Posts Tagged ‘filmmaker

17
Jun
17

Exhibition: ‘Moholy-Nagy: Future Present’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 12th February – 18th June 2017

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'F in Field' 1920

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
F in Field
1920
Gouache and collage on paper
8 11/16 × 6 15/16 in.
Private collection, courtesy of Kunsthandel Wolfgang Werner, Bremen/Berlin
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

“To meet the manifold requirements of this age with a definite program of human values, there must come a new mentality and a new type of personality. The common denominator is the fundamental acknowledgment of human needs; the task is to recognise the moral obligation in satisfying these needs, and the aim is to produce for human needs, not for profit.”

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László Moholy-Nagy in Vision in Motion, published posthumously in 1947

 

 

New vision

One of the most creative human beings of the 20th century, and one of its most persuasive artists … “pioneering painter, photographer, sculptor, and filmmaker as well as graphic, exhibition, and stage designer, who was also an influential teacher at the Bauhaus, a prolific writer, and later the founder of Chicago’s Institute of Design.”

New visual creations, new combinations of technology and art: immersive installations featuring photographic reproductions, films, slides, posters, and examples of architecture, theatre, and industrial design that attempted to achieve a Gesamtwerk (total work) that would unify art and technology with life itself. Moholy’s “belief in the power of images and the various means by which to disseminate them” presages our current technological revolution.

It’s time another of his idioms – the moral obligation to satisfy human values by producing for human needs, not for profit – is acted upon.

The aim is to produce for human needs, not for profit.

Marcus

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

 

The first comprehensive retrospective of the work of László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) in the United States in nearly 50 years, this long overdue presentation reveals a utopian artist who believed that art could work hand-in-hand with technology for the betterment of humanity. Moholy-Nagy: Future Present examines the career of this pioneering painter, photographer, sculptor, and filmmaker as well as graphic, exhibition, and stage designer, who was also an influential teacher at the Bauhaus, a prolific writer, and later the founder of Chicago’s Institute of Design. The exhibition includes more than 250 works in all media from public and private collections across Europe and the United States, some of which have never before been shown publicly in the U.S. Also on display is a large-scale installation, the Room of the Present, a contemporary construction of an exhibition space originally conceived by Moholy-Nagy in 1930. Though never realised during his lifetime, the Room of the Present illustrates Moholy’s belief in the power of images and the various means by which to disseminate them – a highly relevant paradigm in today’s constantly shifting and evolving technological world.

 

 

 

An exhibition walkthrough of Moholy-Nagy: Future Present at LACMA. Mark Lee, Principal of Johnston Marklee and Carol S. Eliel, Curator of Modern Art at LACMA discuss how Johnston Marklee’s design of the exhibition dialogues with the multiple mediums that constitute Moholy-Nagy’s vast body of work.

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Title unknown' 1920/21

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Title unknown
1920/21
Gouache, collage, and graphite on paper
9 5/8 × 6 3/8 in.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Kate Steinitz
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photogram' 1941

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photogram
1941
Gelatin silver photogram
28 x 36 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Sally Petrilli, 1985
© 2016 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) '19' 1921

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
19
1921
Oil on canvas
44 × 36 1/2 in.
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Sibyl Moholy-Nagy
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Red Cross and White Balls' 1921

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Red Cross and White Balls
1921
Collage, ink, graphite, and watercolor on paper
8 7/16 × 11 7⁄16 in.
Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo © Museum Kunstpalast – Horst Kolberg – ARTOTHEK

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Construction' 1922

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Construction
1922
Oil and graphite on panel
21 3/8 × 17 15/16 in.
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Lydia Dorner in memory of Dr. Alexander Dorner
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Q' 1922/23

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Q
1922/23
Collage, watercolor, ink, and graphite on paper attached to carbon paper
23 3⁄16 × 18 1⁄4 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Moholy-Nagy: Future Present, the first comprehensive retrospective of the pioneering artist and educator László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) to be seen in the United States in nearly 50 years. Organized by LACMA, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and the Art Institute of Chicago, this exhibition examines the rich and varied career of the Hungarian-born modernist. One of the most versatile figures of the twentieth century avant-garde, Moholy (as he is often called) believed in the potential of art as a vehicle for social transformation and in the value of new technologies in harnessing that potential. He was a pathbreaking painter, photographer, sculptor, designer, and filmmaker as well as a prolific writer and an influential teacher in both Germany and the United States. Among his innovations were experiments with cameraless photography; the use of industrial materials in painting and sculpture; research with light, transparency, and movement; work at the forefront of abstraction; fluidity in moving between the fine and applied arts; and the conception of creative production as a multimedia endeavour. Radical for the time, these are now all firmly part of contemporary art practice.

The exhibition includes approximately 300 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, collages, photographs, photograms, photomontages, films, and examples of graphic, exhibition, and theatre design. A highlight is the full-scale realisation of the Room of the Present, an immersive installation that is a hybrid of exhibition space and work of art, seen here for the first time in the United States. This work – which includes photographic reproductions, films, images of architectural and theatre design, and examples of industrial design – was conceived by Moholy around 1930 but realised only in 2009. The exhibition is installed chronologically with sections following Moholy’s career from his earliest days in Hungary through his time at the Bauhuas (1923-28), his post-Bauhaus period in Europe, and ending with his final years in Chicago (1937-46).

Moholy-Nagy: Future Present is co-organised by Carol S. Eliel, Curator of Modern Art, LACMA; Karole P. B. Vail, Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and Matthew S. Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator, Department of Photography, Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition’s tour began at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, continued at the Art Institute of Chicago, and concludes at LACMA.

“Moholy-Nagy is considered one of the earliest modern artists actively to engage with new materials and technologies. This spirit of experimentation connects to LACMA’s longstanding interest in and support of the relationship between art and technology, starting with its 1967-71 Art and Technology Program and continuing with the museum’s current Art + Technology Lab,” according to Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. “This exhibition’s integrated view of Moholy’s work in numerous mediums reveals his relevance to contemporary art in our multi- and new media age.”

Moholy’s goal throughout his life was to integrate art, technology, and education for the betterment of humanity; he believed art should serve a public purpose. These goals defined the artist’s utopian vision, a vision that remained as constant as his fascination with light, throughout the many material changes in his oeuvre,” comments Carol S. Eliel, exhibition curator. “Light was Moholy’s ‘dream medium,’ and his experimentation employed both light itself and a range of industrial materials that take advantage of light.”

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photogram' 1925/28, printed 1929

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photogram
1925/28, printed 1929
Gelatin silver print (enlargement from photogram) from the Giedion Portfolio
15 3/4 × 11 13/16 in.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Mary Kathryn Lynch Kurtz Charitable Lead Trust, The Manfred Heiting Collection
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Self-Portrait with Hand)' 1925/29, printed 1940/49

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photograph (Self-Portrait with Hand)
1925/29, printed 1940/49
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 7 in.
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photogram' 1925/26

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photogram
1925/26
Gelatin silver photogram
7 3/16 × 9 1/2 in.
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Museum Folkwang Essen – ARTOTHEK

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photogram' 1926

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photogram
1926
Gelatin silver print
9 3/8 x 7 in.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ralph M. Parsons Fund
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

 

Photogram (1926): In the 1920s Moholy was among the first artists to make photograms by placing objects – including coins, lightbulbs, flowers, even his own hand – directly onto the surface of light-sensitive paper. He described the resulting images, simultaneously identifiable and elusive, as “a bridge leading to a new visual creation for which canvas, paintbrush, and pigment cannot serve.”

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Cover and design for Malerei Photographie Film (Painting Photography Film)' 1925

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Cover and design for Malerei Photographie Film (Painting Photography Film)
1st ed., Bauhausbücher (Bauhaus Books) 8 (Albert Langen Verlag, 1925), bound volume
9 1/16 × 7 1/16 in.
Collection of Richard S. Frary
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Once a Chicken, Always a Chicken' 1925

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Once a Chicken, Always a Chicken
1925
Photomontage (halftone reproductions, paper, watercolor, and grapite) on paper
15 × 19 in.
Alice Adam, Chicago
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

About the artist

László Moholy-Nagy was born in Hungary in 1895. He enrolled as a law student at the University of Budapest in 1915, leaving two years later to serve as an artillery officer in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. He began drawing while on the war front; after his discharge in 1918 Moholy convalesced in Budapest, where he focused on painting. He was soon drawn to the cutting-edge art movements of the period, including Cubism and Futurism. Moholy moved to Vienna in 1919 before settling in Berlin in 1920, where he served as a correspondent for the progressive Hungarian magazine MA (Today).

The letters and glyphs of Dada informed Moholy’s visual art around 1920 while the hard edged geometries and utopian goals of Russian Constructivism influenced his initial forays into abstraction shortly thereafter, particularly works that explored the interaction among coloured planes, diagonals, circles, and other geometric forms. By the early 1920s Moholy had gained a reputation as an innovative artist and perceptive theorist through exhibitions at Berlin’s radical Galerie Der Sturm as well as his writings. His lifelong engagement with industrial materials and processes – including the use of metal plating, sandpaper, and various metals and plastics then newly-developed for commercial use – began at this time.

In 1923 Moholy began teaching at the Bauhaus, an avant-garde school that sought to integrate the fine and applied arts, where his colleagues included Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and other path breaking modernists. Architect Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, invited Moholy to expand its progressive curriculum, particularly by incorporating contemporary technology into more traditional methods and materials. He also had a part in Bauhaus graphic design achievements, collaborating with Herbert Bayer on stationery, announcements, and advertising materials.

Photography was of special significance for Moholy, who believed that “a knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterates of the future will be ignorant of the use of the camera and pen alike.” In the 1920s he was among the earliest artists to make photograms by placing objects directly onto the surface of light-sensitive paper. He also made photographs using a traditional camera, often employing exaggerated angles and plunging perspectives to capture contemporary technological marvels as well as the post-Victorian freedom of the human body in the modern world. His photographs are documentary as well as observations of texture, captured in fine gradations of light and shadow. Moholy likewise made photomontages, combining assorted elements, typically newspaper and magazine clippings, resulting in what he called a “compressed interpenetration of visual and verbal wit; weird combinations of the most realistic, imitative means which pass into imaginary spheres.” Moholy-Nagy includes the largest grouping of the artist’s photomontages ever assembled.

After leaving the Bauhaus in 1928, Moholy turned to commercial, theatre, and exhibition design as his primary means of income. This work, which reached a broad audience, was frequently collaborative and interdisciplinary by its very nature and followed from the artist’s dictum “New creative experiments are an enduring necessity.”

Even as his commercial practice was expanding, Moholy’s artistic innovations and prominence in the avant-garde persisted unabated. He continued to bring new industrial materials into his painting practice, while his research into light, transparency, and movement led to his 35 mm films documenting life in the modern city, his early involvement with colour photography for advertising, and his remarkable kinetic Light Prop for an Electric Stage of 1930. An extension of his exhibition design work, Moholy’s Room of the Present was conceived to showcase art that embodied his “new vision” – endlessly reproducible photographs, films, posters, and examples of industrial design.

Forced by the rise of Nazism to leave Germany, in 1934 Moholy moved with his family to Amsterdam, where he continued to work on commercial design and to collaborate on art and architecture projects. Within a year of arriving the family was forced to move again, this time to London. Moholy’s employment there centred around graphic design, including prominent advertising campaigns for the London Underground, Imperial Airways, and Isokon furniture. He also received commissions for a number of short, documentary influenced films while in England. In 1937, the artist accepted the invitation (arranged through his former Bauhaus colleague Walter Gropius) of the Association of Arts and Industries to found a design school in Chicago, which he called the New Bauhaus – American School of Design. Financial difficulties led to its closure the following year, but Moholy reopened it in 1939 as the School of Design (subsequently the Institute of Design, today part of the Illinois Institute of Technology). Moholy transmitted his populist ethos to the students, asking that they “see themselves as designers and craftsmen who will make a living by furnishing the community with new ideas and useful products.”

Despite working full-time as an educator and administrator, Moholy continued his artistic practice in Chicago. His interest in light and shadow found a new outlet in Plexiglas hybrids of painting and sculpture, which he often called Space Modulators and intended as “vehicles for choreographed luminosity.” His paintings increasingly involved biomorphic forms and, while still abstract, were given explicitly autobiographical or narrative titles – the Nuclear paintings allude to the horror of the atomic bomb, while the Leuk paintings refer to the cancer that would take his life in 1946. Moholy’s goal throughout his life was to integrate art, technology, and education for the betterment of humanity. “To meet the manifold requirements of this age with a definite program of human values, there must come a new mentality,” he wrote in Vision in Motion, published posthumously in 1947. “The common denominator is the fundamental acknowledgment of human needs; the task is to recognise the moral obligation in satisfying these needs, and the aim is to produce for human needs, not for profit.”

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'AL 3' 1926

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
AL 3
1926
Oil, industrial paint, and graphite on aluminium
15 3/4 × 15 3/4 in.
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California, The Blue Four Galka Scheyer Collection
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Berlin Radio Tower)' 1928/29

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photograph (Berlin Radio Tower)
1928/29
Gelatin silver print
14 3/16 × 10 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Special Photography Acquisition Fund
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital image © The Art Institute of Chicago

 

 

Photograph (Berlin Radio Tower) (1928/29): Moholy used a traditional camera to take photos that often employ exaggerated angles and plunging perspectives to capture contemporary technological marvels such as the Berlin Radio Tower, which was completed in 1926. This photograph epitomises Moholy’s concept of art working hand-in-hand with technology to create new ways of seeing the world – his “new vision.”

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Light Prop)' 1930

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photograph (Light Prop for an Electric Stage)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

A short documentation from the replica of Moholy-Nagy’s Light Space Modulator in Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven, Holland

 

 

Làslò Moholy Nagy film
1930

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Light Prop)' c. 1930

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photograph (Light Prop for an Electric Stage)
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 × 10 3/4 in.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of the artist
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital image © The Museum of Modern Art / licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

 

Installation view of Room 2, designed by László Moholy-Nagy, of the German section of the annual salon of the Society of Decorative Artists, Paris, May 14-July 13, 1930

 

Installation view of Room 2, designed by László Moholy-Nagy, of the German section of the annual salon of the Society of Decorative Artists, Paris, May 14-July 13, 1930
Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Room of the Present' 1930, constructed 2009

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Room of the Present
Constructed 2009 from plans and other documentation, dated 1930
Mixed media, inner dimensions: 137 3/4 x 218 7/8 x 318 3/4 in.
Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2953
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photography by Peter Cox, Eindhoven, The Netherlands

 

 

The Room of the Present is an immersive installation featuring photographic reproductions, films, slides, posters, and examples of architecture, theatre, and industrial design, including an exhibition copy of Moholy’s kinetic Light Prop for an Electric Stage (1930). The Room exemplifies Moholy’s desire to achieve a Gesamtwerk (total work) that would unify art and technology with life itself. A hybrid between exhibition space and work of art, it was originally conceived around 1930 but realised only in 2009, based on the few existing plans, drawings, and related correspondence Moholy left behind.

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Construction AL6 (Konstruktion AL6)' 1933-34

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Construction AL6 (Konstruktion AL6)
1933-34
Oil and incised lines on aluminum
60 × 50 cm
IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat
© 2016 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'CH BEATA I' 1939

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
CH BEATA I
1939
Oil and graphite on canvas
46 7/8 × 47 1/8 in.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, photography by Kristopher McKay

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Light Modulator in Motion)' 1943

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photograph (Light Modulator in Motion)
1943
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 x 4 7/16 in.
George Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York, purchase with funds provided by Eastman Kodak Company
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Light Modulator in Repose)' 1943

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photograph (Light Modulator in Repose)
1943
Gelatin silver print
6 7/16 x 4 1/2 in.
George Eastman Museum, Purchased with funds provided by Eastman Kodak Company
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Vertical Black, Red, Blue' 1945

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Vertical Black, Red, Blue
1945
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Alice and Nahum Lainer, the Ducommun and Gross Acquisition Fund, the Fannie and Alan Leslie Bequest, and the Modern and Contemporary Art Council, as installed in Moholy-Nagy: Future Present at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo
© 2017 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Space Modulator CH for R1' 1942

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Space Modulator CH for R1
1942
Oil and incised lines on Formica
62 3/16 × 25 9/16 in.
Hattula Moholy-Nagy, Ann Arbor, Michigan
© 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photography by Peter Schälchli

 

 

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T: 323 857 6000

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04
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Arnold Newman: Masterclass’ at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Exhibition dates: 12th February – 12th May 2013

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

View the Arnold Newman: Masterclass video (50mins 30secs)

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Installation views of the exhibition 'Arnold Newman: Masterclass' at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Installation views of the exhibition 'Arnold Newman: Masterclass' at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

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Installation views of Arnold Newman: Masterclass at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Photos by Pete Smith
Images courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

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Arnold Newman. 'Dr. Edwin H. Land with group of Polaroid Employees, Polaroid warehouse in Needham, Mass.,' 1977

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Arnold Newman
Dr. Edwin H. Land with group of Polaroid Employees, Polaroid warehouse in Needham, Mass.,
1977
Gelatin silver print
© 1977 Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Arnold Newman. 'Truman Capote, writer, New York' 1977

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Arnold Newman
Truman Capote, writer, New York
1977
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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“The thing is, with Penn or Avedon, they control totally the situation in the studio, and I’m always taking a chance, wherever I go.”

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“What’s the truth in a portrait? Who do you believe? Sometimes you cannot determine this in just one picture… The only way to determine whether you believe it or not is to look at my other pictures.”

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“Form, feeling … structure and detail … technique and sensibility: it must all come together.”

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Arnold Newman

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Arnold Newman: Masterclass, the first posthumous retrospective of Arnold Newman (1918-2006), explores the career of one of the finest portrait photographers of the 20th century. The Harry Ransom Center, which holds the Arnold Newman archive, hosts the exhibition’s first U.S. showing February 12 – May 12, 2013.

The show, curated by FEP’s William Ewing, highlights 200 framed vintage prints covering Newman’s career, selected from the Arnold and Augusta Newman Foundation and the collections of major American museums and private collectors. Twenty-eight photographs from the Ransom Center’s Newman archive are featured in the exhibition.

“This retrospective is a real occasion for a reappraisal,” said Todd Brandow, founding director of FEP. “Newman was a great teacher, and he loved sharing his knowledge. It was these ‘lessons’ that led us to the concept of ‘Masterclass,’ the idea that, even posthumously, Newman could go on teaching all of us – whether connoisseurs or neophytes – a great deal.”

A bold modernist with a superb sense of compositional geometry, Newman, called the father of ‘environmental portraiture,’ is known for a crisp, spare style that placed his subjects in the context of their work environments. The exhibition includes work prints, prints with crop marks, rough prints with printing instructions and variants that reveal Newman’s process and attention to detail. “For me the professional studio is a sterile world,” said Newman in a 1991 interview. “I need to get out: Be with people where they’re at home. I can’t photograph ‘the soul,’ but I can show and tell you something fundamental about them.”

“Newman was never comfortable with the environmental term, and the backgrounds of Newman’s portraits would never be secondary aspects of his compositions,” said Ewing. “He had a masterful command of both sitter and setting.”

His subjects included world leaders, authors, artists, musicians and scientists – Pablo Picasso in his studio; Igor Stravinsky sitting at the piano; Truman Capote lounging on his sofa; and Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, in the attic where his family hid from the Nazis for more than two years.

The exhibition takes stock of the entire range of Newman’s photographic art, showing many fine prints for the first time. The exhibition also includes Newman’s lesser-known and rarely exhibited still lifes, architectural studies, cityscapes and earliest portraits. While at the Ransom Center, the exhibition will be supplemented with holdings from the Center’s Newman archive, which contains all of Newman’s negatives, slides and color transparencies, all of his original contact sheets and more than 2,000 prints, including examples of color and collage work. The collection also includes Newman’s original sittings books, correspondence and business files, early sketchbooks and photographic albums.”

Press release from the Harry Ransom Center website

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Arnold Newman. 'Violin shop : patterns on table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania' 1941

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Arnold Newman
Violin shop : patterns on table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1941
Gelatin silver print
© 1941 Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Arnold Newman. 'Igor Stravinsky' 1945

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Arnold Newman
Igor Stravinsky
1945
Contact sheet of four negatives with Newman’s marks and cropping lines
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

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Cropping was also a practice Newman valued highly. His edges were determined with minute precision. Trained as a painter, Newman never had doubts about the virtues of cropping. His famed Stravinsky portrait would not have a fraction of its power without the stringent crop. As for printing, Newman was equally meticulous. He trusted few assistants, and those he did trust found that he would not accept a final print unless it was flawless in execution. (Wall text)

“Oh, people set up these nonsensical rules and regulations. You can’t crop, you can’t dodge your print, etc, etc., … But the great photographers that these people admire all did that!” (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Twyla Tharp, dancer and filmmaker, New York' 1987

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Arnold Newman
Twyla Tharp, dancer and filmmaker, New York
1987
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Sensibilities

Many of Newman’s photographs show confident people, posing proudly before their accomplishments, directly engaging the viewer. But many betray a certain réticence – fragility, a hint of vulnerability, or doubt. Newman was aware that a successful artist’s career was not all roses – thorns were encountered along the path. He also regarded the act of portraiture was necessarily collaborative, or transactional; each side had their own kind of power – the sitter could resist the control of the photographer, the photographer could expose the sitter in an unflattering light. A successful portrait had to negotiate this psychological uncertainty. Sometimes Newman wanted to show supreme confidence as the mark of the man; at other times he wanted to show chinks in the armour.

“You show a certain kind of empathy with the subject – I don’t want to use the word ‘sympathy’, but you sort of let them know you’re on their side.” (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Larry Rivers, painter, South Hampton, New York' 1975

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Arnold Newman
Larry Rivers, painter, South Hampton, New York
1975
Gelatin silver print
© 1975 Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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“During the second half of the 20th Century, there was no portrait photographer as productive, creative and successful as Arnold Newman. For almost seven decades Newman applied himself to his art and craft, never for a moment losing his zest for experimentation. His work was published in the most influential magazines of the day, and he was much interviewed, much quoted, and much respected. Several major solo exhibitions paid homage to his achievements during his lifetime, and his work can be found in many of the world’s most prestigious photography collections. No historical overview of portraiture would be complete without one or two Newman masterpieces, nor could any general history of the medium safely leave out his superb Stravinsky, Mondrian or Graham.

Surprisingly, many of Newman’s superb portraits have never been shown or published. This, his first posthumous retrospective, features a wide variety of such photographs. Moreover, it includes cityscapes, documentary photographs and still lifes that have rarely if even been exhibited. Even people already familiar with Newman’s work will find scores of unexpected images, rivaling the work the ‘icons’ they admire. Newman was never happy with the label, often applied, of ‘father of environmental portraiture’. He argued that his portraits were much more than simple records showing artists posing in their studios; there was a symbolic aspect too, and an emotional/psychological element, both fundamental to his approach. He asked critics to ignore all labels, and judge his portraits simply as they would any photographs.

Newman was also a great teacher, and he loved to share his knowledge and skills with aspiring photographers. As with all great artists, the pictures he made seem effortless, natural, but in fact they were the result of careful prior planning. Newman applied the same rigour to selecting the best of his ‘takes’, cropping them precisely, and then printing them with supreme skill. Highly self-critical, he admitted: “I was always my own worst art director.”

With Masterclass, we have endeavored to give viewers some insights into Newman’s approach. Work prints, prints with crop marks, rough prints with printing instructions, and variants reveal Newman’s great attention to detail and careful consideration of every aspect of the photographic art.”

William A. Ewing
Curator

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Arnold Newman. 'Salvador Dalí, painter, New York' 1951

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Arnold Newman
Salvador Dalí, painter, New York
1951
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Signatures

One of Newman’s favorite strategies was to place the sitters in front of his or her own work. They seem to be saying: ‘Here is my work. This is what I do’. Architects pose beside buildings and models, a test pilot beside his jet, a photographer in front of his prints, a furniture designer in his chair, scientists in front of their equations… At first glance, the pictures appear natural, giving the impression that Newman had surprised his subjects at work, but in fact the set-ups were meticulous.

In the hands of a lesser talent,such a technique could have developed into a routine uniformity, but Newman’s curiosity and genuine interest in his subjectsʼ work guaranteed a freshness to his portraiture, year after year. To maintain freshness, Newman advised aspiring portrait photographers to do what he did: read up about the subject beforehand, know what he or she has achieved. You will then quickly spot which elements in the environment will be useful.

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Arnold Newman. 'Notes on Artist's' [sic] series c. 1942

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Arnold Newman
Notes on Artist’s [sic] series
c. 1942
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

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Newman writes about his encounters with artists in New York City, describing his first meeting with Alfred Stieglitz.

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Arnold Newman. 'Alfred Stieglitz in his An American Place Gallery, 1944' 1944

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Arnold Newman
Alfred Stieglitz in his An American Place Gallery, 1944
1944
Contact print
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

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Lumens

Newman preferred natural light, with ‘all its delightful, infinite varieties, indoors and out’. However, he felt that restricting oneself only to natural light had become a religion for many photographers, and artificial light was a taboo. Newman was pragmatic: if there wasn’t enough light to take the picture, he argued, it should be augmented; if it wasn’t the ‘right’ kind of light for the interpretation he desired, artificial lighting should be added. It was never a question of either/or. Newman often used spots and reflectors, but felt that strobes should be used only when absolutely necessary. Lighting effects in a Newman portrait are often subtle and sometimes dramatic. But they are always appropriate, and never excessive. (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Pablo Picasso, painter, sculptor and printmaker, Vallauris, France' 1954

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Arnold Newman
Pablo Picasso, painter, sculptor and printmaker, Vallauris, France
1954
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Choices

Newman might take 10, 20, 30 and in special cases even more than 50 individual photographs of a sitter, making minor adjustments each time. Sometimes the differences between the frames would be miniscule, though highly significant. We see this in two frames of Picasso: in Frame 54 (note that this one was used in several publications in error), we see that the artist seems distracted – his eyes are not focused, while his mouth is pinched, and his hand is placed awkwardly. In Frame 57, all these deficiencies have been corrected. (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Piet Mondrian, painter, New York' 1942

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Arnold Newman
Piet Mondrian, painter, New York
1942
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Habitats

Newman never liked to work in a studio, preferring to see where and how his subjects worked and lived. Dance studios, home libraries, classrooms, offices, living rooms, gardens, the street, and even, on occasion, a vast urban panorama were settings he employed. Particularly close to painters in spirit, he was stimulated by the raw materials, the paintings or sculptures in progress, and even the general clutter he found in their studios. He liked the challenge of having to make quick decisions based on what he saw around him, and argued that this spontaneous approach was much harder – and riskier – than working in his own studio, where everything was familiar and tested. By focusing on a sitter’s habitat, Newman felt that he was providing more than a striking likeness – he was revealing personality and character not through physiognomy (the principle of classic portraiture) but through the things artists gathered around them.

“For me the professional studio is a sterile world. I need to get out; be with people where they’re at home. I canʼt photograph ʻthe soulʼ but I can show tell you something fundamental about them.” (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Alexander Calder, sculptor, New York' 1943

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Arnold Newman
Alexander Calder, sculptor, New York
1943
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Arnold Newman. 'Palm Beach, Florida' 1986

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Arnold Newman
Palm Beach, Florida
1986
Gelatin silver print
© 1986 Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Geometries

From his earliest days with the camera, Newman loved the geomtery of space – with or without people. He never tired of photographing architecture that appealed to him. The linear and the curvilinear; contrasting blocks of black and white; ovals, triangles rectangles, strong diagonals… it was never just a question of making a pleasing background – like a kind of geometrically-patterned wallpaper – but rather the creation of a harmonious, dynamic whole in which the sitter was an integral part. It was Newman’s consumate skill that prevented the sitter from being merely an adjunct to the design.

“Successful portraiture is like a three-legged stool. Kick out one leg and the whole thing collapses. In other words, visual ideas combined with technological control combined with personal interpretation equals photography. Each must hold it’s own.” (Wall text)

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The Harry Ransom Center
21st and Guadalupe Streets
Austin, Texas 78712
Phone: 512-471-8944

Exhibition Galleries Opening Hours:
10 am – 5 pm Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday
10 am – 7 pm Thursday
Noon – 5 pm Saturday and Sunday

Library Reading/Viewing Rooms Opening Hours:
9 am – 5 pm Monday-Friday
9 am – Noon Saturday

Harry Ransom Center website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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