Posts Tagged ‘Giorgio de Chirico

11
May
14

Text / exhibition: ‘Australian vernacular photography’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 18th May 2014

 

Australian vernacular photography. Such a large subject. Such a small exhibition.

With only 27 photographs from various artists (18 of which are shown in this posting), this exhibition can only ever be seen as the runt of the litter. I would have thought such a large area of photographic investigation needed a more expansive exposition than is offered here. There are no photobook, photo booth, Aboriginal, anonymous, authorless, family, gay or marginalised cultural photographs / snapshots. There are no light leaks, blur, fingers obstructing lenses, double exposures – all examples of serendipity and happenstance which could enter into an aesthetic arena.

Vernacular photography1 can be defined as the “creation of photographs, usually by amateur or unknown photographers both professional and amateur, who take everyday life and common things as subjects… Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.”2 ‘Found photography’ is the recovery of a lost, unclaimed, or discarded vernacular photograph or snapshot.

While all of the photographs in the exhibition are unique images, some are definitely not vernacular in their construction – they are planned and staged photographs, what I would call planned happenstance (after John Krumboltz’s theory of career development). A perfect example of this are the photographs by Sue Ford (Sue Pike, 1963, printed 1988, below), Anne Zahalka (The girls #2, Cronulla beach, 2007, below) and Fiona Hall (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975, below) which have an air of ceremonial seriousness that belies their classification as part of this exhibition. My favourites are the fantastic images by Glen Sloggett – witty, colourful, humorous with the photographer “acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history” – they are nevertheless self-deprecating enough that this does not impact on their innate “found” quality, as though the artist had just wandered along and captured the shot.

The route that the AGNSW has taken is similar to that of MoMA. Residing in the collection and shot by artists, these “vernacular” photographs are placed in a high art context. Their status as amateur or “authorless” photographs is undermined. This exhibit does not present vernacular photographs as just that. As the article on the One Street blog notes, what is being exhibited is as much about what has been collected by the AGNSW, its methodical and historicising classification, as it is about vernacular photographic form: chance, mistake and miscalculation. It is about creating a cliché from which to describe an ideal Australian identity, be it the beach, larrikinism, or the ANZAC / sporting “warrior”, and not about a true emotional resonance in the image that is created by, or come upon by, chance.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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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.

 

1. “Vernacular photography,” on One Way Street blog 20th October 2007 [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

“What is vernacular photography? Too broad to be understood as a genre per se, it can encompass anonymous snapshots, industrial photography, scientific photography, “authorless” photography, advertising, smut, as well as work that might be perceived as “other” than any of this random list. It could be understood as an oppositional photography – outside technical or artistic histories, yet, especially with the snapshot, it could also be entirely conventionalized, a manifestation of visual banalities, or an image so enigmatic that its meaning or genesis is entirely obscured. It is mistakes & failures as much as it may not be. & how we understand the images may or may not be separate from their initial intents. Is this a category we are making up?
The idea of the vernacular in photography is also an indication of photography as a medium informing the everyday, prevalent, “naturalized.””

2. Szarkowski, John. “INTERVIEW: “Eyes Wide Open: Interview with John Szarkowski” (2006)” by Mark Durden, Art in America, May, 2006, cited in “Vernacular photography,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 11/05/2014

 

Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography

“At first, I was simply interested in bringing attention to a diverse range of photographic objects and practices that had not been much written about. But I soon recognized that these objects represented a significant challenge to the predominant history of photography. This history, dominated by the values ​​and tropes of art history, was not well-equipped to talk about photographs that were openly commercial, hybrid and mundane. Ie: the history of photography ignores most types of photography. My interest, therefore, has become more methodological and theoretical, in an effort to establish new ways to think of photography that could address the medium as a whole. I suggest that any substantial inclusion of vernacular photographs into a general history of photography will require a total transformation of the character of that history…

I suggest that any inclusion of vernacular photography in the larger story, will require a complete transformation of the character of that story; it will require a new kind of history altogether. My writings may have encouraged this idea, but I am just one of many scholars who have been pursuing this goal. Indeed, I would say that this idea is now the norm. The next step is to look beyond this and engage other parts of the history of photography that have been similarly neglected. For example, there are many researchers at the moment that are examining the photographs produced outside Europe and the United States, such as China, Indonesia, and Africa…

Snapshots are complicated objects. They are unique to each maker and almost always completely generic. They happily adopt the visual economy that mediates most photographic practices: same but different. You might say that every snapshot is an authentic copy of a prescribed set of middle-class values and familiar pictorial clichés. That does not make them any less fascinating, especially for people who treasure them. But it does make them difficult to write about…

It is certainly possible to recognize the existence of regional practices of photography. I wrote, for example, about the making of fotoescultura in Mexico, and about a specific form of ambrotype in Japan. No doubt one could claim to see some regional aspects of snapshots made in the United States that distinguish them from ones made in Australia or, say, Indonesia. But the more challenging task is to talk about those things that can’t be seen. For example, snapshots made in Australia and China may look exactly the same to my eye, but it stands to reason that they don’t mean the same thing (after all, access to the camera for personal photos is a fairly recent phenomenon in China). We must learn how to write these kind of differences.”

Interview by LG. “Words and Photos: Geoffrey Batchen’s Writing About Vernacular Photography,” on the LesPHOTOGRAPHES.com website Nd (translated from the French) [Online] Cited 04/05/2014

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #28, (John Williams), Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

After relocating from USA to Australia in 1973, Ed Douglas spent a few years living in the country prior to taking on a teaching position at Sydney College for the Arts in 1976. The series City-spaces was commenced in Sydney and then developed further when Douglas moved to Adelaide in 1977. Having been schooled in the formal traditions of American documentary photography, Douglas’s images appear like notations of an urban explorer attempting to locate himself in a new country. Seemingly fragmentary, they look at the specificities of the mundane and the ordinary. Close acquaintances such as photographers Ingeborg Tyssen and John F. Williams appear in City spaces #29 and City spaces #28, indicating the personal nature of the series.

Intimately scaled and tonally rich, the black and white images exalt the formal beauty which can be found in the random textures of daily existence. They are also permeated with gentle humour and a sense of quiet drama that unfolds in the strangely misplaced confluences of objects, figures and spaces. Douglas’s interest in the formal and emotional qualities of topography was emblematic of new approaches in documentary photography of the time. His 1983 series of colour photographs depicting the gypsum mine on Kangaroo Island (collection of AGNSW) developed this trajectory further by fusing the aesthetics of abstraction and objective documentation.

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 - ) 'City-spaces #40, Sydney' 1976 printed 2012

 

Ed Douglas (United States of America, Australia 06 May 1943 – )
City-spaces #40, Sydney
1976 printed 2012
From the series City-spaces 1975-78
Gelatin silver photograph
23.6 x 30.7 cm image
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2012
© Ed Douglas

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Woman hosing, Canberra' 1979

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Woman hosing, Canberra
1979
Gelatin silver photograph
34.9 x 46.5 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

Gerrit Fokkema’s photographs of everyday Sydney and Canberra in the early 1980s are examples of Australian photography becoming more self-aware. These decisive snapshots of suburban life reveal an irony and conjure Fokkema’s own history growing up in Queanbeyan. Though captured in seemingly banal settings, the images intrigue, pointing to issues beyond what is represented in the frame. The housewife watering the road and a young tattooed man in front of a car are both depicted alone within a sprawling suburban landscape, suggesting the isolation and boredom in the Australian dream of home ownership. The sense of strangeness in these images is consciously sought by Fokkema, aided by his embrace of the glaring and unforgiving ‘natural’ Australian light.

Gerrit Fokkema’s Woman hosing, Canberra is an affectionate and gently ironic portrait of suburban life in Canberra. Fokkema was familiar with his subject matter, raised as he was in the nearby township of Queanbeyan. After studying photography at Canberra Technical College 1974-77 he became the staff photographer for the Canberra Times in 1975. He held his first exhibition in the same year at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. His career as a photo-journalist lead him to work with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1980 and participation with several international Day in the life of…. projects between 1986 and 1989.

Fokkema uses the ‘decisive moment’ of photo-journalism to reveal the incidental quirks of ordinary life in this image. The bland uniformity of the streetscape, with its identical archways and mundanely shuttered doors, is punctuated by the absurd proposition of a woman watering the street rather than the adjacent grass. Her presence is the only sign of life in an otherwise inanimate scene, and her actions suggest a kind of strangeness that lies within the normality of suburbia. Many of Fokkema’s images play with such chance incidences and odd juxtapositions, revealing his interest in surrealism and the notion of automatism. Indeed, the repeated archways and the lone figure inhabiting otherwise empty urban space of Woman hosing, Canberra recall the proto-typical surrealist painting, Mystery and melancholy of a street 1914, by Giorgio de Chirico. Fokkema’s image is, however, very much a product of Australia – of its bright ‘available’ light and of the dream of home-ownership. Fokkema has continued to document the Australian way of life. In 1986 he left newspapers to freelance as a commercial photographer and published Wilcannia, portrait of an Australian town. He has since exhibited works based on tender observations of his family members and of family life.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 - ) 'Blacktown man' 1983

 

Gerrit Fokkema (Papua New Guinea, Australia 1954 – )
Blacktown man
1983
Gelatin silver photograph
30.6 x 40.6 cm image
© Gerrit Fokkema

 

The work of Gerrit Fokkema exhibits a particular sensitivity to the uneasiness of people in Australian landscapes, both urban and rural. Fokkema was born in New Guinea in 1954, but raised in Canberra and worked as a press photographer before freelancing from 1986. Although his photographs demonstrate an interest in the formal qualities of landscape, the sense of rhythm his compositions generate also evoke the monotony of Australian space – sweeping terracotta roofs and long straight paths. This monotony is only interrupted by the presence of the human figure, usually isolated, alone and awkwardly out of place. In Blacktown Man 1983, the flat image of the man appears dramatically superimposed on the land and sky of the suburban street. By reminding us of our sometimes uncomfortable relationship with the spaces we inhabit, Fokkema’s work rejects any attempt to romanticise Australian life.

 

John F Williams. 'The Rocks, Sydney' 1973

 

John F Williams
The Rocks, Sydney
1973
Gelatin silver photograph
22.6 x 34.1cm
Purchased 1989
© John F Williams

 

Trent Parke. 'Backyard swing set, QLD' 2003

 

Trent Parke
Backyard swing set, QLD
2003
From the series Minutes to midnight
Type C photograph
109.9 x 164cm
Gift of Albie Thoms in memory of Linda Slutzkin, former Head of Public Programmes, Art Gallery of New South Wales 2006
© Trent Parke

 

 

Australian vernacular photography traces developments in photographic practice from the postwar period through to the present day, with images ranging from documentary or ‘straight’ photography (where the subjects are usually unaware of the camera), through to those that look self-reflexively at the constructed nature of the medium.

The increasing role of photography in the latter part of the 20th century attests to the rising need Australians felt to apprehend the nation, personal identity and society through images. Many of these photographs offer frank perspectives on Australian culture without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photographers. Photographing the everyday became a way of understanding how Australia saw (and sees) itself, with recurrent themes such as beach culture, suburbia, race relations, protest and the role of women among the central concerns of image-makers then and now.

By the 1960s Australian photographers were comparing their work with international peers, thanks to photographic publications and the watershed 1959 tour of The family of man exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Institutional support for photography didn’t come until the 1970s; however those committed to the medium forged on, intent on capturing their visions of Australia photographically. The family of man exhibition toured Australia in 1959 and was enormously influential, with its themes of birth, love and death common to all humanity. However, possibilities for Australian photographers to be noticed were rare until the 1970s due to the lack of institutional support. Nonetheless, photographers from David Moore and Robert McFarlane to the young Sue Ford forged on, trying to find their own vision of Australian life and how it could be represented photographically. This exhibition looks at some of the photographers from then as well as those working more recently – such as Anne Zahalka, Trent Parke and Glenn Sloggett – to consider their various approaches to the depiction of modern Australian life.

In the Australian Photography Annual of 1947, photographer and director of the Art Gallery of NSW Hal Missingham wrote: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport… where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – what do they do – what do they wear, and think?”

Text from the AGNSW website

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 - Oct 2010) 'The Sunbather' 1966

 

Jeff Carter (Australia 05 Aug 1928 – Oct 2010)
The Sunbather
1966
Gelatin silver photograph
39.1 x 27.6 cm image
© Jeff Carter

 

“I don’t regard photography as an art form, although I know it can be for others… To me the camera is simply an unrivalled reporter’s tool. It is an aid to getting the story “properly true,”” Jeff Carter said in 2006. Working mainly as a photojournalist, Carter wanted to make images that depicted social reality. He aimed to show the ‘unknown’, those people who are rarely seen. His approach resulted in frank, arguably even unflattering, images of Australian life, such as this of a beach-goer in the 1960s, heralding the changing social mores of the time.

 

John F. Williams (Australia 1933 - ) 'Sydney' 1964, printed later

 

John F Williams (Australia 1933 – )
Sydney
1964, printed later
Gelatin silver photograph
24.3 x 24.3 cm image
© John F Williams

 

Sydney photographer, lecturer and historian John F. Williams has a long and personal interest in the ramifications of the Allies’ commitment to and sacrifice in the First World War which he later explored in his 1985 series From the flatlands. Williams became an amateur street photographer, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson and the photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. He read The family of man catalogue and saw the exhibition in 1959 but he rejected its “saccharine humanism and deliberate ahistoricism” choosing instead to socially document the raw character of Australia.1

When interviewed in 1994 Williams said: “After the [First World War] you had a range of societies which were pretty much exhausted, and they tended to turn inwards. In a society like Australia which had a poorly formed image of itself, where there was no intellectual underpinning, the image of the soldier replaced everything else as a national identity.”2

Sydney expresses the ‘Anzac spirit’ born in the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders, a character study of an independent, introspective soldier. With an air of grit, determinedly smoking and wearing his badge, ribbons and rosemary as remembrance, Sydney stands apart from the crowd, not marching with his regiment. Williams embraced the ‘element of chance’ or the ‘decisive moment’ as he documented the soldier in a public place observing the procession. Taken from a low angle and very close up the man is unaware of the photographer at the moment the shot was taken, apparently lost in his own memories. The old soldier represents a generation now lost to history but portraits such as these continue to reinforce the myth of national identity.

1. Jolly, M. “Faith sustained,” in Art Monthly, September 1989, pp. 18-19
2. “John Williams – photographer and historian: profile,” in Sirius, winter, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1994, p. 5

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – ) 'Happening Centennial Park, Sydney' c. 1968

 

Robert McFarlane (Australia 1942 – )
Happening Centennial Park, Sydney
c. 1968
Gelatin silver photograph
25.9 x 17.6 cm image
© Robert McFarlane

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994) 'Surf carnival, Cronulla' 1968, printed 1978

 

Hal Missingham (Australia 08 Dec 1906 – 07 Apr 1994)
Surf carnival, Cronulla
1968, printed 1978
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
38.1 x 26.3 cm image
© Hal Missingham Estate

 

Photographer and former Art Gallery of NSW director, Hal Missingham wrote in the 1947 Australian Photography annual: “In a country supposedly occupied by people indulging in a vigorous outdoor life, where are the [photographic] records of beach and sport…? Where are the photographs of the four millions of people who live and work in our cities? What are they like – What do they do – What do they wear, and think?” This image points to Missingham’s own attempts to answer that question. An interesting counterpoint to the images taken at Cronulla around 40 years later, here Missingham shows a group of young women standing behind a fence watching as young men train to be lifesavers.

Hal Missingham often holidayed at his beach house at Garie in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, not far from Cronulla. In 1970 he published Close focus a book of photographic details of rocks, pools, sand and driftwood. As a beachcomber and observer of beach culture Missingham delighted in his immediate environment. Surf carnival, Cronulla is a quintessential Australian scene, one that frames an important aspect of national identity and culture. As passive observers, the 1960s was a time when many girls were still ‘minding the towels’ for the boys who surfed or competed in carnivals. Barricaded from the beach and its male activity the young women in bikinis are oblivious to the photographer who has foregrounded their relaxed tanned bodies behind the wire as they in turn observe and discuss the surf lifesavers in formation at the water’s edge. Although a beach is accessible for the majority of Australians and is now an accepted egalitarian space where women bodysurf, ride surfboards and compete along with beachgoers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, Surf carnival, Cronulla suggests a specific demography.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 - ) 'Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975' 1975

 

Fiona Hall (Australia 1953 – )
Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, October 1975
1975
Gelatin silver photograph
28.2 x 27.9 cm image
Hallmark Cards Australian Photography Collection Fund 1987
© Fiona Hall

 

 

Australian vernacular photography considers how photographers have used their cameras to depict Australian life, and how ideas of the nation have been constructed through photographic images.

Sixteen Australian photographers are represented by some 27 photographs taken from the 1960s to the 2000s. The photographs range from the more conventionally photo-documentary through to later works by photographers positioned more consciously in an art context. A selection of photography books of the period are also on display.

Artists include: Jeff Carter, Ed Douglas, Peter Elliston, Gerrit Fokkema, Sue Ford, Fiona Hall, Robert McFarlane, Hal Missingham, David Moore, Trent Parke, Roger Scott, Glenn Sloggett, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F Williams, William Yang and Anne Zahalka. Each of these artists in their own way interweave personal, documentary and fictional aspects through their images.

The works in Australian vernacular photography expose the sense of humour or larrikinism often seen as typical to Australia through showing aspects of beach and urban culture that hadn’t been imaged so bluntly before the 1960s. The characters that emerge range from leathery sunbathers, beer-drinking blokes and hippies, to beach babes, student protesters and suburban housewives, shedding light on the sense of liberation and self-recognition that arose during this period.

As photography struggled to gain recognition as an art form in the mid 20th century, the influence of exhibitions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s Family of Man, which toured Australia in 1959, was vital in allowing Australian photographers to compare their work to that of their international peers.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, photographers such as Jeff Carter, Sue Ford, David Moore, Roger Scott and John F Williams worked in a photo-documentary mode that was less about staging a shot or creating formal harmony within the frame than about capturing a moment of lived reality. To this end, such photographs involved minimal intervention from the photographer, both before and after the shutter release. Subjects were often unaware of being photographed and extensive darkroom manipulation was frowned upon, the rawness of prints was supposed to signal authenticity.

This approach resulted in images that seemed to offer a frank perspective on Australian culture, without the romanticising tendencies of earlier photography, which had sought to construct ideals rather than document what was actually there. As artists began to realise what they could do with the camera, so too did the images evolve. By the 1980s and ’90s photographers were making images that showed the subject’s awareness of being photographed, as with Gerrit Fokkema, or presented a harsh, even aggressive perspective on the depicted situations by removing people altogether, as with Peter Elliston. This signalled the increasingly self-conscious role of photographers themselves in the equation, suggesting the influence of post-modern theories of subjectivity and their effect on the images produced.

By the time we reach the 2000s, artists such as William Yang, Anne Zahalka and Trent Parke are acutely aware of the photographer and photograph’s role in pointedly constructing a narrative around Australian identity and history. The exhibition maps out this history and offers unexpected insight into the construction of a particularly Australian vernacular within photographic practice.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 - 06 Nov 2009) 'Sue Pike' 1963, printed 1988

 

Sue Ford (Australia 1943 – 06 Nov 2009)
Sue Pike
1963, printed 1988
Media category
Gelatin silver photograph
34.2 x 34.2 cm image
Gift of Tim Storrier 1989
© Estate of Sue Ford

 

Sue Ford’s photograph of her friend Sue Pike blow-drying her hair in the kitchen captures the young woman preparing for a night out. Ford often photographed those close to her as well as continually making self-portraits throughout her career. The photograph is domestic and intimate, showing a common aspect of life for young women in the 1960s. It suggests the procedure of preening necessary to go out and find ‘marriage and children’, while the alcohol and cigarette indicates the emerging movement for women’s liberation.

“My earliest “studio portraits” … were of my friends from school … These photo sessions were approached with a ceremonial seriousness, My friends usually brought different clothes with them and during the sessions we would change clothes and hairstyles.” Sue Ford 1987 1

Sue Ford took the majority of her photographs at this time with the camera set on a 1/60th of a second at f/11, a ‘recipe’ she wrote which had more chance of success. Poetic, fragmentary text relating to Ford’s 1961 photo-essay in “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961–1981” identify the young women’s recipe for flirtatious endeavour – ‘gossamer hairspray’, ‘peroxide’, ‘plucked eyebrows’, ‘big hair rollers to achieve “La Bouffant”‘, ‘Saturday nite’ and ‘Jive’. Sue Pike exemplifies the era of girls preparing for a night out with the boys in their ‘FJ Holdens and Hot Rods’. Staged in the kitchen, probably on a Saturday afternoon, Sue Pike, in a padded brunch coat with hair in rollers plugged into a portable hair dryer, will be a part of the action, the gossip and camaraderie. A further portrait taken in the same year shows Sue Pike metamorphosed as a beautiful bride, carefully coifed ash blonde hair under a white net veil, eyes momentarily shut, traditionally decorated with pearls and posy. Ford suggests in her prose and portraits that there are choices to be made – ‘marriage and children’ or mini-skirts and the Pill, as her old school friends go in different directions.

1. Ford. S. “A sixtieth of a second: portraits of women 1961-1981,” Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, 1987, p. 4

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – ) 'The girls #2, Cronulla beach' 2007

 

Anne Zahalka (Australia 14 May 1957 – )
The girls #2, Cronulla beach
2007
Type C photograph
72.5 x 89.5 cm image
Gift of the artist 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Anne Zahalka. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney

 

As part of a generation of Australian women artists who came to the fore in the early 1980s, Anne Zahalka’s practice has always been concerned with questioning dominant myths and cultural constructs. The broad sweep of Zahalka’s oeuvre has often been underpinned by a common strategy: the world in her images appears as theatre where place, gender and national identity are questioned.

Many of Zahalka’s more recent works are located outside the studio though the natural environment can be seen to be equally constructed. In The girls #2, Cronulla beach, the photographer has returned to the seaside, which was the setting for one of her most iconic series, Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989. The girls was made as a response to the Cronulla riots and after an introduction to Aheda Zanetti, the designer of the burqini. Zahalka “also knew of a documentary film being made following the recruiting of Lebanese men and women into the lifesaving club. It seemed like there was change adrift on the beachfront.”1 The permutations and post-modern anxiety about what constitutes Australian identity seen in the Bondi… series, have spilled out into the real world. But the image of these young Muslim women lifeguards seems to celebrate the potential to transgress accepted value systems.

Anne Zahalka said in 1995: “I am primarily concerned with… representations to do with place, identity and culture. Through the appropriation and reworking of familiar icons and styles I seek to question (and understand) their influence, meaning and value.” Twelve years later, Zahalka continues this line of inquiry with the series Scenes from the Shire. In this image, three Muslim girls wearing Burqinis (swimwear made for Muslim women conceived by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti) are standing cross-armed on Cronulla beach, a lifesaving raft is in the background. Zahalka made this work in response to the Cronulla riots of 2005. The image juxtaposes Muslim tradition with the Australian icon of the lifesaver, suggesting cultural overlap and changing national identity.

1. A. Zahalka et al, “Hall of mirrors: Anne Zahalka portraits 1987-2007,” Australian centre of photography, Sydney 2007, p. 43

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – ) 'Ruby's kitchen Enngonia' 2000, printed 2002

 

William Yang (Australia 1943 – )
Ruby’s kitchen Enngonia
2000, printed 2002
From the series miscellaneous obsessions
Type C photograph
35.5 x 53.5 cm image
© William Yang

 

William Yang was born in North Queensland, a third generation Chinese-Australian. He is known both as a photographer and for his monologues with slides which he has presented around the world to great acclaim. One of these, Sadness 1992, was adapted for the screen by Tony Ayres and won AWGIEs amongst other awards. A major retrospective of Yang’s work, Diaries, was held at the State Library of NSW in 1998. Through April 24 – June 1, 2003 Yang presented all his monologues at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney.

Yang has documented various subcultures over the last 30 years and this is reflected in his photographs as well as his monologues. A remarkable storyteller with a unique style, his current work is a synthesis of his ongoing concerns. While these concerns spring very much from his experiences growing up with a Chinese background in far north Queensland, through to his exploration of the gay community in Sydney, the work transcends the personal and becomes a meditation on the subtleties of the ordinary and everyday.

This series of images reflects Yang’s current life of travel and contact with his far flung friends and extended family. Though the subject, at its most superficial, is food, where, when and who is there at the time is of equal importance. Consequently each photograph in the series presents a web of connections and is underpinned with similar intentions to Yang’s other work, regardless of the subject.

“I don’t think I have a great technical attitude but I am interested in people,” William Yang said in 1998. Yang is known for his candid photographs of friends and situations he encounters. The images are usually accompanied by a story about his life, sometimes handwritten on the print itself, sometimes spoken aloud in performative contexts. He uses narrative as a way of locating his images in a particular moment in his personal history as well as social history at large. Yang explores themes around Australian and gay identity in a way that is frank and sometimes confronting. In this work, from a series about food, a chunk of kangaroo meat sits casually atop a laminate bench; other Australian icons such as Wonder White and Weet-Bix are also visible. The work allows for a multiplicity of signs to coexist: the slaughtered Australian mascot, the drab generic kitchen, the processed ‘white’ bread, with the Chinese-Australian photographer observing it all.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Cheaper & deeper' 1996

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Cheaper & deeper
1996
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.0 x 79.9 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Based in Melbourne, Glen Sloggett has exhibited extensively across Australia, including a touring exhibition with the Australian Centre for Photography, New Australiana 2001. Internationally, his work was included in the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh, 2004 and the 9th Mois de la Photo ‘Image and Imagination’ in Montreal 2005.

Sloggett’s work depicts scenes from Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy. Devoid of people, his photographs reflect the isolation and abandonment that afflicts the fringes of Australian urban centres. His images don’t flinch from the ugly, kitsch, and bleak. Sloggett says, “No matter where I go, I always find places and environments that are in the process of falling down. These are the images of Australia that resonate most strongly for me as an artist. I want to capture the last signs of optimism before inevitable disrepair.” (Glen Sloggett, quoted in A. Foster. Cheaper and deeper, ex. Bro. ACP 2005) His images of disrepair are infused with black humour and at the same time, affection for Australian suburbia.

From dumpy derelict flats to pavements graffitied with the words ‘mum killers’, Sloggett’s photographs capture an atmosphere of neglect. One classic image depicts a pink hearse, with the slogan Budget burials cheaper & deeper!! stencilled in vinyl on the side window. Another image shows an industrial barrel, on which is scrawled the evocative word ‘Empty’. In a third image, a dog rests on the pavement outside ‘Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning’ – the bold red and yellow lettering on its window in stark contrast to the cracked paint of the exterior wall, and half-clean sheet that forms a makeshift curtain. These images have a profundity that is at once touching and surprising; as Alasdair Foster has commented, “In a world of rabid materialism and shallow sentiment, Sloggett’s photographs show us that life really is much cheaper and deeper.”

These five works by Glenn Sloggett serve as forms of photographic black humour. Devoid of people and always in colour, his photographs often take mundane elements from the world and make us notice their tragicomedy. This group is rooted in a play with text, where the tension between what is written and what we see is paramount. Sloggett makes comment on Australian life and culture, showing how the fringes of towns and the paraphernalia of the everyday give insight into the Australian psyche.

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Hope Street' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Hope Street
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Empty' 2000

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Empty
2000
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.4 x 80.6 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 - ) 'Kong's 1 hour dry cleaning' 1998

 

Glenn Sloggett (Australia 1964 – )
Kong’s 1 hour dry cleaning
1998
From the series Cheaper & deeper
Type C photograph
80.2 x 80.0 cm image
Gift of Amanda Love 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
© Glenn Sloggett

 

 

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

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04
Mar
14

Exhibition: ‘Flesh and Metal: Body and Machine in Early 20th­-Century Art’ at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2013 – 16th March 2014

Featured artists include Margaret Bourke-White, Constantin Brancusi, Giorgio de Chirico, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Germaine Krull, Fernand Léger, Wyndham Lewis, László Moholy-Nagy, Piet Mondrian, Man Ray, Alexander Rodchenko, and Charles Sheeler, among others.

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“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me. What would our fathers do if we suddenly stood up and came before them and proffered our account? What do they expect of us if a time ever comes when the war is over? Through the years our business has been killing; – it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us?”

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Erich Maria Remarque. All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929

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Many thankx to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

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Germaine Krull. 'Portrait of Joris Ivens, Amsterdam' c. 1928

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Germaine Krull
Portrait of Joris Ivens, Amsterdam
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
7 3/8 x 6 1/4 in. (18.77 x 15.88 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Simon Lowinsky
© Germaine Krull Estate

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Germaine Krull (29 November 1897 – 31 July 1985), was a photographer, political activist, and hotel owner. Her nationality has been categorized as German, Polish, French, and Dutch, but she spent years in Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand, and India. Described as “an especially outspoken example” of a group of early 20th-century female photographers who “could lead lives free from convention”, she is best known for photographically-illustrated books such as her 1928 portfolio Métal...

Having met Dutch filmmaker and communist Joris Ivens in 1923, she moved to Amsterdam in 1925. After Krull returned to Paris in 1926, Ivens and Krull entered into a marriage of convenience between 1927 and 1943 so that Krull could hold a Dutch passport and could have a “veneer of married respectability without sacrificing her autonomy.”

In Paris between 1926 and 1928, Krull became friends with Sonia DelaunayRobert DelaunayEli LotarAndré MalrauxColetteJean CocteauAndré Gide and others; her commercial work consisted of fashion photography, nudes, and portraits. During this period she published the portfolio Métal (1928) which concerned “the essentially masculine subject of the industrial landscape.” Krull shot the portfolio’s 64 black-and-white photographs in Paris, Marseille, and Holland during approximately the same period as Ivens was creating his film De Brug (“The Bridge”) in Rotterdam, and the two artists may have influenced each other. The portfolio’s subjects range from bridges, buildings and ships to bicycle wheels; it can be read as either a celebration of machines or a criticism of them. Many of the photographs were taken from dramatic angles, and overall the work has been compared to that of László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Rodchenko. In 1999-2004 the portfolio was selected as one of the most important photobooks in history.

By 1928 Krull was considered one of the best photographers in Paris, along with André Kertész and Man Ray. Between 1928 and 1933, her photographic work consisted primarily of photojournalism, such as her photographs for Vu, a French magazine. Also in the early 1930s, she also made a pioneering study of employment black spots in Britain for Weekly Illustrated (most of her ground-breaking reportage work from this period remains immured in press archives and she has never received the credit which is her due for this work). Her book Études de Nu (“Studies of Nudes”) published in 1930 is still well-known today. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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El Lissitzky. 'Untitled' c. 1923

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El Lissitzky
Untitled
c. 1923
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (24.13 x 18.42 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of anonymous donors
© Estate of El Lissitzky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

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Lazar Markovich Lissitzky (November 23 1890 – December 30, 1941), better known as El Lissitzky, was a Russian artist, designer, photographer, typographer, polemicist and architect. He was an important figure of the Russian avant garde, helping develop suprematism with his mentor, Kazimir Malevich, and designing numerous exhibition displays and propaganda works for the Soviet Union. His work greatly influenced the Bauhaus and constructivist movements, and he experimented with production techniques and stylistic devices that would go on to dominate 20th-century graphic design.

Lissitzky’s entire career was laced with the belief that the artist could be an agent for change, later summarized with his edict, “das zielbewußte Schaffen” (goal-oriented creation). Lissitzky, of Jewish оrigin, began his career illustrating Yiddish children’s books in an effort to promote Jewish culture in Russia, a country that was undergoing massive change at the time and that had just repealed its antisemitic laws. When only 15 he started teaching; a duty he would stay with for most of his life. Over the years, he taught in a variety of positions, schools, and artistic media, spreading and exchanging ideas. He took this ethic with him when he worked with Malevich in heading the suprematist art groupUNOVIS, when he developed a variant suprematist series of his own, Proun, and further still in 1921, when he took up a job as the Russian cultural ambassador to Weimar Germany, working with and influencing important figures of the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements during his stay. In his remaining years he brought significant innovation and change to typography, exhibition design, photomontage, and book design, producing critically respected works and winning international acclaim for his exhibition design. This continued until his deathbed, where in 1941 he produced one of his last works – a Soviet propaganda poster rallying the people to construct more tanks for the fight against Nazi Germany. In 2014, the heirs of the artist, in collaboration with Van abbemuseum and the leading worldwide scholars, the Lissitzky foundation was established, to preserve the artist’s legacy and preparing a catalogue raisone of the artist oeuvre. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Man Ray. 'Untitled (Rayograph)' 1922

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Man Ray
Untitled (Rayograph)
1922
Gelatin silver print
11 15/16 x 9 3/8 in. (30.32 x 23.81 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, purchase
© Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Alexander Rodchenko. 'Pozharnaia lestnitsa' from the series 'Dom na Miasnitskoi' (Fire Escape, from the series House Building on Miasnitskaia Street) 1925

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Alexander Rodchenko
Pozharnaia lestnitsa from the series Dom na Miasnitskoi (Fire Escape, from the series House Building on Miasnitskaia Street)
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 x 6 in. (22.86 x 15.24 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Frances and John Bowes, Evelyn Haas, Mimi and Peter Haas, Pam and Dick Kramlich, and Judy and John Webb
© Estate of Alexander Rodchenko / RAO, Moscow / VAGA, New York

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Raoul Ubac. 'Penthésilée' 1937

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Raoul Ubac
Penthésilée
1937
Gelatin silver print
15 1/2 x 11 1/4 in. (39.37 x 28.58 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Robert Miller
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Raoul Ubac (31 August 1910, Cologne – 24 March 1985, Dieudonne, Oise) was a French painter, sculptor, photographer and engraver. Ubac’s mother’s family ran a tannery and his father was a magistrate. In his early years he traveled through some parts of Europe on foot. He originally intended to become a waterways and forestry inspector. His interest in art was aroused when he made his first visit to Paris in 1928 and met several artists, including Otto Freundlich.

After returning to Malmédy he read the Manifeste du Surréalisme (1924) by André Breton. He met that document’s author André Breton and other leading Surrealists in 1930, and dedicated himself to capturing the movement’s dream aesthetic in photography after settling in Paris, attending the first showing of Luis Buñuel’s film L’Age d’or (1931). He attended the Faculté des Lettres of the Sorbonne briefly but soon left to frequent the studios of Montparnasse. About 1933-34 he attended the Ecole des Arts Appliqués for more than a year, studying mainly drawing and photography. In the course of a visit to Austria and the Dalmatian coast in 1933, he visited the island of Hvar where he made some assemblages of stones, which he drew and photographed, for example Dalmatian Stone (1933). Disillusioned with Surrealism, Ubac abandoned photography after the Second World War in favour of painting and sculpture, and died in France in 1985. (Text from various sources)

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“Co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Flesh and Metal: Body and Machine in Early 20th­-Century Art presents more than 70 artworks that explore a central dynamic of art making in Europe and the Americas between the 1910s and the early 1950s. On view from November 13, 2013 to March 16, 2014 at the Cantor Arts Center, the exhibition includes a rich group of paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints, and illustrated books from the collection of SFMOMA. Taken together, the works offer a fresh view of how artists negotiated the terrain between the mechanical and the bodily – two oppositional yet inextricably bound forces – to produce a wide range of imagery responding to the complexity of modern experience.

The exhibition is part of the collaborative museum shows and extensive off-site programming presented by SFMOMA while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction. From the summer of 2013 to early 2016, SFMOMA is on the go, presenting a dynamic slate of jointly organized and traveling exhibitions, public art displays and site-specific installations, and newly created education programs throughout the Bay Area.

“We are thrilled to pair SFMOMA’s world-class collection with Stanford’s renowned academic resources,” said Connie Wolf, the John and Jill Freidenrich Director of the Cantor Arts Center. “Cantor curators and the distinguished chair of the Department of Art and Art History guided seminars specifically for this exhibition, with students examining art of the period, investigating themes, studying design and display issues, and developing writing skills. The students gained immeasurably by this amazing experience and added new research and fresh perspectives to the artwork and to the exhibition. We are proud of the results and delighted to present a unique and invaluable partnership that will enrich the Stanford community, our museum members, and our visitors.”

SFMOMA’s Curator of Photography Corey Keller concurred: “The opportunity to work with our colleagues at Stanford has been a remarkable experience both in the galleries and in the classroom. We couldn’t be prouder of the exhibition’s unique perspective on a particularly rich area of SFMOMA’s collection that resulted from our collaboration.”

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Exhibition overview

The exhibition is organized into four thematic sections dealing with the human figure, the imagination, the urban landscape, and the object, which together reveal a range of artists’ responses to the conditions of modernity. At the beginning of the 20th century, many hailed the machine as a symbol of progress. “Speed” and “efficiency” entered the vocabularies of art movements such as Futurism (in Italy), Purism (in France), Vorticism (in England), and Constructivism (in Russia), all of which adapted the subject matter and formal characteristics of the machine. Factories and laborers were presented positively as emblems of modernity, and mechanization became synonymous with mobility and the possibility of social improvement. Countering this utopian position were proponents of the Dada and Surrealist movements (based largely in Germany and France), who found mechanical production problematic. For many of these artists who had lived through the chaos and destruction of World War I, the machine was perceived as a threat not only to the body, but to the uniquely human qualities of the mind as well. These artists embraced chance, accident, dream, and desire as new paths to freedom and creativity, in contrast to their counterparts who maintained their faith in an industrially enhanced future.

Though art from the first half of the 20th century is often viewed as representing an opposition between the rational, impersonal world of the machine and the uncontrollable, often troubling realm of the human psyche, the work in this exhibition suggests a more nuanced tension. In fact, artists regularly perceived these polarities in tandem. The codes of the bodily and the industrial coalesce in Fernand Léger’s machine aesthetic, on view in his 1927 painting Two Women on a Blue Backgound and an untitled collage from 1925. For his “rayographs,” Man Ray made use of mass-produced objects, but deployed them in a lyrical and imaginative manner – placing them on photosensitized paper and exposing it to light. Constantin Brancusi’s The Blond Negress (1927) and Jacques Lipchitz’s Draped Woman (1919) update the tradition of the cast bronze figure by introducing impersonal geometries. And even the seemingly formulaic surfaces of Piet Mondrian’s abstract paintings eventually reveal the artist’s sensitive hand.”

Press release from SFMOMA and the Cantor Arts Center

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Hans Bellmer. 'La mitrailleuse en état de grâce' (The Machine Gun[neress] in a State of Grace) 1937

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Hans Bellmer
La mitrailleuse en état de grâce (The Machine Gun[neress] in a State of Grace)
1937
Gelatin silver print with oil and watercolor
26 x 26 in. (66.04 x 66.04 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Foto Forum
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Hans Bellmer (13 March 1902 – 23 February 1975) was a German artist, best known for the life sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s. Historians of art and photography also consider him a Surrealist photographer.

Bellmer was born in the city of Kattowitz, then part of the German Empire (now Katowice, Poland). Up until 1926, he’d been working as a draftsman for his own advertising company. He initiated his doll project to oppose the fascism of the Nazi Party by declaring that he would make no work that would support the new German state. Represented by mutated forms and unconventional poses, his dolls were directed specifically at the cult of the perfect body then prominent in Germany. Bellmer was influenced in his choice of art form by reading the published letters of Oskar Kokoschka (Der Fetisch, 1925).

Bellmer’s doll project is also said to have been catalysed by a series of events in his personal life. Hans Bellmer takes credit for provoking a physical crisis in his father and brings his own artistic creativity into association with childhood insubordination and resentment toward a severe and humorless paternal authority. Perhaps this is one reason for the nearly universal, unquestioning acceptance in the literature of Bellmer’s promotion of his art as a struggle against his father, the police, and ultimately, fascism and the state. Events of his personal life also including meeting a beautiful teenage cousin in 1932 (and perhaps other unattainable beauties), attending a performance of Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann (in which a man falls tragically in love with an automaton), and receiving a box of his old toys. After these events, he began to actually construct his first dolls. In his works, Bellmer explicitly sexualized the doll as a young girl. The dolls incorporated the principle of “ball joint”, which was inspired by a pair of sixteenth-century articulated wooden dolls in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum.

Bellmer produced the first doll in Berlin in 1933. Long since lost, the assemblage can nevertheless be correctly described thanks to approximately two dozen photographs Bellmer took at the time of its construction. Standing about fifty-six inches tall, the doll consisted of a modeled torso made of flax fiber, glue, and plaster; a mask-like head of the same material with glass eyes and a long, unkempt wig; and a pair of legs made from broomsticks or dowel rods. One of these legs terminated in a wooden, club-like foot; the other was encased in a more naturalistic plaster shell, jointed at the knee and ankle. As the project progressed, Bellmer made a second set of hollow plaster legs, with wooden ball joints for the doll’s hips and knees. There were no arms to the first sculpture, but Bellmer did fashion or find a single wooden hand, which appears among the assortment of doll parts the artist documented in an untitled photograph of 1934, as well as in several photographs of later work.

Bellmer’s 1934 anonymous book, The Doll (Die Puppe), produced and published privately in Germany, contains 10 black-and-white photographs of Bellmer’s first doll arranged in a series of “tableaux vivants” (living pictures). The book was not credited to him, as he worked in isolation, and his photographs remained almost unknown in Germany. Yet Bellmer’s work was eventually declared “degenerate” by the Nazi Party, and he was forced to flee Germany to France in 1938. Bellmer’s work was welcomed in the Parisian art culture of the time, especially the Surrealists around André Breton, because of the references to female beauty and the sexualization of the youthful form. His photographs were published in the Surrealist journal Minotaure, 5 December 1934 under the title “Poupée, variations sur le montage d’une mineure articulée” (The Doll, Variations on the Assemblage of an Articulated Minor).

He aided the French Resistance during the war by making fake passports. He was imprisoned in the Camp des Milles prison at Aix-en-Provence, a brickworks camp for German nationals, from September 1939 until the end of the Phoney War in May 1940. After the war, Bellmer lived the rest of his life in Paris. Bellmer gave up doll-making and spent the following decades creating erotic drawings, etchings, sexually explicit photographs, paintings, and prints of pubescent girls… Of his own work, Bellmer said, “What is at stake here is a totally new unity of form, meaning and feeling: language-images that cannot simply be thought up or written up … They constitute new, multifaceted objects, resembling polyplanes made of mirrors … As if the illogical was relaxation, as if laughter was permitted while thinking, as if error was a way and chance, a proof of eternity.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Salvador Dalí. 'Objet Surréaliste à fonctionnement symbolique - le soulier de Gala' (Surrealist object that functions symbolically - Gala's Shoe) 1932/1975

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Salvador Dalí
Objet Surréaliste à fonctionnement symbolique – le soulier de Gala (Surrealist object that functions symbolically – Gala’s Shoe)
1932/1975
Shoe, marble, photographs, clay, and mixed media
48 x 28 x 14 in. (121.92 x 71.12 x 35.56 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Norah and Norman Stone
© Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Marcel Jean. 'Le Spectre du Gardenia' (The Specter of the Gardenia) 1936/1972

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Marcel Jean (French, 1900-1993)
Le Spectre du Gardenia (The Specter of the Gardenia)
1936/1972
Wool powder over plaster, zippers, celluloid film, and suede over wood
13 1/2 x 7 x 9 in. (34.29 x 17.78 x 22.86 cm)
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Dr. and Mrs. Allan Roos
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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With zippers for eyes and a filmstrip collar around its neck, this figure composes an anxious portrait, but its tactile surface of black cloth, faded red velvet, and zippers is charged with the eroticism of imagined touch. Jean originally called this work Secret of the Gardenia after an old movie reel he discovered, along with the velvet stand, at a Paris flea market. As the artist later recalled, Surrealism’s leader André Breton “always pressed his friends to center their interest on Surrealist objects,” and “he made a certain number himself.” Chance discoveries like the movie reel and velvet stand that inspired this work provided a trove of uncanny items for Surrealists to include, combine, and transform in their works. (Text from the MoMA website)

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Max Ernst. 'La famille nombreuse' (The Numerous Family) 1926

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Max Ernst
La famille nombreuse (The Numerous Family)
1926
Oil on canvas
32 1/8 x 25 5/8 in. (81.61 x 65.1 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Peggy Guggenheim
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Giorgio de Chirico. 'Les contrariétés du penseur' (The Vexations of the Thinker) 1915

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Giorgio de Chirico
Les contrariétés du penseur (The Vexations of the Thinker)
1915
Oil on canvas
18 1/4 x 15 in. (46.36 x 38.1 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Templeton Crocker Fund purchase
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

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Fernand Léger. 'Deux femmes sur fond bleu' (Two Women on a Blue Background) 1927

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Fernand Léger
Deux femmes sur fond bleu (Two Women on a Blue Background)
1927
Oil on canvas
36 1/2 x 23 5/8 in. (92.71 x 59.94 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, fractional gift of Helen and Charles Schwab
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Constantin Brancusi. 'La Négresse blonde' (The Blond Negress) 1926

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Constantin Brancusi
La Négresse blonde (The Blond Negress)
1926
Bronze with marble and limestone base
70 3/4 x 10 3/4 x 10 3/4 in. (179.71 x 27.31 x 27.31 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, gift of Agnes E. Meyer and Elise S. Haas
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060
T: 650-723-4177

Opening hours:

Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

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26
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next Door’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 1st October 1, 2013 – 5th January 2014

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The J. Paul Getty Museum puts on some amazing exhibitions, and this is no exception. For me the strength of this artist lies in his black and white work. I am not so enamoured with the camera obscura, unexpected juxtapositions of objects or tent-camera images. They seem prosaic and lack the magic of the black and white work.

The artist’s distinctive take on domestic interiors and family life is beguiling. Damp footprints on a bathroom floor with the most glorious light; the dark maw of a open paper bag; toy blocks ascending skywards; jumble of letters on a monolithic refrigerator door; the shadow of a house made into a house (amazing!); and the portents of darkness to come as Brady looks at his shadow. You cannot forget these images, they impinge on your consciousness. As for the colour images, they seem insignificant, superfluous when compared with these resonances.

Marcus

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

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Paper Bag' 1992

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Paper Bag
1992
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Curiouser and Curiouser' 1998

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Curiouser and Curiouser
1998
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Lisa and Brady Behind Glass' 1986

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Lisa and Brady Behind Glass
1986
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Toy Blocks' 1987

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Toy Blocks
1987
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Refrigerator' 1987

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Refrigerator
1987
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Footprints' 1987

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Footprints
1987
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchased with funds from the Friends of Photography, 2012.213
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Laura and Brady in the Shadow of Our House' 1994

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Laura and Brady in the Shadow of Our House
1994
Gelatin silver print
Image: 45.7 x 57.2 cm (18 x 22 1/2 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Abelardo Morell, 2004.139
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Book of Revolving Stars' 1994

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Book of Revolving Stars
1994
Inkjet print
Image: 45.7 x 57.2 cm (18 x 22 1/2 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Light Bulb' 1991

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Light Bulb
1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 45.7 x 57.2 cm (18 x 22 1/2 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Comer Foundation Fund, 1994.40
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Camera Obscura: Houses Across the Street in Our Bedroom, Quincy, MA' 1991

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Camera Obscura: Houses Across the Street in Our Bedroom, Quincy, MA
1991
Gelatin silver print
Image: 79.2 x 103.2 cm (31 3/16 x 40 5/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Two Forks Under Water' 1993

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Two Forks Under Water
1993
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Book with Wavy Pages' 2001

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Book with Wavy Pages
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
Lent by the artist, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Motion Study of Falling Pitchers' 2004

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Motion Study of Falling Pitchers
2004
Gelatin silver print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, obj. 210881
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Brady Looking at his Shadow' 1991

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Brady Looking at his Shadow
1991
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 45.7 cm (22 1/2 x 18 in.)
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchased with funds from Bert and Cathy Clark, 2012.214
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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“Over the past 25 years, Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) has become internationally renowned for photographs that push the boundaries of the medium while exploring visual surprise and wonder. Throughout his career, he has looked at things with a fresh vision and investigated simple optics in myriad forms. Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next Door, on view October 1, 2013 – January 5, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, traces the artist’s innovative work as he has continued to mine the essential strangeness and complexity of photography. The exhibition was organized by The Art Institute of Chicago, in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

“Abelardo Morell is one of this country’s great contemporary photographers whose very distinctive achievement is celebrated in this first major survey of his work,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “The exhibition also celebrates the growth of the holdings of Morell at three major museums, which have recently been augmented through the generosity of Dan Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, who have promised significant groups of works by the artist to each institution’s permanent collection.”

Morell came to the United States as a teenager. He attended Bowdoin College in Maine, and later completed an MFA in photography at Yale University. In 1986 he began creating large-format pictures around his home, examining common household objects with childlike curiosity. As a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, he experimented with optics in his teaching and initiated a series of images in which he turned entire rooms into camera obscuras, capturing the outside world as projected onto interior surfaces. These visual experiments and endless exploration of the medium are at the heart of the work on view in the exhibition.

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From a Child’s Perspective

The earliest photographs in the exhibition date from the mid-1980s, when the birth of his son, Brady, led Morell to a radical shift in his work. Looking inward at his own family life, Morell found novel subject matter in domestic interiors. He set aside his hand-held camera in favor of a large-format view camera that necessitated a more deliberate style and elicited a wealth of tactile detail from his subjects. Of this shift, Morell writes: “I started making photographs as if I were a child myself. This strategy got me to look at things around me more closely, more slowly, and from vantage points I hadn’t considered before.” This technique can be seen in Refrigerator (negative, 1987; print, 2012), where Morell portrays a common refrigerator as a giant monolith with jumbled letters on it, evoking the preverbal vision of a child. This concept recurs in Toy Blocks (negative, 1987; print, 2012), where toy blocks photographed from a steep perspective on the floor are made to seem like a mysterious Tower of Babel, as they might to a small child.

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Camera Obscura Experiments

The basis for all photography, the principle of the camera obscura (Latin for “dark chamber”) has been known since antiquity. In 1991, Morell began transforming entire rooms into cameras by covering the windows and inserting a small hole. He used a second camera to photograph the superimposition of the outside world as projected onto various interiors. Morell started by making black-and-white pictures in his own home before traveling before traveling in search of other compelling subjects for his uncanny, disorienting images. Morell made a pilgrimage to photograph Lacock Abbey, the country house of William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877), one of the inventors of photography. Talbot’s era was an ideal model for the camera obscura work, as the general interest in a variety of intersecting subject matter at that time mirrored Morell’s own interest in uniting science, art, philosophy, and religion.

In 2005, Morell turned to creating camera obscura works in color, eventually incorporating technical refinements that made his photographs less raw and immediate and more explicitly constructed. In View of the Brooklyn Bridge in the Bedroom (2009), bold red sheets serve as a reminder of the bed as a site of intimacy, contrasting with the public space of the Brooklyn Bridge. This strange juxtaposition also evokes a dreamlike state, as the outdoor image floats just above the bed.

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Tent Camera Images

In 2010, following the example of 19th century photographers such as Carleton Watkins (American, 1829-1916) and William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942), Morell set out to capture the grandeur of the American wilderness. At Big Bend National Park in Texas, he began experimenting with a portable tent camera featuring a periscope lens on top, which projected the scene outside onto the ground. Morell found it appealing that what was overlooked because it was underfoot – something so common and shared – formed the backdrop for these images. In Tent Camera Image on Ground: El Capitan from Cathedral Beach, Yosemite National Park, California (2012), Morell followed Carleton Watkins’s path into Yosemite, where he used the tent camera to create a landscape that is no longer fresh and pristine, but set against such modern visual disruptions as bike tracks in the dirt.

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Additional Experiments

Also on view in the exhibition are additional visual experiments employed by Morell, including a simulation of Eadweard Muybridge’s early use of stop-motion using a water pitcher and wine glass, as well as optical curiosities like dappled sunlight under trees, which Morell said results from hundreds of “tiny cameras” that form in the minute spaces between leaves. While in residence at two museums – the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1998, and the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven in 2008 – Morell created photographs that involve unexpected juxtapositions that explore how the presentation of art affects its meaning. By moving sculptures and paintings in close proximity to one another, he created what he called “an impossible conversation” between works of art. In Nadelman/Hopper (negative, 2008; print, 2012), he positioned a bust by Elie Nadelman (American, 1882-1946) in front of a painting by Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967) for a composition in the vein of Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1888-1978).

“Morell is driven by his unflagging intellectual curiosity and his love of the medium of photography,” said Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs and curator of the exhibition at the Getty Museum. “His work is grounded in the past, but it also contains an unexpected twist that causes us to reexamine what we think we know. I am delighted to be able to share this unique collection of photographs with our visitors.”

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Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next Door is on view October 1, 2013 – January 5, 2014 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center. The exhibition was on view at the the Art Institute of Chicago from June 1 – September 2, 2013, and will be on view at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta from February 22 – May 18, 2014. The exhibition is curated by Paul Martineau, associate curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Elizabeth Siegel, associate curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Brett Abbott, curator of photography at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, where it travels after the Getty. Funding for the exhibition catalogue was provided by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Generous in-kind support for the exhibition was provided by Tru Vue Inc. and Gemini Moulding Incc.”

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Nadelman/Hopper, Yale University Art Gallery' 2008

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Nadelman/Hopper, Yale University Art Gallery
2008
Inkjet print
Image: 61 x 76.2 cm (24 x 30 in.)
Courtesy of Bonni Benrubi Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Tent-Camera Image On Ground: Rooftop View Of The Brooklyn Bridge' 2010

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Tent-Camera Image On Ground: Rooftop View Of The Brooklyn Bridge
2010
Inkjet print
Image: 76.2 x 101.6 cm (30 x 40 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Tent-Camera Image on Ground: View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Yates' 2012

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Tent-Camera Image on Ground: View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Yates
2012
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 76.2 cm (22 1/2 x 30 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Tent-Camera Image on Ground: View of the Grand Canyon from Trailview Overlook' 2012

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Tent-Camera Image on Ground: View of the Grand Canyon from Trailview Overlook
2012
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 76.2 cm (22 1/2 x 30 in.)
Courtesy of Bonni Benrubi Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Tent-Camera Image on Ground: View of the Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View' 2012

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Tent-Camera Image on Ground: View of the Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View
2012
Inkjet print
Image: 57.2 x 76.2 cm (22 1/2 x 30 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Upright Camera Obscura Image of the Piazzeta San Marco Looking Southeast in Office' 2007

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Upright Camera Obscura Image of the Piazzeta San Marco Looking Southeast in Office
2007
Inkjet print
Image: 61 x 76.2 cm (24 x 30 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist in memory of David Feingold, 2013.1
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Camera Obscura: View of the Brooklyn Bridge in Bedroom' 2009

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Camera Obscura: View of the Brooklyn Bridge in Bedroom
2009
Inkjet print
Image: 79 x 101.6 cm (31 1/8 x 40 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Purchased with funds provided by Richard and Alison Crowell, Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser and anonymous donors in honor of James N. Wood
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948) 'Camera Obscura Image of Santa Maria della Salute in Palazzo Bedroom, Venice, Italy' 2006

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Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba, 1948)
Camera Obscura Image of Santa Maria della Salute in Palazzo Bedroom, Venice, Italy
2006
Inkjet print
Image: 101.6 x 76.2 cm (40 x 30 in.)
Lent by the artist, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Abelardo Morell, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 am – 5.30 pm
Saturday 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday 10 am – 9 pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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14
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘Masculine / Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the present day’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2013 – 2nd January 2014

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The von Gloeden is stunning and some of the paintings are glorious: the muscularity / blood red colour in Falguière by Lutteurs d’Alexandre (1875, below); the beauty of Ángel Zárraga’s Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian) (1912, below); the sheer nakedness and earthiness of the Freud; and the colour, form and (homo)eroticism of The Bath by Paul Cadmus (1951, below), with their pert buttocks and hands washing suggestively.

But there is nothing too outrageous here. Heaven forbid!

After all, this is the male nude as curatorial commodity.

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Many thankx to the Musée d’Orsay for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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“The high brow peep show is divided thematically into depictions of religion, mythology, athleticism, homosexuality, and shifting notions of manliness. Wandering the Musee’s grand halls you will see rippling Greco-Roman Apollonian gods, Egon Schiele’s finely rendered, debauched self portraits and David LaChapelle’s 90s macho-kitsch celebs. Edward Munch’s hazy, pastel bathers mingle with Lucian Freud’s grossly erotic fleshy animals and reverent depictions of Christ and Saint Sebastian, showing the many ways to interpret a body sans outerwear.”

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Priscilla Frank. “‘Masculine/Masculine’ Explores Male Nude Throughout Art History And We Couldn’t Be Happier (NSFW),” on the Huffpost Arts and Culture website, 26/09/2013

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Jean Delville (1867-1953) 'École de Platon' (School of Plato) 1898

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Jean Delville (1867-1953)
École de Platon (School of Plato)
1898
Oil on canvas
H. 260; W. 605 cm
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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In the late 19th century, Belgium was one of the great centres of European symbolism. Jean Delville’s paintings and writings expressed the most esoteric side of the movement. In the mid-1880s, Delville’s discovery of the symbolist milieu in Paris and the friendships he made there led him to break with the naturalism inherited from his academic training. Thus his friendship with the Sâr Péladan and his regular attendance at the Salon of the Rose+Croix, testified to his belief in an intellectual art which focused on evocation more than description.

School of Plato, a decoration intended for the Sorbonne but never installed there, is a striking work in many respects. Its monumental size and its ambitious message – an interpretation of classical philosophy seen through the prism of the symbolist ideal – set it apart. The manifesto makes no secret of its references, from Raphael to Puvis de Chavannes, but envelops them in the strange charm of a deliberately unreal colour range. The ambiguity emanating from this fin de siècle Mannerism knowingly blurs the borderline between purity and sensuality.

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Jules Elie Delaunay. 'Ixion Thrown Into the Flames' 1876

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Jules Elie Delaunay
Ixion Thrown Into the Flames
1876
© RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot

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Camille Félix Bellanger. 'Abel' 1874-75

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Camille Félix Bellanger
Abel
1874-75
© Musée d’Orsay

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Eadweard Muybridge. 'Animal Locomotion' 1887

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Eadweard Muybridge
Animal Locomotion
1887
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN / Alexis Brandt

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Kehinde Wiley. 'Death of Abel Study' 2008

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Kehinde Wiley
Death of Abel Study
2008
© Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA & Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris

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Paul Cézanne. 'Baigneurs' (Bathers) 1890

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Paul Cézanne
Baigneurs (Bathers)
1890
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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“While it has been quite natural for the female nude to be regularly exhibited, the male nude has not been accorded the same treatment. It is highly significant that until the show at the Leopold Museum in Vienna in the autumn of 2012, no exhibition had opted to take a fresh approach, over a long historical perspective, to the representation of the male nude. However, male nudity was for a long time, from the 17th to 19th centuries, the basis of traditional Academic art training and a key element in Western creative art. Therefore when presenting the exhibition Masculine / Masculine, the Musée d’Orsay, drawing on the wealth of its own collections (with several hitherto unknown sculptures) and on other French public collections, aims to take an interpretive, playful, sociological and philosophical approach to exploring all aspects and meanings of the male nude in art. Given that the 19th century took its inspiration from 18th century classical art, and that this influence still resonates today, the Musée d’Orsay is extending its traditional historical range in order to draw a continuous arc of creation through two centuries down to the present day. The exhibition will include the whole range of techniques: painting, sculpture, graphic arts and, of course, photography, which will have an equal place in the exhibition.

To convey the specifically masculine nature of the body, the exhibition, in preference to a dull chronological presentation, takes the visitor on a journey through a succession of thematic focuses, including the aesthetic canons inherited from Antiquity, their reinterpretation in the Neo-Classical, Symbolist and contemporary eras where the hero is increasingly glorified, the Realist fascination for truthful representation of the body, nudity as the body’s natural state, the suffering of the body and the expression of pain, and finally its eroticisation. The aim is to establish a genuine dialogue between different eras in order to reveal how certain artists have been prompted to reinterpret earlier works. In the mid 18th century, Winckelmann examined the legacy of the divine proporzioni of the body inherited from Antiquity, which, in spite of radical challenges, still apply today having mysteriously come down through the history of art as the accepted definition of beauty. From Jacques-Louis David to George Platt-Lynes, LaChapelle and Pierre et Gilles, and including Gustave Moreau, a whole series of connections is revealed, based around issues of power, censorship, modesty, the boundaries of public expectation and changes in social mores.

Winckelmann’s glorification of Greek beauty reveals an implicit carnal desire, relating to men as well as women, which certainly comes down through two centuries from the “Barbus” group and from David’s studio, to David Hockney and the film director James Bidgood. This sensibility also permeates the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries as it questions its own identity, as we see in the extraordinary painting École de Platon [School of Plato], inexplicably purchased by the French state in 1912 from the Belgian artist Delville. Similarly, the exhibition will reveal other visual and intellectual relationships through the works of artists as renowned as Georges de La Tour, Pierre Puget, Abilgaard, Paul Flandrin, Bouguereau, Hodler, Schiele, Munch, Picasso, Bacon, Mapplethorpe, Freud and Mueck, while lining up some surprises like the Mexican Angel Zarraga’s Saint Sébastien (Saint Sebastian), De Chirico’s Les Bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths) and the erotica of Americans Charles Demuth and Paul Cadmus.

This autumn therefore, the Musée d’Orsay will invite the visitor to an exhibition that challenges the continuity of a theme that has always interested artists, through unexpected yet productive confrontations between the various revivals of the nude man in art.”

Press release from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) 'Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu' 1778

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Jacques Louis David (1748-1825)
Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu
1778
Oil on canvas
H. 122; W. 170 cm
Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry
© Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry

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Masculine / Masculine

Why had there never been an exhibition dedicated to the male nude until Nackte Männer at the Leopold Museum in Vienna last year? In order to answer this question, the exhibition sets out to compare works of different eras and techniques, around great themes that have shaped the image of the male body for over two centuries.

We must distinguish above all between nudity and the nude: a body simply without clothes, that causes embarrassment with its lack of modesty, is different from the radiant vision of a body restructured and idealised by the artist. Although this distinction can be qualified, it highlights the positive, uninhibited approach to the nude in western art since the Classical Period.

Today, the nude essentially brings to mind a female body, the legacy of a 19th century that established it as an absolute and as the accepted object of male desire. Prior to this, however, the female body was regarded less favourably than its more structured, more muscular male counterpart. Since the Renaissance, the male nude had been accorded more importance: the man as a universal being became a synonym for Mankind, and his body was established as the ideal human form, as was already the case in Greco-Roman art. Examples of this interpretation abound in the Judeo-Christian cultural heritage: Adam existed before Eve, who was no more than his copy and the origin of sin. Most artists being male, they found an “ideal me” in the male nude, a magnified, narcissistic reflection of themselves. And yet, until the middle of the 20th century, the sexual organ was the source of a certain embarrassment, whether shrunken or well hidden beneath strategically placed drapery, thong or scabbard.

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Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (1756-1813) 'Le Berger Pâris' (The Shepherd, Paris) 1787

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Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (1756-1813)
Le Berger Pâris (The Shepherd, Paris)
1787
Oil on canvas
H. 177 ; L. 118 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa
© Photo: MBAC

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The Classic Ideal

From the 17th century, training of the highest standard was organised for the most privileged artists. In sculpture and in history painting, the ultimate aim of this teaching was to master the representation of the male nude: this was central to the creative process, as the preparatory studies had to capture the articulation of the body as closely as possible, whether clothed or not, in the finished composition.

In France, pupils studied at the Académie Royale then at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, working from drawings, engravings, sculptures “in the round” and life models. Right up until the late 20th century, these models were exclusively male, for reasons of social morality, but also because the man was considered to have the archetypal human form. In order to be noble and worthy of artistic representation, and to appeal to all, this could not be the body of an ordinary man: the distinctive features of the model had to be tempered in order to elevate the subject.

Above all, the artists of Antiquity and of the Renaissance were considered to have established an ideal synthesis of the human body without being distracted by individual characteristics. For Winckelmann, the German 18th century aesthete, the ideal beauty of Greek statues could only be embodied by the male nude. But although it inspired numerous artists, the “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur” of Winckelmann’s gods was undermined by other interpretations of Classical art: the torment of Laocoon, a work from late Antiquity, can be seen in the work of the Danish painter Abildgaard, while David advocated a much more Roman masculinity. Even when challenged, reinterpreted and renewed by the 20th century avant-garde, the Classical male nude and its rich legacy remains an object of fascination right up to the inter-war years and up to the present day.

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George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968) 'Horst P. Horst, Photographie' 1932

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George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968)
Horst P. Horst, Photographie
1932
Tirage argentique
H. 19 ; L. 22,7 cm
Hambourg, FC Gundlach
© Droits réservés

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The Heroic Nude

The concept and the word “hero” itself come from ancient Greece: whether a demigod or simply a mortal transcending his human condition to become an exemplum virtutis, he embodies an ideal. The admiration for Classical art and culture explains the ubiquity of the hero in Academic painting, particularly in subjects given to candidates of the Prix de Rome: great history painting thrived on the exploits of supermen in the most perfect bodies.

This connection between anatomy and heroic virtue, conveying noble and universal values, goes back to the Neo-Platonic concept linking beauty and goodness. The hero’s nudity has been so self-evident that the “heroic nude” has become the subject of a recurrent debate about the representation of great men, past or present, no matter how incongruous the result may appear.

Heroism is not a state, rather a means by which the strength of character of an exceptional being man is revealed: although Hercules’ strength is inseparable from his exploits, it was David’s cunning that overcame the powerful Goliath. In both cases they are endowed with a warrior’s strength, which was particularly valued by a 19th century thirsting for virility and patriotic assertion: more than ever, this was the ideal to be attained. We had to wait for the 20th century crisis of masculinity before we could see the renewal of the status of the increasingly contemporary hero, and the diversification of his physical characteristics. However, whether a star or a designer like Yves Saint-Laurent, or even the young men on the streets of Harlem painted by the American Kehinde Wiley, the evocative power of nudity remains.

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Vive la France' 2006

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953)
Vive la France
2006
(models: Serge, Moussa and Robert)
Painted photograph, unique piece
H. 125; W. 101 cm
© Pierre et Gilles

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The Gods of the Stadium

The 20th century witnessed the start of a new way of looking at the human body where the focus was on medical aspects and hygiene, and this had a considerable impact on the concept of the artistic nude. Numerous physical education movements and gymnasia appeared. People were captivated by the figure of the “sportsman” and, as in the work of the painter Eugene Jansson, came to admire and covet the virile power of his body in action. This concept is realised in culturalism, the narcissistic admiration of a body that has become an object to be fashioned like an artwork in its own right. Modern man with his athletic morphology has become a new potential ideal: he embodies a beauty that invites comparison with Greco-Roman art.

Linked with the affirmation of national identity, the athlete has come to personify the brute force of the nation and an ability to defend the country in times of war. During the 1930s in the United States, the image of the athlete evolved in a distinctive way, highlighting the ordinary man as a mixture of physical strength and bravery. Totalitarian regimes, however, perverted the cult of the athlete in order to promote their own ideology: Germany linked it in a demiurgic way with the made-up concept of the “Aryan” race, while Mussolini’s government erected marble idols on the Stadio dei Marmi.

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Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (1808-1866) 'Orlando Furioso' 1867

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Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (1808-1866)
Orlando Furioso
1867
Cast in bronze
H. 130; W. 146; D. 90 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier

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It’s tough being a Hero

As he moves outside the established order, the mythological hero risks the anger of the gods and the jealousy of men. Although his passions, his moral shortcomings and occasionally his frailties stem from his human condition, he is happy to possess the perfect form of the gods: thus the artist and the spectator find expression of a perfect self. The great dramatic destinies thus give character to the compositions, and enable them to interpret a whole range of emotions from determination to despair, from hostility to eternal rest.

Although it is a platitude to say that feelings are expressed most accurately in the face – from the theorised and institutional drawings of Charles Le Brun to the “tête d’expression” competition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts – one must not underestimate the key role of the body and the anatomy as vehicles for expressing emotion: certain formal choices even led to generally accepted conventions.

Mythology and the Homeric epic abound with stories of the ill-fated destinies and destructive passions of heroes, whose nudity is justified by its origins in ancient Greece: Joseph-Désiré Court displays the broken body of the ill-fated Hippolytus, a premonition of the transposition in the ancient world of Mort pour la patrie [Dying for The Fatherland] of Lecomte du Nouÿ.

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Nude Veritas

The Realist aesthetic, which came to the fore in western art during the 19th century, had a dramatic effect on the representation of male nudity. The human body, represented as nature intended, was no longer seen from the decorous distance that characterised the idealised image of the nude, a goal to be achieved through Academic drawing exercises. In this context, where revealing the body was an affront to modesty – in the male-dominated society of the 19th century, the unclothed male appeared even more obscene and shocking than the unclothed female – the male nude gradually became less common as female figures proliferated.

This reversal did not mean, however, that naked men disappeared altogether: scientific study of the male nude, aided by new techniques such as the decomposition of movement through a series of photographs taken in rapid succession – chronophotography – brought advances in the study of anatomy and transformed the teaching of art students. From then on, it was less a case, for the most avant-garde artists, of striving to reproduce a canon of beauty inherited from the past, than of representing a body that retained the harmony of the model’s true characteristics.

The evocative power of the nude inspired artists like the Austrian Schiele to produce nude self portraits that revealed the existential torments of the artist. Invested at times with a Christ-like dimension, these depictions, moving beyond realism into introspection, continued to be produced right up to the 21st century, especially in photography.

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William Bouguereau (1825-1905) 'Equality before Death' 1848

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William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Equality before Death
1848
Oil on Canvas
H. 141; W. 269 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

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Without compromise

The fascination for reality established in artistic circles in the mid 19th century prompted a thorough renewal of religious painting. Although resorting to the classical idealisation of the body seemed to be consistent with religious dogma, artists like Bonnat breathed fresh life into the genre by depicting the harsh truth of the physical condition of biblical figures.

This principle was already at work in Egalité devant la mort [Equality before Death], by Bouguereau, who, in his early work, in the final days of Romanticism, exploited the power of the image of an ordinary corpse. Rodin, far from enhancing the appearance of the novelist that he was invited to celebrate, sought to render Balzac’s corpulent physique with implacable accuracy, without diminishing his grandeur in any way.

The question is thus raised of art’s relationship to reality, a question Ron Mueck tackles in his work. And the strange effect brought about by a change of scale gives an intensity to the dead body of his father that echoes the dead figure in Bouguereau’s painting.

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Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870) 'Fisherman with a Net' 1868

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Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870)
Fisherman with a Net
1868
Oil on canvas
H. 134; W. 83 cm
Zurich, Rau Foundation for the Third World
© Lylho / Leemage

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Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864) 'Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study' 1836

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Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864)
Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study
1836
Oil on canvas
H. 98; W. 124 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Angèle Dequier

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Gloeden,_Wilhem_von_(1856-1931)-Cain-WEB

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Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931)
Cain, Taormine, Sicile
1911
© Westlicht, Musée de la Photographie, Vienna

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In Nature

Including the naked body in a landscape was not a new challenge for 19th century artists. In many aspects, this was recurrent in large-scale history painting, and a demanding artistic exercise by which a painter’s technical mastery was judged. It was about making the relationship between the naked body and its setting as accurate as possible in terms of proportion, depth and light. Although Bazille’s Pêcheur à l’épervier [Fisherman with a Net] is one of the most successful attempts – in a contemporary context – at depicting a naked man in an atmospheric light that the Impressionists later took for their own, he nevertheless observed the principles of academic construction.

Masculine nudity in nature took another meaning as society was transformed through technical advances and urbanisation. Man was now seeking a communion with nature, that could reconcile him with the excesses and the sense of dislocation created by the modern world, while still conforming to the theories of good health advocating physical exercise and fresh air.

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In pain

In allowing themselves to deviate from the classical norms, artists opened up new possibilities for a more expressive representation of a body in the throes of torment or pain. The decline of the Academic nude and of classical restraint explains this predilection for ordeals: Ixion’s for example, condemned by Zeus to be bound to an eternally spinning wheel of fire.

The writhing body can also express torment of a more psychological nature. The pain experienced by the male body naturally relates to the issues of power between men and women in contemporary society: the naked body can be demeaning and, in certain circumstances, likely to call into question virility and male domination. In this respect, Louise Bourgeois’ choice of a male figure for her Arch of Hysteria was not a random one.

The martyr can, nevertheless, inspire compositions other than the tortured body: the death of Abel, killed by his brother Cain in the Book of Genesis, seems, on the contrary, to have inspired the pose of a totally relaxed body at the point of death. This abandon, however, conveyed a certain ambivalence that artists were determined to exploit: the body, often magnified and in state of morbid ecstasy, was in fact there for the spectator to relish. In these cases, suffering was merely a device to justify fetishising the body once again. In contrast with this seductive treatment, photographers engaged in experiments to divide the body into individual parts, in an aesthetic or even playful approach.

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François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837) 'The Dying Saint Sebastian' 1789

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François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837)
The Dying Saint Sebastian
1789
Oil on canvas
H. 196; W. 147 cm
Montpellier, Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération – cliché Frédéric Jaulmes

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Ángel_Zárraga-Votive_Offering_(Saint_Sebastian)-1912-WEB

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Ángel Zárraga
Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian)
1912
Oil on canvas
© Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico

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The Glorious body

Judeo-Christian culture has undeniably influenced the representation of the naked man since the beginning of modern art. However, the Catholic concept of the body has been at variance with nudity since Paleochristian times: the body is merely the corporeal envelope from which the soul is freed on death. Influenced by theologians advocating the union of the sensory and the spiritual, nudity gradually became accepted for important figures such as Christ and Saint Sebastian. Their martyred bodies, transcended by suffering endured through faith, paradoxically allowed the human soul to come close to God.

For the Catholic church, the vulnerability of Christ’s body, subjected to suffering and bearing the stigmata, is evidence of his humanity, while his divinity is revealed in his inspired expression and his idealised body, a legacy of the underlying classical models. The figure of Saint Sebastian is especially complex: this popular saint, the epitome of the martyr who survives his first ordeal, embodies the victory of life over death. This life force is no doubt related to his youthful beauty and his naked body, both of which made their appearance in the 17th century. This being the case, his representation gradually moves away from Catholic dogma, and acquires an unprecedented freedom and life of its own: his sensuality is more and more obvious, whereas his suffering is at times impossible to detect. In this quest for sensual pleasure, and until the 20th century, the only taboo was to reveal the penis.

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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) 'The Bath' 1951

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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)
The Bath
1951
Tempera on card
H. 36.4; W. 41.4 cm
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art
Anonymous gift
© Whitney Museum of American Art, NY – Art
© Jon F. Anderson, Estate of Paul Cadmus / ADAGP, Paris 2013

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Alexendre Alexandrovitch Deineka (Russian, 1899-1969) 'La douche. Après la bataille' (Shower, After the Battle) 1937-42

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Alexendre Alexandrovitch Deineka (Russian, 1899-1969)
La douche. Après la bataille (Shower, After the Battle)
1937-42
Oil on canvas

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“This male homoeroticism maintains close ties with the revolutionary project to destroy the family and traditional marriage and the construction of new types of social relations based on collective values ​​above all, with the idea that the bonds of friendship and camaraderie between men (homosociality, “male bonding”) are equally or more important than heterosexual bonding. It is mainly in the period from the Revolution to the 1930s the values ​​of friendship and camaraderie seem particularly highlighted the detriment of the bonds of love, very devalued as “petty-bourgeois”, but even more later, with the Stalinist project of “restoration” of the family, it can be assumed that the emotional and romantic in the heterosexual couple have never been a pervasive and rewarding cultural representation of magnitude of that which may be known in the West. [11] The researcher Lilya Kaganovsky, analyzing the Soviet visual culture (especially cult films of the 1930s and 1940s), speaks of “heterosexual panic” in response to the concept of “homosexual panic” coined by Eve K. Segdwick: according Kaganovsky, Soviet cultural works largely reflects the idea that the relations of friendship, especially homosocial, particularly between men, is a moral value than heterosexual relationships. [12] In such a cosmology, heterosexual relationships could be perceived from within oneself and risk jeopardizing the homosocial relationships of camaraderie and friendship, and the same social and national cohesion, thought to be based on collective values that conflicts with the value of exclusivity in the couple, “cozy comforts of home” [13].”

Mona. “Représenter le corps socialiste : l’exemple du peintre A. Deïneka (1899-1969),” on the Genre, politique et sexualités website, 16th April 2012 (translation by Google translate)

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Douche.-1932.-(Boris-Ignatovitch)-WEB

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Boris Ignatovitch
Douche (Shower)
1932
Silver gelatin photograph

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The Temptation of the male

An acknowledged desire for the male body, and the liberalisation of social conventions gave rise to some daring works from the mid 20th century onwards. In the United States, in spite of its puritan outlook since the Second World War, Paul Cadmus did not balk at depicting a pick up scene between men in a most unlikely Finistère. While the physical attraction of the body remained confined for a long time to the secrecy of private interiors, it was increasingly evident in public, in exclusively masculine social situations like communal showers or in the guise of a reconstructed Platonic Antiquity.

Eroticism is even presented quite crudely by Cocteau, whose influence on the young Warhol is undeniable. Beauty and seduction part company when the ideal transmitted by references to the past takes root in idiosyncratic practices and contemporary culture, as Hockney has expressed so accurately in his painting.

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Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824) 'The Sleep of Endymion' 1791

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Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824)
The Sleep of Endymion
1791
Oil on canvas
H. 90; W. 117.5 cm
Montargis, Musée Girodet
© Cliché J. Faujour/musée Girodet, Montargis

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Mercury' 2001

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953)
Mercury
2001
© Pierre et Gilles

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The Object of desire

For many years, the male body in art had been the subject of “objectification”. The unrestrained admiration for the perfection of the Greco-Roman nudes, a purely intellectual reconstruction of a body that had become the canon of beauty, meant that no interpretation of the nude was considered improper, even Winckelmann’s, with its powerful erotic charge.

Although Academic circles naturally encouraged the nude in great history paintings, certain subjects retained elements of sensuality and ambiguity. At the turn of the 19th century, discussion of the characteristics of the two sexes and their respective boundaries aroused interest in the bisexual amours of Jupiter and Apollo, while the formula of the young hero dying in the arms of his male lover was met with particular interest.

Girodet’s Endymion is depicted as an ephebe, his body caressed sensuously by the rays of the moon goddess, inspiring numerous homoerotic interpretations. With the Symbolists, as with Gustave Moreau, the difference between the sexes results in the downfall of a vulnerable man overcome by an inexorable and destructive force that is seen as feminine. However, at the other extreme, and in a less dramatic way, Hodler depicts the awakening of adolescent love between a self-obsessed young man and a girl who is captivated by his charm.

The sensuality and acknowledged eroticisation considered to be appropriate to the female body during the 19th century struck a serious blow against the traditional virility of the male nude: this blow was not fatal however, as the male nude was still very visible in the 20th century. Sexual liberation expressed, loud and clear, a feeling of voluptuousness and, often with few reservations, endowed the male body with a sexual charge. The model was usually identified, an assertive sign as a statement of the individuality: with Pierre and Gilles, where mythology and the contemporary portrait become one.

Text from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Antonin Mercié. 'David' 1872

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Antonin Mercié
David
1872
Bronze
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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David LaChapelle. 'Eminem - About to Blow' 1999

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David LaChapelle
Eminem – About to Blow
1999
Chromogenic Print

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Giorgio de Chirico (1883-1966) 'Les bains mystérieux' (Mysterious Baths) c. 1934-36

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Giorgio de Chirico (1883-1966)
Les bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths)
c. 1934-36
Tempera on card
39 x 31 cm
© Musei Civici Fiorentini – Raccolta Alberto Della Ragione

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Egon Schiele. 'Self-Portrait, Kneeling' 1910

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Egon Schiele
Self-Portrait, Kneeling
1910
© Leopold Museum / Manfred Thumberger

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Henri-Camille-Danger.-Fléau!,-1901. Paris, musée d'Orsay-WEB

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Henri-Camille-Danger
Fléau! (Scourge!)
1901
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Koloman Moser. 'Le Printemps' (Spring) c. 1900

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Koloman Moser
Le Printemps (Spring)
c. 1900

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Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) 'Grand Guerrier avec Jambe' 1893-1902

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Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)
Grand Guerrier avec Jambe
1893-1902
Bronze

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George Platt Lynes. 'Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)' 1935

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George Platt Lynes
Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)
1935
© Christoph Irrgang, Hamburg

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Lutteurs d'Alexandre. 'Falguière' 1875

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Lutteurs d’Alexandre
Falguière
1875
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Lucian Freud. 'Naked Man on Bed' 1989

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Lucian Freud
Naked Man on Bed
1989
Oil on canvas

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Lucian Freud. 'David and Eli' 2004

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Lucian Freud
David and Eli
2004
Oil on canvas

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Masculin / Masculin – La video on YouTube

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Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07
France

Opening hours:
9.30am – 6pm
9.30am – 9.45pm on Thursdays
Closed on Mondays

Musée d’Orsay 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, 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: ‘Mask’ 1994

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