Posts Tagged ‘collage

26
Jul
17

Review: ‘Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition’ as part of the NGV Festival of Photography at NGV Australia, Melbourne Part 2

Exhibition dates: 31st March – 30th July 2017

Photographs are in the chronological room order of the exhibition.

 

Entrance

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Pairs (and the double)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The entrants (detail)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising objects collected by the artist and works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

 

e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e

 

E

 

 

This polymorphic, inflated album of an exhibition by Patrick Pound at NGV Australia, Melbourne, is unfortunately stuck with a most ridiculous title.

The great “show and tell” consists of 6 large galleries which are crammed full of thousands of photographs from the artists collection and artefacts from the NGV collection which form a (according to the exhibition blurb) “diagrammatic network of intersections, and in that way shows one of the underlying ideas of the whole exhibition, which is to seek out patterns and similarities and connections across objects and works of art and ideas. In other words, one thing leads to another.” Not necessarily.

Pound is interested in the writing of Georges Perec (a member of the Oulipo group of writers and mathematicians which formed in France in 1960) and his use of “restrictions in his writing as a way of encouraging new patterns and structures.” Perec wrote a whole novel in 1969, A Void, translated from the original French La Disparition (literally, “The Disappearance”) entirely without using the letter e (except for the author’s name). Oulipo writers sought to produce a document that undermines its own reliability. Through structures – or constraints – on composition, Oulipo writers sought to produce new and interesting works.

In a similar vein Pound restricts his collections of photographs to restrictive themes, such as people falling, sleepers, holes, readers, the air, lamps, listening to music, hands, shadows, interventions, backs, possibly dead people, holding cameras, self-portraits, doubles, entrants, etc. He seeks to gather his thoughts through these collections, and proposes that collecting found photographs “is like taking cuttings from the world.” A form of collage.

For me the grouping of all these “found” photographs together in display cases is a form of conceptual conceit: the collection of such varied instances of the shadow of the photographer appearing in every image, for example, means very little. Unlike the restrictions that Perec proposes which lead to interesting outcomes, Pound’s restrictions do not enrich the individual photographs by placing them all together, in fact the opposite. The totality is less than the sum of the parts. Reductio ad absurdum.

As individual photographs (as seen below in this posting), the images have presence, they have an aura which emanates from the moment, and context, in which the photograph was taken. Different in each instance. But in this exhibition we are overwhelmed by thousands of images and cannot give them due attention; the photographic “trace” becomes specious. The aura of the singular image is denuded; the aura of the collective does not exist. The collections become the collective photograph (of space) as reassurance: that the interrupting time freeze of individual photographs is not unique and occurs again and again and again. Pound’s collections are a form of photographic cancer… a kind of photographic plate-spinning, where the artist tries to keep all topics rotating in mid-air.

Pound’s existential typologies and classifications are a form of superficial play, using one photo to beget another. The addition of artefacts from the NGV collection only highlights the folly, in which two ceramic parrots paired with a photograph of two parrots is almost the indulgent nadir. The typologies and collections can, however, be seen as an ironic comment on the nature of our image saturated society, where millions of photographs are uploaded and viewed on the www every day. They can also be seen as a comment on the way people view photography in contemporary culture, where every selfie or picture of what I had for breakfast is posted online for consumption. While I admire Pound’s pugnaciousness and the obsessiveness needed to collect all of these images (being a collector myself) and, further, the tenacity required to catalogue and arrange them all – I really wonder about the clinamen – a term coined by Lucretius to describe the unpredictable swerve of atoms in his version of physics. It was adopted by the Oulipo set as – quoting Paul Klee – ‘the error in the system’. By gathering all of these photographs together in groups, the periphery becomes the centre … AND LOSES ITS UNPREDICTABILITY – the collective photographs loose their punctum, their unpredicatability. The photographs loose their individual transcendence of time. Perec’s missing eeeeeeeeeeeeeee’s at the beginning of this text thus exclude chaos, randomness, the capital E.

Other statements and ideas also grate. “The camera reduces the world to a list of things to photograph. When I click BUY on eBay – for me that’s the equivalent of taking a photograph. The mouse is my camera.” Well, no actually. The camera never reduces the world, it just is, it’s a machine. It is the person who takes the photograph, the human, that reduces the world to what they want to photograph. And when you click BUY on eBay it is not the equivalent of taking a photograph. You have used your money, your capitalism, your CAPITAL, to purchase your DESIRE. You are taking someone else’s vernacular, their moment of deciding what to photograph, to purchase their desire so that you can possess it yourself. You are coveting time and space. “Eventually every photograph is a photograph of a dead person.” Well, no actually, because not every photograph is of a person. “The camera is an idling hearse.” Yes, and so is your body, and the motor car, and walking across the road. The effect of these oblique statements is to further dumb down the public understanding of photography.

The work in the exhibition starts to come alive in Room 2 The Museum of There / Not there, where all of the things in the room are asked to stand in for an absence, where everything is a remnant or a trace. “Each thing here is a reminder of something else, it can be seen a surrogate or a partial representation.” The dissociative associations challenge the viewer to create their own connections and narratives from the objects placed before them. They mentally challenge the viewer to imagine. This challenge is further heightened in some of the best work in the exhibition, the series Portmanteau – definition: a large travelling bag; a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others: podcast is a portmanteau, a made-up word coined from a combination of the words iPod and broadcast – in which visually disparate images (a cloud, a person blowing gum; a golf ball hovering over the cup, an eclipse) make unusual but sympathetic and intriguing connections across time and space. Photographs such as High wire act (2015) and The Fountainhead (2016, both below) are complex and creative examples of focused image making which reminded me of the Bauhaus collages of Josef Albers where Albers nowhere changes, “the rules of the game more profoundly than in his collages that feature a multitude of photographs. His collage of a bullfight in San Sebastian can be read as a short story or experimental film, where we as viewers recognise that we are being transported to a distant time and place, no less enchanting for its impossibility.” Randomness and synchronicity are back in the game.

Speaking of games, my favourite Pound objects in the exhibition were his Solander box series The game of things (2016, below). Their charm, wittiness, beauty, visual and mental acuity put paid to many other forced associations in the exhibition. He observes that, “Some things have little to do with each other until they come into contact.” But even when they do come into contact, they can still have very little to do with each other. Why The game of things series works so well is that Pound restricts himself (yes that Perec restriction that actually means something) in order/disorder to create something new and interesting, a document that undermines its own reliability (its a game!). The clinamen, the unpredictable swerve which, according to Lucretius occurs “at no fixed place or time” and which provides the “free will which living things throughout the world have” appears. Pound’s free will combines disparate elements in a pared down aesthetic, a playful game, where there is no need for thousands of photographs to focus his ideas.

While Pound’s description of multiplicities, repetitions and differences is engaging in a humorous and ironic way as “lines of escape from the generalities of society,” they create distance from laws and norms even while still re-enacting them. Much more interesting are Pound’s subversions of a singular reality through the overlapping of images – both mental and physical. While existing in a physical space, the “game of things” actually lives in my mind because humanness is the ultimate clinamen.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,372

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

 

 

A page from Georges Perec's book 'Species of Spaces (Espèces d'espaces) and Other Pieces' 1974

 

A page from Georges Perec’s book Species of Spaces (Espèces d’espaces) and Other Pieces 1974

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Entrance to the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition with the work The photographer’s shadow (2000-17) right
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work The photographer’s shadow (2000-17, detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work The photographer’s shadow (2000-17, detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The photographer’s shadow
2000-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'The photographer's shadow' (detail) 2000-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The photographer’s shadow (detail)
2000-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
People holding cameras
2007-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Video: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Room 1

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation views of the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography.
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation views of Patrick Pound’s work Damaged 2008-17 (detail)
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Damaged' (detail) 2008-17

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Damaged' (detail) 2008-17

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Damaged' (detail) 2008-17

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Damaged' (detail) 2008-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Damaged (details)
2008-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work People holding cameras 2007-17 (detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work Listen to the music 2016-17 (detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work Self portraits 2007-17 (detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'The hand of the photographer' (detail) 2007-17

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'The hand of the photographer' (detail) 2007-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The hand of the photographer (details)
2007-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The readers (installation view details)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist and works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Photography and air (installation view details)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist and works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Room 2

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation views of The Museum of there / Not there 2016-17 (detail) with (above) John Brack’s Self-portrait (1955), David Potts Cat show, London (1953), Eugène Atget’s Eclipse (1911, top right), Lee Friedlander’s Mount Rushmore (1969, middle right) and Erich Salomon’s Banquet at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, August 1931 (bottom right).
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

Erich Salomon (Germany 1886-1944) 'Banquet at the Quai d'Orsay, Paris, August 1931. 'A le voilà, le roi des indiscrets!'' 1931, printed 1970

 

Erich Salomon (Germany 1886-1944)
Banquet at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, August 1931. ‘A le voilà, le roi des indiscrets!’
1931, printed 1970
Gelatin silver photograph, ed. 3/100
Purchased, 1971

 

 

Here are some examples of how
The Museum of There / Not there works:

From Rodin’s marble head
without its helmet …

to a sculpture that’s lost its head
yet remains holding onto its hair …

and from a broken comb found in
an Egyptian tomb to a novelty wig …

it is full of missing parts,
surrogates and substitutions,
apparitions and disappearing acts.

Every representation is, after all,
something of a conjurer’s trick.

Patrick Pound

 

The Museum of There / Not there is a collection of my things, and the NGV’s things. All of the things in this room are asked to stand in for an absence. To make its presence shimmer.

From a ventriloquist’s dummy to a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness; from a photo of an empty shell to a nineteenth-century bustle; from an American toy border patrol car to a painting of an immigrant – everything in this room is a remnant or a trace. They speak of being there or not being all there.

Each thing here is a reminder of something else, it can be seen a surrogate or a partial representation. There are things that are unfinished or incomplete; there are ghosts and traces; things that are missing parts or that are simply missing. Meanings too might have changed, or become fluid, with the passing of time. In effect, this is a giant collage where things are asked to stand in for other things. They are material realisations of ephemeral and ethereal states.

There is also a soundtrack, featuring music ranging from Tom Petty’s “Refugee” to Aretha Franklin’s “I Wonder (Where You Are Tonight)”.

Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound's 'The Museum of there / Not there' 2016-17 (detail)

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The Museum of There / Not there (installation view details)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising objects collected by the artist, a selection of works by the artist, and works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Passageway

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

“Photographs and things reflect on each other as if in a game or a puzzle.” ~ Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The game of things (installation view detail)
2016
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

 

“To collect is to gather your thoughts through things.”

“When I began collecting photographs I was thinking of the way the camera reduces the world to a list of things to photograph. I thought that to photograph was to collect the world in the form of pictures… As writer Susan Sontag said, photography is not so much a representation of the world but a piece of it. Collecting found photos is like taking cuttings from the world. For me it is a form of collage.”

“I did suggest the call the show ‘Enough Already’ but they went with ‘The Great Exhibition’. Perhaps the best thing about that is that even people who really don’t like it will still have to call it ‘The Great Exhibition’.”

“The camera reduces the world to a list of things to photograph. When I click BUY on eBay – for me that’s the equivalent of taking a photograph. The mouse is my camera.”

“As Honoré de Balzac said, “A hobby, a mania, is pleasure transformed into the shape of an idea!””

“Some things have little to do with each other until  they come into contact.”

“To collect is to look for like-minded things. One thing inevitably leads to another. When you pair one thing with another, some things start to make sense – or not. In the
end, every collection is, after all, a reflecting pool.”

“Every representation is, after all, something of a conjurer’s trick.”

“Art traditionally becalms her sitters.”

“Photography stops people in their tracks. Eventually every photograph is a photograph of a dead person. The camera is an idling hearse.”

.
Patrick Pound

 

 

Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition is the first comprehensive exhibition of the New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist. An avid collector, Patrick Pound is equally interested in systems and the ordering of objects: an attempt, perhaps, to make things coherent. As Pound says, ‘to collect is to gather your thoughts through things’.

Through complex arrangements and installations of objects drawn from the artist’s expansive archives, Pound’s work playfully and poetically explores the art of collecting, and the ways in which things can hold and project ideas. For this exhibition Pound has created several vast new collections, which he describes as ‘museums of things’. Objects that are seemingly redundant or overlooked are meticulously collected by the artist and put back into ‘use’ in these museums. There are museums of falling, sleepers, and of holes.

The Museum of there / not there houses objects ranging from a souvenir spoon to a mask, a mourning locket to a painted ruin – one thing standing in for another. Within each museum a new logic or narrative is created for the viewer to unravel or identify. In several of Pound’s museums, works from the NGV Collection are grouped into their own categories or sit alongside his ‘things’, with the artist inviting us to rethink these works and consider what it means to collect.

Text from the NGV

 

Room 3

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Pairs (and the double)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Pairs (and the double) (detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

 

“This room started with my collection of photos of reflections, and of photos of pairs of things; of twins and double exposures. I then began researching the NGV Collection and found an abundance of “pairs and doubles”, assembled within paintings, decorative arts objects, prints and photographs.

To collect is to look for like-minded things. One thing inevitably leads to another. When you pair one thing with another, some things start to make sense – or not. In the end, every collection is, after all, a reflecting pool.”

~ Patrick Pound

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Pairs (and the double)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Pairs (and the double) (detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Pairs (and the double)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Pairs (and the double) (detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917) 'Startled tigers, dish' c. 1880

 

William De Morgan & Co., London (manufacturer, England 1872-1911)
William De Morgan (designer, England 1839-1917)
Startled tigers, dish
c. 1880
Earthenware
Felton Bequest, 1980

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Man Ray (born United States 1890, lived in France 1921-39, 1951-76, died France 1976)
Solarised double portrait
1930s
Gelatin silver photograph
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Miss F. MacDonald Anderson and Mrs E. E. O. Lumsden, Founder Benefactors, 1983

Guercino (Italy 1591-1666)
Study for Esther before Ahasuerus
c. 1639
Red chalk
Felton Bequest, 1923

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Pairs (and the double) (installation view details)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Room 4

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The collection of shelves (installation view)
1999-2017
Circles 1999-2015
28 (screwed) 2004
Knife blocks 1999-2017
Things Change 2015
The Collector 2000-17
Some French things 2014
Museum darts 1989-2017
Twenty six and one books 2010
Tangled 2012-15
Blade magazine 2014
Criminal records 2012
Index cards 2012
Lost birds 1999-2014
Index photos 2013
The names 2007
Small arms 2000-17
Soldiers 2009
Lockets 1989-2016
26 brown things 2002
Site specific installation comprising objects collected by the artist
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s work Twenty six and one books 2010 (detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Twenty six and one books (installation view detail)
2010
Museum darts (detail)
1989-2017
From the work Twenty six and one books 2010
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

 

These shelves house a range of collections which Pound has been gathering over many years: they demonstrate how collections of things gradually evolved into works of art. These collections tend to be smaller than others seen throughout this exhibition, and each one operates according to a very specific constraint. Their organisational technique derives from Pound’s interest in the Oulipo group of writers and mathematicians which formed in France in 1960 and, specifically, in the writing of key member Georges Perec. Pound is fascinated by Perec’s use of restrictions in his writing as a way of encouraging new patterns and structures, and has translated some of those ideas into the formation of these collections.

In Pound’s work Twenty six and one books, 2010, each book has a number in the title, starting with Ground Zero, all the way through to Maxim Gorky’s story collection
Twenty-Six and One. The entire 26 brown things, 2002, collection was found and purchased by the artist in one shop, on the same day, with everything being – you guessed it – brown.

Like some vast novel cycle, collections reflect the world. The use of such constraints when organising the collections allows for surprising and poetic responses. If we look closely enough, things are found to reflect, to hold and to project ideas.

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Tangled' 2012-15

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Tangled' 2012-15

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Tangled (details)
2012-15
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia with the work Portmanteau (2015-17) at middle centre. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography.
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Portmanteau' 2015-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Portmanteau (installation view detail)
2015-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
High wire act (installation view)
2015
Collage of photographs
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The Fountainhead (installation view)
2016
Collage of photographs
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

 

Photographs, objects and curios sourced from the internet and op shops will be organised alongside artworks from the NGV Collection in a wondrous series of encyclopaedic displays for Patrick Pound’s major exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition.

An avid collector, the New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist is fascinated by the categorisation and ordering of objects. Irreverently titled The Great Exhibition, with a knowing nod to the epic ambitions of the famous London exposition of 1851, in his largest ever presentation Pound will showcase more than 50 collections, which he describes as ‘museums of things’, featuring hundreds of items from the artist’s expansive archives.

Pound has also extensively researched the scope of the NGV Collection, identifying more than 300 works from across all of the NGV collecting departments to incorporate into his ‘museums of things’. The connections that Pound draws between objects will allow audiences to see the NGV’s diverse holdings in surprising new contexts.

Among the ‘museums’, viewers will encounter vast displays of found photographs which, at closer glance, reveal their common thread, such as The hand of the photographer, a display in which the eclipsing thumb of the photographer is ever-present, and Damaged, a huge display of photographs which have been defaced by their original owners; faces marred by cigarette burns, marker or ripped out of the photo entirely.

Other ‘museums’ incorporate seemingly disparate items, like The Museum of there / Not there, which explores the idea of absence and presence, illustrated by a curated selection of objects such as an obsolete Australian $2 banknote and a mourning locket alongside a milk jug produced to commemorate the forthcoming coronation of King Edward VIII, who abdicated before he was crowned.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, commented, “Through complex arrangements of items drawn from the artist’s archives alongside works from the NGV Collection, Pound’s installations playfully explore the art of collecting, and the ways in which things can hold and project ideas. Within each museum a new logic or exciting narrative is created for the viewer to unravel or identify.”

Pound last exhibited at the NGV in the 2013 exhibition Melbourne Now with his popular “Gallery of Air”, a wunderkammer of diverse artworks and objects that held the idea of air, drawn from the NGV Collection and the artist’s archives.

Press release from the NGV

 

Room 5

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation views of the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography.
Photos: Wayne Taylor

 

 

This room contains several of Pound’s collections which intersect with each other in various ways, revealing what the artist describes as a ‘matrix of connections’. Occasionally the collections also connect to works of art in the NGV Collection, and vice versa. The room is a vast diagrammatic network of intersections, and in that way shows one of the underlying ideas of the whole exhibition, which is to seek out patterns and similarities and connections across objects and works of art and ideas. In other words, one thing leads to another.

This installation also reflects the way in which Pound searches on the internet, and the ways in which the internet leads us from one thing to another via algorithms. The room is a visual representation of what Pound describes as ‘thinking through things’.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
In tears (installation view)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Man Ray. 'Eye and tears' 1930s, printed 1972

 

Man Ray (born United States 1890, lived in France 1921-39, 1951-76, died France 1976)
Eye and tears
1930s, printed 1972
Gelatin silver photograph
Purchased, 1973

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
With arms outstretched (installation view detail)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- ) 'Drive by (en passant)' (detail) 2016-17

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Drive by (en passant) (detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Drive by (en passant) (installation view detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Drive by (en passant) (installation view detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
Drive by (en passant) (installation view detail)
2016-17
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

 

The photographs collected by Patrick Pound include masses of family and vernacular snapshots, as well as newspaper archives and movie stills, which he describes as being ‘unhinged’ from their original sources. Pound does not create photographs in the traditional sense; rather, he spends hours searching for, sorting and buying prints on the internet. He describes this process as a form of ‘retaking’ the photograph.

The images are then organised according to an idea or theme or pattern, such as: ‘readers’, ‘the air’, ‘lamps’ or ‘listening to music’. Pound says he likes the idea of photographing something you cannot otherwise see. Unexpected connections, repetitions and coincidences emerge when the images are placed together in this way. Looking through these images reminds the viewer of the dramatic changes that have occurred in photography – not only in terms of the evolving technology of cameras and prints, but also in terms of what people photograph, why, and how these photographs are shared.

“When I began collecting photographs I was thinking of the way the camera reduces the world to a list of things to photograph. I thought that to photograph was to collect the world in the form of pictures. I love the way photography is so directly connected with the world. It has a remarkable familiarity. We all think we can understand it immediately. As writer Susan Sontag said, photography is not so much a representation of the world but a piece of it. Collecting found photos is like taking cuttings from the world. For me it is a form of collage.

Typically, the analogue photograph stopped life in its tracks. It couldn’t stop time, of course, but it could hold it up to a mirror. The vernacular snap reminds us that the camera is both a portal and a mirror. Photographers used to put photographs in albums and in boxes to be viewed and reviewed at will. Photographs were never made to be scanned and redistributed on eBay. Whether they are analogue or digital, printed photographs have an afterlife that no one saw coming. Photography used to be the medium of record. Now it is equally the medium of transmission.”

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Room 6

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of the exhibition Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition at NGV Australia with at left, People from behind 2016-17; at centre, People who look dead but (probably) aren’t 2011-14; and at right, The sleepers 2007-17. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography.
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

 

The exhibition ends as it began, with figures whose backs are turned to us. Alongside are images of people who are asleep for the moment, and some forever; this gallery houses images of people who are all somehow removed from us. They are absorbed in their actions; they are unconscious, or not conscious, of us as they look away. There is a peculiar aspect of voyeurism that is afforded by the camera; the people in these photographs cannot see us looking at them. The camera also has a long association with the idea of stopping time – of freezing, or embalming, fleeting moments.

As Pound says, “Photography stops people in their tracks. Eventually every photograph is a photograph of a dead person. The camera is an idling hearse.”

 

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
People who look dead but (probably) aren’t
2011-14
Gelatin silver photographs and type C photographs
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Patrick Pound
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s People who look dead but (probably) aren’t 2011-14 (installation view detail)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
People who look dead but (probably) aren’t (installation view detail)
2011-14
Gelatin silver photographs and type C photographs
Yvonne Pettengell Bequest, 2014
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s The sleepers 2007-17 (installation view)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
The sleepers (installation view detail)
2007–17
Site specific installation comprising photographs collected by the artist
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Installation view of Patrick Pound’s People from behind 2016-17 (installation view)
Photo: Wayne Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

Installation view of the exhibition 'Patrick Pound: The Great Exhibition' at NGV Australia, Federation Square. Presented as part of the NGV Festival of Photography

 

Patrick Pound (New Zealander/Australian 1962- )
People from behind (installation view details)
2016-17
Site specific installation comprising works from the NGV Collection
Courtesy of the artist, Station, Melbourne, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Hamish McKay Gallery, Wellington and Melanie Roger Gallery, Auckland
© Patrick Pound
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan, National Gallery of Victoria and Patrick Pound

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Bondi' 1939, printed c. 1975

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Bondi
1939, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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29
Mar
17

Exhibition: ‘One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2016 – 2nd April 2016

 

NEARLY A WEEK SINCE MY LAST POSTING SO LET’S MAKE THIS A GOOD ONE…

A fabulous posting on the photocollages of that most excellent of artists, Josef Albers, where the selection of images and their pairings “take on questions of duality, time, and narrative…” – to which I might add, questions of perspective and context. These photocollages are a revelation to me.

The complex photo narratives move image across time and space. This can be seen in the photomontage Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian) (1930/1932, below) where the multitude of photographs of a bullfight in San Sebastien, “can be read as a short story or experimental film, where we as viewers recognise that we are being transported to a distant time and place…”

Here the visual plane is fragmented, the scale mixed, shape, direction and space/time continuity confused. Structures are repeated; time is overlaid; perspective is shifted; narrative is multiplied. This is complex, New Vision image making, not just the downwards or upward looking objectivity of Russian constructivism, but a more nuanced splicing of time and space. The bullfight is magnificent in its “in the round” picturing … the splitting of the arena in the central images confuses direction, scale and circularity.

There are further “in the round” elements (mimicking Renaissance triple portrait painting such as Triple Portrait of Cardinal de Richelieu (1642) in the National Gallery of Art, London), seen in the work Amédée Ozenfant, summer 1931 (below) which, while objectifying the human countenance, contains that nugget of truth: that portraiture is an expression of humanism. Other photocollages, for example Road, Paznauntal, July 1930; Hotel staircases, Geneva, 1929 (with its Escher-like construction); Flooded trees and forest; and Dessau, end of winter, 1931 (all below), challenge our orientation in the world both physically and spiritually.

These photocollages, 70 of which were made between 1928 and 1932, were never discovered until after Albers was dead. No one ever knew he took photographs. but it was obviously important to him that he did so. Would he be able to say whether he was being serious, or he was having fun? Probably both. What a shame that they are often mutually exclusive in the last 30 -40 years.

It’s all very well to be able to say you are having fun – but what about being in this state (i.e. Albers state when he was compositing the photographs) and not even knowing … not even thinking of the question. Perhaps his was a private form of meditation on the nature of vision.

Marcus

(Written using dictation software, the rest all cut and paste)

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

 

 

“Beginning at the Bauhaus in 1928, Albers made hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photographs with his handheld Leica camera, and he made thousands more, mostly while traveling, in the decades following his emigration to the United States in 1933. But we concern ourselves here with a group of seventy photocollages mounted to A3 boards, established as a standard size in Germany in 1922 at 29.7 by 42 centimetres (11 3/4 by 16 1/2 inches). No record exists of Albers ever having exhibited these collages in his lifetime, nor does he appear to have spoken of them. Yet in their rigorous construction and allusive potential, they represent a singularly creative body of work. The images Albers used to make these collages fall rather neatly into four categories – portraits, mannequins, the natural world, and the built environment – and Albers attends to a remarkably narrow subsection within each of these: The portraits feature only people Albers knew well – fellow Bauhäusler, family, and friends. The primary urban motif is the mannequin, which was also featured in the photographs of contemporaries such as Eugène Atget, Bill Brandt, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Horacio Coppola, and scores of others who were attentive to the figures’ Surrealist echoes. His images of nature consist of mostly waves, some trees, and a few mountains, and there are only a handful of man-made structures. Albers’s limited range of subjects achieves new significance in his collages, where their selection and pairings take on questions of duality, time, and narrative, topics that resist being infused into single images of similar subjects.”
.
Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, pp. 11-12.

 

“The abstract language that Albers adopted for the great majority of his oeuvre precludes temporal specificity, which makes the close study of a number of his photocollages all the more compelling, specifically in Albers’s attentiveness to the complexity engendered by incorporating multiple photographs – each captured in a fraction of a second, but inevitably across time – into a single work.”
.
Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, p. 15.

 

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'El Lissitzky, Dessau' 1930/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
El Lissitzky, Dessau
1930/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

“The image on the left shows Lissitzky smiling warmly, almost conspiratorially, at Albers. The background divides neatly into three tones – black, white, and gray – each of which corresponds loosely to Lissitzky’s (black) tie, (white) shirt, and the middle shades of the photographic spectrum that echo Lissitzky’s tanned complexion and balding pate. The horizontal image on the right is the same width but half the height of the vertical image, and in it we see Lissitzky almost in profile, looking toward his other likeness. This time the asymmetry of his placement within the frame is even more pronounced: his nose is cropped by the left edge, his forehead by the top, but the right half of the image is virtually empty. While we feel confident that these photographs were captured at the same meeting, the darker background in the right-hand image and the differentiation between Lissitzky’s shirt and collar (which, on the left, seem identical) remind the viewer of the variability of photographic representation. Albers mounted these prints with their top edges roughly aligned and with nearly equivalent space between their outside edges and the sides of the board: there is no evident rhyme or reason in the interstitial spaces. This irregularity draws the viewer’s attention to the geometric forms within each image and to the prints themselves, which might be construed as Albers’s nod to the dynamic geometric vocabulary that Lissitzky employed in his own art and design.”

Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, pp. 13-14.

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'El Lissitzky, Dessau' 1930/1932 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
El Lissitzky, Dessau (detail)
1930/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian)' 1930/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian)
1930/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

“Nowhere does Albers change the rules of the game more profoundly than in his collages that feature a multitude of photographs. His collage of a bullfight in San Sebastian can be read as a short story or experimental film, where we as viewers recognise that we are being transported to a distant time and place, no less enchanting for its impossibility.

At the centre we find the nominal subject: a procession of banderilleros, picadors, and matadors. Surrounding this are three views of the arena filled with crowds, whose choreographed disjunction evokes the rhythm of the event they are gathered to see. The sweep of the arcade is plainly elevated in the central view, with a nearly symmetrical relationship to those architectural forms on the left and right, whereas the cropped edge of the ring awkwardly intersects its corresponding form, an oblique allusion, perhaps, to the impossibility of predicting the outcome of this highly ritualised event. The two images that anchor the bottom of the collage show more dramatic vantage points. A plethora of boater hats, caps, and a scattering of bare heads, each precisely described, is juxtaposed against a mass of automobiles presumably parked outside. These horizonless seas of repeated forms were common motifs for avant-garde photographers of the period. It is the tightly woven – but not flawless – relationships between these individual components, akin to cuts in a film, that reward our reconsideration of these elements with respect to the whole.”

Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, pp. 14-15.

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian)' 1930/1932 (detail)

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian)' 1930/1932 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian) (details)
1930/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Paris, Eiffel Tower' 1929/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paris, Eiffel Tower
1929/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

“Of the seventy photocollages Albers made at this time, more than half feature but two photographic prints: their placement reveals both formal innovation and a sensitivity to the unique characteristics of the individual photographs. Albers’s photographs of the Eiffel Tower, made during a summer break from teaching, suggest his attentiveness to the range of possibilities offered by his Leica, and the close relationship between his work and that of his contemporaries. Both images in his collage feature plunging perspectives; the sunlight and shadow in the image on the left draw our attention to the diminutive figures below. Albers was not a particularly fastidious printer, yet he was surely attuned to the fact that every tone in the photograph on the right exists on the continuum of tones between the highlights and shadows on the left. Lest the viewer suspect that these are purely mechanical byproducts of the process, Albers trims each image with a subtly but noticeably irregular hand, underscoring the artist’s creative agency. This marriage of industry and craft was a hallmark of the Bauhaus. To further emphasise the aesthetic, non-documentary function of these photographs, Albers anchors them at the top left of his board, pointedly shifting the viewer’s perspective.”

Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, p. 14.

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Paris, Eiffel Tower' 1929/1932 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paris, Eiffel Tower (detail)
1929/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Paul Klee in his studio, Dessau, November 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paul Klee in his studio, Dessau, November 1929
November 1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker, 2015
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). 'Paul Klee, Dessau, November 1929' 1929/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paul Klee, Dessau, November 1929
1929/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 11/16 x 16 7/16″ (29.7 x 41.8 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). 'Paul Klee, Dessau' 1929/1932 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paul Klee, Dessau, November 1929 (detail)
1929/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 11/16 x 16 7/16″ (29.7 x 41.8 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Amédée Ozenfant, summer 1931'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Amédée Ozenfant, summer 1931
1931
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Vasily Kandinsky, master on the terrace at Hannes Meyer’s, spring 1929; May 1930'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Vasily Kandinsky, master on the terrace at Hannes Meyer’s, spring 1929; May 1930
1929/1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). 'Marli Heimann, All During an Hour' 1931/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Marli Heimann, All During an Hour
1931/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 11/16 x 16 7/16″ (29.7 x 41.8 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, 1988
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Oskar Schlemmer, April 1929; Schlemmer in the Bauhaus Masters' Council, 1928; Schlemmer with Hans Wittwer, Ernst Kállai, and Marianne Brandt, Preliminary Course Exhibition, 1927/28; Schlemmer and Tut, summer 1928; Schlemmer, April 1930; Schlemmer, 1928' 1927/1929

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Oskar Schlemmer, April 1929; Schlemmer in the Bauhaus Masters’ Council, 1928; Schlemmer with Hans Wittwer, Ernst Kállai, and Marianne Brandt, Preliminary Course Exhibition, 1927/28; Schlemmer and Tut, summer 1928; Schlemmer, April 1930; Schlemmer, 1928
1927/1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted on board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Oskar Schlemmer, April 1929; Schlemmer in the Bauhaus Masters' Council, 1928; Schlemmer with Hans Wittwer, Ernst Kállai, and Marianne Brandt, Preliminary Course Exhibition, 1927/28; Schlemmer and Tut, summer 1928; Schlemmer, April 1930; Schlemmer, 1928' 1927/1929 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Oskar Schlemmer, April 1929; Schlemmer in the Bauhaus Masters’ Council, 1928; Schlemmer with Hans Wittwer, Ernst Kállai, and Marianne Brandt, Preliminary Course Exhibition, 1927/28; Schlemmer and Tut, summer 1928; Schlemmer, April 1930; Schlemmer, 1928 (detail)
1927/1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted on board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

“Josef Albers (American, born Germany, 1888-1976) is a central figure in 20th-century art, both as a practitioner and as a teacher at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale University. Best known for his iconic series Homages to the Square, Albers made paintings, drawings, and prints and designed furniture and typography. The least familiar aspect of his extraordinary career is his inventive engagement with photography, which was only discovered after his death. The highlight of this work is undoubtedly the photocollages featuring photographs he made at the Bauhaus between 1928 and 1932. At once expansive and restrained, this remarkable body of work anticipates concerns that Albers would pursue throughout his career: seriality, perception, and the relationship between handcraft and mechanical production.

The first serious exploration of Albers’s photographic practice occurred in a modest exhibition at MoMA in 1988, The Photographs of Josef Albers. In 2015, the Museum acquired 10 photocollages by Albers – adding to the two donated by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation almost three decades ago – making its collection the most significant anywhere outside the Foundation. This installation celebrates both this landmark acquisition and the publication of One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, which focuses exclusively on this deeply personal and inventive aspect of Albers’s work and makes many of these photocollages available for the first time.

Book

The Museum of Modern Art announces the release of One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, the first publication to reproduce all 70 photocollages created by Josef Albers at the Bauhaus using photographs he made between 1928 and 1932. Hailed in his own lifetime as among the most important figures of 20th-century art, both as a practitioner and as a teacher at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale University, Albers (1888-1976) achieved widespread acclaim across a range of mediums, from glassworks and furniture design to printmaking and painting. Yet Albers’s engagement with modernist photography remained largely hidden until after his death, and it is only now that the entire series of unique photocollages the artist produced at the famed art school – before he and his wife fled Nazi Germany for the US – has been published together, many for the first time. At once expansive and restrained, this remarkable body of work anticipates concerns that Albers would pursue throughout his career: seriality, perception, and the relationship between handcraft and mechanical production.

One and One Is Four reveals an Albers at once familiar and unexpected – playful yet disciplined, personal yet enigmatic – through a body of work whose genius becomes fully apparent when considered as a whole. “Albers’s photocollages stand as remarkable contributions to the medium in their own right,” explains Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator in the Department of Photography and the author of the book, “while they anticipate in important ways key concerns that would animate the artist’s work throughout his career, including his iconic Homages to the Square.” An essay by art historian and Bauhaus scholar Elizabeth Otto underscores the originality of Albers’s achievement through a survey of photocollages by Albers’s fellow Bauhäusler, and a contribution by MoMA conservator Lee Ann Daffner examines the artist’s materials to suggest new insights into these works, the discovery of which has been celebrated as one of the great art finds of the past century. The publication also includes a transcription of a lecture delivered by Albers at Black Mountain College in February 1943 titled “Photos as Photography and Photos as Art” – Albers’s sole public statement about the medium – and a preface by Nicholas Fox Weber, Executive Director of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

The first serious exploration of Albers’s photographic practice occurred in a modest exhibition of 38 photographs organized by John Szarkowski at MoMA in 1988, The Photographs of Josef Albers. At the time, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation donated two photocollages to the Museum. In 2015, the Museum acquired 10 additional photocollages by Albers, making its collection the most significant anywhere outside the Foundation. A new installation featuring 16 photocollages, on view from November 23, 2016, through April 2, 2017, in the Museum’s fifth-floor galleries, celebrates both the publication and this landmark acquisition. The exhibition is organized by Sarah Meister with Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography. The exhibition is supported by the Annual Exhibition Fund.”

Press release from MoMA

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Mannequins' c. 1930

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Mannequins
c. 1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Walter Gropius and Schifra Canavesi, Ascona August 1930'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Walter Gropius and Schifra Canavesi, Ascona, August 1930
August 1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Susanne, Biarritz, August 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Susanne, Biarritz, August 1929
August 1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Mrs. Lewandowski of Munich, Ascona, August 1930'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Mrs. Lewandowski of Munich, Ascona, August 1930
August 1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Road, Paznauntal, July 1930'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Road, Paznauntal, July 1930
July 1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Hotel staircases, Geneva, 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Hotel staircases, Geneva, 1929
1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker, 2015
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Flooded trees and forest' c. 1931

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Flooded trees and forest
c. 1931
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Dessau, end of winter, 1931'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Dessau, end of winter, 1931
1931
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker, 2015
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Brackish water, Biarritz, August 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Brackish water, Biarritz, August 1929
August 1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Biarritz, August 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Biarritz, August 1929
August 1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker, 2015
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

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24
Aug
16

Exhibition: ‘The Memory of the Future. Photographic Dialogues between Past, Present and Future’ at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 28th August 2016

Curator: Tatyana Franck, Musée de l’Elysée, assisted by Lydia Dorner and Emilie Delcambre

Artists: Takashi Arai / Israel Ariño / Anna Atkins / Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand Pierre Cordier / Bernd and Hilla Becher / Martin Becka / Binh Danh /Jayne Hinds Bidaut John Dugdale / Jean-Gabriel Eynard / Joan Fontcuberta / Dennis Gabor / Loris Gréaud / JR Idris Khan / Laure Ledoux / Gustave Le Gray / Gabriel Lippmann / Vera Lutter / Christian Marclay / Mathew Brady / Vik Muniz / Oscar Muñoz / Eadweard Muybridge / France Scully Osterman and Mark Osterman Andreas / Andreas Müller-Pohle / Florio Puenter Benjamin Recordon / Dino Simonett / Jerry Spagnoli / Joni Sternbach / James Turrell Martial Verdier / Paul Vionnet / Pierre Wetzel / Victoria Will / Nancy Wilson-Pajic

 

 

Gabriel Lippmann (colour photography) and Dennis Gabor (holograms). Eadweard Muybridge (movement) and Pierre Cordier (chemigrams). Daguerreotypes, calotypes, negatives on dry waxed paper, tintypes, ambrotypes, cyanotypes. Heliogravure, ferrotype, collage and carbon printing. 3D digitizations that “light up” the image from every angle.

What’s old is new again. Then and now, here and there. The memory of future past.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Musée de l’Elysée for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

This exhibition is an odyssey into the history of photography where different eras are juxtaposed and where artists and their methods dialogue with each other. Through a selection of historic photographic processes and the works of contemporary artists, the spectator is encouraged to observe the influence of the past on today’s artistic creations. The exhibition The Memory of the Future proposes a three-pronged vision: that of the past with the works of the pioneers of photographic techniques, that of the present with contemporary works that revive this know-how, and that of the future with technologies that give a new perspective on the works of the past.

Through century-old processes such as daguerreotypes, calotypes, negatives on dry waxed paper, tintypes, ambrotypes, cyanotypes and including holograms, The Memory of the Future celebrates the founding fathers of photographic techniques by establishing a dialogue between them and contemporary artists. From Gabriel Lippmann to James Turrell, including Robert Cornelius and Oscar Muñoz, this exhibition brings together for the first time some one hundred works whose common thread is their ability to withstand time. The Memory of the Future also proposes a selection of works from the Musée de l’Elysée’s collections that have never before been presented to the public.

After having launched a campaign to digitize its photography books in 2014 – 1,500 books have been digitized as of this time – the Musée de l’Elysée continues to explore techniques to dematerialize its visual heritage in order to preserve and enhance it. Consistent with its ambition to not only preserve works of value but to prospect for new ones, the Musée de l’Elysée has undertaken a 3D digitization project of its works using a prototype developed by the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne). This technology of the future is presented in this exhibition in the form of a touch screen monitor.

 

 

Oscar Muñoz. 'Ante la Imagen' 2009

 

Oscar Muñoz
Ante la Imagen
2009
© Oscar Muñoz, courtesy of the artist and Mor charpentier gallery

 

 

Oscar Muñoz’s work combines photography, engraving, drawing, installation, video and sculpture, defying all attempts at categorization. Using non-conventional techniques, his work is a reflection on social concerns and addresses the themes of memory and forgetting, appearance and disappearance, loss and the insecurity of human life. In his work El Coleccionista, the artist uses a triple video projection to show a figure that is sorting, organizing and grouping what appears to be personal archives. Oscar Muñoz evokes here the ability of images to be part of multiple narratives, from one image to another, from one context to another. These images propose multiple narrations that overlap and intermingle between the past and present, memory and time.

For Ante la Imagen, Muñoz uses the portrait of the chemist Robert Cornelius (1809-1893), known for having reduced the exposure time of the photographic process of the daguerreotype and for producing one of the first self-portraits, to demonstrate the effectiveness of his method. Muñoz reproduces this portrait by engraving it on a reflecting metallic surface, like a daguerreotype. With each manipulation, the viewer sees the portrait of Cornelius superimposed on his own. The work is composed and decomposed and questions the interior multiplicity of one and the same image. Muñoz replaces this frozen image by a constantly-changing one, vulnerable to deterioration under the effect of air, like life itself.

 

3D Digitization of Jean-Gabriel Eynard. 'Charles et Mathilde Horngascher-Odier' 1845

 

3D Digitization of Jean-Gabriel Eynard
Charles and Mathilde Horngascher-Odier
1845
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

Gabriel Lippmann. 'Selfportrait' c. 1892

 

Gabriel Lippmann
Selfportrait
c. 1892
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

Professor of physics at the Sorbonne, a member of the French Academy of Sciences and author of many scientific works, the international renown of Gabriel Lippmann Is mainly due to his invention of color photography using the interferential method. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1908.

In 1891, he presented his invention, which would revolutionize photography, to the public. Lippmann developed the “wave theory of light”, which held that light bodies vibrate (like sound) and that light is propagated by waves of different speeds. The variations in wavelengths lead to changes in color. To prove the validity of his theory, Lippmann worked for five years to find a method that would fix these interferences. To do so, he developed a device that made it possible to place a special photographic plate (made of layers proportional to the wavelengths) in contact with a mercury mirror, a very complicated process. The sensitive layer of an average wavelength, green, for example, has 4,000 bright points per millimeter in its thickness, separated by dark intervals. The Musée de l’Elysée has the largest collection of Lippmann prisms in the world.

 

McDonnell Douglas Corp. / Spindler & Hoyer. 'Portrait of Dennis Gabor' 1975

 

McDonnell Douglas Corp. / Spindler & Hoyer
Portrait of Dennis Gabor
1975
© Jonathan Ross Hologram Collection

 

 

Engineer and physicist, Dennis Gabor is known for having invented the hologram in 1947, for which he was awarded the Holweck prize in 1970, and then the Nobel Prize in physics in 1971. Fascinated by Abbé’s theory of the microscope and Gabriel Lippmann’s method of color photography, he studied electron optics, which led him to propose the concept of holography that he referred to as “wavefront reconstruction” at the time. The initial project consisted of an electron microscope capable of visualizing atom networks and the atoms themselves, but that was not put into practice until 20 years later, whereas the hologram as a photographic process would have to wait for the invention of the laser in the 1960s, the light source necessary for the hologram. Subsequently, Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks in the United States and Yuri Denisyuk in Russia contributed to the improvement of Gabor’s invention and presented three-dimensional holograms. Since then, holograms are widely know to the general public through advertising, the production of packaging materials and jewelry items.

The life-size version of the portrait of Gabor can be seen at the offices of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation in the United States, one of the first companies to have attempted to market the holograph. The reduced-size copy presented here was made several years later by Spindler & Hoyer, a German optical company.

 

Eadweard Muybridge. 'Animal Locomotion, Plate 597' 1887

 

Eadweard Muybridge
Animal Locomotion, Plate 597
1887
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

Christian Marclay. 'Memento (Survival of the Fittest)' 2008

 

Christian Marclay
Memento (Survival of the Fittest)
2008
© Christian Marclay, courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

 

 

A well-known filmmaker and multimedia artist, Christian Marclay made his mark on the contemporary art scene by combining the visual arts, film and musical culture. In 2007, he began a project that explores the interactions between sound and vision, as well as the manipulation and the conservation of different forms of recordings. He initiated a series together with the Graphicstudio, University of South Florida involving the use of two archaic recording systems – the cyanotype photography process and the audiotape.

He adopted and adapted the subject of the audiotape, which has become just about obsolete as a result of technological developments, and placed it at the center of his visual abstraction to capture the old soundtracks of hundreds of cassette tapes unfurled like so many streamers, using the cyanotype process. “We assume, because we’re able to capture sounds or images, that they will exist forever – when, in fact, obsolescence makes you feel the limit of those assumptions.” By combining these two mediums, the artist brilliantly explores the resonances between the past and present.

 

JR. 'UNFRAMED, Man Ray revu par JR, Femme aux cheveux longs, 1929, Vevey, Suisse' 2010

 

JR
UNFRAMED, Man Ray revu par JR, Femme aux cheveux longs, 1929, Vevey, Suisse
2010
© JR / Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

JR has “the largest art gallery in the world”. Thanks to the technique of photo collage, he freely exhibits his work on walls worldwide, thus attracting the attention of those who rarely or never go to museums. His work is a mixture of art and action and deals with commitment, freedom, identity and limits. After finding a camera in the Paris Metro in 2001, he travelled throughout Europe to meet other people whose mode of artistic expression involved the use of the walls and façades that give form to our cities. After observing the people he met and listening to their message, JR pasted their portraits up in streets and basements and on the roof tops of Paris.

JR thus creates “pervasive art” that he puts up on buildings in the Paris suburbs, on walls in the Middle East, on broken bridges in Africa and in the favelas of Brazil. These artistic actions make no distinction between the actors and the spectators. JR’s approach presented here is a mixture of the reinterpretation and recontextualization of the icons of the history of photography taken from the collections of the Musée de l’Elysée of Lausanne, which he applies to the façades of buildings in the city of Vevey. He thus crops and enlarges the photos of Robert Capa, Man Ray, Gilles Caron and Helen Levitt so that the city becomes a gigantic open-air museum.

 

Binh Danh. 'Sphinxes' (by Arthur Putnam, 1912) 2014

 

Binh Danh
Sphinxes (by Arthur Putnam, 1912)
2014
Artist and Haines Gallery courtesy, San Francisco
© Binh Danh

 

 

“Landscape is what defines me. When I am somewhere new or unfamiliar, I am constantly in dialogue with the past, present and my future self. When I am thinking about landscape, I am thinking about those who have stood on this land before me. Whoever they are, hopefully history recorded their makings on the land for me to study and contemplate.”

Born in Viet Nam, Binh Danh addresses themes of collective and personal memories, history, heritage and mortality. Known for printing his works on unconventional supports such as leaves or grass, he experiments with the photographic process of the daguerreotype in his most recent creations in order to document the history of the city of San Francisco.

Reminiscent of the work of photographic pioneers such as Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), Charles Marville (1813- 1879) and Eugène Atget (1857-1927), Binh Danh explores the complexities of a constantly evolving city, from the first major expansion in recent years of Silicon Valley. He places San Francisco, cliché of the culture of technology and success, in another time space in order to incite the viewer to reflect on the rapid pace of changes in a city. By choosing the daguerreotype, the artist works on the reflecting surface of the process to incorporate the spectator into his work and to thus transform it into a shared experience.

 

Paul Vionnet. 'La cure d'Etoy' 1870

 

Paul Vionnet
La cure d’Etoy
1870
Tirage sur papier aristotype
13.4 × 17.8 cm
Collection iconographique vaudoise
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

“With the exhibition The Memory of the Future. Photographic Dialogues between Past, Present and Future, the Musée de l’Elysée encourages contemporary artists to take a close look at photography as a medium, innovates as it reveals a 3D digitization technology developed by a spin-off from Lausanne’s Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), and displays its unique visual heritage. 

The Memory of the Future. Photographic Dialogues between Past, Present and Future is the first exhibition that Director Tatyana Franck has curated at the Musée de l’Elysée. It opens up a dialogue between the work of the pioneers of photographic techniques (the past), those of contemporary artists that breathe new life into these skills (the present), and avant-garde technologies that update these early processes (the future). Works from the museum’s collections, contemporary artists and new technologies come face to face and join forces to give a brand new vision of the history of photography. The Memory of the Future aims to configure the present by reconfiguring the past in order to prefigure the future.

Techniques over time

First of all, early photographic processes such as ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, ferrotypes, cyanotypes, etc. are displayed next to works by contemporary artists who breathe life into them. The technical innovations of the past are fertile ground for contemporary art and design. The exhibition includes a waxed paper negative by Gustave Le Gray in dialogue with those by Martin Becka, while cyanotypes by Anna Atkins and Paul Vionnet converse with those by Christian Marclay, Nancy Wilson-Pajic and John Dugdale. Jean-Gabriel Eynard’s daguerreotypes from the museum’s collections are exhibited next to portraits by Takashi Arai and Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand and landscapes by Binh Danh and Jerry Spagnoli. And as for contemporary ferrotypes, The Memory of the Future shows the work of Joni Sternbach and Jayne Hinds Bidaut as well as portraits taken by Victoria Will at the Sundance Independent Film Festival in 2014.

Works of two scientists who won a Nobel Prize and invented a photographic technique also have pride of place – a self portrait by Gabriel Lippmann (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1908) who invented color photography using the interferential method and a portrait of Dennis Gabor (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971), the inventor of the holographic process, a photographic technique in relief – echoing a holographic picture by James Turrell, a contemporary artist primarily concerned with light. Lastly, and as a point of convergence for all these photographic processes to fix an image on to a support, the camera obscura is presented through the works of Florio Puenter, Dino Simonett and Vera Lutter. Loris Gréaud – an artist invited to present an original installation capturing the spirit of the Musée de l’Elysée by recording its shadows and light – also explores this technique.

Homage and metamorphosis 

The exhibition also presents the “mise en abyme” of iconic pictures from the history of photography reinterpreted by contemporary artists whose works examine the very notion of time or memory.

The earliest photograph in history – by Nicéphore Niépce and dating back to 1826 – is thus transformed by Joan Fontcuberta (Googlegramme Niépce, 2005) using PhotoMosaïque freeware connected online to the Google search engine, and by Andreas Müller-Pohle (Digital Scores VI). The first photographic self portrait in history – by Robert Cornelius in 1839 – is reproduced on a series of mirrors by Oscar Muñoz in 2009 to examine the paradox of the aging of the photographic support, which is, however, supposed to record an image for eternity. While Pierre Cordier pays homage to Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic breaking down of movement, Idris Khan (who took part in the reGeneration exhibition in 2005) pays homage to the iconic photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Innovating to preserve and showcase 

Having launched a campaign in 2014 to digitize its photography books – 1500 books have been scanned so far – the Musée de l’Elysée is continuing to explore techniques to dematerialize its visual heritage for conservation and promotion purposes. Launched in 2015 thanks to the Engagement Migros development fund, an ambitious three dimensional digitization project puts the Musée de l’Elysée at the forefront of museum innovation.

A venue for exhibitions, conservation and now an experimentation, as part of the exhibition La Mémoire du futur the Musée de l’Elysée is proposing for the first time a space dedicated to the presentation of digitized virtual objects from its collections. This innovative project aims to introduce new collaborative and interactive experiences using the Museum’s collections to a wide range of audiences – whether they be photography enthusiasts, curators or researchers.

Thanks to the Engagement Migros development fund, Innovation partner of the Musée de l’Elysée, the public is invited to experimentally test the first 3D digitizations carried out in partnership with the start-up Artmyn, created at EPFL’s Audiovisual Communications Laboratory (LCAV) led by Martin Vetterli. It will thus be possible to look at the works in 3D with unprecedented precision, but above all, to make the different textures of which they are composed appear on screen by lighting up the digital replicas from any angle.

This new technology comes in the form of a scanner made up of a dome on which are fixed several small lamps of precisely-adjusted intensity that switch on and off in turn depending on each picture scanned. We are returning to an ancient theory of vision that imagined the eye’s projection towards the world, allowing the spectator once again to become an actor in the photographic experience,” explains Martin Vetterli in the exhibition catalogue.

Preliminary work was carried out with the Collections Department to select the processes that would most benefit from this scanning technology – heliogravure, ambrotype, ferrotype, collage and carbon printing. The first results will be presented in the exhibition. A tactile device supplemented by a video tour of the work presents a collage by René Burri from the René Burri Foundation housed at the Musée de l’Elysée. Rendered in real time and very high resolution, the images that have been cut out and superimposed by the artist can be freely explored so that the visitor can appreciate the visual richness of the work. Visitor experience appraisal is an integral part of the project to optimize presentation techniques and create a digital experimentation area in the museum.

The active participation of visitors to the Museum is an essential step for this first test phase: the interactions and different perceptions of the benefits of the prototype presented will be taken into account for the purpose of developing teaching and learning tools that will subsequently be used to refine and expand the user’s experience and to develop a digital, educational discovery space within the exhibition areas.”

Press release from the Musée de l’Elysée

 

Paul Vionnet. 'Lausanne, le pont Chauderon en construction' 1904

 

Paul Vionnet
Lausanne, le pont Chauderon en construction
1904
Tirage au gélatino-bromure d’argent
39.5 × 23.0 cm
Collection iconographique vaudoise
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

 

Paul Vionnet, a local photographic pioneer, is at the origin of the Iconographic Collection of the Canton of Vaud. This collection, devoted to the history of the Vaud, is at the very foundation of the creation of the Musée de l’Elysée in 1985 as a museum dedicated to the image. During his childhood, Paul Vionnet spent his vacations at his grandparents’ home in Aubonne and was a frequent visitor of Adrien Constant Delessert (1806-1876), a neighbor and renowned Vaud photographer. During his stays there in 1845, Delessert taught him photographic techniques and the calotype.

Fascinated by the sciences, nature and his canton, Paul Vionnet took it upon himself to collect the greatest number of iconographic documents possible concerning the history, landscapes and monuments of the region for the purpose of enriching the collection of the Historical Monuments Service in Lausanne. The documents that he was not able to acquire himself were reproduced using photography. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was ordained pastor in 1856, and assigned to Granges de Sainte-Croix, near Aubonne, and then to Pampigny in 1858. He nevertheless continued to take photographs, having since adopted the wet collodion technique, documenting landscapes and monuments during his free time.

He retired in 1896 and founded the Collection historiographique vaudoise that would house his documents. In 1903, Paul Vionnet bequeathed his private collection to the canton of Vaud, forming the fifth section of the Musée Cantonal des Antiquités. He was named assistant curator, and several years later, the municipality commissioned him to take the photographs for Lausanne à travers les âges.

 

Anna Atkins. 'Adiantum tenerum (Jamaica)' c. 1852

 

Anna Atkins
Adiantum tenerum (Jamaica)
c. 1852
© Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

A British photographer considered to be the first woman to create a photograph, Anna Atkins is also known to have published the first books on botany illustrated with cyanotypes. Passionately interested in science and art, she became a member of the Botanical Society of London in 1839 and realized that the photographic process could be used to obtain precise and detailed botanical images and to provide information at all levels of a society increasingly eager for knowledge.

Anna Atkins drew her inspiration from the inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), and from a close family friend, John Herschel (1792- 1871), a scientist known for the invention and the improvement of the cyanotype. She subsequently developed the process on her own that would allow her to obtain authentic and inexpensive photographic reproductions and that would make her part of the great tradition of her teachers. In 1843, she published her work, British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the first volume of which preceded the famous work of Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, by several months. In 1853, she applied the same process to ferns and published Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, a page of which is presented here.

 

Anonymous. 'Portrait of a young girl' 1860-1870

 

Anonymous
Portrait of a young girl
1860-1870
© Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne

 

John Dugdale. 'The Clandestine Mind' 1999

 

John Dugdale
The Clandestine Mind
1999
© The John Dugdale Studio

 

John Dugdale. 'Mourning Tulips' 1999

 

John Dugdale
Mourning Tulips
1999
© The John Dugdale Studio

 

 

John Dugdale’s interest in photography goes back to his childhood when he received his first camera at the age of 12 and dreamed of becoming one of the major photographers of the 20th century. After a brilliant career as a fashion photographer, the year 1993 marked the turning point in the life of the artist who lost his sight following a stroke and CMV retinitis. Dugdale nevertheless refused to give up photography and began to take an interest in 19th century photographic techniques, using his family and friends as assistants. He discovered the large format and decided to use the cyanotype process, considering it to be the most direct and the easiest to use.

In his blue works, he portrays his everyday life by reversing the roles. Dugdale poses with a simplistic spirituality that could appear to be in contradiction with the 21st century. Generally posing in the nude, he considers that “life is transient. Once you leave this world, you fly into the universe without clothes. I want people to learn you cannot protect yourself by hiding behind clothes.”

Thanks to its low toxicity, the use of this process allows him to be involved in the printing of his photographs. His sensitivity to historic techniques emphasizes the poetry of his work and the transitory nature of time and place. In the hopes of sharing his experience and his healing, Dugdale creates a new body of art by “showing the beauty of life and how one should act around illness.”

 

Jerry Spagnoli. 'Glass 10/9/12' 2012

 

Jerry Spagnoli
Glass 10/9/12
2012
© Jerry Spagnoli

 

 

When the photographer Jerry Spagnoli discovered a daguerreotype at a flea market, he described it as the most perfect photograph he had ever seen, a discovery that would influence the rest of his work. After familiarizing himself with the process in his studio in San Francisco, the artist experimented with it using equipment from the 19th century and studying the effects obtained in order to understand the technical aspects as well as the visual and expressive potential.

By studying the body and the roots of photographic imagination in his series Anatomical Studies, the portrait, objects and contemporary street scenes, events and non-events in his series The Last Great Daguerreian Survey of the Twentieth Century, Spagnoli attempts to highlight the qualities of the daguerreotype – uniqueness, richness of detail – through the four series presented here, in order to allow a contemporary public to rediscover its virtues. It is also a way for him to approach the optical essence of photography. “With other processes the material substrate of the image can be intrusive, but when you look at a daguerreotype, there is a transparency to the depiction as if you were looking through the lens itself.”

 

Vik Muniz. 'The Steerage (After Alfred Stieglitz)' 2000

 

Vik Muniz
The Steerage (After Alfred Stieglitz)
2000
from the Pictures of Chocolate series

 

 

Non-conformist reproductions of masterpieces, trompe-l’œil, ephemeral homages… It is difficult to put a label on the work of Vik Muniz. Starting off as a sculptor, he became widely known in 1997 as a result of his series Pictures of Chocolate, an example of which is presented here, and again in 2006 through his series Pictures of Junk and by his film Waste Land that was released in 2014. For the past 20 years, the artist, fascinated by the power of the image and optics, has transformed all sorts of unusual raw materials into works of art. He then uses photography to immortalize the works that he creates with these materials.

In Steerage after Alfred Stieglitz, Muniz uses chocolate as the medium to pay tribute to one of the modern pioneers of photography, Alfred Stieglitz. He involves the spectator and forces him to take a new look at a painting or a photograph that has been seen time and time again and that has become commonplace despite its beauty. Vik Muniz encourages the public to look at and to decipher his compositions, as well as to use their other senses to transform his flat reproductions into original and three-dimensional works.

 

Pierre Cordier. 'Photo-Chimigramme 17/6/76 I "Hommage à Muybridge 1972"' 1976

 

Pierre Cordier
Photo-Chimigramme 17/6/76 I “Hommage à Muybridge 1972”
1976
© Pierre Cordier

 

 

Pierre Cordier is a Belgian artist known as the father of the chemigram and for its development as a means of artistic expression. In 1956, writing a dedication with nail polish on photographic paper to a young German woman, Pierre Cordier discovered what he later called the chemigram. This technique “combines the physics of painting (varnish, oil, wax) and the chemistry of photography (photosensitive emulsion, developer and fixer), without the use of a camera or enlarger, and in full light.”

He worked for 30 years as a lecturer on the history of photography at the École Nationale des Arts Visuels in Brussels. When he gave up photography in 1968 to devote himself exclusively to the chemigram, he wanted to pay tribute to the great photography pioneers – Muybridge in 1972 and Marey in 1975. The Homage to Muybridge presented here was inspired by Allan Porter, chief editor of the Swiss revue Camera, one of the most prominent revues in the history of photography. In the issue of Camera of October 1972, we can read: “Cordier used Muybridge’s famous sequence, The Horse in Motion, which he transformed in three different ways: 1. Still subject and mobile camera. 2. Mobile subject and still camera. 3. Subject and camera, both mobile. He then combined the three sequences into one and treated it according to the photochemigram process.”

 

Andreas Muller-Pohle. 'Digital scores V (after Nicephore Niepce)' 2001

 

Andreas Muller-Pohle
Digital scores V (after Nicephore Niepce)
2001
Inkjet print
10 7/8 in x 11 in; mat: 16 1/8 in x 20 1/8 in; paper: 12 1/8 in x 12 1/8 in

 

 

Andreas Müller-Pohle is one of the key figures involved in the ontological as well as the representational nature of photography. Since the 1990s, he has reflected on the radical changes in the essence of technical images. His first artistic project focused on questions of photographic perception and on the recycled photograph.

In the mid-1990s, Müller-Pohle began to explore the use of digital, genetic and political codes. He is one of the first artists to have broken down and translated the analog and the digital codes of images. In his series Digital Scores (after Nicéphore Niépce), he takes us back to the origin of analog photography by translating the photograph of Niépce, View from the Window at Le Gras (taken from a window of his house in 1826), into alphanumeric code. The complete binary transcription of this photograph is then distributed over eight panels.

 

Martin Becka. 'Le Parc' 2002

 

Martin Becka
Le Parc
2002
© Martin Becka

 

 

After studying photography, Martin Becka worked as a print developer for the Sepia Agency before becoming an independent news photographer. As of the beginning of the 1980s, he began doing research on the history of photography and the pre-industrial photographic processes that he incorporated into his personal creative work. By using traditional processes to photograph ultramodern cities like Dubai and business districts such as La Défense in Paris, the artist proposes a sort of “archeology of the present”, making the spectator reflect on the period in which he lives, the future, and the multiplication of images at a time when their reproducibility is unlimited. He sees photography as a means to “bend time in every possible direction.”

In his installation Le Parc (the André Citroën Public Park in Paris), Becka establishes a dialogue between the past and the present by paying homage to the photographic work of Alfred-Nicolas Normand (1822-1909) and the dry waxed paper negative process developed in 1851 by Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884). By choosing this century-old technique that requires an approach to work that is radically different from those currently in vogue, he is able to obtain negatives with a density adapted to a presentation by transparency and to create and control movement and unique atmospheres. Becka thus encourages the spectator to reflect on the notion of the photographic object.

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher. 'Gas Tank: Essen-Karnap D' 1973

 

Bernd and Hilla Becher
Gas Tank: Essen-Karnap D
1973

 

Bernd And Hilla Becher. 'Gasbehälter bei Wuppertal (Gas tank near Wuppertal)' 1966

 

Bernd And Hilla Becher
Gasbehälter bei Wuppertal (Gas tank near Wuppertal)
1966

 

 

Born during the period of industrial archeology, the Bechers’ work consists, in the words of Pierre Restany, “of an optical pilgrimage at the roots of the industrial world”. The couple proposes a way do see industrial architecture by taking an approach based on inventory methodology. Their work is a reflection on the creation of heritage and raises the question of the heritage value of industrial objects, which is inseparable from their artistic value.

With a focus on archiving and industrial memory, Bernd and Hilla Becher’s approach consists of establishing a detailed inventory and keeping track of industrial structures by photographing sites threatened by obsolescence and often abandoned. The series Gas Tanks includes nine photographs from the period between 1965 and 1973, taken according to the extremely stringent protocol that is characteristic of their work (frontal view, centering of the subject, mid-height, absence of light, etc.). The composition of each portrait is standardized and identical, with emphasis on the frontal aspect and the monumentality of industrial constructions classified according to their functionality and form.

Taking advantage of the extremely reproducible nature of the photograph, the Bechers reveal the massive diffusion and production of images that contribute to erasing our memories of their origins and their authors. In doing so, they observe a civilization on the decline and highlight the production of an era, vestiges of the human imagination and life.

 

Idris Khan. 'Every ... Bernd and Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholder' One panel triptych, 2003

 

Idris Khan
Every … Bernd and Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholder
One panel triptych, 2003
Lambda Digital C print mounted on aluminium
20½ x 26½ inches

 

Idris Khan. 'Every ... Bernd and Hilla Becher Prison Type Gasholder' 2004

 

Idris Khan
Every … Bernd and Hilla Becher Prison Type Gasholder
2004
Lambda Digital C print mounted on aluminium
80 × 65 inches

 

 

“I try to capture the essence of the building – something that’s been permanently imprinted in someone’s mind, like a memory.”

Idris Khan is fascinated by the photographic medium. Fuelled by images and influential theoretical essays on the history of photography, he reappropriates the works that had an impact on him and subjects them to a series of transformations in order to see them from a different perspective. His work is a reflection on the passage of time, the accumulation of experiences and, as such, the decrease of unique moments. In his series Homage…, he presents rephotographed works, enlarged and superimposed in multiple layers. He uses digital tools to play with the opacity of the layers so as to strengthen the mystery of the original objects whose layering reveals new details. The work Homage to Bernd Becher shown here reproduces and compiles the photographs that correspond to the Bechers’ typology in order to celebrate the vestiges of these vanished industrial infrastructures.

Fascinated by the ability of the photographic medium to capture the soul as well as the body image, Idris Khan, in his series Rising Series… After Eadweard Muybridge “Human and Animal Locomotion”, pays homage to Muybridge’s early scientific experiments using the camera to sequentially record human and animal movement. Beyond the tribute paid to photography that is defined here as a compilation of knowledge, Idris Khan positions himself with respect to a medium laden with history and with a bright future ahead of it.

 

Victoria Will. 'Kristen Stewart' 2014

 

Victoria Will
Kristen Stewart
2014
© Victoria Will

 

 

Kristen Stewart poses for a tintype (wet collodion) portrait at The Collective and Gibson Lounge, during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

Victoria Will began her career as a staff photographer for the New York Post. Specialized at the time in portraits and fashion, her photographs were disseminated worldwide by the magazines W, the New York Times and Vogue. When she was invited for the fourth time to the Sundance Film Festival, an American independent film festival, she decided to try something new and to replace her digital reflex camera with the century-old tintype process to make portraits of movie stars. Following her success, she renewed the experience in the following years and gradually improved this complex technique.

Overcoming the difficulties of the process, its sensitivity to time and the danger of the chemical products involved, the photographer successively made portraits in 7 to 8 minutes of actors such as Vincent Cassel, Robert Redford, Jennifer Connelly, Spike Lee and Ethan Hawke. “What I love about the process is how raw it is,” says Victoria. “We live in an age of glossy magazines and overly retouched skin. But there is no lying with tintypes. You can’t get rid of a few wrinkles like in Photoshop.”

Both the photographer and her public “appreciate the honesty of these photographs. Development leaves a lot of room for the unexpected: we discover a face that we thought was familiar while being the contrary of digital portraits. The stages in the darkroom contribute to the idea of creating something unique and refreshing.”

 

 

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25
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust’ at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Exhibition dates: 4th July – 27th September 2015

The Sackler Wing of Galleries

 

 

Now, Voyager

.
“The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”

Walt Whitman (1819-1892). “Untold Want,” from Leaves of Grass. 1900

 

Joseph Cornell is my favourite artist who has ever lived on this Earth. I do not make this observation lightly, but after much consideration, thought and reflection.

I have always loved his work, from the very first time I saw it in a book. To then see a recreation of one of his 1950s exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001 was one of those seminal moments where you are lifted out of yourself, where your life becomes forever changed. For me that transcendent experience is up there with being alone with the Rembrandt portraits in the Louvre for 10 precious minutes. Both were among the most exquisite, poignant and beautiful spiritual experiences I have had in my life.

I am not an expert on Cornell, although I have read many books on his work and on his spirituality. He saw himself as an “armchair voyager”, a bit like a latter day Baudelaire, a man who has romantic notions of travel but never actually goes anywhere, who has romantic notions of love but never finds it, except in his imagination. Cornell never left his native New York. Cornell expressed his self through a passion for the artefacts he collected, through his assemblage of those artefacts into magical boxes that addressed unrequited love and faith – for Hollywood and movie stars, ballerinas, hotels, birds, the Renaissance, princes and princesses, the stars, games and chance. He was an avid collector, rummaging through the junk shops of New York and storing his collectibles for his art, something to which I have an affinity, being an avid op shopper (or thrift shopper) myself.

Here I can see an association with the words of Walt Whitman in his lines “Untold Want” from Leaves of Grass, those lines forming the title for the book upon which the film Now Voyager (1942) with Better Davis was based. “The untold want” of Whitman’s lines are whatever you yearn for and cannot get in the social context (“life”) and place (“land”) where you are born. Whitman says, stop “studying the charts,” and “now obey, thy cherish’d, secret wish,” – in other words he’s saying that your heart’s desire is the best indicator of where your destiny lies, but it is possible to miss out on it by not going for it. Fast forward to Now Voyager where frumpy Bette Davis has an affair with a married man, becomes independent, defies her tyrannical mother who promptly dies, and ends up circuitously looking after her lover’s daughter. They decide to have a platonic relationship “sustaining a romantic, unconsummated relationship and creating a ‘family’ by becoming the surrogate, adoptive care-giver for his daughter.”

There is a specific desire here. Davis and Whitman are freed to love without restriction in a romantic way, and after the end of Now Voyager, perhaps Cornell is channelling Bette Davis. He loved in his mind, he created boxes in his imagination (and then physically), he astral travelled through the stars, he created games of chance (such as penny arcades and slot machines) and shooting galleries (that exposed his inner mind) letting the air rush out into the world. He created surreality itself but he was never surreal, for his work is always based on the collision of realities. His boxes are tiny cosmos, like the Tardis from Dr Who, the interior (under a microscope, within four walls) larger than the exterior … yet, magically, they inhabit the whole world, they inhabit our mind. He used the alchemical reaction of elements, the elementary, to affect travel, love, life and change. And he did it in four dimensions for his boxes affect us as much today as he did when he created them. Perhaps that is why I like his work so much… he used seemingly mundane materials, multi/media objects, imagination and love to let’s our spirits soar into the universe. No other artist has ever affected me so much. No one ever will.

Undeniably, Cornell’s poetic theatres are joyous creations that free our soul from the everyday.

Perhaps it is through love, or in death, or the afterlife, that the Voyager can seek that untold want.

 

My Mind to me a Kingdom Is

Sir Edward Dyer (1543 – 1607)

1 My mind to me a kingdom is;
2 Such perfect joy therein I find
3 That it excels all other bliss
4 Which God or nature hath assign’d.
5 Though much I want that most would have,
6 Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

7 No princely port, nor wealthy store,
8 No force to win a victory,
9 No wily wit to salve a sore,
10 No shape to win a loving eye;
11 To none of these I yield as thrall, –
12 For why? my mind despise them all.

13 I see that plenty surfeit oft,
14 And hasty climbers soonest fall;
15 I see that such as are aloft
16 Mishap doth threaten most of all.
17 These get with toil and keep with fear;
18 Such cares my mind can never bear.

19 I press to bear no haughty sway,
20 I wish no more than may suffice,
21 I do no more than well I may,
22 Look, what I want my mind supplies.
23 Lo ! thus I triumph like a king,
24 My mind content with anything.

25 I laugh not at another’s loss,
26 Nor grudge not at another’s gain;
27 No worldly waves my mind can toss;
28 I brook that is another’s bane.
29 I fear no foe, nor fawn on friend,
30 I loathe not life, nor dread mine end.

31 My wealth is health and perfect ease,
32 And conscience clear my chief defence;
33 I never seek by bribes to please,
34 Nor by desert to give offence.
35 Thus do I live, thus will I die,–
36 Would all did so as well as I!

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Royal Academy of Arts for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the art work. The excellent, educational text was written by Asha McLoughlin, Learning Department © Royal Academy of Arts.

 

 

 

 

“Cornell was a voyager, travelling through space and time to dimensions of the imagination and the spirit. He infused this sense of adventure and an infinite beyond into modestly scaled works whose fragments of reality give way to worlds to be explored.”

.
Robert Lehrman, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 2003

 

“White is just what I mean. Not monstrously, but in wonderful variations. All I want to perform is white magic.”

.
Joseph Cornell quoted in Tracking the Marvellous: A Life in the New York Art World, John Bernard Myers, 1984

 

 

Unidentified photographer. 'The Cornell family' c. 1915

 

Unidentified photographer
The Cornell family
c. 1915
Joseph Cornell (far right) with his parents (Joseph I. Cornell, Sr. and Helen Storms Cornell) and siblings (l to r: Elizabeth, Helen, and Robert)
Joseph Cornell papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

 

Hans Namuth. 'Joseph Cornell' 1969

 

Hans Namuth
Joseph Cornell
1969
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
© 1991 Hans Namuth Estate

 

 

Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), born on Christmas Eve in Nyack, New York, remains one of the most enigmatic yet influential American artists of the twentieth century. Almost entirely self-taught as an artist, Cornell lived quietly for most of his life with his mother and younger brother, crafting in the confines of his basement or on the kitchen table the ‘shadow boxes’ for which he is best known.

He rarely travelled, and almost never left New York, yet his work, based on collage and assemblage, resonates with references to foreign places and distant times. In the course of his life he befriended ballerinas, film stars, poets and generations of world-famous artists. He showed in a succession of New York galleries, participated in landmark group shows at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and was honoured before he died with major surveys at the Pasadena Museum of Californian Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

A popular romanticised image of Cornell pervades as an ascetic outsider – a shy, eccentric man yearning for intimacy, unable to converse with the women who enthralled him but with a vibrant interior life of daydreams and an imagination capable of crossing oceans, centuries and the celestial realm. Yet this mythologised version of the man belies his active interest in the art movements of his time, and the innovative nature of his creations which have paved the way for today’s appropriation and installation artists, contemporary collage and archive based practices.

This exhibition at the Royal Academy brings together 80 of Cornell’s most remarkable shadow boxes, assemblages, collages and films, including many works held in private collections and a number never seen before outside of the USA. The first major UK exhibition solely devoted to Cornell in almost 35 years, it presents a rare chance to experience a concentrated survey of his oeuvre, and to journey inside the mind of an artist who described himself as ‘an armchair voyager’. The ‘wanderlust’ referenced in the exhibition title – the desire to explore and travel the world – is central to Cornell’s art, as was his penchant for collecting and his astonishingly wide-ranging interests. His creations transport the viewer into private universes, populated with objects and ephemera imbued with personal associations.

 

Cornell's basement studio, 3708 Utopia Parkway, Flushing, New York, 1964

 

Cornell’s basement studio, 3708 Utopia Parkway, Flushing, New York, 1964
Collection Duff Murphy and Janice Miyahira. © Terry Schutté.

 

 

From a basement in New York, Joseph Cornell channelled his limitless imagination into some of the most original art of the 20th century. Step into his beguiling world at this landmark exhibition. Cornell hardly ventured beyond New York State, yet the notion of travel was central to his art. His imaginary voyages began as he searched Manhattan’s antique bookshops and dime stores, collecting a vast archive of paper ephemera and small objects to make his signature glass-fronted ‘shadow boxes’. These miniature masterpieces transform everyday objects into spellbinding treasures. Together they reveal his fascination with subjects from astronomy and cinema to literature and ornithology and especially his love of European culture, from the Romantic ballet to Renaissance Italy.

Wanderlust brings together 80 of Cornell’s most remarkable boxes, assemblages, collages and films, some never before seen outside the USA. Entirely self-taught, the independence of Cornell’s creative voice won the admiration of artists from Marcel Duchamp and the Surrealists, to Robert Motherwell and the Abstract Expressionists, with echoes of his work felt in Pop and Minimalist art. Wanderlust is a long overdue celebration of an incomparable artist, a man the New York Times called “a poet of light; an architect of memory-fractured rooms and a connoisseur of stars, celestial and otherwise.”

 

“What kind of man is this, who, from old brown cardboard photographs collected in second-hand bookstores, has reconstructed the nineteenth century “grand tour” of Europe for his mind’s eye more vividly than those who took it, who was not born then and has never been abroad, who knows Vesuvius’s look on a certain morning of AD 79, and of the cast-iron balconies of that hotel in Lucerne?”

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Robert Motherwell on Joseph Cornell, Joseph Cornell’s Theatre of the Mind, 1993

 

“He uses selected, sought-for, desired objects. He must have been clipping all the time, poring through magazines, collecting things and haunting junk shops and flea markets, looking for the images that corresponded to his imagination.”

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Susan Sontag, Joseph Cornell: Worlds in a Box, directed by Mark Stokes, 1991

 

 

Lee Miller. 'Joseph Cornell, New York' 1933

 

Lee Miller
Joseph Cornell, New York
1933
Vintage photograph. ‘Joseph Cornell, New York Studio, New York, USA 1933’ by Lee Miller (96-2)
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved.

 

 

Early Life

Joseph Cornell was the eldest of four children – he had two sisters, Elizabeth and Helen, and a brother, Robert, who suffered from cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life. When Cornell was thirteen, his father died of leukaemia and Robert became Joseph’s responsibility (partly to assuage their overbearing mother). Robert however was a cheerful child and took pleasure in drawing and collecting model trains. Cornell considered Robert to be a pure soul, and willingly took on his brother’s care. A salesman and textile designer, Cornell’s father had left considerable debts for his family to manage and for several years Cornell’s mother was forced to take odd jobs to support the family, and move them into a succession of smaller rented houses. In 1917, with the help of his father’s former employer, Joseph was able to enrol at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts: a highly regarded private school. There he discovered an interest in American and European literature, poetry, history and French. Yet, away from his close knit family and after the relatively recent death of his father, Cornell struggled and was a mediocre student. He developed the first in a lifelong series of nervous crises and stomach problems, and left the Academy in 1921 without graduating.

Upon his return home, Cornell assumed the role of ‘man of the house’ and became a sample salesman in his father’s trade for a wholesale textile business, the William Whitman Company on lower Madison Avenue. Cornell found the job mundane and himself unsuited to its demands. In his twenties, a time when the stress of supporting his family was exacerbating his stomach ailments, he converted to Christian Science. This religion teaches that reality is purely spiritual and the material world an illusion, so disease and other afflictions associated with the physical body are thought to be manifestations of a troubled mind that ought to be treated with prayer, not medicine. Joseph remained an active member until his death and recruited his brother Robert and sister Elizabeth into the fold.

In 1929, Mrs Cornell moved the family to an unassuming house at 3708 Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens, New York. Here, Cornell would live with his mother and brother until he died. His main escape from the tedium of domestic life and the awkward social interactions thrust upon him at work was to walk the city streets in his lunch hour, browsing the second-hand bookshops on Fourth Avenue, the flea markets and dime stores, collecting keepsakes and scavenging for relics and once-precious fragments of other people’s lives. Cornell loved to explore Manhattan and the ‘teeming life of the metropolis’, which seemed to him the epitome of glamour. These wanderings led to Cornell amassing a vast personal archive of treasured finds – books, prints, postcards and three-dimensional ephemera such as clay pipes and watch springs – often tinged with the romance of foreign places and the nostalgia of times past, which would in due course form the material elements of the very personal poetry that is his art.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Schooner)' 1931

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Schooner)
1931

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled [Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Lupus Constellations]' c.1934

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled [Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Lupus Constellations]
c. 1934
Collage with ink on paper
14 x 18.6 cm
Drs. Steven and Sara Newman. Photo Collection of Drs. Steven and Sara Newman, Chicago, Illinois, USA
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (M'lle Faretti)' 1933

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (M’lle Faretti)
1933
Box construction
27.9 x 20.3 x 5.1 cm
Private Collection
Photo: Michael Tropea, Chicago
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Play and Experiment

Although he did not complete his formal education, Cornell was extremely well read and kept abreast of Manhattan’s literary, musical and artistic events. Not only did he regularly attend the theatre and the ballet, but he also became an avid cinema-goer, thriving on the excitement of the city. Indeed, Cornell often waited at the stage door of theatres and opera houses for a glimpse of the female performers he idolised. He also spent time in art galleries, and in 1931 at the Julien Levy Gallery he came across collages by Max Ernst (1891-1976), a pioneer of Surrealism, who combined high art and popular imagery in his work.

Although Cornell was never officially part of the Surrealist movement and came to dismiss Surrealist associations with his own practice, it had a major influence on him, most notably inspiring his embrace of unexpected juxtapositions in his assemblages and his experimental films, like Rose Hobart (1936). Rejecting Surrealism’s more violent and erotic aspects – the shock effect of jarring images – Cornell preferred instead what he described as the ‘white magic’ side of Surrealism, and the poetic connections between everyday objects.

By 1931 Cornell had shifted from simply collecting objects to creating them. He began to make collages and assemblages first in a style resembling Max Ernst’s, then in his own manner. The basis of collage – piecing together and assembling – would be central to Cornell’s works throughout his life, be they two- or three-dimensional. At this early stage he took images from the dense dossiers of engravings and clippings that he had accumulated by this time, fashioning compositions from seemingly unrelated cutout images to create whimsical pairings, which often revealed his dual interests in science and the world of children. Both these themes would recur and overlap throughout his career…

After viewing a number of Cornell’s small surreal collages, such as Untitled (Schooner), 1931, Julien Levy invited him to show in his exhibition, Surréalisme, which opened in January 1932. Later, Levy offered Cornell a solo show, the first of several that were held at his gallery. Entitled Objects by Joseph Cornell: Minutiae, Glass Bells, Shadow Boxes, Coups d’Oeil, Jouets Surréalistes, it included a series of collages and small three-dimensional objects such as bell jars and pillboxes. All the works were made at his kitchen table at night as his mother and brother slept.

Uneasy about his work being associated with Surrealism, Cornell later wrote to Alfred H. Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and organiser of the 1936 exhibition, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, in which Cornell’s work was to feature: “In the event that you are saying a word or two about my work in the catalogue, I would appreciate your saying that I do not share in the subconscious and dream theories of the Surrealists. While fervently admiring much of their work I have never been an official Surrealist, and I believe that Surrealism has healthier possibilities than have been developed.” Regardless of Cornell’s own attempt to distance himself from the movement, Surrealism provided him, at least, with a context in which he could make his collages and objets, and understand them as deserving of a mature and discerning audience.

Around this time, Cornell encountered the collages and box constructions of Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), composed of urban detritus, and the ‘readymades’ of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), which are ordinary, unaltered manufactured objects designated by the artist to be works of art. In Duchamp, Cornell discovered an unlikely friend; the two regularly corresponded throughout their lifetime. When Duchamp visited New York in the 1940s, he enlisted Cornell to help him with a new project, a miniature ‘museum’ of his work, known as the Boîte-en-valise or ‘box in a suitcase’. Cornell already had his own ‘valise’ experiment, Untitled (The Crystal Cage: Portrait of Berenice).

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1936

 

Joseph Cornell
Object (Soap Bubble Set)
1936
Box construction

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1941

 

Joseph Cornell
Object (Soap Bubble Set)
1941
Box construction
46.4 x 31.4 x 9.5 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Object (Soap Bubble Set)' 1941 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell
Object (Soap Bubble Set) (detail)
1941
Box construction
46.4 x 31.4 x 9.5 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC. Exhibition organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Pharmacy' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell
Pharmacy
1943
Box construction
38.7 x 30.5 x 7.9 cm
Collection Paul Schärer
Photo Dominique Uldry, Bern
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Pharmacy' 1943 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell
Pharmacy (detail)
1943
Box construction
38.7 x 30.5 x 7.9 cm
Collection Paul Schärer
Photo Dominique Uldry, Bern
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

 

Collecting and Classification

In the 1930s, Cornell began to make the ‘shadow boxes’ for which he is best known – glass-fronted box constructions containing intimately-scaled arrangements of found objects and paper ephemera, assembled in a sort of three-dimensional collage. The 1936 exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at MoMA, New York, showed one of his first shadow boxes, Untitled (Soap Bubble Set) (above). This was the first in a long series of the same name and recalls the children’s pastime of blowing bubbles, as well as the eighteenth-century European painting association of bubbles as memento mori, a reminder of the transience of life. Precisely what led Cornell to the idea of the box remains unclear. In a Life magazine article from 1967 he said that it came to him during one of his walks through Manhattan, as he passed a collection of compasses in the window of an antique shop:

“I thought, everything can be used in a lifetime, can’t it, and went on walking. I’d scarcely gone two blocks when I came on another shop window full of boxes, all different kinds […] Halfway home on the train that night, I thought of the compasses and boxes, it occurred to me to put the two together.”

Before Cornell developed his own carpentry skills, his early shadow boxes were housed in prefabricated, semi-antique wooden boxes, popular during the Victorian era for displaying small paintings, ship models, ladies’ handiwork and mementoes. In the nineteenth century, a similar tradition existed in China, where hardwood boxes with sliding glass covers and papered or silk-lined interiors were used to display fine ceramics, especially figurines made for export. Cornell’s approach also recalls European traditions that began to appear in his research dossiers during the 1930s: small seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and Flemish kunstschranke or kunstkammer – cabinets that housed separate elements assembled to represent the world in miniature. In the mid 1930s, Cornell’s neighbour Carl Backman taught him some basic carpentry skills, which allowed him to construct his own boxes. The boxes are often hard to date accurately, as Cornell would tinker with and refine his constructions over several years, returning to them gradually. However, except for his early boxes which tend to be singular, we can see patterns emerging in his practice as he worked on larger ‘families’ of works that share discernible visual motifs, often unfolding over a decade or more. These series include: ‘Hotels’, ‘Pharmacies’, ‘Aviaries’, ‘Dovecotes’, ‘Observatories’ and ‘Night Skies’.

The ‘Pharmacy’ assemblages, with their compartmentalised structures and associations with collection and classification – a nod to the ordered world of museum display – are a good illustration of one of Cornell’s ‘families’. Here, in this early example of a series that stretched over a decade with at least six similar works, we see a small specimen case containing four ordered rows of five glass jars. Its title appears to refer to medicine and healing, yet as a practising Christian Scientist, Cornell was forbidden to take medicine. Instead, in this miniature apothecary, he has created tonics for the soul and the imagination, with each fragile jar containing an object or substance that has poetic connotations – shells and sand for travel, feathers, delicate butterfly wings, tiny snippets of parchment. The interior is lined with mirrors, creating echoing reflections of the jars that line the shelves. Though its contents may seem trivial, each jar is imbued with significance, its humble items elevated and made precious through the language of their display. Looking into this box, we see a world of associations, nostalgia and elusive meaning.

By the time Cornell created Pharmacy, he had stopped working, and was pursuing his art full time. From this point on, Cornell regularly exhibited and sold his artwork. He also did freelance design work and picture research for magazines such as Vogue and House & Garden. He set up a workshop and storage area in the basement of the house on Utopia Parkway. Working in his new studio, which he sometimes referred to as his ‘laboratory’, Cornell was able to conceive works with more complex craftsmanship than he had been able to do when working at the kitchen table. While most days were spent at home, he would still escape into New York in search of inspiration and to visit friends. A keen diarist, he would sit in Manhattan coffee shops, indulging his notorious sweet tooth with sugary snacks while furiously scribbling notes on scraps of paper that would later be typed up into more formal diary entries.

As well as being an avid people-watcher, Cornell enjoyed ornithology and expressed his love of birds in the ‘Aviary’ and ‘Habitat’ series, which speak of their exoticism and beauty. Birds often symbolise freedom, their flight paths linking the heavens and the earth. In myths and religion, small birds in particular have been used to represent the souls of children freed from their earthly bonds.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Palace' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell
Palace
1943
Box construction
Glass-paned, stained wood box with photomechanical reproduction, mirror, spray-painted twigs, wood and shaved bark
26.7 x 50.5 x 13 cm
The Menil Collection, Houston
Photo: The Menil Collection, Houston. Photography: Hickey-Robertson
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Tilly Losch)' c. 1935-38

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Tilly Losch)
c. 1935-38
Box Construction
25.4 x 23.5 x 5.4 cm
Collection of Robert Lehrman, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo: The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman. Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

“Creative filing
Creative arranging
As poetics
As technique
As joyous creation”

.
Joseph Cornell, diary entry, 9 March 1959

 

“On the way to ART OF THIS CENTURY from Julien’s, carrying De Medici girl Slot Machine and bird with cracked glass saw Marlene Dietrich in polo coat and black beanie cap on back of hair waiting at curb of Jay Thorpe’s for a taxi. First time I’d seen her off screen and brought an unexpectedly elated feeling. Working in cellar that night on Soap Bubble Set the green glass locket portrait of her on the floor evoked very special feelings.”

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Joseph Cornell, diary entry, spring 1944

 

“Original inspiration of the bird store, windows, simplicity of magic, pet shop.”

.
Joseph Cornell, c. 1943, Joseph Cornell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

 

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled Object (Mona Lisa)' c. 1940-42

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled Object (Mona Lisa)
c. 1940-42
Box construction
3.5 x 7.6 cm
The Collection of Marguerite and Robert Hoffman
Photo: Brad Flowers
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Owl Habitat)' c. mid- to late 1940s

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Owl Habitat)
c. mid- to late 1940s
Collection Jasper Johns Photo Collection Jasper Johns
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

“Some of his boxes are less cryptic, and more naturalistic, such as Untitled (Owl Habitat), from the 1940s. The snowy owl trapped behind a pane of glass is not a fancy piece of taxidermy fit for a natural history diorama, but a mere paper illustration pasted onto plywood. The midnight-blue forest the owl inhabits is contrived from painted bark and lichen. Cornell, of course, was himself a famous night owl. In some ways the owl box can seem as close as he ever came to self-portraiture, with its majestic creature alone in the woods, eyes wide, watching.”

Deborah Solomon, May 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery' 1943

 

Joseph Cornell
Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery
1943
Mixed media
39.4 x 28.3 x 10.8 cm
Purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust; Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center, 1975.27
Photo: Collection of the Des Moines Art Center
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

While visually distinct from the ‘Pharmacy’ series, Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery (above) continues the theme of arrangement and classification in Cornell’s work, with the cut-out illustrations of macaws, a parrot and a cockatoo mounted like museum specimens or dioramas against a bright white background. However, this dynamic construction has an uncharacteristic aura of violence, and contrasts with other pieces where the box is seen as a safe environment in which objects could be placed, secure and cherished. In this case, the glass that protects the sanctuary of the box has been cracked, its contents exposed to external elements. The central ‘bullet hole’ directly in front of the cockatoo’s crown acts as a focal point for the assemblage, guiding our eye in and then out to the four corners of the box. Bold splashes of colour convey a sense of theatricality and drama (Cornell referred to some of his boxes as ‘poetic theatres’), and the game counters placed over each bird evoke the targets of shooting galleries in penny arcades. Scattered feathers at the bottom of the construction, the shot glass and splotches of paint all suggest a violent event. In a rare moment of political commentary in Cornell’s work, this habitat serves as a metaphor for the horrors of the Second World War, with the birds embodying the innocence of victims caught up in the destruction of war.

 

Observation and Exploration

One of the great paradoxes in Cornell’s life was the gulf between the multitudinous references in his work to distant times and foreign places, and the fact that he himself never physically left the USA. He was a devotee of nineteenth century European culture and a collector of Baedeker Guides (to travel, published in the 1830s), timetables and travel literature, yet he never went abroad – not because he didn’t have the means to do so but because, as one commentator noted, he ‘preferred the ticket to the trip’, which makes his evocation of a traveller’s sense of wanderlust even more remarkable. Cornell let dreams of voyages, particularly to Europe, remain imagined and thus unrealised, preserving his reveries in the same fashion as his glass-fronted boxes. Recurring often in his work are poignant emblems of transience and travel – birds, celestial maps, exotic-sounding hotels and luggage tags – but they remain frozen in their boxed confinement. Thus, fittingly, the central paradox in Cornell’s life found expression in the very medium for which he is now best known.

“Original inspiration of the bird store, windows, simplicity of magic, pet shop.”

Joseph Cornell, c. 1943, Joseph Cornell Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

.
Cornell also dreamed of celestial navigation and was fascinated by the night sky and planets. In Soap Bubble Set (1948, below), Cornell arranged fragments collected during his Manhattan wanderings against the backdrop of an antique lunar map, the roundness of the moon alluding to the titular spherical soap bubble. In his shadow boxes, soap bubbles came to symbolise the relationship between science and childhood imagination, knowledge and wonder, as well as serving as an allegory of vanitas and the ephemerality of life. White Dutch clay pipes, the signature motif of the ‘Soap Bubble’ series, are positioned symmetrically in side compartments, laid out like scientific instruments in a lab, gleaming against the dark velvet interior of the case. These pipes, used as toys for blowing bubbles, suggest the element air, while at a lower level a fragment of driftwood (probably scavenged by Cornell while beach combing on Long Island) grounds us in the natural world and hints at the weathering effects of wind and water over time. A cordial glass stands alone, delicate and vulnerable, empty in this construction but in others from this series cradling a marble, perhaps as a metaphor for forces securing the planets in place. At the top of the construction, the artist has hung a row of seven cylinders, the number possibly invoking the Copernican model of the solar system (in which seven planets orbit the Sun). The overall impression is of a poetic understanding of science, the infinity of space made bearable by the inclusion of objects whose culturally recognisable associations position us, along with Cornell, on Earth.

Ironically, Cornell’s first recorded response to the cosmos was fear. According to his sister Elizabeth, after having returned from school for the Christmas holidays, he woke her one night, ‘shaking like a leaf’, and stood at the window while confessing his anxiety about the concept of infinity. His concern translated to intrigue later in life and his shadow boxes abound with references to astronomy and space exploration. Cornell kept up to date with the latest scientific discoveries and was a keen stargazer, regularly observing the night sky from his backyard, or his kitchen window, sometimes referred to as his ‘observatory’.

In 1949, Cornell joined the Egan Gallery in New York, run by Charles Egan. Around this time we can see a fresh approach emerging in his work, as he branched away from the more theatrical Victorian constructs of his early career, which can appear comparatively dense. This may have been a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, a new movement developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) who used abstraction and gesture to convey expressive content. The Egan Gallery’s roster of artists included notable Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) and Franz Kline (1910-1962).

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Soap Bubble Set' 1948

 

Joseph Cornell
Soap Bubble Set
1948
Box construction
36.8 x 52.1 x 9.8 cm
Mr. and Mrs. John Stravinsky
Photo © 2014 Christie’s Images Limited
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l'Observatoire' 1954

 

Joseph Cornell
Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire
1954
Box construction
46.5 x 33 x 9.8 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Partial gift, C. and B. Foundation, by exchange, 1980
Photo © SRGF, New York. Photography: David Heald
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l'Observatoire' 1954 (detail)

 

Joseph Cornell
Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire (detail)
1954
Box construction
46.5 x 33 x 9.8 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Partial gift, C. and B. Foundation, by exchange, 1980
Photo © SRGF, New York. Photography: David Heald
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Medici Princess)' c. 1948

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Medici Princess)
c. 1948
Box construction
44.8 x 28.3 x 11.1 cm
Private collection, New York
Photo courtesy private collection, New York
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/ DACS, London 2015

 

 

Cornell continued to explore themes of astronomy and celestial navigation in the ‘Observatory’, ‘Night Skies’, and ‘Hotel’ series (the latter also playing with the notion of a hotel as a microcosm of the wider world and, for Cornell, the universe). This work, Andromeda: Grand Hôtel de l’Observatoire (1954, above), combines many of the motifs prevalent in these series, yet is noticeably pared back. The deep, contemplative blue of the composition suggests a starry night sky, and the cracked, aged, white frame evokes the faded grandeur of forgotten European hotels, built for wealthy travellers between the 1880s and 1920s but now fallen into disrepair. Cornell scrapbooked the names of the hotels in this series from adverts in turn-of-the-century guidebooks to European cities.

Despite the smallness of the box, Cornell has created a sense of space within by foregrounding a delicate silver chain and white dowel against the rich starry expanse beyond. The female figure we see in the background is Andromeda, a character in Greek mythology who was chained to a rock as a sacrificial offering to a sea monster because her mother, Cassiopeia, had angered the sea god Poseidon and the Nereids by boasting of her and her daughter’s beauty. Andromeda was rescued from her plight by the hero Perseus, who then married her. Upon her death, she was placed in the skies as a constellation alongside her husband and her mother. Like her rescuer, Cornell has liberated Andromeda from the chains that bound her to the Earth. She is not attached to the silver chain, which both recalls the myth and suggests a ladder to the heavens. With the lightest touch, Cornell has skilfully created both the physical presence of a beautiful woman, and her heavenly equivalent as a constellation in the night sky.

As well as seeking inspiration across galaxies and the limitless expanses of space, Cornell would also delve into myth and history, both factual and personal, to seek out the characters who reside in his shadow boxes. In one of his most famous series, the ‘Medici Slot Machines’, Cornell superimposed memories of his own happy childhood (before his father’s death) onto reproductions of portraits of Medici princes and princesses by the Renaissance artists Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625), Bronzino (1503-1572) and Pinturicchio (1454-1513). By mixing his personal history (Cornell recalled with fondness the outings to penny arcades and shooting galleries of his youth) with these Florentine children, and further juxtaposing Old Master paintings with symbols of popular amusement, he created a mysterious world that contrasts high and low culture with haunting beauty.

This elegiac composition centres around Bronzino’s posthumous portrait of Bia de’ Medici. Bia, the illegitimate but beloved daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, died from a fever aged 6, and Bronzino used her death mask as a model. Around her neck, she wears a medallion with her father’s profile on it. Cornell has effectively enshrined Bia in this box, simultaneously surrounded by the trappings of childhood (marbles, jacks, toy blocks), and, notably, the metal spirals of watch springs in the upper corners, which act as a metaphor for time cycles and life repeating itself. A bright red ball in front of the young girl attracts the viewer, as do the sightlines, mimicking the cross-hair targets of amusement park shooting galleries, which converge over one eye. Bia is flanked by columns, decorated with Baedeker maps of Italy, and further side compartments stacked with repeated images, like the spliced frames of a film, recalling Eadweard Muybridge’s (1830-1904) early sequences of animal and human movement, as well as foreshadowing Pop artist Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) multiple silkscreen homages to celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. There is a concealed drawer at the base of the box, containing a bundle of letters tied with thread, and a paper fan, perhaps a nod to the attributes of the courtly life of a princess. Cornell’s creations often included kinetic elements like marbles or toy balls, although they are seldom activated now, as the assemblages are too delicate. In this box, the unfixed objects placed around Bia accentuate her stillness and steady gaze. Perhaps because of the blue staining of the glass, we become more aware of the wall that separates us from this young girl, frozen in a world that we can look in upon, but not enter. She looks out at us directly, but is she imprisoned or merely on display?

“Peering into glasspanelled boxes to inspect their contents is not unlike looking through a telescope in order to bring the distant closer. Windows, doors, compartments, drawers, cross-hair targets – all of these elements grant access or focus as we navigate the world Cornell has framed.”

Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay Eterniday, 2003

 

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Celestial Navigation)' 1956-58

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Celestial Navigation)
1956-58
Box construction
30.8 x 43.2 x 9.2 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

That he visited the opera and the ballet in New York is not surprising, as his miniature dioramas also recall stage sets with a scenic and narrative quality. As Mary Ann Caws writes in Joseph Cornell’s Theatre of the Mind, “Cornell’s shadow boxes invite us to peek, to peep, and finally to yield to our imagination… We meet in the confines of this tiny frame, this microcosm of complicity.” The boxes are filled with potential energy, as if just about to move, and are spaces in which multiple scales co-exist: time and history, the natural world and the cosmos. They are places of curious juxtaposition: take Untitled (Celestial Navigation) (1956-58, above), in which the universe is depicted through everyday objects.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'L'Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémentaire d'histoire naturelle' 1940

 

Joseph Cornell
L’Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémentaire d’histoire naturelle
1940
Box construction
11.9 x 27.1 x 18.4 cm (closed)
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Longing and Reverie

For Cornell, a relationship with a woman (other than his mother) seemed unattainable. He never married, and for him the female figure took on an elevated accumulation of hope and desire of almost mythic proportions. Throughout his life he developed obsessions with opera singers, waitresses, film stars, shop girls and most vividly, ballerinas (alive or dead). In the 1930s he discovered the international revival of the Romantic ballet, and spent the next 30 years exploring his fascination with the ‘queens of the dance’. His favourites included Romanticera prima ballerinas Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) and Fanny Cerrito (1817-1909), and their modern counterparts Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) and Allegra Kent (b. 1937). He also became good friends with Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957), the Russian Surrealist painter and set and costume designer who, as a well-known figure on the international dance scene, introduced Cornell to dancers and other balletomanes.

This box (Naples, 1942, below) is a tender homage to Fanny Cerrito, a nineteenth-century ballerina who captivated Cornell (he first came across her likeness in a bookstore on Fourth Avenue, on a souvenir lithograph from 1842). Cerrito was best known for her 1843 performance in Ondine, a ballet based on a fairy tale about a knight who falls in love with an ethereal water sprite. For her first entrance on stage, Cerrito posed in a giant cockleshell, rising up on a platform through the stage. In this assemblage, Cornell celebrates her birthplace of Naples, illustrating its famously narrow streets festooned with lines of laundry. The luggage label and the handle of the box, which recall a suitcase, give a sense of travel and distance, but the seashells propped up in the corners of the box and the faded sea-green paint that borders the scene speak to Cerrito’s most famous role.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Naples' 1942

 

Joseph Cornell
Naples
1942
Box construction
28.6 x 17.1 x 12.1 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, Courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015
Photo: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC

 

 

Another example of Cornell’s devotional works is this stunningly austere piece entitled Toward the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson (1953, below). The purity of this box and the inclusion of a grid-like structure recall the signature style of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), a Minimalist artist who radically simplified the elements of painting to reflect the underlying spiritual order of the visible world that he believed in. Cornell admired Mondrian’s work and mentioned him in his 1946 diary: ‘Mondrian feeling strong. Feeling of progress and satisfaction.’

As the title suggests, this shadow box was created for the nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), with whom Cornell felt a deep affinity. Like Cornell, Dickinson lived with her family, never travelled far from home or married, and translated her intense longing into her art. A withdrawn and enigmatic woman, she rarely left the upstairs bedroom in her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she wrote her poems. Dickinson’s bedroom inspired the setting for this simple, white-washed box that resembles an abandoned aviary. At first, almost everything about this box suggests containment – the white mesh cage, the dowel perch and bird feeder – but we find no resident here. In fact, the mesh has been cut open and to the left we see a rectangle of clear, refreshing blue suggesting a window open to the sky – the infinite beyond into which our bird has flown. Emily Dickinson sometimes referred to herself as a ‘little wren’ and often, like Cornell, included birds in her work. Here, Cornell ensures that she has been set free, present only in spirit, with two small scraps of printed paper at the bottom of the case the only physical reminder of her presence. The empty box is silent, a vacuum left after the action has occurred. The title of this work comes from a poem by Dickinson that begins: ‘It might be lonelier / Without the Loneliness / I’m so accustomed to my Fate.’ It ends:

It might be easier
To fail – with Land in Sight –
Than gain – My Blue Peninsula –
To perish – of Delight –

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Here, Dickinson is asking whether longing is better than having, a question that clearly spoke to Cornell and his own deep-seated yearning. Better that dream remain imagined but unrealised, the poet advises, lest it disappoint. It seems these are words that Cornell heeded his entire life.

In the early 1960s, Cornell did finally break with tradition and became attached to a young woman, a New York waitress named Joyce Hunter. This was Cornell’s first real-life romance and he was dazzled by her, making her several gifts of his boxes and collages. Joyce eventually stole artworks from his home (though he refused to prosecute her), and was later murdered by an acquaintance in an unrelated incident in December 1964. Her death devastated Cornell, and marks the beginning of his decline into isolation; his brother Robert died in 1965, his mother a year later. In the winter of 1965 he began a series of collages dedicated to Robert’s memory…

Now alone in his family home, Cornell still received visitors (an invitation to Utopia Parkway had become something of an art-world trophy) but conditions in the house declined as his involvement in Christian Science and the metaphysical world increased. He would write letters to the ghosts of his former life – Robert, his mother, Joyce Hunter. Cornell became more and more interested in sharing his work with a younger audience and one of his last exhibitions in 1972 was expressly for children: A Joseph Cornell Exhibition for Children at the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture, where cake and soda pops were served instead of the traditional champagne and canapés. He often said children were his most enthusiastic and receptive audience, and lent boxes to children in his neighbourhood for their enjoyment. Cornell continued to work until the end of his life, although he stopped making new boxes sometime in the 1960s, after which he focused on ‘refurbishing’ earlier boxes by breaking them down and reconstituting them. His main focus was a renewed interest in creating collages, which he saw as freer and more spontaneous than box construction. He also concentrated on making films and re-editing earlier cinematic work. Following prostate surgery in June 1972, he spent several months recuperating with family in Westhampton before returning to Utopia Parkway in November. Cornell died of heart failure alone at home, just a few days after his sixty-ninth birthday.

 

Joseph Cornell. 'Toward the Blue Peninsula - for Emily Dickinson' c. 1953

 

Joseph Cornell
Toward the Blue Peninsula – for Emily Dickinson
c. 1953
Box construction
36.8 x 26 x 14 cm
The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015.

 

 Joseph Cornell. 'Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy)' 1942-52

 

Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy)
1942-52
Box construction
35.4 x 28.4 x 9.8 cm
Photo: Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art.com, courtesy Glenstone
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

Joseph Cornell. 'A Parrot for Juan Gris' 1953-54

 

Joseph Cornell
A Parrot for Juan Gris
1953-54
Box construction
45.1 x 31 x 11.7 cm
The Collection of Robert Lehrman, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photo The Robert Lehrman Art Trust, courtesy of Aimee and Robert Lehrman
Photography: Quicksilver Photographers, LLC
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/VAGA, NY/DACS, London 2015

 

 

Conclusion

What can we make of the life of Joseph Cornell? From his shadow boxes we get the impression of a man who preferred fantasy to reality, finding inspiration and affinity with long-dead characters from history, from Renaissance princesses to Romantic ballerinas. But Cornell was also conscious of and responded to the changing landscape of twentieth-century art – Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism – and had a tremendous influence on other artists during his lifetime. He had an appetite for subjects that were as far ranging as his imagination, and was able to express, with the deftest of touches, huge concepts within intimate, self-contained spaces. Cornell’s cloistered worlds seem to encompass the entire universe in microcosm – its infinity, wonder, mystery and power all contained within a small box. Their appeal can only be accentuated by the fact that their creator conjured these worlds purely from imagination rather than experience. His last reported words to his sister Elizabeth on the day he died were, “You know, I was thinking, I wish I hadn’t been so reserved.” While this restraint may have caused him regret in his daily life, we see little trace of it in his art, which seems instead to be a magical, generous invitation to the viewer as a gateway to reverie, and to dream.

Written by Asha McLoughlin
Learning Department
© Royal Academy of Arts

 

 

Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust offers an overview of the American artist’s inventive oeuvre, surveying around 80 of his remarkable box constructions, assemblages, collages and films. The last major solo exhibition of Cornell in Europe took place nearly 35 years ago, originating at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1980, and travelling to the Whitechapel Gallery in the UK. With very few works on permanent display in European museums, the exhibition is an opportunity to see rarely lent masterpieces from public and private collections in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Cornell (1903-1972) never left America and hardly ventured beyond New York City, yet through his art he set out to travel through history, the continents of the globe and even the spiritual realm. His works are manifestations of a powerful ‘wanderlust’ of the mind and soul.

Collecting was central to Cornell’s creativity; he amassed a vast and eclectic personal archive of paper ephemera and found objects, eventually numbering tens of thousands of items. This material revealed his wide-ranging interests from opera, ballet, cinema and theatre to history, ornithology, poetry and astronomy. Europe held a special place in Cornell’s imagination, and many of the works selected for this exhibition highlight his love of its historic cultures, from the Belle Époque to the Italian Renaissance. Inspired by these interests, he incorporated his collected materials inside glass-fronted wooden box constructions creating miniature worlds known as his ‘shadow boxes’, as well as producing collages and film.

Cornell was entirely self-taught and has often been characterised as an outsider to the New York art scene. In reality, he was highly engaged with the art movements and artists of the time, exhibiting regularly alongside the Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists, whilst carefully maintaining his independence from any one group. He counted many vanguard artists among his friends including Marcel Duchamp, Robert Motherwell, and Dorothea Tanning.

The exhibition is arranged thematically in four sections that reflect the artistic processes expressed in Cornell’s diaries and notes; Play and Experiment, Collecting and Classification, Observation and Exploration and Longing and Reverie. The selection brings together key works from his major series: Museums, Aviaries, Soap Bubble Sets, Palaces, Medici Slot Machines, Hotels and Dovecotes.”

Press release from the Royal Academy of Arts website

 

“Impressions intriguingly diverse – that, in order to hold fast, one might assemble, assort, and arrange into a cabinet – the contraption kind of the amusement resorts with endless ingenuity of effect, worked by coin and plunger, or brightly coloured pin-balls – travelling inclined runways – starting in motion compartment after compartment with a symphony of mechanical magic of sight and sound borrowed from the motion picture art – into childhood – into fantasy – through the streets of New York – through tropical skies – etc. – into the receiving trays the balls come to rest releasing prizes.”

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Joseph Cornell

 

 

Royal Academy of Arts
Piccadilly site
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London W1J 0BD
Burlington Gardens site
6 Burlington Gardens
London W1S 3ET

Opening hours:
Saturday – Thursday 10am – 6pm
Friday 10am – 10pm

Royal Academy of Arts website

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19
Mar
15

Exhibition: ‘Shatter Rupture Break’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 3rd May 2015

 

Again, I am drawn to these impressive avant-garde works of art. I’d have any of them residing in my flat, thank you very much. The Dalí, Delaunay and Léger in painting and drawing for me, and in photography, the muscular Ilse Bing, the divine Umbo and the mesmeric, disturbing can’t take your eyes off it, Witkiewicz self-portrait.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Art Institute of Chicago for allowing me to publish the art works in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Everything had broken down in any case, and new things had to be made out of the fragments.”

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Kurt Schwitters, 1930

 

 

“A century ago, society and life were changing as rapidly and radically as they are in today’s digital age. Quicker communication, faster production, and wider circulation of people, goods, and ideas – in addition to the outbreak of World War I – produced a profoundly new understanding of the world, and artists in the early years of the 20th century responded to these issues with both exhilaration and anxiety. Freeing themselves from the restraints of tradition, modern artists developed groundbreaking pictorial strategies that reflect this new shift in perception.

Shatter Rupture Break, the first exhibition in The Modern Series, explores the manifold ways that ideas of fragmentation and rupture, which permeated both the United States and Europe, became central conceptual and visual themes in art of the modern age. Responding to the new forms and pace of the metropolis, artists such as Robert Delaunay and Gino Severini disrupted traditional conventions of depth and illusionism, presenting vision as something fractured. Kurt Schwitters and George Grosz explored collage, using trash and bits and pieces of printed material in compositions to reflect social and political upheaval and produce something whole out of fragments. In the wake of new theories of the mind as well as the literal tearing apart of bodies in war, artists such as Hans Bellmer, Salvador Dalí, and Stanisław Witkiewicz produced photographs and objects revealing the fractured self or erotic dismemberment. The theme of fragmentation was ubiquitous as inspiration for both the formal and conceptual revolutions in art making in the modern age.

Shatter Rupture Break unites diverse objects from across the entire holdings of the Art Institute – paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, decorative arts and designed objects, textiles, books, and films – to present a rich cacophony that exemplifies the radical and generative ruptures of modern art.

The Modern Series

A quintessentially modern city, Chicago has been known as a place for modern art for over a century, and the Art Institute of Chicago has been central to this history. The Modern Series exhibitions are designed to bring together the museum’s acclaimed holdings of modern art across all media, display them in fresh and innovative ways within new intellectual contexts, and demonstrate the continued vitality and relevance of modern art for today.

Text from the Art Institute of Chicago website

 

 

Ivan Albright. 'Medical Sketchbook' 1918

 

Ivan Albright (American, 1897-1983)
Medical Sketchbook
1918
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Philip V. Festoso
© The Art Institute of Chicago

 

Salvador Dalí. 'City of Drawers' 1936

 

Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)
City of Drawers
1936
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Frank B. Hubachek
© Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2014

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998)
Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931
1931
Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean and Julien Levy
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

 

Luis Buñuel (Spanish, 1900-1983)
Un Chien Andalou
1929

 

 

Fernand Léger
Ballet Mécanique
1924

 

Ballet Mécanique (1923-4) is a Dadaist post-Cubist art film conceived, written, and co-directed by the artist Fernand Léger in collaboration with the filmmaker Dudley Murphy (with cinematographic input from Man Ray). It has a musical score by the American composer George Antheil. However, the film premiered in silent version on 24 September 1924 at the Internationale Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik (International Exposition for New Theater Technique) in Vienna presented by Frederick Kiesler. It is considered one of the masterpieces of early experimental filmmaking

 

Claude Cahun. 'Object' 1936

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Object
1936
The Art Institute of Chciago
Through prior gift of Mrs. Gilbert W. Chapman

 

 

“The Art Institute of Chicago is introducing an innovative new series of exhibitions that presents works from the museum’s acclaimed collection of modern art in reimagined ways that demonstrate the continued vitality and significance these works have today.

The Modern Series debuts with Shatter Rupture Break, opening Sunday, February 15, in Galleries 182 and 184 of the museum’s Modern Wing. The exhibition unites such diverse objects as paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, decorative arts and designed objects, textiles, books, and films.

“We wanted to explore how the idea of rupture permeated modern life in Europe and the Americas,” said Elizabeth Siegel, Associate Curator of Photography, who, with Sarah Kelly Oehler, the Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Associate Curator of American Art, took the lead in organizing the first exhibition. “It served as an inspiration for revolutionary formal and conceptual developments in art making that remain relevant today.”

A century ago, society was changing as rapidly and radically as it is in today’s digital age. Quicker communication, faster production, and wider circulation of people, goods, and ideas – in addition to the outbreak of World War I – produced a profoundly new understanding of the world, and artists responded with both anxiety and exhilaration. Freeing themselves from the restraints of tradition, modern artists developed groundbreaking pictorial strategies that reflected this new shift in perception.

Responding to the new forms and pace of cities, artists such as Robert Delaunay (French, 1885-1941) and Gino Severini (Italian, 1883-1966) disrupted traditional conventions of depth and illusionism, presenting vision as something fractured. Delaunay’s Champs de Mars: The Red Tower fragments the iconic form of the Eiffel Tower, exemplifying how modern life – particularly in an accelerated urban environment – encouraged new and often fractured ways of seeing. Picturesque vistas no longer adequately conveyed the fast pace of the modern metropolis.

The human body as well could no longer be seen as intact and whole. A devastating and mechanized world war had returned men from the front with unimaginable wounds, and the fragmented body became emblematic of a new way of understanding a fractured world. Surrealists such as Hans Bellmer (German, 1902-1975), Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) and Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989) fetishized body parts in images, separating out eyes, hands, and legs in suggestive renderings. A more literal representation of the shattered body comes from Chicago’s own Ivan Albright, who was a medical draftsman in World War I. In his rarely shown Medical Sketchbook, he created fascinatingly gruesome watercolors that documented injured soldiers and the x-rays of their wounds.

Just as with the body, the mind in the modern era also came to be seen as fragmented. Stanislaw Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939) produced a series of self-portraits as an act of psychological exploration. His work culminated in one stunning photograph made by shattering a glass negative, which he then reassembled and printed, thus conveying an evocative sense of a shattered psyche. The artistic expression of dreams and mental imagery perhaps reached a pinnacle not in a painting or a sculpture, but in a film. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s film Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) mystified viewers with its dreamlike narrative, dissolves from human to animal forms, dismembered body parts, and shockingly violent acts in an attempt to translate the unconscious mind onto a celluloid strip.

Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887-1948) and George Grosz (German, 1893-1959) explored collage, which took on new importance for avant-garde artists thanks to the aesthetic appeal and widespread availability of mass-produced media. Schwitters used the ephemera of German society to create what he called Merz, an invented term signifying an artistic practice that included collage, assemblage, painting, poems, and performance. The Art Institute owns a significant group of these collages by Schwitters, and six will appear in the exhibition. The use of thrown-away, ripped up, and scissored-out pieces of paper, divorced from their original meaning and reassembled with nails and glue into new objects, was an act that exposed the social and political disruptions of a German society that seemed broken and on the edge of collapse in the aftermath of World War I.

Shatter Rupture Break is unusual in that it unites objects from across the entire museum – from seven curatorial departments as well as the library. This multiplicity is significant because modern artists did not confine themselves to one medium, but explored different visual effects across a variety of media. As well, the show prominently features the voices of artists, writers, scientists, and other intellectuals of the period. The goal is to create a dynamic space that evokes the electrifying, disruptive, and cacophonous nature of modern art at the time.

“We hope to excite interest in the modern period as a crucial precursor to the changes of our own time, to show how what might seem old now was shockingly fresh then,” said Oehler.

Considered one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world, the Art Institute’s collection of modern art includes nearly 1,000 works by artists from Europe and the Americas. The museum was an early champion of modern artists, from its presentation of the Armory Show in 1913 to its early history of acquiring major masterpieces. This show highlights some recent acquisitions of modern art, but also includes some long-held works that have formed the core of the modern collection for decades. Shatter Rupture Break celebrates this history by bringing together works that visitors may know well, but have never seen in this context or with this diverse array of objects.”

Press release from the Art Institute of Chicago

 

Robert Delaunay. 'Champs de Mars: The Red Tower' 1911/23

 

Robert Delaunay (French, 1885-1941)
Champs de Mars: The Red Tower
1911/23
The Art Institute of Chicago
Joseph Winterbotham Collection

 

Fernand Léger. 'Composition in Blue' 1921-27

 

Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1955)
Composition in Blue
1921-27
The Art Institute of Chicago
Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Stuart Davis. 'Ready-to-Wear' 1955

 

Stuart Davis (American, 1892-1964)
Ready-to-Wear
1955
The Art Institute of Chicago
Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sigmund W. Kunstadter; Goodman Endowment

 

Designed by Ruben Haley, Made by Consolidated Lamp and Glass Company. "Ruba Rombic" Vase, 1928/32

 

Designed by Ruben Haley
Made by Consolidated Lamp and Glass Company
“Ruba Rombic” Vase
1928/32
Art Institute of Chicago
Raymond W. Garbe Fund in honor of Carl A. Erikson; Shirley and Anthony Sallas Fund

 

Kurt Schwitters. 'Mz 13 Call' 1919

 

Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887-1948)
Mz 13 Call
1919
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Maurice E. Culberg
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Diego Rivera. 'Portrait of Marevna' c. 1915

 

Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886-1957)
Portrait of Marevna
c. 1915
The Art Institute of Chicago
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, gift of Georgia O’Keeffe
© 2014 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Hans Bellmer. 'The Doll (La Poupée)' 1935

 

Hans Bellmer (German, born Poland, 1902-1975)
The Doll (La Poupée)
1935
Gelatin silver print overpainted with white gouache
65.6 x 64 cm
Anonymous restricted gift; Special Photography Acquisition Fund; through prior gifts of Boardroom, Inc., David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg, Sherry and Alan Koppel, the Sandor Family Collection, Robert Wayne, Simon Levin, Michael and Allison Delman, Charles Levin, and Peter and Suzann Matthews; restricted gift of Lynn Hauser and Neil Ross
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

Umbo (Otto Umber). 'Untitled' 1928

 

Umbo (Otto Umber) (German, 1902-1980)
Untitled
1928
Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean and Julien Levy
© 2014 Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. 'Self-Portrait, Zakopane [Broken Glass]' 1910

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Self-Portrait, Zakopane [Broken Glass]
1910
Promised Gift of a Private Collection

 

 

The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603-6404
T: (312) 443-3600

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, 10.30 – 5.00
Thursday, 10.30 – 8.00
Friday, 10.30 – 8.00
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The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.

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15
Mar
15

Exhibition: ‘Florence Henri. Mirror of the avant-garde 1927-1940’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 24th February – 17th May 2015

Curator: Cristina Zelich

 

 

Objects in and of space, the two the same

Florence Henri is rapidly becoming one of my favourite photographers, an artist who emerged during one of the golden periods of photography, the avant-garde of the 1920s-30s. While we have seen some of these photographs before in a previous posting, there are some new and delightful images to enjoy here.

If you believe the text by Priscilla Frank, “Meet Florence Henri, The Under-Acknowledged Queen Of Surrealist Photography,” on the Huffington Post website, you could be forgiven for thinking that her photography is based on Surrealist themes. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is nothing about Henri’s photographs to suggest that they are based on the creative potential of the unconscious mind exemplified by the irrational juxtaposition of images. Henri’s photographs are quite logical and ordered, being an investigation into space, time and object using the “extension of the formal and structural aesthetics of Cubism, Purism and Constructivism.”

Her geometric abstractions “exploited the dialogue between realism and abstraction… and she explored spatial extension and fragmentation in her utter modern vocabulary. Her still life and abstract compositions achieved by balancing abstraction with a pure and essential subject were created in the spirit of the machine age. She viewed space as if it were elastic, distorting figure and ground and altering planes through the use of mirrors and lenses.”

Through attention and attentiveness to subject, Henri achieved her results by using created space to investigate the fragmentation and distortion of the world. Her art is not about the production of phenomena (the spectacle), but about the creation of volumes that are in an of space itself. As Donald Judd’s observes of his created volumes in 1981: “… familiar objects, objects as we habitually perceive them, assume physical neutrality because they and their environment are deactivated: “They are points in space, and space is an empty surround. Instead, what is needed is a created space, space made by someone, space that is formed as a solid, the two the same, with the space and the solid defining each other.” Objects in and of space, the two the same: this was the crux. Judd did more than set new solids into existing voids. He formed solids and their correlative spaces as an integrated operation, as if he were establishing an architecture from the ground up, creating the entire environment, intensifying it, saturating it with its own sensation.”1

In a photographic sense, Henri can be seen as a precursor to Judd’s volumes, creating her own worlds from the ground up, creating the entire environment where the space and the object are one and the same thing… only to then record and flatten that space into the essential nature of the photograph, its physicality. Her sensory affects “remain fixed in the concatenation of materials, structure and placement that generates it. They are the lived equivalent of those conditions, experienced as continuous in time – hence, timeless – remaining wholly the same until interrupted.”2 How appropriate for Henri’s photographs for they do indeed have a timeless “air”, a transcendence of the time and place they were taken, a transcendence of the space which her volumes inhabit. Objects in and of space, the two the same.

As Judd observes, “Time and space don’t exist [as idealized absractions]; they are made by events and positions. Time and space can be made and don’t have to be found like stars in the sky or rocks on a hillside.” Time and space are grounded in being human: they exist when someone experiences them.”3 Here is the nub of the matter, for it matters that we experience Henri’s photographs each in its definite time and space. Henri’s being is immersed in these volumes and they hold our interest because the created environments are saturated with her own sensations.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. Donald Judd quoted in Richard Shiff. “Sensous Thoughts,” in Marianne Stockebrand (ed.,). Donald Judd. The Multicolored Works. Yale University Press, 2014, p. 106
2. Ibid.,
3. Ibid., p. 107.

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

 

 

“With photography, what I really want to do is compose the image, as I do in painting. The volumes, lines, shadows and light should submit to my will and say what I would like them to say. All of this under the strict control of the composition, because I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.”

.
Florence Henri in an interview with Attilio Colombo, “Specchio, essenzialità, geometría,” in Florence Henri (Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1983)

 

“Henri soon recognised the medium’s capacity as a pictorial language and outlet for creative expression. Upon returning to France [from the Bauhaus], Henri began to develop a large body of photographic work based upon her Bauhaus experience and an extension of the formal and structural aesthetics of Cubism, Purism and Constructivism. These non-objective principles forged an alternative to the then-dominant French art movement Surrealism. Henri transcended the avant-garde of one art form to that of another…

Henri’s greatest experimentation with geometric abstraction occurred during the period between 1929-1930… In the photographic work, Florence Henri exploited the dialogue between realism and abstraction, but always maintained a recognisable subject. She was concerned with transparency and movement, and she explored spatial extension and fragmentation in her utter modern vocabulary.

Her still life and abstract compositions achieved by balancing abstraction with a pure and essential subject were created in the spirit of the machine age. She viewed space as if it were elastic, distorting figure and ground and altering planes through the use of mirrors and lenses.”

.
Lynne Warren. Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, 3-Volume set. Routledge, 2005, p. 691

 

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
27.2 x 37.5 cm
Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti Photo
© Bauhaus Archiv

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
27 x 37.1 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition abstraite [Still-life composition]' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition abstraite [Still-life composition]
1929
Collage, gelatin silver print cut and pasted on paper
12 x 14 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait Composition, Tulia Kaiser' c. 1930

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Portrait Composition, Tulia Kaiser
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print, vintage
23 x 29.2 cm
Achat grâce au mécénat de Yves Rocher, 2011
Ancienne collection Christian Bouqueret Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti Photo
© Centre Pompidou, Mnam-Cci, Dist. Rmn-Grand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian

 

 

Summary of exhibition

Florence Henri. Mirror of the avantgarde illustrates the desire of the Jeu de Paume to highlight the important role played by women photographers from the 1920s to the 1950s, and follows on from previous exhibitions devoted to Claude Cahun, Kati Horna, Eva Besnyö, Berenice Abbott, Lisette Model, Laure Albin Guillot and indeed,Lee Miller.

The exhibition brings together, for the first time in France, over 130 vintage prints by Florence Henri, as well as rare documents and publications, revealing the artist’s photographic production. Influenced by Constructivism, Cubism and Surrealism, Florence Henri’s work is part of the exciting creative tenor of the period, during which, photography, like cinema or architecture, embodied a spirit of innovation and progress, as well as a certain unconventionality in terms of the dominant visual order.

Familiar with Bauhaus, Florence Henri was one of the figures of the European artistic intelligentsia of the time. Her friendship with Fernand Léger, the Delaunays, Hans Arp, László Moholy-Nagy and Theo van Doesburg would have a profound influence on her work. In 1929, Florence Henri opened a photography studio in Paris. It soon rivalled that of Man Ray’s. Her classes were very well-attended and her talents as a portrait photographer were quickly recognized.

It is not so much the image alone as the constant research that brings Florence Henri’s work to life. Lines and geometric compositions are recurring elements in her photographs. Over the years, she made her compositions increasingly complex through the use of mirrors, industrial and natural objects, or through collage and superposition. The exhibition attempts to both decipher and highlight the work of Florence Henri in terms of reflections, perspective, the depth of field and photomontage – key technical experimentations in the history of modern photography.

 

Florence Henri. 'Mannequin de tailleur [Tailor's mannequin]' 1930-1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Mannequin de tailleur [Tailor’s mannequin]
1930-1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage
17.1 x 22.8 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
©Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
1931
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
23 x 30 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Pont [Bridge]' 1930-1935

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Pont [Bridge]
1930-1935
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
23.5 x 23.8 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition, The Glory that was Greece' c. 1933

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition, The Glory that was Greece
c. 1933
Photomontage, gelatin silver print dated 1975
23.5 x 29.5 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

“All that I know, and how I know this, is primarily made up of abstract elements: spheres, planes, and grids whose parallel lines provide numerous opportunities, without taking into account the mirrors I use, to present the same object from several different angles within a single photograph, in order to yield, in the same way, different visions that complement and complete each other, and which when taken as a whole, are better able to explain it. Essentially, all of this is much more difficult to explain than to do.”

.
Florence Henri in an interview with Attilio Colombo, “Specchio, essenzialità, geometría,” in Florence Henri (Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1983)

 

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne (France) 1982) was a multi-faceted artist, who was first known for her paintings before making a name for herself as a major figure in avant-garde photography between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1940s. She lived in Silesia, Munich, Vienna, Rome and above all Berlin, before finally settling in Paris in 1924 and devoting herself to photography. This medium enabled her to experiment new relationships with space, in particular by the use of mirrors and other objects in her compositions.

The Jeu de Paume is presenting a vast panorama of Florence Henri’s photographic production from 1927 to 1940, including her self-portraits, abstract compositions, portraits of artists, nudes, photomontages, photocollages, as well as documentary photos taken in Rome, Paris and Brittany. The exhibition comprises vintage prints, various documents and published material.

When she was young, Florence Henri studied music and painting in England and Germany. In 1919, when she was a student at the Berlin Academy of Arts, she made the acquaintance of writer and art historian Carl Einstein and became friends with several figures of the avant-garde, including Hans Arp, Adrian Ludwig Richter, John Heartfield and Lázló Moholy-Nagy. She took classes with Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky at the Bauhaus in Weimar. In 1924 she moved to Paris, where she followed classes at the Académie Montparnasse, whose director was André Lhote, then at the Académie moderne (founded by Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant). In 1927, after a visit to Bauhaus in Dessau, she abandoned painting in favour of photography. It was at this time that she produced her famous self-portraits in mirrors and her still lifes; the result of her first steps in the spatial research that she would carry out through the medium of photography.

Between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, three mythical exhibitions in terms of the history of European photography took place in Germany: “Fotografie der Gegenwart” at the Folkwang Museum in Essen (1929); “Film ind Foto” (Fifo) organised the same year by the Deutscher Werkbund in Stuttgart and “Das Lichtbild” held in Munich (1931). These exhibitions bore witness to the rapid expansion of new photographic concepts and a rupture with tradition. Fifo marked the zenith of the Neues Sehen (New Vision) movement of which László Moholy-Nagy was an exponent and “Das Lichtbild” marked the triumph of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), whose leading representative was Albert Renger-Patzsch.

Florence Henri was invited to show an important number of prints at these three exhibitions in recognition of her photographic production during this fundamental period that saw the photography used to free our vision and open out onto new experiences.

Florence Henri’s studio rivalled that of Man Ray, even if she had also opened a school of photography where Lisette Model and Gisèle Freund, amongst others, would enrol. In fact, despite the central position that her oeuvre occupied in avant-garde photography at the end of the 1920s, her reputation as a portraitist in Paris, and the fact that her photos had been published in many of the period’s illustrated magazines such as Arts et Métiers and Lilliput etc, Florence Henri’s body of work remains largely unknown.

László Moholy-Nagy’s* comments are a perfect illustration of Florence Henri’s position: “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today. Above and beyond the precise and exact documentary composition of these highly defined photos, research into the effects of light is tackled not only through abstract photograms, but also in photos of real-life subjects. The entire problem of manual painting is taken onboard by the photographic process and is manifestly given a whole new depth thanks to this new optical instrument. Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.”

*László Moholy-Nagy, “Zu den Fotografien von Florence Henri”, i10, No 17-18, Amsterdam, December 20, 1928.

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

 

Florence Henri. 'Double portrait' 1927-1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Double portrait
1927-1928
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
24 x 18 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Autoportrait [Self-portrait]' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Autoportrait [Self-portrait]
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
39.3 x 25.5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

Her most well-known work is a self-portrait, in which Henri sits before a mirror, dolled up almost as if in drag. Two silver balls lay reflected up against the mirror, equivocal symbols of both testicles and breasts. Henri, influential in both her artistic style and personal styles, toyed with gender binaries, using her personal appearance to emphasize the performative nature of gender. The artist was married to a Swiss house servant, but went on to have other relationships with both men and women, including a longtime affair with artist and model Margarete Schall.

Henri established herself as a formidable photographer, and remained consistent in her work up until World War II. Then her work declined considerably, both due to lack of materials and the prohibitions imposed under the Nazi occupation. Henri briefly returned to painting, but her central period of output remained in the 1920s and 1930s. Her compositions, simultaneously warm, playful, clever and inquisitive, set the stage for future explorations into the limits of photography, or lack thereof.

Priscilla Frank. “Meet Florence Henri, The Under-Acknowledged Queen Of Surrealist Photography,” on the Huffington Post website, 20th February 2015.

 

Florence Henri. 'Femme aux cartes [Woman with cards]' 1930

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Femme aux cartes [Woman with cards]
1930
Gelatin silver print, vintage
39 x 28.5 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait Composition, Cora' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Portrait Composition, Cora
1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage 13.6 x 11.4 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Fernand Léger' 1934

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Fernand Léger
1934
Gelatin silver print, vintage
30.4 x 24 cm
Private collection, courtesy Archives Florence Henri, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

Earliest compositions

Her earliest compositions introduce an element that would be fundamental for her artistic investigations, namely the mirror. Using a very limited number of elements, Henri created extremely complex images characterised by the fragmentation of space and the use of multiple viewpoints. They include one of her best-known works, the self-portrait looking in the mirror with two metal spheres, which may be said to embody the spirit of freedom typical of that period, conveying the image of a modern and emancipated female artist, one who failed to conform to the societal status traditionally assigned to women.

Multiple exposure

Florence Henri uses methods such as multiple exposures when shooting, or a combination of several negatives, some inverted, to obtain abstract images, in which she manages to bestow static objects with a sense of dynamism. Florence Henri’s output during this early phase can be described as a perfect synthesis between abstract geometrical painting and the innovations of New Vision photography.

 

“Florence Henri’s work lured me to come to Paris in 1929. I wanted to live in a place where images were made that coincided with my own concepts.”

Ilse Bing, quoted in Gisèle Freund’s preface to Ilse Bing 1929/1955 : Femmes de l’enfance à la vieillesse

 

Advertising photography

In the field of professional photography, Florence Henri stands out for her very personal approach to advertising photography. Indeed, her images are the natural extension of her photographic experimentation and investigations using objects and mirrors.

Collages

She quickly substitutes industrial objects with natural elements in her compositions. In addition, she introduces a new tool in her work: collage. She makes them with fragments of prints, and then reproduces them to create the final print. She also introduces a new technique into her work –  collage – thereby underlining her interest in autonomous images that move away from a simple reproduction of reality, all the while emphasizing the conceptual work of the artist.

Shadows

Her quest for experimentation leads Florence Henri to work on the shadows passing vertically through the frame, creating a dark gap that interrupts and fragments the continuity of the image.

Nu composition

Their aesthetic characteristics clearly place the works grouped under the title Nu composition as part of the formal research Florence Henri carried out from the early 1930s, where the mastery of the composition obviously remains the central concern of her work.

Here, the camera is positioned at a slight distance in order to capture the sensuality of the female form, while natural objects – hyacinths and shells – or other more enigmatic elements, such as a comb or cards, also appear in the frame.

Rome

In late 1931 and early 1932, Florence Henri visits Rome where she takes a series of photographs, notably at the Roman Forum, but also at Saint Peter’s Square, which she uses, upon her return to Paris, as material for numerous collages, developing the technique she had already used in certain of her still lifes.

Portrait composition

The series Portrait Composition, is characterized by the tight framing of the central figurer – though some are models, most are her friends, including Grete Willers, Sonia Delaunay, Woty Werner, Kurt Wilhelm-Kästner, Fernand Léger, and Tulia Kaiser. The artist often makes use of harsh lighting, which marks the traits or make-up of her subjects with a diagonal composition or even distorts the image.

Brittany

The photographs taken in Brittany, which at first glance could be seen as purely documentary, reveal a very carefully considered attention to structure. In some of the more general shots, Florence Henri inserts a blurred, graphic element between the lens and the landscape, thereby going against the idea of photography as merely capturing reality, and once again, reinforcing the notion of composition.

Store windows

When Florence Henri strolls through Paris with her camera, her images reveal a very different preoccupation to that of other photographers. Faithful to her attention to structure, in the reflections of store windows she finds the same spirit that brings life to her studio compositions using mirrors. In 1936, Florence Henri moves to the Rue Saint-Romain in Montparnasse, where she makes use of the terrace to work in natural light, and to pursue her study of the fragmentation of the image through the use of shadows and reflections. She also returns to her self-portrait work.

 

Florence Henri. 'Fenêtre [Window]' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Fenêtre [Window]
1929
Gelatin silver print, vintage
37.3 x 27.5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Jeanne Lanvin' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Jeanne Lanvin
1929
Gelatin silver print, vintage
36.7 x 28.7 cm
Collection particulière, courtesy Archives Florence Henri, Gênes
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage
45.9 x 37.7 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' c. 1933

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
c. 1933
Photomontage, épreuve gélatino-argentique d’époque
29.4 x 24 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Robert Delaunay' c. 1935

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Robert Delaunay
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print, vintage
49.5 x 39.7 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 - Compiègne 1982) 'Bretagne [Brittany]' 1937-1940

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Bretagne [Brittany]
1937-1940
Gelatin silver print, vintage
28.2 x 24.2 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Structure (intérieur du Palais de l'Air, Paris, Exposition Universelle) [Structure (Interior of the Palais de l'Air, Paris, World's Fair)]' 1937

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Structure (intérieur du Palais de l’Air, Paris, Exposition Universelle) [Structure (Interior of the Palais de l’Air, Paris, World’s Fair)]
1937
Gelatin silver print dated 1976
17.5 x 17.5 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Autoportrait [Self-portrait]' 1938

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Autoportrait [Self-portrait]
1938
Gelatin silver print dated 1970’s
24.8 x 23.1 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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05
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960-1980’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates: 26th October 2014 – 11th January 2015

 

What looks to be another fascinating exhibition. They are coming thick and fast at the moment, it’s hard to keep up!

Marcus

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

 

 

“The American city of the 1960s and 1970s experienced seismic physical changes and social transformations, from urban decay and political protests to massive highways that threatened vibrant neighborhoods. Nowhere was this sense of crisis more evident than in the country’s three largest cities: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Yet in this climate of uncertainty and upheaval, the streets and neighborhoods of these cities offered places where a host of different actors – photographers, artists, filmmakers, planners, and activists – could transform these conditions of crisis into opportunities for civic discourse and creative expression.

The City Lost and Found is the first exhibition to explore this seminal period through the emergence of new photographic and cinematic practices that reached from the art world to the pages of Life magazine. Instead of aerial views and sweeping panoramas, photographers and filmmakers turned to in-depth studies of streets, pedestrian life, neighborhoods, and seminal urban events, like Bruce Davidson’s two-year study of a single block in Harlem, East 100th Street (1966-68). These new forms of photography offered the public a complex image of urban life and experience while also allowing architects, planners, and journalists to imagine and propose new futures for American cities.

Drawn from the Art Institute’s holdings, as well as from more than 30 collections across the United States, this exhibition brings together a large range of media, from slideshows and planning documents to photo collage and artist books. The City Lost and Found showcases important bodies of work by renowned photographers and photojournalists such as Thomas Struth, Martha Rosler, and Barton Silverman, along with artists known for their profound connections to place, such as Romare Bearden in New York and ASCO in Los Angeles. In addition, projects like artist Allan Kaprow’s Chicago happening, Moving, and architect Shadrach Wood’s hybrid plan for SoHo demonstrate how photography and film were used in unconventional ways to make critical statements about the stakes of urban change. Blurring traditional boundaries between artists, activists, planners, and journalists, The City Lost and Found offers an unprecedented opportunity to experience the deep interconnections between art practices and the political, social, and geographic realities of American cities in the 1960s and 1970s.

Organizer
The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960-1980 is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Princeton University Art Museum.”

Text from the Art Institute of Chicago website

 

 

James Nares
Pendulum
1976
Courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York

 

James Nares’s film Pendulum illustrates the extraordinary status of Lower Manhattan during the 1970s, where disuse and decay created both the threat of demolition and the freedom to produce ambitious public art projects. The film shows a large pendulum swinging languidly in largely abandoned streets, suggesting the passage of time as well as the menace of the wrecking ball. Nares created this project by suspending a cast-concrete ball from an elevated pedestrian bridge on Staple Street on the Lower West Side adjacent to his loft. Unlike many neighborhoods, urban renewal plans never came to fruition for this area, which still retains a connection to this precarious, yet liberating time in New York.

 

Romare Bearden. 'The Block II' (detail) 1972

 

Romare Bearden
The Block II (detail)
1972
Collection of Walter O. and Linda J. Evans

 

This monumental collage depicts both a specific, identifiable block in Harlem and also the importance of everyday routines to the city. From the 1960s Romare Bearden used collage to convey the texture and dynamism of urban life, combining paint and pencil with found photographs and images from newspapers, magazines, product labels, and fabric and wallpaper samples. Here Bearden showed the diverse inhabitants of Harlem apartment buildings perched in windows and on fire escapes, sitting on front stoops and street benches. The scene highlights the innumerable ways city dwellers “make do” so that their environments are more functional and livable, from transforming front steps into a living room to turning sidewalks into playgrounds. While Bearden’s work has strong connections to avant-garde art and American and African histories, his collage technique can also be seen as a form of making do, just like the practices of his neighbors in New York.

 

 

“The American city of the 1960s and ’70s witnessed seismic physical changes and social transformations, from shifting demographics and political protests to the aftermath of decades of urban renewal. In this climate of upheaval and uncertainty, a range of makers – including photographers, filmmakers, urban planners, architects, and performance artists – countered the image of the city in crisis by focusing on the potential and the complexity of urban places. Moving away from the representation of cities through aerial views, maps, and sweeping panoramas, new photographic and planning practices in New YorkChicago, and Los Angeles explored real streets, neighborhoods, and important urban events, from the Watts Rebellion to the protests surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. These ideas and images defined not only cities’ social and political stakes in the eyes of the American public, but they also led a new generation of architects, urban planners, and sociologists to challenge long-held attitudes about the future of inner-city neighborhoods.

Works throughout the exhibition describe this new ideal of urban experience following three main lines of inquiry – preservation, demonstration, and renewal. The first reflects the widespread interest in preserving urban neighborhoods and communities, including the rise of the historic preservation movement in the United States. The second captures the idea of demonstration in the broadest sense, encompassing political protests during the 1960s, as well as temporary appropriations of streets and urban neighborhoods through performance art, film, and murals. The third, renewal, presents new and alternative visions for the future of American cities created by artists, filmmakers, architects, and planners. Together these works blur the lines between artists, activists, and journalists, and demonstrate the deep connections between art practices and the political, social, and geographic realities of American cities in a tumultuous era.”

 

New York

The election of Mayor John Lindsay in 1965 represented a watershed for New York, as the city moved away from administrator Robert Moses’s highly centralized push for new infrastructure and construction in previous decades. Lindsay’s efforts to create a more open and participatory city government were often in dialogue with ideas advanced by critic Jane Jacobs, who argued for the value of streets, neighborhoods, and small-scale change. This new focus on local and self-directed interventions had a wide influence, leading to the development of pocket parks to replace vacant lots and the groundbreaking Plan for New York City’s use of photo essays and graphic design to express goals of diversity and community. In turn, many artists of the period, including Hans Haacke and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, created work that directly engaged with important social and political issues in the city, such as slum housing and labor strikes.

A multifaceted theme of preservation comes to the fore in work by the many artists and architects in New York who documented, staged, and inhabited areas where buildings were left vacant and in disrepair following postwar shifts in population and industry. The historic streets of Lower Manhattan became an integral part of projects by artist Gordon Matta-Clark and architect Paul Rudolph, for example, while low-income, yet vibrant neighborhoods like Harlem gave rise to important bodies of work by Romare Bearden, Bruce Davidson, and Martha Rosler. James Nares’s elegiac film Pendulum and Danny Lyon’s remarkable photographs in The Destruction of Lower Manhattan are examples of a growing awareness of the struggle to preserve the existing urban fabric and cultures of New York during the 1960s and ’70s.

 

Mierle Laderman Ukeles. 'Touch Sanitation Performance' 1977-80

 

Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Touch Sanitation Performance
1977-80
Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York

 

In 1977 Mierle Laderman Ukeles embarked on the multiyear performance piece Touch Sanitation, in which she shook the hand of every one of the 8,500 sanitation workers, or “sanmen,” employed by the city of New York, in keeping with her practice’s focus on labor. After the vilification of sanitation workers during the strikes of 1968, Ukeles’s personal and political camaraderie with the workers took on particular importance; every handshake was accompanied by the words “Thank you for keeping the city alive.” She worked the same hours as the sanmen and followed their paths through the streets of New York. Touch Sanitation was also distinguished by the importance Ukeles placed on the participation of the workers, as she explained in the brochure for the project: “I’m creating a huge artwork called TOUCH SANITATION about and with you, the men of the Department. All of you.”

 

Paul Rudolph. 'Lower Manhattan Expressway, New York City, perspective section' c. 1970

 

Paul Rudolph
Lower Manhattan Expressway, New York City, perspective section
c. 1970
The Paul Rudolph Archive, Library of Congress

 

Known for high-tech buildings in concrete, architect Paul Rudolph began working on a project for Lower Manhattan Expressway in 1965, funded by the Ford Foundation as research and design exploring “New Forms of the Evolving City.” Rudolph diverged from Robert Moses’s strategy for infrastructural projects through a sensitive engagement with the scale and texture of the dense urban fabric of Lower Manhattan. He proposed a below-grade road surmounted by a large, continuous residential structure of varying heights that would protect the surrounding neighborhood from the pollution and noise of the highway. In many places this terraced megastructure was precisely scaled to the height of the surrounding loft buildings, with entrances and gardens on existing streets, a contextual quality emphasized in his detailed drawings. Rudolph also designed the expressway complex to resonate with established functions and symbols of the city, with tall buildings flanking the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges like monumental gates to the city.

 

Thomas Struth. 'Crosby Street, New York, Soho' 1978

 

Thomas Struth
Crosby Street, New York, Soho, 1978
© Thomas Struth

 

Thomas Struth’s 1978 photographs in the series Streets of New York City are remarkable representations of a city undergoing dramatic change, from the derelict streets of Lower Manhattan and public-housing buildings in Harlem to the dazzling, mirage-like towers of the newly built World Trade Center. Struth produced these photographs during a residency at the New York Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Inc. (now MoMA’s PS1) from December 1977 until September 1978. As he would later write, “I was interested in the possibility of the photographic image revealing the different character or the ‘sound’ of the place. I learned that certain areas of the city have an emblematic character; they express the city’s structure.” Although these photographs adopt the symmetrical framing and deadpan documentary style of his mentors Bernd and Hilla Becher, they led Struth to ask, “Who has the responsibility for the way a city is?”

 

Bruce Davidson. 'Untitled', from 'East 100th Street' 1966-68

 

Bruce Davidson
Untitled, from East 100th Street
1966-68
Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York and Magnum Photos

 

 

Chicago

In the 1960s and ’70s Chicago emerged from its industrial past led by a powerful mayor, Richard J. Daley, who prioritized development in the downtown areas. His work to modernize the city resulted in the construction of massive highways, housing projects, and imposing skyscrapers – new architectural and infrastructural icons that were explored by many photographers of the era. The arts experienced a similar boom, with the foundation and expansion of museums and university programs. Growth came at a cost, however, and the art of this period highlights the disparate experiences of local communities in Chicago, including Jonas Dovydenas’s photographs of life in ethnic neighborhoods and independent films exploring issues ranging from the work of African American community activists to the forced evictions caused by urban renewal projects.

Demonstrations loomed large in Chicago, where artists responded to two major uprisings in 1968, the first on the West Side, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the second downtown, during the Democratic National Convention. These violent confrontations between protestors and police drew national attention to issues of race relations and political corruption in Chicago and led to an outpouring of new art projects as forms of demonstration, including community murals like the West Wall and an exhibition at the Richard Feigen Gallery condemning Daley’s actions during the DNC. The image of Chicago that emerged in the mass media of this period was one of destruction and resilience, a duality highlighted by contemporary artists like Gordon-Matta Clark and Allan Kaprow, whose work existed in the fragile space of opportunity between the streets and the wrecking ball.

 

Ken Josephson. 'Chicago' 1969

 

Ken Josephson
Chicago
1969
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

 

Still from Lord Thing, directed by DeWitt Beall, 1970

 

Still from Lord Thing, directed by DeWitt Beall, 1970. Courtesy Chicago Film Archives

 

Lord Thing documents the development of the Vice Lords from an informal club for young men on the streets of Chicago’s West Side, its emergence as a street gang, and its evolution into the Conservative Vice Lords, a splinter group that aspired to nonviolent community activism. The film uses a mix of black-and-white sequences to retrospectively analyze the group’s violent middle period and contrasts these with color sequences that show the Conservative Vice Lords fostering unity and developing black-owned businesses and social programs during the late 1960s. Together, Lord Thing argues for the agency of African Americans in the face of decades of spatialized oppression in Chicago.

 

Art Sinsabaugh. 'Chicago Landscape #117' 1966

 

Art Sinsabaugh
Chicago Landscape #117
1966
Art Sinsabaugh Archive, Indiana University Art Museum
© 2004 Katherine Anne Sinsabaugh and Elisabeth Sinsabaugh de la Cova

 

Sinsabaugh’s panoramic photographs are among the most distinctive visual records of Chicago, capturing the built landscape with what Sinsabaugh called “special photographic seeing,” achieved with large-format negatives. The Department of City Planning used his photographs in a 1963 planning document to help describe the qualities of Chicago’s tall buildings “as vertical forms contrasting with these two great horizontal expanses [the flat prairie and the lakefront edge].” Sinsabaugh’s panoramas also flirt with abstraction when depicting such remarkable places as Chicago’s Circle Interchange, a monumental coil of highways completed in the early 1960s. Sinsabaugh recalled that for the photographer, like the motorist, freeways provided “an access, an opening, a swath cut right through the heart of the City in all directions.” However, his early thrill at the novelty of these developments soon gave way to an appreciation of their violence, in which entire “neighborhoods were laid bare and their very bowels exposed.” (Please enlarge by clicking on the image)

 

Alvin Boyarsky. 'Chicago à la Carte: The City as Energy System' 1970

 

Alvin Boyarsky
Chicago à la Carte: The City as Energy System
1970
Special issue of Architectural Design, December 1970
Courtesy Alvin Boyarsky Archive, London

 

The concept of the city as organism emerged during the 1960s as a response to the increasingly complex interconnections of technology, communication, and history. One exceptional project in this vein was the British architect Alvin Boyarsky’s Chicago à la Carte. Boyarsky drew on an archive of historical postcards, newspaper clippings, and printed ephemera to trace a hidden history of Chicago’s built environment as an “energy system.” This idea was represented on the cover by a striking postcard image of a vivisection of State Street in the Loop, showing subway tunnels, sidewalks, El tracks, and skyscrapers in what Boyarsky described as “the tumultuous, active, mobile, and everywhere dynamic centre of a vast distribution system.” On other pages, Boyarsky showed images of Chicago’s newly built skyscrapers with newspaper clippings of recent political protests to juxtapose the city’s reaction to recent political protests against the disciplinary tradition of modern architecture in Chicago.

 

 

Los Angeles

Los Angeles has always been known for its exceptionalism, as a city of horizontal rather than vertical growth and a place where categories of private and public space prove complex and intertwined. During the 1960s and ’70s these qualities inspired visual responses by seminal artists like Ed Ruscha as well as critics like Reyner Banham, one of the most attentive observers of the city during this period. In many other respects, however, Los Angeles experienced events and issues similar to those of New York and Chicago, including problems of racial segregation, a sense of crisis about the decay of its historical downtown, and large-scale demonstrations, with responses ranging from photography and sculpture to provocative new forms of performance art by the collective Asco.

Concerns about the future forms of urbanism in Los Angeles and a renewal of the idea of the city were major preoccupations for artists, architects, and filmmakers. Many photographers focused on the everyday banality and auto-centric nature of the city, such as Robbert Flick’s Sequential Views project and Anthony Hernandez’s Public Transit Areas series. The historic downtown core continued to hold a special place in popular memory as many of these areas – including the former neighborhood of Bunker Hill – were razed and rebuilt. Julius Shulman’s photographs of new development in the 1960s – including Bunker Hill and Century City – focus on the spectacular quality of recent buildings as well their physical and cultural vacancy. Architects played a strong role in creating new visions for the future city, including an unrealized, yet bold and influential plan for redeveloping Grand Avenue as a mixed-use district shaped by ideals of diversity and pedestrian-friendly New Urbanism.

 

Julius Shulman. 'The Castle, 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue, Los Angeles, California, (Demolished 1969)' c. 1968

 

Julius Shulman
The Castle, 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue, Los Angeles, California, (Demolished 1969)
c. 1968
Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
© J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission

 

Asco. 'Decoy Gang War Victim' 1974 (printed later)

 

Asco
Decoy Gang War Victim
1974 (printed later)
Photograph by Harry Gamboa Jr.
Courtesy of Harry Gamboa Jr.

 

The Chicano art collective Asco was famous for their No Movies – works that appropriate certain stylistic qualities of the movies while maintaining a nonchalance that allows them to critique the media industry’s role in Los Angeles. Asco’s performances, therefore, function on different registers to engage with current events and issues facing the Chicano community as well as acknowledge the mainstream media’s distorted image of the city. For Decoy Gang War Victim, Asco’s members staged a fake gang shooting then circulated the images to local television stations, simultaneously feeding and deriding the media’s hunger for sensationalist imagery of urban neighborhoods.

 

William Reagh. 'Bunker Hill to soon be developed' 1971 (printed later)

 

William Reagh
Bunker Hill to soon be developed
1971 (printed later)
Los Angeles Public Library

 

John Humble. '300 Block of Broadway, Los Angeles, October 3, 1980' 1980

 

John Humble
300 Block of Broadway, Los Angeles, October 3, 1980
1980
Courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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