Posts Tagged ‘Metropolitan Museum of Art

20
Nov
16

Exhibition: ‘diane arbus: in the beginning’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 12th July – 27th November 2016

Curator: Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met

 

 

#1

This looks to be a fascinating exhibition, presenting as it does images from the first seven years of Arbus’ career as an independent artist. I wish I could see it.

What strikes one when viewing the 35mm photographs is how loose they are in terms of the framing and composition. Most of them could do with a good crop to tighten the image frame. Stripper with Bare Breasts Sitting in Her Dressing Room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1961 would have worked better if the focus had been tightened on the central figure. Similarly, Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. 1957 works much better as a square image as seen in the feature image for the exhibition (below). Gone is the extraneous frontal detritus which adds nothing to the image. But just feel the intensity of the withering look of the women being projected out of the photograph – it’s as if she could bit your head off at any moment. She’s not a happy camper at being photographed.

This is Arbus experimenting, feeling out the medium and trying to find her signature voice as an artist. All the later, well known elements are there: keen observation; wonderful timing; a love of intimacy and a formal, visual relationship with the subject; strong central characters; a respect for outsiders; an understanding of the pain of others; and “the poignancy of a direct personal encounter … [and] a passionate interest in the individual.”

My favourite photographs in this posting are the two images Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58 and Girl with schoolbooks stepping onto the curb, N.Y.C., 1957. There is a marvellous insouciance about these photographs, “the divineness in ordinary things” embedded in the innocence of youth. We could be these people caught half-stride in their young lives, lightly stepping onto the pavement of the future. The reciprocal gaze makes us stare, and stare again… for even as those photographs are glimpses, glances of a life they become so much more, long lasting archetypes to which we can all relate. As Arthur Lubow observes citing John Szarkowski, a longtime director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, “The reciprocal gaze that marks her early photographs would be furthered and intensified in the collaborative form of portraiture in her mature work, done with a medium-format camera. Szarkowski, for one, believed that the sharpness that larger film offered was in keeping with her aim to be both particular and mythic.”

Particular and mythic. How magical.

Not only did her work need the sharpness that medium format film offered, what a lot of people forget is that using a medium format camera like a Rollei is a totally different way of seeing the world. This is something that hardly anybody mentions. With a 35mm camera you bring the camera to your face and look through the viewfinder; with a medium format camera such as Arbus’ Rolleiflex or her Mamiya C330 (seen around her neck in a portrait of her in Central Park, below), the camera is held at waist level and you look down into the viewing prism of the camera… and everything is seen in reverse. I remember travelling around the world in 2000 and using a Mamiya C220 and thinking to myself, this is the most amazing experience staring down at the world, moving the camera left and right and the image moving the opposite way to what you think it will move, and then having to account for for parallax in the framing (where the image seen in the viewfinder is not framed the same as the image seen through the lens, because the viewfinder is in a slightly different position to the lens). Even with the one medium format image featured in this posting, I can just feel the different relationship of the camera and photographer to the world – in the format, in the cropping and in the previsualisation of the image. Looking down, back up to the subject, back down into the camera – instead of a horizontal perspective, both a horizontal, vertical and square perspective on the world. It’s all about feeling (in) her work. And you couldn’t really miss her if she wanted to take your photograph… look at all the equipment slung around her neck in her portrait in Central Park: twin lens hoods to stop glare, boom and large flash. She wanted you to know that she was there, to acknowledge her presence.

Arbus intuitively knew what she wanted – the presence of the person and the presence of the photographer acknowledged through a circular, two-way relationship. And we, the viewer, understand that process and acknowledge it. Hence, these photographs are not “apparently artless”, they are the very antithesis of that. They are both a thinking and feeling person’s photography. All of her photographs are intelligent investigations of the human condition which produce an empathic response in the viewer. They are a form of empathic vision in which the viewer is drawn into that magical and transcendent relationship. In my opinion, there has never been anyone like her, before or since: no devotees, followers or disciples (except, perhaps, Mary Ellen Mark). Arbus is one of a kind. She will always be my #1.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

The photographs from her early career reveal that the salient characteristics of her work – its centrality, boldness, intimacy and apparent artlessness – were present in her pictures since the very beginning. Arbus’s creative life in photography after 1962 is well documented and already the stuff of legend; now, for the first time, we can properly examine its origins.

 

 

diane arbus: in the beginning-web

 

 

“The camera is cruel, so I try to be as good as I can to make things even.”

“I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

“One thing that struck me early is that you don’t put into a photograph what’s going to come out. Or, vice versa, what comes out is not what you put in.”

“…I would never choose a subject for what it means to me. I choose a subject and then what I feel about it, what it means, begins to unfold. ”

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Diane Arbus

 

“I think Arbus was suggesting that just as people are looking at us and we’re looking at them every day, the pictures made us introspective as viewers. They forced us to confront our own identity. And that’s a really beautiful switch, that switcheroo. We’re looking at somebody else but we’re mindful of our voyeurism, and we’re mindful of how we ourselves are presenting. ‘How am I different? How did I become the person I am?’ That’s one of the qualifying elements of an Arbus photograph: that you feel something about you, often something that might not be comfortable.”

“Arbus’s early photographs are wonderfully rich in achievement and perhaps as quietly riveting and ultimately controversial as the iconic images for which she is so widely known. She brings us face-to-face with what she had first glimpsed at the age of 16 – “the divineness in ordinary things” – and through her photographs we begin to see it too.”

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Exhibition curator Jeff L. Rosenheim

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'diane arbus: in the beginning' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'diane arbus: in the beginning' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'diane arbus: in the beginning' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition diane arbus: in the beginning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

This landmark exhibition features more than 100 photographs that together redefine Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971), one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century. It focuses on the first seven years of her career, from 1956 to 1962, the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style and approach for which she has been recognized praised, criticized, and copied the world over.

Arbus made most of her photographs in New York City, where she lived and died, and where she worked in locations such as Times Square, the Lower East Side, and Coney Island. Her photographs of children and eccentrics, couples and circus performers, female impersonators and Fifth Avenue pedestrians are among the most intimate and surprising images of the era.

The majority of the photographs in the exhibition have never before been seen and are part of the Museum’s Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. It was only when the archive came to The Met that this remarkable early work came to be fully explored. Arbus’s creative life in photography after 1962 is well documented and already the stuff of legend; now, for the first time, we can properly examine its origins.

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Boy above a crowd, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Boy above a crowd, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus. 'Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Girl with a pointy hood and white schoolbag at the curb, N.Y.C. 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Girl with a pointy hood and white schoolbag at the curb, N.Y.C. 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Empty snack bar, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Empty snack bar, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Windblown headline on a dark pavement, N.Y.C., 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Windblown headline on a dark pavement, N.Y.C., 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Screaming woman with blood on her hands, 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Screaming woman with blood on her hands, 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

 

“As part of the inaugural season at The Met Breuer, diane arbus: in the beginning will open on July 12, featuring more than 100 photographs that together will redefine one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century. This landmark exhibition will highlight never-before-seen early work of Diane Arbus (1923-71), focusing on the first seven years of her career, from 1956 to 1962 – the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style and approach for which she has been recognized, praised, criticized, and copied the world over. The exhibition is made possible by the Alfred Stieglitz Society. Additional support is provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.

“It is a rare privilege to present an exhibition this revelatory, on an artist of Arbus’s stature. More than two-thirds of these works have never before been exhibited or published,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Met. “We sincerely thank the Estate of Diane Arbus for entrusting us to show an unknown aspect of this remarkable artist’s legacy with the camera.”

Jeff Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs, added, “Arbus’s early photographs are wonderfully rich in achievement and perhaps as quietly riveting and ultimately controversial as the iconic images for which she is so widely known. She brings us face-to-face with what she had first glimpsed at the age of 16 – ‘the divineness in ordinary things’ – and through her photographs we begin to see it too.”

diane arbus: in the beginning focuses on seven key years that represent a crucial period of the artist’s genesis, showing Arbus as she developed her style and honed her practice. Arbus was fascinated by photography even before she received a camera in 1941 at the age of 18 as a present from her husband, Allan, and made photographs intermittently for the next 15 years while working with him as a stylist in their fashion photography business. But in 1956 she numbered a roll of 35mm film #1, as if to claim to herself that this moment would be her definitive beginning. Through the course of the next seven years (the period in which she primarily used a 35mm camera), an evolution took place – from pictures of individuals that sprang out of fortuitous chance encounters to portraits in which the chosen subjects became engaged participants, with as much stake in the outcome as the photographer. This greatly distinguishes Arbus’s practice from that of her peers, from Walker Evans and Helen Levitt to Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, who believed that the only legitimate record was one in which they, themselves, appear to play little or no role. In almost complete opposition, Arbus sought the poignancy of a direct personal encounter.

Arbus made most of her photographs in New York City, where she was born and died, and where she worked in locations such as Times Square, the Lower East Side, Coney Island, and other areas. Her photographs of children and eccentrics, couples and circus performers, female impersonators and Fifth Avenue pedestrians are among the most intimate and surprising images of the era. From the beginning, Arbus believed fully that she had something special to offer the world, a glimpse of its many secrets: “I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

Nearly half of the photographs that Arbus printed during her lifetime were made between 1956 and 1962, the period covered by this exhibition. At the time of her death in 1971, much of this work was stored in boxes in an inaccessible corner of her basement darkroom at 29 Charles Street in Greenwich Village. These prints remained undiscovered for several years thereafter and were not even inventoried until a decade after her death. The majority of the photographs included in the exhibition are part of the Museum’s vast Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. It was only when the archive – a treasury of photographs, negatives, notebooks, appointment books, correspondence, and collections – came to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007 that this seminal early work began to be fully explored.

Among the highlights in the exhibition are lesser-known published works such as Lady on a bus, N.Y.C. 1957, Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58, The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961, and Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961, as well as completely unknown additions to her oeuvre, such as Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956, Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956, Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I. 1959, and Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960. Included among the selection of six square-format photographs from 1962 is the iconic Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962, a photograph that signals the moment when Arbus turned away from the 35mm camera and started working with the 2¼ inch square format Rolleiflex camera, a format that remained a distinctive attribute of her work for the rest of her life. The photographs from her early career reveal that the salient characteristics of her work – its centrality, boldness, intimacy, and apparent artlessness – were present in her pictures since the very beginning. Arbus’s creative life in photography after 1962 is well documented and already the stuff of legend; now, for the first time, we can properly examine its origins.

diane arbus: in the beginning is curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met.”

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Child teasing another, N.Y.C., 1960' 1960

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Child teasing another, N.Y.C., 1960
1960
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Boy at the pool hall, N.Y.C., 1959' 1959

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Boy at the pool hall, N.Y.C., 1959
1959
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Child in a nightgown, Wellfleet, Mass., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Child in a nightgown, Wellfleet, Mass., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Woman wearing a mink stole and bow shoes, N.Y.C., 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Woman wearing a mink stole and bow shoes, N.Y.C., 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 5 3/4 in. (21.6 x 14.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Danielle and David Ganek, 2005
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

 

ROSENHEIM There are many pictures from her first 50 rolls of film in the show. And you can see for yourself that she is already isolating individuals, pedestrians on Fifth Avenue. She is approaching people, and in almost every instance, it’s one image and the subject is addressing the camera. Arbus did not want to do what almost every one of her peers was doing, which she was highly aware of – she was well versed in the history of the medium; she was taking classes from Lisette Model and she had studied with Berenice Abbott and Alexey Brodovitch. What she took away from that training was this feeling that she could find her subject and they could find her in equal measure. She allowed herself to be vulnerable enough. Helen Levitt used a right-angle viewfinder so her subjects couldn’t see what she was doing. Walker Evans used the folds of his coat to hide his camera on the subway. The style of documentary photography was that you wanted to see but you didn’t want to be seen, and Arbus had a completely different method. It was to use the camera as an expressive device that allows the viewer of the photograph to be implicated by the subject looking directly at the artist.

Randy Kennedy. “The Diane Arbus You’ve Never Seen,” on the New York Times website 26 May 2016

 

“Arbus is not without her critics and, where some people praise her ability to celebrate the marginalized and glorify the unusual, others see her work as cruel and exploitative. Lubow, however, claims that both stances oversimplify the real complexity of her work, which is perhaps where both he and Jeff Rosenheim, the curator in charge of photography at the Met, take a stab at redefining Arbus, because if we define her solely by the people she photographed, we’re missing the point.

“I think both Jeff and I realized that from the beginning she wanted to capture a moment where she was seeing and being seen, she wanted a reciprocal look,” Lubow says. “Jeff is doing that formally, and showing you that she needed it as an artist, and I’ve tried to show that she needed it as a person. She was motivated to feel and to record the response of her subject to her. That was how she felt real, this was how she felt alive.””

Krystal Grow. “Diane Arbus and the Art of Exchange,” on the American Photo website July 16, 2016

 

“From the very beginning of her career, she was taking photographs to obtain a vital proof – a corroboration of her own existence. The pattern was set early. When she was 15, she described to a friend how she would undress at night in her lit bathroom and watch an old man across the courtyard watch her (until his wife complained). She not only wanted to see, she needed to be seen. As a street photographer, she dressed at times in something attention-grabbing, like a fake leopard-skin coat. She didn’t blend into the background, she jumped out of it. And she fascinated her subjects. “People were interested in Diane, just as interested in her as she was in them,” John Szarkowski, a longtime director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, once told me…

Diane had a talent for friendship, and she maintained long-term connections with all sorts of people – eccentrics in rooming houses, freaks in sideshows, socialites on Park Avenue. She needed those relationships. But she also relied on filmed verification of her impact on others. The reciprocal gaze that marks her early photographs would be furthered and intensified in the collaborative form of portraiture in her mature work, done with a medium-format camera. Szarkowski, for one, believed that the sharpness that larger film offered was in keeping with her aim to be both particular and mythic.”

Arthur Lubow. “How Diane Arbus Became ‘Arbus’,” on the New York Times website May 26, 2016

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58' 1957-58

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58
1957-58
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Girl with schoolbooks stepping onto the curb, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Girl with schoolbooks stepping onto the curb, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Kid in a hooded jacket aiming a gun, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Kid in a hooded jacket aiming a gun, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960' 1960

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960
1960
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Stripper with Bare Breasts Sitting in Her Dressing Room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Stripper with Bare Breasts Sitting in Her Dressing Room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I., 1959' 1959

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I., 1959
1959
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Elderly Woman Whispering to Her Dinner Partner, Grand Opera Ball, N.Y.C. 1959' 1959

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Elderly Woman Whispering to Her Dinner Partner, Grand Opera Ball, N.Y.C. 1959
1959
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Fire Eater at a Carnival, Palisades Park, N.J. 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Fire Eater at a Carnival, Palisades Park, N.J. 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus in Central Park with her Mamiya Camera in 1967

 

Diane Arbus in Central Park with her Mamiya Camera (330?) in 1967

 

Diane Arbus, 'Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962'

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962
1962
Silver gelatin print

 

 

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11
Oct
16

Exhibition: ‘Dream States: Contemporary Photographs and Video’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 16th May – 30th October 2016

 

The best fun I had with this posting was putting together the first twelve images. They seem to act as ‘strange attractors’, a feeling recognised by the curators of the exhibition if you view the first installation photograph by Anders Jones, below.

Marcus

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Many thankx to photographer Anders Jones and the Duggal website for allowing me to publish the installation photographs in the posting. See their posting about the exhibition.

 

 

Artists have always turned to dreams as a source of inspiration, a retreat from reason, and a space for exploring imagination and desire. In the history of photography, dreams have been most closely associated with the Surrealists, who pushed the technical limits of the medium to transform the camera’s realist documents into fantastical compositions. Whereas their modernist explorations were often bound to psychoanalytic theories, more recently contemporary photographers have pursued the world of sleep and dreams through increasingly open-ended works that succeed through evocation rather than description.

This exhibition takes a cue from the artists it features by displaying a constellation of photographs that collectively evoke the experience of a waking dream. Here, a night sky composed of pills, a fragmented rainbow, a sleeping fairy-tale princess, and an alien underwater landscape illuminate hidden impulses and longings underlying contemporary life. Drawn entirely from The Met collection, Dream States features approximately 30 photographs and video works primarily from the 1970s to the present.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Anselm Kiefer. 'Brünnhilde Sleeps' 1980

 

Anselm Kiefer (German, born Donaueschingen, 1945)
Brünnhilde Sleeps
1980
Acrylic and gouache on photograph
23 x 32 7/8in. (58.4 x 83.5cm)
Denise and Andrew Saul Fund, 1995
© Anselm Kiefer

 

 

Near the end of Wagner’s second opera of the Ring Cycle, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, having attempted to help the sibling lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde against their father’s wishes, is punished for her betrayal. Wotan puts her to sleep and surrounds her with a ring of fire (she will be awakened in turn by her nephew Siegfried, the incestuous son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, in the third opera of the cycle).

Kiefer portrays the dormant Brünnhilde as French actress Catherine Deneuve in François Truffaut’s film Mississippi Mermaid, using a photograph he snapped in a movie house in 1969. In the film, Deneuve plays a deceitful mail-order bride who comes to the island of Réunion to marry a plantation owner, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo. Aside from the parallels of love and betrayal in both the Ring Cycle and Truffaut’s film, Kiefer thought the choice of Deneuve for Brünnhilde both ironic and amusing: she was for him “the contrary of Brünnhilde. Very slim, very French, very cool, very sexy,” hinting that no man would go through fire to obtain Wagner’s corpulent, armored Valkyrie.

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002) 'La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)' 1939, printed c. 1970s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
La Buena Fama Durmiendo (The Good Reputation Sleeping)
1939, printed c. 1970s
Gelatin silver print
Mat: 16 × 20 in. (40.6 × 50.8 cm)
The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1973

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris) 'Versailles' 1924-25

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Versailles
1924-25
Salted paper print from glass negative
Image: 17.5 x 21.9 cm (6 7/8 x 8 5/8 in.)
Sheet: 18 × 21.9 cm (7 1/16 × 8 5/8 in.)
Mat: 16 × 20 in. (40.6 × 50.8 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005

 

 

From 1898 until his death in 1927, Atget exhaustively documented the remains of Old Paris: the city’s streets, monuments, interiors, and environs. Among the last entries in this self-directed preservationist effort was a series of images of landscapes and sculpture in the parks of Saint-Cloud and Versailles. Here, the photographer records a statue of a sleeping Ariadne, the mythical Cretan princess abandoned by her lover Theseus on the island of Naxos. Atget’s simultaneously realistic and otherworldly photographs inspired the Surrealist artist Man Ray, who reproduced four of them in a 1926 issue of the journal La Révolution Surréaliste, thus presenting the elder photographer as a modernist forerunner.

 

Robert Frank (American, born Zurich, 1924) 'Fourth of July, Coney Island' 1958

 

Robert Frank (American, born Zurich, 1924)
Fourth of July, Coney Island
1958
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26 x 35.6 cm (10 1/4 x 14 in.)
Mat: 18 1/2 × 22 1/2 in. (47 × 57.2 cm)
Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2002
© 2005 Robert Frank

 

 

As he traveled around the country in 1955-56 making the photographs that would constitute his landmark book, The Americans, Frank’s impression of America changed radically. He found less of the freedom and tolerance imagined by postwar Europeans, and more alienation and racial prejudice simmering beneath the happy surface. His disillusionment is poignantly embodied in this image of a disheveled African-American man disengaged from the crowd and asleep in a fetal position amid the debris of an Independence Day celebration on Coney Island.

This was one of the last still photographs Frank made before he devoted his creative energy to filmmaking in the early 1960s. As such, it may be interpreted as an elegy to still photography; the lone figure functions as a surrogate for Frank himself, as he turned his back on Life – like photojournalism to concentrate on the more personal, dreamlike imagery of his films.

 

Shannon Bool (Canadian, born 1972) 'Vertigo' 2015

 

Shannon Bool (Canadian, born 1972)
Vertigo
2015
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 13/16 × 11 13/16 in. (19.8 × 30 cm)
Gift of Shannon Bool and Daniel Faria Gallery, 2015
© Shannon Bool

 

 

This photogram – made without a camera by placing a collage of transparencies on a photosensitive sheet of paper and exposing it to light – is part of a series portraying psychoanalysts and their patients. Here, a patient on a Freudian couch is seen from above; the figure, sheathed in patterns of Maori origin, appears to come apart at the seams under the analyst’s scrutiny.

 

Nan Goldin (American, born Washington, D.C., 1953) 'French Chris on the Convertible, NYC' 1979

 

Nan Goldin (American, born Washington, D.C., 1953)
French Chris on the Convertible, NYC
1979
Silver dye bleach print
50.8 x 61cm (20 x 24in.)
Mat: 25 × 32 in. (63.5 × 81.3 cm)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2001
© Nan Goldin Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

 

 

Following in the tradition of Robert Frank and Helen Levitt, Goldin is her generation’s greatest practitioner of the “snapshot aesthetic” in photography-the intimate, diaristic mode that yields images that, in the right hands, are both spontaneous and carefully seen, tossed off and irreducibly right. In this early work, the artist has captured her friend as a Chatterton of the Lower East Side, lying across the back of a blue convertible with shirt open, eyes closed, and an empty can of Schaeffer beer by his side instead of arsenic – a contemporary vision of glamorous surrender for our own time.

 

Arthur Tress (American, born 1940) 'Boy in Flood Dream, Ocean City, New Jersey' 1972

 

Arthur Tress (American, born 1940)
Boy in Flood Dream, Ocean City, New Jersey
1972
Gelatin silver print
Mat: 18 × 18 in. (45.7 × 45.7 cm)
Gift of the artist, 1973

 

 

In the late 1960s, Tress began audio-recording children recounting their dreams and nightmares. He then collaborated with the young people, who acted out their tales for the camera, and published the resulting surreal images in the 1972 book The Dream Collector. Many of the children shared common nightmare scenarios such as falling, drowning, and being trapped, chased by monsters, or humiliated in the classroom. Here, a young boy clings to the roof of a home that has washed ashore as if after a flood. The desolate landscape evokes the sort of non-place characteristic of dreams and conveys feelings of loneliness and abandonment.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Photo by Anders Jones

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featuring at lower right, Nan Goldin’s French Chris on the Convertible, NYC (1979)
Photo by Anders Jones

 

Sophie Calle (French, born Paris, 1953) 'Gloria K., first sleeper. Anne B., second sleeper' 1979

 

Sophie Calle (French, born Paris, 1953)
Gloria K., first sleeper. Anne B., second sleeper
1979
Gelatin silver prints
12.6 x 18.4cm (4 15/16 x 7 1/4in.) Mat: 14 × 17 in. (35.6 × 43.2 cm)
Gift of the artist and Olivier Renaud-Clement, in memory of Gilles Dusein, 2000
© Sophie Calle

 

Sophie Calle (French, born Paris, 1953) 'Gloria K., first sleeper. Anne B., second sleeper' 1979

 

Sophie Calle (French, born Paris, 1953)
Gloria K., first sleeper. Anne B., second sleeper
1979
Gelatin silver prints
12.6 x 18.4cm (4 15/16 x 7 1/4in.) Mat: 14 × 17 in. (35.6 × 43.2 cm)
Gift of the artist and Olivier Renaud-Clement, in memory of Gilles Dusein, 2000
© Sophie Calle

 

 

While obviously indebted to the deadpan photo-text combinations of Conceptualism, Calle’s art is as purely French at its core as the novels of Marguerite Duras and the films of Alain Resnais – an intimate exploration of memory, desire, and obsessive longing. The artist’s primary method involves a perfectly calibrated interplay between narrative and image, both of which steadily approach their object of desire only to find another blind spot-that which can never be captured through language or representation.

This work is the first segment of Calle’s first work, The Sleepers (1979), in which the artist invited twenty-nine friends and acquaintances to sleep in her bed consecutively between April 1 and April 9, during which time she photographed them once an hour and kept notes recording each encounter. All the elements of Calle’s art-from the voyeuristic inversion of the private sphere (rituals of the bedroom) and the public (the book or gallery wall) to the use of serial, repetitive structures-are present here in embryonic form.

 

Paul Graham (British, born 1956) 'Senami, Christchurch, New Zealand' 2011

 

Paul Graham (British, born 1956)
Senami, Christchurch, New Zealand
2011
Chromogenic print
Image: 44 1/4 in. × 59 in. (112.4 × 149.9 cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel and Hideyuki Osawa Gift, 2015

 

 

Graham’s series, Does Yellow Run Forever?, juxtaposes three groups of photographs: rainbows arcing over the Irish countryside, the facades of pawn-and-jewelry shops in New York, and tender studies of his partner asleep. The thematic links between the images (the rainbow’s mythical pot of gold, the sparkling objects in the Harlem window display, and a sleeping dreamer) may seem obvious, even pat, but Graham’s photographs transmute those clichés into a constellation of deep feeling. These luminous vignettes evoke a sense of longing and pathos, the quest for something permanent amid the illusory and devalued.

 

Peter Hujar (American, Trenton, New Jersey 1934-1987 New York) 'Girl in My Hallway' 1976

 

Peter Hujar (American, Trenton, New Jersey 1934-1987 New York)
Girl in My Hallway
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 37 x 37.1 cm (14 9/16 x 14 5/8 in.)
Mat: 25 × 25 in. (63.5 × 63.5 cm)
Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2006
© The Peter Hujar Archive, L.L.C.

 

Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brașov 1899-1984 Côte d'Azur) 'A Vagrant Sleeping in Marseille' 1935, printed 1940s

 

Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brașov 1899-1984 Côte d’Azur)
A Vagrant Sleeping in Marseille
1935, printed 1940s
Gelatin silver print
17.2 x 23.3cm (6 3/4 x 9 3/16in.)
Mat: 17 × 14 in. (43.2 × 35.6 cm)
Gift of the artist, 1980
Photograph by Brassaï. Copyright © Gilberte Brassaï

 

 

The inevitable suggestion that the homeless, hungry man sprawled on the sidewalk might be dreaming of a finely dressed and improbably large salad links Brassaï’s photograph to the work of the Surrealists. Although he frequently depicted thugs, vagrants, and prostitutes, he did so without judgment or political motive; his were pictures meant to delight or perplex the eye and mind-not to prompt a social crusade.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Photo by Anders Jones

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featuring at left, Paul Graham’s Gold Town Jewellery, East Harlem, New York (2012) and at right, Paul Graham’s Senami, Christchurch, New Zealand (2011), both from the series Does Yellow Run Forever?
Photo by Anders Jones

 

 

“The psychological fluidity of the medium has been noted before by the Met. In 1993, to celebrate its purchase of the Gilman Collection, the curator Maria Morris Hambourg chose to call her exhibition The Waking Dream. The title came from Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” and suggested, in Hambourg’s words, “the haunting power of photographs to commingle past and present, to suspend the world and the artist’s experience of it in unique distillations.”

Conceptual latitude can benefit curators, giving them plenty of room to maneuver in making their selections, or it can be a detriment if a loose framework has so many sides that it won’t support an argument.

Dream States suffers from the latter, even though the leeway of the title allows splendid pictures in disparate styles to be displayed together. Organized by associate curator Mia Fineman and assistant curator Beth Saunders around a theme that isn’t notably pertinent or provocative, the show has no discernible reason for being. It isn’t stocked with recent purchases – fewer than ten of the works entered the collection in this decade – and it isn’t tightly edited. To quality for inclusion here a photograph need only depict someone lying down or with eyes closed. A “dream state” seems to be loosely defined. It can be as a starry or cloudless sky; a tree-less landscape; inverted or abstract imagery; or something blurry.”

Richard B. Woodward. “Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video @Met,” on the Collector Daily website July 11, 2016 [Online] Cited 06/10/2016

 

Jack Goldstein (American, born Canada, 1945-2003) 'The Pull' 1976

 

Jack Goldstein (American, born Canada, 1945-2003)
The Pull
1976
Chromogenic prints
Frame: 76.2 x 101.6 cm (30 x 40 in.) each
Purchase, The Buddy Taub Foundation Gift and Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2009
© The Estate of Jack Goldstein

 

 

Born in the postwar baby boom, Goldstein grew up surrounded by the products of the rapidly expanding media culture-movies, television, newspapers, magazines, and advertisements of all kinds. Young artists such as Goldstein went on to be educated in the rigorous and reductive principles of Minimal and Conceptual art during the 1970s but knew from personal experience that images shape our sense of the world and who we are, rather than vice versa; they made their art reflect that secondhand relationship to reality.

In this early work, Goldstein has lifted, or “appropriated,” images of a deep sea diver, a falling figure, and a spaceman from unknown printed sources-isolating them from their original contexts and setting them at a very small scale against monochromatic backgrounds (green for sea, blue for sky, and white for space), as if the viewer were seeing them from a great distance. Because the viewer is unlikely to have seen such figures firsthand, that distance is not merely spatial but also epistemological in nature-the images trigger memories based not on original encounters but on reproductions of experience. The Pull – Goldstein’s only photographic work in a career that spanned painting, performance, film, and sound recordings – was included in “Pictures,” a seminal 1977 exhibition at Artist’s Space in New York, which also introduced the public to other young artists making use of appropriation, such as Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Troy Brauntuch.

 

Sarah Anne Johnson (Canadian, born 1976) 'Glitter Bomb' 2012

 

Sarah Anne Johnson (Canadian, born 1976)
Glitter Bomb
2012
Chromogenic print with glitter and acrylic paint
Sheet: 29 7/8 in. × 53 in. (75.9 × 134.6 cm)
Purchase, Funds from Various Donors in memory of Randie Malinsky, 2016
© Sarah Anne Johnson

 

 

Johnson works primarily with photography but also employs a variety of other media – sculpted figurines, dioramas, paint, ink, and bursts of glitter – to amplify the emotional power of her images. Glitter Bomb belongs to a series exploring the bacchanalian culture of summer music festivals. At once ominous and ecstatic, the image evokes the blissed-out mind-set of young revelers taking part in a modern-day rite of passage.

 

Oliver Wasow (American, born 1960) 'Float' 1984-2008, printed 2009

 

Oliver Wasow (American, born 1960)
Float
1984-2008, printed 2009
Inkjet prints
Frame: 17.3 x 22.3 cm (6 13/16 x 8 3/4 in.)
Overall: 116.8 x 152.4 cm (46 x 60 in.)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010
© Oliver Wasow

 

 

Wasow has a long-standing fascination with science fiction, apocalyptic fantasies, and documentation of unidentified flying objects. In his many pictures of mysterious floating disks and orbs, the artist courts doubt by running found images through a battery of processes, including drawing, photocopying, and superimposition, to create distortions. The resulting photographs play with the human propensity to invest form with meaning, offering just enough detail to spur the imagination.

 

Fred Tomaselli (American, born Santa Monica, California, 1956) 'Portrait of Laura' 2015

 

Fred Tomaselli (American, born Santa Monica, California, 1956)
Portrait of Laura
2015
Gelatin silver print with graphite
Image: 16 in. × 19 15/16 in. (40.6 × 50.6 cm)
Mat: 24 3/4 × 25 3/4 in. (62.9 × 65.4 cm)
Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2016
© Fred Tomaselli

 

 

This “portrait” of the artist’s wife, Laura, belongs to an ongoing series he calls “chemical celestial portraits of inner and outer space.” Tomaselli creates likenesses based on each sitter’s astrological sign and the star map for his or her date of birth. Placing sugar and pills on photographic paper and exposing it to light, he produces a photogram of the corresponding constellation and names the stars after the various drugs the subject remembers consuming, from cold medicine to cocaine. The result is an unconventional map of identity that cleverly weds the mystical and the pharmacological.

 

Bea Nettles (American, born Gainesville, Florida, 1946) 'Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards' 1975

Bea Nettles (American, born Gainesville, Florida, 1946) 'Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards' 1975

Bea Nettles (American, born Gainesville, Florida, 1946) 'Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards' 1975

Bea Nettles (American, born Gainesville, Florida, 1946) 'Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards' 1975

 

Bea Nettles (American, born Gainesville, Florida, 1946)
Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards
1975
Photographically illustrated tarot cards
Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1977

 

 

The idea to create a set of photographic tarot cards came to Nettles in a dream during the summer of 1970, while she was on an artist’s residency in the mountains of North Carolina. She subsequently reinterpreted the ancient symbolism of the traditional tarot deck, enlisting friends and family members as models for photographs that she augmented with hand-painted additions. In 2007 the image Nettles created for the Three of Swords card was used as the disc graphic for Bruce Springsteen’s album Magic.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Photo by Anders Jones

 

Installation view of the exhibition Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featuring Bea Nettles’ Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards (1975)
Photo by Anders Jones

 

 

“Artists often turn to dreams as a source of inspiration, a retreat from reason, and a space for exploring imagination and desire. In the history of photography, dream imagery has been most closely associated with the Surrealists, who used experimental techniques to bridge the gap between the camera’s objectivity and the internal gaze of the mind’s eye. While those modernist explorations were often bound to psychoanalytic theories, other photographers have pursued the world of sleep and dreams through deliberately open-ended works that succeed through evocation rather than description. The exhibition Dream States: Contemporary Photographs and Video presents 30 photographs and one video drawn from The Met collection, all loosely tied to the subjective yet universal experience of dreaming. The exhibition is on view at the Museum from May 16 through October 30, 2016.

Many of the works take the surrender of sleep as their subject matter. In photographs by Robert Frank, Danny Lyon, and Nan Goldin, recumbent figures appear vulnerable to the wandering gaze of onlookers, yet their inner worlds remain out of reach. Images of bodies floating and falling conjure the tumultuous world of dreams, and landscapes are made strange through the camera’s selective vision. Highlights include photographs by Paul Graham from his recent series Does Yellow Run Forever (2014); images from Sophie Calle’s earliest body of work, The Sleepers (1979), in which she invited friends and acquaintances to sleep in her own bed while she watched; and Anselm Kiefer’s Brünnhilde Sleeps (1980), a hand-painted photograph featuring French actress Catherine Deneuve recast as a Wagnerian Valkyrie. Also featured are recently acquired works by Shannon Bool, Sarah Anne Johnson, Jim Shaw, and Fred Tomaselli.

Dream States: Contemporary Photographs and Video is organized by Mia Fineman, Associate Curator; and Beth Saunders, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Grete Stern (Argentinian, born Germany, 1904-1999) 'Sueño No. 1: "Articulos eléctricos para el hogar" (Dream No. 1: "Electrical Household items")' c. 1950

 

Grete Stern (Argentinian, born Germany, 1904-1999)
Sueño No. 1: “Articulos eléctricos para el hogar” (Dream No. 1: “Electrical Household items”)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Image: 26.6 x 22.9 cm (10 1/2 x 9 in.)
Frame: 63.5 x 76.2 cm (25 x 30 in.)
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2012

 

 

In 1948 the Argentine women’s magazine Idilio introduced a weekly column called “Psychoanalysis Will Help You,” which invited readers to submit their dreams for analysis. Each week, one dream was illustrated with a photomontage by Stern, a Bauhaus-trained photographer and graphic designer who fled Berlin for Buenos Aires when the Nazis came to power. Over three years, Stern created 140 photomontages for the magazine, translating the unconscious fears and desires of its predominantly female readership into clever, compelling images. Here, a masculine hand swoops in to “turn on” a lamp whose base is a tiny, elegantly dressed woman. Rarely has female objectification been so erotically and electrically charged.

 

Adam Fuss (British, born 1961) 'From the series "My Ghost"' 1999

 

Adam Fuss (British, born 1961)
From the series “My Ghost”
1999
Gelatin silver print
184.9 x 123.3 cm (72 13/16 x 48 9/16 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2000
© Adam Fuss

 

 

With his large-scale photograms, Fuss has breathed new life into the cameraless technique that became the hallmark of modernist photographers such as Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy in the 1920s. He created this image by blowing thick clouds of smoke over a sheet of photographic paper and exposing it to a quick flash of light. Evoking the wizardry of a medieval alchemist, Fuss fixes a permanent image of evanescence.

 

 

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16
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 24th August 2015 – 3rd January 2016

 

 

The photograph as unoccupied land

To be frank, I am not enamoured of these photographs. They seem to be conceptual ideas masquerading as documentary photographs that evidence a lazy way of seeing the world, one in which the untold narrative has become an empty spectacle. The story, such as it is, is only narrativised by the accompanying text. If an image cannot stand on its own two feet in and of itself without lines of text to support its supposition, then it is not doing its job properly.

The framing is sloppy and the focus of the images is poor. For example, the focus of Template for digging graves, Pomfret is the shadow at the front of the photograph, where the real focus should have been the template and the graves beyond with their horizontals and verticals. This would have made for a much stronger photograph because the foreground and the background are extraneous to the image.

Ractliffe really needs to look at the documentary photographers of the 19th century to see how it is done. The aftermath of conflict photographs of the American Civil War by photographers such as Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan (and here I am not talking about the battlefield photographs) have a robust narrative quality that this artist could only ever hope to achieve. Their photographs possess a clear and consistent vision, a deep aesthetic that is emergent, based on transparence, a ruddy darkness and textural ambience – rather than an aesthetic that is superficially descriptive of surfaces.

This lack of understanding of the depth of contested place/disputed histories can be no better illustrated than in the diptych The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale (2009, below) whose photographs really say nothing about what went on here. The photographs are prescriptive (relating to the imposition or enforcement of a rule or method) statements constructed by the artist, with no emotion and little ambience or feeling for subject matter. They are not even very good descriptive photographs of the landscape. Photographs such as Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (2009, below) and Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa (2007, below) are worse, recording inarticulate artefacts at a level best reserved for student work.

By far the most interesting and powerful photograph is Roadside stall on the way to Viana (2007, below). This photograph is memorable as so many of the other are not, because it possesses a sense of disposition, of alienation, ambience and the weight of history all bound up in those hanging bodies.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Vacant plot near Atlantico Sul' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Vacant plot near Atlantico Sul
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This coarse, grassy landscape appears at first glance to be empty, yet the billboard declaring “Terreno Ocupado” – Portuguese for “occupied land” – reveals this site in Luanda as both active and politically charged. It points to Angola’s long history of occupation and territorial turmoil, from the arrival of Portuguese explorers in 1483 through to the tangled twentieth-century conflicts that spilled over into neighboring countries. It also points to the contested terrain that is today’s Luanda. With this image, the opening photograph of the first series, Ractliffe sets the scene for her exploration of land, borders, and displacement, themes which thread through all the works featured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Woman and her baby, Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Woman and her baby, Roque Santeiro market
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Conflict between Luanda’s population and its governing elites forms an undercurrent to this photograph of a young woman carrying a baby across litter-strewn ground, observed by a man wearing a military beret. In September 2010, three years after Ractliffe took these photographs and following a protracted dispute between the government and the local community, the Luandan authorities closed down Roque Santeiro and relocated it to a new Chinese-built facility at Panguila, some twelve miles to the north. Although the government cited concerns over insanitary conditions and organized crime, critics argued that the relocation had more to do with repossessing prime real estate for new luxury apartments.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Woman on the footpath from Boa Vista to Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Woman on the footpath from Boa Vista to Roque Santeiro market
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Apparently out of breath and clutching a plastic bag, the woman in the foreground of this photograph is making her way up a faintly visible footpath and out of Ractliffe’s field of vision. A digger perches on the cliff top above her, and in the middle distance, a cluster of dwellings clings precariously to the litter-strewn side of the ravine. Boa Vista – “good view” – is one of Luanda’s largest shanty towns, and at the time of this photograph was home to over 50,000 people. Following landslides in 2001 which killed several residents, parts of the neighborhood were bulldozed and over 4,000 families were evicted from their homes and relocated to tents in other parts of the city while awaiting the construction of their new accommodation.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Video club, Roque Santeiro market' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Video club, Roque Santeiro market
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Before its closure in 2010, Roque Santeiro was renowned as the biggest open-air market in sub-Saharan Africa, and the center of Angola’s informal economy. Established in the 1980s and named after a popular Brazilian soap opera, it flourished during the Angolan Civil War as streams of refugees fled the countryside and came to Luanda, searching for new livelihoods. Everything was for sale in its makeshift stalls, from household items, food, and clothes, to contraband alcohol, cars, and livestock. In this photograph Ractliffe focuses on one of the market’s many video clubs, which were housed in military-style tents and screened action movies on televisions powered by generators.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) ''God with us', Pomfret' 2011

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
‘God with us’, Pomfret
2011
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm) Width: 22 1/16 in. (56 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The abandoned mining town of Pomfret is located in the far north of South Africa, near the border with Botswana. After the closure of its asbestos mine, the town was converted into a military base and used to accommodate 32 Battalion, an elite Special Forces unit made up of Angolan soldiers. When the unit was disbanded in 1993, most of the veterans and their families stayed in Pomfret, living in abject conditions without basic services and under constant threat of eviction. Ractliffe has spoken of finding graves there marked only with “Born Angola”; for the veterans whose paths ended here, death in Pomfret was “the final displacement”.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Unidentified memorial in the desert, south of Namibe I' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Unidentified memorial in the desert, south of Namibe I
2009
From the series As Terras do Fim do Mundo
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph, an assemblage of objects perches on a stony outcrop, surrounded by a barren expanse of desert. The long pole protruding from the pile is topped with a ragged banner, announcing the presence of this unusual memorial, but giving little away about its exact significance. Ractliffe took this photograph close to the Cuban base at Namibe on Angola’s southwestern coast, where an extensive network of trenches, bunkers, and anti-aircraft defenses is located. As Ractliffe has remarked: “there are some very poignant things in the landscape, like these markers, that seem to say ‘I have been here, people have been here.'”

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale' (diptych left) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale' (diptych right) 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
The battlefield at Cuito Cuanavale (diptych left and right)
2009
From the series As Terras do Fim do Mundo
Inkjet prints, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

Reflecting on this diptych, Ractliffe has observed that “Quite often, sites of significance don’t evidence their historical weight.” It is true that the calm landscape – muddy riverbanks weaving through a marsh – together with the small size of these prints belies the huge historical importance of their subject. In 1987-88, during the Angolan Civil War, Cuito Cuanavale was the site of the biggest battle in Africa since World War II. On one side was the armed wing of Agostinho Neto’s government, supported by their Cuban allies; on the other side was the rebel group UNITA, supported by the South African Defence Force. The outcome of the battle is still widely disputed, with both sides claiming victory.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Thorn tree, Platfontein' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Thorn tree, Platfontein
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the next one, “Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein”, the placement of personal objects in a seemingly unforgiving setting hints at the tension between resilience and vulnerability negotiated by the resident community. The settlement of Platfontein is now home to veterans of 31/201 Battalion, a South African Special Forces unit made up of Angolan and Namibian San trackers who became tied up in the independence conflicts in Angola and Namibia. After the conflicts ended, many of the San veterans were relocated to Schmidtsdrift, but had to live in tents for 14 years because of a competing claim on the land from local communities. The veterans ultimately accepted financial compensation, which enabled them to buy land at Platfontein, pictured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Playing soccer with marbles, Platfontein
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 10 1/4 in. (26 cm) Width: 12 13/16 in. (32.5 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the previous one, “Thorn tree, Platfontein”, the placement of personal objects in a seemingly unforgiving setting hints at the tension between resilience and vulnerability negotiated by the resident community. The settlement of Platfontein is now home to veterans of 31/201 Battalion, a South African Special Forces unit made up of Angolan and Namibian San trackers who became tied up in the independence conflicts in Angola and Namibia. After the conflicts ended, many of the San veterans were relocated to Schmidtsdrift, but had to live in tents for 14 years because of a competing claim on the land from local communities. The veterans ultimately accepted financial compensation, which enabled them to buy land at Platfontein, pictured here.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Template for digging graves, Pomfret' 2013

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Template for digging graves, Pomfret
2013
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Veteran soldiers of 'Omega' 31/201 Battalion, Paulo Cassanga and Automover Kakenge, Schmidtsdrift (portrait under instruction)' 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Veteran soldiers of ‘Omega’ 31/201 Battalion, Paulo Cassanga and Automover Kakenge, Schmidtsdrift (portrait under instruction)
2012
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 14 3/16 in. (36 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The veterans’ experiences are given added poignancy in this portrait, in which they stand in front of a tarpaulin hanging untidily from a derelict building. Automover Kakenge, standing on the right, is the leader of a group of San veterans who refused to move to Platfontein after their land claim at Schmidtsdrift was unsuccessful. Kakenge has stated that “Schmidtsdrift was the ending for us […]. When we were relocated from Namibia, we had to swear, “South Africa is our land, and our house is here in Schmidtsdrift.” This attachment to the land and buildings at Schmidtsdrift is the endpoint of what Ractliffe refers to as an “epic narrative of displacement”.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'On the Road to Cuito Cuanavale I' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
On the Road to Cuito Cuanavale I
2009
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine' 2011

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Donkey, Pomfret Asbestos Mine
2011
From the series The Borderlands
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning August 24 features 23 works produced over the past 10 years by South African artist Jo Ractliffe (born 1961). The photographs examine the landscapes of Angola and South Africa as sites of conflict and contention. Focusing on the aftermath of the Angolan Civil War and the intertwined conflict known in South Africa as the “Border War,” her photographs address themes of dispossession, history, memory, and erasure. The exhibition highlights Ractliffe’s engagement with the land and structures of Angola’s capital, Luanda, as well as with places in the Angolan and South African countryside where unmarked mass graves, minefields, and former military testing sites reveal the complex traces of the past in the present.

The 23 works on loan from the artist include single images, diptychs, and triptychs selected from three photographic series: Terreno Ocupado (2007), As Terras do Fim do Mundo (2010), and The Borderlands (2013). In Terreno Ocupado, Ractliffe establishes the city of Luanda as a multilayered place of both historical dispute and present-day struggle. Photographs highlighting the Portuguese colonial occupation of Angola and its imprint on the built environment appear alongside works depicting the often harsh economic conditions of Luanda today. By focusing on the structural instability of the city’s shanty towns, as well as the longer history of political instability threading through their foundations, these photographs question what it means for land to be occupied, abandoned, and struggled over.

The works selected from 2010’s As Terras do Fim do Mundo highlight traces of the Border War, a conflict fought in rural Angola and present-day Namibia between South Africa and its allies on one side and, on the other, the exiled Namibian liberation movement, the Angolan government, and their allies. For this series, Ractliffe traveled alongside ex-soldiers returning to the desolate places where they had fought. The images produced on these trips include photographs of unmarked mass graves, minefields, and other often-inconspicuous signs of past conflict, showing how landscape can function as a repository of histories and memories and yet not be apparent at first glance. Most of the photographs in this series appear devoid of human presence, but in a triptych featuring mural representations of the conflict’s three key political leaders – Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto, and Leonid Brezhnev – Ractliffe points more directly to notions of individual agency, culpability, and experience.

For her most recent series, The Borderlands, Ractliffe sought out sites in South Africa that were intricately connected to the history of the Border War and photographed their inhabitants amid their surroundings. The people she photographed, often the subjects of forced relocation and living in precarious conditions, exist at the intersection of the region’s troubled history and challenging present. Works from this series show how histories of violence and dispossession under apartheid intersect with these militarized landscapes.

The Aftermath of Conflict has been organized to coincide with the special exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty, which focuses on works created by artists in present-day Angola between the 16th and 19th centuries (on view at the Metropolitan Museum September 17, 2015 – January 3, 2016). The landscapes captured by Ractliffe consider a more recent chapter of Angola’s history. The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe’s Photographs of Angola and South Africa is curated by Yaëlle Biro, Associate Curator in the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum, together with Dr Evelyn Owen, the 2013-2015 Mellon Curatorial Fellow at The Africa Center, New York, in collaboration with the Museum’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art and Department of Photographs.”

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Man maintaining the lawn of the Monumento de Agostinho Neto' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Man maintaining the lawn of the Monumento de Agostinho Neto
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This monument to Angola’s first president Agostinho Neto (1922-79) was erected in 2001-2 as a gift from North Korea. Neto, a doctor and poet, was a founder of the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and led the party during Angola’s struggle for independence from Portugal. When the Portuguese withdrew from Angola on November 11, 1975, with help from Cuba and in the face of competing anti-colonial factions, the MPLA seized control of Luanda and Neto became president. He went on to cultivate closer ties with the Soviet Union and other communist states. In this photograph, Ractliffe contrasts the heroic figure symbolizing freedom from colonialism shown on the monument’s pedestal with the everyday heroism of a man pushing a heavy lawnmower.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Banco Nacional de Angola (diptych left) 2007

Ractliffe-banco-nacional-RIGHT-WEB

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Banco Nacional de Angola (diptych left and right)
2007
Inkjet prints, 2015
Height: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm) Width: 17 11/16 in. (45 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The National Bank of Angola building was designed by Portuguese architect Vasco Regaleira and inaugurated in 1956 by Portuguese president Francisco Lopes. The building’s pink exterior, with its imposing dome and colonnade, was intended to fit in with other colonial-style buildings in Luanda. The bank’s lavish décor provides a dramatic contrast to many of Ractliffe’s other photographs of the city, especially the marble atrium, which features tiled murals portraying the arrival of the Portuguese in Angola. In the image to the right (bottom above), Portuguese explorers are depicted disembarking from their ship and erecting a padrão; these large limestone markers were inscribed with the Portuguese coat of arms and positioned at key locations along the coast by Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão in 1483. An original padrão is currently on view in the exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Roadside stall on the way to Viana' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Roadside stall on the way to Viana
2007
From the series Terreno Ocupado
Inkjet print, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this photograph and the next one, “Wreck of a Chinese ship at Ilha”, stretches of bare ground in and around Luanda form the backdrop to ghostly signs of economic activity. Workmen’s overalls dangle from a tree at a roadside stall next to a taxi rank, and a grounded ship basks on a deserted beach while other vessels float offshore. Before it capsized in the mid-2000s, this ship transported and housed Chinese workers drawn to Angola by the many Chinese-run infrastructure projects in the country. These images reflect Angola’s diverse economy where a globalized workforce and the informal sector both play important roles, yet the absence of the workers themselves is striking.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 2' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 2
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 4' 2007

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Details of tiled murals at the Fortaleza De São Miguel, depicting Portuguese explorations in Africa 4
2007
Inkjet print, 2015
Height: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm) Width: 13 3/4 in. (35 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

This photograph and the previous one were taken inside the Fortaleza de São Miguel, a fort originally built in 1576 by Paulo Dias de Novais, the explorer who “founded” Luanda. It later became the administrative heart of the Portuguese colony of Angola in its important role as a trading center and slaving hub. In 1938 the fort was transformed into the home of the Museum of Angola, and the tiled murals shown here were commissioned at this time. Depicting the flora, fauna and history of Angola, these cobalt-blue 18th-century style tiles were inspired by early modern European prints depicting the Kongo and Angola kingdoms, and represented an attempt to legitimize the ongoing Portuguese presence in the country. Sources included Olfert Dapper’s 1668 “Description of Africa” from which the map fragment shown here is drawn.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych left) 2012

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych middle) 2012

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych right) 2012

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Decommissioned military outpost, Schmidtsdrift (triptych left, middle and right)
2012
From the series The Borderlands
Inkjet prints, 2015
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

In this triptych, Ractliffe’s focal point is a ghostly ensemble of deserted military buildings. Schmidtsdrift’s original inhabitants were forcibly relocated in the 1950s-70s under the apartheid regime’s policy of racial segregation. From 1974 the emptied settlement was used as a military training base by the South African Defence Force, which was fighting against the exiled Namibian liberation movement and the Angolan army in a conflict later referred to in South Africa as the “Border War”. Now that the war is over, the decommissioned buildings remain, testifying to the region’s past conflicts and histories of forced relocation.

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (detail) 2009

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961) 'Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo' 2009

 

Jo Ractliffe (South African, born 1961)
Mural depicting Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Brezhnev, circa 1975, Viriambundo (details)
2009
Inkjet prints, 2015
Height: 15 3/4 in. (40 cm) Width: 19 11/16 in. (50 cm)
On loan from the artist, courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

 

The central figure of Agostinho Neto, Angola’s anti-colonial leader and president from 1975-79, is flanked by Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro on the left, and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the right. This mural personifies the threats of African Nationalism and Communism that propelled South Africa to become involved in the Border War. It highlights the fact that the Angolan Civil War was also a Cold War battleground, with Cuba and the Soviet Union on the side of Neto’s party, the MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola), and South Africa and the United States supporting UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola). Here, all three men still command a presence despite their faded, cartoon-like rendering.

 

 

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

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

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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01
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Naked Before the Camera’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 27th March – 9th September 2012

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

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Franck-François-Genès Chauvassaignes (French, 1831 – after 1900)
Untitled [Female Nude in Studio]
1856-59
Salted paper print from glass negative
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1998

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Eugène Durieu (French, 1800 – 1874)
Untitled [Seated Female Nude]
1853-54
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Henry R. Kravis Gift, 2005

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Charles Alphonse Marlé (French, 1821 – after 1867)
Untitled [Standing Male Nude]
ca. 1855
Salted paper print from paper negative
Purchase, Ezra Mack Gift and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1991

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Félix-Jacques-Antoine Moulin (French, 1800 – after 1875)
Untitled [Two Standing Female Nudes]
ca. 1850
Daguerreotype
The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Anonymous Gift and Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1997

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“Depicting the human body has been among the greatest challenges, preoccupations, and supreme achievements of artists for centuries. The nude – even in generalized or idealized renderings – has triggered impassioned discussions about sin, sexuality, cultural identity, and canons of beauty, especially when the chosen medium is photography, with its inherent accuracy and specificity. Through September 9, 2012, Naked before the Camera, an exhibition of more than 60 photographs selected from the renowned holdings of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, surveys the history of this subject and explores some of the motivations and meanings that underlie photographers’ fascination with the nude.

“In every culture and across time, artists have been captivated by the human figure,” commented Thomas P. Campbell, Director of the Metropolitan. “In ‘Naked before the Camera’, we see how photographers have used their medium to explore this age-old subject and create compelling new images.”

The exhibition begins in the 19th century, when photographs often served artists as substitutes for live models. Such “studies for artists” were known to have been used by the French painter Gustave Courbet, whose Woman with a Parrot (1866), for instance, is strikingly similar to photographer Julien Vallou de Villeneuve’s Female Nude of 1853. Even when their stated purpose was to aid artists, however, the best of these 19th-century photographs of the nude were also intended as works of art in their own right. Two recently acquired photographs, made in the mid-1850s by an unknown French artist, are striking examples. Not only are they larger than all other photographic nudes from the time, they stand out due to an extraordinary surface pattern that interrupts the images and suggests a view through gossamer or a photograph printed on finely pleated silk rather than paper. The elegant Female Nude harkens back to an Eve or Venus and is vignetted by the camera lens as if seen through a peephole, while her male counterpart is shown in strict profile in a pose that recalls precedents from antiquity. Each figure draws from the past while being presented in a strikingly modern way, without any equivalent among other 19th-century studies for artists.

Not all photographers of the nude were motivated by artistic desire. The second section of Naked before the Camera includes photographs made for medical and forensic purposes, as ethnographic studies, as tools to analyze anatomy and movement, and – not surprisingly – as erotica. The lines between such categories were not always clearly drawn; some photographers called their images “studies for artists” merely to evade the censors, while viewers of the G. W. Wilson Studio’s Zulu Girls (1892-93) or Paul Wirz’s ethnographic photographs of scantily clad Indonesians from the 1910s and 1920s were undoubtedly titillated by the blending of exoticism and eroticism.

Beginning in the fertile period of modernist experimentation that followed on the heels of World War I, photographers such as Brassaï, Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, André Kertész, and Bill Brandt found in the human body a perfect vehicle for both visual play and psycho-sexual exploration. In Distortion #6 (1932) by André Kertész, a woman’s body is stretched and pulled in the reflections of a fun-house mirror – a figure from a Surrealist dream that stands in stark contrast to the images of perfect feminine beauty by earlier photographers.

In mid-20th-century America, photographers more often communicated an intimate connection with their subjects. Following the example of Alfred Stieglitz’s famed portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe, photographers such as Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, and Emmet Gowin made many nude studies of their wives. Callahan’s photograph of his wife and daughter, Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago (1954), for instance, gives the viewer access to a private, tender moment of intimacy.

In the wake of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the AIDS crisis that began in the 1980s, artists began to think of the body as a politicized terrain and explored issues of identity, sexuality, and gender. Diane Arbus’s Retired man and his wife at home in a nudist camp one morning, N.J. (1963) and A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. (1968), Larry Clark’s untitled image (1972-73) from the series Teenage Lust, and Hannah Wilke’s Snatch Shot with Ray Gun (1978) are among the works featured in the concluding section of the exhibition.”

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brasov 1899 – 1984 Côte d’Azur)
Nude
1931-34
Gelatin silver print
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2007
© The Estate of Brassai

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Man Ray (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1890 – 1976 Paris)
Arm
ca. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© 2012 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris

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André Kertész (American (born Hungary), Budapest 1894–1985 New York City)
Distortion #6
1932
Gelatin silver print
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© The Estate of André Kertész / Higher Pictures

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Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917 – 2009 New York City)
Nude No. 57
1949 – 50
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the artist, 2002
© 1950-2002 Irving Penn

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Mark Morrisroe (American, 1959 – 1989)
Untitled [Two Men in Silhouette]
ca. 1987
Gelatin silver print
Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2009
© The Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Ringier Collection) at Fotomuseum Winterthur

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

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.*
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.*
Sunday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.*
Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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17
Nov
11

Exhibition: ‘Renaissance Faces. Masterpieces of Italian Portraiture’
 at the 
Bode Museum, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 25th August – 20th November 2011

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The Legend of the Surface, the Facies

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

Why the face? – Because in the face the corporeal surface makes visible something of the movements of the soul, ideally.”

Georges Didi-Huberman 1

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Many thankx to the Bode Museum for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the images for a larger version.

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Filippo Lippi
Portrait of a Man and a Woman at a Casement
c 1440
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
© Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Antonio del Pollaiuolo
Portrait of a Young Lady
c 1465
Berlin, National Museums in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
© National Museums in Berlin, Jörg P. Anders

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Antonio del Pollaiuolo
Portrait of a Young Woman
c 1465/70 Milan, Museo Poldi Pezzoli
© Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan

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Sandro Botticelli
Profile Portrait of a Young Lady (Simonetta Vespucci?)
c 1476
Berlin, National Museums in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
© National Museums in Berlin, Jörg P. Anders

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Leonardo da Vinci
Lady with an Ermine (portrait of Cecilia Gallerani)
1489/90
Kraków, owned by Princes Czartoryski Foundation, at the National Museum
© bpk / Scala

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“The Gemäldegalerie – National Museums in Berlin and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, have joined forces in organizing a major exhibition on the genesis of the Italian portrait. For Berlin, the Bode Museum presents itself as the ideal location to hold such an exhibition: on its opening in 1904, it was conceived by its founder, Wilhelm von Bode, as a ‘Renaissance Museum’ on the Museum Island. The Bode Museum will host the first stage of the exhibition, running from 25 August to 20 November 2011, before it subsequently goes on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, from 19 December 2011 to 18 March 2012.

More than 150 key works, including paintings, drawings, medals and busts, are about to go on display for the first time together. The more than 50 lenders include the Uffizi in Florence, the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London. Among the exhibition’s many highlights is Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Lady with an Ermine’ from the Czartoryski Collection, Cracow.

The exhibition highlights depictions of the appearance and personality of real people. Portraits of feminine beauty vie with portraits of generals, princes and humanists, offering us a fascinating insight into the age of the early Renaissance.

At the heart of the exhibition stands the Italian Renaissance portrait. The Italian art of portraiture evolved under the influence of antique models. However, it was equally shaped by the innovations of the great Netherlandish painters. The history of the art of portraiture, from Pisanello up to Verrocchio, Botticelli, Bellini and Leonardo, is retold in a selection of magnificent and sensational key works, including paintings, sculptures, medals and drawings. The exhibition focuses both on the art produced at the Italian courts, as well as the development of the portrait in Florence and Venice.

A unique architectural and lighting concept, especially designed for the exhibition, takes into account the individual qualities of each exhibit in its presentation. Of crucial importance here is the aesthetic experience, both of the quality of the artworks and of the materials used in creating them.

The artistic diversity evident in these early portraits, the various roles the images served and their historical contexts all resonate with suspense. The Gemäldegalerie – National Museums in Berlin and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York embarked on an intense collaboration to present this to the general public. Masterpieces from New York and the rich collections of the National Museums in Berlin, not just from the Gemäldegalerie itself but also from the Sculpture Collection, Kupferstichkabinett and Numismatic Collection, offer visitors an unprecedented insight into this epoch. Furthermore, for the first time the show in the Bode Museum also encompasses all media of Italian Renaissance portraiture – medals, drawings, sculptures and panel paintings.

Portraits – either in the form of a painting, photograph and less often a medal – have become commonplace today, but between the 5th and 15th century independent portraits of individual people were rare and the exclusive reserve of rulers and historic figures. Only in the 15th century did it again become customary for artists on both sides of the Alps to produce independent portraits of men and women. Today’s exhibition ‘Renaissance Faces’ pays homage to Italy’s contribution to this first great age of European portraiture and conveys a sense of the innovative ways in which artists responded to the challenge of creating individual portraits and how they explored questions of identity that arose as a result.

When selecting the exhibits, the organizers’ chief aim was to highlight the prevailing conventions and decisive innovations in a period spanning more than eight decades. Set against the backdrop of Italy’s geographical, political and cultural complexities in the 15th century, the exhibition is divided into three clearly outlined thematic sections. The first of these is Florence, as it was here that the independent portrait first appeared on a significant scale. The visitor’s gaze is then directed to the courts of Ferrara, Mantua, Bologna, Milan, Urbino, Naples and finally papal Rome. The circle is then completed in Venice, where a portrait tradition only established itself remarkably late in the century. In each section, works in all media are juxtaposed with each other to give visitors the chance to see for themselves how the various art forms mutually influenced each other with their own unique qualities.

In a society dominated by family descent and social hierarchies, conventions were binding. And it is precisely these conventions that are depicted in profile portraits from 15th-century Italy. Profile portraits were equally popular as reliefs or paintings. Compared with the far more naturalistic art produced north of the Alps, which people in 15th-century Italy were definitely familiar with, this form of portrait seems at first a little surprising, as the Italian artists present the sitters in a soft light and at a slight angle to the picture plane. The sitters are seen standing either at a window or behind a parapet and gaze at the viewer. Sometimes a hand is seen resting on the edge of the painted frame. When looking at these images, it is clear that Italian portraits are not primarily concerned with achieving an accurate likeness, at least not in the conventional sense. Italian portraits do not so much reveal personality, rather convey social conventions and cultural identity.

The profile portrait was frequently given such exceptional importance in Italy, because it largely drew from Roman coins and reliefs for inspiration. But the profile portrait has always been the most elementary form of capturing someone’s likeness. Informal, direct and frontal views have become so familiar to us in portraits today thanks to photography that we first have to be resensitized to the unique possibilities inherent in the profile portrait. For one, it makes it possible to objectify a person’s outer appearance and allows physiognomies to convey cultural meaning. The pleasing aspect of a high forehead, the refinement or contemptuousness expressed in a raised brow, the aristocratic curve of a nose and the severity or gentleness of a chin and jawline – all these are physiognomical characteristics that come to stand as emblems for beauty, rank and power.”

Press release from the Bode Museum website quoting the exhibition catalogue

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Pisanello (Antonio Pisano)
Portrait of Leonello d’Este
c 1444
Bergamo, Accademia Carrara
© Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

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Sandro Botticelli
Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici
c 1478
Washington, National Gallery of Art
© Art Resource, New York

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Andrea Mantegna
Portrait of Cardinal Ludovico Trevisano
c 1459
Berlin, National Museums in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
© National Museums in Berlin, Jörg P. Anders

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Antonello da Messina
Portrait of a Young Man
1478
Berlin, National Museums in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
© National Museums in Berlin, Jörg P. Anders

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

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Bode Museum
Museum Island Berlin,
Am Kupfergraben 1, 10117 Berlin

Opening hours:
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24
Mar
11

Exhibition: ‘ “Our Future Is In The Air”: Photographs from the 1910s’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 10th November 2010 – 10th April 2011

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What an eclectic group of photographs in this posting as well as a great title for an exhibition!

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

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Anton Giulio Bragaglia (Italian, 1890–1960)
Change of Position
1911
Gelatin silver print
12.8 x 17.9 cm (5 1/16 x 7 1/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

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Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Tadeus Langier, Zakopane
1912-1913
Gelatin silver print
12.6 x 17.6 cm (4 15/16 x 6 15/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection
Purchase, Denise and Andrew Saul Gift, 2005

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Jacques Henri Lartigue (French, 1894-1986)
Le Grand Prix A.C.F.
1913
Gelatin silver print
11.5 x 17.1 cm (4 1/2 x 6 3/4 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection
Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005
© Ministère de la Culture-France/AAJHL

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Unknown Artist, American School
(Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks Selling Liberty Loans during the Third Loan Campaign at the Sub Treasury Building on Wall Street, New York City)
1918
Gelatin silver print
19.4 x 24.1 cm. (7 5/8 x 9 1/2 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1996

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“The twentieth century was truly born during the 1910s. This exhibition, which accompanies Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, surveys the range of uses to which photography was put as its most advanced practitioners and theorists were redefining the medium as an art. The title “Our Future Is in the Air is taken from a military aviation pamphlet that figures prominently (in French) in a 1912 Cubist tabletop still life by Picasso; it suggests the twinned senses of exhilarating optimism and lingering dread that accompanied the dissolution of the old order.

Photography was handmaiden and witness to the upheavals that revolutionized perception and consciousness during this tumultuous era. Space and time were overcome by motorcars and airplanes, radio and wireless, and man seemed liberated from the bounds of gravity and geography. This seemingly limitless expanse was mirrored by a new understanding of the unconscious as infinitely deep, complex, and varied – a continent ripe for discovery. The camera was seen as the conduit between these two states of self and world, and “straight photography” – stripped of the gauzy blur of Pictorialist reverie – was espoused by Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand among others.

This turn was not accidental: since handheld cameras became available in the late 1880s, anyone could be a photographer; similarly, photography had snaked its way into every corner of the culture. Elevated perception would distinguish the new artists from the amateur and the tradesman. The exhibition casts the widest possible net in order to show the foundations upon which the medium staked its claim as an independent art.

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The 1910s – a period remembered for “The Great War,” Einstein’s theory of relativity, the Russian Revolution, and the birth of Hollywood – was a dynamic and tumultuous decade that ushered in the modern era. This new age – as it was captured by the quintessentially modern art of photography – will be the subject of the exhibition “Our Future Is In The Air”: Photographs from the 1910s, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from November 10, 2010, through April 10, 2011.

An eclectic centennial exhibition devoted to photography of the 1910s, “Our Future Is In The Air” provides a fascinating look at the birth of modern life through 58 photographs by some 30 artists, including Eugène Atget, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Eugène Druet, Lewis Hine, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Adolph de Meyer, Christian Schad, Morton Schamberg, Charles Sheeler, and Stanislaw Witkiewicz, among others. Drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, the exhibition also features anonymous snapshots, séance photographs, and a family album made by Russian nobility on the eve of revolution. “Our Future Is In The Air” complements the Museum’s concurrent presentation of groundbreaking photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand in the exhibition Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand. The exhibition’s title is taken from a pamphlet for military aviation that figures prominently (in French) in a 1912 Cubist tabletop still-life by Picasso, but is used here because of its double meaning: the feelings of excitement and anxiety that accompanied such radical change.

“Our Future Is In The Air” opens in dramatic fashion with a series of photographs showing moments in the funeral procession and burial of Leo Tolstoy on November 9, 1910. The great Russian novelist passed away just after walking away from his great wealth and literary fame to lead a life of Christian charity. Certain details that can be seen in the photo-postcards – such as whether or not to kneel by the grave – represented a long simmering struggle between old and new, spiritual and secular, that would lead to revolution seven years later.

As cameras became smaller, faster, and easier to operate, amateur photographers such as the child prodigy Jacques-Henri Lartigue pushed the medium in directions that trained photographers shied away from. Since Lartigue was only recognized much later as a key figure in photography, prints such as the ones included here – showing speeding motorcars – are exceedingly rare. Lartigue made one of his most memorable photographs, Le Grand Prix A.C.F. (1913), by swinging his camera in the same direction as the car, as it sped by.

The camera also afforded access to the previously invisible, whether capturing a broken leg bone, revealed in an X-ray from 1916 or the trajectory created by a simple change in body position, in a 1911 motion study by the Futurist artist Anton Giulio Bragaglia.

At the same time, photography became an agent of democratic communication, and documentary photographers used its growing influence to expose degrading conditions of workers, the injustice of child labor, and the devastation of war. Beginning in 1908, Lewis Hine made 5,000 photographs of children working in mills, sweatshops, factories, and street trades; six of his photographs will be featured in this exhibition, including Newsboy asleep on stairs with papers, Jersey City, New Jersey, February 1912. Hine’s reports and slide lectures were meant to trigger a profound, empathetic response in the viewer.

During World War I, photography was utilized to document the mass casualties of mechanized warfare; in the exhibition, an affecting image from 1916, by an unknown artist, shows wounded French soldiers performing drills in the nave of the Grand Palais in Paris as part of their rehabilitation.

Also in the exhibition is an evocative 1918 photograph, again by an unknown artist, of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks entertaining a huge crowd at a war bonds rally on Wall Street.

“Our Future Is In The Air” accompanies the exhibition Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, which focuses on contemporaneous works by three modernist masters of American photography: Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand. It includes photographs by several friends and compatriots of Alfred Stieglitz, from Adolph de Meyer, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Paul Haviland, and Karl Struss to Morton Schamberg and Charles Sheeler, in whose works one can trace the transition from soft focus Pictorialism to a harder-edged, more detached “straight photography.””

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Charles Sheeler (American, 1883–1965)
Doylestown House – Stairs from Below
1917
Gelatin silver print
21 x 15 cm (8 1/4 x 5 15/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933
© The Lane Collection

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Lewis Hine (American, 1874–1940)
Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pownal Cotton Mill. Girls in mill say she is ten years. She admitted to me she was twelve; that she started during school vacation and now would “stay”. Location: Vermont, August 1910
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 19.3 cm (9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection
Purchase, Anonymous Gifts, by exchange, 2005

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Eugène Atget (French, 1857–1927)
Boulevard de Strasbourg
1912
Albumen silver print from glass negative
22.4 x 17.5 cm (8 13/16 x 6 7/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection
Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005

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Unknown Artist, American School
(Man Holding Baseball in Catcher’s Mitt)
1910
Gelatin silver print
13.8 x 8.7 cm (5 7/16 x 3 7/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Funds from various donors, 1998

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

Opening hours:
Tuesday–Thursday: 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.*
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.*
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Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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