Posts Tagged ‘authenticity

21
Feb
14

Research at the State Library of Victoria further update

Date: 22nd February 2014

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research experience on the charles marville photographs at the state library of victoria further update

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Dear readers

An interesting email arrived from the Collection Services Manager further questioning why I actually want to see the Marville prints in the State Library’s Collection.

In part the email says, and I precis: the prints are fragile and very rare; the Library has digitised all the prints and provided high resolution images available for free download from our website; the careful storage of the original prints and the provision of digital files is the Library’s standard approach to achieve that delicate balance between access and preservation. The email goes on to ask, “I would be interested to understand more about your research needs with this collection and why it is important for you to view the original prints out of their protective enclosures.”

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They still don’t get it do they?

Vintage prints have to be seen in the flesh. Anyone who knows anything about photography understands this but not, apparently, the State Library of Victoria. Why do you even need to explain this to them? When looking at vintage photographs you actually have to see the physical print, the surface of the print, not some simulacra hidden behind plastic or a high res scan online!

As Bill Henson insightfully observes in an interview about his current selection of images at the Monash Gallery of Art in the exhibition Wildcards,

“One of those preoccupations is an interest in the photograph as an object, in the physical presence of the print or whatever kind of technology is being used to make it. Part of the reason for that is that photography, more than any other medium, suffers from a mistake or misunderstanding people have when they’ve seen a reproduction in a magazine or online: they think they’re seeing the original. A certain amount of photography is made with its ultimate intention being to be seen in a magazine or online, but most photography, historically, ended up in its final form as a print – a cyanotype, or a tin type or a daguerreotype or whatever it might be… [This] continues to interest me about photography: how these things inhabit the world as objects. And indeed we read them not just with our eyes but with how our whole bodies read and encounter and negotiate these objects, which happen to be photographs.”

Wildcards: Bill Henson shuffles the deck
Monash Gallery of Art
1 February – 30 March 2014.

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“They’ve seen a reproduction in a magazine or online: they think they’re seeing the original… we read them not just with out eyes but with how our whole bodies read and encounter and negotiate these objects, which happen to be photographs.” Well said.

Perhaps the State Library needs to read Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in which he discusses the aura of the original and “the concept of authenticity, particularly in application to reproduction. ‘Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.’ He argues that the “sphere of authenticity is outside the technical” so that the original artwork is independent of the copy, yet through the act of reproduction something is taken from the original by changing its context. He thus introduces the idea of the “aura” of a work and its absence in a reproduction.” (Walter Benjamin (1968). Hannah Arendt, ed. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Illuminations. London: Fontana. pp. 214-218 quoted in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” on the Wikipedia website)

In other words, there is nothing like standing in front of a jewel-like Vermeer and feeling the aura of the original, not one shielded behind glass (or plastic in this case). By making many reproductions, including online copies, you substitute a plurality of copies for a unique existence. This is why I was so looking forward to seeing the Marville’s, to FEEL THEIR PRESENCE…

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Of course I am as guilty as anyone through this blog of disseminating reproductions around the world, and I freely admit that. The photographs I reproduce are not the originals and should never stand for them. Even in this age of infinitely reproducible digital images there is still that aura of standing in front of a print in a gallery and feeling its eternal value and mystery. As Walter Benjamin writes, “the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.” And you need to see and feel that history.

Finally, I wonder how many people the State Library of Victoria have coming in to see these prints? When was the last time anyone actually physically saw them that wanted to? I would think very, very, few people indeed. The “delicate balance” between access and conservation is obviously well weighted towards the former.

It will be interesting to see how the State Library of Victoria responds and whether they can “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the photographs of Marville.” Even for an instant. To facilitate my research in this time, in this space where one can admire the beauty of an object without compromising the need to preserve – no, lets think of better words: retain, possess, guard, protect, shield – the prints. I will keep you informed.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

All Charles Marville photographs in the State Library of Victoria Pictures Collection

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Charles Marville (1813-1879, photographer) 'Parc Monceau' c. 1853 - c. 1870

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Charles Marville (1813-1879, photographer)
Parc Monceau
c. 1853 – c. 1870
In collection: Photographic views of Paris
Undated, dates assigned from time of Haussman’s renovation of Paris
photographic print mounted on cardboard : albumen silver
32 x 26 cm
Gift; Government of France; 1880
In the State Library of Victoria Pictures Collection

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State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston St,
Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 8664 7000

Opening hours:
Sunday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Monday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Tuesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Wednesday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Thursday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm
Friday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Saturday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm

State Library of Victoria website

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11
Dec
12

Exhibition: ‘Janina Green: Ikea’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th November 28 – 15th December 2012

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Installation photograph of 'Ikea' by Janina Green at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

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Installation photograph of Ikea by Janina Green at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

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“It is necessary to revisit what Walter Benjamin said of the work of art in the age of its mechanical reproducibility. What is lost in the work that is serially reproduced, is its aura, its singular quality of the here and now, its aesthetic form (it had already lost its ritual form, in its aesthetic quality), and, according to Benjamin, it takes on, in its ineluctable destiny of reproduction, a political form. What is lost is the original, which only a history itself nostalgic and retrospective can reconstitute as “authentic.” The most advanced, the most modern form of this development, which Benjamin described in cinema, photography, and contemporary mass media, is one in which the original no longer even exists, since things are conceived from the beginning as a function of their unlimited reproduction.”

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Jean Baudrillard. ‘Simulacra and Simulation’. 1981 (English translation 1994)

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“To apprehend myself as seen is, in fact, to apprehend myself as seen in the world and from the standpoint of the world. The look does not carve me out in the universe; it comes to search for me at the heart of my situation and grasps me only in irresolvable relations with instruments. If I am seen as seated, I must be seen as “seated-on-a-chair,” … But suddenly the alienation of myself, which is the act of being-looked-at, involves the alienation of the world which I organize. I am seated on this chair with the result that I do not see it at all, that it is impossible for me to see it …”

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Jean-Paul Satre. ‘Being and Nothingness’ (trans. Hazel Barnes). London: Methuen, 1966, p.263.

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“It must be possible to concede and affirm an array of “materialities” that pertain to the body, that which is signified by the domains of biology, anatomy, physiology, hormonal and chemical composition, illness, age, weight, metabolism, life and death. None of this can be denied. But the undeniability of these “materialities” in no way implies what it means to affirm them, indeed, what interpretive matrices condition, enable and limit that necessary affirmation. That each of those categories [BODY AND MATERIALITY] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.”

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Judith Butler. ‘Bodies That Matter’. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp.66-67.

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Fable = invent (an incident, person, or story)

Simulacrum = pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original

Performativity = power of discourse, politicization of abjection, ritual of being

Body / identity / desire = imperfection, fluidity, domesticity, transgression, transcendence

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Intimate, conceptually robust and aesthetically sensitive.
The association of the images was emotionally overwhelming.
An absolute gem. One of the highlights of the year.

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Marcus

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

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Janina Green. 'Waterfall' 1990

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Janina Green
Waterfall
1990
Silver gelatin print on Kentmere Parchment paper, tinted with coffee and photo dyes
58 x 48 cm
Vintage print

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Janina Green. 'Pink vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Pink vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with pink photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Blue vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Blue vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with blue photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Nude' 1986

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Janina Green
Nude
1986
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with blue photo dye
60 x 45 cm
Vintage print

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“My photographs are always about the past.

The Barthesian slogan, “this has been,” is for me, “I was there.” This series of images of a vase from Ikea consists of silver gelatin prints tinted in different coloured photographic dyes; photographs of a simple mass produced vase – its form the familiar vessel which so dominates Art History. “Ikea” for me is symbolic of the useful homely object and of the ideal home. The vase from Ikea no longer exists. The picture of that vase stands in for the vase that once existed. The photograph can be seen now – at this moment. It will continue to exist in the future. Its representation crosses time barriers.

My photographs are always documentations of a private performance.

Every photograph records what is in front of the camera, but my interest is in the occasion and the complex conditions of the making of the photograph – first the negative then the print. Each photograph ends up being a documentation of my state of mind during this intensely private moment as well as something for other people to look at. Because of changing conditions, every one of these prints from that same negative is different. For me each analogue print is an unsteady thing. They are now relics from another era, as is the vase.

As a counterpoint to the repetition of the vase prints, I have selected four vintage works from my archive.”

Artists statement by Janina Green

Janina is represented by M.33

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Janina Green. 'Orange vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Orange vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with orange photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Green vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Green vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with green photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Interior' 1992

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Janina Green
Interior
1992
C Type print
38 x 30 cm
Vintage print / edition of 5

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Janina Green. 'Telephone' 1986 reprinted 2010

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Janina Green
Telephone
1986 reprinted 2010
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, tinted with coffee
58 x 48 cm

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Janina Green. 'Yellow vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Yellow vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with yellow photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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03
Sep
11

Exhibition: ‘Boris Mikhailov: Case History’ at The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 26th May – 5th September 2011

 

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

 

 

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, born 1938)
Untitled, from the series Case History
1997-98
Chromogenic color print 
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
© 2011 Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, born 1938)
Untitled, from the series Case History
1997-98
Chromogenic color print 
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
© 2011 Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, born 1938)
Untitled, from the series Case History
1997-98
Chromogenic color print 
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
© 2011 Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, born 1938)
Untitled, from the series Case History
1997-98
Chromogenic color print 
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
© 2011 Boris Mikhailov

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Boris Mikhailov: Case History, the first presentation dedicated entirely to the artist’s seminal series Case History (1997 – 98) in an American museum, from May 26 to September 5, 2011. Ukrainian-born Mikhailov (b. 1938) is one of the leading photographers from the former Soviet Union. For over 40 years, Mikhailov has explored the position of the individual within the mechanisms of public ideology, touching on such subjects as Ukraine under Soviet rule, the living conditions in post-communist Eastern Europe, and the fallen ideals of the Soviet Union. Although deeply rooted in a historical context, his work incorporates profoundly engaging and personal narratives of humor, lust, vulnerability, aging, and death. The exhibition is organized by Eva Respini, Associate Curator of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

This exhibition, which features some 20 works, is selected from the larger body of work of Case History, which comprises 400 photographs and was published as a book in 1999. Arguably his most challenging body of work, it explores the deeply troubling circumstances of bomzhes – the homeless – a new class that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1996, after spending time abroad, he returned to Kharkov, which seemed like a changed city, with foreign ads and the glitz of a new western capitalist façade. Whereas most mainstream media focused on the new capitalists and rising oligarchs of the former Soviet republics, Mikhailov’s pictures describe the circumstances of a largely invisible underclass. Set against the bleak backdrop of the industrial city of Kharkov, his life-size color photographs chronicle the oppression, devastating poverty, and everyday reality of a disenfranchised community living on the margins of the Ukraine’s new economic regime. Many of his subjects display their wounds, rashes, tattoos, and growths.

For Mikhailov the act of photographing was partly born out of a sense of responsibility: Case History records post-Soviet realities, in stark contrast to the previous histories of the Ukraine (1930s famine, war, Soviet losses in World War II) that went undocumented. One of the most haunting documents of post-Soviet urban conditions, these unforgettable pictures capture this new reality with poetry, clarity, and grit. The large size of Mikhailov’s pictures is in keeping with the scale of contemporary photography, creating a visceral and immersive viewing experience. Ms. Respini states, “Mikhailov inhabits the worlds of social documentarian and contemporary artist. It is partly the tension between these two roles that makes the work so complex and powerful.” 

Case History also explores the complicated relationship between photographer and subject. The photographs are collaborations, sometimes the result of a spontaneous moment, other times directed by the artist. Central to the exhibition is the seven-part work the artist calls “requiem.” The mannered posing of the people in his pictures exposes the constructed nature of the photographs, challenging the idea of objective truth and authenticity implied by documentary photography. For Mikhailov, photographic seeing is an accountable act, and viewers participate in this act. With these pictures, Mikhailov implicates himself – and the viewers – in the act of looking.”

Press release from The Museum of Modern Art website

 

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, born 1938)
Untitled, from the series Case History
1997-98
Chromogenic color print 
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
© 2011 Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, born 1938)
Untitled, from the series Case History
1997-98
Chromogenic color print 
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
© 2011 Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, born 1938)
Untitled, from the series Case History
1997-98
Chromogenic color print 
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
© 2011 Boris Mikhailov

 

 

Boris Mikhailov (Ukrainian, born 1938)
Untitled, from the series Case History
1997-98
Chromogenic color print 
93″ x 49 15/16″ (236.2 x 126.8 cm)
Courtesy the artist, Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin
© 2011 Boris Mikhailov

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday through Monday, 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website

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07
Jun
09

Exhibition: ‘Walker Evans’ retrospective at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 30th May – 23rd August 2009

Curators: Jeff L. Rosenheim and Carlos Gollonet

 

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'West Virginia Living Room' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
West Virginia Living Room
1935
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans archive

 

 

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

 

With this retrospective of the work of Walker Evans (1903-1975) Fotomuseum Winterthur presents one of the twentieth century’s pre-eminent photographers. His lucid and detailed portrayals of American life, especially his images of rural poverty during the Great Depression, made photographic history and went on to influence countless photographers. Walker Evans took an extremely innovative approach, capturing the very essence of the American way of life.

The exhibition, featuring some 120 works (the majority of which are from the most important private collection of Walker Evans’ works) represents every phase of his career: his early street photographs of the 1920s, his poignant documentation of 1930s America and pre-revolutionary Cuba, his landscapes and architectural photography, his subway portraits, storefronts, signage, the later colour Polaroids and more besides. As early as the 1930s, Walker Evans, in a departure from conventional notions of art and style, sought a new direct approach to reality. It is this that makes him a truly modern photographer.

The exhibition was curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim and Carlos Gollonet. Realisation in Winterthur: Urs Stahel. A cooperation with the Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid.

Text from the Fotomuseum Winterthur website

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Negro Barbershop Interior, Atlanta' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Negro Barbershop Interior, Atlanta
1936
Gelatin silver print
7 7/16 x 9 1/8″ (18.9 x 23.2 cm)
© Walker Evans archive

 

 

With this major retrospective of the work of Walker Evans (1903-1975) Fotomuseum Winterthur pays homage to one of the twentieth century’s pre-eminent photographers. His insightful and detailed portrayals of American life, especially his images of rural poverty during the Great Depression, made photographic history and went on to influence countless photographers. The 130 works in this retrospective exhibition represent every phase of his career: his early street photographs of the 1920s, his poignant documentation of 1930s America and pre-revolutionary Cuba, his landscapes and architectural photography, his subway portraits, storefronts, signage, and more besides.

On his return from France, where he had tried unsuccessfully to launch a literary career inspired by his love of Flaubert and Baudelaire, Walker Evans turned to photography. From the very start, with his keen eye for street life and the visual freshness of his unexpected slant on what he saw, his work spoke the language of European Modernism. But it was not long before Evans found his true voice – and it was at once profoundly personal and unequivocally American.

Some years before, the direct, undistorted and innovative gaze of Eugène Atget (1857-1927), whose work Evans knew and admired, had quietly paved the way for the split between documentary auteur photography and the purely descriptive photographic tradition. Atget’s unconventional angles, his de-centralised view and his focus on the seemingly trivial all had a major impact on Evans.

Walker Evans’ work is a far remove from what had, until then, been accepted as art photography. He was not interested in superficial beauty, but in a new objectivity. He subscribed to a style that observed undistorted facts and sought to capture things precisely as they were, seemingly without intervention, emotion or idealisation. For the first time in art photography, there were such unusual subjects as a pair of old boots or a subway passenger lost in thought. The artistic quality was based solely on the clarity, intelligence and authenticity of the photographer’s gaze. In this, Walker Evans’ oeuvre represents both a high point and a turning point in the formal and visual evolution of photography.

As the creator of this new, direct style, often referred to as straight photography, which drew upon scenes of sometimes blatant banality and rolled back the boundaries between the ‘important’ and the ‘trivial’, Walker Evans introduced the aesthetics of Modernism into American photography. This seemingly cold detachment spawned a style rich in expressive substance that was not only capable of embracing the lyricism and complexity of the American tradition, but of doing so without a trace of false romanticism, sentimentality or nostalgia. At long last, there was a forward-looking and enduring alternative to the traditional conventions of photography.

Press release from the Fotomuseum Winterthur website [Online] Cited 05/06/2009 no longer available online

 

Walker Evans. 'Traffic Arrow' between 1973-1974

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Traffic Arrow
between 1973-1974
Polaroid
7.9 x 7.9 cm (3 1/8 x 3 1/8 in.)
© Walker Evans archive

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) '[Detail of Stencilled Lettering on Yellow Railroad Car: "DO NOT HUMP"]' September 16, 1974

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
[Detail of Stencilled Lettering on Yellow Railroad Car: “DO NOT HUMP”]
September 16, 1974
Polaroid
7.9 x 7.9 cm (3 1/8 x 3 1/8 in.)
© Walker Evans archive

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Walker Evans' at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich showing some of his Polaroid photographs

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walker Evans at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich showing some of his Polaroid photographs

 

Installation view of the exhibition Walker Evans at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Installation view of the exhibition Walker Evans at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Installation view of the exhibition Walker Evans at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

Installation view of the exhibition Walker Evans at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

 

Installation views of the exhibition Walker Evans at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zurich

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Subway Passengers, New York
1938
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans archive

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Truck and Sign' 1928-1930

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Truck and Sign
1928-1930
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans archive

 

Walker Evans. 'Excavation for Lincoln Building, East 42nd Street and Park Avenue' 1929Z

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Excavation for Lincoln Building, East 42nd Street and Park Avenue
1929
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans archive

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) '[Fireplace in Floyd Burrroughs's Bedroom with Bedpost in Foreground, Hale County, Alabama]' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
[Fireplace in Floyd Burrroughs’s Bedroom with Bedpost in Foreground, Hale County, Alabama]
1936
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 in.
© Walker Evans archive

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York' 1931

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York
1931
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans archive

 

Walker Evans. 'Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans archive

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
© Walker Evans archive

 

 

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 + 45
CH-8400
Winterthur (Zürich)
Phone: +41 52 234 10 60

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11.00 – 18.00
Wednesday 11.00 – 20.00
Monday closed

Fotomuseum Winterthur website

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29
Mar
09

Review: ‘reENLIGHTENMENT’ exhibition by Peter James Smith at Gallery 101, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th March – 4th April 2009

 

Peter James Smith. 'reENLIGHTENMENT' installation view 2009

Peter James Smith. 'reENLIGHTENMENT' installation view 2009

 

Peter James Smith
reENLIGHTENMENT installation views
2009

 

 

“Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories. More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these books. For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order?”1

“Thus the claim is that texts themselves can actually be intrinsically ‘genuine’, but that authenticity is a ‘social construct’. In other words, a certain kind of authenticity is created through the interaction of the users, situations and the texts.”2

 

 

Peter James Smith links the culture of science and of human experience, bringing together mathematics and the power of nature in realist imagery that is balanced by strong mark making and text. Redolent still life and landscape images juxtapose with astronomical, poetic and historical observations in the painted images. Handwritten citations, notes, jottings, diagrams and erasures float on the loosely painted surfaces of stretched linen, paper collage and found pieces which bring a Beuysian sense of the charismatic object. A sunset, a violin, a book of verse, an installation of old bells or delicate Jasperware porcelain provide a resonant foil for the artist and viewer – and create a space for the imagination, for mathematical wonder and contemplation.

“Beyond painting, in the current work there is a sense of history allowing us to privilege its objects, their collecting and their housing on walls, in vitrines, on shelves and on plinths. Like any true collector I am keen to bring them to an audience, to show them in a revelatory way. If they are inflected by hand markings it is to personalise the revelation. There are no plastic imitations: the Jasperware vases are authentic collected Wedgwood; the small Greek Pelike is indeed a c 300 BC vase; the Roman glass is a c 300 AD; the collected Wollemi pine needles are indeed from this prehistoric plant. These and other antiquities have a long museological tradition. The narratives of Wedgwood blue and white Jasperware designs are of Greek antiquity – the firing of the white clay over a cobalt blue base (in around) 1772 was a triumph of chemistry over alchemy. With these objects, it is not a postmodernist kitsch that is revealed, but rather the resuscitated fabric of authenticity. I am re-enlightened by their tactile physical presence that has a timeless beauty. To render such things as a painted image is to engage in a different act, with different rules referring to different histories.” ~ Peter James Smith, 2009. Notes from the exhibition catalogue.

Enlightenment, Romanticism, reason, authenticity, revelation.

 

I am a collector like Peter James Smith. I display my collection of early 20th century English vases. I have a collection of 300 ties that span from the 1930s to the 1970s. I have eight rare 1940s suits, those suits that Humphrey Bogart used to wear with the wide wide lapels that nearly reach the seam of the sleeve.

Rare, fragile, beautiful, genuine.

In this exhibition Smith appeals not to the genuineness of the objects but to the authenticity of the objects he displays: “There are no plastic imitations … With these objects, it is not a postmodernist kitsch that is revealed, but rather the resuscitated fabric of authenticity.” He wants to show these objects in a revelatory way, for us to once more appreciate their authenticity. To make order out of disorder. But then Smith wants to personalise this revelation and overlays the objects with texts that re-order the taxonomy through a reinscription that is both a de-territorialization and re-territorialization of meaning, a loss of original meaning and the production of new meanings. This is the faint silver flicker of re-enlightenment the artist seeks. It is above all authentication as individual spectacle, as social construct.

“Authenticity is an issue for us today because of a widespread sense that there is something inauthentic in the way we experience the modern world.”3

In some of the works this process is effective and in other works it falls flat on it’s proverbial, intertextual backside. The process works well in the less cerebral works. The use of black paint in Paradise Lost IV (below) is particularly effective as the re-inscription of paint invades and threatens the motifs of the classical figures with the text and cross reinforcing the idea of a lost paradise. Cathedral (2009, below) is also a stunning installation of different bells hung at various heights within a locked cabinet, complicit in their silence as they would not be inside a cathedral. For me this was probably the best piece in the show for its simplicity of thought, eloquence of execution and understanding of how the installation re-enlightens the viewers socially constructed authenticity in a revelatory way. No double marking is needed – a zen balance is proposed and achieved in the quietness of the viewers mind.

Other pieces are less successful. Amphora in grey teracotta Han Dynasty c 100BC (2008), the amphora inscribed with text sitting on a painted black video recorder is particularly unengaging and unappealing – there is no revelatory experience to be had here. The Greek Pileke (see below) inscribed with lines from John Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn seems an appropriate intervention but sometimes in this exhibition one just longs to appreciate the sanctity of the object, it’s presence, in silence without the personalising of the revelation by the hand of the artist. To see the object clearly for what it is.

The large installation reELIGHTENMENT (2009 below, and installation photo at top) falls into darkness. The use of the doors as metaphor is clumsy, book covers have been more successfully used by other artists and the black paint is heavy and oppressive. More interesting are some of the paintings, for example The slow dance of an astronomical twighlight (2009, below) where the poem of William Wordsworth

… a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns

illuminates the poetry of the painting, adding an insightful double meaning to the universal revelation. A vibration of spirit is present both in the landscape and the markings upon the landscape. Unfortunately all too often in this exhibition access to the sublime is denied. Appeals to neo-authenticity fall on deaf ears. The motifs of this exhibition are universal, archetypal but the elements that go to make up this exhibition are too many and lack focus. Sometimes in art less in more and this exhibition is a classic example of this fact. There are some interesting elements but overall the whole is not the sum of its parts.

As John Donne observed

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated … No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”4

Our authentic place in the world, our spiritual space, our re-enlightenment needed to be better defined, more lucidly enunciated in this exhibition NOT IN CAPITAL LETTERS but in the quietness of our hearts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting,” in Illuminations. English translation. London: Fontana, 1982, pp. 59-60
  2. Lee, W. “Authenticity revisited: text authenticity and learner authenticity,” in ELT Journal, 49(4). 1995, pp.323-328 cited in Shomoossi, Nematullah and Ketabi, Saeed. “A Critical Look at the Concept of Authenticity,” in Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 2007, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 149-155 [Online] cited on 29th March, 2009 at http://e-flt.nus.edu.sg/v4n12007/shomoossi.pdf
  3. McClure, Christoper. The Concept of Authenticity in Charles Taylor and Martin Heidegger. [Online] cited on March 29th, 2009 (no longer available online)
  4. Donne, John. Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris. 1624.

 

Variously

Wedgwood Jasperware, Roman glass, Greek Pileke, books, doors, texts, paintings, bells, video, video machine, wooden boxes, black paint, crosses, albatross, Wollemi Pine needles, Paradise Lost, astronomy, linen, stars, photography, Chinese porcelain, collage, mathematical equations, mirrors, Amphora from the Han Dynasty, a violin, a sunset, a book of verse, notes, shelves, jottings, citations.

Notes to myself

  • Golden ratio
  • The archive
  • Topographical markings, inscriptions and decodings
  • The ‘nature’ of authenticity
  • The ‘voice’ of revelation
  • Re-possession of clarity and logic
  • Re-production of mystery, tenderness and love
  • Reverence for the object itself
  • Referentiality between image and text
  • The colour black: transcendent, the depths of the night sky but also the closing in of darkness at the end of days
  • Never one truth but many truths
  • Less is more

Many thankx to Gallery 101 for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

the-slow-dance

 

Peter James Smith
The slow dance of an astronomical twighlight
2009

 

Peter James Smith. 'Paradise Lost IV' 2008

 

Peter James Smith
Paradise Lost IV
2008

 

Peter James Smith. 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' 2008

 

Peter James Smith
Ode on a Grecian Urn
2008

 

Peter James Smith. 'Cathedral' 2009

 

Peter James Smith
Cathedral
2009

 

Peter James Smith. 'reENLIGHTENMENT' 2009

 

Peter James Smith
reENLIGHTENMENT
2009

 

 

Gallery 101

This gallery is now closed.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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