Posts Tagged ‘Joris Ivens

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

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University website

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21
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Eva Besnyö 1910-2003: The Sensuous Image’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 22nd May – 23rd September 2012

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“Ranging from the experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam, July 1940, Besnyö explored the different terrains that photography was opening up, while at the same time helping to define them. The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

John Yau. “Something Special About Her, Eva Besnyö at the Jeu de Paume” on the Hyperallergic website, July 8th 2012

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin photograph
Private Collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Self Portrait
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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One of the purposes of this blog is to bring relatively unknown artists into the spotlight. Eva Besnyö is one such artist. Leaving the repressive atmosphere of Hungary in 1930, Besnyö joined László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa) in Berlin before, sensing the danger of National Socialism, she moved to the Netherlands in 1932. After the invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 Besnyö survived four long years in hiding before obtaining false papers in 1944 that allowed her to emerge into the open. She was Jewish.

Exploring elements of the New Vision and New Objectivity in her work, Besnyö explored “the different terrains that photography was opening up” through various bodies of work: “ranging from experimental to the photojournalistic, from street scenes to portraits, and from new architecture to the aftermath of the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam.” As John Yau observes in the quote at the top of the posting, “The various bodies of work make it difficult to characterize her… she seems to have no signature body of work, which is one of her abiding strengths. Just when you think you have gotten some sense of her, she slips through your fingers.”

Continuing the conversation from my recent review of the work of Pat Brassington (where I noted that curators and collectors alike try to pigeon hole artists into one particular style, mainly so that they can compartmentalise and order the work that they produce: such and such produces this kind of work – and that the work produced in this style is not necessarily their best), Besnyö can be seen to be a transmogrifying artist, one that experimented and investigated the same themes through different subject matter – hence no signature body of work. One of my friends observed that this kind of art making could be mistaken for a strange form of nihilism (in which nothing in the world has a real existence). It could be argued that the artist keeps changing subject matter, just dabbling really, pleasing herself with the images that she took, without committing to a particular style. Without seeing the 120 vintage prints it is hard to make a judgement.

From the work posted here it would seem that for Besnyö, observation and exploration of the lines of sight of life were the most critical guide to her art. In other words her shifting viewpoints create a multi-dimensional narrative that coalesces in a holistic journey that challenges our point of view in a changing world. As Victor Burgin notes in Thinking Photography, “The structure of presentation – point-of-view and frame – is intimately implicated in the reproduction of ideology (the ‘frame of mind’ of our ‘points-of-view’)” (1982, pp.146). The frame of mind of our points of view…. this is what Eva’s work challenges, the reproduction of our own ideology. Her morphology (the philosophical study of forms and structures) challenges the cameras and our own point of view. As Paul Virilio observes,

“In calling his first photographs of his surroundings ‘points of view’, around 1820, their inventor, Nicéphore Nièpce came as close as possible to Littré’s rigorous definition: ‘The point of view is a collection of objects to which the eye is directed and on which it rests within a certain distance.'” (Virilio, Paul. The Vision Machine (trans. Julie Rose). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, p.19.)

Besnyö changes the collection of objects to which the eye is directed as she also changes the distance and feeling of the objects upon which the eye rests. Notice how in most of the photographs the human subjects all have their back to the camera or are looking away from the instrument of objectification (or looking down into it). Even in the two self portraits Besnyö – formal in one with bobbed hair and skirt, wild in the other with a shock of tousled hair – she avoids the gaze of the camera. Like most of her subjects she remains hard to pin down. What Besnyö does so well (and why she isn’t just pleasing herself) is to construct a mythology of the city, a mythology of life which resonates through the ages. She creates a visual acoustics (if you like), a vibration of being that is commensurate with an understanding of the vulnerability of existence.

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

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [boy with a violoncello, Balaton, Hungary]
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
29.4 x 24.3 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Gypsies
1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Der Monteur am Ladenfenster
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
20.1 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam.
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Starnberger Straße
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Shadow play]
Hungary 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [dockers on the Spree]
Berlin, 1931
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Vertigo #3]
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö (1910–2003) is one of those women who found in photography not just a profession but also a form of liberation, and of those cosmopolitan avant-garde artists who chose Europe as their playing field for both play and work. Immediately after her photographic training in the studio of József Pécsi in Budapest, Eva Besnyö left the repressive, antiprogressive environment of her native Hungary for ever. Then aged 20, she decided, like her compatriots László Moholy-Nagy, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes and Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa), to go to Berlin. As soon as she arrived in autumn 1930, she discovered there a dynamic photographic scene, open to experimentation and placed under the double sign of the New Vision and the New Objectivity, whose modern language would allow her to develop her personal style.

Of Jewish origins, Eva Besnyö, who foresaw the threat of National Socialism, moved to the Netherlands in 1932 where she met again her companion the film director John Fernhout. There she was welcomed into the circle of international artists around the painter Charley Toorop, and rapidly became known in Amsterdam, where she had her own photographic studio. A solo exhibition at the Kunstzaal van Lier in 1933 gained the attention notably of the Dutch followers of the “Neues Bauen” (New Building), whose architecture she recorded, in a highly personal manner, over a long period. The invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany in 1940 marked a dramatic turning point in Eva Besnyö’s life. If she managed to come out of hiding in 1944, thanks to an invented genealogy, the traces of this experience would remain acute throughout the postwar decades. During the 1950s and 60s, her family life led her to abandon street photography for commissions. Finally, in the twilight of her career, the photographer militated in the Dolle Mina feminist movement, whose street actions she chronicled in the 1970s.

With more than 120 vintage prints, some modern prints and numerous documents, this first French retrospective devoted to Eva Besnyö aims to show the public the different facets of her work, which is situated between New Vision, New Objectivity and social documentary, at the crossroads between poetry and political activism.

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With other eyes

In 1929, during her second year of apprenticeship to József Pécsi, portrait and advertising photograper in Budapest, Eva Besnyö received the book of photographs Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful), published a few months earlier in Munich. Its author, Albert Renger-Patzsch, is the precursor of New Objectivity in photography. While pictorialism reigned in Hungary, Eva Besnyö discovered the world with other eyes: from up close and under unexpected angles. With these new models in mind and her Rolleiflex in hand, she strode along the banks of the Danube in search of subjects and daring viewpoints, showing concern for a precise, close-up description of the most diverse objects, as well as a taste for fragmentation and for the repetition of the motif in the frame.

As soon as she finished her studies, Eva Besnyö went to Berlin on the advice of the painter and photographer György Kepes – and against the wishes of her father who would have preferred that she chose Paris. The Berlin years, between 1930 and 1932, were for her those of a political and aesthetic awakening. Besides the influence of the revolutionary aesthetic of Russian cinema, she came under that of the New Vision, which took off with László Moholy-Nagy and his book Painting Photography Film (1925), using a whole stylistic grammar, advocating downward perspectives or low-angle shots, a taste for the isolated object and its repetition, as well as optical manipulations revealing an unknown, but very real, world. The activity of the town or the empty crossroads of Starnberger Straße, portraits and images of summer on the banks of Lake Wannsee count among Besnyö’s most successful compositions.

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Worker and social photography

At the Marxist Workers’ School in Berlin, Eva Besnyö schooled her social and political conscience. In her circle of friends gathered around fellow Hungarian György Kepes, she discussed passionately the role of the workers’ movements. In Berlin, as earlier in Budapest, Eva Besnyö took her camera to the principal sites of trade and business, where she photographed labourers hard at work: dockers on the Spree, coalmen in the street, fitters perched on ladders; in the city centre, she followed the workers at Alexanderplatz, in around 1930 the largest construction site in Europe. In Hungary, where she returned from time to time from Berlin, she carried out an extraordinary documentary project on the people of Kiserdö, in the suburbs of Budapest. Blessed with a heightened political awareness, she had already understood by 1932 that, as a Jew, her future was not in this country, and left Berlin for Amsterdam.

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New Vision and New Building

In 1933, the solo show devoted by the Kunstzaal van Lier to Eva Besnyö just one year after her arrival in Amsterdam aroused the enthusiasm of numerous architects – her principal clients in the years to come. Mostly members of the group de 8 in Amsterdam and the radical abstract collective Opbouw in Rotterdam, they discerned in her images, which emphasised the functional side of objects, their structure and their texture, a suitable approach for explaining their buildings.

Equipped with a Linhof 9 x 12 cm plate camera acquired especially for the purpose, Eva Besnyö went to building sites and photographed public and private buildings, notably the studios of the Dutch radio station AVRO at Hilversum, the Cineac cinema in Amsterdam and a summer house in Groet, in the north of the country. Become, in the 1930s, the preferred photographer of Dutch New Building, Eva Besnyö made most of her income at the time from architectural photography.

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Bergen and Westkapelle

From Amsterdam, where from 1935 to 1939 she shared a studio at Keizersgracht 522 with the photographer Carel Blazer and the architect Alexander Bodon, Eva Besnyö went regularly to Bergen and Westkapelle, two villages where many artists gathered. In Bergen, north of Amsterdam, Charley Toorop, Expressionist painter and mother of the film director John Fernhout, whom Eva had married in 1933, held an artistic salon in the De Vlerken studio. It was at Westkapelle, a centuries-old village built on a polder in Zealand, that the family often spent their holidays. In this landscape shaped by the natural elements, Eva Besnyö returned to a free photographic practice, with views of vast beaches of white sand, of black silhouettes against a background of old windmills and cut-out shadows.

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Rotterdam

In July 1940, Eva Besnyö photographed the old town of Rotterdam destroyed by German airforce bombing. Far from classic photo-journalism, these images of ruins and traces of devastation – from which, in retrospect, she distanced herself – are today silent, bare statements of the wounds and scars of history.

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Dolle Mina

The Dolle Mina feminist movement gathered both men and women, mainly from the student protest movement. In the 1970s, Eva Besnyö militated actively within it, alongside sympathisers of all ages. In a second phase, she focused on photographic documentation of the movement’s actions and activities, taking responsibility for sending out images daily, like a press agency.

Text by Marion Beckers and Elisabeth Moortgat, curators of the exhibition

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
1934
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Summer house in Groet, North Holland. Architects Merkelbach & Karsten]
1934
18.2 x 24.2 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Stadion, Berlin, 1931
1931
16.8 x 23.9 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Lieshout, The Netherlands]
1954
Silver gelatin photograph
25.3 x 17.7 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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“In 1930, when Eva Besnyö arrived in Berlin at the age of only twenty, a certificate of successful apprenticeship from a recognised Budapest photographic studio in her bag, she had made two momentous decisions already: to turn photography into her profession and to put fascist Hungary behind her forever.

Like her Hungarian colleagues Moholy-Nagy, Kepes and Munkacsi and – a little later – Capa, Besnyö experienced Berlin as a metropolis of deeply satisfying artistic experimentation and democratic ways of life. She had found work with the press photographer Dr. Peter Weller and roamed the city with her camera during the day, searching for motifs on construction sites, by Lake Wannsee, at the zoo or in the sports stadiums, and her photographs were published – albeit, as was customary at the time, under the name of the studio. Besnyö’s best-known photo originates from those years: the gypsy boy with a cello on his back – an image of the homeless tramp that has become familiar all over the world.

Eva Besnyö had a keen political sense, evidenced by the fact that she fled in good time from anti-Semitic, National Socialist persecution, leaving Berlin for Amsterdam in autumn 1932. Supported by the circle surrounding woman painter Charley Toorop, filmmaker Joris Ivens and designer Gerrit Rietveld, Besnyö – meanwhile married to cameraman John Fernhout – soon enjoyed public recognition as a photographer. An individual exhibition in the internationally respected Van Lier art gallery in 1933 made her reputation in the Netherlands practically overnight. Besnyö experienced a further breakthrough with her architectural photography only a few years later: translating the idea of functionalist “New Building” into a “New Seeing.” In the second half of the 30s, Besnyö demonstrated an intense commitment to cultural politics, eg. at the anti-Olympiad exhibition “D-O-O-D” (De Olympiade onder Diktatuur) in 1936; in the following year, 1937, she was curator of the international exhibition “foto ’37” in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

The invasion of German troops in May 1940 meant that as a Jew, Eva Besnyö was compelled to go into hiding underground. She was attracted to a world view shaped by humanism in the post-war years, and her photographs became stylistically decisive for neo-Realism and immensely suitable for the moralising exhibition, the “Family of Man” (1955). The mother of two children, she had experienced the classic female conflict between bringing up children and a profession career as a crucial and very personal test. Consequentially, Besnyö became an activist in the Dutch women’s movement “Dolle Mina” during the 70s, making a public commitment to equal rights and documenting demonstrations and street protests on camera.

This first retrospective exhibition, showing approximately 120 vintage prints, aims to introduce the public to the life and work of this emigrant and “Berliner by choice”, a convinced cosmopolitan and the “Grande Dame” of Dutch photography. “Like many other talents, that of Eva Besnyö was lost to Germany and its creative art as a direct consequence of the National Socialists’ racial mania.” (Karl Steinorth, DGPh, 1999)”

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

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Eva Besnyö
Narda, Amsterdam
1937
Private collection, Berlin
40 x 50 cm
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [The shadow of John Fernhout, Westkapelle, Zeeland, Netherlands]
1933
25.3 x 20.4 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled
Berlin, 1931
17.4 x 17.4 cm
Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [John Fernout with Rolleiflex at the Baltic seaside]
1932
44.2 x 39.5 cm
Private collection, Berlin
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Eva Besnyö
Untitled [Magda, Balaton, Hungary]
1932
40.5 x 30.6 cm
Collection Iara Brusse, Amsterdam
© Eva Besnyö / Maria Austria Instituut Amsterdam

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Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Friday: 12.00 – 19.00
Saturday and Sunday: 10.00 – 19.00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume 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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