Posts Tagged ‘collage

24
Sep
17

Review: ‘Queer British Art 1861-1967’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 5th April – 1st October 2017

Curators: Clare Barlow, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain with Amy Concannon, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain

 

 

Queer British Art book cover

 

Queer British Art 1861-1967 book cover

 

 

 

Very Pauline

Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain examines the “historical reality of same-sex relationships and non-normative sexual identities” from 1861, the year for the end of the death penalty for sodomy in Great Britain, through to 1967 which is when sex between consenting adults in private, obviously male homosexuality is partially decriminalised in England and Wales. The timescale of the exhibition encompasses the beginning of a more considered understanding of gender and sexual identity through to the beginnings of a limited freedom: from repression to liberation.

For a man who came out in London in 1975, only 8 short years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, this exhibition should have been more engaging than it was. While there were some outstanding art works and artefacts presented in the eight rooms of the exhibition, chronologically laid out in the posting below – such as the prison door from Oscar Wilde’s cell at Reading Gaol, Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s book covers, the paintings of Henry Scott Tuke and the photography of Angus McBean – there was little of the passion of being gay in evidence in much of the objects, or how they were presented. It all seemed so very academic, and not in a good way. Other than some stunning erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, Duncan Grant and Keith Vaughan (see below) there was little to suggest that being gay had anything to do with sex, the exhibition living up to that very British of axiom’s, “No sex please, we’re British!” The curators may have thought that sex would be a distraction, for it was all ‘very Pauline’.

The exhibition is full of innuendo, supposition, obfuscation, abstinence, hints, traces, clouded desires and supposed longings – in both the art work and the wall texts which accompanied the work. Of course, this is how artists had to hide their sexuality, same-sex desires and relationships during much of this period for fear of ostracisation from society and possible prosecution, but the presentation came across as little more than “au fait”, so much matter of fact. The exhibition was not helped by illuminating texts such as this: “The exact nature of Thomas and Philpot’s relationship is unknown. Many of Philpot’s depictions of Thomas carry a homoerotic charge and some are exoticising. What Thomas felt about his years with Philpot from 1929 to the artist’s death in 1937 is unknown.” Ugh!

You might as well have said nothing, and let the art work speak for itself.

Other commentaries could have done with a more insightful enunciation of the circumstances of the particular artist, in addition to text on the specific art work. A perceptive anointing of their life would have added invaluably to the frisson of the exhibition. For example, I wanted to know why the painter Christopher Wood died at the young age of 29 as well as the specifics of his painting Nude Boy in a Bedroom (1930, below). According to Wikipedia, Wood – bisexual, addicted to opium and painting frenetically in preparation for his Wertheim exhibition in London – became psychotic and jumped under a train at Salisbury railway station. These are the things that you need to know if you are to fully appreciate the gravitas of a life and a person’s relationship to their art, don’t you think?

Further, no pictures were allowed in the gallery spaces. Whereas I could take photographs of the Rachel Whiteread exhibition at the same venue to my heart’s content (even after being confronted by a guard who said I couldn’t, who was then corrected by a colleague with no apology for his attitude to me), I had to play a Machiavellian game of cunning hide and seek with guards and attendants to get the installation photographs of this exhibition. Why was this so? It almost seemed to be a case of the gallery being ashamed of the art they were exhibiting, as though the attitudes of the past towards art that explores same-sex relationships was being replicated by the duplicity of the gallery itself: the art could be seen but not heard, hidden away in the bowls of an academic institution. I also noted that one of 19 collages that Kenneth Halliwell exhibited at the Anno Domino gallery in 1967 (see below) was purchased by the Tate in 2016. Considering “the exhibition was a failure and Halliwell’s professional frustration contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Orton,” eventuating the murder of the playwright and his own suicide… for some of those very same works to now reside at the Tate is the ultimate irony. I doubt Halliwell would have been laughing in his grave.

The stand out works in this exhibition were by Duncan Grant and Keith Vaughan. Their work explores the strength and beauty of the male form with a vitality of purpose and harmony of composition that was succinct and illuminating for this viewer. Grant’s Bathing (1911, below) ascribes anthropomorphic qualities to distorted figures whose elongated arms, distended chests and exposed buttocks would have been shocking to the people of Belle Epoque Britain. His erotic drawings (below) were the most beautiful, sensitive and sensual art works in the whole exhibition. Vaughan’s simplification of the figuration of the male form into abstract shapes, whilst still retaining the enigma of sensuality, narrative and context, are the triumph of this inverts painting. Their patterning and displacement of time and space onto an intimate other – a copious, coital realm of existence full of feeling, information and matter – were a revelation to me.

While the exhibition enunciates a remarkable range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic, it was a deflating experience. I came away thankful that I had seen the work, that the artist’s had been able to express themselves however surreptitiously, but angry that so much of the world still sees LGBTQI people as second class citizens whose art work has to be examined through the prism of sexuality, rather than on the quality of the work itself.

Marcus

PS. How you can classify Claude Cahun as a British artist I will never know: she lived on the Channel Islands for a few years, but she was the very epitome of a French artist!

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. All installation images are by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Featuring works from 1861-1967 relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities, the show marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England. Queer British Art explores how artists expressed themselves in a time when established assumptions about gender and sexuality were being questioned and transformed.

Deeply personal and intimate works are presented alongside pieces aimed at a wider public, which helped to forge a sense of community when modern terminology of ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ were unrecognised. Together, they reveal a remarkable range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic. With paintings, drawings, personal photographs and film from artists such as John Singer Sargent, Dora Carrington, Duncan Grant and David Hockney the diversity of queer British art is celebrated as never before.

 

 

“Much more fucking and they’ll be screaming hysterics in next to no time.”

.
Joe Orton

 

“For me, to use the word ‘queer’ is a liberation; it was a word that frightened me, but no longer.”

.
Derek Jarman

 

“It’s really interesting as to whether or not we should be concerned with the sexuality of an artist when we consider the merits of his artwork, because really what he does behind closed doors – or she does – has nothing to do, or shouldn’t have anything to do with the impact of the artwork as we see it. But what is important is the artist can use that material of their personal life and create a work that is almost a personal diary but visually.”

.
Estelle Lovatt

 

 

Room 1: Coded Desires

In spite of the Victorian era’s prudish reputation, there are many possible traces of transgressive desire in its art – in Frederic Leighton’s sensuous male nudes, for instance, or Evelyn De Morgan’s depictions of Jane Hales. Simeon Solomon attracted sustained criticisms of ‘unwholesomeness’ or ‘effeminacy’ – terms which suggest disapproval of alternative forms of masculinity as much as same sex desire. Yet other works which might look queer to us passed without comment.

The death penalty for sodomy was abolished in 1861 but it was still punishable with imprisonment. Sex between women was not illegal and society sometimes tolerated such relationships. Yet for most people, there seems to have been little sense that certain sexual practices or forms of gender expression reflected a core aspect of the self. Instead, this was a world of fluid possibilities.

These ambiguities offered scope for artists to produce work that was open to homoerotic interpretation. Queer subcultures developed: new scholarship on same-sex desire in Renaissance Italy and ancient Greece allowed artists to use these civilisations as reference points, while the beautiful youths in Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photographs attracted communities of collectors. As long as there was no public suggestion that artists had acted on their desires, there was much that could be explored and expressed.

 

Installation view of Room 1 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 1 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 1 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Frederic Leighton’s The Sluggard (1885, bronze) in the middle of the room

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene' 1864

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene
1864
Watercolour on paper
330 x 381 mm
Tate. Purchased 1980

 

 

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene is a touching image of female love. The piece is inspired by fragmented poems written by a woman named Sappho in the 4th century BC, in which she pleads that Aphrodite help her in her same-sex relationship. The term ‘lesbian’ derives directly from this poet, as her homeland was the Greek Island of Lesbos. Sappho’s story points to a longer history of same-sex desire. It’s perhaps for this reason that Simeon Solomon, a man who was attracted to men in defiance of the law, painted her. While a depiction of two men kissing would have been completely taboo, this is a passionate depiction of same-sex desire.

Solomon’s own sexual preferences eventually lead to his incarceration. When he was released from prison he was rejected by many of his acquaintances, struggled to find work and soon became homeless; a painful reminder of our repressive past. (Website text)

This strikingly frank image shows the ancient Greek poet Sappho in a passionate embrace with her fellow poet Erinna. Sappho is associated with the Island of Lesbos and her story gives us the word ‘lesbian’. There was a surge of interest in Sappho’s achievements and desires from the 1840s onwards. Solomon may be responding to his friend Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem Anactoria which includes Erinna amongst Sappho’s lovers. While female same-sex desire was considered more acceptable than its male equivalent, Solomon’s depiction of Sappho’s fervent kiss and Erinna’s swooning response is unusually explicit and the image was not publicly exhibited. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love' 1865

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love
1865
Ink on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This work was inspired by a passage from the Gospel of St John which tells how ‘the friend of the bridegroom… rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice’. In Solomon’s drawing, the friend of the bridegroom has the wings of love but his downcast expression identifies him as ‘sad love’, forever excluded. The positioning of his and the bridegroom’s hands hints at the reason for his grief, implying that that they are former sexual partners. He is forced to look on as his lover enters a heterosexual marriage: a fate shared by many men in same-sex relationships in this period. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'Bacchus' 1867

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
Bacchus
1867
Oil paint on paper on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

The classical god of wine, Bacchus also embodies sexual ambiguity and gender fluidity. While grapes and vine leaves identify the god in Solomon’s painting, Bacchus’s full lips, luxuriant hair and enigmatic gaze hint at his elusive sexuality. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1867, the critic of The Art Journal thought the figure looked effeminate, commenting ‘Bacchus is a sentimentalist of rather weak constitution; he drinks mead, possibly sugar and water, certainly not wine’. Solomon’s friend, critic Walter Pater wrote a favourable essay about the painting and poet Algernon Charles Swinburne said he found in Solomon and Bacchus alike, ‘the stamp of sorrow; of perplexities unsolved and desires unsatisfied’. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'The Moon and Sleep' 1894

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
The Moon and Sleep
1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Miss Margery Abrahams in memory of Dr Bertram L. Abrahams and Jane Abrahams 1973

 

 

Made a few years after Solomon’s arrest and social ostracisation, this painting depicts the love of the moon goddess Selene for Endymion, who, in one version of the myth, is given eternal youth and eternal sleep by Zeus. While it ostensibly depicts a heterosexual pairing, the striking similarity of the profiles of the figures in Solomon’s painting gives them both an air of androgyny. This painting was given to Tate by a descendent of Rachel Simmons, Solomon’s first cousin, who helped to support him after his fall from public favour by regularly buying his works for small sums of money. (Wall text)

 

Photographer unknown. 'John Addington Symonds' (installation view) c. 1850s

 

Photographer unknown
John Addington Symonds (installation view)
c. 1850s
Photograph, tinted collodion on paper

 

 

John Addington Symonds was a writer, critic and an early campaigner for greater tolerance of same-sex desire. This photograph probably dates from Symonds’s time at Oxford University (1858-1863). His studies informed his later essay, A Problem in Greek Ethics 1873, one of the earliest attempts at a history of male same-sex desire. Symonds frankly discussed his desires in his diaries and unpublished writings, which he believed would be ‘useful to society’. However, when his friend Edmund Gosse inherited Symonds’s papers in 1926, he burned them all apart from Symonds’s autobiography. This destruction nauseated Symonds’s granddaughter Janet Vaughan. It was not until 1984 that Symonds’s autobiography was finally published. (Wall text)

 

Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947) 'Hope Comforting Love in Bondage' Exhibited 1901

 

Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947)
Hope Comforting Love in Bondage
Exhibited 1901
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

Hope is depicted as a respectably fully-clothed matron, whereas Love’s only costume is his elaborate cloth bindings and the rose briars that are delicately threaded through the feathers of his wings. The flowers and thorns of the roses hint at pleasures and pains combined. Love’s pensive expression and androgynous beauty is reminiscent of the work of Simeon Solomon and, while Hope stretches out her hand to comfort him, his gaze is fixed elsewhere, leaving the object of his affections undefined. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Frederic Leighton's 'Daedalus and Icarus' 1896

 

Installation view of Frederic Leighton’s Daedalus and Icarus 1896 from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) 'Daedalus and Icarus' Exhibited 1869

 

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896)
Daedalus and Icarus
Exhibited 1869
Oil paint on canvas
Private collection

 

 

In a story from the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Daedalus made wings for his son Icarus to escape from Rhodes. Icarus’s golden beauty is here contrasted with his weather-beaten father. When the work was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1869, The Times anxiously remarked that Icarus had the air of ‘a maiden rather than a youth’ and exhibited ‘the soft rounded contour of a feminine breast’. This response may reflect increasing concern amongst educated circles about the pairings of older men and adolescent youths in books such as Plato’s Symposium, as new scholarship explored the eroticism of the original texts. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Henry Scott Tuke's 'A Bathing Group' 1914

 

Installation view of Henry Scott Tuke’s A Bathing Group 1914 from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) 'A Bathing Group' 1914

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929)
A Bathing Group
1914
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by the Royal Academy of Arts, London

 

 

While Henry Scott Tuke used the professional model Nicola Lucciani for this painting, it is similar to his images of Cornish youths in its frank appreciation of the male nude. Lucciani’s torso is illuminated by a shaft of sunlight and he looks towards the second figure, who crouches as if in awe of his godlike beauty. Tuke presented the painting to the Royal Academy on his election as a member. Tuke used professional models when he first moved to Cornwall, but he soon befriended some of the local fishermen and swimmers in Falmouth who modelled for him in many paintings. (Wall text)

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) 'The Critics' 1927

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929)
The Critics
1927
Oil paint on board
Courtesy of Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (Warwick District Council)

 

 

Made just two years before Tuke’s death, The Critics is one of a number of works by Henry Scott Tuke depicting young men bathing off the Cornish coast. There has been much speculation about his relationships with his Cornish models although nothing has been substantiated. It is, however, not difficult to find a homoerotic undercurrent in this painting, as the two men on the shore appraise the swimming technique – and possibly the physique – of the youth in the water. Writer John Addington Symonds was a frequent visitor and he encouraged Tuke in his painting of male nudes in a natural outdoor setting. (Wall text)

 

Room 2: Public Indecency

This room looks at ways in which sexuality and gender identity did – and did not – go public, from the 1880s to the 1920s. Public debate over sexuality and gender identity was stirred up by scandals, campaigns and scientific studies. The trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895 for gross indecency and Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928 for supposed obscenity put a spotlight on same-sex desire. In the field of science, the project of classifying sexual practices and forms of gender presentation into distinct identities, which had been begun by German psychiatrists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing, reached Britain through the work of Havelock Ellis who co-authored his book Sexual Inversion 1896 with John Addington Symonds. However, change was slow, and many people remained unaware of new terminologies and approaches to the self that this new science offered.

 

Installation view of Henry Bishop's 'Henry Havelock Ellis' 1890s

 

Installation view of Henry Bishop’s Henry Havelock Ellis from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Henry Bishop (1868-1939) 'Henry Havelock Ellis' 1890s

 

Henry Bishop (1868-1939)
Henry Havelock Ellis
1890s
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by François Lafitte, 2003

 

 

The sexologist Henry Havelock Ellis’s great work Sexual Inversion, co-authored with John Addington Symonds, defined queer sexualities in Britain for a generation. Published in English in 1897, it drew on the experiences of people such as Edward Carpenter (whose portrait hangs nearby). It was effectively banned in Britain after the prosecution of a bookseller, George Bedborough. This informal portrait was probably made around the time of Bedborough’s trial. It depicts Ellis sitting in a deckchair in Henry Bishop’s studio in St Ives. There is some evidence Bishop was attracted to men and Ellis’s non-judgemental attitudes may have encouraged Bishop to make his acquaintance. He became a lifelong friend. (Wall text)

 

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) 'Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints' 1920

 

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953)
Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints
1920
Tempera on linen over board
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

 

 

Oscar Wilde described the home of the artist and designer Charles Ricketts and his lifelong partner the painter Charles Shannon as ‘the one house in London where you will never be bored’. Here, the couple are playfully depicted by their friend Edmund Dulac in the robes of Dominican friars. These robes possibly hint at the permanence of their bond: monastic vows were, after all, intended to mark entry for life into an all-male community. The peacock feather in Rickett’s hand signals their devotion to aestheticism, an art movement dedicated to beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’. By the 1920s, this was an emblem of a previous era. (Wall text)

 

Charles Buchel (1872-1950) 'Radclyffe Hall' (installation view) 1918

 

Charles Buchel (1872-1950)
Radclyffe Hall (installation view)
1918
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by Una Elena Vincenzo (née Taylor), Lady Troubridge, 1963

 

 

Born ‘Marguerite’ Radclyffe Hall and known as ‘John’ to close friends, Radclyffe Hall was a key figure in provoking debate on female same-sex desire. This portrait was made ten years before Hall found fame as the author of The Well of Loneliness 1928. Despite the pleas of literary figures, including Virginia Woolf, this novel was effectively banned on the grounds of obscenity for its frank depiction of female same-sex desire. It was semi-autobiographical and was influenced by Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion. Hall’s sober jacket, skirt, cravat and monocle in this image reflected contemporary female fashions for a more masculine style of dress. After the trial, Hall’s clothes and cropped hair became associated with lesbianism and this portrait has become a queer icon. It was given to the National Portrait Gallery by Hall’s lover, Una Troubridge. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Room 2 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 2 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 2 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Oscar Wilde’s Prison Door c. 1883

 

 

This is the door of Oscar Wilde’s prison cell at Reading Gaol. Wilde spent three months of his incarceration writing a tortured letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. This was later published as De Profundis (‘from the depths’). Wilde was not allowed to send the letter, although the manuscript was given back to him when he left prison. He told his friend Robert Ross, ‘I know that on the day of my release I will merely be moving from one prison into another, and there are times when the whole world seems to be no larger than my cell, and as full of terror for me’. (Wall text)

 

Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington. 'Oscar Wilde' c. 1881

 

Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington
Oscar Wilde
c. 1881
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, California

 

 

The American artist Harper Pennington gave this portrait to Wilde and his wife Constance as a wedding present in 1884. It captures Wilde as a young man aged 27, on the cusp of success and it hung in Wilde’s home in Tite Street, Chelsea, London. While awaiting trial, Wilde was declared bankrupt and all his possessions, including this portrait, were sold at public auction to pay his debts. Few objects from his extensive collection have been traced. This painting was bought by Wilde’s friend Ada Leverson and it was kept in storage. Wilde told a friend that Ada’s husband ‘could not have it in his drawing-room as it was obviously, on account of its subject, demoralising to young men, and possibly to young women of advanced views’. (Wall text)

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) 'Enter Herodias from 'Salome' by Oscar Wilde' 1890s

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)
Enter Herodias from ‘Salome’ by Oscar Wilde
1890s
Photo-process print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Here Herodias, Salome’s mother makes a dramatic entrance, bare-breasted and positioned at the centre of the composition. The grotesque figure on the left plucks at her cloak, his robe barely concealing his giant phallus, while the slender page appears notably unmoved. They seem to epitomise two forms of masculinity: the grotesquely heterosexual and the elegantly ambiguous. Oscar Wilde is satirised as the showman-like jester in the foreground. (Wall text)

 

Cecil Beaton. 'Cecil Beaton and his Friends' 1927

 

Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)
Cecil Beaton and his Friends
1927
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London. Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1991

 

 

This photograph was taken at Wilsford Manor in Wiltshire, Stephen Tennant’s childhood home. The party depicted here includes Tennant, artist Rex Whistler, society hostess Zita Jungman and Beaton himself, although their elaborate fancy dress and make-up makes it hard to tell them apart. The poet Siegfried Sassoon, Tennant’s lover at this time, wrote in his diary, ‘It was very amusing, and they were painted up to the eyes, but I didn’t quite like it’. (Wall text)

 

Room 3: Theatrical Types

The use of ‘theatrical’ as a euphemism for queer hints at the rich culture on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage. The extent to which audiences were aware of this varied. Music hall male and female ‘impersonation acts’ were wildly popular but were mostly seen as innocent ‘family fun’. In the formal theatre, plays for public production had to be passed by the Lord Chamberlain’s office. While some directors found ways to avoid censorship, there were few positive and explicit depictions of queer lives and experience. Many celebrities who were in same-sex relationships understandably tried to keep their lives from public view, although their desires were often open secrets. Nevertheless, whether as the subject of a moralistic ‘problem’ play or an innuendo in a saucy song, queer perspectives could find public expression on the stage.

 

Installation view of Room 3 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 3 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Unknown photographer, published by The Philco Publishing Company. 'Hetty King (Winifred Ems)' 1910s

 

Unknown photographer, published by The Philco Publishing Company
Hetty King (Winifred Ems)
1910s
National Portrait Gallery

 

 

Angus McBean

Angus McBean’s career was forged in the theatre. Success came in 1936 with his photographs of Max Beerbohm’s The Happy Hypocrite 1896, starring Ivor Novello. In a break with convention, McBean’s close-up images were well lit with studio lights and staged as intimate tableaux. Inspired by the International Surrealist exhibitions of 1936 and 1937, he began to make playful ‘surrealised portraits’, which were initially published in The Sketch. These used complex props and staging to create fantastical scenes and to give the illusion of distorted scale.

The images here all depict sitters who were in same-sex relationships. McBean’s own relationships with men led to a police raid on his house and his arrest in 1942 for criminal acts of homosexuality. He was convicted and sentenced to four years in jail but was released in 1944 and quickly reestablished his reputation as a photographer.

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Sir Robert Murray Helpmann' 1950

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Sir Robert Murray Helpmann
1950
Photograph, bromide print on paper
© Estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

McBean’s portrait of Robert Helpmann, published in The Tatler and Bystander on 28 April 1948, shows him in the role of Hamlet, which he was then playing at Stratford-upon-Avon. The production was designed to be Victorian gothic: an Elsinore of guttering candles and chiaroscuro lighting effects. There is perhaps some suggestion of this in the heavy shadows of McBean’s photograph, while Helpmann’s dramatic make-up emphasises his melancholic expression. The backdrop was created from a blown-up photograph of text from the First Folio of the play. In defiance of the law, Helpmann lived comparatively openly with his partner, the theatre director Michael Benthall. Their relationship lasted from 1938 until Benthall’s death, in 1974. (Wall text)

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Danny La Rue' 1968

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Danny La Rue
1968
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Born Danny Carroll, Danny La Rue was one of the greatest stars in female impersonation. La Rue first performed while in the navy during the Second World War and later toured with all male revues such as Forces in Petticoats before becoming a cabaret star. La Rue’s glamorous appearance on stage, captured here, was undercut by the gruff ‘wotcher mates’, with which he opened his set. La Rue preferred the term ‘comic in a frock’ to ‘female impersonator’ and described his act as ‘playing a woman knowing that everyone knows it’s a fella’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Glen Byam Shaw as 'Laertes'' 1934-5

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Glen Byam Shaw as ‘Laertes’
1934-5
Oil paint on canvas
Kindly lent by the sitter’s grandson, Charles Hart

 

 

The actor Glen Byam Shaw is depicted here as Laertes in John Gielgud’s 1934 critically acclaimed production of Hamlet in a costume designed by Motley: Elizabeth Montgomery, Margaret Percy and Sophie Harris. Glyn Philpot cut down the original three-quarter length portrait after it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1935. This reduction puts even greater focus on Byam Shaw’s face and heavy stage make-up. While the image is typical of productions of the period, the medium of the portrait removes it from its original theatrical context. Coupled with Byam Shaw’s arch expression, the overriding impression is one of high camp. Byam Shaw had almost certainly been the lover of the poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and may have met Philpot through Sassoon. (Wall text)

 

Francis Goodman (1913-1989) 'Oliver Messel' 1945

 

Francis Goodman (1913-1989)
Oliver Messel
1945
Photograph, silver gelatin print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by the estate of Francis Goodman, 1989

 

 

Francis Goodman’s carefully posed photograph depicts Oliver Messel, the foremost British stage designer from the 1920s to the 1950s, surrounded by eclectic props. The producer Charles Cochran recalled how Messel ‘would pull something new out of his pocket – usually something used for domestic work – which he proposed to employ to give the illusion of some other fabric’. Messel was attracted to men and his fascination with dandyish excess, pastiche and artifice has been interpreted as a queer aesthetic. (Wall text)

 

Paul Tanqueray (1905-1991) 'Douglas Byng' 1934

 

Paul Tanqueray (1905-1991)
Douglas Byng
1934
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery. Given by Paul Tanqueray, 1974

 

 

Gay performer Douglas Byng gained the title ‘The Highest Priest of Camp’ with songs such as ‘Doris the Goddess of Wind’, ‘I’m a Mummy (An Old Egyptian Queen)’ and ‘Cabaret Boys’, which he performed with Lance Lester. Coward described him as ‘The most refined vulgarity in London, mais quel artiste!’ Byng’s costume in Paul Tanqueray’s photograph was probably the one he wore for his song ‘Wintertime’. (Wall text)

 

Room 4: Bloomsbury and Beyond

The Bloomsbury Group of artists and writers famously ‘lived in squares and loved in triangles’. Dora Carrington had relationships with men and women but loved and was loved by Lytton Strachey, who was attracted to men. Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell lived together in Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex. A chosen few of Duncan Grant’s male lovers made visits but Paul Roche was forced to camp on the South Downs as he did not meet with Bell’s approval. Bell’s husband Clive lived apart from her but they remained happily married. While sexual intimacy was valued by the Group, it was not the most important bond tying the members together. Their network was a profoundly queer experiment in modern living founded on radical honesty and mutual support.

Bloomsbury’s matter-of-fact acceptance of same-sex desire was unusual but not unique. The objects in this room show a variety of different perspectives, from the quiet homeliness of Ethel Sands’s Tea with Sickert, to Gluck’s defiant self-portrait. Together, they reveal a generation of artists and sitters exploring, confronting and coming to terms with themselves and their desires.

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring Ethel Walker’s Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa 1920

 

Ethel Walker (1861-1951) 'Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa' 1920

 

Ethel Walker (1861-1951)
Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa
1920
Oil paint on canvas

 

 

The composition of this painting reveals Ethel Walker’s fascination with Greco-Roman friezes, as well as the artistic possibilities of the female nude. The painting is inspired by Book IV of Homer’s Odyssey, in which the princess Nausicaa bathes with her maidens. In 1900, Walker became the first woman member of the New English Arts Club, whose select committee reacted to this painting with ‘spontaneous and enthusiastic applause’. There has been some speculation about the nature of Walker’s relationship with painter Clara Christian, with whom she lived and worked in the 1880s, although little evidence survives. This image offers a utopian vision of an all-female community. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring Duncan Grant’s Bathing 1911 (at left in the bottom image)

 

Duncan Grant. 'Bathing' 1911

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Bathing
1911
Oil paint on canvas
2286 x 3061 mm
© Tate. Purchased 1931

 

 

Bathing was conceived as part of a decorative scheme for the dining room at Borough Polytechnic, and it was Duncan Grant’s first painting to receive widespread public attention. Grant’s design takes inspiration from summers spent around the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which was one of a number of sites associated with London’s queer culture. The painting celebrates the strength and beauty of the male form, and its homoerotic implications were not lost on Grant’s contemporaries: the National Review described the dining room as a ‘nightmare’ which would have a ‘degenerative’ effect on the polytechnic’s working-class students. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) 'Bathers by the Pond' (installation view) 1920-21

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Bathers by the Pond (installation view)
1920-21
Oil paint on canvas
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council 1985)

 

 

This painting shows a scene filled with homoerotic possibilities. The setting is possibly Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex, where Duncan Grant lived with Vanessa Bell, her children and his lover David (Bunny) Garnett. Grant’s use of dots of colour shows the influences of the pointillist technique pioneered by Georges Seurat. The nude figure in the foreground basks in the sun while the seated figures behind him exchange appreciative glances. Swimming ponds often served as cruising grounds and it is perhaps unsurprising that this work was not exhibited in Grant’s lifetime. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) 'Paul Roche Reclining' c. 1946

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Paul Roche Reclining (installation view)
c. 1946
Oil paint on canvas
The Charleston Trust

 

 

This painting depicts Duncan Grant’s close friend and possible lover Paul Roche, lying as if asleep. He is depicted against a patterned background reminiscent of colours and fabrics produced by the Omega Workshop, the design collective founded in 1913 by Roger Fry. These soft textures contrast with Roche’s bare torso, which is further emphasised by his briefs, socks and open shirt. Grant and Roche met by chance in July 1946: after making eye contact crossing the road at Piccadilly Circus, the two struck up a conversation. Their friendship lasted until Grant’s death in 1978. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant produced erotic works on paper prolifically throughout his life. These objects were created in private and for personal consumption only. Racially diverse figures are presented in various states of sexual play, and Grant’s range of representation moves from explicit passion to tender post- coital repose. Overlapping bodies are depicted in impossible contortions, and the works reveal Grant’s fascination with the artistic possibilities of the male form as well as the importance of harmonious composition. The objects also demonstrate a characteristically witty approach to sexuality, with some copulating figures playfully masquerading as ballet dancers and wrestlers. As his daughter Angelica Garnett recalled, one of Grant’s favourite maxims was to ‘never be ashamed’, and his private erotica offers an unapologetic celebration of gay male sex and love.

 

Installation view of erotic drawing by Duncan Grant

Installation view of erotic drawing by Duncan Grant

 

Installation views of erotic drawings by Duncan Grant

 

Installation view of Ethel Sands' 'Tea with Sickert' c. 1911-12

 

Installation view of Ethel Sands’ Tea with Sickert c. 1911-12 from Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Ethel Sands (1873-1962) 'Tea with Sickert' c. 1911-12

 

Ethel Sands (1873-1962)
Tea with Sickert
c. 1911-12
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Bequeathed by Colonel Christopher Sands 2000, accessioned 2001

 

 

The scene of this painting is the sitting room Nan Hudson and Sands’s home. Although it features two figures – the artist Walter Sickert and Hudson – the table is set for afternoon tea for three. The composition of the painting is arranged as if the artist was standing behind Nan, and this perspective highlights their position as a couple. In 1912, the work was exhibited as part of Sands and Hudson’s joint exhibition at the Carfax Gallery and it drew mixed reactions: Westminster Gazette called it ‘a daring picture’ but ‘a somewhat overwhelming indulgence in pure orange vermilion’. (Wall text)

 

Clare Atwood (1866-1962) 'John Gielgud's Room' 1933

 

Clare Atwood (1866-1962)
John Gielgud’s Room
1933
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Mrs E.L. Shute 1937

 

 

This picture was painted in Sir John Gielgud’s flat at the time he was playing Richard II in Gordon Daviot’s Richard of Bordeaux at the New Theatre. Rather than emphasising his life in the public eye, this work draws attention to Gieglud’s domestic life. In this way, Clare ‘Tony’ Atwood gently subverts traditional associations of the feminine with private space. Atwood lived in a menage a trois with Gielgud’s second-cousin, Edith (Edy) Craig and the feminist playwright Christopher St John, who had previously lived together as an openly lesbian couple. St John later stated that ‘the bond between Edy and me was strengthened not weakened by Tony’s association with us’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Gluck's 'Self-Portrait' 1942

 

Installation view of Gluck’s Self-Portrait 1942 from Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) 'Self-Portrait' 1942

 

Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein)
Self-Portrait
1942
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London
Given by the sitter and artist, ‘Gluck’ (Hannah Gluckstein), 1973

 

 

Gluck locks gazes with the viewer in this unflinching self-portrait. Born Hannah Gluckstein, Gluck requested that the name Gluck be reproduced with ‘no prefix, suffix or quotes’. Gluck exhibited to great acclaim at the ‘The Gluck Room’ of The Fine Art Society, where visitors included Queen Mary. This painting was painted in 1942, in a difficult period in Gluck’s relationship with Nesta Obermer, Gluck’s ‘darling wife’. Obermer was frequently away, sometimes with her husband Seymour Obermer. In 1944, their relationship broke down and Gluck went to live with Edith Shackleton Herald. Their relationship lasted until Gluck’s death. (Wall text)

 

Gluck (1895-1978) 'Lilac and Guelder Rose' 1932-7

 

Gluck (1895-1978)
Lilac and Guelder Rose
1932-7
Oil paint on canvas
Manchester Art Gallery

 

 

This was one of a number of flower paintings that Gluck made during and immediately after her relationship with society florist and author Constance Spry, who she met in 1932. Spry was a leading figure in cultivating a fashion for white flowers, and often used Gluck’s paintings to illustrate her articles. Many of Spry’s customers also commissioned flower paintings from Gluck. When Lilac and Guelder Rose was exhibited at Gluck’s 1937 exhibition at the Fine Art Society, it was much admired by Lord Villiers, who remarked ‘It’s gorgeous, I feel I could bury my face in it’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Henry Thomas' (installation view) 1934-5

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Henry Thomas (installation view)
1934-5
Oil paint on canvas
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Bequeathed by Mrs Rosemary Newgas, the neice of the artist 2004)

 

 

Henry Thomas was Glyn Philpot’s servant and one of his favourite models. The high-cheekboned angularity of Thomas’s face is echoed in the diagonal lines of the abstracted background, perhaps an allusion to the batik fabric behind. The exact nature of Thomas and Philpot’s relationship is unknown. Many of Philpot’s depictions of Thomas carry a homoerotic charge and some are exoticising. What Thomas felt about his years with Philpot from 1929 to the artist’s death in 1937 is unknown. The words he wrote on Philpot’s funeral wreath, ‘For memory to my dear master as well as my father and brother to me’, hints at the imbalance between them, while also suggesting many complex layers of relationship. (Wall text)

 

Edward Wolfe (1897-1982) 'Portrait of Pat Nelson' 1930s

 

Edward Wolfe (1897-1982)
Portrait of Pat Nelson (installation view)
1930s
Oil paint on canvas
James O’Connor

 

 

Patrick Nelson emigrated from Jamaica to North Wales in 1937, before settling in London to study law the following year. While living in Bloomsbury, Nelson worked as an artists’ model and soon became acquainted with Edward Wolfe. Nelson would also meet other prominent gay artists at this time, including his sometime boyfriend and lifelong friend Duncan Grant. Wolfe’s depiction of Nelson against the rich green background is exoticising and his pose invites the viewer to admire his body. Such objectification was typical of many depictions of black men from this time and reflects an uneven power dynamic, although Nelson’s friendship with members of the Bloomsbury group adds a level of complexity to the relationship between artist and sitter. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Man with a Gun' (installation view) 1933

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Man with a Gun (installation view)
1933
Oil paint on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Bequeathed by Jeffrey Daniels, 1986

 

 

Glyn Philpot developed a strong reputation as a society portraitist until the 1930s, at which point he began to explore modernist forms, as well as express his sexuality more openly. This work depicts Philpot’s friend Jan Erland, who was the subject of a series of paintings by Philpot on the theme of sports and leisure. Erland is depicted cradling a gun which, he recalled, had been specifically borrowed for the occasion. Erland’s firm grip on the gun’s phallic barrel seems suggestive. Writing to his sister Daisy, Philpot described ‘every moment with this dear Jan’ as filled with ‘inspiration and beauty’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Man with a Gun' 1933

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Man with a Gun
1933
Oil paint on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Bequeathed by Jeffrey Daniels, 1986

 

 

Tate Britain today opens the first exhibition dedicated to queer British art. Unveiling material that relates to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ+) identities, the show marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. It presents work from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 – a time of seismic shifts in gender and sexuality that found expression in the arts as artists and viewers explored their desires, experiences and sense of self.

Spanning the playful to the political, the explicit to the domestic, Queer British Art 1861-1967 showcases the rich diversity of queer visual art and its role in society. Themes explored in the exhibition include coded desires amongst the Pre-Raphaelites, representations of and by women who defied convention (including Virginia Woolf), and love and lust in sixties Soho. It features works by major artists such as Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan, Evelyn de Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton alongside queer ephemera, personal photographs, film and magazines.

Work from 1861 to 1967 by artists with diverse sexualities and gender identities is showcased, ranging from covert images of same-sex desire such as Simeon Solomon’s Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864 through to the open appreciation of queer culture in David Hockney’s Going to be a Queen for Tonight 1960. A highlight of the exhibition is a section focusing on the Bloomsbury set and their contemporaries – an artistic group famous for their bohemian attitude towards sexuality. The room includes intimate paintings of lovers, scenes of the homes artists shared with their partners and large commissions by artists such as Duncan Grant and Ethel Walker.

Many of the works on display were produced in a time when the terms ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ had little public recognition. The exhibition illustrates the ways in which sexuality became publically defined through the work of sexologists such as Henry Havelock Ellis and campaigners such as Edward Carpenter. It also looks at the high profile trials of Oscar Wilde and Radclyffe Hall. Objects on display include the door from Wilde’s prison cell, Charles Buchel’s portrait of Radclyffe Hall and erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley.

In contrast to the bleak outlook from the courtroom prior to 1967, queer culture was embraced by the British public in the form of theatre. From music hall acts to costume design, the theatre provided a forum in which sexuality and gender expression could be openly explored. Striking examples on display include photographs of performers such as Beatrix Lehmann, Berto Pasuka and Robert Helpmann by Angus McBean, who was jailed for his sexuality in 1942, alongside stage designs by Oliver Messel and Edward Burra. Theatrical cards of music hall performers such as Vesta Tilley (whose act as ‘Burlington Bertie’ had a large lesbian following) are featured, as well as a pink wig worn in Jimmy Slater’s act ‘A Perfect Lady’ from the 1920s.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 shows how artists and audiences challenged the established views of sexuality and gender identity between two legal landmarks. Some of the works in the show were intensely personal while others spoke to a wider public, helping to forge a sense of community. Alongside the exhibition is a room showing six films co-commissioned by Tate and Channel 4 Random Acts. Created in response to Queer British Art 1861-1967 and featuring figures in the LGBTQ+ community, including Sir Ian McKellen and Shon Faye, they present personal stories prompted by the themes in the show, and invite visitors to relate their own experiences.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 is curated by Clare Barlow, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain with Amy Concannon, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Why is the word ‘queer’ used in the exhibition title?

Queer has a mixed history – from the 19th century onwards it has been used both as a term of abuse and as a term by LGBT people to refer to themselves. Our inspiration for using it came from Derek Jarman who said that it used to frighten him but now ‘for me to use the word queer is a liberation’. More recently, of course, it has become reclaimed as a fluid term for people of different sexualities and gender identities. Historians of sexuality have also argued that it is preferable to other terms for sexualities in the past as these often don’t map onto modern sexual identities. In addition to carrying out audience research, we took advice from Stonewall and other LGBT charities and held focus groups with LGBT people. The advice from all of these sources was overwhelmingly that we should use it. While we tried other titles, no other option captured the full diversity of sexualities and gender identities that are represented in the show.

Text provided by Clare Barlow, curator of Queer British Art.

 

Installation view of Alvaro Guevara's 'Dame Edith Sitwell' 1916

 

Installation view of Alvaro Guevara’s Dame Edith Sitwell 1916 from Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Alvaro Guevara (1894-1951) 'Dame Edith Sitwell' 1916

 

Alvaro Guevara (1894-1951)
Dame Edith Sitwell
1916
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Lord Duveen, Walter Taylor and George Eumorfopoulos through the Art Fund 1920

 

 

The poet Edith Sitwell does not seem to have had sexual relationships but was viciously satirised by the artist and writer Wyndham Lewis as a lesbian. Sitwell described the life of the artist as ‘very Pauline’, referring to the letters of St Paul, which may suggest she thought sex would be a distraction. She was close friends with Alvaro Guevara, the artist of this portrait, who had relationships with men and women. Diana Holman Hunt in her 1974 biography of Guevara suggested that Sitwell and Guevara shared a love that was ‘not physical but certainly romantic and spiritual.’ The bright colours reflect the designs of Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell’s Omega Workshops and Sitwell is sitting on a dining chair designed by Fry. (Wall text)

 

Room 5: Defying Conventions

This room shows how artists and writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenged gender norms. Some, such as Laura Knight, laid claim to traditionally masculine sources of artistic authority by depicting themselves in the act of painting nude female models. Others, such as Vita Sackville-West, had open marriages and same-sex relationships, or, like Claude Cahun, questioned the very concept of gender binaries. This was a period of radical social change. Women took on new roles during the First and Second World Wars, and gained the vote in 1918. Sackville-West worked with the Land Girls. Cahun resisted the Nazis on Jersey and was sentenced to death, imprisoned for a year and only freed by the end of the war. New fashions developed. For women, wearing trousers in public became stylishly avant-garde. Expectations were changing. Public discussion about female same-sex desire offered ways of viewing the self, but it also brought problems. Lives that had previously passed without comment might now be labelled transgressive. But for some, this was a time of liberating possibilities.

 

Installation views of Room 5 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring with at left, Laura Knight’s Self-portrait 1913; second right, William Strang’s Lady with a Red Hat 1918, and at right Alvaro Guevara’s Dame Edith Sitwell 1916

 

Installation view of William Strang's 'Lady with a Red Hat' 1918

 

Installation view of William Strang’s Lady with a Red Hat 1918 from Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

William Strang. 'Lady with a Red Hat' 1918

 

William Strang (1859-1921)
Lady with a Red Hat
1918
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council
Purchased 1919

 

 

This portrait is of writer Vita Sackville-West. According to her son, Nigel Nicolson, she attended sittings with her lover Violet Trefusis. Sackville-West adopted a male persona, ‘Julian’, at some points in this relationship, allowing her and Trefusis to pose as a married couple so they could stay together at a boarding-house. Her fashionable dress in this image, however, gives no sign of such androgynous role-playing. The book in Sackville-West’s hand may refer to her book Poems of East and West 1917. At the time this was painted she was writing Challenge, a novel about her relationship with Trefusis, but this was not published until 1974. (Wall text)

 

Laura Knight (1877-1970) 'Self-portrait' 1913

 

Laura Knight (1877-1970)
Self-portrait
1913
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

When this painting was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1913, the reviewer Claude Phillips wrote ‘it repels, not by any special inconvenience – for it is harmless enough and with an element of sensuous attraction – but by dullness and something dangerously close to vulgarity’. His strong reaction hints at anxieties over women painting the female nude, which subverted the hierarchy of male artist and female model. When Laura Knight was at art school women were not been allowed to attend life classes. Her sensuous depiction of herself painting Ella Naper, a friend, lays claim to a professional artistic identity. In 1936, Knight was the first woman to become an Academician since its foundation. (Wall text)

 

Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980) 'Rest Time in the Life Class' 1923

 

Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980)
Rest Time in the Life Class
1923
Oil paint on canvas
City Art Centre, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries

 

 

This image depicts the life-class Johnstone taught for women at Edinburgh College of Art, which Johnstone presents as a space of friendship and collaboration. In the foreground, one woman comments on another’s drawing while in the background, Johnstone depicts herself gesturing towards the canvas. Johnstone had an intense relationship with Cecile Walton and Walton’s husband Eric Robertson, who were also part of the Edinburgh Group of artists. She later married fellow artist David Macbeth Sutherland. (Wall text)

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Untitled' 1936

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Untitled' 1936

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954)
Untitled
1936
2 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper

 

 

These images (to the left and right of I Extend My Arms), from a larger group of photographs, hint at different narrative possibilities for the sexless manikin. In one, the doll seems to take on a feminine air, posed as if delighting in the long hair that trails round its body. The other is less overtly gendered, wearing a hat made from an upright feather and holding aloft a tiny plant. The porcelain dolls’ heads outside the jar in one image are reminiscent of the masks that repeated occur in Cahun’s work and these images seem to hint at the themes of role-playing that Cahun explored in earlier self-portraits. (Wall text)

 

Room 6: Arcadia and Soho

London was a magnet for queer artists. In the 1950s and 1960s, Soho was the epicentre of queer culture, described by Francis Bacon as ‘the sexual gymnasium of the city’. Many of the artists shown in this room were friends, often living in London, sometimes sharing studios. Several were encouraged by the patron and collector Peter Watson, founder of the influential literary magazine Horizon and co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Their work was often inspired by travel: to the Mediterranean, to costal Brittany, or to the seedy American bars that inspired works such as Edward Burra’s Izzy Orts.

John Craxton, John Minton and Keith Vaughan have been described as ‘neo-romantics’. Craxton, however, preferred the term ‘Arcadian’, referencing a classical utopian vision of a harmonious wilderness, populated by innocent shepherds. Yet, while it is idealised, depictions of Arcadia still sometimes include references to death and its peace can be disrupted by undercurrents of desire.

 

Installation view of Christopher Wood's 'Nude Boy in a Bedroom' 1930

 

Installation view of Christopher Wood’s Nude Boy in a Bedroom 1930 from Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Christopher Wood (1901-1930) 'Nude Boy in a Bedroom' 1930

 

Christopher Wood (1901-1930)
Nude Boy in a Bedroom
1930
Oil paint on hardboard laid on plywood
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

 

 

Christopher Wood’s Nude Boy in a Bedroom depicts the artist’s friend and sometime lover Francis Rose, in a hotel room in Brittany where they stayed with a group of friends in 1930. The group was later joined by Wood’s mistress, Frosca Munster. According to Rose, the work ‘is a nude painting of me washing at a basin’ in which Wood ‘scattered playing cards on the bed’. The cards are tarot cards and the top card shows the Page of Cups reversed, symbolising anxiety about a deception that will be soon discovered, or referring to someone incapable of making commitments. Wood may have included these cards as an oblique reference to his ongoing relationships with his male lover and female mistress. (Wall text)

 

Edward Burra. 'Soldiers at Rye' 1941

 

Edward Burra (1905-1976)
Soldiers at Rye
1941
Tate
© Tate. Presented by Studio 1942

 

 

Edward Burra based Soldiers at Rye on sketches of troops around his home town of Rye between September and October 1940. His macabre sensibility was informed by his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. In the final stages of painting, he added red and yellow Venetian carnival masks, giving the figures the air of predatory birds – a regular symbol in Burra’s work from the 1930s. Seen from behind, the soldiers’ close-fitting uniforms and bulbous physiques led one critic to comment that they had the ‘bulging husky leathery shape’ of ‘military ruffians’. There is an ominous atmosphere to the painting, conveying a dangerous homoeroticism. (Wall text)

 

John Craxton (1922-2009) 'Head of a Cretan Sailor' 1946

 

John Craxton (1922-2009)
Head of a Cretan Sailor
1946
Oil paint on board
On loan from the London Borough of Camden Art Collection
© Estate of John Craxton. All rights reserved, DACS 2016
Photo credit: London Borough of Camden

 

 

The sitter in this portrait was on national service in the Greek Navy when he first met John Craxton in a taverna in Poros. He caught Craxton’s eye with his performance of the Greek dance the zeibékiko, with ‘splendidly controlled steps, clicking his thumbs and forefingers and circling round and round in his white uniform like a seagull’. Craxton followed him to Crete in 1947, where the sailor was now working as a butcher in Herákleion. The island was a revelation and Craxton returned often, eventually partly settling there in 1960. (Wall text)

 

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Robert Medley’s Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists 1950 at left, Keith Vaughan’s Kouros 1960 second left, Keith Vaughan’s Three Figures 1960-1 second right, and his Bather: August 4th 1961 1961 at right

 

Robert Medley (1905-1994) 'Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists' 1950

 

Robert Medley (1905-1994)
Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists
1950
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1992

 

 

Exhibited at the Hanover Gallery in February 1950, Robert Medley’s painting of racing cyclists on a summer’s evening in a Gravesend public park underscores his attraction to cross-class sociability. The river esplanade offers a permissible space for observing the muscular bodies and taut limbs of the youths and their admirers. The title refers to Virgil’s Eclogues, in which pastoral tranquillity is disrupted by erotic forces and revolutionary change. Medley wrote in his autobiography that the eclogue theme provided for ‘a more contemporary subject matter’. One of the cyclists was modelled on fellow artist Keith Vaughan’s lover, Ramsay McClure. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Keith Vaughan's 'Kouros' 1960

 

Installation view of Keith Vaughan’s Kouros 1960 from Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Kouros' 1960

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Kouros
1960
Oil paint on canvas
Private collection

 

 

In a diary entry for 1956, Keith Vaughan wrote of ‘A silver bromide image of Johnny standing naked in my studio, aloof, slightly tense, withdrawn like a Greek Kouros, gazing apprehensively at himself in the mirror, lithe, beautiful…. it lies tormenting me on my table’. This was a photograph of Vaughan’s lover Johnny Walsh who is also represented in this painting. A ‘Kouros’ was a free-standing ancient Greek sculpture of a male youth and the image may also have been inspired by a visit Vaughan made to Greece in 1960. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Three Figures' (installation view) 1960-1

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Three Figures (installation view)
1960-1
Oil paint on board

 

 

Three Figures is typical of Keith Vaughan’s approach to group figure painting. The subjects are depicted in indeterminate locations and the lack of details a makes it to impossible to identify them or guess at their social class or profession. The close proximity of the figures in this image and the contrast between the nudity of the man with his back towards us and the other two men might suggest that this is an erotic encounter. Yet the composition remains intentionally enigmatic. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Bather: August 4th 1961' 1961

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Bather: August 4th 1961
1961
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1962

 

 

Keith Vaughan wrote in his journal, ‘The continual use of the male figure…retains always the stain of a homosexual conception… “K.V. paints nude young men”. Perfectly true, but I feel I must hide my head in shame. Inescapable, I suppose – social guilt of the invert’. He wrestled with the competing impulses of figuration and abstraction in his work, describing how: ‘I wanted to go beyond the specific, identifiable image – yet I did not want to do an “abstract” painting. Bather: August 4th 1961 was the first break through. Every attempt up to then had finally resolved itself into another figure painting or an “abstract”.’ (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan

In contrast over his concerns whether his desires would be shown in his paintings, Keith Vaughan’s private drawings are explicitly erotic. Across them he depicts a range of different encounters, from sadomasochistic fantasies through to moments of tender intimacy. This is perhaps a hint of these fluctuating desires in his descriptions of relationship with his lover Jonny Walsh, of which Vaughan said, ‘I can move from tenderness to sadism in the same harmonic key’.

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Drawing of two men kissing' 1958-73

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Drawing of two men kissing
1958-73
Tate Archive © DACS, The Estate of Keith Vaughan

 

 

Room 7: Public/Private Lives

This room explores the contradictions of queer life in the 1950s and 1960s. Before the partial decriminalisation of sex between men in 1967, the boundaries between public and private were acutely important to couples in same-sex relationships. Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell had separate beds in their tiny flat to maintain the pretence that they weren’t a couple. Such caution was justified. Peter Wildeblood, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Michael Pitt-Rivers were sent to jail in a case that became a rallying point for calls to change the law, which was increasingly attacked as a ‘blackmailer’s charter’. Lesbianism was not illegal, but women faced prejudice. Avant-garde photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer was thrown out of her room after she left a copy of Radclyffe Hall’s banned book The Well of Loneliness out in plain sight.

Yet despite the threat of exposure, couples lived happily together, community flourished, and a few even became queer celebrities.

 

Stephen Tennant (1906-1986) 'Lascar, a story of the Maritime Boulevard' Nd

 

Stephen Tennant (1906-1986)
Lascar, a story of the Maritime Boulevard
Nd
Ink, watercolour and collage on paper
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, London

 

 

In this illustration for Stephen Tennant’s novel Lascar a riotous collage of burly sailors, bright flowers, letters and visiting cards seem to burst forth from the page. Some of Tennant’s initial sketches of sailors were made on visits to the Old Port of Marseilles in the 1930s, but he constantly reworked the illustrations and text, never completing it. In the last two decades of his life, visitors to Wilsford Manor in Wiltshire where Tennant lived in virtual seclusion, found pages of the novel strewn across the decaying interiors. (Wall text)

 

Because We’re Queers

Between 1959 and 1962, couple Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell borrowed and stole books from libraries around Islington. They cut out some of the illustrations, which they used to paper the walls of their flat and to create new collaged covers for the books. They then returned the volumes to the shelves of the libraries and waited to watch reactions.

The covers they created are full of jokes and references to queer culture. The addition of wrestling men turns Queen’s Favourite into an innuendo. Acting family the Lunts become kitsch glass figurines, while The Secret of Chimneys is depicted as a pair of giant cats. Others were more explicit: The World of Paul Slickey gains not only a phallic budgerigar but also a cut out shape of an erect penis. The plays of Emlyn Williams are retitled Knickers must fall and Fucked by Monty.

Orton and Halliwell were eventually caught and jailed for six months for ‘malicious damage’, which Orton claimed was ‘because we’re queers’. Prison destroyed Halliwell. While Orton became a successful playwright, Halliwell became an alcoholic. In 1967, he killed Orton and took his own life. Yet while their lives ended in tragedy, the bookcovers give insight into a playful and subversive relationship.

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. 'The Secret Chimneys by Agatha Christie'

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
The Secret Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Islington Local History Centre

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. 'Queen's Favourite'

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
Queen’s Favourite
Islington Local History Centre

 

Interior of the flat at 25 Noel Rd showing the extent of the collages

 

Interior of the flat at 25 Noel Rd showing the extent of the collages
Image courtesy of Islington Council

 

Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967) 'Untitled' (installation view) 1967

 

Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967)
Untitled (installation view)
1967
Printed papers on hardboard
Tate. Purchased 2016

 

 

This is one of 19 collages that Halliwell exhibited at the Anno Domino gallery in 1967. Unlike the earlier book-covers, these were made by Halliwell alone, yet they are similarly kaleidoscopic in their use of images. An archeological artefact here sits alongside fashion photography, sea-shells, insects and words from newspapers and magazines. Some of these juxtapositions are playful: ‘Eye’ appears where an eye would be. Others are more obscure and the phrases ‘Blackmail’ and ‘dirty word’ perhaps hint at oppression. The exhibition was a failure and Halliwell’s professional frustration contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Orton, who was now established as a playwright. (Wall text)

 

George Elam. 'Joe Orton in Islington, London' 1967

 

George Elam
Joe Orton in Islington, London
1967
George Elam/Daily Mail/REX

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Quentin Crisp' 1941

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Quentin Crisp
1941
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Angus McBean met the writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp while walking in the blackout in 1941 and the two became lovers. McBean later said of Crisp, ‘He was really one of the most beautiful people I have ever photographed. It was a completely androgynous beauty and under different circumstances it would have been difficult to know what sex he was’. This ambiguity is captured in McBean’s photograph, which is posed to emphasise Crisp’s long lashes, glossy lips and elaborate ring, the position of which is suggestive of an earring. Crisp’s refusal to conform to traditional masculine appearance was courageous and unswerving. (Wall text)

 

John Deakin (1912-1972) 'Colin' (installation view) c. 1950s

 

John Deakin (1912-1972)
Colin (installation view)
c. 1950s
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
John Deakin Archive / James Moores Collection

 

 

We don’t know anything about the sitter in this portrait. Deakin’s friend Bruce Bernard, who catalogued John Deakin’s negatives, likely gave it the label ‘Colin’, perhaps from memory, perhaps from an original sleeve note by Deakin. It is therefore not clear whether it depicts a drag performance or whether the glamorous outfit reflects the sitter’s true identity. It is, however, shot in a domestic setting rather than on the stage, leaving open the possibility that it depicts the sitter’s lived experience. (Wall text)

 

John Deakin

John Deakin seems almost to embody queer Soho of the 1950s. A close friend and drinking companion of Francis Bacon, his portrait photographs include many artists, actors, poets and celebrities. His style was often startlingly unflattering, capturing his sitters as they truly were. He said of his work, ‘Being fatally drawn to the human race, what I want to do when I take a photograph is make a revelation about it. So my sitters turn into my victims’. Deakin admitted to a drink problem which led to a chequered career and was twice sacked from Vogue. After his death, many of his photographic negatives were found in a box under his bed and were saved by his friend, writer and picture editor Bruce Bernard.

 

John Deakin (1912-1972) 'The Two Roberts Asleep - Colquhoun and MacBryde' c. 1953

 

John Deakin (1912-1972)
The Two Roberts Asleep – Colquhoun and MacBryde
c. 1953
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
John Deakin Archive / James Moores Collection

 

 

Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde are here shown asleep on each other shoulders in a moment of tender intimacy. They had met on their first day at Glasgow School of Art and became lovers and lifelong partners. This photograph was probably taken at Tilty Mill, the home of the writer Elizabeth Smart, who invited Colquhoun and MacBryde to live with her and her partner the poet George Barker, when they’d been evicted from their studio in London. They spent the next four years there, combining painting with helping to raise Smart and Barker’s four children. The edges of the image show evidence of fire damage from some forgotten occasion. (Wall text)

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer

Barbara Ker-Seymer was a photographer active in the interwar years. After studying at the Chelsea School of Art, she worked for the society portrait photographer Olivia Wyndham. When Wyndham moved to New York to be with her lover, the African-American actress Edna Lloyd-Thomas, Ker-Seymer was left in charge of her studio. She established her own studio on New Bond Street in 1931, and began a successful career as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. She pursued relationships with both men and women, and was associated with the queer subculture known as the Bright Young Things. After the Second World War, she ceased to work as a photographer, opening a laundrette in 1951. Her papers, in Tate Archive, are full of playful images of her friends.

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-1993) 'Photograph album' (installation view) Nd

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-1993)
Photograph album (installation view)
Nd
Tate Archive

 

 

This creatively arranged spread in one of Ker-Seymer’s photograph albums shows images of a number of her friends, including Marty Mann, an American who was for a time Ker- Seymer’s business partner and lover. Mann’s drinking was increasingly a problem and their relationship floundered. She later became an important advocate for the newly formed ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’. (Wall text)

 

Room 8: Francis Bacon and David Hockney

The most fearless depictions of male same-sex desire in the years before 1967 are in the work of Francis Bacon and David Hockney. Bacon told how as a teenager his parents threw him out of their home for trying on his mother’s underwear. He gravitated to London, where he began his visceral exploration of the human figure. Hockney arrived in London in 1959 to study at the Royal College of Art. He was deeply impressed by Bacon’s 1960 exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, commenting ‘you can smell the balls’, but his own style was more playful, experimenting with abstraction and graffiti.

Hockney and Bacon both drew heavily on the visual culture that surrounded them, from well-established artistic sources such as Eadweard Muybridge’s innovative photographs of wrestlers to cheap bodybuilding magazines. They were not alone in spotting the homoerotic potential of this material – artists such as Christopher Wood had already used the trope of wrestlers to hint at queer intimacy. Yet Hockney and Bacon went further, fearlessly stripping away ambiguities.

Their work was controversial. Bacon’s 1955 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts was investigated by the police for obscenity while Hockney once described his early paintings as ‘homosexual propaganda’. They both continued to push the boundaries of what could be depicted in art, breaking new ground.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Two Figures in a Landscape' (installation view) 1956

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Two Figures in a Landscape (installation view)
1956
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

Two Figures in a Landscape combines the homoerotic themes of the ‘crouching nude’ and ‘figures in the grass’ that Francis Bacon explored in multiple paintings throughout the 1950s. He was inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of wrestlers and athletes, along with Michelangelo’s drawings and sculpture. Bacon adapted these to explore his homosexuality with varying degrees of ambiguity. He later explained ‘Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together’ and ‘I manipulate the Muybridge bodies into the form of the bodies I have known’. (Wall text)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Seated Figure' 1961

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Seated Figure
1961
Tate. Presented by J. Sainsbury Ltd 1961
© Estate of Francis Bacon

 

 

This image probably depicts Francis Bacon’s former lover Peter Lacy. Bacon was a masochist and Lacy once told him ‘you could live in a corner of my cottage on straw. You could sleep and shit there’. Lacy’s suit and the inclusion of domestic details such as the exotic rug and chair contrast with the tempestuous abstract backdrop, giving the image an air of suppressed violence. Bacon spoke of his treatment of sitters in his portraits as an ‘injury’ and once said ‘I hate a homely atmosphere. . . I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior and the home’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of David Hockney's 'Life Painting for a Diploma' 1962

 

Installation view of David Hockney’s Life Painting for a Diploma 1962 from Room 8 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

David Hockney (born 1937) 'Life Painting for a Diploma' 1962

 

David Hockney (born 1937)
Life Painting for a Diploma
1962
Oil paint, charcoal and collage on canvas
Yageo Foundation Collection, Taiwan

 

 

Life Painting for a Diploma formed part of David Hockney’s final submission at the Royal College of Art. The hanging skeleton displays Hockney’s skills as a draftsman but it is the well-toned bodybuilder who catches the viewer’s attention. Hockney’s gay American friend Mark Berger introduced him to ‘beefcake’ magazines such as Physique Pictorial. Here, the stereotypical model and inscription PHYSIQUE references this material. Hockney claimed he painted this image to satisfy the RCA’s requirement that students produce a number of life-drawings. The work’s title and its contrast between the arid skeleton and lively model (clearly not painted from life) subtly mocks his instructors. (Wall text)

 

David Hockney (born 1937) 'Going to be a Queen for Tonight' 1960

 

David Hockney (born 1937)
Going to be a Queen for Tonight
1960
Oil paint on canvas
Royal College of Art

 

 

The words ‘queer’ and ‘queen’, both terms for gay men at this time, are scrawled across the surface of this image. Hockney was fascinated with the graffiti in the public toilets at Earls Court Underground station. Here, messages about opportunities for casual sex were mixed with other slogans. The title playfully hints at these possibilities – ‘queen’ but only for the night. It was one of a number of paintings made by Hockney at the Royal College Of Art which reference queer urban life. Hockney described his early works as ‘a kind of mixture of Alan Davie cum Jackson Pollock cum Roger Hilton’. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Wrestlers' 1965

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Wrestlers (installation view)
1965
Watercolour and ink on paper
York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery)
Gifted through the Contemporary Art Society, as a bequest from Dr Ronald Lande, in memory of his life partner Walter Urech, 2012

 

 

Physique Photography In Britain

British Physique photography flourished after the Second World War. Body-building magazines such as Health and Strength or Man’s World could be purchased quite innocently in newsagents. For many gay men, however, these publications were an important first step towards finding a community.

Bodybuilding shots, wrestlers and ‘art studies’ offered a pretext for gay photographers such as Vince, Basil Clavery (alias ‘Royale’ and ‘Hussar’), Lon of London and John Barrington to produce homoerotic imagery. Their work often included references to classical civilisation, an established shorthand for queer culture. Some dropped the pretence of bodybuilding altogether and sold more explicit material directly to a burgeoning private market.

This was a risky business: selling or sending such images through the post could land both photographer and purchaser in jail. Yet for many gay men, the easy availability of physique imagery gave reassurance that they were not alone. Somebody out there understood and shared their desires.

 

Installation view of physique album pages

Installation view of physique album pages

 

Installation view of physique album pages from Room 8 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

 

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United Kingdom
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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?”

.
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.”

.
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.”

.
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 –

.
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

.
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.”

.
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
Saturday – Sunday, 10.00 – 5.00
The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.

The Art Institute of Chicago website

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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.

.
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