Posts Tagged ‘American painting

12
Dec
20

European art research tour exhibition: ‘Cy Twombly: Sculpture’ at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London

Exhibition dates: 30th September – 21st December 2019, posted December 2020

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Recovered time

For my friend and mentor Ian, who is a Twombly aficionado. I posted him back three Twombly posters from the pop up shop…

“Twombly made his sculptures from found materials such as plaster, wood, and iron, as well as objects that he habitually used and handled in the studio. Often modest in scale, they embody his artistic language of handwritten glyphs and symbols, evoking narratives from antiquity and fragments of literature and poetry.”

“This thought, that within each piece there is an underlying poetry, an underlying history, to be uncovered, elucidates the potential within each sculpture.”

A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away.

Marcus

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All iPhone images by Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“I would like to think in the sculptures there is a tendency towards the fundamental principle in Homer’s world. That poetry belongs to the defeated and to the dead.”

“White paint is my marble.”

.
Cy Twombly

 

 

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Gagosian is pleased to present an exhibition of Cy Twombly’s sculptures, in association with the Cy Twombly Foundation. The exhibition marks the publication of the second volume of the catalogue raisonné of sculptures, edited by Nicola Del Roscio, President of the Cy Twombly Foundation, and published by Schirmer/Mosel.

Twombly made his sculptures from found materials such as plaster, wood, and iron, as well as objects that he habitually used and handled in the studio. From 1946 onward, he created many assemblages, though they were rarely exhibited before the 1997 publication of the first volume of his catalogue raisonné. Often modest in scale, they embody his artistic language of handwritten glyphs and symbols, evoking narratives from antiquity and fragments of literature and poetry.

Many of Twombly’s sculptures are coated in white paint, which unifies and neutralises the assembled materials and renders the newly formed object into a coherent whole. In referring to white paint as his “marble,” Twombly recalls traditions of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculpture while also subverting marble’s classical connotation of perfection through his roughly painted surfaces. The intimate scale of these works, together with their textural coats of paint, underscores their fundamentally haptic nature.

Some of Twombly’s sculptures allude to architecture, geometry, and Egyptian and Mesopotamian statuary, as in the rectangular pedestals and circular structures of Untitled (1977) and Chariot of Triumph (1990-98). Untitled (In Memory of Álvaro de Campos) (2002) comprises a rounded wooden trough stacked with a rectangular box, an elongated mound, and a vertical wooden board – all accumulating into a form that resembles a headstone or cenotaph. Thickly daubed in white, the sculpture bears the titular inscription scrawled in the graffiti-like hand so typical of Twombly’s drawings and paintings, and below it, the words “to feel all things in all ways.” Drawn from a poem by Álvaro de Campos (one of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s pseudonyms), the inscription suggests the legibility of the sculpture itself, and positions the three-dimensional object as a surface to be worked on.

In 1979, Twombly began casting some of his assemblages in bronze. The first iteration of Untitled (2002), on view in this exhibition, was made in 1955, soon after his return to New York from Europe and North Africa. Like other works from this period, this sculpture makes reference to the ancient artefacts the artist encountered in his travels. Consisting of bundled sticks, it evokes an object of private devotion or fetish. By casting this work in bronze in 2002, Twombly literally and figuratively substantiated the small sculpture into something like an archeological treasure recovered from the past.

A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany this exhibition.

Press release from the Gagosian website [Online] Cited 08/11/2020

 

Twombly made his sculptures from found materials such as plaster, wood, and iron, as well as objects that he habitually used and handled in the studio. Often modest in scale, they embody his artistic language of handwritten glyphs and symbols, evoking narratives from antiquity and fragments of literature and poetry.

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (To Apollinaire)' 2009 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (To Apollinaire) (installation view)
2009
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (To Apollinaire)' 2009 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (To Apollinaire) (installation view)
2009
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Humul' 1986 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Humul (installation view)
1986
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2004 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view)
2004
Bronze, edition 4/6
31 ⅞ × 15 ¼ × 11 ⅝ inches (81 × 38.5 × 29.5cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (In Memory Of Babur)' 2009 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (In Memory Of Babur) (installation view)
2009
Bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Babur (14 February 1483 – 26 December 1530), born Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, was the founder of the Mughal Empire and first Emperor of the Mughal dynasty (r. 1526-1530) in the Indian subcontinent. He was a descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan through his father and mother respectively.

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Turkish Delight' 2000 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Turkish Delight (installation view)
2000
Wood, plaster, acrylic, and brass
45 ½ × 18 × 16 ½ inches (115.6 × 45.7 × 41.9cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Installation view of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, London showing from left to right, Herat (1998) and Batrachomyomachia (1998)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Herat' 1998

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Herat (installation view)
1998
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Herāt is the third-largest city of Afghanistan.

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Batrachomyomachia' 1998 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Batrachomyomachia (installation view)
1998
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

The Batrachomyomachia or Battle of the Frogs and Mice is a comic epic, or a parody of the Iliad, commonly attributed to Homer, although other authors have been proposed.

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 1998 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view)
1998
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away' 1998-2001

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away (installation view)
1998-2001
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away' 1998-2001 (installation view detail)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
A Time To Remain, A Time To Go Away (installation view detail)
1998-2001
Painted bronze
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (AOEDE)' Nd (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (AOEDE) (installation view)
Nd
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled (AOEDE)' Nd (installation view detail)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (AOEDE) (installation view detail)
Nd
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Aoede

In Greek mythology, Aoede was one of the three original Boeotian muses, which later grew to five before the Nine Olympian Muses were named. Her sisters were Melete and Mneme. She was the muse of voice and song. According to Greek mythology, she is the daughter of Zeus, the King of the Gods, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.

She lends her name to the moon Jupiter XLI, also called Aoede, which orbits the planet Jupiter.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, London
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Chariot of Triumph' 1990-98 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Chariot of Triumph (installation view)
1990-98
Wood, paint, cloth, and nails
42 ½ × 20 ⅞ × 74 ⅜ inches (108 × 53 × 189cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2005 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view)
2005
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2005 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view)
2005
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2009 (installation view)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled
2009
Bronze, edition 2/3
94 ¾ × 15 ⅞ × 12 ⅜ inches (240.4 × 40.3 × 31.5cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011) 'Untitled' 2009 (installation view detail)

 

Cy Twombly (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (installation view detail)
2009
Bronze, edition 2/3
94 ¾ × 15 ⅞ × 12 ⅜ inches (240.4 × 40.3 × 31.5cm)
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Cy Twombly Shop

Gagosian is pleased to announce a pop-up shop devoted to Cy Twombly at Gagosian, Davies Street, London, to open on the occasion of the exhibition Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, London.

The shop will celebrate the newly published Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonne of the Sculpture, vol. 2, 1998-2011, and Cy Twombly: Homes & Studios, both from Schirmer / Mosel, and will feature an extensive selection of historically important reference books on the artist. Rare ephemera from many of Twombly’s exhibitions in Italy from the 1960s will also be included, alongside vintage and contemporary posters and a selection of prints and photographs by the artist.

Text from the Gagosian website [Online] Cited 08/11/2020

 

Cy Twombly shop

 

Cy Twombly Shop
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly shop

 

Cy Twombly Shop
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Cy Twombly Shop interior showing posters

Cy Twombly Shop interior showing posters

 

Cy Twombly Shop interior showing posters
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Heiner Bastian (ed.,). Cy Twombly: The Printed Graphic Work Catalogue Raisonné 2017 book cover

 

 

Along with his celebrated drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs, Cy Twombly has left an imposing body of graphic work as well. As early as 1984, the Berlin-based art writer and Twombly expert, Heiner Bastian, compiled the first catalogue raisonné of the artist’s printed graphics which has been out of print for 18 years. Now back in print for the first time, this new edition of the catalogue raisonné has been updated and includes the graphic works Twombly created since 1984 until his death in 2011.

Cy Twombly’s graphic oeuvre is characterised by a variety of graphic and printing techniques. Along with monotypes, etchings, lithographs, and silkscreens, the artist tested his expertise using offset lithographs and the combination of various print and reproduction techniques.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Cy Twombly: Camino Real 2010 catalogue front cover

Published in 2010, on the occasion of the exhibition “Cy Twombly: Camino Real” at Gagosian Gallery Paris
Text by Marie-Laure Bernadac
10 7/8 x 13 1/2 inches (27.6 x 34.3 cm); 32 pages; Fully illustrated
Designed by Graphic Thought Facility, London; Printed by Shapco Printing, Minneapolis, MN

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Carlos Basualdo. Cy Twombly: Fifty Days at Iliam, 2018 book cover.

 

 

This revelatory publication provides a comprehensive and multifaceted account of Cy Twombly’s masterpiece Fifty Days at Iliam (1978), a series of ten paintings based on Alexander Pope’s 18th-century translation of Homer’s Iliad. Essays by a team of both art historians and scholars of Greco-Roman studies explore topics including the paintings’ literary and cultural references to antiquity and Twombly’s broader engagement with the theme of the Trojan War, which first appeared in his work in the early 1960s and was a subject to which he would return throughout his career. Firsthand accounts of the artist at work complement the essays. Images of the canvases and related drawings and sculptures are joined by previously unpublished photographs showing Fifty Days at Iliam in the artist’s studio at the time of their completion.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Eva Keller and Heiner Bastian. Audible Silence: Cy Twombly at Daros 2002

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Cy Twombly
Gaeta Sets
1987
Hine Editions
28.2 x 23.8 cm. (11.1 x 9.4 in.)

 

Colour photolithographs throughout. (4to) original cream wrappers, slipcase. One of 1500 copies

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Installation views of the Cy Twombly Shop at Gagosian, London
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Edmund De Waal. Cy Twombly – Photographs. Gagosian Gallery, 2012 and Mary Jacobus. Cy Twombly – Photographs Volume II. Gagosian Gallery, 2015 installation view

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

 

Cy Twombly. Fotografie di Gaeta. Published by Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio, 2014.

Published on the occasion of the exhibition Cy Twombly. Fotografie di Gaeta on view at the Museo Diocesano, Gaeta (July 5 – September 28, 2014)

 

Vincent Katz. Cy Twombly: Photographs 1951-1999. Schirmer Mosel, 2004.

This world premiere is an aesthetic sensation. Since his student days in the early 50s, American painter and sculptor Cy Twombly, one of the greatest artists alive today, has concerned himself with photography. In this volume, he presents his photographic work of 50 years to the public for the first time ever. Taking up 19th-century Pictorialist traditions, Twombly’s photographs are, just like his paintings, drawings and sculptures, documents of a profound personal poetry. Studio shots, details of his own statuary, sculptures from his collection, romantic landscapes, flowers, and portraits of friends constitute the cosmos of his photographic oeuvre. Printed with matte colors on matte paper, a special “dryprint” process lends these images a velvety, porous, almost grainy quality. On the stage of today’s art, they touch long-lost chords. Resonant of the concepts of fin de siècle art they are, yet, thoroughly contemporary in their minimalism, creating an aesthetic vision by the commonest means.

 

Laszlo Glozer. Cy Twombly: Photographs 1951-2007. Schirmer Mosel, 2008.

Ever since his student days, Cy Twombly has concerned himself with photography, but only in recent years has he turned it into a unique artistic concept- and an aesthetic sensation. Twombly’s photographic pieces are documents of a fascinatingly enigmatic and personal poetry. His studios in Lexington and Gaeta, details of his own sculptures and collected sculptural items, landscape motifs, fruits and flowers appear in a mysteriously transformed manner on these delicate sheets. Printed in matte colours on matte paper using a dry-print process that imbues them with velvet and an almost grainy hue, the images are vaguely reminiscent of the pictorialist tradition in fin de siecle photography. In their minimalist way, however, generating aesthetic visions by the simplest of means, they are utterly contemporary. Photographs 1951-2007 presents Twombly’s photographic works of over fifty years- full of surprises and breathtaking beauty.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

 

Hubertus von Amelunxen. Cy Twombly: Photographs 1951-2010. Schirmer Mosel, 2011.

Cy Twombly’s photographs are a late revelation. The painter, world-famous for his scribbled abstract paintings and his nervous drawings, has been a prolific photographer from his early student days. In this late stage of his career, he unveils his poetic treasures step by step. The new volume Photographs III brings together early works and combines them with flower studies and studio interiors. Most interesting are Twombly’s photographic studies on his own paintings and sculptures, casting a special light on the interpretation of these works. The book features some 130 hitherto unpublished photographs. It accompanies an exhibition that starts off in Munich in 2011 and will then travel through Europe. With an essay by art and photo historian Hubertus Von Amelunxen.

 

Achim Hochdörfer. Cy Twombly Vol. IV: Unpublished Photographs 1951-2011. Schirmer Mosel, 2013.

As his final creative surprise, Cy Twombly, one of the greatest 20th-century artists, has given to the world a huge body of photographic works emphasising his unique artistic vision. Contrary to his sharp and teeming drawings his photographs are not sharp at all. They are colourful, soft, and warm and generate a painterly impression. Their colouring is as unique as their fine sense of composition. The photographs reveal the artist’s vision embedded both in the world of objects and the nature that surrounds him. His own artistic creations and collection of art objects in his various homes are a favourite subject of his photographic studies. Twombly’s photographic work offers a new dimension for understanding the artist’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures. The new book features some 120 photographic prints from the Cy Twombly Estate in Gaeta, most of them previously unpublished.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Cy Twombly: Sculpture' at Gagosian, London

 

Nicholas Cullinan et al. Le Temps Retrouvé: Cy Twombly photographe & artistes invites. Collection Lambert en Avignon musée d’art contemporain. Actes Sud, 2012.

 

 

Although world-famous for his paintings and sculptures, Cy Twombly (1928-2011) was also a photographer, and his practice of photographing interiors, the sea and still lifes, as well as his paintings and sculptures, spanned the duration of his 60-year career. This massive two-volume catalogue gathers this lesser-known aspect of the artist’s output, contextualising it through an exhibition that Twombly himself curated at the Collection Lambert in Avignon. His selection of works was both original and revealing: Jacques Henri Lartigue’s albums, the marine horizons of Hiroshi Sugimoto, the serial photographs of Ed Ruscha and Sol Lewitt, and the portraits of Diane Arbus and his close friend Sally Mann. With this publication, Twombly also draws a direct lineage between himself and earlier photographer-artists such as Édouard Vuillard and Edgar Degas (a lineage that provides this catalogue’s Proustian subtitle). The two volumes are held together with a blue printed ribbon.

 

 

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28
Oct
16

Exhibition: ‘Georgia O’Keeffe’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 6th July – 30th October 2016

Curators: Tanya Barson, Curator, Tate Modern with Hannah Johnston, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) 'Untitled [O'Keeffe with sketchpad and watercolors]' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Untitled (O’Keeffe with sketchpad and watercolors)
1918
Silver gelatin print

 

 

A beautiful world

I won’t say much about the work of Georgia O’Keeffe here. This is because I want to review the exhibition O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism at Heide Museum of Modern Art that I went to see last weekend, in an upcoming posting.

Briefly I can comment on the influence of photography, calligraphy and Japanese printmaking on her artistic practice. With their flattened perspective, manipulation of scale, and forms shaped by light, her paintings are a synthesis, a synesthesia of interior and exterior e/motions linked to music and the modern. As Louisa Buck notes, “Texture and painterly qualities were not what was important in the depiction of her smoothed, abstracted forms… Tellingly, she once declared that “art must be a unity of expression so complete that the medium becomes unimportant.””

Important in that unity of expression is the flow of energy in time and space. Throughout a career that spanned many years O’Keeffe never lost that bravura rendition of energy that was present in her early watercolours. The concerns that were present in the first work, developed throughout her career, were still present at the very end in different form. O’Keeffe wasn’t obsessed with the power of the image but rather with insight into the condition of the image, and how it resolved and portrayed the world in its many forms. Texture was not necessary to this clear seeing… of beauty in the intricacy of nature, of Black Place / White Space, and of the faraway – “that memory or dream thing”. Far Away.

Marcus

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Please click on the artwork for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“When I started painting the pelvis bones I was most interested in the holes in the bones – what I saw through them – particularly the blue from holding them up against the sky… They were the most beautiful thing against the Blue – that Blue that will always be there as it is now after all man’s destruction is finished.”

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing – and keeping the unknown always beyond you.”

“Someone else’s vision will never be as good as your own vision of yourself. Live and die with it ’cause in the end it’s all you have. Lose it and you lose yourself and everything else. I should have listened to myself.”

.
Georgia O’Keeffe

 

 

“The radical cropping, and the use of fore- and background, but less so of a middle-ground, is clearly influenced by photography – in particular the work of her friend Paul Strand (1890-1976) – but it is disingenuous to suggest that her painting is just like photography, or that photography captures the scenery better (as has been said about some of the works in this exhibition) – since her painterly quality, despite the flatness of the surface, creates a vast sense of space in the composition, reflecting the monumentality of the landscape and a true sense of the expansive horizon. Her landscapes pulsate and, unlike photography, which captures one decisive moment, they are living and breathing. The colours she chooses reflect the atmosphere of the place – particularly the heat of the New Mexico desert – and it is this affinity to a place, this experience of a landscape, that O’Keeffe paints best…

Is it therefore correct that the first major exhibition of O’Keeffe’s work in the UK in 20 years – marking the centenary of her 1916 debut exhibition at 291 – should portray her as half of a co-dependent artistic duo? Of the 221 works in the show, from 71 lenders, only 115 are major O’Keeffes. The rest comprise works by Stieglitz, Strand, Ansel Adams (1902-84), and others – all men – from the sphere in which she was working. What male artist of this calibre would have nearly half the items in his major retrospective made up of works by women who had been working around him? …

Her initial representational painting would be done from life, out in the open air, then she would take the canvas home to her studio and work over it so that it took on an emotional resonance – something she described as: “that memory or dream thing I do that for me comes nearer reality than my objective kind of work”. She painted on canvas with a very fine weave and coated it with a special primer to make the surface extremely smooth, blending one colour into the next, making sure that the brushstrokes were invisible. Her colours remain rich and bright to this day – O’Keeffe was a painter who knew what she was doing on every level.”

Anna McNay, “Georgia O’Keeffe,” on the Studio International website 15 August 2016

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Sunrise' 1916

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Sunrise
1916
Watercolour on paper
22.5 x 30.2cm
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS 2016
Courtesy Barney Ebsworth collection

 

 

“The Texas country that I know is the plains. It was land like the ocean all the way around. Hardly anybody liked it, but I loved it. The wind blew too hard, the dust flew, and we had heavy dust storms. I’ve come in many times when I’d be the colour of the road. At night you could drive away from the town, right out into space. You didn’t have to drive on the road, and when the sunset was gone, you turned around and went back, lighted by the light of the town.”

Georgia O’Keeffe in the film Georgia O’Keeffe, produced and directed by Perry Miller Adato; a WNET/THIRTEEN production for Women in Art, 1977. Portrait of an Artist, no.1; series distributed by Films, Inc./Home Vision, New York.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'No. 12 Special' 1916

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
No. 12 Special
1916
Charcoal on paper, 61 x 48.3cm
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS 2016
Photo © 2015 Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

 

 

“I was busy in the daytime and I made most of these drawings at night. I sat on the floor and worked against the closet door. Eyes can see shapes. It’s as if my mind creates shapes that I don’t know about. I get this shape in my head and sometimes I know what it comes from and sometimes I don’t. And I think with myself that there are a few shapes that I have repeated a number of times during my life and I haven’t known I was repeating them until after I had done it.”

Georgia O’Keeffe in the film Georgia O’Keeffe, produced and directed by Perry Miller Adato; a WNET/THIRTEEN production for Women in Art, 1977. Portrait of an Artist, no.1; series distributed by Films, Inc./Home Vision, New York.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe. 'Untitled (Abstraction/Portrait of Paul Strand)' 1917

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Untitled (Abstraction/Portrait of Paul Strand)
1917
Watercolour on paper

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Blue I' 1916

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Blue I
1916
Watercolour on paper
78.4 x 56.5cm
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS 2016
Photo © 2007 Christie’s Images Limited

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Music - Pink and Blue No 1' 1918

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Music – Pink and Blue No 1
1918
Oil on canvas
88.9 x 73.7cm
Collection of Barney A. Ebsworth. Partial and Promised gift to Seattle Art Museum
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS 2016

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Blue and Green Music' 1921

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Blue and Green Music
1921
Oil on canvas
58.4 x 48.3cm
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, gift of Georgia O’Keeffe
The Art Institute of Chicago © The Art Institute of Chicago

 

 

O’Keeffe was inspired by the European modernist movement and Kandinsky’s theories on how visual art can or should be pure patterns of form, colour and line as opposed to representing the material world. Blue and Green Music incorporates these ideas with O’Keeffe’s love of landscapes and the natural world.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'From the Lake No. 1' 1924

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
From the Lake No. 1
1924
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 76.2cm
Purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust; Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

 

Throughout her early work, O’Keeffe was influenced by the European modernist movement and how visual art could be pure patterns of form, colour and line as opposed to representing the material world. From the Lake No.1 clearly demonstrates these ideas, coupled with her enthusiasm for nature and her fascination with bodies of water.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Autumn Trees - The Maple' 1924

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Autumn Trees – The Maple
1924
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 76.2 cm
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Gift of The Burnett Foundation and Gerald and Kathleen Peters
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

 

O’Keeffe made many paintings during her regular trips to Lake George, New York, especially of the vibrant colours of the leaves and trees during autumn. Throughout her life she was deeply inspired by nature and was famous for painting natural objects such as flowers, shells and landscapes from areas she lived in throughout her life, or made painting trips to.

 

 

Tate Modern presents the largest retrospective of modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) ever to be shown outside of America. Marking a century since O’Keeffe’s debut in New York in 1916, it is the first UK exhibition of her work for over twenty years. This ambitious and wide-ranging survey reassesses the artist’s place in the canon of twentieth-century art and reveals her profound importance. With no works by O’Keeffe in UK public collections, the exhibition is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for European audiences to view her oeuvre in such depth.

Widely recognised as a founding figure of American modernism, O’Keeffe gained a central position in leading art circles between the 1910s and the 1970s. She was also claimed as an important pioneer by feminist artists of the 1970s. Spanning the six decades in which O’Keeffe was at her most productive and featuring over 100 major works, the exhibition charts the progression of her practice from her early abstract experiments to her late works, aiming to dispel the clichés that persist about the artist and her painting.

Opening with the moment of her first showings at ‘291’ gallery in New York in 1916 and 1917, the exhibition features O’Keeffe’s earliest mature works made while she was working as a teacher in Virginia and Texas. Charcoals such as Special No.9 1915 and Early No. 2 1915 are shown alongside a select group of highly coloured watercolours and oils, such as Sunrise 1916 and Blue and Green Music 1919. These works investigate the relationship of form to landscape, music, colour and composition, and reveal O’Keeffe’s developing understanding of synaesthesia.

A room in the exhibition considers O’Keeffe’s professional and personal relationship with Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946); photographer, modern art promoter and the artist’s husband. While Stieglitz increased O’Keeffe’s access to the most current developments in avant-garde art, she employed these influences and opportunities to her own objectives. Her keen intellect and resolute character created a fruitful relationship that was, though sometimes conflictive, one of reciprocal influence and exchange. A selection of photography by Stieglitz is shown, including portraits and nudes of O’Keeffe as well as key figures from the avant-garde circle of the time, such as Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) and John Marin (1870-1953).

Still life formed an important investigation within O’Keeffe’s work, most notably her representations and abstractions of flowers. The exhibition explores how these works reflect the influence she took from modernist photography, such as the play with distortion in Calla Lily in Tall Glass – No. 2 1923 and close cropping in Oriental Poppies 1927. A highlight is Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 1932, one of O’Keeffe’s most iconic flower paintings.

O’Keeffe’s most persistent source of inspiration however was nature and the landscape; she painted both figurative works and abstractions drawn from landscape subjects. Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out of Black Marie’s II 1930 and Red and Yellow Cliffs 1940 chart O’Keeffe’s progressive immersion in New Mexico’s distinctive geography, while works such as Taos Pueblo 1929/34 indicate her complex response to the area and its layered cultures. Stylised paintings of the location she called the ‘Black Place’ are at the heart of the exhibition.

Georgia O’Keeffe is curated by Tanya Barson, Curator, Tate Modern with Hannah Johnston, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with Bank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. It is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'New York Street with Moon' 1925

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
New York Street with Moon
1925
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Madrid, Spain)
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Radiator Building - Night, New York' 1927

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Radiator Building – Night, New York
1927
Oil on canvas
121.9 x 76.2cm
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Co-owned by Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London Photo: by Edward C. Robison III

 

 

While living in New York in the 1920s and 1930s O’Keefe made many paintings of the city inspired by the architecture and lifestyle. In Radiator Building – Night, New York O’Keeffe displays her keen eye for composition and uses colour sparingly, but expertly, to convey the atmosphere of the city at night.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)'East River from the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel' 1928

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
East River from the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel
1928
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 122.2cm
Courtesy of the New Britain Museum of American Art Stephen B. Lawrence Fund
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

 

O’Keeffe lived in New York during the 1920s and 30s and made many paintings of the city despite being told to ‘leave New York to the men’. She lived in The Shelton Hotel in Manhattan, for 11 years and this piece is a beautiful example of the studies she created of the city from above in her 30th floor apartment.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Lake George' 1922

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Lake George
1922
Oil on canvas
16 1/4 in. x 22 in
Collection SFMOMA
Gift of Charlotte Mack

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Grey Lines with Black, Blue and Yellow' c. 1923

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Grey Lines with Black, Blue and Yellow
c. 1923
Oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, USA)
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Red Canna' 1924

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Red Canna
1924
Oil on canvas
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Black Iris' 1926

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Black Iris
1926
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 75.9cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1969
Photo: Malcom Varon ? 2015
Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Art Resource/ Scala, Florence

 

 

O’Keeffe’s large close-up paintings of flowers were intended to ‘make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers’ who often didn’t take the time to engage with nature as she did. This detail of a black iris uses a subtle colour pallet to explore the intricacies of the flower petals and their contrasting tones.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Dark Iris No. 1' 1927

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Dark Iris No. 1
1927
Oil on canvas
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Abstraction White Rose' 1927

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Abstraction White Rose
1927
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (Santa Fe, USA)
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Abstraction Blue' 1927

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Abstraction Blue
1927
Oil on canvas
102.1 x 76 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the Helen Acheson Bequest, 1979 ?
2015 Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

 

 

O’Keeffe experimented with abstraction in her early work, saying ‘it is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things’. Her love of nature is evident in Abstraction Blue, which hints at flower petals, clouds, the sky and the streams, rivers and seashores she enjoyed making studies of.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Shell No. 2' 1928

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Shell No. 2
1928
Oil on board
23.5 x 18.4 cm
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Gift of The Burnett Foundation, 1997
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

 

O’Keeffe was fascinated with nature, and collected natural objects such as flowers, bones, shells and leaves to use as subjects in her paintings. Shell No.2 is unusual in the way O’Keeffe has arranged a collection of objects related to the sea, as her paintings typically show objects in isolation to their natural environment.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Two Calla Lilies on Pink' 1928

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Two Calla Lilies on Pink
1928
Oil on canvas
101.6 x 76.2cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art; Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1987
© Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

O’Keeffe was constantly inspired by nature and hoped that her paintings of enlarged flowers would draw the attention of busy New Yorkers and encourage them to appreciate the beauty in intricacy of nature that might otherwise pass them by. This piece depicts a close up of two lilies, a regularly repeated subject that earned O’Keeffe the nickname ‘The Lady of the Lily’, first coined by caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias in the New Yorker.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Grey, Blue & Black - Pink Circle' 1929

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Grey, Blue & Black – Pink Circle
1929
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 122cm
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation

 

 

Originally painted in 1929, Grey Blue & Black – Pink Circle demonstrates O’Keeffe’s interest in the European modernist movement that concentrated on the idea that visual art could or should be purely patterns of form, colour and line. Using vivid colour palettes inspired by nature, she often abstracted natural objects such as flowers, trees and shells.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'White Iris' 1930

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
White Iris
1930
Oil on canvas
40 x 30 in.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bruce C. Gottwald
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Oriental Poppies' 1927

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Oriental Poppies
1927
The Collection of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1' 1932

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1
1932
Oil paint on canvas
48 x 40 inches
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas, USA
Photography by Edward C. Robison III
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

 

Introduction

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is widely recognised as a foundational figure within the history of modernism in the United States, and during her lifetime became an American icon. Her career spanned more than seven decades and this exhibition encompasses her most productive years, from the 1910s to the 1960s. It aims to dispel the clichés that persist about O’Keeffe’s painting, emphasising instead the pioneering nature and breadth of her career.

O’Keeffe was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, the daughter of Irish and Dutch-Hungarian immigrants, and died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the age of 98. She decided to be an artist before she was 12 years old. She was the most prominent female artist in the avant-garde circle around the photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), later O’Keeffe’s husband. The first showing of her work was at Stieglitz’s New York gallery ‘291’ in 1916, now 100 years ago. Tate Modern’s exhibition therefore marks a century of O’Keeffe

 

The early years and ‘291’

“I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near to me … I decided to start anew – to strip away what I had been taught… I began with charcoal and paper and decided not to use any other colour until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white.”

O’Keeffe’s earliest mature works were abstractions in charcoal, made while she was working as an art teacher in Virginia and Texas. These drawings, made on a comparatively large scale, were exhibited by Alfred Stieglitz at ‘291’ (evoked by this room) in O’Keeffe’s debut in 1916 and in her first solo exhibition in 1917. O’Keeffe had sent her drawings to Anita Pollitzer, a friend from her student days, who first showed them to Stieglitz. He exclaimed: ‘finally a woman on paper’.

This early period also reveals O’Keeffe to be a gifted colourist, skilled in watercolour. Strikingly vivid paintings of the mountain landscapes of Virginia and plains of Texas demonstrate her skilful handling of colour. Her early oil paintings also took their inspiration from the landscape and show an interest in synaesthesia, the stimulation of one sense by another, for example translating sounds such as cattle lowing into abstract forms

 

Abstraction and the senses

“I paint because colour is a significant language to me.”

After moving from Texas to New York in 1918, O’Keeffe turned with greater assurance to abstraction and to oil paint as a medium. Focusing on paintings from 1918 until 1930, this room shows the importance of abstraction in O’Keeffe’s work and how she took inspiration from sensory stimulation. Here, her paintings investigate the relationship of form to music, colour and composition, showing her understanding of synaesthesia and chromothesia, or as she said ‘the idea that music could be translated into something for the eye’. We also see her early flower-abstractions.

The critical response emphasised O’Keeffe’s identity as a woman artist and attributed essential feminine qualities to her work, often hinting heavily at erotic content. Stieglitz was a major source for such attitudes and supported them by introducing psychoanalytic interpretations of her paintings. Frustrated with this limited view, O’Keeffe began to transform her style and this room includes several less widely-known hard-edged or cubist-inspired abstractions.

“When people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they’re really talking about their own affairs.

 

O’Keeffe, Stieglitz and their circle

“I have been much photographed… I am at present prejudiced in favour of photography.”

This room takes a closer look at O’Keeffe’s creative and personal partnership with Alfred Stieglitz and the circle of artists, writers and cultural figures that congregated around him and the couple. Many of their personal acquaintances are pictured in Stieglitz’s photographs, figures who impacted on their professional and private lives. This was the generation of the ‘Progressive Era’, men and women who came of age in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and who embodied an optimistic cultural nationalism, wanting to create a modern America.

Two major series of Stieglitz’s work are displayed here: his extended portrait of O’Keeffe, in which we can see her as both muse and collaborator, and his sky photographs titled Equivalents, several of which were also made as portraits of Georgia, linking the two series. Their personal and aesthetic exchange is continued in the painting A Celebration 1924, an image of clouds made by O’Keeffe the year they married. Other works by O’Keeffe can also be considered indirect portraits of Stieglitz

 

New York cityscapes

When O’Keeffe first expressed an intention to paint New York, she said, ‘Of course, I was told it was an impossible idea – even the men hadn’t done too well with it’. She made her first painting of the city in 1925, continuing with the same subject for the rest of the decade. O’Keeffe’s paintings show views from street level, the tall buildings providing an urban parallel to her early depictions of canyons in Texas and later in New Mexico. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz lived on the 30th floor of a skyscraper, and she delighted in the vantage point it afforded of the city beneath.

“I know it is unusual for an artist to want to work way up near the roof of a big hotel, in the heart of a roaring city, but I think that’s just what the artist of today needs for stimulus… Today the city is something bigger, grander, more complex than ever before in history.”

O’Keeffe stopped painting New York not long after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the year she made her first prolonged visit to New Mexico. With the onset of the Great Depression, the city’s utopian spirit vanished, and it no longer held her attention

 

Lake George

“I wish you could see the place here – there is something so perfect about the mountains and the lake and the trees – sometimes I want to tear it all to pieces – it seems so perfect – but it is really lovely.”

The rural Northeast, through Lake George in upstate New York, as well as coastal Maine and Canada, contrasts both with New York City and, later, O’Keeffe’s travels to the Southwest. Lake George in particular, where the Stieglitz family had a summer home, enabled O’Keeffe to continue her investigation of abstraction from nature. O’Keeffe first visited Lake George as a student in 1908, but during her three-decade relationship with Stieglitz, she spent summer and autumn there. ‘Here I feel smothered with green’, she remarked, revealing her ambivalence towards the location. Nevertheless, the years she spent summering there were some of the most prolific of her career.

Lake George and the Northeast suggested a different palette to O’Keeffe. Her works made there range from soft blue and green to the red and purple of maple trees and the warm red of apples and autumn leaves. Like the images of New York, there are correlations between her works and Stieglitz’s photography – key motifs include the lake itself, trees, turbulent clouds, barns and still lifes of apples or leaves

 

Flowers and still lifes

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time… So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers… Well – I made you take time to look … and when you took time … you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t.”

O’Keeffe is renowned for her flower paintings, which she made from the 1920s until the 1950s. At first her work tended towards imaginative, semi-abstract compositions inspired by flowers, or showing the entire form of the flower, as in her delicate calla lilies of the 1920s. They progressed to works with a greater photographic realism, focusing in close-up on the blooms themselves. This move to realism was partly motivated by her aim to dispel the sexual or bodily interpretations of her work made by critics, and O’Keeffe lamented that this view continued.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Black Cross with Stars and Blue' 1929

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Black Cross with Stars and Blue
1929
Oil on canvas
101.6 x 76.2cm
Private Collection
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

 

Black Cross with Stars and Blue demonstrates O’Keeffe’s passion for the New Mexico landscape with her talent for creating strong compositions and using a limited colour palette effectively. This early painting of New Mexico echoes her city paintings of the era, using the cross as a towering foreground for the even more monumental mountains behind.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie's II' 1930

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II
1930
Oil on canvas mounted on board
24 1/4 x 36 1/4 in. (61.6 x 92.1cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

 

This is one of O’Keeffe’s earliest paintings of the New Mexico landscape after she first visited the area in the summer of 1929. It’s a beautiful example of her early style of painting, with a focus on colour and contour, simplifying and refining the dessert terrain that truly inspired her.

“When I got to New Mexico, that was mine. As soon as I saw it, that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air, it’s just different. The sky is different, the stars are different, the wind is different.”

Georgia O’Keeffe in the film Georgia O’Keeffe, produced and directed by Perry Miller Adato; a WNET/THIRTEEN production for Women in Art, 1977. Portrait of an Artist, no.1; series distributed by Films, Inc./Home Vision, New York.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Rust Red Hills' 1930

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Rust Red Hills
1930
Oil on canvas
40.6 x 76.2cm
Sloan Fund Purchase Brauer Musuem of Art
Valpariaso University
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

 

Having made the first of many trips to New Mexico the previous year, O’Keeffe was constantly inspired by the distinctive red hills of the area, and made it her permanent home in later life. In Rust Red Hills, O’Keeffe uses a range of rich colours, exploring the natural form of the local landscape and the variation of colour within the rock formations.

 

Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Taos County, New Mexico

 

Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Taos County, New Mexico, with Arroyo Hondo in the front

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Horse's Skull with Pink Rose' 1931

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Horse’s Skull with Pink Rose
1931
Oil on canvas
101.6 x 76.2cm
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation 1994
Photo: © 2015. Digital image Museum Associates/ LACMA/ Art Resource NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

The arid desert terrain of New Mexico, where O’Keeffe spent many months in her Ghost Ranch house, was littered with animal bones which she often collected and painted. She frequently positioned these bones alongside flowers in her pieces to express how she felt about the desert she enjoyed so much.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Deer's Skull with Pedernal' 1936

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Deer’s Skull with Pedernal
1936
Oil on canvas
91.44 x 76.52cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of the William H. Lane Foundation
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London
Photo: © 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

The mountain Pedernal was visible from the front door of O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch house in New Mexico and is present in a vast amount of her paintings of the New Mexico landscape. O’Keeffe felt a deep connection with the area and described the flat top mountain as ‘my private mountain. It belongs to me’. She picked up animal skulls from the desert terrain and often used them as subjects for her paintings, which became some of her most iconic works.

“The first year I was out here I began picking up bones because there were no flowers. I wanted to take something home, something to work on… When it was time to go home I felt as if I hadn’t even started on the country and I wondered what I could take home that I could continue what I felt about the country and I couldn’t think of anything to take home but a barrel of bones. So when I got home with my barrel of bones to Lake George I stayed up there quite a while that fall and painted them. That’s where I painted my first skulls, from this barrel of bones.”

Georgia O’Keeffe in the film Georgia O’Keeffe, produced and directed by Perry Miller Adato; a WNET/THIRTEEN production for Women in Art, 1977. Portrait of an Artist, no.1; series distributed by Films, Inc./Home Vision, New York.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'From the Faraway, Nearby' 1937

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
From the Faraway, Nearby
1937
Oil in canvas
Photograph: Georgia O’Keeffe/The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

 

 

New Mexico: Taos and Alcalde

“When I got to New Mexico that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air – it’s different. The sky is different, the wind is different. I shouldn’t say too much about it because other people may be interested and I don’t want them interested.”

In 1929 O’Keeffe made her first prolonged visit to New Mexico in the Southwestern United States, a dry and arid high altitude desert region. Initially she was invited to stay with the socialite, art patron and writer Mabel Dodge Luhan in her house in Taos, a town already home to an established artistic community.

Over the next few years, O’Keeffe made repeated visits to New Mexico. Here she had found a landscape that was a contrast to the East coast but whose rural and expansive qualities felt familiar. O’Keeffe explored the specifics of the region, the adobe or earth-built architecture, the crosses, as well as views of the wide mesas or flat mountain plateaus, revealing its cultural complexity – the layering of Native American and Spanish colonial influences on the landscape

 

From the faraway, nearby: Skull Paintings

“When I found the beautiful white bones on the desert I picked them up and took them home… I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.”

O’Keeffe began painting animal bones, principally skulls, around 1931, but had collected them since 1929. As she explained, “that first summer I spent in New Mexico I was a little surprised that there were so few flowers. There was no rain so the flowers didn’t come. Bones were easy to find so I began collecting bones.” Wanting to take something back with her she decided “the best thing I could do was to take with me a barrel of bones.”

Writers and painters at this time were searching for a specifically American iconography, or in O’Keeffe’s words ‘the Great American Thing’. In O’Keeffe’s paintings the bones, particularly when juxtaposed with the desert landscape of the Southwest, summarise the essence of America which she felt was not in New York but was the country west of the Hudson River, which symbolised what she called ‘the Faraway’

 

Ghost Ranch

“I wish you could see what I see out the windows – the earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north – the full pale moon about to go down in an early morning lavender sky behind a very long beautiful tree-covered mesa to the west – pink and purple hills in front and the scrubby fine dull green cedars – and a feeling of much space – It is a very beautiful world.”

O’Keeffe first discovered Ghost Ranch in 1934 – a ‘dude ranch’ for wealthy tourists to gain an experience of the ‘wild west’. Though O’Keeffe wanted nothing to do with the ranch’s patrons she stayed in an adobe house on the property from 1937, purchasing the house in 1940, her first home in New Mexico. During the later 1930s and 1940s O’Keeffe deepened her exploration of the distinctive landscape of the Southwest – the intense reds and pinks of the earth and cliffs, the desiccated trees, the Chama River and the Cerro Pedernal (‘flint hill’), which is the Spanish name for the flat-topped mesa viewed in the distance from Ghost Ranch. ‘It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me’, she said, half-jokingly. ‘God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it’.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Pedernal with Red Hills (Red Hills with the Pedernal)' 1936

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Pedernal with Red Hills (Red Hills with the Pedernal)
1936
Oil on canvas
50.8 x 76.2cm
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 2006
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Red Hills and White Flower' 1937

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Red Hills and White Flower
1937
Pastel on paper covered board
19 3/8 x 25 5/8 in.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Gift of the Burnett Foundation © 1987, Private Collection

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Red and Yellow Cliffs' 1940

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Red and Yellow Cliffs
1940
Oil on canvas
61 x 91.4cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe, 1986
Photo: © 2015. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Art Resource/ Scala, Florence

 

 

The distinctive landscape of the New Mexico desert was a constant source of inspiration for O’Keeffe, from her first visit to the area in 1929. She discovered Ghost Ranch in 1934 where she made many painting trips and purchased a house there in 1940. O’Keeffe’s paintings of New Mexico terrain and the natural objects she found there became some of her best known works.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'My Backyard' 1937

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
My Backyard
1937
Oil on canvas
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'My Front Yard, Summer' 1941

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
My Front Yard, Summer
1941
Oil on canvas
50.8 x 76.2cm
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, 2006
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

 

O’Keeffe was deeply inspired by the New Mexico landscape that she visited on painting trips from 1929 onwards. She bought a house at Ghost Ranch 1940 before moving there permanently in 1949 and never tired of the desert landscape that she made countless studies of. ‘It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me’, she said, half-jokingly ‘God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it’

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Red Hills and Bones' 1941

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Red Hills and Bones
1941
Oil on canvas
75.6 x 101.6cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949
© Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

 

The arid desert landscape of New Mexico, where O’Keeffe had a house at Ghost Ranch, was a constant inspiration for her paintings. Red Hills and Bones depicts the distinctive red hills of the local area, exaggerating their colours in contrast to the white animal bones, which in turn mirror the ridges of the landscape in the background.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Black Place III' 1944

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Black Place III
1944
Oil on canvas
36 x 40 in.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (Santa Fe, USA)
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

 

 

“The Black Place is about one hundred and fifty miles from Ghost Ranch and as you come to it over a hill, it looks like a mile of elephants – grey hills all about the same size with almost white sand at their feet. When you get into the hills you find that all the surfaces are evenly crackled so walking and climbing are easy…

I don’t remember what I painted on my first trip over there. I have gone so many times. I always went prepared to camp. There was a fine little spot quite far off the road with thick old cedar trees with handsome trunks – not very tall but making good spots of shade…

Such a beautiful, untouched lonely-feeling place – part of what I call the Far Away.”

Georgia O’Keeffe in Georgia O’Keeffe (A Studio Book), published by Viking Press, New York, 1976

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Black Place Green' 1949

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Black Place Green
1949
Oil on canvas
94.6 x 117.5 cm
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS 2016, collection of Jane Lombard

 

 

The black place and the white place

“I must have seen the Black Place first driving past on a trip into the Navajo country and, having seen it, I had to go back to paint – even in the heat of mid-summer. It became one of my favourite places to work … as you come to it over a hill, it looks like a mile of elephants – grey hills all about the same size.”

Two very specific locations recur frequently in O’Keeffe’s work. Their repetition allowed her to explore the various conditions of landscape through changing light and seasons, and its representation through degrees of abstraction. In one location, the ‘White Place’ – a site of grey-white cliffs in the Chama River valley – she explored the differing variations of light on the white limestone cliffs and contrasted this with vivid blue sky. In the more distant ‘Black Place’ – which is 150 miles west of Ghost Ranch – she progressively abstracted from observed, perceptual reality towards more intensely-coloured, non-naturalistic compositions, painted from memory.

In the ‘White Place’ and ‘Black Place’ paintings O’Keeffe also became more clearly engaged with seriality, obsessively returning to the same motif and working through it in its different permutations.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'In the Patio No IV' 1948

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
In the Patio No IV
1948
Illustration: 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

 

“Those little squares in the door paintings are tiles in front of the door; they’re really there, so you see the painting is not abstract. It’s quite realistic. I’m always trying to paint that door – I never quite get it… It’s a curse – the way I feel I must continually go on with that door. Once I had the idea of making the door larger and the picture smaller, but then the wall, the whole surface of that wonderful wall, would have been lost.”

Georgia O’Keeffe in Katherine Kuh, The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, published by Harper & Row, New York, 1961; quoted in Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Houses, 2012.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Pelvis Series, Red with Yellow' 1945

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Pelvis Series, Red with Yellow
1945
Oil on canvas
91.8 x 122.2cm
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Extended loan, private collection
© 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

 

During her long stays in her Ghost Ranch house in New Mexico, O’Keeffe picked up bones from the desert floor and began to paint them. This piece is part of a series of paintings she made to show the sky as seen through the various holes in a pelvis bone she found.

“When I started painting the pelvis bones I was most interested in the holes in the bones – what I saw through them – particularly the blue from holding them up against the sky… They were the most beautiful thing against the Blue – that Blue that will always be there as it is now after all man’s destruction is finished.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Pelvis Series' 1947

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Pelvis Series
1947
Oil on canvas
101.6 x 121.9cm
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS 2016, courtesy Eykyn Maclean

 

 

The series: Abiquiú Patios, pelvis bones and cottonwood trees

“When I started painting the pelvis bones I was most interested in the holes in the bones – what I saw through them – particularly the blue from holding them up in the sun against the sky… They were most beautiful against the Blue – that Blue that will always be there as it is now after all man’s destruction is finished.”

Working in series became an increasingly evident approach for O’Keeffe in the 1940s and 1950s. She developed three series simultaneously during this period, each one exploring a path towards abstraction, in parallel to developments in abstract painting in New York. They were also made against the backdrop of the Second World War (referred to in the quotation above), and of Stieglitz’s death in 1946. At the same time O’Keeffe’s work was becoming increasingly prominent, with major solo exhibitions at The Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

O’Keeffe continued her investigation of bones, using pelvis bones rather than skulls, held up against the sky, or viewing a distant landscape through an aperture in the bone. Another motif was the patio of O’Keeffe’s house at Abiquiú, her second New Mexico home, with its distinctive door presented in varying degrees of naturalism and abstraction. Lastly the series of cottonwood trees reveals a more painterly approach to the serialised motif.

 

Photograph of the Chama River, New Mexico, taken by Georgia O'Keeffe

 

Photograph of the Chama River, New Mexico, taken by Georgia O’Keeffe
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS 2016

 

Tony Vaccaro. 'Georgia O'Keeffe, Taos Pueblo, New Mexico 1960' 1960

 

Tony Vaccaro (American, b. 1922)
Georgia O’Keeffe, Taos Pueblo, New Mexico 1960
1960
Gelatin silver print on paper
16.7 x 23.5cm
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; photo courtesy Michael A. Vaccaro Studios

 

Todd Webb. 'Georgia O'Keeffe walking at the White Place, New Mexico, 1957' 1957

 

Todd Webb (American, 1905-2000)
Georgia O’Keeffe walking at the White Place, New Mexico, 1957
1957
© Estate of Todd Webb, Portland, Maine, USA

 

 

The Southwest

“Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

O’Keeffe’s engagement with the Southwest was deep and enduring. This room includes drawings and sketches that reveal aspects of her working method as she immersed herself within the landscape or worked back in one of her two houses and their respective studios. It also includes photographs of O’Keeffe taken by Stieglitz in New York State, but with attributes that place her in the Southwest such as Native American blankets and her car – a sign of her independence. Other photographs are by her close friend Ansel Adams who shared her fascination with the Southwest, its landscape and cultures.

From her arrival in New Mexico and spanning the 1930s and 1940s, O’Keeffe also made a number of paintings of Native American ‘kachinas’ – figures of spirit beings carved in wood or modelled in clay and painted. These works make clear O’Keeffe’s awareness of the indigenous Native American cultures of the region and show her fascination with their ritual life. Painting the objects was for her a way of painting the country

 

Late abstracts and skyscapes

“One day when I was flying back to New Mexico, the sky below was a most beautiful solid white. It looked so secure that I thought I could walk right out on it to the horizon if the door opened. It was so wonderful I couldn’t wait to be home to paint it.”

This final room shows O’Keeffe’s late paintings of the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on two series that are inspired by aeroplane journeys she took in her later years. One series of the late 1950s takes its cue primarily from aerial views of rivers, which O’Keeffe transformed to create lyrical abstractions that hark back to her earliest works in oil, watercolour and charcoal from the 1910s. A second series of stylised near-abstractions represents the view from a plane over the clouds. Both reveal her awareness of contemporary abstract painting, particularly colour field painting, then dominating American art. O’Keeffe’s works were always rooted in a direct experience of the landscape and her emotional connection to it, and continued to be so until the end of her career.

“It is breathtaking as one rises up over the world one has been living in… It is very handsome way off into the level distance … like some marvellous rug patterns of maybe “Abstract Paintings”.”

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'From the River - Pale' 1959

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
From the River – Pale
1959
Oil on canvas
Photograph: 2016 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/ DACS, London

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Winter Road I' 1963

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Winter Road I
1963
Oil on canvas
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS 2016

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) 'Sky Above Clouds IV' 1965

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Sky Above Clouds IV
1965
Oil on canvas
243.8 x 731.5cm
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS 2016, courtesy Art Institute of Chicago

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

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02
Jan
16

Exhibitions: ‘Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008’ and ‘Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection’ at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 20th November 2015 – 13th March 2016

Curator of Coney Island exhibition: Dr Robin Jaffee Frank

 

 

Samuel S. Carr (American, 1837–1908). 'Beach Scene' c. 1879

 

Samuel S. Carr (American, 1837-1908)
Beach Scene
c. 1879
Oil on canvas
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8cm)
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Bequest of Annie Swan Coburn (Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn)

 

 

The first posting of 2016, and it is a doozy – a multimedia extravaganza of sight and sound showcasing exhibitions that focus on that eclectic playground, Coney Island.

Featuring images supplied by the gallery – plus videos, other art work featured in the exhibitions and texts that I sourced myself – this posting documents “the luridness of the sideshow acts, the drunk sailors, the amorous couples and the scantily dressed bathers who were so much a part of the allure and menace of Coney Island.” I spent many hours scouring the internet, undertaking research and cleaning poor quality images to bring this selection to you.

The exhibition is divided into five sections, and I have attempted to keep the posting in this chronological order.

  • Down at Coney Isle, 1861-94
  • The World’s Greatest Playground, 1895-1929
  • The Nickel Empire, 1930-39
  • A Coney Island of the Mind, 1940-61
  • Requiem for a Dream, 1962-2008

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There are some interesting art works in both exhibitions. The correspondence between elephant/handler and mural is delightful in Edgar S. Thomson’s Coney Island (1897, below), while Joseph Stella’s Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14, below) is a revelation to me, considering the date of production and the portrayal of contemporary life which is akin to our own. Walker Evans’ Couple at Coney Island, New York (1928, below) seems staged and confused in its pictorial construction, not one of his better photographs, while Edward J. Kelty’s photographs of sideshow revues including a “coloured revue” are interesting for their social context and formalism.

Paul Cadmus’ satirical view of American vacationers Coney Island (1934, below) is a riot of colour, movement and social commentary, including references to homosexuality and Hitler, while his friend Reginald Marsh’s effusive Coney Island paintings play with “reimagined bathers and sideshow audiences in poses derived from Michelangelo and Rubens” packed into compressed, collage like spaces. Particular favourites are photographs by Garry Winograd, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank. Surprise of the posting are the black and white photographs of Morris Engel.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“The mixed-media exhibit captures Coney Island’s campy, trippy aesthetic with a hodgepodge of photographs by the likes of Walker Evans, Weegee, Bruce Davidson, and Diane Arbus (since Coney Island was basically tailor-made for a Diane Arbus photo shoot). Also on view are pastoral seascapes from the 1800s; sideshow posters galore; a turn-of-the-century gambling wheel and carousel animals presented like sculpture; film stills from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream; and a modernist abstract composition by Frank Stella. With red and yellow stripes around a blue square, Stella distills the sand and sea and sun into a primary-colored flag for Brooklyn’s most famous destination.

In these pictures, Coney Island serves as a microcosm of American mass culture as a whole, and the chronology of 140 art objects here chart major societal shifts, from the dawn of the Great Depression to desegregation. “The modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island, and the constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists,” Dr Robin Jaffee Frank, curator of the exhibit, which Wadsworth Athenaeum helped organize, said in a statement. “What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island, and the varied ways in which they chose to portray it, mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era and the country. Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation.”

Carey Dunne. “Dreamland as Muse: A Look Back at 150 Years of Coney Island Art, Photography, and Film,” on the Brooklyn Magazine website 17/08/2015 [Online] Cited 02/01/2016

 

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'The great Forepaugh & Sells Brothers shows combined' c. 1899

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
The great Forepaugh & Sells Brothers shows combined. Terrific flights over ponderous elephants by a company of twenty five splendid artists in a great contest for valuable prizes, introducing high, long distance, layout, twisting, single and double somersault leapers, enlivened by mirth provoking comedy surprises.
c. 1899
Promotional poster for Forepaugh & Sells Brothers circus
Color lithograph poster

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth /The Great Coney Island Water Carnival /Remarkable Head-Foremost Dives from Enormous Heights into Shallow Depths of Water' 1898

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth /The Great Coney Island Water Carnival /Remarkable Head-Foremost Dives from Enormous Heights into Shallow Depths of Water
1898
Color lithograph poster
30 1/6 x 38 3/4 in. (76.6 x 98.4 cm)
Cincinnati Art Museum; Gift of the Strobridge Lithographing Company

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company. 'Beach and boardwalk scenes, Coney Island' c. 1898

 

Strobridge Lithographing Company
Beach and boardwalk scenes, Coney Island
c. 1898
Color lithograph foldout poster
approx. 21 feet long

 

George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887). 'Bathers, Steel Pier, Coney Island' c. 1880–85

 

George Bradford Brainerd (American, 1845-1887)
Bathers, Steel Pier, Coney Island
c. 1880-85, printed 1940s
Gelatin silver photograph
7 5/8 x 12 in. (19.4 x 30.5cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s–1900s). 'Coney Island' 1897

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s-1900s)
Coney Island
1897
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
4 x 5 in. (10.2 x 12.7cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s–1900s). 'Coney Island' 1897 (detail)

 

Edgar S. Thomson (American, active 1890s-1900s)
Coney Island (detail)
1897
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
4 x 5 in. (10.2 x 12.7cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916). 'Landscape, near Coney Island' c. 1886

 

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916)
Landscape, near Coney Island
c. 1886
Oil on panel
8 1/8 x 12 5/8 in. (20.6 x 32cm)
The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York; Gift of Mary H. Beeman to the Pruyn Family Collection

 

Joseph Stella. 'Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras' 1913-14

 

Joseph Stella (American born Italy, 1877-1946)
Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras
1913-14
Oil on canvas
77 by 84¾ inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

 

 

“In 1913, to celebrate Mardi Gras, Joseph Stella took a bus ride to Coney Island that changed his life. The Italian immigrant painter remembered that up until this point he had been “struggling … working along the lines of the old masters, seeking to portray a civilization long since dead.” He continued:

“Arriving at the Island I was instantly struck by the dazzling array of lights. It seemed as if they were in conflict. I was struck with the thought that here was what I had been unconsciously seeking for so many years… On the spot was born the idea for my first truly great picture.” (Joseph Stella, “I Knew Him When (1924),” in Barbara Haskell, ed., Joseph Stella, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, 1994, p. 206)

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The result of Stella’s revelation, the enormous oil painting Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras (1913-14), was the inspiration for the traveling exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

If the broken planes and neon coloring of Stella’s painting suggest the exhilaration of contemporary life, they also express dislocation and alienation. Stella himself spoke of the “dangerous pleasures” of Coney Island, implying that its unleashing of desires could provoke anxiety (Joseph Stella, “Autobiographical Notes (1946),” in Barbara Haskell, ed., Joseph Stella, p. 213). And yet for all of the dynamism of Stella’s aesthetic, his painting’s sweeping arabesques are checked by the rectangle of the picture plane, and its decorative unity distances the disruptive power of its discordant subjects. The contained anarchy of Stella’s painting is the perfect metaphor for Coney Island’s manipulation and control of the unruly masses, who, at the end of the day, go back to their homes and their ordered existence.

Looking closely at Battle of Lights we might be able to make out fragments of actual rides and even shapes that suggest people, but Stella’s abstraction obscures the luridness of the sideshow acts, the drunk sailors, the amorous couples and the scantily dressed bathers who were so much a part of the allure and menace of Coney Island.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872–1960). 'Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island' 1912

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872-1960)
Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island
1912
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872–1960). 'Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island' 1912 (detail)

 

Irving Underhill (American, 1872-1960)
Luna Park and Surf Avenue, Coney Island (detail)
1912
Gelatin dry glass plate negative
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
Photo: Althea Morin, Brooklyn Museum

 

 

Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle (director)
Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton (actors)
Coney Island
1917
25 mins – short, comedy

 

 

The 5th film starring the duo of Buster Keaton & Fatty Arbuckle, who also directed. Taking place at the Coney Island amusement park of New York City, it’s notable as the only film where Buster Keaton is seen laughing as this is before he developed his “Great Stoneface” persona.

 

Gambling Wheel, 1900–20

 

Gambling Wheel
1900-20
Wood, glass, metal
65 x 14 in. (165.1 x 35.6cm)
Collection of The New-York Historical Society; Purchase

 

Charles Carmel. 'Carousel Horse with Raised Head, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York' c. 1914

 

Charles Carmel (American born Russia, 1865-1931)
Carousel Horse with Raised Head, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
c. 1914
Paint on wood, jewels, glass eyes, horsehair tail
62 x 58 x 14 in. (157.5 x 147.3 x 36.6cm)
Collection of American Folk Art Museum, New York; Gift of Laura Harding

 

 

Born in Russia in 1865, Charles Carmel and his young bride immigrated to the U.S. in 1883 and lived in Brooklyn for most of their lives. Charles was a perfectionist in his work and a disciplinarian with his family. Their home was located close to Prospect Park and its stable of riding horses, which served as a source of inspiration for Charles’ carousel horse carving work. It is generally accepted that Charles Carmel carved carousel horses from 1905 to 1920, and sold his work to all of the major carousel manufacturers of the time including Dolle, Borelli, Murphy, and Mangels.

In 1911 Charles invested most of his money in a newly constructed carousel that he intended to operate on Coney Island. The day before the park was to open, a fire totally destroyed the amusement park along with the uninsured carousel. This was a devastating financial blow to the Carmel family. Later his health deteriorated due to diabetes and arthritis until Charles closed his shop and carved a few hours a day at home, filling orders. Charles died in 1933 of cancer, but his legacy lives on with the exquisite carousel animals that he produced throughout his life.

Text from the Gesa Carousel of Dreams website [Online] Cited 01/01/2016. No longer available online

 

Anonymous artist. 'Looping the Loop, Coney Island' 1901-10

 

Anonymous artist
Looping the Loop, Coney Island
1901-10
Private Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Couple at Coney Island, New York' 1928

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Couple at Coney Island, New York
1928
Gelatin silver print
8 x 5 13/16 inches
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection. Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

Edward J. Kelty (1888-1967) 'X-ray of Ajax, the sword swallower' 1928

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
X-ray of Ajax, “The Sword Swallower”
1928
20 x 20 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-–1967) 'Wonderland Circus Sideshow, Coney Island' 1929

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Wonderland Circus Sideshow, Coney Island
1929
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Edward J. Kelty. 'Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island' 1930 (detail)

 

Edward J. Kelty (American, 1888-1967)
Harlem Black Birds, Coney Island (detail)
1930
12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8cm)
Collection of Ken Harck
© Edward J. Kelty

 

Milton Avery (American, 1885–1965). 'The Steeplechase, Coney Island' 1929

 

Milton Avery (American, 1885-1965)
The Steeplechase, Coney Island
1929
Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 in. (81.3 x 101.6cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of Sally M. Avery, 1984
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, courtesy of Art Resource, New York
© 2013 Milton Avery Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Paul Cadmus. 'Coney Island' 1934

 

Paul Cadmus (American, 1904-1999)
Coney Island
1934
Oil on canvas
32 7/16 x 36 5/16 inches
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Gift of Peter Paanakker

 

 

Paul Cadmus’s “Coney Island” takes a satirical view of American vacationers. The fleshy members of the human pyramid seem carefree and frivolous in light of the ominous rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany (Hitler’s face can be seen printed on the magazine resting on the sleeping man’s chest at the bottom of the painting).

 

“… Paul Cadmus, who shared Marsh’s use of old-master forms and techniques but not his heterosexuality, filled his beach painting with purposely ugly women and mostly beautiful men. The main action in Cadmus’s Coney Island (1934) is the human pyramid of men and women at its center. And yet the Adonis who lies on his stomach in the foreground has no interest in this heterosexual game. Instead, he looks off at another muscular youth farther down the beach. For Marsh, Cadmus and their fellow Coney Island artists, the chance to gaze unabashedly at the body of a stranger was one of the great pleasures of the milieu.

… traditional figuration, like that of Cadmus and Marsh, is so dominant that the exhibition arguably offers an alternate history of American art – one in which the modernist painting of Milton Avery or Frank Stella seems like a sideshow. Breaking out of the canon of modernism, “Coney Island” puts new focus on neglected realist painters like Harry Roseland, Robert Riggs, George Tooker and a particular favorite of mine, Henry Koerner.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Curator notes

Coney Island was the first painting Cadmus made after he ceased working for the federally sponsored Public Works of Art Project. It is typical of his paintings of the period in both theme and form. Cadmus viewed the prosaic activity of bathing on a beach in devastatingly satirical terms. Poking fun at the bathers’ carefree pleasures, Cadmus accumulated an odd assortment of bulging, burnt bodies. The bathers are oblivious to their ridiculous appearance and uncouth behaviour. Swarming the beach, their bodies are strangely intertwined, their faces smiling inanely. Everything is exaggerated, the color verging on the garish to intensify their grossness. In the 1930s Cadmus used oil paint almost as if it were a graphic medium, consequently Coney Island looks more like a tinted drawing than a painting. His small, exacting brushstrokes impart a flickering quality to the surface, which intensifies the impression that the figures are in constant motion. Cadmus actually began to sketch the scene on Martha’s Vineyard, before he visited Coney Island. He was attracted to the Brooklyn beach because it offered him the opportunity to delineate the human figure with as little clothing as possible. Moreover, he considered the beach scene to be a classical subject. His treatment, however, is rather baroque.

As was his friend Reginald Marsh, Cadmus was attracted to the elaborate compositions of old master paintings. Coney Island, with its seminude figures arranged in complex groupings, their bodies twisted and in constant motion, was for Cadmus the twentieth-century version of a baroque allegorical composition. Cadmus claimed that his intent was not to be sensational, but when the painting was exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s second biennial, it suffered the same hostile reception as did his earlier The Fleet’s In!. The Coney Island Showmen’s League, a local trade group, denounced the painting as offensive and inaccurate and threatened a libel suit if the painting was not removed from the exhibition. According to the artist’s incomplete records, it seems that the painting was rejected from several annual exhibitions to which it was submitted soon after it was shown at the Whitney biennial, probably because of the controversy it stirred. In 1935 Cadmus produced an etching from a photograph of the painting in the hope that it would reach a larger public. In the etching the image is reversed but otherwise differs only in a few minor details.

 

Exhibition Label, 1997

Cadmus was one of the most controversial American artists of the 1930s. His satirical perspective made people uncomfortable, and consequently reviewers sometimes questioned the decency of his rollicking scenes of New York City life. Coney Island, with its amusement park and beach on the south shore of Brooklyn, was a favourite destination of working-class people. Rather than glamorise labourers enjoying their day off, Cadmus poked fun at these beachgoers and their bulging, entangled bodies. They seem oblivious to their sunburnt flesh and the silliness of their activities. Coney Island met a particularly hostile reception when it was first exhibited. A businessman organisation associated with the amusement park denounced the painting as offensive, resulting in its rejection from subsequent exhibitions. Cadmus’s meticulous painting technique – pigments applied with thin, pencil like strokes – enabled him to delineate minute detail. For example, the viewer can read the headline about Hitler in the newspaper held by the reclining man in the foreground. This subtle reference to the horrifying political developments abroad underscores the inanities of the beachgoers. Carved in wood, this simple frame was rubbed with pigment rather than gilded, a treatment that came into fashion during World War I, as gold became scarce.

Text from the LACMA website [Online] Cited 01/01/2016.

 

Reginald Marsh. 'Pip and Flip' 1932

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
Pip and Flip
1932
Tempera on paper mounted on canvas
48 1/4 x 48 1/4 in.
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
Daniel J. Terra Collection

 

 

“Such bodies were the great subjects of Reginald Marsh. Instead of Stella’s spirals of lights abstracted and seen from a distance, Marsh’s George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park (1936) gives us a close-up view of the Human Roulette Wheel where young women are spun into all kinds of unladylike postures. For the Yale-educated Marsh, Coney Island was a chance to go “slumming,” to mingle with the lower classes on the beach and in the amusement parks. Hostile to modernism and abstract art, he reimagined bathers and sideshow audiences in poses derived from Michelangelo and Rubens. And yet, like Stella, Marsh overpacked his Coney Island paintings so that every inch is activated and in motion like a carnival ride. The highly compressed space of a Marsh painting like Pip and Flip (1932, above)with its collage-like play of rectangular billboards advertising human-oddity sideshows, would be unthinkable without the precedent of Cubism that he supposedly detested.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

 

Human Roulette Wheel at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, early 1900s

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898–1954). 'Wooden Horses' 1936

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
Wooden Horses
1936
Tempera on board, 24 x 40 in. (61 x 101.6cm)
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; The Dorothy Clark Archibald and Thomas L. Archibald Fund, The Krieble Family Fund for American Art, The American Paintings Purchase Fund, and The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund
Photo: © 2013 Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Reginald Marsh. 'George Tilyou's Steeplechase Park' 1936

 

Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954)
George Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park
1936
Oil and egg tempera on linen mounted on fiberboard
30 1/8 x 40 1/8 in. (76.5 x 101.8cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation

 

 

Steeplechase Mechanical Horse Ride at Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, early 1900s

 

 

 

The spirit of Coney Island comes alive with Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 on view at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition traces the evolution of the Coney Island phenomenon from tourist destination during the Civil War to the World’s Greatest Playground to a site of nostalgia. Covering a period of 150 years, the exhibition features 140 objects, including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, artefacts, carousel animals, ephemera, and film clips. Also on view is Forever Coney, 42 photographs from the Brooklyn Museum collection.

An extraordinary array of artists have viewed Coney Island as a microcosm of the American experience and used their works to investigate the area as both a place and an idea. Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland offers up early depictions of “the people’s beach” by Impressionists William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman; modernist depictions of the amusement park by Joseph Stella; Depression-era scenes of cheap thrills by Reginald Marsh; photographs by Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Weegee, and Bruce Davidson; and contemporary works by Daze and Swoon.

“The modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island, and the constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists,” said Dr Robin Jaffee Frank, exhibition curator. “What these artists saw from 1861 to 2008 at Coney Island, and the varied ways in which they chose to portray it, mirrored the aspirations and disappointments of the era and the country. Taken together, these tableaux of wonder and menace, hope and despair, dreams and nightmares become metaphors for the collective soul of a nation.”

Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 is organised by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. The Brooklyn presentation is organised by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator, Arts of the Americas and Europe, Brooklyn Museum. A fully illustrated 304-page catalogue, co-published by Yale University Press and the Wadsworth Athenaeum, incorporates the first continuous visual analysis of great works of art about Coney Island by Dr Frank as well as essays by distinguished cultural historians.

 

Forever Coney

As one of America’s first seaside resorts, Coney Island has attracted adventurous visitors and undergone multiple transformations, inspiring photographers since the mid-nineteenth century. Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection features forty-two images that celebrate the people and places that make up Coney Island. The earliest works, taken by photographers such as George Bradford Brainerd and Irving Underhill, document the resort from the post-Civil War period through the turn of the twentieth century. Later artists such as Harry Lapow and Stephen Salmieri have photographed the many personalities that have passed through the site.

The photographers included in this exhibition are George Bradford Brainerd, Lynn Hyman Butler, Anita Chernewski, Victor Friedman, Kim Iacono, Sidney Kerner, Harry Lapow, Nathan Lerner, Jack Lessinger, H.S. Lewis, John L. Murphy, Ben Ross, Stephen Salmieri, Edgar S. Thomson, Arthur Tress, Irving Underhill, Breading G. Way, Eugene Wemlinger, and Harvey R. Zipkin. Forever Coney: Photographs from the Brooklyn Museum Collection is organized by Connie H. Choi, Assistant Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum. It is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008.

Text from the Brooklyn Museum website

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918–2005). 'Coney Island Embrace, New York City' 1938

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Coney Island Embrace, New York City
1938
Gelatin silver print
10 9/16 x 11 1/2 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York
© Morris Engel

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005) 'Mother with Children' 1938

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Mother with Children
1938
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York

 

Nieman Studios, Inc., Chicago. 'Shackles the Great' 1940

 

Nieman Studios, Inc., Chicago
Shackles the Great
1940
Sideshow banner
118 x 108 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

'Quito, Human Octopus' 1940

 

Quito, Human Octopus
1940
Sideshow banner
140 x 117 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Anon. 'Steeplechase Funny Face' nd

 

Steeplechase Funny Face
Nd
Painted metal
23 inches
Collection of Ken Harck

 

Henry Koerner (America, born Austria, 1915–1991). 'The Barker’s Booth' 1948–49

 

Henry Koerner (American born Austria, 1915-1991)
The Barker’s Booth
1948-49
Oil on Masonite
26 x 40 ½ in. (66 x 102.9cm)
Collection of Alice A. Grossman

 

George Tooker. 'Coney Island' 1948

 

George Tooker
Coney Island
1948
Egg tempera on gesso panel
19 1/4 x 26 1/4 inches
Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis

 

George Tooker’s thought-provoking “Coney Island” places traditional beach goers in a Pietà tableau.

 

Arthur Fellig (Weegee) 'Coney Island' 1940

 

Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (American, 1899-1968)
Coney Island Beach
1940
Gelatin silver print
8 1/8 x 10 inches
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

 

Looking at Weegee’s photograph, it is easy to be carried away with longing for what seems like a simpler and happier time. Undoubtedly, the picture’s sense of naïve jubilation was part of its appeal for Red Grooms, who essentially copied the image in paint for Weegee 1940 (1998-99). And yet, like much at Coney Island, Weegee’s photograph is an illusion. Taken when Europe was already at war and the Depression had not yet ended, its merriment was only a momentary respite.

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Unknown artist. 'Modern Venus of 1947' Coney Island, 1947

 

Unknown artist
Modern Venus of 1947
Coney Island, 1947
Gelatin silver photograph
10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (27.3 x 35.2cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Christine Gant, Brooklyn Museum

 

Unknown artist. 'Modern Venus of 1947, Coney Island, 1947' (detail)

 

Unknown artist
Modern Venus of 1947 (detail)
Coney Island, 1947
Gelatin silver photograph
10 3/4 x 13 7/8 in. (27.3 x 35.2cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection
Photo: Christine Gant, Brooklyn Museum

 

Homer Page (American, 1918–1985). 'Coney Island' July 30, 1949

 

Homer Page (American, 1918-1985)
Coney Island
July 30, 1949
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Gift of the Hall Family Foundation
© Homer Page
Photo: John Lamberton

 

Morris Engel. 'Little Fugitive', production still, 1953

 

Morris Engel (American, 1918-2005)
Under the Boardwalk, Coney Island [Production still from Little Fugitive]
1953
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Orkin/Engel Film and Photo Archive, New York

 

 

Raymond Abrashkin (as “Ray Ashley”), Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin (directors)
Little Fugitive
1953

 

 

Joey, a young boy, runs away to Coney Island after he is tricked into believing he has killed his older brother. Joey collects glass bottles and turns them into money, which he uses to ride the rides.

Little Fugitive (1953), one of the most beautiful films featured in the exhibition, conveys the feeling of moving through the enormous crowds in Weegee’s photographThe creation of two master still photographers, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin, and writer Ray Ashley, the film tells the story of Joey, a seven-year-old boy who runs away to Coney Island. But if Joey initially exalts in the freedom of being lost in the crowd, he feels abandoned when the amusement park closes down. Robert Frank’s photograph from the same year of a man asleep on a deserted beach with the Parachute Tower at his back [see below] echoes the film’s invocation of the resort’s fleeting joys. When Coney Island empties out it reveals the superficiality and pathos of the fantasies it evokes. In 1894, even before the big amusement parks were built, Stephen Crane mused about how in winter the “mammoth” hotels became “gaunt and hollow, impassively and stolidly suffering from an enormous hunger for the public.” (Stephen Crane, “Coney Island’s Failing Days,” in A Coney Island Reader, p. 69).”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

installation of view of the exhibition 'Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008' at the Brooklyn Museum

 

Installation of views of the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

 

Cyclops Head from Spook-A-Rama
c. 1955
Mixed media
60 x 47 x 42 inches
The Vourderis Family. Deno’s Wonder Wheel

 

Garry Winogrand. 'Coney Island, New York City, N.Y.,' 1952

 

Garry Winogrand (American, 1928-1984)
Coney Island, New York City, N.Y.,
1952
Silver bromide
8 1/2 x 13 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. Gift of Barbara and James L. Melcher

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933) 'Two Youths, Coney Island'From the series 'Brooklyn Gang, 1958' print c. 1965

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled (Cathy and Cigarette Machine), from the series Brooklyn Gang
1959, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 5/8
Sheet: 11 x 14 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. The Heinz Family Fund

 

Diane Arbus. ‘The House of Horrors’ 1961

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
The House of Horrors
1961
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 x 14 inches
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

“As its carnival rides and sideshows became increasingly dated in the 1960s, Coney Island was unable to maintain even the phony thrills that Miller derided in the 1930s. In Diane Arbus’s The House of Horrors (1961)the fake skeleton and the cartoon ape mask aren’t as scary as the ride’s sorry state and the impression that something terrible has driven all the people away. (The 1970 low-budget slasher film Carnival of Blood, not included in the exhibition, brilliantly uses this seediness to create a sense of uncanny doom.) In Arnold Mesches’s painting Anomie 1991: Winged Victory (1991), the creaky rides mingle with images of war, turning dreamland into an apocalyptic nightmare.”

Text from Jonathan Weinberg “Coney Island Forever,” on the Art in America website, October 1st 2015 [Online] Cited 14/12/2015.

 

Diane Arbus. 'Couple Arguing, Coney Island, N.Y.,' 1960

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Couple Arguing, Coney Island, N.Y.,
1960
Vintage gelatin silver print
Image: 8 1/2 x 6 5/8 inches
Sheet: 14 x 11 inches
Collection Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum

 

Robert Frank. ‘Coney Island' 4th of July, 1958

 

Robert Frank (American, 1924-2019)
Coney Island
July 4, 1958
15 5/8 x 11 9/16 inches
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Robert Frank Collection. Gift of the Richard Florsheim Art Fund and an Anonymous Donor

 

Frank Stella (American, born 1936). 'Coney Island' 1958

 

Frank Stella (American, born 1936)
Coney Island
1958
Oil on canvas
85 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. Gift of Larom B. Munson, B.A. 1951

 

Harry Lapow (American, 1909–1982). 'Untitled (Buried Alive)' c. 1960s or 1970s

 

Harry Lapow (American, 1909-1982)
Untitled (Buried Alive)
c. 1960s or 1970s
Gelatin silver photograph
12 1/8 x 9 1/16 in. (30.8 x 23cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the artist
© Estate of Harry Lapow
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

 

Harry Lapow began frequenting Coney Island to capture quirks of the beach and boardwalk after receiving a Ciroflex camera on his forty-third birthday. He was intrigued by the camera’s ability to isolate details and fleeting moments of everyday life. Here, a toddler’s crossed legs appear above the head of a buried woman whose eyes are covered by a floral towel. In cropping this beach sighting, Lapow crafts a surprising juxtaposition, forming an unlikely dynamic between the lively child and the masked adult.

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Untitled' July 4, 1962

 

Bruce Davidson (American, b. 1933)
Untitled
July 4, 1962
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

 

Stephen Salmieri (American, born 1945). 'Coney Island' 1971

 

Stephen Salmieri (American, b. 1945)
Coney Island
1971
Gelatin silver photograph
8 x 10 1/8 in. (20.3 x 25.7cm)
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Edward Klein
© Stephen Salmieri
Photo: Sarah DeSantis, Brooklyn Museum

 

Harvey Stein (American, born 1941). 'The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile' 1982

 

Harvey Stein (American, b. 1941)
The Hug: Closed Eyes and Smile
1982
Digital, inkjet archival print
13 x 19 in. (33 x 48.3cm)
Collection of the artist
© Harvey Stein, 2011

 

Red Grooms (American, born 1937). 'Weegee 1940' 1998-99

 

Red Grooms (American, b. 1937)
Weegee 1940
1998-99
Acrylic on paper
56 1/8 x 62 in. (142.6 x 157.5cm)
Private Collection
© 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York

 

Arnold Mesches (American, born 1923). 'Anomie 1991: Winged Victory' 1991

 

Arnold Mesches (American, 1923-2016)
Anomie 1991: Winged Victory
1991
Acrylic on canvas
92 x 135 in. (233.7 x 342.9cm)
The San Diego Museum of Art; Museum purchase with partial funding from the Richard Florsheim Art Fund
© 2013 Arnold Mesches

 

Daze (American, born 1962). 'Coney Island Pier' 1995

 

Daze (American, b. 1962)
Coney Island Pier
1995
Oil on canvas
60 x 80 in. (152.4 x 203.2cm)
Collection of the artist

 

Daze (American, born 1962). 'Kiddlyand Spirits' 1995

 

Daze (American, b. 1962)
Kiddyland Spirits
1995
Oil on canvas
42 x 71 inches
Collection of the artist

 

'Requiem for a Dream', production still, directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

 

Requiem for a Dream, production still, directed by Darren Aronofsky, 2000

 

Marie Roberts (American, born 1954). 'A Congress of Curious Peoples' 2005

 

Marie Roberts (American, b. 1954)
A Congress of Curious Peoples
2005
Acrylic on unstretched canvas
84 x 120 in. (213.4 x 304.8cm)
Collection of Liz and Marc Hartzman

 

Swoon. 'Coney, Early Evening' 2005

 

Swoon
Coney, Early Evening
2005
Linoleum print on Mylar
Variable; overall: 213 x 39 x 113 inches
Brooklyn Museum. Healy Purchase Fund B, Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, and Designated Purchase Fund

 

Swoon’s “Coney, Early Evening” suspends youthful figures intertwined throughout the iconic tracks of a Coney Island roller coaster.

 

Frederick Brosen (American, born 1954). 'Fortune Teller, Jones Walk, Coney Island' 2008

 

Frederick Brosen (American, b. 1954)
Fortune Teller, Jones Walk, Coney Island
2008
Watercolor over graphite on paper
17 7/8 x 11 ¼ in. (45.4 x 28.6cm)
Courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York
© 2013 Frederick Brosen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Joshua Nefsky, courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York

 

 

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20
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Art AIDS America’ at Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma

Exhibition dates: 3rd October 2015 – 10th January 2016

 

Did You Know?

 

 

This is the biggest exhibition on art relating to HIV/AIDS since the seminal exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra in 1995, which I was a part of.

I was lucky to survive the initial wave of HIV/AIDS infections. The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981… and I had my first HIV test in London in 1983. In those days, as the wall text from the exhibition spells out above, you had to wait 16 days to get the result of a blood test. I vividly remember sitting outside a doctor’s office knowing that when I went in, if he said yes you have it, it was a death sentence. In those early days, there was no treatment. You were going to die. I only survived by luck. Many of my friends and lovers didn’t.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says exhibition co-curator Rock Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

This deep understanding can be supplemented by this posting. I spent many hours securing more images than were sent to me in the press pack, because I think it is really important to have as great a cross-section as possible of work online from this exhibition, as a record of this time and space in the ongoing HIV/AIDS story. At present, there is no website for the 1995 exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS but I am hoping to correct this in the near future, with installation images, art work, interviews and videos.

In terms of the art, I find the earlier narratives are much more powerful and focused than the contemporary work. One of the most moving of these, and one that I have never seen before, is Keith Haring’s Altar Piece (1990, cast 1996, below). Can you imagine being an artist, being Haring, working on the wax mould in hospital being treated for AIDS-related illness, thinking that this could possibly be the last art work that you would ever complete. That you would never see it produced. And then to make something that is so compassionate, so beautiful that it is almost beyond belief… my heart is full of admiration and, like the crowd in the triptych, I am washed with tears.

By comparison, some of the contemporary works seem to have become mere graphic symbolism (leaves, milk and flowers) rather than engaging activism. For example, Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers (2010, below) – while referencing his Mexican heritage through skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead – is not about loss with presence but loss without presence: a febrile graphic activity that is pure decoration. Other works such as Derek Jackson’s Perfect Kiss (2007, below) or LADZ’s Eden #31 (2012, below) enact only the most tenuous link to HIV/AIDS and only when it is spelled out in text. Again, while not denying the pain of the death of her mother, her persecution when growing up or the problems with living with HIV, Kia Labeija’s 24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room) (2014, below) propositions us with a women photographed in deadpan photography style as glamorous mother with vivid pink lipstick or a Beyonce music star in sequin dress and 6 inch heels. Only in the last photograph is there any hint of vulnerability and, funnily enough, it is the only photograph that I care about and engage with.

In all of these works the key word is enact, for these works are performances of gender and sexuality conceptualised for the viewer, where living with HIV/AIDS is shown to us at a distance. Instead of ACTing up, unleashing the power of the oppressed, artists are now acting out in this (supposed) post-death HIV/AIDS climate. Look at me, I can be whoever I want to be (and still have HIV). Nothing wrong with that I hear you say, and you would be completely right… if only the art commenting on this post-death resurrection of the author, was memorable.

While 1,218,400 persons aged 13 years and older are living with HIV infection in the USA and an estimated 47, 352 people were diagnosed with the disease in 2013, people are still dying by the thousands in America (an estimated 13,712 people died in 2012 of an AIDS related disease – source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website). This is not pretty pink lipstick and sequin dresses, this is 13 thousand people a year still DYING from this disease.

Just think about that for a while.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Tacoma Art Museum, Mark I. Chester and Steven Miller for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987–1995), Let the Record Show… 1987/recreated 2015.

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show…
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

 

In 1987, the New Museum’s curator William Olander invited ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to create a work about AIDS. ACT UP, a diverse, nonpartisan, grassroots organisation, responded with Let the Record Show… providing information about the crisis.

At the time, the only visual presence of AIDS activism was the Silence=Death stickers. Let the Record Show… recreated here in full for the first time, included an LED reader board with statistics about the unfolding medical and political crisis, the neon pink triangle with “Silence=Death,” a photomural from the Nuremberg trials, and photographs of contemporary public figures with their statements about AIDS.

Using the 1986 graphics from the Silence=Death Project, ACT UP appropriated the pink triangle from the badges assigned to gay prisoners in Nazi Germany during World War II. The artists combined this historic symbol of powerlessness along with the photomural of the Nuremberg courtroom to make an explicit comparison between the severity of the AIDS crisis and government inaction and the Holocaust. The complicated installation asked whether simple silence in a crisis is as culpable as actively encouraging one. The anonymous collective Gran Fury formed as a committee of ACT UP, as a result of Olander’s invitation. Gran Fury continued to make provocative and important works about the AIDS crisis.

For the installation of Let the Record Show… at the New Museum, quotes were cast in concrete under the photograph of the irresponsible speaker:

 

“The logical outcome of testing is a quarantine of those infected.”

Jesse Helms, U.S. Senator

“It is patriotic to have the AIDS test and be negative.”

Cory Servass, Presidential AIDS Commission

“We used to hate faggots on an emotional basis. Now we have a good reason.”

Anonymous Surgeon

“AIDS is God’s judgment of a society that does not live by His rules.”

Jerry Falwell, Televangelist

“Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm to protect common needle users, and on the buttocks to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.”

William F. Buckley, Columnist

” …”

Ronald Reagan, President of the United States

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995) 'Let the Record Show…' (detail) 1987/recreated 2015

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show… (detail)
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

Carrie Yamaoka (Born Glen Cove, New York, 1957) 'Steal This Book #2' 1991

 

Carrie Yamaoka (American, born Glen Cove, New York, 1957)
Steal This Book #2
1991
Unique chemically altered gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Carrie Yamaoka takes inspiration from Abbie Hoffman’s iconic Steal This Book, a counterculture manual for social revolution. By photographing a page spread and then obliterating all of the words except “slaughter” and “history,” Yamaoka rejects any passive understanding of history. As an activist and artist, Yamaoka will use any means necessary to affect change. Steal This Book #2 may be considered as referring to Yamaoka’s experience as an AIDS activist and her desire to reshape our understanding of our relations with HIV.

 

Jerome Caja (Born Cleveland, Ohio, 1958; Died San Francisco, California, 1995) 'Bozo Fucks Death' 1988

 

Jerome Caja (American, 1958-1995)
Bozo Fucks Death
1988
Nail polish on plastic tray
Collection of Ed Frank and Sarah Ratchye

 

 

One of Jerome Caja’s alter egos was the clown Bozo. Here Caja aggressively turns the tables on death and seeks to gain some control and power over the inevitable, even if only a transgressive, psychological fantasy.

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (born 1930, died 2002) 'AIDS, you can't catch it holding hands' 1987

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (French-American, 1930-2002)
AIDS, you can’t catch it holding hands
1987
Book, 52 pages 8 × 10 inches
The Lapis Press, San Francisco
© 2015 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, All rights reserved / ARS, NY / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Working with collaborator Professor Silvio Barandun, Niki de Saint Phalle wrote and illustrated AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands for young adults. Using her characteristically colourful and joyous style, de Saint Phalle offers unusually straightforward information about the transmission of HIV from unprotected sex and unclean needles in intravenous drug use. She also uses the same frank approach to assuring her readers that casual contact from flowers, doorknobs, and toilet seats does not transmit AIDS, notions that were not widely understood in the early years of the AIDS crisis.

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (American, born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (American, born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

 

Art AIDS America aims to abolish the silence about the pervasive presence of HIV/AIDS in American art and open meaningful and respectful dialogues about our experiences with the ongoing epidemic. For too long, we have considered art about AIDS as a tragic, closed chapter in the history of American art. This exhibition demonstrates the deep and continued impact of the AIDS crisis on American art from the early 1980s and continuing to today.

For more than thirty years, artists have actively responded with exquisite sensitivity to HIV/AIDS. They have adopted a broad spectrum of styles and messages from politically activist to quietly mournful art that nonetheless thrums with political content. Through poignant portraits, some artists brought much needed attention to personal suffering and loss from the AIDS crisis. Others employed abstraction and coded imagery to reveal the social and political factors that exacerbated the spread of HIV/AIDS. Artists also widely appropriated various art historical traditions to speak about the devastating impact of the epidemic. Art AIDS America offers an overview of how these various approaches redirected the course of American art from postmodern “art for art’s sake” formulas to art practice that highlights the personal experience and expertise of the artist.

Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful. HIV and AIDS are not just past-tense problems. As we persist in the struggle with HIV/AIDS, these artworks remind us of humanity’s resilience, responsibility, and history. The legacy of the AIDS crisis and our new relationships with the virus continue to inform contemporary art and American culture.

Text from the Tacoma Art Museum website

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse I' 1988

 

Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990)
Apocalypse I
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

 

In their first collaboration, Keith Haring illustrated William S. Burroughs’ dystopic poem Apocalypse by mixing references to advertising, art history, and Catholic theology. Haring included his “devil sperm,” the black, horned symbol he created to give shape to HIV and its reign of death and terror.

Burroughs introduced the chaos unfolding:

“The final Apocalypse is when every man sees what he sees, feels what he feels, and hears what he hears. The creatures of all your dreams and nightmares are right here, right now, solid as they ever were or ever will be, electric vitality of careening subways faster faster faster stations flash by in a blur.”

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse III' 1988

 

Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990)
Apocalypse III
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

 

Grassroots Activism

Artists provided the early warnings of the AIDS crisis with their artworks deployed at the street level. Posters, stickers, T-shirts and other projects made it impossible to ignore messages about AIDS. These activist artists were informed by earlier precedents of feminist art and artists working on issues of identity politics. Communities coalesced around the calls to action.

The most prominent group to address the AIDS crisis was the anonymous artist collective Gran Fury in New York, a committee of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The collective used techniques and ideas from advertising, marketing, and the art world to raise awareness and affect political change. Their bold graphic style and refined text continues to influence politically-themed art.

Gran Fury and other activists changed how Americans thought about AIDS. The political and social pressure instigated by their actions and artworks played important roles in changing the approval process for AIDS drugs and treatment protocols. Women’s health issues were brought to the forefront. As a result, American society positively changed their opinions about HIV/AIDS when they had correct information.

 

Memento Mori

The AIDS crisis compelled contemporary American artists to address death with urgency. Artists witnessed a plague sweep through their communities and wipe out their friends, colleagues, and lovers. They used art to express their rage and terror when AIDS had no effective treatment. Their artwork provided a vitally important way to mourn their losses and share their sorrow.

Artists looked back to European and American artistic traditions of memento mori, Latin for “Remember that you must die,” to share their experiences, feelings, and stories. They adapted symbols like skulls and flowers to depict the fragility and fleeting nature of life.

Artists in this section shifted the intent of memento mori away from concepts of death and the afterlife. They refocused on the preciousness and precariousness of life, without forgetting the political and social realities behind the massive wave of death. Nayland Blake’s clock marks the passing of so many individuals with a call to action. David Wojnarowicz rages against the senseless death of Peter Hujar. Bill Jacobson and Karen Finley give form to the fragility of memory. Latino folk traditions connect the living and the dead in the paintings of Tino Rodriguez and Thomas Woodruff.

 

Poetic Postmodernism

In the early 1980s, American art was dominated by a new, postmodern theory. It held that meaning belongs not to the artist who made the work but to their audiences who interpret the works. Called “the death of the author,” the theory was named after a 1967 essay by the French postmodernist thinker Roland Barthes.

As AIDS actually caused the death of thousands of authors and artists by the late 1980s, this metaphor became a terrifying reality. At the same time, a powerful Christian conservative movement aggressively politicised AIDS. Using homophobia and fear of the disease, these politicians passed Federal laws that made it illegal to “promote, encourage, or condone homosexual sexual activities or the intravenous use of illegal drugs” in an AIDS awareness and education bill.

The ramifications for artists and art exhibitions were equally prohibitive. Federal laws were passed that made it impossible for museums to receive government support if an exhibition included obscene content, which was understood to mean gay themes among others, including AIDS-specific art. In this climate, artists knew that overt political content would result in censorship. So they developed a new way to smuggle political meaning into art.

In his research for Art AIDS America, Jonathan David Katz named this new approach “poetic postmodernism.” Artists used the postmodern theory “death of the author” to camouflage their own personal, expressive meanings. Many of the works in this exhibition have the same title format, the word “untitled” followed by a more specific description in parentheses such as in “Untitled” (Water), Untitled (Hujar Dead), or Untitled (Corrupt HIV Activism). The first term, “untitled,” signals the prevailing postmodernist idea that all meanings come from the audience. But the phrase inside the parentheses reveals clues to the artist’s associations and intentions. Because recognition of AIDS content was a product of the viewer’s thought and not the artist’s explicit claim, such works could be shown in museums without fear of being censored under the new laws.

 

Andres Serrano (Born New York, New York, 1950) 'Milk/Blood' 1989, printed 2015

 

Andres Serrano (American, born New York, New York, 1950)
Milk/Blood
1989, printed 2015
Chromogenic colour print
Exhibition print
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Milk/Blood recall the pure, flat colour of hard edged abstract painters such as Ellsworth Kelly. But the simple saturated color fields in Serrano’s photograph bear the evocative title Milk/Blood, the two main body fluids that transmit HIV. Serrano appropriates the formal language of modernism for political purposes, a means of potentially slipping AIDS consciousness into a museum context without fear of exclusion or censure. As with HIV infection itself, the photograph underscores how our key sense, vision, is unreliable in the face of AIDS.

 

Andres Serrano (born 1950) 'Blood and Semen III' 1990

 

Andres Serrano (American, born New York, New York, 1950)
Blood and Semen III
1990
Chromogenic colour print, edition 1 of 4
40 × 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

 

Like his Milk/Blood in this exhibition, Blood and Semen III also appears to be a rigorously formal composition, this time evoking the gestural appearance of an abstract expressionist painting. Again, the title references two body fluids that transmit HIV. As examples of poetic postmodernism, Serrano activates meaning in Blood and Semen III and Milk/Blood using formal arrangements and references to earlier artistic styles to inform his photographs with personal and potentially political content.

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' 1998

 

Shimon Attie (American, b. 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' (detail) 1998

 

Shimon Attie (American, b. 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.) (detail)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

 

After an extensive period working in Europe memorialising the Holocaust, Shimon Attie returned to San Francisco in 1996 and began his series Untitled Memory. Attie projected old photographs of his friends and lovers onto places with special meaning to him, including this room of a former apartment. His photographs of these projections became personal studies of loss and melancholy.

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Untitled (Hujar Dead)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Untitled (Hujar Dead)
1988-89
Black and white photograph, acrylic, text and collage on Massonite
Collect of Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol
Courtesy Second Ward Foundation

 

 

Wojnarowicz was briefly lovers with and then became a close friend of the famous photographer Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1987. Untitled (Hujar Dead) incorporates still images from a film by Wojnarowicz of Hujar’s lifeless body on his hospital bed. Wojnarowicz then overprinted the text of one of his famous “rants.” In these politically-charged performances and texts, he laid blame for the AIDS crisis squarely on the conservative right-wing demagogues who politicised the disease and continually spewed homophobic rhetoric which only exacerbated the crisis.

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010

 

Tino Rodriguez (Mexican-American, born Guadalajara, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010 (detail)

 

Tino Rodriguez (Mexican-American, born Guadalajara, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers (detail)
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

 

Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers incorporates aspects of his Mexican heritage, and especially the tradition of skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This family-oriented celebration of ancestors brings the living and dead into affectionate proximity. Rodriguez here exuberantly conflates familiar American oppositions such as death and life, growth and decay, and even good and evil. Inherently androgynous, the gender of the skulls remains unknown as does their cause of death. But as in the Dia de los Muertos celebration itself, Rodriguez’s image supplants horror with humour and loss with presence, offering the triumph of love and memory over death in the age of AIDS.

 

David Wojnarowicz (Born Red Bank, New Jersey, 1954; Died New York, New York, 1992) 'Untitled (Buffalo)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Untitled (Buffalo)
1988-89
Vintage gelatin silver print, signed on verso
Collection of Michael Sodomick

 

 

For Untitled (Buffalo), David Wojnarowicz simply photographed a diorama in a museum in Washington, DC. This image of buffalo being herded off a cliff served as a chilling metaphor of the politics of AIDS in the US in the late 1980s. Rather than an illustration of traditional Native American hunting techniques, Wojnarowicz eloquently expressed his rage, desperation, and helplessness through the great symbol of American identity. His shifting and layering of meaning onto this symbol is a classic example of poetic postmodernism.

One example of how artists hid their message is David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (Buffalo). It’s a diorama of a buffalo fall, a traditional method of harvesting large numbers of buffalo by chasing herds off cliffs. The buffalo are made from plastic. Wojnarowicz photographed the diorama and cropped it. “This is appropriation,” Hushka said. “He used it as this extraordinarily eloquent cry about the state of American politics at the time.” Katz added, “It’s telling that even an artist of Wojnarowicz’s activist fervour engaged in a metaphor that only cohered in the mind’s eye. You needed to be attentive to what it might be saying to read it. There’s nothing specifically AIDS about it.”

 

Spiritual Forces

Because of the overwhelming number of deaths, the unspeakable losses, and the constant presence of disease, it should not be surprising that artists also turned to issues of spirituality. Yet, the art history of AIDS often neglects this important aspect. Across the United States, faith communities tended to the spiritual needs of people with AIDS and provided critical services for them. These communities continue to support people living with HIV.

The AIDS crisis exposed deep division within many spiritual traditions. Artists such as Jerome Caja, Robert Gober, and Barbara Kruger expressed discomfort and displeasure in how some religious ideologies oppressed gays and lesbians and worsened the AIDS crisis. Others made inspiring works within long-established traditions like Keith Haring’s altar piece. In other artworks, artists created symbols for the dignity of people suffering from AIDS, ranging from Christian saints and Biblical texts to imagery inspired by Buddhism and healing traditions from India.

 

Keith Haring (born 1958, died 1990) 'Altar Piece' 1990 (cast 1996)

 

Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990)
Altar Piece
1990 (cast 1996)
Bronze with white gold leaf patina, edition 2 of 9
60 × 81 x 2 inches
Denver Art Museum, Gift of Yoko Ono, 1996.204A-C.
© Keith Haring Foundation
Photo © Denver Art Museum

 

 

This altar piece by Keith Haring is the last work the artist completed. He worked on the wax mould while he was hospitalised for AIDS-related illnesses. The triptych format echoes traditional Roman Catholic altar pieces. The image of the crying mother holding an infant speaks to the inconsolable losses from AIDS. The mother’s tears fall on the crowds, seeking solace and mercy from the AIDS epidemic.

 

Barbara Kruger (Born Newark, New Jersey, 1945) 'Untitled (It's our pleasure to disgust you)' 1991

 

Barbara Kruger (American, born Newark, New Jersey, 1945)
Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you)
1991
Photographic silkscreen on vinyl
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Gift of Eric and Nannette Brill

 

 

Despite provocative imagery and text, Barbara Kruger intends no specific meaning to her artworks. Rather, Kruger wants to demonstrate how the reader generates meaning each time the text is read. She activates ambiguity and political charge with the phrase “It’s our pleasure to disgust you.” Kruger underscores the gulf between and image and its possible meanings, an issue brought into high relief in the culture wars promoted by religious conservatives, during the period when this work was made.

The work may be interpreted as evidence that artists like Kruger were deliberately insensitive to cultural norms. Alternatively, it could be read as proof that artworks were deliberately manipulated for political purpose by others. Because AIDS was framed in political terms from its earliest moment, Kruger’s Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you) reflects the complexity and deliberate uses of language about AIDS.

 

Robert Gober (Born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954) 'Drains' 1990

 

Robert Gober (American, born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954)
Drains
1990
Cast pewter Edition of 8, with 2 artist’s proofs, artist’s proof 1 of 2
Collection of the artist

 

 

Robert Gober’s Drains is meticulously handcrafted to resemble a mass-produced consumer good. Because we think about drains primarily as a tool to remove waste often associated with personal hygiene and cleaning, connections to HIV/AIDS are obvious. By placing the sculpture in an unexpected position on a gallery wall, Gober seeks to generate unanswerable, metaphorical questions about the functions of a drain and the unknown space behind it. The cruciform shape at the back of the drain recalls his childhood and his complicated relationship with Catholicism.

 

Izhar Patkin (Born Haifa, Israel, 1955) 'Unveiling of a Modern Chastity' 1981

 

Izhar Patkin (American born Israel, b. 1955)
Unveiling of a Modern Chastity
1981
Rubber paste, latex theatrical wounds, and
printing ink on a stretched linen canvas
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Izhar Patkin painted Unveiling of a Modern Chastity one year before there was any public announcement about a new disease striking formerly healthy young men. This is the earliest work in the exhibition, and, in retrospect, one of the earliest AIDS paintings ever. Troubled by the sight of a group of such young men with similar dark purple skin lesions waiting in his dermatologist’s office, he presciently titled the work to reflect what he felt might be a forthcoming change in sexual culture. The painting’s skin-like surface erupts in what looks like Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions.

Patkin’s heavily textured surface and use of artificial wounds was his effort to destroy minimalism and other traditions of pure abstraction. He wanted to expose the inability of modernist art to contain pressing social and contextual significance.

DID YOU KNOW? The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981.

 

Albert J. Winn (born 1947, died 2014) 'Akedah' 1995

 

Albert J. Winn (American, 1947-2014)
Akedah
1995
Gelatin silver print
171/2 × 21 ¾ inches
Courtesy of Scott R. Portnoff
Photo courtesy of the Estate of Albert J. Winn

 

 

In the artist’s own words: “Every month, because of my illness, I need to undergo a blood test. During the process, a tourniquet is bound tightly about my upper arm. At times when I’ve been on a study protocol for an experimental medicine, I’ve had my blood drawn every day. Having my blood drawn has become a ritual in what sometimes seems is a new religious practice, an AIDS ritual.

“Over time, I’ve transformed this ritual in relation to my Judaism. I wonder if like Isaac, I am being sacrificed. This time to science. I pray that an angel will intercede and spare my life. When my arm is bound with a tourniquet and the veins bulge, I am reminded that I am bound to my illness. I look at the rubber strap and see tefillin. Sometimes the impression of the leather straps from the tefillin are still visible on my skin by the time the tourniquet is wrapped around my arm. The binding of the tefillin is a reminder of being bound to my heritage. The straps also make my veins bulge. Except for the needle stick the binding feels the same.”

 

 

Art AIDS America at the Tacoma Art Museum

Politics, sex, religion, loss, and beauty – all of the topics that you can’t talk about over dinner but can at a museum – are open for discussion in Art AIDS America, an exhibition that reveals for the first time how the AIDS crisis forever changed American art. Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful.

Art AIDS America is a story of resilience and beauty revealed through art, and the community that gathered to bring hope and change. While recognising and honouring loss and grief, it refutes the narrative that AIDS is only a tragic tangent in American art, exploring how artists’ responses to the crisis and its legacy continue to inform contemporary American art. These artworks offer a vibrant representation of community, caring, creativity and activism. And, Art AIDS America will serve as a vivid reminder that the crisis is not over; HIV infections are increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV.

A decade in the making, this exhibition is co-curated by TAM’s Chief Curator, Rock Hushka, and Jonathan D. Katz, PhD, Director, Visual Studies Doctoral Program, University at Buffalo.

“AIDS fundamentally changed American art, remaking its communicative strategies, its market, its emotional pitch and – not least – its political possibilities. But we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in the making of contemporary American culture, as we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in every other aspect of our lives. This exhibition underscores how powerfully a plague that is still with us has changed us,” says Katz. “Art AIDS America creates spaces for mourning and loss, yes, but also for anger and for joy, for political resistance and for humor, for horror, and for eroticism.”

The exhibition assembles 125 significant works in a wide range of media. The artists are diverse, including the internationally acclaimed such as Robert Gober, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Martin Wong, and those not yet as widely celebrated such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Chloe Dzubilo, Derek Jackson, Kia Labeija, and Joey Terrill. The works date from 1981 to today, and some, like Catherine Opie’s photographs of the 1986 AIDS/ARC vigil in San Francisco, will be on public view for the first time.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

Works in the exhibition will generally fall into two categories: art with a clear tie to AIDS, and art that requires the viewer to look beyond the surface to understand its connection to HIV/AIDS. Some artists addressed the AIDS crisis through activist works, community projects, graphics, and direct political statements. For example, the collective ACT UP NY/Gran Fury’s installation Let the Record Show… sears the words of public officials whose actions inflamed the crisis, including the silence of President Ronald Reagan, who would not speak publicly about AIDS until 1987. Other artists use camouflage, coding, misdirection, symbols, or other covert strategies to address the social, political, and physical impacts of HIV. An example is Robert Sherer’s beautifully rendered Sweet Williams, a basket of cut flowers, painted in HIV-negative and HIV-positive blood, about the untimely deaths of so many young men. The exhibition will be organised roughly by works created pre- and post-cocktail (in this case, ‘cocktail’ refers to the combination of drugs and therapies used to manage HIV and prevent the development of AIDS).

“Tacoma Art Museum is a safe space where people are able to address important and challenging issues. We are proud to present Art AIDS America. It is fitting that the exhibition debuts in Tacoma, the city that established the nation’s first government-sanctioned needle exchange program in a proactive approach toward controlling the spread of AIDS,” said Stephanie Stebich, TAM’s Executive Director. “TAM also has the scholarship to support this exhibition through our chief curator Rock Hushka and the exhibition’s co-curator Dr. Jonathan D. Katz, who also co-curated the award-winning Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which we brought to TAM in 2012.”

The Art AIDS America catalogue is a significant component of the exhibition, with 15 contributors, nearly 300 pages, and more than 200 illustrations. It is published in association with the University of Washington Press of Seattle and London and designed by Marquand Books, Seattle. Art AIDS America is organised by TAM in partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts and will tour nationally. See it first at TAM, on view October 3, 2015 through January 10, 2016. The exhibition will then travel to Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, GA; and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY.

Press release from the Tacoma Art Museum website

 

Bill Jacobson (born 1955) 'Interim Portrait #373' 1992

 

Bill Jacobson (American, b. 1955)
Interim Portrait #373
1992
Chromogenic colour print
24 × 20 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Alon Reininger (Born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947) 'Ken Meeks, PWA' 1985

 

Alon Reininger (American born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947)
Ken Meeks, PWA
1985
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of Contact Press Images, New York

 

Mark I. Chester (Born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950) 'Robert Chesley - ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1–#6' 1989, printed 2015

 

Mark I. Chester (American, born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950)
Robert Chesley – ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1-#6
from the series Diary of a Thought Criminal
1989, printed 2015
Pigment print
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Mark I. Chester gives us the first portrait of a sexually active person with AIDS. Robert Chesley (1943-1990) was a playwright, theatre critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and music composer. Perhaps his most celebrated play was Jerker, or The Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty. At a time when many gay men had come to associate their own sexuality with death, the artist showed Chesley as a vibrant, active person with AIDS, intended as a rebuke to the routine AIDS portraits of mortally ill people. With this series, Chester rewrote the late-1980s codes for representing gay male sexuality from sexlessness and death towards a renewed embrace of life and its pleasure.

 

Steven Miller (Born Tucson, Arizona, 1968) 'Robert' from the series 'Milky' 2004

 

Steven Miller (American, born Tucson, Arizona, 1968)
Robert from the series Milky
2004
Inkjet print
Edition 2 of 10
Tacoma Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from Curtis Man

 

 

For his series Milky, photographer Steven Miller asked his friends if he could photograph them as he poured milk over their heads. These portraits capture the different reactions to the sensation and convey a sense of discomfort from being drenched by fluids like milk. Miller likens these two aspects to a symbolic infection of HIV. For many gay artists of his generation, HIV looms as a constant presence, and body fluids remain deeply ingrained as transmitters of the virus.

 

 

Portraiture

Artists used portraits to directly convey the devastating effects of the crisis on individuals. Even if we do not know the subject, portraits remind us that someone we know was likely affected by AIDS. Because the science about the retrovirus was new and extremely complicated and frightening, such portraits humanised the disease so it could be understood through personal stories.

Early portraits brought attention to the physical symptoms of AIDS such as the deep purple lesions of the skin cancer Kaposi’s sarcoma and the devastating weakness caused by AIDS-related wasting syndrome. Artists soon refocused on portraits of defiant individuals living with HIV. Refusing to show people as victims of an incurable disease, these portraits depicted fighters and survivors.

From pure abstract representations to straightforward photographic likenesses, portraits continue to illuminate how individuals respond to and overcome even the most complex aspects of HIV/AIDS such as stigma, racism, sexism, and poverty.

 

The Legacy of the AIDS Crisis

HIV is no longer an immediate life-or-death issue facing American artists, but one that quietly and continually persists in intriguing ways. The legacy of the AIDS crisis can be traced either through the motifs and influences of earlier artists or by understanding the psychological trauma and challenges that result from living in a world with HIV.

Artworks made after antiretroviral medicines became available in the mid-1990s beg the questions: If HIV is undetectable in a body and all but invisible in society, why should visibility in art be any different? How do you identify HIV if an artist is unwilling to speak about it but doesn’t live a moment of his or her intimate life without being aware of its near-certain presence?

Artists such as John Arsenault, Kalup Linzy, Patte Loper, and Donald Moffett bring their personal histories as activists and care givers into their artwork. They also use their art to express the discomfort and complexities of living in a world with the constant presence of HIV.

Works of art should be read with empathy and compassion to understand the fullness and richness of the artist’s experience. We need to remind ourselves of the stresses, anxieties, fears, and realities caused by the burden of HIV. To honor these artists’ experiences, we must insist that HIV inform at least part of the meaning of their work. This will ensure an understanding of their art as part of an art history of deep social engagement and connection.

 

Julie Tolentino (Born San Francisco, California, 1964) 'THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey's Self-Obliteration #1' 2008

 

Julie Tolentino (American, born San Francisco, California, 1964)
THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1
2008
Chromogenic color print
Edition 1 of 5
Documentation courtesy of Leon Mostovoy
Courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles

 

 

These three photographs capture moments in the archival performance of THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1.

Section 1 (left): The work begins with Athey’s solo performance of Self-Obliteration #1 while Tolentino, from a nearby platform, aims to capture his performance movements and affect (a reading of tones, gestures, and movements) as an archival action.

This work involves a long blond wig pierced onto the scalp with hidden needles. The needles are removed, causing blood to stream and pool onto two panes of glass. Ultimately, these glass pieces are positioned to encase the individual body.

Section 2 (center and right): Tolentino and Athey “repeat” his performance, a true impossibility in the live form – displaying a disrupted mirroring of the other.

Like a low current running throughout the work, THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME‘s tension opens to the spectator’s subjectivity. A range of issues are activated: Athey’s openly HIV positive status; the actions performed on a differently-gendered person of colour; and the intimate act of bleeding. This becomes entangled with Tolentino’s practice, history of activism and advocacy, caregiving and artist-to-artist relations as a living archive.

 

Catherine Opie (Born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961) 'Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)' 2000

 

Catherine Opie (American, born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961)
Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)
2000
Polaroid
Private collection

 

 

This work by Catherine Opie, taken with the world’s largest polaroid camera, was made in collaboration with the performance artist Ron Athey. Athey achieved both fame and censure as an HIV positive performance artist whose work involved physical and psychic trials, along with, on occasion, blood.

Clearly a response to AIDS, the pose of Ron Athey/The Sick Man recalls the traditional iconography of the Pieta, in which the Virgin Mary supports the body of the dead Christ. Athey is held by his performance partner Darryl Carlton (a.k.a. Divinity Fudge), two heavily tattooed men in place of the holy family. The implications of self-sacrifice and transcendence through pain and suffering animate both the original scene and this more contemporary incarnation. Opie situated the figures in a beautiful, richly saturated black space. She offers a contemporary allegory of the excluded sufferer whose exile and death can be laid at the feet of those who consider themselves pious.

 

Eric Rhein (Born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961) 'Life Altering Spencer from Leaves' 2013

 

Eric Rhein (American, born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961)
Life Altering Spencer from Leaves
2013
Wire and paper
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
Purchased as the gift of Louis Wiley, Jr. (PA 1963) in Memory of Paul Monette (PA 1963) and his partner Roger Horwitz

 

 

Eric Rhein began The Leaf Project in 1996 to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS and chose to memorialise his friends who had died of AIDS-related causes. He selected the leaf motif to honour the individuality of each person, while also evoking the countless leaves shed by trees in autumn. Life Altering Spencer honours AIDS activist Spencer Cox (1968-2012), a member of ACT UP, Treatment Action Group, and the Food and Drug Administration’s Anti-Viral Advisory Committee. In this capacity, Cox and others became experts on drug trials and approval, successfully lobbying to hasten the approval time for new HIV medications. Cox and his group thus changed the course of medicine in America – the first non-physicians to do so – and, not coincidentally, these new treatments saved the life of artist Eric Rhein.

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991) 'For the Record' 2013

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991)
For the Record
2013
Two offset prints on newsprint, two panels, installed: 22⅝ x 70 inches
Courtesy of the artists
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

 

The collaborative group fierce pussy created this work for the organisation Visual AIDS in New York City. Playing off Gran Fury’s 1987 Let the Record Show… and evoking postmodern text based art, fierce pussy asks that we remember the thousands of people who died of HIV-related causes before antiretroviral drugs became available to control the virus. They insist that we continue the work to end HIV/AIDS despite these new drugs.

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002

 

Thomas Haukaas (American, b. 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honour of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002 (detail)

 

Thomas Haukaas (American, b. 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected (detail)
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honour of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

 

The horse with no rider at the centre of the composition represents individuals on the reservation who have died of AIDS-related causes. Using the 19th-century tradition of ledger drawing, with a riderless horse as symbolic of a warrior who fell in battle, Haukaas weaves together the complicated issues of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and the Native American experience with the disease.

 

Robert Sherer (Born Jasper, Alabama, 1957) 'Sweet Williams' 2013

 

Robert Sherer (American, born Jasper, Alabama, 1957)
Sweet Williams
2013
HIV- and HIV+ blood on paper
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

The title Sweet Williams comes from Robert Sherer’s childhood. His grandmother, an avid gardener, often asked him to help gather flowers from her garden and instructed, “Now, honey, cut down the most beautiful ones first.” Upon reflection, Sherer realised that AIDS was deeply correlated to beauty and sexual attraction. He remembers his many handsome friends and acquaintances who died too early – the Williams, the Billys, the Wills, the Willies – memorialising them in an image drawn in HIV negative and positive blood. Of all his colleague friends, two of whom were named William, only Sherer is still alive.

 

Joey Terrill (Born Los Angeles, California, 1955) 'Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week's Dose of Truvada' 2012

 

Joey Terrill (American, born Los Angeles, California, 1955)
Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week’s Dose of Truvada
2012
Mixed media on canvas
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Foundation purchase

 

 

Long-time Latino queer rights and AIDS activist Joey Terrill makes paintings that resemble the work of such well-known pop artists as Tom Wesselmann. Departing from Wesselmann’s 1960s pop still-life paintings, Terrill subverts the genre through his many queer references, not least the regular inclusion of the HIV medication Truvada. In these his appropriations of the American dream, Terrill shows himself to be a political activist – a role he has inhabited since the 1970s.

Terrill’s addition of the forget-me-nots at the centre of the composition pays homage to his artistic hero David Wojnarowicz. He also alludes to the daily routine of the antiviral medicine Truvada and pointedly questions why changes in the social and political realms have allowed this to be a normal part of so many people’s lives.

 

Derek Jackson (Born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972) 'Perfect Kiss' 2007

 

Derek Jackson (American, born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972)
Perfect Kiss
2007
Slideshow with found music and original still imagery
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Derek Jackson enacts a series of “hookups” in which his sexual activity should necessarily raise issues of HIV. Although not explicitly mentioned, HIV is evoked by the lyrics of his soundtrack. Jackson relies on New Order’s 1987 hit Perfect Kiss to equate unsafe sex with a suicide. The lyrics of the chorus plead with a suicidal friend, “I know, you know, you believe in a land of love.” Jackson’s hookups demonstrate how self-esteem, mutual respect, and communication are necessary to avoid becoming HIV positive.

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland) John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971 Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980 'Eden #31' 2012

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland)
John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971
Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980
Eden #31
2012
Chromogenic colour print
Courtesy of the artists

 

 

LADZ coined their name after a humorous autocorrect of “ladies” while texting on their smart phones. The artist group finds virtually abandoned industrial spaces where they enact elaborate scenarios reflecting the complexities of life in Los Angeles. The heightened sexual tension combined with the boxing gloves provides a glimpse into the daily navigation of sexual activity and HIV.

 

Kalup Linzy (Born Stuckey, Florida, 1977) 'Lollypop' 2006

 

Kalup Linzy (American, born Stuckey, Florida, 1977)
Lollypop
2006
Single-channel video
3 minutes, 24 seconds
Collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky

 

 

Kalup Linzy and his friend, artist Shaun Leonardo, lip sync the 1933 Hunter & Jenkins tune. Laden with the sexual innuendo of the song’s lyrics, Linzy attempts to coax treats from Leonardo. The artist playfully raises issues of gender and performance.

Given the high rates of HIV infection of men of colour who have sex with men particularly in urban centres, a viewer should keep in mind that individuals like Linzy continually navigate HIV in all their sexual encounters. Unlike a generation ago, young men and women have come to have a different relationship with HIV and no longer fear the virus as a death sentence. Empathy toward their experiences is key to understanding how they cope and survive.

 

Deborah Kass (born 1952) 'Still Here' 2007

 

Deborah Kass (American, b. 1952)
Still Here
2007
Oil and acrylic on canvas
45 × 63 inches
Private collection
© 2015 Deborah Kass / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery

 

 

Deborah Kass painted Still Here as part of a group of paintings called Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times, beginning in 2006. A response to the ongoing foreign wars and domestic political issues after the second election of George W. Bush, Kass underscored the gulf between the literal and metaphorical significance of the phrases she painted. Still Here comes from the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies in which a faded film star recalls how she persevered. The song opens “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all, and, my dear, I’m still here.”

The sentiment of the song speaks to the resilience of the many people who lived through the AIDS crisis and those who continue the struggle against the virus and social injustice. Kass’s title may also recall Still/Here, a dance about perseverance, dying, and HIV by the HIV positive choreographer Bill T. Jones.

 

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

 

Kia Labeija (American, born New York, New York, 1990)
24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room)
2014
Inkjet prints
13 × 19 inches
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Artist and performer Kia Labeija was born HIV positive. She struggled with HIV throughout her childhood, including the side effects of the medications, the stigma associated with the disease, and the death of her mother. In her three photographs titled 24, she celebrates coming to terms with the disease and her new-found role as advocate and spokesperson for AIDS awareness. The title also commemorates her 24th birthday and her home on the 24th floor of a Manhattan apartment building.

 

 

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26
Sep
14

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

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 5th October 2014

 

Frank Stella. 'Double Scramble' 1978

 

Frank Stella (American, b. 1936)
Double Scramble
1978
Oil on canvas
174.9 x 350.5cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

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

 

Josef Albers (German, 1888-1976)
Study for Homage 
to the Square
1964
Oil on paper
30.8 x 33.3cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

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

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

Kelly Baum

 

  • 1 Richard Anuszkiewicz studied with Albers at Yale between 1953 and 1955.
  • 2 See Werner Spies, Josef Albers (New York: Abrams, 1970), pp. 48-50.
  • 3 See Sewell Sillman, Josef Albers: Paintings, Prints, Projects (New York: Clarke and Way / Associates in Fine Arts, 1956), p. 36.
  • 4 See Spies, Josef Albers, 44. In 1963, Albers published the important Interaction of Color.
  • 5 In this respect, Albers sought to exploit the “discrepancy” between “physical fact” and “psychic effect.” See Hal Foster, “The Bauhaus Idea in America,” in Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, ed. Achim Borchardt-Hume (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 99.
  • 6 Kynaston L. McShine, Josef Albers: Homage to the Square (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1964), n.p. In the same publication, Albers describes his painting technique, which involved applying paint directly from the tube with a palette knife in one thin, even coat to create a “homogenous” “paint film.”

 

Robert Motherwell. 'Untitled (red)' 1972

 

Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991)
Untitled (red)
1972
Acrylic on canvas
182.6 x 137.3cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Willem de Kooning. 'Untitled (Woman)' 1965

 

Willem de Kooning (Dutch-American, 1904-1997)
Untitled (Woman)
1965
Oil on paper
73.7 x 58.4cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

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

 

Willem de Kooning (Dutch-American, 1904-1997)
Untitled (Woman) 
(detail)
1965
Oil on paper
73.7 x 58.4cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

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

 

Helen Frankenthaler. 'February's Turn' 1979

 

Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-2011)
February’s Turn
1979
Oil on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Helen Frankenthaler. 'Belfry' 1979

 

Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-2011)
Belfry
1979
Acrylic on canvas
208.4 x 219.7cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

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

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

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

Kelly Baum

 

  1. Susan Cross, “The Emergence of a Painter,” After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956-1959 (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1998), p. 41.
  2. See, for instance, Clement Greenberg’s, “Modernist Painting [1960-65],” in Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 754-60.
  3. Cindy Nemser, “Interview with Helen Frankenthaler,” Arts Magazine 46 (November 1971), p. 54.
  4. John Elderfield, Frankenthaler (New York: A