Posts Tagged ‘Franz Roh


Exhibition: ‘Faces. The Power of the Human Visage’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 12th February – 20th June 2021

Artists: Gertrud Arndt, Marta Astfalck-Vietz, Irene Bayer, Aenne Biermann, Erwin Blumenfeld, Max Burchartz, Suse Byk, Paul Citroen, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Andreas Feininger, Werner David Feist, Trude Fleischmann, Jozef Glogowski, Paul Edmund Hahn, Lotte Jacobi, Grit Kallin-Fischer, Edmund Kesting, Rudolf Koppitz, Kurt Kranz, Anneliese Kretschmer, Germaine Krull, Erna Lendvai-Dircksen, Helmar Lerski, László Moholy-Nagy, Lucia Moholy, Oskar Nerlinger, Erich Retzlaff, Hans Richter, Leni Riefenstahl, Franz Roh, Werner Rohde, Ilse Salberg, August Sander, Franz Xaver Setzer, Robert Siodmak, Anton Stankowski, Edgar G. Ulmer, Umbo, Robert Wiene, Willy Zielke.



Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) 'Metamorphosis, 588' 1935-1936


Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis, 588
Gelatin silver print
The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna © Estate Helmar Lerski – Museum Folkwang, Essen



There is a limited number of media images from Faces. The Power of the Human Visage at the Albertina, Vienna, an exhibition which investigates how 1920s and ’30s saw photographers radically renew the conventional understanding of the classic portrait during the Weimar Republic. From a distance, the overall selection of artists seems slightly ad hoc: mainly German or Austrian, with Swiss, Polish, Danish and American thrown in for good measure. Surely then, you would include luminaries such as Claude Cahun, Florence Henri and Eva Besnyö for example.

The standouts in the posting are August Sander and Herman Lerski, both from opposing camps. Peter Pfrunder observes that Lerski’s earlier subjects, “showed portraits of anonymous people from the underclass of the Berlin society, presenting them as theatrical figures so that professional titles such as “chamber maid”, “beggar” or “textile worker” appeared as arbitrarily applied roles” that reveal the inner face of the photographer (his imagination) – whereas the work of Sander, who was at the same time working on his project “Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts”, was an objective, social taxonomy of various representatives of the Weimar society.

Lerksi’s is the more esoteric enterprise, as he sought to provide proof “”that the lens does not have to be objective, that the photographer can, with the help of light, work freely, characterise freely, according to his inner face.” Contrary to the conventional idea of the portrait as an expression of human identity, Lerski used the human face as a projection surface for the figures of his imagination.” The Howard Greenberg gallery suggests that the “portraits” reflect a search for the photographers own wandering soul.

For me Lerki’s project Metamorphosis through Light (1935/36) – 137 “photographs of a man” taken by the artist on a Tel Aviv rooftop using natural sunlight and the help of up to 16 mirrors and filters – is a meditation on the mutability of the human face, identity and psyche, a brooding contemplation on the ever changing nature of the human spirit pictured through the face, over time. In this case, a compressed time atop a rooftop in Tel Aviv using an out-of-work structural draughtsman and light athlete, Leo Uschatz, as a stand-in for the artist himself.

Our face becomes us. It is our presentation to the world of who we are. The worry lines, the grey hair and the broken nose are all hard-earned signs of the life that we have led. The iconography of the face. Lerski captures this outer reflection of our inner self in a series of transcendent, abstract, modernist visages [the manifestation, image, or aspect of something] – that are among the most powerful representations of the human face that have ever been captured on film.

In their very context less being, in their very transposition from prophet, to peasant, to dying soldier, to old woman, to monk, they transgress [go beyond the limits of, and become an aspect of something else] what is normally seen and recognised of what Erwin Goffman calls ‘facework’,1 our interaction through our face with the outside world. They go beyond saving face: “Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally.”2

In light, through time, their transmutation is the transformation of our lives, compressed, condensed, communicated.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. For more information on the face, please see my writing Facile, Facies, Facticity (2014)


  1. Facework theory is concerned with the ways in which we construct and preserve our self images, or the image of someone else. See Goffman, Erving. (1955) “On face-work: An analysis of ritual elements in social interaction,” in ‘Psychiatry: Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes 18, pp. 213-231.
  2. Georges Didi-Huberman. Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 49.

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



Starting from Helmar Lerski’s outstanding photo series Metamorphose – Verwandlungen durch Licht (Metamorphosis through Light) (1935/36), the exhibition Faces presents portraits from the period of the Weimar Republic.

The 1920s and ’30s saw photographers radically renew the conventional understanding of the classic portrait: their aim was no longer to represent an individual’s personality; instead, they conceived of the face as material to be staged according to their own ideas. In this, the photographed face became a locus for dealing with avant-garde aesthetic ideas as well as interwar-period social developments. And it was thus that modernist experiments, the relationship between individual and general type, feminist roll-playing, and political ideologies collided in – and thereby expanded – the general understanding of portrait photography.



“For heaven’s sake, dear Mr. Meidner, you aren’t going to throw down your brush and palette and become a photographer, are you? … Don’t take offence at the machine. Here too, it’s the spirit that creates value… Photography is something great. It doesn’t do any good to step back and cry. Join in, but hurry! Photography marches on!”

Helmar Lerski to the painter Ludwig Meidner, 1930


“His model, he [Lerski] told me in Paris, was a young man with a nondescript face who posed on the roof of a house. Lerski took over a hundred pictures of that face from a very short distance, each time subtly changing the light with the aid of screens. Big close-ups, these pictures detailed the texture of the skin so that cheeks and brows turned into a maze of inscrutable runes reminiscent of soil formations, as they appear from an airplane. The result was amazing. None of the photographs recalled the model; and all of them differed from each other.

Out of the original face there arose, evoked by the varying lights, a hundred different faces, among them those of a hero, a prophet, a peasant, a dying soldier, an old woman, a monk. Did these portraits, if portraits they were, anticipate the metamorphoses which the young man would undergo in the future? Or were they just plays of light whimsically projecting on his face dreams and experiences forever alien to him? Proust would have been delighted in Lerski’s experiment with its unfathomable implications.”

Siegfried Kracauer. ‘Theory of Film’. Oxford University Press, 1960, p. 162


“‘Facies’ simultaneously signifies the singular ‘air’ of a face, the particularity of its aspect, as well as the ‘genre’ or ‘species’ under which this aspect should be subsumed. The facies would thus be a face fixed to a synthetic combination of the universal and the singular: the visage fixed to the regime of ‘representation’, in a Helgian sense.

Why the face? – Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally. This also holds for the Cartesian science of the expression of the passions, and perhaps also explains why, from the outset, psychiatric photography took the form of an art of the portrait.”

Georges Didi-Huberman. ‘Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere’ (trans. Alisa Hartz). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003, p. 49



Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) 'Metamorphosis, 536' 1935-1936


Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis, 536
Gelatin silver print
The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna © Estate Helmar Lerski – Museum Folkwang, Essen


Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) 'Metamorphosis, 537' 1935-1936


Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis, 537
Gelatin silver print
The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna © Estate Helmar Lerski – Museum Folkwang, Essen



But Lerski’s pictures were only partly in line with the maxims of the New Photography, and they questioned the validity of pure objectivity. The distinguishing characteristics of his portraits included a theatrical-expressionistic, sometimes dramatic use of lighting inspired by the silent film. Although his close-up photographs captured the essential features of a face – eyes, nose and mouth –, his primary concern was not individual appearance or superficial likeness but the deeper inner potential: he emphasised the changeability, the different faces of an individual. Lerski, who sympathised with the political left wing, thereby infiltrated the photography of types that was practised (and not infrequently misused for racist purposes) by many of Lerski’s contemporaries.

In his book “Köpfe des Alltags” (Everyday Faces) (1931), a milestone in the history of photographic books, Lerski clearly expressed his convictions: he showed portraits of anonymous people from the underclass of the Berlin society, presenting them as theatrical figures so that professional titles such as “chamber maid”, “beggar” or “textile worker” appeared as arbitrarily applied roles. Thus his photographs may be interpreted as an important opposite standpoint to the work of August Sander, who was at the same time working on his project “Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts” – that large-scale attempt at a social localisation of various representatives of the Weimar society.

But Helmar Lerski’s attitude was at its most radical in his work entitled “Metamorphosis”. This was completed within a few months at the beginning of 1936 in Palestine, to where Lerski and his second wife Anneliese had immigrated in 1932. In “Verwandlungen durch Licht” (this is the second title for this work), Lerski carried his theatrical talent to extremes. With the help of up to 16 mirrors and filters, he directed the natural light of the sun in constant new variations and refractions onto his model, the Bernese-born, at the time out-of-work structural draughtsman and light athlete Leo Uschatz. Thus he achieved, in a series of over 140 close-ups “hundreds of different faces, including that of a hero, a prophet, a peasant, a dying soldier, an old woman and a monk from one single original face” (Siegfried Kracauer). According to Lerski, these pictures were intended to provide proof “that the lens does not have to be objective, that the photographer can, with the help of light, work freely, characterise freely, according to his inner face.” Contrary to the conventional idea of the portrait as an expression of human identity, Lerski used the human face as a projection surface for the figures of his imagination. We are only just becoming aware of the modernity of this provocative series of photographs.

Peter Pfrunder. “Helmar Lerski: Metamorphosis,” on the Fotostiftung Schweiz website 2005 [Online] Cited 17/04/2021.


Lerski led a nomadic existence, driven by the events that splintered Europe and the Holy Lands throughout his life. His life was a sequence of transportations without a central resting place. It might be assumed that his thematic focus in photography, as pictured in his books Köpfe des Alltags, Les Juifs (of the “Jewish Heads” series) and Metamorphosis Through Light was of an external fascination with the human face and gesture but really reflects a search for his own self. The constant exposure to anti-Semitism and its horrible repercussions resulted in an acknowledgment of his own Judaism and for an historical identity. Ultimately, Lerski’s penetrating vision of others is a mirror of his own wandering soul.

Anonymous text on the Howard Greenberg website [Online] Cited 17/04/2021.


Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) 'Metamorphosis, 604' 1935-1936


Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis, 604
Gelatin silver print
The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna © Estate Helmar Lerski – Museum Folkwang, Essen


Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994) 'Ohne Titel (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze)' c. 1927


Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994)
Ohne Titel (Marta Vietz, Akt mit Spitze) (Marta Vietz, nude with lace)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
Dietmar Katz/Berlinische Galerie © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Dietmar Katz/Berlinische Galerie



Almost all of her archive was lost when her Berlin home was bombed in 1943. What remains was discovered by the curator Janos Frecot in 1989 and is now housed at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin.


August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Handlanger' (Bricklayer / Handyman) 1928


August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Handlanger (Bricklayer / Handyman)
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln; BILDRECHT, Wien, 2020



Later in the 1920s Sander shot what was to become one of his most iconic works, ‘Handlanger (Bricklayer)’. This photograph belongs to ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, one of seven chapters within his People of the 20th Century project. The title and subject of this photograph form an archetype of Sander’s sociological documentation of people from a variety of occupations and social classes. Formally, the portrait’s centrality, flat background and conventional framing demonstrate Sander’s investment in photography as a ‘truth-telling’ device; one which represents reality as it is, without formal experimentation and within the boundaries of the history of photographic portraiture. Sander wrote in his seminal lecture ‘Photography as a Universal Language’ that photography was the medium most able to best reflect the ‘physical path to demonstrable truth and understand physiognomy’.

Anonymous text from the Hauser and Wirth website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021


August Sander’s Handlanger is one of the photographer’s definitive images from his epic series, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (Men of the Twentieth Century). Sander also selected this image for publication in Antlitz der Zeit, his seminal 1929 book of portraits of the German people. Although very much of-a-piece with the portraits in this book, Handlanger stands out for the intensity of its subject’s gaze and for Sander’s strongly symmetrical composition. The photograph is an archetypal portrait of the working man, emanating capability and strength.

Titled simply Handlanger (hod-carrier, or handyman), this image took its place in Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time) alongside portraits of farmers, bureaucrats, students, political radicals, artists, and others, most identified only by their occupation or type. Sander’s purpose was to create a collective portrait of the German populace that was thoroughly objective, unsentimental, and unprejudiced. His stated goal was nothing less than ‘… to be honest and tell the truth about our age and its people.’ Sander’s project and its inclusive scope, however, brought him to the attention of the German authorities. In 1934, the Reich Chamber of Arts ordered the destruction of the printing plates for Antlitz der Zeit and the seizure of all copies, effectively halting Sander’s picture-making.

Anonymous text from the Sothebys website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021


August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'Jungbauern' (Young Farmers) 1914


August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Jungbauern (Young Farmers)
Gelatin silver print
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Köln; BILDRECHT, Wien, 2020



What This Photo Doesn’t Show


Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991) 'Andor Weininger as Clown' 1926


Irene Bayer-Hecht (American, 1898-1991)
Andor Weininger as Clown
Gelatin silver paper
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Museum Folkwang, Essen



Chicago-born but raised in Hungary, Irene Bayer-Hecht studied commercial art in Berlin. After seeing the Bauhaus exhibition in 1923, she decided to concentrate on fine art. In 1925 she married Herbert Bayer and moved to Dessau, where she studied photography at the Bauhaus in order to assist him in his work. Her own photographs were mostly of people, both portraits and formal studies. Bayer’s work was included in the landmark Film und Foto exhibition in 1929 in Stuttgart. After moving back to the United States in 1938, Bayer gave up photography and became a translator.

Anonymous text from the J. Paul Getty website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021


An international figure, Irene Bayer-Hecht was born in Chicago, grew up in Hungary, and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Berlin, and the Sorbonne and École de Beaux-Arts, Paris. In 1923 she visited the first large Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar, where she met Herbert Bayer, whom she married in 1925. This allowed her to attend the Bauhaus’s Vorkurs (foundation course) that year without formally enrolling at the school. At the same time she attended photography courses at the Academy of Graphic Arts and Book Publishing in Leipzig. She took her own photographs and also used her technical training to support Bayer’s photographic work. The couple separated in 1928. Beyer-Hecht’s photographs feature experimental approaches and candid views of life at the Bauhaus; these pictures were included in the exhibition Film und Foto, in 1929. In 1938 she returned to the United States, abandoning photography and working instead as a translator.

Mitra Abbaspour on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021


Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000) 'Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 22' (Mask self-portrait No. 22) 1930


Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)
Maskenselbstbildnis Nr. 22 (Mask self-portrait No. 22)
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Bildrecht, Wien 2020



Gertrud Arndt (born Gertrud Hantschk in Upper Silicia) set out to become an architect, beginning a three-year apprenticeship in 1919 at the architecture firm of Karl Meinhardt in Erfurt, where her family lived at the time. While there, she began teaching herself photography by taking pictures of buildings in town. She also attended courses in typography, drawing, and art history at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of design). Encouraged by Meinhardt, a friend of Walther Gropius, Arndt was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Enrolled from 1923 to 1927, Arndt took the Vorkurs (foundation course) from László Moholy-Nagy, who was a chief proponent of the value of experimentation with photography. After her Vorkurs, Georg Muche, leader of the weaving workshop, persuaded her to join his course, which then became the formal focus of her studies. Upon graduation, in March 1927, she married fellow Bauhaus graduate and architect Alfred Arndt. The couple moved to Probstzella in Eastern Germany, where Arndt photographed buildings for her husband’s architecture firm. In 1929, Hannes Meyer invited Alfred Arndt to teach at the Bauhaus, where Arndt focused her energy on photography, entering her period of greatest activity, featuring portraits of friends, still-lifes, and a series of performative self-portraits, as well as At the Masters’ Houses (MoMA 1607.2001), which shows the influence of her studies with Moholy-Nagy as well as her keen eye for architecture. After the Bauhaus closed, in 1932, the couple left Dessau and moved back to Probstzella. Three years after the end of World War II the family moved to Darmstadt; Arndt almost completely stopped making photographs.

Mitra Abbaspour on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021


In 1930, Gertrud Arndt, a Bauhaus-taught weaver and textile designer, took forty-three portraits of herself in only a few days. Adopting a style which was in direct contrast with the functional Bauhaus aesthetic – indeed, it was a “welcome break” from it –, Arndt slipped into the rôles of different eras and cultural circles and captured these mises en scène with her camera. They were private photographs, photographs intended purely as a means of coming to terms with her own self, not for publication.


Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961) 'Lotte (Auge)' 1928


Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
Lotte (Auge)
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Bildrecht, Wien 2020



Max Burchartz (1887-1961) studied painting at the Akademie der Künste in Düsseldorf and came into contact with the Bauhaus in Weimar during the 1920s. In 1924 together with Johannes Canis he opened an advertising agency in Bochum, which gained a reputation for creating innovative advertising campaigns with photography and typography. Until 1932 Burchartz taught photography and commercial art at the Folkwangschule für Gestaltung in Essen. One of his students was Anton Stankowski. After Hilter came to power in 1933 Burchartz joined the Nazi Party and voluntarily joined the German army which he remained in until the end of the war. In 1949 he was reappointed to the Folkwangschule, where he taught until 1955, publishing books on design theory such as Schule des Schauens in 1962.


Two pages from the book 'Faces. The Power of the Human Visage'


Two pages from the book Faces. The Power of the Human Visage. Hirmer Verlag GmbH Hardcover – 25 May 2021


Oskar Nerlinger (German, 1893-1969) 'Kopf mit Taschenlampe' (Head with flashlight) c. 1928


Oskar Nerlinger (German, 1893-1969)
Kopf mit Taschenlampe (Head with flashlight)
c. 1928
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© Sigrid Nerlinger



Excluded & yet entangled in two dictatorships: The political constructivist Oskar Nerlinger 10/02/2021



Oskar Nerlinger (1893-1969) was one of the most important artists of the committed art scene in the Weimar Republic. He was a member of the Association of Proletarian Revolutionary Art (ASSO for short), which was founded in 1928 and belonged to the KPD, which cooperated with the Soviet avant-garde artist group Oktober. At that time there was no conflict between positions of aesthetic modernism and KPD politics. In 1932 the political and artistic avant-garde in the Soviet Union fell apart, with serious consequences for left-wing artists in Germany. Almost at the same time, the Nazi system broke with all forms of modernity. With his idea of art suddenly doubly isolated within his own party, which followed Stalin’s art verdict, and within Germany through the Nazi art policy, Nerlinger went into so-called “inner emigration”, but behaved in a very contradictory manner and adapted his artistic language to the Nazi aesthetics. After 1945 he joined the SED and followed the given political norms of socialist realism as part of the formalism campaign.

The twofold turning point in 1932 and 1933 left lasting traces in Oskar Nerlinger’s art. With this transition from innovation to regression, Nerlinger stands for a whole generation of politically committed artists in the Weimar Republic who, blindly believing in the doctrines of the communist party, gave up their own aesthetic and moral convictions. In a paradoxical way, Nerlinger was marginalised and at the same time entangled in two dictatorships.


Erich Retzlaff (German, 1899-1993) 'Bride's Traditional Dress from Kleines Walsertal' before 1936


Erich Retzlaff (German, 1899-1993)
Bride’s Traditional Dress from Kleines Walsertal
before 1936
From German Folk Costumes
17.6 × 12.3cm
Gelatin silver print on supporting cardboard
The Albertina Museum, Vienna – Permanent loan from the Österreichische Ludwig-Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft)
© Volker Graf Bethusy-Huc



Erich Max Wilhelm Retzlaff was born in Reinfeld in Schleswig Holstein, Germany on October 9th 1899. He came from a prosperous protestant middle class background. His father, Friedrich, was the noted author of the definitive Handbuch für die Polizei im Reich (German police handbook) published in 1892. The young Erich grew up in the twilight of the Wilhelmine era and enlisted enthusiastically into the German army in 1916 to fight in the First World War. Retzlaff served as a machine gunner on the western front (Flanders), was very badly wounded and subsequently spent over a year in a military hospital. He received the Iron Cross (second class).

After the conclusion of the war he drifted into work in civilian life eventually completing a business apprenticeship in a paint factory in Düsseldorf. With help from one of his former army officers, Retzlaff was able to secure a position as a supplies buyer for a factory in Hamburg. He began to earn a decent salary and became a patron of the arts, visiting many exhibitions and associating with artists to the point that he contemplated a creative career himself. But Retzlaff was unable to pursue painting; his wounds during the war had left his hand permanently damaged. Instead, Retzlaff began to experiment with photography, initially as an amateur enthusiast and then ultimately as a career, starting up a small photographic portrait studio on the Königsallee (Düsseldorf). By the late 1920s Retzlaff moved to larger premises on the Kaiserstrasse as custom increased and the business grew. His circle of friends and associates widened and by the late 1930s included painters such as Werner Peiner, Emil Nolde, the photographer Paul Wolff and the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. A passionate German Nationalist, Retzlaff became a member of Hitler’s National Socialist party in 1932 (No.1014457).

Retzlaff moved his studio several times during the 1930s and 1940s working in a number of locations including locations in Düsseldorf and Berlin. He also expanded his oeuvre as commercial needs demanded and as well as his portraits he photographed traditional German regional costumes, landscapes and industrial scenes. However, at the heart of his portfolio was Retzlaff’s interest in photographing in a physiognomic way. Physiognomy is a belief that one can read a face to discover the personality and character of the individual. Physiognomy was hugely popular as a means of evaluating people and their lives in Germany after the First World War. During the Hitler years this interest continued with an added emphasis on race. The focus of Retzlaff’s photographs from this period was making images that applied a physiognomic parascience within a political and ideological framework.

After 1945 Retzlaff continued to make his living as a photographer and his work was still widely published. His portfolio from the post-war period includes fashion photography, landscapes, portraits of prominent Germans (such as Chancellor Konrad Adenauer), and dramatic images of West German industry. However, in a general sense, the photographs he made after 1945 are less dynamic than the work made in the 1930s and 40s. The images tend to lack the punch and bite of the earlier Retzlaff. The ideology is gone and with it the personal sense of purpose that his earlier images possessed.

These biographical details are drawn from the transcript of Professor Doctor Rolf Sachsse’s 1979 recorded interview with Erich Retzlaff and from additional biographical information provided to me by Retzlaff’s son Herr Jürgen Retzlaff and his daughter Bettina Retzlaff-Cumming.

Text on the Aberystwyth University website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021


Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965) 'Masquerade' 1928-1933


Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965)
Gelatin silver print
Münchner Stadtmuseum – Nachlass Franz Roh, München



The 1920s are the decade of masquerade in the history of modern art. Was it the coming of the cinema, that “Hades of the Living”, in which the protagonists forever assume new identities and “the shadows already become immortal while still alive”31, or was it first and foremost the psychological consequences of the profound social changes following the First World War which made masks, disguises and rôle-playing the favourite means of self-stylisation and self-discovery among artists and writers of both sexes? For the psychoanalyst Joan Rivière, masquerade was one of the essential features of womanliness, which – she wrote in 1929 – “could be assumed and worn as a mask”, both to hide the possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if she was found to possess it. […] The reader may now ask how I define womanliness or where I draw the line between genuine womanliness and the ‘masquerade’. My suggestion is not, however, that there is any such difference; whether radical or superficial, they are the same thing.”32 Gender rôle-playing, hitherto reserved in the 19th century for the very close circles of male-attired lesbians, became a fashion phenomenon with the arrival of the “garçonne” in the 1920s.33 The poetess Else Lasker-Schüler, who would frequently masquerade as the Prince of Thebes in the literary cafés of Berlin, was written about as follows: “Disguise was an aid to becoming a person. It symbolises the ego in the process of either developing or disintegrating. […] Disguise is both the secret and the prediction of a person who seeks himself or herself in the game of (mis)taken identities; one who is versatile in the art of transformation, who can condense into many different persons again and again, but never into a tangible personality.”34 Thus photography was the ideal means of objectifying these transformations and of viewing one’s other self from a distance.

Extract from Herbert Molderings and Barbara Mülhens-Molderings. “Mirrors, Masks and Spaces. Self-portraits by Women Photographers in the twenties and thirties,” on the Jeu de Paume website 03/06/2011 [Online] Cited 07/04/2021


Franz Roh (21 February 1890 – 30 December 1965), was a German historian, photographer, and art critic. Roh is perhaps best known for his 1925 book Nach Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten europäischen Malerei (“After expressionism: Magical Realism: Problems of the newest European painting”) he coined the term magic realism.

Roh was born in Apolda (in present-day Thuringia), Germany. He studied at universities in Leipzig, Berlin, and Basel. In 1920, he received his Ph.D. in Munich for a work on Dutch paintings of the 17th century. As a photographer and critic, he absolutely hated photographs that mimicked painting, charcoal, or drawings. During the Nazi regime, he was isolated and briefly put in jail for his book Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye); he used his jail time he used to write the book Der Verkannte Künstler: Geschichte und Theorie des kulturellen Mißverstehens (“The unrecognised artist: history and theory of cultural misunderstanding”). After the war, in 1946, he married art historian Juliane Bartsch. He died in Munich.

Text from the Wikipedia website


An art historian, photographer, and art critic, Franz Roh deplored photographs that were derived from painting or pretended to be drawings or charcoal sketches. His writings brought him close to avant-garde artists, who inspired many of his photographs. In 1929 he co-published and co-edited a book, Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye), with graphic designer Jan Tschichold. Asserting that photographs were an effective weapon against “the mechanisation of spirit” and one of the world’s greatest physical, chemical, and technological wonders, Roh and Tschichold based the book on a film and photography exhibition held in Stuttgart. The book’s progressive stance led to Roh’s brief imprisonment by the government censors, who forbade him to continue writing. In 1946 he was awarded a professorship at the University of Munich, a position he held for the remainder of his life.

Anonymous text from the J.Paul Getty website [Online] Cited 07/04/2021


Two pages from the book 'Faces. The Power of the Human Visage'


Two pages from the book Faces.The Power of the Human Visage. Hirmer Verlag GmbH Hardcover – 25 May 2021


Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Head of the Dancer Niura Norskaya' 1929


Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Head of the Dancer Niura Norskaya



Lotte Jacobi (August 17, 1896 – May 6, 1990) was a leading American portrait photographer and photojournalist, known for her high-contrast black-and-white portrait photography, characterised by intimate, sometimes dramatic, sometimes idiosyncratic and often definitive humanist depictions of both ordinary people in the United States and Europe and some of the most important artists, thinkers and activists of the 20th century.


Two pages from the book 'Faces. The Power of the Human Visage'


Two pages from the book Faces. The Power of the Human Visage. Hirmer Verlag GmbH Hardcover – 25 May 2021


Cover from the book 'Faces. The Power of the Human Visage'


Cover from the book Faces. The Power of the Human Visage featuring Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956) Metamorphosis, 537 1935-1936



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Exhibition: ‘Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33’ at the Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 30 July 2018 – 14 July 2019


Conrad Felixmuller. 'The Beggar of Prachatice' 1924


Conrad Felixmüller (German, 1897-1977)
The Beggar of Prachatice
Watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper
500 x 645 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, 2018



Butchers, lion tamers, and Lustmord (sexualised murder) makers. War, rape, prostitution, violence, old age and death. Creativity, defeat, disfigurement, and revelry. Suicide and misery, poverty and widowhood, beauty and song. Magic in realism, realism and magic.

The interwar years are one of the most creative artistic periods in human history. But there is a magical dark undertone which emanates from the mind of this Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity:

“The art historian Dennis Crockett says there is no direct English translation, and breaks down the meaning in the original German:

Sachlichkeit should be understood by its root, Sache, meaning “thing”, “fact”, “subject”, or “object.” Sachlich could be best understood as “factual”, “matter-of-fact”, “impartial”, “practical”, or “precise”; Sachlichkeit is the noun form of the adjective/adverb and usually implies “matter-of-factness” …

The New Objectivity was composed of two tendencies which Hartlaub characterised in terms of a left and right wing: on the left were the verists, who “tear the objective form of the world of contemporary facts and represent current experience in its tempo and fevered temperature;” and on the right the classicists, who “search more for the object of timeless ability to embody the external laws of existence in the artistic sphere.”

The verists’ vehement form of realism emphasised the ugly and sordid. Their art was raw, provocative, and harshly satirical. George Grosz and Otto Dix are considered the most important of the verists. The verists developed Dada’s abandonment of any pictorial rules or artistic language into a “satirical hyperrealism”, as termed by Raoul Hausmann, and of which the best known examples are the graphical works and photo-montages of John Heartfield. Use of collage in these works became a compositional principle to blend reality and art, as if to suggest that to record the facts of reality was to go beyond the most simple appearances of things. This later developed into portraits and scenes by artists such as Grosz, Dix, and Rudolf Schlichter. Portraits would give emphasis to particular features or objects that were seen as distinctive aspects of the person depicted. Satirical scenes often depicted a madness behind what was happening, depicting the participants as cartoon-like.

Other verists, like Christian Schad, depicted reality with a clinical precision, which suggested both an empirical detachment and intimate knowledge of the subject. Schad’s paintings are characterised by “an artistic perception so sharp that it seems to cut beneath the skin”, according to the art critic Wieland Schmied. Often, psychological elements were introduced in his work, which suggested an underlying unconscious reality.

Compared to the verists, the classicists more clearly exemplify the “return to order” that arose in the arts throughout Europe. The classicists included Georg Schrimpf, Alexander Kanoldt, Carlo Mense, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, and Wilhelm Heise. The sources of their inspiration included 19th-century art, the Italian metaphysical painters, the artists of Novecento Italiano, and Henri Rousseau.

The classicists are best understood by Franz Roh’s term Magic Realism, though Roh originally intended “magical realism” to be synonymous with the Neue Sachlichkeit as a whole. For Roh, as a reaction to expressionism, the idea was to declare “[that] the autonomy of the objective world around us was once more to be enjoyed; the wonder of matter that could crystallise into objects was to be seen anew.” With the term, he was emphasising the “magic” of the normal world as it presents itself to us – how, when we really look at everyday objects, they can appear strange and fantastic.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

It strikes me, with a slap of the hand across the face, that the one, realism, cannot live cannot breathe with/out the other, the Other, magic. One cannot coexist without the other, as in the body not living without oxygen to breathe: one occupies the other whilst itself being inhabited. The precondition to reality is in essence the unknown. As order relies on mutation to define itself, so reality calls forth that form of hyperrealism, a state of magic, that we can have knowledge of (the image of ourselves before birth, that last image, can we remember, before death) but cannot mediate.

Magic/realism is no duality but a fluid, observational, hybridity which exists on multiple planes of reality – from the downright mad and evil to the ecstatic and revelatory. The fiction of a stable reality is twisted; magic or the supernatural is supposedly presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting. Or is it the other way round? Or no way round at all?

It is the role of the artist to set up opposites, throwing one against the other, to throw… into the void.


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


Tate Modern will explore German art from between the wars in a year-long, free exhibition, drawing upon the rich holdings of The George Economou Collection.

These loans offer a rare opportunity to view a range of artworks not ordinarily on public display, and to see a small selection of key Tate works returned to the context in which they were originally created and exhibited nearly one hundred years ago.

This presentation explores the diverse practices of a number of different artists, including Otto Dix, George Grosz, Albert Birkle and Jeanne Mammen. Although the term ‘magic realism’ is today commonly associated with the literature of Latin America, it was inherited from the artist and critic Franz Roh who invented it in 1925 to describe a shift from the art of the expressionist era, towards cold veracity and unsettling imagery. In the context of growing political extremism, the new realism reflected a fluid social experience as well as inner worlds of emotion and magic.



“Art is exorcism. I paint dreams and visions too; the dreams and visions of my time. Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time.”

Otto Dix



Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor) '1924


Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor)
© DACS 2017
Image: Otto Dix Stiftung



Otto Dix World War I service

When the First World War erupted, Dix enthusiastically volunteered for the German Army. He was assigned to a field artillery regiment in Dresden. In the autumn of 1915 he was assigned as a non-commissioned officer of a machine-gun unit on the Western front and took part in the Battle of the Somme. In November 1917, his unit was transferred to the Eastern front until the end of hostilities with Russia, and in February 1918 he was stationed in Flanders. Back on the western front, he fought in the German Spring Offensive. He earned the Iron Cross (second class) and reached the rank of vizefeldwebel. In August of that year he was wounded in the neck, and shortly after he took pilot training lessons.

He took part in a Fliegerabwehr-Kurs (“Defense Pilot Course”) in Tongern, was promoted to Vizefeldwebel and after passing the medical tests transferred to Aviation Replacement Unit Schneidemühl in Posen. He was discharged from service in 22 December 1918 and was home for Christmas.

Dix was profoundly affected by the sights of the war, and later described a recurring nightmare in which he crawled through destroyed houses. He represented his traumatic experiences in many subsequent works, including a portfolio of fifty etchings called Der Krieg, published in 1924. Subsequently, he referred again to the war in The War Triptych, painted from 1929-1932.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'International Riding Act' (Internationaler Reitakt) 1922


Otto Dix (1891-1969)
International Riding Act (Internationaler Reitakt)
Etching, drypoint on paper
496 x 431 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan


Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'International Riding Scene' (Internationale Reiterszene) 1922


Otto Dix (1891-1969)
International Riding Scene (Internationale Reiterszene)
Watercolour, pen and ink on paper
510 × 410 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan


Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Butcher Shop' (Fleischerladen) 1920


Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Butcher Shop (Fleischerladen)
Etching, drypoint on paper
495 x 338 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan


Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Lion-Tamer' (Dompteuse) 1922


Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Lion-Tamer (Dompteuse)
Etching, drypoint on paper
496 x 429 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan


Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Lust Murder' (Lustmord) 1922


Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Lust Murder (Lustmord)
Watercolour, ink and graphite on paper
485 x 365 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan


Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Lili, the Queen of the Air' (from 'Circus' portfolio) 1922


Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Lili, the Queen of the Air (from Circus portfolio)
Etching, drypoint on paper
The George Economou Collection
© The Estate of Otto Dix 2018



Otto Dix Post-war artwork

At the end of 1918 Dix returned to Gera, but the next year he moved to Dresden, where he studied at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste. He became a founder of the Dresden Secession group in 1919, during a period when his work was passing through an expressionist phase. In 1920, he met George Grosz and, influenced by Dada, began incorporating collage elements into his works, some of which he exhibited in the first Dada Fair in Berlin. He also participated in the German Expressionists exhibition in Darmstadt that year.

In 1924, he joined the Berlin Secession; by this time he was developing an increasingly realistic style of painting that used thin glazes of oil paint over a tempera underpainting, in the manner of the old masters. His 1923 painting The Trench, which depicted dismembered and decomposed bodies of soldiers after a battle, caused such a furore that the Wallraf-Richartz Museum hid the painting behind a curtain. In 1925 the then-mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, cancelled the purchase of the painting and forced the director of the museum to resign.

Dix was a contributor to the Neue Sachlichkeit exhibition in Mannheim in 1925, which featured works by George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, Karl Hubbuch, Rudolf Schlichter, Georg Scholz and many others. Dix’s work, like that of Grosz – his friend and fellow veteran – was extremely critical of contemporary German society and often dwelled on the act of Lustmord, or sexualized murder. He drew attention to the bleaker side of life, unsparingly depicting prostitution, violence, old age and death.

In one of his few statements, published in 1927, Dix declared, “The object is primary and the form is shaped by the object.”

Among his most famous paintings are Sailor and Girl (1925), used as the cover of Philip Roth’s 1995 novel Sabbath’s Theater, the triptych Metropolis (1928), a scornful portrayal of depraved actions of Germany’s Weimar Republic, where nonstop revelry was a way to deal with the wartime defeat and financial catastrophe, and the startling Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926). His depictions of legless and disfigured veterans – a common sight on Berlin’s streets in the 1920s – unveil the ugly side of war and illustrate their forgotten status within contemporary German society, a concept also developed in Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969) 'Technical Personnel' (Technisches Personal) 1922


Otto Dix (German, 1891-1969)
Technical Personnel (Technisches Personal)
Etching, drypoint on paper
497 x 426 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan



Magic Realism

The term magic realism was invented by German photographer, art historian and art critic Franz Roh in 1925 to describe modern realist paintings with fantasy or dream-like subjects.

The term was used by Franz Roh in his book Nach Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus (After Expressionism: Magic Realism).

In Central Europe magic realism was part of the reaction against modern or avant-garde art, known as the return to order, that took place generally after the First World War. Magic realist artists included Giorgio de Chirico, Alberto Savinio and others in Italy, and Alexander Kanoldt and Adolf Ziegler in Germany. Magic realism is closely related to the dreamlike depictions of surrealism and neo-romanticism in France. The term is also used of certain American painters in the 1940s and 1950s including Paul Cadmus, Philip Evergood and Ivan Albright.

In 1955 the critic Angel Flores used the term magic realism to describe the writing of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez, and it has since become a significant if disputed literary term.

Text from the Tate website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019


George Grosz (German, 1893-1959) 'Suicide' (Selbstmörder) 1916


George Grosz (German, 1893-1959)
Suicide (Selbstmörder)
Oil paint on canvas
1000 x 775 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1976



The horrific picture of Suicide by Groz astonishes by its savage imagery, harsh colours and restless composition. Highlighting the misery of the middle class who has no means to live on today and no future tomorrow, the artist gets one man strung up on a lamp post and the other shot on a stage just near a prompter guy in his cabin. Is his death a real thing or is it a part of some performance? It seems to be quite real because everybody promptly abandons the scene except for the hungry dogs roaming the desolate streets of Berlin. And these murders are no worse than dubious pleasures given by an ugly, man-like prostitute to an aged bald client visiting her in a cheap apartment block – the only source of solace from the cold and desolation for the bourgeois at the time. The pervasive moral corruption in Berlin during the war years is underlined by the forsaken Kirche at the back.

Text from the Arthive website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019


Grosz was drafted into the German army in 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War. His experiences in the trenches deepened his intense loathing for German society. Discharged from the army for medical reasons, he produced savagely satirical paintings and drawings that ‘expressed my despair, hate and disillusionment’. This work shows dogs roaming past the abandoned bodies of suicides in red nocturnal streets. The inclusion of an aged client visiting a prostitute reflects the pervasive moral corruption in Berlin during the war years.

Gallery label, September 2004


Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955) 'The Artist with Two Hanged Women' (Der Künstler mit zwei erhängten Frauen) 1924


Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)
The Artist with Two Hanged Women (Der Künstler mit zwei erhängten Frauen)
Watercolour and graphite on paper
453 x 340 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan



Sexualised murder was a recurrent theme within this period: the exhibition holding a number of other works similar to the piece by Dix. An example is Rudolf Schlichter’s The Artist with Two Hanged Women watercolour. Schlichter was known to have sexual fantasies revolved around hanging, as well as an obsession with women’s buttoned boots. Acting as a self-portrait, the image represents Schlichter’s private fantasies, whilst also drawing upon the public issues of suicide, which saw an unsettling rise during this period.

Text by Georgia Massie-Taylor from the G’s Spots blog


Albert Birkle (German, 1900-1986) 'Crucifixion' (Kreuzigung) 1921


Albert Birkle (German, 1900-1986)
Crucifixion (Kreuzigung)
Oil paint on board
920 x 607 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan


Herbert Gurschner (Austrian, 1901-1975) 'Lazarus (The Workers)' (Lazarus (Die Arbeiter)) 1928


Herbert Gurschner (Austrian, 1901-1975)
Lazarus (The Workers) (Lazarus (Die Arbeiter))
Oil paint on canvas
920 x 690 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan



Herbert Gurschner

Herbert Gurschner was born on August 27, 1901 in Innsbruck. In 1917 he attended the art school in Innsbruck and had his first exhibition. Between 1918 and 1920 he studied at the Munich Art Academy . After that he had other exhibitions in Innsbruck.

In 1924 he married an English nobleman, through which he came to London artist and collector circles. In 1929 he had his first exhibition in the London Fine Art Society . Two years later, he showed another exhibition in the Fine Art Society and made the artistic breakthrough in England. Subsequently, he was able to open several exhibitions throughout the UK. Herbert Gurschner found access to aristocratic, diplomatic and business circles and was able to exhibit his works in New York City, among others .

At the time of World War II Gurschner obtained British citizenship and served in the British army. During this time, he met his future second wife, the actress Brenda Davidoff, with whom he lived in London. In the postwar years Gurschner exhibited only sporadically and instead focuses on the stage design (including for the Royal Opera House, Globe Theater and Hammersmith Apollo). On January 10, 1975 Gurschner died in London.

Text from the German Wikipedia website translated by Google Translate


Herbert Gurschner (Austrian, 1901-1975) 'The Annunciation' 1929-30 


Herbert Gurschner (Austrian, 1901-1975)
The Annunciation
Oil on canvas
1617 x 1911 mm
Presented by Lord Duveen 1931



This summer, Tate Modern will explore the art of the Weimar Republic (1919-33) in a year-long, free display, drawing upon the rich holdings of The George Economou Collection. This presentation of around seventy paintings and works on paper will address the complex paradoxes of the Weimar era, in which liberalisation and anti-militarism flourished in tandem with political and economic uncertainty. These loans offer a rare opportunity to view a range of artworks not ordinarily on public display – some of which have never been seen in the United Kingdom before – and to see a selection of key Tate works returned to the context in which they were originally created and exhibited nearly one hundred years ago.

Although the term ‘magic realism’ is today commonly associated with the literature of Latin America, it was inherited from the artist and critic Franz Roh who invented it in 1925 to describe a shift from the anxious and emotional art of the expressionist era, towards the cold veracity and unsettling imagery of this inter-war period. In the context of growing political extremism, this new realism reflected a more liberal society as well as inner worlds of emotion and magic.

The profound social and political disarray after the First World War and the collapse of the Empire largely brought about this stylistic shift. Berlin in particular attracted a reputation for moral depravity and decadence in the context of the economic collapse. The reconfiguration of urban life was an important aspect of the Weimar moment. Alongside exploring how artists responded to social spaces and the studio, entertainment sites like the cabaret and the circus will be highlighted, including a display of Otto Dix’s enigmatic Zirkus (‘Circus’) print portfolio. Artists recognised the power in representing these realms of public fantasy and places where outsiders were welcomed.

Works by Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann perhaps best known today for their unsettling depictions of Weimar life, will be presented alongside the works of under recognised artists such as Albert Birkle, Jeanne Mammen and Rudolf Schlichter, and many others whose careers were curtailed by the end of the Weimar period due to the rise of Nationalist Socialism and its agenda to promote art that celebrated its political ideologies.

The display comes at a pertinent time, in a year of commemoration of the anniversary of the end of the First World War, alongside Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One at Tate Britain and William Kentridge’s new performance for 14-18 Now at Tate Modern entitled The Head and the Load, running from 11-15 July 2018.

Magic Realism is curated by Matthew Gale, Head of Displays and Katy Wan, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The display is realised with thanks to loans from The George Economou Collection, with additional support from the Huo Family Foundation (UK) Limited.

Press release from the Tate website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Boring Dolls' (Langweilige Puppen) 1929


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Boring Dolls (Langweilige Puppen)
Watercolour and graphite on paper mounted on cardboard
384 x 286 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Free room' (Brüderstrasse (Zimmer frei)) 1930


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Free room (Brüderstrasse (Zimmer frei))
Watercolour, ink and graphite on vellum
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'At the Shooting Gallery' 1929


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
At the Shooting Gallery
Watercolour and graphite on vellum
445 x 360 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, 2018



Jeanne Mammen

Jeanne Mammen (21 November 1890 – 22 April 1976) was a German painter and illustrator of the Weimar period. Her work is associated with the New Objectivity and Symbolism movements. She is best known for her depictions of strong, sensual women and Berlin city life.

In 1921, Mammen moved into an apartment with her sister in Berlin. This apartment was a former photographer’s studio which she lived in until her death. Aside from Art throughout her life Mammen also was interested in science. She was close friends with Max Delbrück who left Europe and took some of her artwork with him and exhibited them in California. In addition to bringing these art works to be exhibited he also sent Mammen care packages from the United States with art supplies.

In 1930 she had a major exhibition in the Fritz Gurlitt gallery. Over the next two years, at Gurlitt’s suggestion, she created one of her most important works: a series of eight lithographs illustrating Les Chansons de Bilitis, a collection of lesbian love poems by Pierre Louÿs.

In 1933, following her inclusion in an exhibition of female artists in Berlin, the Nazi authorities denounced her motifs and subjects as “Jewish”, and banned her lithographs for Les Chansons de Bilitis. The Nazis were also opposed to her blatant disregard to for apparent ‘appropriate’ female submissiveness in her expressions of her subjects. Much of her work also includes imagery of lesbians. The Nazis shut down most of the journals she had worked for, and she refused to work for those that complied with their cultural policies. Until the end of the war she practiced a kind of “inner emigration”. She stopped exhibiting her work and focused on advertising. For a time she also peddled second-hand books from a handcart.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Otto Rudolf Schatz (Austrian, 1900-1961) 'Moon Women' (Mondfrauen) 1930


Otto Rudolf Schatz (Austrian, 1900-1961)
Moon Women (Mondfrauen)
Oil paint on canvas
1915 x 1110 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan



Otto Rudolf Schatz

Otto Rudolf Schatz was born on January 18, 1900, the son of a post office family in Vienna. From 1915 to 1918 Schatz studied at the Viennese Art Academy under Oskar Strnad and Anton von Kenner. In 1918 his studies were interrupted by military service in the Second World War although he graduated in 1919. During this time the artist’s chosen medium was wood.  From 1920 he worked with the painter Max Hevesi who exhibited Schatz’s paintings and woodcuts. Otto Rudolf Schatz also published books with the art critic Arthur Roessler including The Gothic Mood.

In 1923 Schatz became friends with the Viennese gallery owner Otto Kallir who became one of his most important patrons. Kallir continuously presented Schatz’s works in the Neue Galerie. In the same year the Austrian collector Fritz Karpfen published Austrian Art featuring Schatz’s art. The artist’s book of twelve woodcuts was published with a foreword by the art historian Erica Tietze-Conrat. The painter also traveled to Venice in 1923.

In 1924 he had his first collective exhibition in the Neue Galerie. In 1925 Schatz exhibited in the Neue Galerie together with Anton Faistauer, Franz Probst, and Marianne Seeland. In the same year he became a member of the Austrian artists’ association Kunstschau and he provided eight original woodcuts for the publication of a fairytale book Im Satansbruch by Ernst Preczang.

In 1927 Schatz contributed woodcuts to the volume The New Town by the Berlin Büchergilde Gutenberg. From 1928 to 1938 he was a valued member in the Hagenbund in Vienna. In 1929 he produced several illustrations for The Stromverlag among others and for Stefan Zweig’s Fantastic Night and H. G. Wells The Invisible. In 1936 he participated in a collective exhibition with Georg Ehrlich in the Neue Galerie. In 1936 to 1937 Schatz traveled through the United States as well as visited the World Exhibition in Paris. His paintings were seen in exhibition of his New York, in the Neue Galerie, and in the Hagenbund. The artists provided illustrations for the Büchergilde Gutenberg edition of Upton Sinclair’s Co-op.

When the National Socialists gained power in 1938 Schatz was forbidden to work. In 1938 he lived with his Jewish wife Valerie Wittal in Brno and in 1944 in Prague where he painted landscape miniatures. In 1944 Schatz was imprisoned in the Klettendorf labor camp and then transferred to the Graditz and Bistritz concentration camps. In 1946 Schatz returned to Vienna where he was promoted by the cultural politician, city counsellor, and writer Viktor Matejka. In 1946 he became a member of the Vienna Secession. In 1947 Schatz received the prize of the city of Vienna for graphics. In the same year eighteen woodcuts were created for Peter Rosegger’s Jakob der Letzte. In 1949 Scatz’s watercolor series Das war der Prater was published in book form. In 1951 Schatz won the competition for the design of the Vienna Westbahnhof. On April 26, 1961 Otto Rudolf Schatz died of lung cancer in Vienna.

As a graphic artist and painter Otto Rudolf Schatz occupies a leading position in the Austrian inter-war period. His multi-faceted work which moves between Expressionism and New Objectivity, was characterised by a social-critical attitude that gives his work historical significance. The artist’s works are now found in numerous collections including the Belvedere in Vienna, the Vienna Museum, and the Hans Schmid Private Foundation.

Text from the Otto Rudolf Schatz website [Online] Cite 23/06/2019


Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955) 'Lady with Red Scarf (Speedy with the Moon)' (Frauenportrait (Speedy)) 1933


Rudolf Schlichter (German, 1890-1955)
Lady with Red Scarf (Speedy with the Moon) (Frauenportrait (Speedy))
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan



Rudolf Schlichter (or Rudolph Schlichter) (December 6, 1890 – May 3, 1955) was a German artist and one of the most important representatives of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement.

Schlichter was born in Calw, Württemberg. After an apprenticeship as an enamel painter at a Pforzheim factory he attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Stuttgart. He subsequently studied under Hans Thoma and Wilhelm Trübner at the Academy in Karlsruhe. Called for military service in World War I, he carried out a hunger strike to secure early release, and in 1919 he moved to Berlin where he joined the Communist Party of Germany and the “November” group. He took part in a Dada fair in 1920 and also worked as an illustrator for several periodicals.

A major work from this period is his Dada Roof Studio, a watercolour showing an assortment of figures on an urban rooftop. Around a table sit a woman and two men in top hats. One of the men has a prosthetic hand and the other, also missing a hand, appears on closer scrutiny to be mannequin. Two other figures in gas masks may also be mannequins. A child holds a pail and a woman wearing high button shoes (for which Schlichter displayed a marked fetish) stands on a pedestal, gesturing inexplicably.

In 1925 Schlichter participated in the “Neue Sachlichkeit” exhibit at the Mannheim Kunsthalle. His work from this period is realistic, a good example being the Portrait of Margot (1924) now in the Berlin Märkisches Museum. It depicts a prostitute who often modelled for Schlichter, standing on a deserted street and holding a cigarette.

When Adolf Hitler took power, bringing to an end the Weimar period, his activities were greatly curtailed. In 1935 he returned to Stuttgart, and four years later to Munich. In 1937 his works were seized as degenerate art, and in 1939 the Nazi authorities banned him from exhibiting. His studio was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1942.

At the war’s end, Schlichter resumed exhibiting works. His works from this period were surrealistic in character. He died in Munich in 1955.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Sergius Pauser (Austrian, 1896-1970) 'Self-Portrait with Mask' 1926


Sergius Pauser (Austrian, 1896-1970)
Self-Portrait with Mask
Oil paint on canvas
600 x 730 mm
The George Economou Collection
© Angela Pauser and Wolfgang Pauser



Sergius Pauser

Sergius Pauser, who was born in Vienna on 28 December 1896, represents the prototype of this generation of artists. As a painter, he enjoyed the recognition of his contemporaries and as a much sought-after artist who was able to earn his living with his paintings. He was never a revolutionary but rather a “gentleman of the Viennese order”, who sought to capture moods and atmosphere in his paintings. The writer Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) wrote of Pauser: “Sergius Pauser uttered thoughts about people – Adalbert Stifter, for example – that I have never heard before or since; he succeeded in revealing the most concealed corners of poetic sensitivity; he was a tender and vigilant diviner on the landscape of world literature, a philosopher and an artist through and through.” And yet a painter like Sergius Pauser is barely known today; only a few of his works hang in Austrian galleries and many of his paintings cannot be traced due to the emigration of their owners.

Text from the Sergius Pauser website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019


Hans Grundig (German, 1901-1958) 'Girl with Pink Hat' 1925


Hans Grundig (German, 1901-1958)
Girl with Pink Hat
Oil paint on cardboard
704 x 500 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, 2018



Hans Grundig

Hans Grundig (February 19, 1901 – September 11, 1958) was a German painter and graphic artist associated with the New Objectivity movement.

He was born in Dresden and, after an apprenticeship as an interior decorator, studied in 1920–1921 at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts. He then studied at the Dresden Academy from 1922 to 1923. During the 1920s his paintings, primarily portraits of working-class subjects, were influenced by the work of Otto Dix. Like his friend Gert Heinrich Wollheim, he often depicted himself in a theatrical manner, as in his Self-Portrait during the Carnival Season (1930).

He had his first solo exhibition in 1930 at the Dresden gallery of Józef Sandel. He made his first etchings in 1933.

Politically anti-fascist, he joined the German Communist Party in 1926, and was a founding member of the arts organisation Assoziation revolutionärer bildender Künstler in Dresden in 1929.

Following the fall of the Weimar Republic, Grundig was declared a degenerate artist by the Nazis, who included his works in the defamatory Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich in 1937. He expressed his antagonism toward the regime in paintings such as The Thousand Year Reich (1936). Forbidden to practice his profession, he was arrested twice – briefly in 1936, and again in 1938, after which he was interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 1940 to 1944.

In 1945 he went to Moscow, where he attended an anti-fascist school. Returning to Berlin in 1946, he became a professor of painting at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. In 1957 he published his autobiography, Zwischen Karneval und Aschermittwoch (“Between Shrovetide carnival and Ash Wednesday”). He was awarded the Heinrich Mann Prize in Berlin in 1958, the year of his death.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Josef Eberz (1880-1942) 'Dancer (Beatrice Mariagraete)' 1923


Josef Eberz (1880-1942)
Dancer (Beatrice Mariagraete)
Oil paint on canvas
1580 x 785 mm
The George Economou Collection


Josef Eberz died in utter loneliness on 27 August 1942, his apartment with the studio burned out in a bombing raid.


Conrad Felixmüller (German, 1897-1977) 'Portrait of Ernst Buchholz' 1921


Conrad Felixmüller (German, 1897-1977)
Portrait of Ernst Buchholz
Oil paint on canvas
900 x 750 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, 2018



Conrad Felixmüller

Conrad Felixmüller (21 May 1897 – 24 March 1977) was a German expressionist painter and printmaker. Born in Dresden as Conrad Felix Müller, he chose Felixmüller as his nom d’artiste.

He attended drawing classes at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts in 1911-12 before studying under Carl Bantzer at the Dresden Academy of Art. In 1917 he performed military service as a medical orderly, and became a founding member of the Dresden Expressionist group Expressionistische Arbeitsgemeinschaft Dresden. He achieved his earliest success as a printmaker. Felixmüller was a member of the Communist Party of Germany from 1918 to 1922. He published many woodcuts and drawings in left-wing magazines, and remained a prolific printmaker throughout his career. He was a close friend of the composer Clemens Braun of whom he produced a number of portraits and a woodcut depicting him on his deathbed.

He was one of the youngest members of the New Objectivity movement. His paintings often deal with the social realities of Germany’s Weimar Republic. He was mentor to the German Expressionist Otto Dix.

Felixmüller’s work became more objective and restrained after the mid-1920s. He wrote in 1929:

“It has become increasingly clear to me that the only necessary goal is to depict the direct, simple life which one has lived oneself, also involving the design of colour as painting – in the manner in which it was cultivated by the Old Masters for centuries, until Impressionism and Expressionism, infected by the technical and industrial delusions of grandeur, rejected every affinity for tradition, ability and results, committing harakiri.”

In the 1930s, many of his works were seized as degenerate art by the Nazis, and destroyed. In 1944, his studio in Berlin was bombed, resulting in more losses of his works. From 1949 to 1962 Felixmüller taught at the University of Halle. He died in the Berlin suburb of Zehlendorf.

Text from the Wikipedia website


August Heitmüller (German, 1873-1935) 'Self-Portrait' 1926


August Heitmüller (German, 1873-1935)
Oil paint on canvas
900 x 705 mm
The George Economou Collection


George Grosz (German, 1893-1959) 'A Married Couple' 1930


George Grosz (German, 1893-1959)
A Married Couple
Watercolour, gouache, pen and ink on paper
505 x 440 mm
The George Economou Collection
© Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, N.J. 2018


George Grosz (German, 1893-1959) 'Self-Portrait with Model in the Studio' 1930-1937


George Grosz (German, 1893-1959)
Self-Portrait with Model in the Studio
Watercolour on paper
660 x 473 mm
© Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, N.J. 2018


Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970) 'The Poet Däubler' (Der Dichter Däubler) 1917


Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (German, 1894-1970)
The Poet Däubler (Der Dichter Däubler)
Oil paint on canvas
1810 x 1603 mm
The George Economou Collection
On short term loan



Heinrich Maria Davringhausen

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (21 October 1894 – 13 December 1970) was a German painter associated with the New Objectivity.

Davringhausen was born in Aachen. Mostly self-taught as a painter, he began as a sculptor, studying briefly at the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts before participating in a group exhibition at Alfred Flechtheim’s gallery in 1914. He also traveled to Ascona with his friend the painter Carlo Mense that year. At this early stage his paintings were influenced by the expressionists, especially August Macke.

Exempted from military service in World War I, he lived in Berlin from 1915 to 1918, forming friendships with George Grosz and John Heartfield. In 1919 he had a solo exhibition at Hans Goltz’ Galerie Neue Kunst in Munich, and exhibited in the first “Young Rhineland” exhibition in Düsseldorf. Davringhausen became a member of the “Novembergruppe” and gained some prominence among the artists representing a new tendency in German art of the postwar period. He was asked to take part in the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) exhibition in Mannheim which brought together many leading “post-expressionist” artists, including Grosz, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Alexander Kanoldt and Georg Schrimpf.

Davringhausen went into exile with the fall of the Weimar republic in 1933, first going to Majorca, then to France. In Germany approximately 200 of his works were removed from public museums by the Nazis on the grounds that they were degenerate art. Prohibited from exhibiting, Davringhausen was interned in Cagnes-sur-Mer but fled to Côte D’ Azur. In 1945 however he returned to Cagnes-sur-Mer, a suburb of Nice, where he remained for the rest of his life. He worked as an abstract painter under the name Henri Davring until his death in Nice in 1970.

Perhaps the best-known work from Davringhausen’s New Objectivity period is Der Schieber (The Black-Marketeer), a Magic realist painting of 1920-21, which is in the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof. Painted in acidulous colours, it depicts a glowering businessman seated at a desk in a modern office suite that foreshortens dramatically behind him. Although Davringhausen rarely presented social criticism in his work, in Der Schieber “the artist created the classic pictorial symbol of the period of inflation that was commencing”.

Much of Davringhausen’s work was deposited in 1989 in the Leopold Hoesch museum in Düren, which has subsequently organised several exhibitions of his pictures, above all those from the later period.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Albert Birkle (German, 1900-1986) 'The Acrobat Schulz V' 1921


Albert Birkle (German, 1900-1986)
The Acrobat Schulz V
Oil paint on canvas
920 x 607 mm
The George Economou Collection
© DACS, London 2018



Albert Birkle

Albert Birkle was born in Charlottenburg, then an independent city and since 1920 part of Berlin. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Gustav Bregenzer, and his father, Carl Birkle, both were painters, originally from Swabia. Albert Birkle was trained as a decorative painter in his father’s firm. From 1918 to 1924, he studied at the Hochschule für die bildenden Künste / College of Fine Arts, a predecessor of today’s Universität der Künste Berlin. Birkle developed a unique style informed by expressionism and New Objectivity / Neue Sachlichkeit. His subjects were lonely, mystic landscapes, typical scenes of Berlin of the 20’s and 30’s, such as scenes from Tiergarten Park, bar scenes etc., character portraits, and religious scenes. In his style of portrait painting he was often compared to Otto Dix and George Grosz.

In 1927, Birkle had his first one man show in Berlin, which turned out to be very successful. He decided to turn down a professorship at the Koenigsberg Acadamy of Arts in order to continue to work independently as an artist and to dedicate himself to assignments in the field of church decoration, where he had become a specialist. As National Socialism was on its way to power, Birkle moved to Salzburg, Austria in 1932. Nevertheless, he represented Germany at the Venice Biennale as late as 1936. In 1937, his artwork was declared to be “entarted”, his works were removed from public collections, and a painting ban was imposed on him.

In 1946, Birkle received Austrian citizenship. In the post-war year, he made a living painting religious frescos for various churches and doing oil paintings. In his final year, he more and more returned back to his Berlin themes of the 20’s and 30’s.

Text from the Albert Birkle website [Online] Cited 23/06/2019



Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

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Exhibition: ‘Flatlands: photography and everyday space’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 13th September 2012 – 3rd February 2013


David Moore. 'Light pattern, camera in motion' c. 1948, printed 1997


David Moore (Australia, 1927-2003)
Light pattern, camera in motion
c. 1948, printed 1997
Gelatin silver photograph
50.7cm x 40.3cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Karen, Lisa, Michael and Matthew Moore, 2004



This posting contains one of my favourite early works by Fiona Hall, Leura, New South Wales (1974, below) which is redolent of all the themes that would be expressed in the later work – an alien landscape that examines “the relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the [fecund] garden in western iconography.” In her work the “nature” of things (plants, money, videotape, plumbing fittings, birds nests, etc…) are re/classified, re/ordered and re/labelled.

Another stunning photograph in this posting is Minor White’s Windowsill daydreaming (1958, below). It is one of my favourite images of all time: because of the power of observation (to be able to recognise, capture and present such a manifestation!); because of the images formal beauty; and because of its metaphysical nature – a poetry full of esoteric allusions, one that addresses a very profound subject matter that is usually beyond ordinary knowledge or understanding. This alien presence, like the structure of an atom, is something that lives beyond the edges of our consciousness, some presence that hovers there, that we can feel and know yet can never see. Is it our shadow, our anima or animus? This is one of those rare photographs that will always haunt me.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text accompanying photographs © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007.


Cecil Bostock (Australia, 1884-1939) 'Phenomena' c. 1938


Cecil Bostock (Australia, 1884-1939)
c. 1938
gelatin silver photograph
26.3 x 30.5cm
Gift of Max Dupain 1980



Bostock remains an enigmatic personality in Australian pictorial and early modernist photography. This is at least in part due to his body of work being scattered on his death in 1939 as it was auctioned to cover his debts. Fortunately Phenomena was left to his former assistant Max Dupain who had worked with him from 1930 to 1933.

Phenomena was one of 11 photographs Bostock exhibited with the Contemporary Camera Groupe and it was placed in the window at David Jones along with other photographs such as Plum blossom 1937 by Olive Cotton and Mechanisation of art by Laurence Le Guay. Phenomena is a wonderful modernist work with its plays of light and dark and disorienting shapes and curving lines. It is impossible to tell exactly how the shapes are made or where the light is coming from, nor what the objects are. It could easily be exhibited upside down where the viewer could be looking down on objects arranged on a flat surface. Phenomena is a tribute to Bostock’s restless, inventive and exacting abilities.


Fiona Hall. 'Leura, New South Wales' 1974


Fiona Hall (Australia, b. 1953)
Leura, New South Wales
Gelatin silver photograph
27.8cm x 27.8cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased 1981
© Fiona Hall



The rich tones and fine detail of Leura, New South Wales were made possible by Hall’s use of a large-format nineteenth-century view camera. The antiquated technology, once used by colonial photographers to document nature and the taming of the Australian landscape, here records instead the verdant foliage of a floral-patterned couch and carpet. Made at the beginning of Hall’s career, it demonstrates her burgeoning interest in the representation of nature. The relationship between humankind and nature and the symbolic role of the garden in western iconography has since been a recurrent theme in her work, which ranges across photography, sculpture and installation. Leura… differs from Hall’s other photographs in that it documents a “found” object. Hall’s later works, such as The Antipodean suite 1981 and her large-format polaroids of 1985, are of her own constructions and sculptures. Her Paradisus terrestris series 1989-90, 1996, 1999, of aluminium repousse sculptures takes the garden of Eden as its subject and treats it as an Enlightenment florilegium, wherein nature is classified, ordered and labelled. This kind of botanical transcription, like photography, was the process through which the alien Australian landscape was ‘naturalised’ by its colonists – a process which Hall wryly comments on in this acutely observed encounter within a domestic interior.


Simryn Gill. From 'A long time between drinks' 2005


Simryn Gill (Singapore/Malaysia/Australia, b. 1959)
From A long time between drinks
Portfolio of 13 offset prints
29.8cm x 29.7cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
© Simryn Gill



Among Simryn Gill’s multi-disciplinary explorations of identity and belonging, investigations of suburban locations carry a particular resonance due to their often autobiographical nature. A long time between drinks 2009 is an intensely focused look at suburban Adelaide which was the artist’s first experience of Australia when she arrived in 1987 from Kuala Lumpur, and the city where she first exhibited. Gill returned to Adelaide in 2005 to revisit this early point of contact, producing an evocative series of 13 images.

The photographs impart an ostensible sense of alienation and isolation that corresponds to the artist’s position as an outsider looking in. Gill’s viewpoint of these empty streets that seem to lead nowhere is forensic and detached. But surprisingly, as repetitious compositions and details culminate across the photographs, the prosaic subject matter becomes increasingly surreal, abstract and even poetic.

As Sambrani Chaitanya has stated, “Gill’s work is an investigation of the limits of categorisation,”1 and this group of works, just as in Gill’s examination of Marrickville (where she now lives) in May 2006, emphasises the difficulty of defining an idea of place through mere description. Memory, time and pure invention are required to fill in the gaps. The eerie, yet evocative environment in these photographic prints is further enhanced by their presentation in a square box emulating those of sets of vinyl LP recordings.

1. Sambrani, C. “Other realties, someone else’s fictions: the tangled art of Simryn Gill,” [Online], Art and Australia Vol. 42, No. 2, Summer 2004, p. 220.


David Stephenson (USA/Australia, b. 1955) 'Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy' 1997


David Stephenson (USA/Australia, b. 1955)
Sant’ivo alla Sapienza 1645-50 Rome, Italy
From the series Domes 1993-2005
Type C photograph
55 × 55 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by Joanna Capon and the Photography Collection Benefactors Program 2002
© David Stephenson



With poetic symmetry the Domes series considers analogous ideas. It is a body of work which has been ongoing since 1993 and now numbers several hundred images of domes in countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, England, Germany and Russia. The typological character of the series reveals the shifting history in architectural design, geometry and space across cultures and time, demonstrating how humankind has continually sought meaning by building ornate structures which reference a sacred realm.2 Stephenson photographs the oculus – the eye in the centre of each cupola. Regardless of religion, time or place, this entry to the heavens – each with unique architectural and decorative surround – is presented as an immaculate and enduring image. Placed together, the photographs impart the infinite variations of a single obsession, while also charting the passage of history, and time immemorial.

2. Hammond, V. 2005, “The dome in European architecture,” in Stephenson, D. 2005, Visions of heaven: the dome in European architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, New York p. 190.



“A new exhibition, Flatlands: photography and everyday space, examines photography’s role in transforming the way we perceive, organise and imagine the world. The 39 works by 23 Australian and international artists included in the exhibition have been drawn from the Gallery’s permanent collection of 20th century and contemporary photography.

Definitions of space have always depended on the scientific, social and cultural aspects of the human experience. At its birth in the 19th century, photography’s monocular vision was seen as the ultimate tool for representation and classification. Elusive phenomena such as distance, depth and emptiness seemed within grasp. Yet, limited to freezing single moments or viewpoints in time, the photograph’s ability to objectively represent the world was under question by the turn of the 20th century. Technological advancements, such as faster exposure times transformed the potential of the medium to not only show things that escaped the eye but new ways of seeing them as well.

Embracing partiality and ambivalence, modernist photography sought to capture the fragments, details and blurred boundaries in the expanses we call personal space. What the photograph began to reveal were dimensions which German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin described in 1931 as the ‘optical unconscious’ of reality. The works of photographers such as Melvin Vaniman, Frederick Evans, Harold Cazneaux, William Buckle, Franz Roh, Olive Cotton, David Moore, Josef Sudek, Minor White and Robert Rauschenberg explore the intangible in spaces which define our physical and spiritual relationship with reality. Windows, doorways, ceilings, staircases – these mundane and ordinary passageways suddenly acquire a centrality and metaphysical depth normally denied to them.

The edges between sacred and profane, public and private, natural and artificial, real and dreamed environments became further entangled in the subjective visions of late 20th century and contemporary photographic work. For Daido Moriyama, Fiona Hall, Pat Brassington, Simryn Gill, Christine Godden, Geoff Kleem, Leonie Reisberg, Ingeborg Tyssen, David Stephenson and Justine Varga, space is seen to be a product of the perception of the individual. Photographs are able to reveal realms outside of the scientific – that is those created by emotion, memory and desire.

As Fiona Hall commented in 1996, “our belief might be maintained, for at least as long as the image can hold our attention, in the possibility of inhabiting a world as illusory as the two-dimensional one of the photograph.” Collectively, these images destabilise naturalised certainties while activating the imaginary dimension and the unsettling, albeit poetic potential of photography to impact and alter our view of the world.”

Press release from the AGNSW website


Olive Cotton (Australia, 1911-2003) 'By my window' 1930


Olive Cotton (Australia, 1911-2003)
By my window
Gelatin silver photograph
20.3 x 15.1cm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006


Olive Cotton. 'Skeleton Leaf' 1964


Olive Cotton (Australia, 1911-2003)
Skeleton Leaf
Gelatin silver photograph
24.7 × 19.6cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2006
© artist’s estate


Minor White (America, 1908-1976) 'Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958' 1958


Minor White (America, 1908-1976)
Christmas ornament, Batavia, New York, January 1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Gelatin silver photograph mounted on card
Gift of Patsy Asch 2005
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Art Museum


Minor White. 'Windowsill daydreaming' 1958


Minor White (America, 1908-1976)
Windowsill daydreaming
Rochester, New York, July 1958
From the portfolio Sound of one hand 1960-1965
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Reproduction with permission of the Minor White Archive
© Princeton University Museum of Art



Informed by the esoteric arts, eastern religion and philosophy, Minor White’s belief in the spiritual qualities of photography made him an intensely personal and enigmatic teacher, editor and curator. White’s initial experience with photography was through his botanical studies at the University of Minnesota where he learned to develop and print photomicrography images, a view of life that he saw as akin to modern art forms. White advocated Stieglitz’s concept of ‘Equivalence’ in which form directly communicated mood and meaning, that ‘darkness and light, objects and spaces, carry spiritual as well as material meanings’.1 White disseminated his photographic theories through the influential quarterly journal Aperture, which he edited and co-founded with his contemporaries Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Beaumont Newhall and others.

Like Stieglitz, White also worked in sequences that through abstraction, expression and metaphor emphasised his mystical interpretation of the visual world. The sequences allow for a dialogue to continue through and in-between the images, engaging the viewer in a visual poem rather than any strict or formal narrative. The series, Sound of one hand, exemplifies White’s study of Zen and esoteric philosophies, reflecting his meditation of the Zen koan from which he saw rather than heard any sound. The first of the series, Metal ornament, Pultneyville, New York, October 1957 presents an abstracted form that is both sensual and elusive, slipping in and out of ocular register. The ambiguous graduated tones and reflected light pull the eye into the centre of the image before vicariously dragging it back. This broken semi-elliptical shape is mirrored in Windowsill daydreaming, Rochester, New York, July 1958 as the gently moving curtains play with the light and shadows of White’s flat, creating abstracted organic forms. Abstracted forms of nature were of great interest to White as can be seen in the rest of the series that capture the frosted window of his flat with its crystallised ice, condensation and glimpses of the outside world.

1. Rice, S. 1998, “Beyond reality,” in Frizot, M. (ed.,). A new history of photography, Könemann, Cologne pp. 669-73.



Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website


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Exhibition: ‘Reading the modern photography book: changing perceptions’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 18th January – 26th April 2009


Looks a great exhibition for fans of photography books!


foto-auge (photo-eye), edited and with an introduction by Franz Roh, cover design by Jan Tschichold (Stuttgart: Akademischer Verlag, Dr. Fritz Wedekind & Co., 1929)


foto-auge (photo-eye)
edited and with an introduction by Franz Roh, cover design by Jan Tschichold
(Stuttgart: Akademischer Verlag, Dr. Fritz Wedekind & Co., 1929)



“Also produced in conjunction with Film und Foto, this book showcases a wide variety of photographic practices as a way of examining the social importance of the medium’s ability to construct visual knowledge.”



Held in conjunction with Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans,” this exhibition examines a variety of artistic and thematic approaches to the modern photography book, displaying examples that span the period from the late 1920s to the early 1970s. The photography book, more than simply a book containing photographs, is a publication composed by the careful sequencing and editing of photographic material. Often produced by a photographer, they present visual narratives through creative page design that frequently integrates photographs with text and graphic elements.

This focus exhibition organises 21 books from the Gallery’s library into four themes: “New Visions,” “Documented Realities,” “Postwar Scenes,” and “Conceptual Practices.” It highlights diverse projects from individual photographers such as László Moholy-Nagy, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Yasuhiro Ishimoto as well as collaborative projects from the Hungarian Work Circle (Munka Kör) and Andy Warhol’s Factory, revealing that the photography book is both a significant conveyer of contemporary experience and a witness to historical events.

The modern photography book, more than simply a book containing photographs, is a publication composed by the careful sequencing and editing of photographic material. Often produced by a photographer, these books present visual narratives through creative page design that frequently integrates photographs with text and graphic elements. Popular across the political spectrum, photography books have been published both as art objects and as documentary records. Through their organisation they foster a critical examination of the visual world, and as works of historical witness they have helped to construct cultural memories. Photography books have been a primary format for the arrangement and display of photographs, making them a vital but commonly overlooked component of the history of photography. Today they continue to provide an important forum for photographers to convey their work to a wide public audience.

Photographs have appeared in book format since their inception. For example, William Henry Fox Talbot’s commercially published The Pencil of Nature (1844) was one of the earliest explorations of photography’s narrative capabilities. Like all early photography books, Talbot’s photographs were printed separately from the letterpress text. It was not until the 1880s, with the development of the halftone plate and printing process, that mass-produced newspapers, magazines, and books regularly featured photographs. This invention, which allowed type and photographic images to be mechanically reproduced on the same press, dramatically changed the means by which the general public viewed and had access to photographs. By the 1920s the number of photographically illustrated publications had increased exponentially, and photographs regularly recounted events without explanatory text. As people began to see more and more photographs on a daily basis, they became far more visually literate. Set within this context, the modern mass-produced photography book challenged not only traditional narrative structures but also popular habits of reading and seeing.

Text from the National Gallery of Art website [Online] Cited 06/03/2009 (no longer available online)


Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Aruhi Arutokoro (Someday, Somewhere), preface by Tsutomu Watanabe, design by Ryuuichi Yamashiro (Tokyo: Geibi Shuppan, 1958)


Yasuhiro Ishimoto
Aruhi Arutokoro (Someday, Somewhere)
preface by Tsutomu Watanabe, design by Ryuuichi Yamashiro (Tokyo: Geibi Shuppan, 1958)



“This engaging publication juxtaposes photographs taken by Ishimoto in Chicago and Tokyo. Born in the United States, Ishimoto spent his childhood in Japan and later returned to the U.S. to attend school at the Institute of Design in Chicago. Finally settling in Tokyo, he influenced a new generation of postwar Japanese photographers interested in producing books.”


Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'The Decisive Moment' (New York: Simon & Schuster, in collaboration with Éditions Verve, Paris, 1952)


Henri Cartier-Bresson
The Decisive Moment
(New York: Simon & Schuster, in collaboration with Éditions Verve, Paris, 1952)



“An important presentation of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs from the 1930s and 1940s, this large-format book helped to popularise his work, in which a distinctive documentary approach transforms ordinary moments into remarkable photographic visions.”



National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 1000 am – 5.00 pm
Sunday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

National Gallery of Art website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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