Posts Tagged ‘French Surrealists

15
Nov
20

Exhibition: ‘Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 10th March – 30th November 2020

Curator: Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary' 1917

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary
1917
Gelatin silver print
1 1/2 in. × 2 in. (3.8 × 5.1cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2020 Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

 

This tiny but iconic masterpiece of twentieth-century photography is the second earliest work in the exhibition, and a gem in the Tenenbaum and Lee collection. Made while André Kertész was convalescing from a gunshot wound received while serving in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I, it prefigures by some fifteen years his renowned mirror distortions produced in Paris. Displaying both Cubist and Surrealist influences, the photograph reveals the artist’s commitment to the spontaneous yet analytic observation of fleeting commonplace occurrences – one of the essential and most idiosyncratic qualities of the medium.

 

 

It’s a mystery

There are some eclectic photographs in this posting, many of which have remained un/seen to me before.

I have never seen the above version of Kertész’s Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary (1917), with wall, decoration and water flowing into the pool at left. The usual image crops these features out, focusing on the distortion of the body in the water, and the lengthening of the figure diagonally across the picture frame. That both images are from the same negative can be affirmed if one looks at the patterning of the water. Even as the exhibition of Kertész’s work at Jeu de Paume at the Château de Tours that I saw last year stated that their version was a contact original… this is not possible unless the image has been cropped.

Other images by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Outerbridge Jr., Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Pierre Dubreuil, Ilse Bing, Bill Brandt, Dora Maar, Joseph Cornell, Nan Goldin, Laurie Simmons, Robert Gober, Rachel Whiteread, Zanele Muholi have eluded my consciousness until now.

What I can say after viewing them is this.

I am forever amazed at how deep the spirit, and the medium, of photography is… if you give the photograph a chance. A friend asked me the other day whether photographs had any meaning anymore, as people glance for a nano-second at images on Instagram, and pass on. We live in a world of instant gratification was my answer to him. But the choice is yours if you take / time with a photograph, if it possesses the POSSIBILITY of a meditation from its being. If it intrigues or excites, or stimulates, makes you reflect, cry – that is when the photographs pre/essence, its embedded spirit, can make us attest to the experience of its will, its language, its desire. In our presence.

The more I learn about photography, the less I find I know. The lake (archive) is deep – full of serendipity, full of memories, stagings, concepts and realities. Full of nuances and light, crevices and dark passages. To understand photography is a life-long study. To an inquiring mind, even then, you may only – scratch the surface to reveal – a sort of epiphany, a revelation, unknown to others. Every viewing is unique, every interpretation different, every context unknowable (possible).

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

PS. When Minor White was asked, what about photography when he dies? When he is no longer there to influence it? And he simply says – photography will do what it wants to do. This is a magnificent statement, and it shows an egoless freedom on Minor White’s part. It is profound knowledge about photography, about its freedom to change.

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

 

 

This exhibition will celebrate the remarkable ascendancy of photography in the last century, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee’s magnificent promised gift of over sixty extraordinary photographs in honour of The Met’s 150th anniversary in 2020. The exhibition will include masterpieces by the medium’s greatest practitioners, including works by Paul Strand, Dora Maar, Man Ray, and László Moholy-Nagy; Edward Weston, Walker Evans, and Joseph Cornell; Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke, and Cindy Sherman.

The collection is particularly notable for its breadth and depth of works by women artists, its sustained interest in the nude, and its focus on artists’ beginnings. Strand’s 1916 view from the viaduct confirms his break with the Pictorialist past and establishes the artist’s way forward as a cutting-edge modernist; Walker Evans’s shadow self-portraits from 1927 mark the first inkling of a young writer’s commitment to visual culture; and Cindy Sherman’s intimate nine-part portrait series from 1976 predates her renowned series of “film stills” and confirms her striking ambition and stunning mastery of the medium at the age of twenty-two.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe
1918
Platinum print
9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (24.1 × 19.1cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

This photograph marks the beginning of the romantic relationship between Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, which transformed each of their lives and the story of American art. The two met when Stieglitz included O’Keeffe, a then-unknown painter, in her first group show at his gallery 291 in May 1916. A year later, O’Keeffe had her first solo show at the gallery and exhibited her abstract charcoal No. 15 Special, seen in the background here. In the coming months and years, O’Keeffe collaborated with Stieglitz on some three hundred portrait studies. In its physical scope, primal sensuality, and psychological power, Stieglitz’s serial portrait of O’Keeffe has no equal in American art.

 

Paul Outerbridge Jr. (American, 1896-1958) 'Telephone' 1922

 

Paul Outerbridge Jr. (American, 1896-1958)
Telephone
1922
Platinum print
4 1/2 × 3 3/8 in. (11.4 × 8.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A well-paid advertising photographer working in New York in the 1930s, Paul Outerbridge Jr. was trained as a painter and set designer. Highly influenced by Cubism, he was a devoted advocate of the platinum-print process, which he used to create nearly abstract still lifes of commonplace subjects such as cracker boxes, wine glasses, and men’s collars. With their extended mid-tones and velvety blacks, platinum papers were relatively expensive and primarily used by fine-art photographers like Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz. This modernist study of a Western Electric “candlestick” telephone attests to Outerbridge’s talent for transforming banal, utilitarian objects into small, but powerful sculptures with formal rigour and startling beauty.

 

Edward Weston. 'Anita ("Pear-Shaped Nude")' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Nude
1925, printed 1930s
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (21.6 × 19cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Edward Weston moved from Los Angeles to Mexico City in 1923 with Tina Modotti, an Italian actress and nascent photographer. They were each influenced by, and in turn helped shape, the larger community of artists among whom they lived and worked, which included Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, and many other members of the Mexican Renaissance. In fall 1925 Weston made a remarkable series of nudes of the art critic, journalist, and historian Anita Brenner. Depicting her body as a pear-like shape floating in a dark void, the photographs evoke the hermetic simplicity of a sculpture by Constantin Brancusi. Brenner’s form becomes elemental, female and male, embryonic, tightly furled but ready to blossom.

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Boulevard de Strasbourg' 1926

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Boulevard de Strasbourg
1926
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 in. × 7 in. (22.5 × 17.8 cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Eugène Atget became the darling of the French Surrealists in the mid-1920s courtesy of Man Ray, his neighbour in Paris, who admired the older artist’s seemingly straight forward documentation of the city. Another American photographer, Walker Evans, also credited Atget with inspiring his earliest experiments with the camera. A talented writer, Evans penned a famous critique of his progenitor in 1930: “[Atget’s] general note is a lyrical understanding of the street, trained observation of it, special feeling for patina, eye for revealing detail, over all of which is thrown a poetry which is not ‘the poetry of the street’ or ‘the poetry of Paris,’ but the projection of Atget’s person.”

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Self-portrait, Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927' 1927

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Self-portrait, Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927
1927
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) 'Shadow, Self-Portrait (Right Profile, Wearing Hat), Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927' 1927

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Shadow, Self-Portrait (Right Profile, Wearing Hat), Juan-les-Pins, France, January 1927
1927
Film negative
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Pierre Dubreuil (French, 1872-1944) 'The Woman Driver' 1928

 

Pierre Dubreuil (French, 1872-1944)
The Woman Driver
1928
Bromoil print
9 7/16 × 7 5/8 in. (24 × 19.3cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Like many other European and American photographers, Pierre Dubreuil was indifferent to the industrialisation of photography that followed the invention and immediate global success of the Kodak camera in the late 1880s. A wealthy member of an international community of photographers loosely known as Pictorialists, he spurned most aspects of modernism. Instead, he advocated painterly effects such as those offered by the bromoil printing process seen here. What makes this photograph exceptional, however, is the modern subject and the work’s title, The Woman Driver. Dubreuil’s wife, Josephine Vanassche, grasps the steering wheel of their open-air car and stares straight ahead, ignoring the attention of her conservative husband and his intrusive camera.

 

Florence Henri (French, born America 1893-1982) 'Windows' 1929

 

Florence Henri (French, born America 1893-1982)
Windows
1929
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 × 10 1/4 in. (36.8 × 26cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A peripatetic French American painter and photographer, Florence Henri studied with László Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus in Germany in summer 1927. Impressed by her natural talent, he wrote a glowing commentary on the artist for a small Amsterdam journal: “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today… Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.” Despite the high regard for her paintings and photographs in the 1920s, Henri remains largely under appreciated.

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) '[Rue de Valois, Paris]' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998)
[Rue de Valois, Paris]
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 8 3/4 in. (28.3 × 22.2cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

 

Ilse Bing trained as an art historian in Germany and learned photography in 1928 to make illustrations for her dissertation on neoclassical architecture. In 1930 she moved to Paris, supporting herself as a freelance photographer for French and German newspapers and fashion magazines. Known in the early 1930s as the “Queen of the Leica” due to her mastery of the handheld 35 mm camera, Bing found the old cobblestone streets of Paris a rich subject to explore, often from eccentric perspectives as seen here. She moved to New York in 1941 after the German occupation of Paris and remained here until her death at age ninety-eight.

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-1983) 'Soho Bedroom' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-1983)
Soho Bedroom
1932
Gelatin silver print
8 7/16 × 7 5/16 in. (21.4 × 18.5cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Bill Brandt challenged the standard tenets of documentary practice by frequently staging scenes for the camera and recruiting family and friends as models. In this intimate study of a couple embracing, the male figure is believed to be either a friend or the artist’s younger brother; the female figure is an acquaintance, “Bird,” known for her beautiful hands. The photograph appears with a different title, Top Floor, along with sixty-three others in Brandt’s second book, A Night in London (1938). After the book’s publication, Brandt changed the work’s title to Soho Bedroom to reference London’s notorious Red Light district and add a hint of salaciousness to the kiss.

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) '[Woman and Child in Window, Barcelona]' 1932-34

 

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997)
[Woman and Child in Window, Barcelona]
1932-34
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 × 8 3/8 in. (28.2 × 21.2cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

When Dora Maar first traveled to Barcelona in 1932 to record the effects of the global economic crisis, she was twenty-five and still finding her footing as a photographer. To sustain her practice, she opened a joint studio with the film designer Pierre Kéfer. Working out of his parents’ villa in a Parisian suburb, he and Maar produced mostly commercial photographs for fashion and advertising – projects that funded Maar’s travel to Spain. With an empathetic eye, she documents a mother and her child peering out of a makeshift shelter. Adapting an avant-garde strategy, she chose a lateral angle to monumentalise her subjects.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Nude' 1934

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Nude
1934
Gelatin silver print
3 5/8 in. (9.2cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

The nude as a subject for the camera would occupy Edward Weston’s attention for four decades, and it is a defining characteristic of his achievement and legacy. This physically small but forceful, closely cropped photograph is a study of the writer Charis Wilson. Although presented headless and legless, Wilson tightly crosses her arms in a bold power pose. Weston was so stunned by Wilson when they first met that he ceased writing in his diary the day after he made this photograph: “April 22 [1934], a day to always remember. I knew now what was coming; eyes don’t lie and she wore no mask… I was lost and have been ever since.” Wilson and Weston immediately moved in together and married five years later.

 

 

The exhibition Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection celebrates the remarkable ascendancy of photography in the last hundred years through the magnificent promised gift to The Met of more than 60 extraordinary photographs from Museum Trustee Ann Tenenbaum and her husband, Thomas H. Lee, in honour of the Museum’s 150th anniversary in 2020. The exhibition will feature masterpieces by a wide range of the medium’s greatest practitioners, including Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Ilse Bing, Joseph Cornell, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Andreas Gursky, Helen Levitt, Dora Maar, László Moholy-Nagy, Jack Pierson, Sigmar Polke, Man Ray, Laurie Simmons, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, Edward Weston, and Rachel Whiteread.

The exhibition is made possible by Joyce Frank Menschel and the Alfred Stieglitz Society.

Max Hollein, Director of The Met, said, “Ann Tenenbaum brilliantly assembled an outstanding and very personal collection of 20th-century photographs, and this extraordinary gift will bring a hugely important group of works to The Met’s holdings and to the public’s eye. From works by celebrated masters to lesser-known artists, this collection encourages a deeper understanding of the formative years of photography, and significantly enhances our holdings of key works by women, broadening the stories we can tell in our galleries and allowing us to celebrate a whole range of crucial artists at The Met. We are extremely grateful to Ann and Tom for their generosity in making this promised gift to The Met, especially as we celebrate the Museum’s 150th anniversary. It will be an honour to share these remarkable works with our visitors.”

“Early on, Ann recognised the camera as one of the most creative and democratic instruments of contemporary human expression,” said Jeff Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs. “Her collecting journey through the last century of picture-making has been guided by her versatility and open-mindedness, and the result is a collection that is both personal and dynamic.”

The Tenenbaum Collection is particularly notable for its focus on artists’ beginnings, for a sustained interest in the nude, and for the breadth and depth of works by women artists. Paul Strand’s 1916 view from the viaduct confirms his break with the Pictorialist past and establishes the artist’s way forward as a cutting-edge modernist; Walker Evans’s shadow self-portraits from 1927 mark the first inkling of a young writer’s commitment to visual culture; and Cindy Sherman’s intimate nine-part portrait series from 1976 predates her renowned series of “film stills” and confirms her striking ambition and stunning mastery of the medium at the age of 22.

Ms. Tenenbaum commented, “Photographs are mirrors and windows not only onto the world but also into deeply personal experience. Tom and I are proud to support the Museum’s Department of Photographs and thrilled to be able to share our collection with the public.”

The exhibition will feature a diverse range of styles and photographic practices, combining small-scale and large-format works in both black and white and colour. The presentation will integrate early modernist photographs, including superb examples by avant-garde American and European artists, together with work from the postwar period, the 1960s, and the medium’s boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and extend up to the present moment.

Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection is curated by The Met’s Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs.

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972) 'Tamara Toumanova (Daguerreotype-Object)' October 1941

 

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972)
Tamara Toumanova (Daguerreotype-Object)
October 1941
Construction with photomechanical reproduction, mirror, rhinestones or sequins, and tinted glass in artist’s frame
Dimensions: 5 1/8 × 4 3/16 in. (13 × 10.6 cm)
Frame: 9 3/4 × 8 3/4 × 1 7/8 in. (24.8 × 22.2 × 4.8 cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2020 The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

 

 

Joseph Cornell is celebrated for his meticulously constructed, magical shadow boxes that teem with celestial charts, ballet stars, parrots, mirrors, and marbles. Into these tiny theaters he decanted his dreams, obsessions, and unfulfilled desires. Here, his subject is the Russian prima ballerina Tamara Toumanova. Known for her virtuosity and beauty, the dancer captivated Cornell, who met her backstage at the Metropolitan Opera and thereafter saw her as his personal Snow Queen and muse.

 

Tamara Toumanova (Georgian 2 March 1919 – 29 May 1996) was a Georgian-American prima ballerina and actress. A child of exiles in Paris after the Russian Revolution of 1917, she made her debut at the age of 10 at the children’s ballet of the Paris Opera.

She became known internationally as one of the Baby Ballerinas of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo after being discovered by her fellow émigré, balletmaster and choreographer George Balanchine. She was featured in numerous ballets in Europe. Balanchine featured her in his productions at Ballet Theatre, New York, making her the star of his performances in the United States. While most of Toumanova’s career was dedicated to ballet, she appeared as a ballet dancer in several films, beginning in 1944. She became a naturalised United States citizen in 1943 in Los Angeles, California.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Richard Avedon (American, 1923-2004) 'Noto, Sicily, September 5, 1947' September 5, 1947

 

Richard Avedon (American, 1923-2004)
Noto, Sicily, September 5, 1947
September 5, 1947
Gelatin silver print
6 × 6 in. (15.2 × 15.2 cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Richard Avedon believed this early street portrait of a young boy in Sicily was the genesis of his long fashion and portrait career. On the occasion of The Met’s groundbreaking 2002 exhibition on the artist, curators Maria Morris Hambourg and Mia Fineman described the work as “a kind of projected self-portrait” in which “a boy stands there, pushing forward to the front of the picture. … He is smiling wildly, ready to race into the future. And there, hovering behind him like a mushroom cloud, is the past in the form of a single, strange tree – a reminder of the horror that split the century into a before and after, a symbol of destruction but also of regeneration.”

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934) 'Philadelphia' 1961

 

Lee Friedlander (American, b. 1934)
Philadelphia
1961
Gelatin silver print
12 1/16 × 17 15/16 in. (30.7 × 45.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Philadelphia is the earliest dated photograph from a celebrated series of television sets beaming images into seemingly empty rooms that Lee Friedlander made between 1961 and 1970. The pictures provided a prophetic commentary on the new medium to which Americans had quickly become addicted. Walker Evans published a suite of Friedlander’s TV photographs in Harper’s Bazaar in 1963 and noted: “The pictures on these pages are in effect deft, witty, spanking little poems of hate… Taken out of context as they are here, that baby might be selling skin rash, the careful, good-looking woman might be categorically unselling marriage and the home and total daintiness. Here, then, from an expert-hand, is a pictorial account of what TV-screen light does to rooms and to the things in them.”

 

Edward Ruscha (American, b. 1937) 'Self-Service – Milan, New Mexico' 1962

 

Edward Ruscha (American, b. 1937)
Self-Service – Milan, New Mexico
1962
Gelatin silver print
4 11/16 × 4 11/16 in. (11.9 × 11.9cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Ed Ruscha

 

 

This intentionally mundane work by the Los Angeles–based painter and printmaker, Ed Ruscha, appears in Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963), the first of sixteen landmark photographic books he published between 1963 and 1978. The volume established the artist’s reputation as a conceptual minimalist with a mastery of typography, an appreciation for seriality and documentary practice, and a deadpan sense of humour. Early on, he was influenced by the photographs of Walker Evans. “What I was after,” said Ruscha, “was no-style or a non-statement with a no-style.”

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953) 'Ivy in the Boston Garden: Back' 1973

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953)
Ivy in the Boston Garden: Back
1973
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.6 cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery
© Nan Goldin

 

 

While still in college, Nan Goldin spent two years recording performers at the Other Side, a Boston drag bar that hosted beauty pageants on Monday nights. This black-and-white study of Ivy, Goldin’s friend from the bar, walking alone through the Boston Common is one of the artist’s earliest photographs. The portrait evokes the glamorous world of fashion photography and hints at its loneliness. In all of her photographs, Goldin explores the natural twinning of fantasy and reality; it is the source of their pathos and rhythmic emotional beat. A decade after this elegiac photograph, she conceived the first iteration of her 1985 breakthrough colour series, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, which was presented as an ever-changing visual diary using a slide projector and synchronised music.

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949) 'Woman/Interior' I 1976

 

Laurie Simmons (American, b. 1949)
Woman/Interior I
1976
Gelatin silver print
5 3/4 × 7 1/2 in. (14.6 × 19.1cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© 2020 Laurie Simmons
Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York

 

 

Laurie Simmons began her career in 1976 with a series of enchantingly melancholic photographs of toy dolls set up in her apartment. The accessible mix of desire and anxiety in these early photographs resonates with, and provides a useful counterpoint to, Cindy Sherman’s contemporaneous “film stills” such as Untitled Film Still #48 seen nearby. Simmons and Sherman were foundational members of one of the most vibrant and productive communities of artists to emerge in the late twentieth century. Although they did not all see themselves as feminists or even as a unified group of “women artists,” each used the camera to examine the prescribed roles of women, especially in the workplace, and in advertising, politics, literature, and film.

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled Film Still #48' 1979

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #48
1979
Gelatin silver print
6 15/16 × 9 3/8 in. (17.6 × 23.8cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A lone woman on an empty highway peers around the corner of a rocky outcrop. She waits and waits below the dramatic sky. Is it fear or self-reliance that challenges the unnamed traveler? Does she dread the future, the past, or just the present? So thorough and sophisticated is Cindy Sherman’s capacity for filmic detail and nuance that many viewers (encouraged by the titles) mistakenly believe that the photographs in the series are reenactments of films. Rather, they are an unsettling yet deeply satisfying synthesis of film and narrative painting, a shrewdly composed remaking not of the “real” world but of the mediated landscape.

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946 - 1989) 'Coral Sea' 1983

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Coral Sea
1983
Platinum print
23 1/8 × 19 1/2 in. (58.8 × 49.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

This study of a Midway-class aircraft carrier shows a massive warship not actually floating on the ocean’s surface but seemingly sunken beneath it. The rather minimal photograph is among the rarest and least representative works by Robert Mapplethorpe, who is known mostly for his uncompromising sexual portraits and saturated flower studies, as well as for his mastery of the photographic print tradition. Here, he chose platinum materials to explore the subtle beauty of the medium’s extended mid-grey tones. By rendering prints using the more tactile platinum process, Mapplethorpe hoped to transcend the medium; as he said it is “no longer a photograph first, [but] firstly a statement that happens to be a photograph.”

 

Robert Gober (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled' 1988 (detail)

 

Robert Gober (American, b. 1954)
Untitled (detail)
1988
Gelatin silver print
6 1/2 × 9 7/16 in. (16.5 × 24cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Robert Gober, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

 

 

Although Robert Gober is not often thought of as a photographer, his conceptual practice has long depended on a camera. From the time of his first solo show in 1984 Gober has documented temporal projects in hundreds of photographs, and today many of his site-specific installations survive as images. His photography resists classification, seeming to split the difference between archival record and independent artwork. Here, across three frames, flimsy white dresses advance and recede into a deserted wood. Gober sewed the garments from fabric printed by the painter Christopher Wool in the course of a related collaboration. Seen together, Gober’s staged photographs record an ephemeral intervention in an unwelcoming, almost fairy-tale landscape.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, b. 1948) 'Imperial Montreal' 1995

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, b. 1948)
Imperial Montreal
1995
Gelatin silver print
20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

A self-taught expert on the history of photography and Zen Buddhism, Hiroshi Sugimoto posed a question to himself in 1976: what would be the effect on a single sheet of film if it was exposed to all 172,800 photographic frames in a feature-length movie? To visualise the answer, he hid a large-format camera in the last row of seats at St. Marks Cinema in Manhattan’s East Village and opened the shutter when the film started; an hour and a half later, when the movie ended, he closed it. The series (now forty years in the making) of ethereal photographs of darkened rooms filled with gleaming white screens presents a perfect example of yin and yang, the classic concept of opposites in ancient Chinese philosophy.

 

Andreas Gursky (German, b. 1955) 'Prada II' 1996

 

Andreas Gursky (German, b. 1955)
Prada II
1996
Chromogenic print
65 in. × 10 ft. 4 13/16 in. (165.1 × 317cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Andreas Gursky / Courtesy Sprüth Magers / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

To produce this quasi-architectural study of a barren luxury store display, Andreas Gursky used newly available software both to artificially stretch the underlying chemical image and to digitally generate the billboard-size print. At ten feet wide, the work is a Frankensteinian glimpse of what would transform the medium of photography over the next two decades. Gursky seems to have fully understood the Pandora’s box he had opened by using digital tools to manipulate his pictures, which put into question their essential realism: “I have a weakness for paradox. For me… the photogenic allows a picture to develop a life of its own, on a two-dimensional surface, which doesn’t exactly reflect the real object.”

 

Rachel Whiteread (English, b. 1963) 'Watertower Project' 1998

 

Rachel Whiteread (English, b. 1963)
Watertower Project
1998
Screenprint with applied acrylic resin and graphite
20 in. × 15 15/16 in. (50.8 × 40.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Rachel Whiteread

 

 

How might one solidify water other than by freezing it? In New York in June 1998, a translucent 12 x 9-foot, 4½-ton sculpture created by Rachel Whiteread landed like a UFO atop a roof at the corner of West Broadway and Grand Street. The artist described the work – a resin cast of the interior of one of the city’s landmark wooden water tanks – as a “jewel in the Manhattan skyline.” This print is a poetic trace of the massive sculpture, which was commissioned by the Public Art Fund. The original work of art holds and refracts light just like the acrylic resin applied to the surface of this print.

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962) 'Untitled' 2005

 

Gregory Crewdson (American, b. 1962)
Untitled
2005
Chromogenic print
57 × 88 in. (144.8 × 223.5cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Gregory Crewdson describes his highly scripted photographs as single-frame movies; to produce them, he engages teams of riggers, grips, lighting specialists, and actors. The story lines in most of his photographs centre on suburban anxiety, disorientation, fear, loss, and longing, but the final meaning almost always remains elusive, the narrative unfinished. In this photograph something terrible has happened, is happening, and will likely happen again. A woman in a nightgown sits in crisis on the edge of her bed with the remains of a rosebush on the sheets beside her. The journey from the garden was not an easy one, as evidenced by the trail of petals, thorns, and dirt. Even so, the protagonist cradles the plant’s roots with tender regard.

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961) 'Football Landscape #8 (Crenshaw vs. Jefferson, Los Angeles, CA)' 2007

 

Catherine Opie (American, b. 1961)
Football Landscape #8 (Crenshaw vs. Jefferson, Los Angeles, CA)
2007
Chromogenic print
48 × 64 in. (121.9 × 162.6cm)
Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

High school football is not a conventional subject for contemporary artists in any medium. Neither are freeways nor surfers, each of which are series by the artist Catherine Opie. A professor of photography at the University of California, Los Angeles, Opie spent several years traveling across the United States making close-up portraits of adolescent gladiators as well as seductive, large-scale landscape views of the game itself. Poignant studies of group behaviour and American masculinity on the cusp of adulthood, the photographs can be seen as an extension of the artist’s diverse body of work related to gender performance in the queer communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) 'Vukani II (Paris)' 2014

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Vukani II (Paris)
2014
Gelatin silver print
23 1/2 in. × 13 in. (59.7 × 33cm)
Promised Gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

The South African photographer Zanele Muholi is a self-described visual activist and cultural archivist. In the artist’s hands, the camera is a potent tool of self-representation and self-definition for communities at risk of violence. Muholi has chosen the nearly archaic black-and-white process for most of their portraits “to create a sense of timelessness – a sense that we’ve been here before, but we’re looking at human beings who have never before had an opportunity to be seen.” Challenging the immateriality of our digital age, Muholi has restated the importance of the physical print and connected their work to that of their progenitors. In this recent self-portrait, Muholi sits on a bed, sharing a quiet moment of reflection and self-observation. The title, in the artist’s native Zulu, translates loosely as “wake up.”

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
Phone: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 9.30am – 5.30pm*
Friday – Saturday: 9.30am – 9.00pm*
Sunday: 9.30am – 5.30pm*
Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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24
May
17

Exhibition: ‘Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 9th March – 29th May 2017

 

This is the last posting for a while as my hand operation is tomorrow… so let’s make the most of the occasion!

 

“…the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel 1807 ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

 

 

This is an interesting pairing for an exhibition but the connection between the artists is unconvincing. This is because Wearing and Cahun are talking to different aspects of the self.

Wearing’s self-portraits, her mask-querades, her shielded multiple personalities, talk to a “postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self” in which there is little evidence of the existence of any “real” person. Wearing wears her identities in a series of dress-ups, performances where only the eyes of the original protagonist are visible. These identities evidence Jung’s shadow aspect, “an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself.” Rather than an assimilation of the shadow aspect into the self followed by an ascent (enantiodromia), Wearing’s images seem to be mired in a state of melancholia, a “confrontation with the shadow which produces at first a dead balance, a stand-still that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective…tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia.” This is not a confrontation that leads anywhere interesting, by looking the negative in the face and tarrying with it. These split personalities rise little above caricature, an imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are over emphasised, such as in Wearing’s portraits of her as Andy Warhol or Robert Mapplethorpe. To me, the photograph of Wearing as Mapplethorpe is a travesty of the pain that artist was feeling as he neared the end of his life, dying from HIV/AIDS.

Cahun’s self-portraits contain all the depth of feeling and emotion that Wearing’s can never contain. Here, identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade in a constructive way, a deep, probing interrogation of the self in front of the camera. While Cahun engages with Surrealist ideas – wearing masks and costumes and changing her appearance, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation – she does so in a direct and powerful way. As Cumming observes, “She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape [as Wearing is]. Cahun is always and emphatically herself. Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary* these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.””

*Those with nonbinary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or unrecognized gender identity, such as agender, neutrois, or most xenogenders.*

Cahun had a gift for the indelible image but more than that, she possesses the propensity for humility and openness in these portraits, as though she is opening her soul for interrogation, even as she explores what it is to be Cahun, what it is to be human. This is a human being in full control of the balance between the ego and the self, of dream-state and reality. The photographs, little shown in Cahun’s lifetime, are her process of coming to terms with the external world, on the one hand, and with one’s own unique psychological characteristics on the other. They are her adaption** to the world.

**“The constant flow of life again and again demands fresh adaptation. Adaptation is never achieved once and for all.” (Carl Jung. “The Transcendent Function,” CW 8, par. 143.)**

.
Claude Cahun is person I would have really liked to have met. Affiliated with the French Surrealist movement, living with her partner the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris for the Isles of Scilly and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance.

“Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers. Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazis’ crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing them in soldier’s pockets, on their chairs, etc. Also, they inconspicuously crumpled up and threw their fliers into cars and windows. In many ways, Cahun and Malherbe’s [Marcel Moore] resistance efforts were not only political but artistic actions, using their creative talents to manipulate and undermine the authority which they despised. In many ways, Cahun’s life’s work was focused on undermining a certain authority, however her specific resistance fighting targeted a physically dangerous threat. In 1944 she was arrested and sentenced to death, but the sentence was never carried out. However, Cahun’s health never recovered from her treatment in jail, and she died in 1954.” (Wikipedia)

Undermining a certain authority … while ennobling her own identity and being. Love and respect.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery, London for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For more information please see the blog entry Claude Cahun: Freedom Fighter.

 

This exhibition brings together for the first time the work of French artist Claude Cahun and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing. Although they were born almost seventy years apart and came from different backgrounds, remarkable parallels can be drawn between the two artists. Both of them share a fascination with the self-portrait and use the self-image, through the medium of photography, to explore themes around identity and gender, which is often played out through masquerade and performance.

 

 

“Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

.
Claude Cahun, 1930

 

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

 Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1928

 

Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1928
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 9 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

“Once seen, never forgotten: Cahun had a gift for the indelible image. Even when the signals are jammed, and the meaning deliberately baffled, her vision always holds strong. This is partly convenienced by the artist’s exceptional looks. Her long, thin face, with its shaved eyebrows, large eyes and linear nose, takes paint like a canvas. She converts herself into a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. In one self-portrait, she even holds her own bare face like a mask…

Peering into these monochrome images, so delicate and small, the viewer might inevitably wonder which is the real Cahun: the woman in the aviator goggles, the pensive Buddhist, the young man in a white silk scarf? But this is not the right question. She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape. Cahun is always and emphatically herself.

Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” …

There is little evidence that she ever displayed these photographs, which were forgotten for decades after her death. It seems that her partner was generally behind the lens, but we know almost nothing about how they were made. Of her lifelong project, Cahun wrote: “Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Commentators have taken this to mean that she thought of herself as a series of multiple personalities, and the double exposures, shadows and reflections in her work all seem to undermine the idea of a singular self. Yet Cahun is formidably and unmistakably Cahun, her force of personality registering every time in that utterly penetrating look. Far from some postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self, her images are completely direct. They acknowledge the sufferings of a double life and are deepened by them every time; and yet they rejoice in that life too.”

Laura Cumming. “Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask – review,” on The Observer website

 

 

Claude Cahun in collaboration with Marcel Moore. 'Aveux non avenus frontispiece' 1929-30

 

Claude Cahun in collaboration with Marcel Moore
Aveux non avenus frontispiece
1929-30
Photomontage
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

“Cahun appears in enigmatic guises, playing out different personas using masks and mirrors, and featuring androgynous shaven or close-cropped hair – as can be seen in the multiple views of her in the lower left-hand side of this collage. The image also includes symbols made up by the women to represent themselves – the eye for Moore, the artist, and the mouth for Cahun, the writer and actor. Whereas the majority of Surrealists were men, in whose images women appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s androgynous self-portraits explore female identity as constructed, multifaceted, and ultimately as having a nihilistic absence at the core.”

Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)' 1921-22

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)
1921-22
Silver gelatin print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection
Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

 

Claude Cahun. 'Studies for a keepsake' c. 1925

 

Claude Cahun
Studies for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin prints
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet

 

Claude Cahun. 'Study for a keepsake' c. 1925

 

Claude Cahun
Study for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin print
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet

 

Claude Cahun. 'I am in training don't kiss me' c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun
I am in training don’t kiss me
c. 1927
Silver gelatin print
117mm x 89mm (whole)
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Totor (progenitor of Tintin) and Popol are two comic characters by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Castor and Pollux are the twin stars; Pollux and Helen were the children of Zeus and Leda, while Castor and Clytemnestra were the children of Leda and Tyndareus.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)' c. 1928

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)
c. 1928
Silver gelatin print
116mm x  83mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)' 1928

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)
1928
Silver gelatin print
109mm x 82mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait
1929
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)' c. 1932

 

Claude Cahun
Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (in cupboard)' c. 1932

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (in cupboard)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask (9 March – 29 May 2017) draws together over 100 works by French artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing (b.1963). While they were born 70 years apart, they share similar themes of gender, identity, masquerade and performance.

Cahun, along with her contemporaries André Breton and Man Ray, was affiliated with the French Surrealist movement although her work was rarely exhibited during her lifetime. Together with her partner, the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance. In her photographs she is depicted wearing masks and costumes and engaging with Surrealist ideas. She also changes her appearance by shaving her hair and wearing wigs, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation.

Gillian Wearing studied at Goldsmiths University, winning the Turner Prize in 1997. She has exhibited extensively in the United Kingdom and internationally, including solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery and Serpentine Gallery, whilst overseas, recent retrospectives include IVAM Valencia and K20 Dusseldorf. Wearing’s photographic self-portraits incorporate painstaking recreations of her as others in an intriguing and sometimes unsettling range of guises such as where she becomes her immediate family members using prosthetic masks.

Despite their different backgrounds, obvious and remarkable parallels can be drawn between the artists whose fascination with identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade. Wearing has referenced Cahun overtly in the past: Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face is a reconstruction of Cahun’s self-portrait Don’t kiss me I’m in training of 1927, and forms the starting point of this exhibition, the title of which (Behind the mask, another mask) adapts a quotation from Claude Cahun’s Surrealist writings.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘This inspired, timely and poignant exhibition pairs the works of Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun. These pioneering artists, although separated by several decades, address similarly compelling themes around gender, identity, masquerade, performance and the idea of the self, issues that are ever more relevant to the present day.’

Sarah Howgate, Curator, Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask, says: ‘It seems particularly fitting that at the National Portrait Gallery on International Women’s Day we are bringing together for the first time Claude Cahun’s intriguing and complex explorations of identity with the equally challenging and provocative self-images of Gillian Wearing.’

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask is curated by Sarah Howgate, Senior Curator of Contemporary Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait as a young girl
1914
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait as a young girl
1914
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)' 1920

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)
1920
Silver gelatin print
115mm x 89mm

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun
Self-Portrait
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Que me veux tu?' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Que me veux tu? (What do you want from me?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
18 x 23 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/16 ins)
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait
1929
Gelatin silver print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1939

 

Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1939
Gelatin silver print
10 x 8 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)' 1945

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)
1945
Photograph – Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Ten things you need to know about this extraordinary artist

1. Her real name was Lucy Schwob.
She was born 25 October 1894 in Nantes, daughter of newspaper owner Maurice Schwob and Victorine Marie Courbebaisse; her uncle was the Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob. Subjected to anti-Semitic acts following the Dreyfus Affair, she was removed to a boarding school in Surrey, where she studied for two years.

2. Cahun’s lover was also her stepsister.
In 1909, she met her lifelong partner and collaborator Suzanne Malherbe while studying in Nantes, in what she described as a ‘thunderbolt encounter’. Eight years later, Cahun’s father married Suzanne’s widowed mother.

3. The couple adopted gender-neutral names.
Schwob first used the name Claude Cahun in the semi-biographical text ‘Les Jeux uraniens’, Cahun being a surname from her father’s side. Malherbe changed her name to Marcel Moore and the pair moved to Paris in 1914, where they began their artistic collaborations and Cahun studied literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne.

4. Cahun was one of the few female Surrealists.
In 1932 she was introduced to André Breton, who called her ‘one of the most curious spirits of our time’. Four years later, Cahun participated in the Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Charles Ratton, Paris, and visited the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Whereas in the works of male Surrealists women often appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s self-portraits explore female identity as constructed and multifaceted.

5. She was first and foremost a writer.
Now best known for her striking self-portraits, Cahun saw herself primarily as a writer. In 1930 she published Aveux non avenus (translated into English as Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions), an ‘anti-memoir’ including ten photomontages created in collaboration with Moore.

6. In 1937 the couple swapped Paris for Jersey.
Cahun and Moore moved to La Rocquaise, a house in St Brelade’s Bay, Jersey, where they led a secluded life. The couple reverted to their given names, Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, and were known by the islanders as ‘les mesdames’.

7. They were actively involved in the resistance against Nazi Occupation.
When the Germans invaded Jersey in 1940 they decided to stay and produced counter-propaganda tracts. In July 1944 they were found out, arrested, stood trial, and were, briefly, sentenced to death (though these sentences were commuted). The couple were imprisoned in separate cells for almost a year before Liberation in May 1945.

8. In 1951 Cahun received the Medal of French Gratitude for her acts of resistance during the Second World War. Suffering increasingly from ill health, she died in 1954 at the age of sixty. Moore died eighteen years later, in 1972.

9. She remained forgotten for half a century
Following her move to Jersey, Cahun slipped from critical attention. After the death of Marcel Moore, much of Cahun’s work was put up for auction and acquired by collector John Wakeham, who then sold it to the Jersey Heritage Trust in 1995. The publication in 1992 of the definitive biography by Francois Leperlier, Claude Cahun: l’ecart et la metamorphose, and subsequent exhibition, Claude Cahun: Photographe, at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1995 encouraged a growing interest in the artist’s work. It was during this time that Gillian Wearing discovered Claude Cahun.

10. She was an artist ahead of her time
Wearing speaks of a ‘camaraderie’ between her and Cahun but she is not the only contemporary artist to have been influenced by her work. Cahun has a dedicated following among artists and art historians working from postmodern, feminist and queer theoretical perspectives; the American art critic Hal Foster described Cahun as ‘a Cindy Sherman avant la lettre’.

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing' 2003

 

Gillian Wearing
Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing
2003
Heather Podesta Collection
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Mapplethorpe' 2009

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Mapplethorpe
2009
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar' 2010

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar
2010
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Diane Arbus' 2008-2010

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Diane Arbus
2008-2010
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face' 2012

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face
2012
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait of me now in a mask' 2011

 

Gillian Wearing
Self-portrait of me now in a mask
2011
Collection of Mario Testino
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as mask' 2013

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as mask
2013
Private collection, courtesy Cecilia Dan Fine Art
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'At Claude Cahun's grave' 2015

 

Gillian Wearing
At Claude Cahun’s grave
2015
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

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St Martin’s Place
London, WC2H 0HE

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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