s, she was able to more easily incorporate multiple figures in one frame, allowing for a variety of new narrative possibilities. Where the early works chart the movements and gestures of a single character through space, the multiple figures in recent works interact with one another to create tableaus.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

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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: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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