Posts Tagged ‘MOMA

09
Mar
17

Exhibition: ‘A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 3rd December 2016 – 12th March 2017

 

My apologies to readers of Art Blart, but my postings will be short of comment in the next month or so as I try to take as much rest as possible. I have bad hands which is preventing me from using the keyboard. At the moment I am using dictation software to do the writing for me. I will keep the blog going as much as possible because it is my form of therapy for my mental health.

Which brings me to this posting, another slice of the brilliance of the European inter-war avant-garde, this time from Russia. Design, intense colouration (or lack of it), and complexity of form are hallmarks of this “new, militant art.” Photomontage, form and propaganda go hand in hand with this New Vision. The photograph and the cinema were social and essential elements of this new world order.

Perspective shifted. Pictorial planes fractured. Points of view pictured the unusual: from below, from above, with few vanishing points contained within the image or photomontage. Films had no sound and often no story and no actors. They were experimental intersections of man, machinery, and the world. Art was exciting and revolutionary. For me, Aleksandr Rodchenko is the star of the show. You only have to look at images such as Mother, Pioneer with Bugle, Pioneer girl, and the two photographs titled Dive (1934, below) – both with a sense of weightlessness and perspectival difference – to understand the genius of this artist.

It is indeed a telling indictment that such creativity, in both Russia and Germany (and by default, the rest of Europe), was snuffed out by two dictators who imposed on art a (usually masculine) utopian purity which stifled any hint of militant subversion and originality.

Marcus

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

 

 

We are breaking with the past, because we cannot accept its hypotheses. We ourselves are creating our own hypotheses anew and only upon them … can we build our new life and new world view.

.
Lyubov Popova

 

 

Various artists. 'Mirskontsa (Worldbackwards)' 1912

 

Various artists with Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Nikolai Rogovin, Vladimir Tatlin
Mirskontsa (Worldbackwards)
1912

 

 

For the hundredth anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci explains how artists such as Malevich, Rodchenko, and Vertov attempted to revolutionise Russian society through new means of artistic production – and how the styles developed by the Russian Avant-Garde still affect how we look at art today.

 

Natalia Goncharova (Russian, 1881-1962) 'Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest' 1913

 

Natalia Goncharova (Russian, 1881-1962)
Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest
1913
Oil on canvas
21 1/2 x 19 1/2″ (54.6 x 49.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Olga Rozanova (Russian, 1886-1918) 'The Factory and the Bridge' 1913

 

Olga Rozanova (Russian, 1886-1918)
The Factory and the Bridge
1913
Oil on canvas
32 3/4 x 24 1/4″ (83.2 x 61.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935) 'Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying' 1915

 

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935)
Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying
1915
Oil on canvas
22 7/8 x 19″ (58.1 x 48.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange)

 

Lyubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924) 'Untitled' c. 1916-17

 

Lyubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924)
Untitled
c. 1916-17
Gouache on board
19 1/2 x 15 1/2″ (49.5 x 39.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Kazimir Malevich. 'Suprematist Composition: White on White' 1918

 

Kazimir Malevich (Russian, born Ukraine. 1878-1935)
Suprematist Composition: White on White
1918
Oil on canvas
31 1/4 x 31 1/4″ (79.4 x 79.4 cm)
1935 Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange)

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. ' Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black)' 1918

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black)
1918
Oil on canvas
32 1/4 x 31 1/4″ (81.9 x 79.4 cm)
Gift of the artist, through Jay Leyda

 

 

This work belongs to a series of eight black paintings Rodchenko made in direct response to a group of white paintings of the same year by the older and more established artist Kazimir Malevich. Malevich relied on a severely reduced palette of whites to suggest a floating form in an infinite spatial expanse; Rodchenko moved toward eliminating colour completely in order to focus instead on the material quality of the paintings surface. “Where the black works are winning is in the fact that they have no colour, they are strong through painting …,” declared artist Varvara Stepanova, Rodchenko’s wife. “Nothing besides painting exists.” Both series were first shown in Moscow in April 1919, in the 10th State Exhibition: Non-Objective Art and Suprematism. The black works were received with enthusiasm and helped establish Rodchenko as a leader of the Russian avant-garde. (MoMA gallery label 2015)

 

Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni) (Russian, born Finland. 1892-1956) 'Flight of Forms' 1919

 

Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni) (Russian, born Finland. 1892-1956)
Flight of Forms
1919
Gouache and pencil on paper
51 1/8 x 51 1/2″ (129.7 x 130.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

A new art was needed, armed by technology and chemistry, an art that stood side by side with socialist industry, a new, militant art, which could organize the will of the masses.

.
Gustav Klutsis

 

 

In the first decades after the 1917 Revolution, a central focus of the nascent Soviet Union was the modernisation of its vast territories. Through a series of comprehensive economic development plans, the socialist state attempted to institute rapid industrialisation, collectivise agriculture, achieve nationwide literacy, and update the infrastructure of towns and cities. Artists, often working in official capacities, captured these aspirations in a variety of projects, many of which were propagandistic.

Some turned to agitational photomontage, in which photographs and images culled from mass media were spliced together to create ideologically charged designs for posters, book covers, advertisements, and postcards. Artists also made illustrations for children’s books that feature didactic tales aimed at rallying the next generation of Soviet citizens. Architects were tasked with reconceiving domestic and civic spaces in order to advance a communal way of life, reflected in studies for buildings and triumphant photographs of construction. While much of this work celebrates Soviet might and ingenuity, Joseph Stalin’s repressive regime began to reign in the activities of artists and other cultural producers in the 1920s, terminating this period of utopian innovation in the early 1930s with the declaration of Socialist Realism as the official Soviet style.

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Proun 1 D' 1920

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Proun 1 D
1920
One from a portfolio of eleven lithographs
Composition: 8 7/16 x 10 9/16″ (21.5 x 26.9 cm); sheet: 13 1/2 x 17 5/8″ (34.3 x 44.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Vincent d’Aquila and Harry Soviak Bequest, by exchange, Committee on Prints and Illustrated Books Fund, Orentreich Family Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Endowment, Mrs. Sash A. Spencer, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Peter H. Friedland, Maud I. Welles, Deborah Wye Endowment Fund, Riva Castlemen Endowment Fund, Lily Auchincloss Fund, Monroe Wheeler Fund, and John M. Shapiro
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Proun 19D' 1920 or 1921

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Proun 19D
1920 or 1921
Gesso, oil, varnish, crayon, colored papers, sandpaper, graph paper, cardboard, metallic paint, and metal foil on plywood
38 3/8 x 38 1/4″ (97.5 x 97.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Katherine S. Dreier Bequest

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Spatial Construction no. 12' c. 1920

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Spatial Construction no. 12
c. 1920
Plywood, open construction partially painted with aluminum paint, and wire
24 x 33 x 18 1/2″ (61 x 83.7 x 47 cm)
Acquisition made possible through the extraordinary efforts of George and Zinaida Costakis, and through the Nate B. and Frances Spingold, Matthew H. and Erna Futter, and Enid A. Haupt Funds

 

 

The nesting ovals that compose this construction were measured out on a single sheet of aluminium-painted plywood, precisely cut, then rotated and suspended to make a three-dimensional object suggestive of planetary orbits. It was made at a time of both civic turmoil and great possibility in Russia, when Rodchenko and his fellow Constructivist artists sought to apply aesthetic ideals to everyday materials. They hoped their approach to art would help create a new language for the Communist state. Reflecting back on this time, Rodchenko said, “We created a new understanding of beauty, and enlarged the concept of art.”

 

Nikolai Suetin (Russian, 1897-1954) 'Teapot' c. 1923

 

Nikolai Suetin (Russian, 1897-1954)
Teapot
c. 1923
Porcelain with overglaze painted decoration
5 1/2 x 4 1/2″ (14 x 11.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Estée and Joseph Lauder Design Fund

 

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

Installation view of 'A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde'. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017

 

Installation views of A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 3, 2016-March 12, 2017
© 2016 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: Robert Gerhardt

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde, an exhibition that brings together 260 works from MoMA’s collection, tracing the arc of a period of artistic innovation between 1912 and 1935. The exhibition will be on view December 3, 2016 – March 12, 2017. Planned in anticipation of the centennial year of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the exhibition highlights breakthrough developments in the conception of Suprematism and Constructivism, as well as in avant-garde poetry, theater, photography, and film, by such figures as Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Lyubov Popova, Alexandr Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova, Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, and Dziga Vertov, among others. The exhibition features a rich cross-section of works across several mediums – opening with displays of pioneering non-objective paintings, prints, and drawings from the years leading up to and immediately following the Revolution, followed by a suite of galleries featuring photography, film, graphic design, and utilitarian objects, a transition that reflects the shift of avant-garde production in the 1920s. Made in response to changing social and political conditions, these works probe and suggest the myriad ways that a revolution can manifest itself in an object. A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, and Sarah Suzuki, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints; with Hillary Reder, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.

A series of works by artists including Natalia Goncharova and her husband and artistic collaborator Mikhail Larionov open the exhibition. Goncharova and Larionov sought to combine Western European developments such as Cubism and Futurism with a distinctly Russian character, drawing on history, folklore, and religious motifs for inspiration. One outgrowth of their efforts was Rayonism, an abstract style that derived its name from the use of dynamic rays of contrasting colour, exemplified in Goncharova’s Rayonism, Blue-Green Forest (1913). A hallmark of this period was a fertile collaboration between painters and poets that resulted in illustrated books, also on view in the exhibition. These collaborations rejected fine-art book traditions in favour of small, distinctly handmade volumes, such as the rare book Worldbackwards (1912), shown in an astonishing four variations, each with a unique, collaged cover.

Radical new efforts in painting and poetry are also featured, such as an unpublished, uncut sheet from poets Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov’s Te li le (1914), with images by Olga Rozanova. The sheet features a poetic language conceived in 1913 by the pair called Zaum (“transrational,” “beyonsense,” or “transreason”), which frees letters and words from specific meanings, instead emphasising their aural and visual qualities. Painters likewise sought to push their medium to its limits, dismissing the strictures of realism and rationality in favour of advancing new abstract forms. The Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings 0.10 (zeroten), held in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) in December 1915, highlighted two new models of abstraction. One, developed by Vladimir Tatlin, focused on a group of nonrepresentational Counter-Reliefs (“reliefs with a particular pronounced tension”). An example can be found in the exhibition in the exceedingly rare Brochure for Tatlin’s counter-reliefs exhibited at 0.10 (1915). The other, proposed by Kazimir Malevich, unveiled a radically new mode of abstract painting that abandoned reference to the outside world in favour of coloured geometric shapes floating against white backgrounds. Because this new style claimed supremacy over the forms of nature, Malevich called it Suprematism. The exhibition includes Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying (1915), which was featured in 0.10, and Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), which ranks among the most iconoclastic paintings of its day.

While Suprematism’s focus on pure form had a spiritual bent, the adherents of Constructivism privileged the creation of utilitarian objects with orderly, geometric designs. In 1918, Rodchenko made Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black), one of a series of eight black paintings he conceived in direct response to the group of white paintings by Malevich. By eliminating colour almost completely, Rodchenko underscored the material quality of the painting’s surface. Around this time, he also produced a series of “spatial constructions” focused on kineticism, marking a significant leap from his exploration of the painted surface to three-dimensional objects. 5 x 5 = 25: An Exhibition of Painting (1921), a brochure for an exhibition of the same title, typed by Varvara Stepanova, features contributions from Rodchenko, Lyubov Popova, Alexandra Exter, and Aleksandr Vesnin. Held in Moscow at the All-Russian Union of Poets in September 1921, the exhibition featured five works by each of the five participants, and was the Constructivist group’s last presentation of painting.

Between 1919 and 1927 El Lissitzky produced a large body of paintings, prints, and drawings that he referred to as Proun, an acronym for “Project for the Affirmation of the New” in Russian. A particular highlight is the portfolio Proun (1920), made during Lissitzky’s short but prolific period working at the art school in Vitebsk, alongside Malevich. Lissitzky asserted Proun is “the station on the way to the construction of a new form,” and in these lithographs, he arranges geometric forms in dynamic, overlapping relationships to create imagined spaces. It will be the first time this rare portfolio, acquired in 2013, will be on view. New developments in theater are surveyed through the example of Alexandra Exter, an artist deeply engaged with theatrical design and production, including several examples of her innovative set designs and costumes for the science-fiction film Aelita (1924). These are shown alongside prints from Lissitzky’s portfolio Victory Over the Sun, which he made after seeing a 1920 restaging of the seminal Cubo-Futurist opera of the same name, and features characters from the production transformed into “electromechanical” figurines.

As the 1920s progressed, photography and film surpassed painting and sculpture as the chosen medium for the avant-garde, moving works from the studio to the public sphere. The exhibition includes an in-depth look at Soviet avant-garde cinema, in a gallery that features clips from seminal films by Alexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Dziga Vertov, highlighting a variety of strategies in montage, including disjunctive cutting, extreme close-ups, unusual angles, and image superimposition. At this time, Lissitzky began to describe his work as fotopis (painting with photographs), a neologism that first appeared in the title of a maquette for a mural version of Record (1926), a photomontage included in the show. After turning away from painting, Rodchenko also found new means to build networks of communication – in photographs and book design. He collaborated with the progressive writers Nikolai Aseev, Osip Brik, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Sergei Tret’iakov on covers and layouts for the journal Novyi LEF (1927-28), a complete run of which is on view. Eschewing the conventional belly-button view in his photographs, Rodchenko’s pictures of this era – such as Mother (1924), Assembling for a Demonstration (1928-30), and Pioneer Girl (1930) – favour dynamic camera angles. Advocating for a cinematic, fractured representation of his subjects, Rodchenko also tried his hand at film, designing inter-titles for Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Pravda newsreel series.

The ideology of the Revolution touched all aspects of daily life, from economy to education. The most significant artists of the day, in accordance with state orders, were soon applying avant-garde tactics to create propagandistic work that would be easily comprehensible to the Soviet public at large. The final gallery of the exhibition contains this kind of material, including children’s books created by Vladimir Lebedev and Samuil Marshak, whose book designs balanced sophistication and accessibility, drawing on Cubism and Suprematism, with stories that nourished the intellectual and visual imagination. Also on view are film posters, by the brothers Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg, which feature radical uses of typography and colour, underscoring the relationship between graphic arts and the burgeoning Soviet cinema. The Constructivist architect Iakov Chernikov applied his ideas to imagine a future reflecting the avant-garde culture of the new Soviet Union. His Architectural Fantasies: 101 Compositions in Color, 101 Architectural Miniatures (1933) featured here, however, never had a chance to materialise. Joseph Stalin’s repressive regime effectively put an end to Constructivism and other avant-garde activities in the cultural sphere by the mid-1930s.

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Announcer (Ansager)' 1923

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Announcer (Ansager) from Figurines: The Three-Dimensional Design of the Electro-Mechanical Show “Victory over the Sun” (Figurinen, die plastische Gestaltung der elektro-mechanischen Schau “Sieg über die Sonne”)
1920-21, published 1923
One from a portfolio of ten lithographs
Composition (irreg.): 13 3/4 x 11 7/8″ (35 x 30.2 cm); sheet: 21 x 18″ (53.3 x 45.7 cm)
Purchase

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'The Globetrotter' 1923

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
The Globetrotter from Figurines: Plastic Representations of the Electro-Mechanical Production Entitled “Victory over the Sun” (Figurinen, die plastische Gestaltung der elektro-mechanischen Schau “Sieg über die Sonne”)
1920-21, published 1923
One from a portfolio of ten lithographs
Composition (irreg.): 14 3/16 x 10 1/4″ (36 x 26 cm); sheet: 21 x 17 7/8″ (53.3 x 45.4cm)
Purchase

 

Alexandra Exter. 'Construction' 1922-23

 

Alexandra Exter
Construction
1922-23
Oil on canvas
35 1/8 x 35 3/8″ (89.2 x 89.9 cm)
The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Pro eto. Ei i mne' (About This. To Her and to Me) "Pro eto" by Vladimir Mayakovsky 1923

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Pro eto. Ei i mne (About This. To Her and to Me)
“Pro eto” by Vladimir Mayakovsky
1923
Book with letterpress cover and illustrations
Overall (closed): 9 1/16 x 6 1/8 x 1/8″ (23 x 15.5 x 0.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

 

Yakov Protozanov
Aelita Queen of Mars
NTSC
1924

 

Alexandra Exter "Guardian of Energy" 1924

 

Alexandra Exter
“Guardian of Energy” (costume design for the film “Aelita” by Yakov Protozanov)
1924
Ink, gouache, and pencil on paper
21 1/4 x 14 1/4″ (54 x 36.2 cm)
The J. M. Kaplan Fund, Inc.

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Mother' 1924

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Mother
1924
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 x 6 1/2″ (22.5 x 16.5 cm)
Gift of the Rodchenko family
© 2017 Aleksandr Rodchenko/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Record' 1926

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Record
1926
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 x 8 13/16″ (26.7 x 22.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Self-Portrait' 1924

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Self-Portrait
1924
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 x 3 1/2″ (13.9 x 8.9 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

The essence of New Vision photography is pointedly expressed in this picture, commonly known as The Constructor, which puts the act of seeing at center stage. Lissitzky’s hand, holding a compass, is superimposed on a shot of his head that explicitly highlights his eye: insight, it expresses, is passed through the eye and transmitted to the hand, and through it to the tools of production. Devised from six different exposures, the picture merges Lissitzky’s personae as photographer (eye) and constructor of images (hand) into a single likeness. Contesting the idea that straight photography provides a single, unmediated truth, Lissitzky held instead that montage, with its layering of one meaning over another, impels the viewer to reconsider the world. It thus marks a conceptual shift in the understanding of what a picture can be.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012–April 29, 2013

 

 

The (painted) picture fell apart together with the old world which it had created for itself. The new world will not need little pictures. If it needs a mirror, it has the photograph and the cinema.

.
El Lissitzky

 

 

By the mid-1920s, leading figures of the Soviet vanguard extolled photography, theater, and film as quintessential mediums of the future. Eager to answer Lenin’s call to build a new Soviet mass culture in the wake of the Revolution, artists embraced performative and lens-based mediums for their democratising potential. They also seized the opportunity presented by stage and costume design to realise Constructivist principles in real space.

Film, one of the most experimental mediums of these years, wielded a profound influence on Soviet visual culture, particularly graphic design and photography, as well as on international cinema. Dziga Vertov redefined still and motion-picture photography with the concept of kino-glaz (cine-eye), according to which the camera lens creates a novel perception of the world. Aleksandr Rodchenko was likewise inspired by photography’s ability to energise audiences with its thrilling images of a transformed reality, which he shaped with distinctive strategies: unconventional camera angles, radical foreshortening, and close-ups. Rodchenko’s commitment to mass communication is also manifest in his engagement with the illustrated press, exemplified by his cover and layout designs for the avant-garde journal Novyi Lef.

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) Cover design for 'Novyi LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts', no. 1 1928

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Cover design for Novyi LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts, no. 1
1928
Letterpress
Page: 9 1/16 x 6″ (23 x 15.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Novyi LEF. Zhurnal levogo fronta iskusstv' (New LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts), no. 7 1927

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Novyi LEF. Zhurnal levogo fronta iskusstv (New LEF: Journal of the Left Front of the Arts), no. 7
1927
Journal with letterpress cover and illustrations
Page: 8 15/16 x 5 15/16″ (22.7 x 15.1 cm)
Publisher: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, Moscow
Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation

 

 

Sergei Eisenstein (Russian, 1898-1948)
Potemkin
1925
35mm film (black and white and hand-colored, silent)
75 min.
Acquired from Reichsfilmarchiv

 

 

Vsevolod Pudovkin (Russian, 1893-1953)
Mat (Mother)
1926
35mm film (black and white, silent)
90 min.
Acquired from N.I.S., Soyuzintorkino, Moscow 1985

 

 

Mother (1926) [film based on Maxim Gorky’s famous novel]

In this film, the mother of Pavel Vlasov is drawn into the revolutionary conflict when her husband and son find themselves on opposite sides during a worker’s strike. After her husband dies during the failed strike, she betrays her son’s ideology in order to try, in vain, to save his life. He is arrested, tried in what amounts to a judicial farce, and sentenced to heavy labor in a prison camp. During his incarceration, his mother aligns herself with him and his ideology and joins the revolutionaries. In the climax of the movie, the mother and hundreds of others march to the prison in order to free the prisoners, who are aware of the plan and have planned their escape. Ultimately, the troops of the Tsar suppress the uprising, killing both mother and son in the final scenes.

 

 

Esther Shub (Ukrainian, 1894-1959)
The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty
1927
35mm film (black and white, silent)

 

Gustav Klutsis (Russian, born Latvia) 'Memorial to Fallen Leaders' 1927

 

Gustav Klutsis (Russian, born Latvia)
Memorial to Fallen Leaders
1927
Cover with lithographed photomontage illustrations on front and back
13 1/2 x 10 1/4″ (34.3 x 26 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Foundation
© 2016 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Vladimir Stenberg (Russian, 1899-1982) and Georgii Stenberg (Russian, 1900-1933) 'Symphony of a Big City' 1928

 

Vladimir Stenberg (Russian, 1899-1982) and Georgii Stenberg (Russian, 1900-1933)
Symphony of a Big City
1928
Lithograph
41 x 27 1/4″ (104 x 69 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Marshall Cogan Purchase Fund

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Untitled' 1927

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Untitled
1927
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 5 13/16″ (22.1 x 14.8 cm)
Gift of the Rodchenko family

 

Semyon Fridlyand. 'In the Gallery' 1927

 

Semyon Fridlyand
In the Gallery
1927
Gelatin silver print
8 9/16 x 6 5/8″ (21.7 x 16.8 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Harold Edgerton, by exchange

 

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895-1954)
The Man with the Movie Camera
1929
35mm film (black and white, silent)
Acquired on exchange with Gosfilmofund

 

 

Man with a Movie Camera is an experimental 1929 silent documentary film, with no story and no actors by Soviet-Russian director Dziga Vertov, edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova. Vertov’s feature film, produced by the film studio VUFKU, presents urban life in the Soviet cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow and Odessa. From dawn to dusk Soviet citizens are shown at work and at play, and interacting with the machinery of modern life. To the extent that it can be said to have “characters,” they are the cameramen of the title, the film editor, and the modern Soviet Union they discover and present in the film.

This film is famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invents, deploys or develops, such as double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop motion animations and self-reflexive visuals (at one point it features a split-screen tracking shot; the sides have opposite Dutch angles).

In the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound poll, film critics voted Man with a Movie Camera the 8th best film ever made. In 2014 Sight & Sound also named it the best documentary of all time.

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895-1954) 'The Man with the Movie Camera' 1929

 

Dziga Vertov (Russian, 1895-1954)
The Man with the Movie Camera
1929
35mm film (black and white, silent)
Acquired on exchange with Gosfilmofund

 

 

Alexander Dovzhenko (Russian, born Russia (Chernigov province) 1894-1956)
Zemlya (Earth)
1930
35mm film (black and white, silent)
62 min.
Acquired from Gosfilmofond

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Pioneer with a Bugle' 1930

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Pioneer with a Bugle
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 7 1/16″ (23.5 x 18 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Rodchenko Family

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Pioneer Girl' 1930

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Pioneer Girl
1930
Gelatin silver print
19 1/2 x 14 9/16″ (49.6 x 37 cm)
Gift of Alex Lachmann and friends of the Rodchenko family

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Assembling for a Demonstration' 1928-30

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Assembling for a Demonstration
1928-30
Gelatin silver print
19 1/2 x 13 7/8″ (49.5 x 35.3 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. John Spencer Fund

 

Iakov Chernikhov. 'Arkhitekturnye Fantazii' before 1933 Letterpress

 

Iakov Chernikhov
Arkhitekturnye Fantazii
before 1933
Letterpress
12 x 8 7/8″ (30.5 x 22.5 cm)
Arthur A. Cohen Purchase Fund

 

 

In his introduction to Architectural Fantasies: 101 Compositions, Iakov Chernikov’s sixth and final volume on design theory, he defended the significance of visionary paper architecture: “Not without reason, however, have great thinkers of all times accorded vast importance to fantasy, as being the forerunner of any kind of progress. To look one-sidedly at the idea of fantasy and not to consider its positive role in all fields of culture and art-this is to make a great mistake.” For Chernikov the fantasy drawing offered the architect an effective means of liberating himself from convention and imagining a future reflecting the avant-garde culture of the new Soviet Union.

As a Constructivist, and like contemporaries such as Kasimir Malevich and El Lissitzky, Chernikov was possessed by the powers of abstraction and geometry. This is reflected in the phrase Combination of curvilinear and rectilinear forms along principles of design, the rather perfunctory subtitle for Complex Architectural Invention (composition no. 49 from Architectural Fantasies): this is a formal composition based on line (curved or straight), plane, surface, body, and volume. The excitement and brilliance of Chernikov’s fantasy lie in his dynamic handling of diagonal lines, ellipses, and bright colors, presented in a dizzying axonometric view. The imagery, unabashedly industrial in character yet devoid of any context or program, is remarkably fresh and pregnant with possibility.

In producing his Architectural Fantasies Chernikov was interested not only in self-discovery but in inspiring his viewers. The seeds of his fantasies, however, never had a chance to germinate in the Soviet Union: Stalin’s repressive regime, which effectively put an end to Constructivism in the 1930s, favored a banal architecture based on monumental classicism and Social Realism. The potential of Architectural Fantasies lay dormant until Chernikov and other Constructivist architects were “rediscovered” in the 1980s, inspiring a new generation of architects worldwide in a movement that was labeled “deconstructivist.”

Publication excerpt from Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, pp. 78-79

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 x 9 5/16″ (29.9 x 23.6 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 3/8″ (29.7 x 23.8 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
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03
Feb
17

Exhibition: ‘Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 11th June 2016 – 12th February 2017

 

This “seminal” body of work by Nan Goldin allegedly changed the course of photography. In my opinion, not for the better.

There is little love and tenderness here, little magic or generosity of spirit. Goldin’s attitude to the world at the time seems to be one of hostility and resentment. It’s all very well portraying the underbelly of society – the depravity, violence and degradation – but if your point of departure is one of anger and animosity, this is always going to be reflected in your art. I remember going out with my friends partying in the 1980s, the drugs, the sex, the pushing it to the edge, but you know what – we cared about each other. Nothing could be further from the truth in Goldin’s hedonistic (not heuristic) approach to her aura.

Shooting indiscriminately, hoping to find the rough diamond of an image, cuts both ways. In the arbitrary voyeurism of this work – do I snap now or a second later, what is happening outside of the frame – you never know what you are missing. Often you get nothing, or you get a reflection of yourself that is not very appealing. (Today is a very different world from the 1980s, we just snap and upload everything. These images are very of their time). There is so much more that could have been said other than through this controlling, diaristic approach to the subject matter.

I repeat, there seems to be a less than generous spirit captured in this work, of how Goldin looked at the world at that time, and it is reflected back to us in her images. Nothing to do with HIV/AIDS, nothing to do with bohemianism – everything to do with the spirit of the artist.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“Since David Armstrong and I were young he always referred to photography as “diving for pearls.” If you took a million pictures you were lucky to come out with one or two gems. … I never learned control over my machines. I made every mistake in the book. But the technical mistakes allowed for magic. … Random psychological subtexts that I never would have thought to intentionally create. The subconscious made visible – though whether mine or the camera’s I don’t know …”

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Nan Goldin. “Diving for Pearls,” quoted in Hilton Als. “Nan Goldin’s Life in Progress,” on The New Yorker website, July 4, 2016

 

 

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Trixie on the Cot, New York City' 1979

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Trixie on the Cot, New York City
1979
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008
15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.4 x 58.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Marian and James H. Cohen in memory of their son Michael Harrison Cohen
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Buzz and Nan at the Afterhours, New York City' 1980

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Buzz and Nan at the Afterhours, New York City
1980
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008
15 1/2 x 23 1/4″ (39.4 x 59 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Purchase
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Nan and Dickie in the York Motel, New Jersey' 1980

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Nan and Dickie in the York Motel, New Jersey
1980
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008
15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.4 x 58.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Purchase
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Self-Portrait in Blue Bathroom, London' 1980

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Self-Portrait in Blue Bathroom, London
1980
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2016
20 x 24″ (50.8 x 61 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Nan Goldin
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Heart-Shaped Bruise, New York City' 1980

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Heart-Shaped Bruise, New York City
1980
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2006
20 x 24″ (50.8 x 61 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Nan Goldin
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City' 1981

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City
1981
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2009, 15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.4 x 58.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Purchase
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Nan on Brian's Lap, Nan's Birthday, New York City' 1981

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Nan on Brian’s Lap, Nan’s Birthday, New York City
1981
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008
15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.3 x 58.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Purchase
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City' 1980

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City
1980
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008
15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.4 x 58.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Purchase
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Philippe H. and Suzanne Kissing at Euthanasia, New York City' 1981

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Philippe H. and Suzanne Kissing at Euthanasia, New York City
1981
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008
15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.4 x 58.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Purchase
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Max and Richard, New York City' 1983

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Max and Richard, New York City
1983
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2006
15 9/16 x 23 1/16″ (39.6 x 58.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City' 1983

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City
1983
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2006
15 1/2 x 23 3/16″ (39.4 x 58.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'Nan One Month After Being Battered' 1984

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
Nan One Month After Being Battered
1984
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008
15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.4 x 58.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Purchase
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'The Parents' Wedding Photo, Swampscott, Massachusetts' 1985

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
The Parents’ Wedding Photo, Swampscott, Massachusetts
1985
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2006
15 1/2 x 23 1/8″ (39.4 x 58.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Richard O. Rieger
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

 

Comprising almost 700 snapshot-like portraits sequenced against an evocative music soundtrack, Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is a deeply personal narrative, formed out of the artist’s own experiences around Boston, New York, Berlin, and elsewhere in the late 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. Titled after a song in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Goldin’s Ballad is itself a kind of downtown opera; its protagonists – including the artist herself – are captured in intimate moments of love and loss. They experience ecstasy and pain through sex and drug use; they revel at dance clubs and bond with their children at home; and they suffer from domestic violence and the ravages of AIDS.

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read,” Goldin wrote. “The diary is my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.”

The Ballad developed through multiple improvised live performances, for which Goldin ran through the slides by hand and friends helped prepare the soundtrack – from Maria Callas to The Velvet Underground – for an audience not unlike the subjects of the pictures. The Ballad is presented in its original 35mm format, along with photographs from the Museum’s collection that also appear as images in the slide show. Introducing the installation is a selection of materials from the artist’s archive, including posters and flyers announcing early iterations of The Ballad. Live performances will periodically accompany The Ballad during the course of the Museum’s presentation; performance details will be announced during the course of the exhibition presentation.

Press release from MoMA

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'C.Z. and Max on the Beach, Truro, Massachusetts' 1976

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
C.Z. and Max on the Beach, Truro, Massachusetts
1976
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2006
23 1/8 x 15 1/2″ (58.7 x 39.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953) 'The Hug, New York City' 1980

 

Nan Goldin (American, born 1953)
The Hug, New York City
1980
Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008
23 1/8 x 15 1/2″ (58.7 x 39.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© 2016 Nan Goldin

 

Janet Stein (designer) 'Poster for 'The Ballad of Sexual Dependency', slide show by Nan Goldin, with 'Desperate Living', a film by John Waters' O.P. Screening Room, New York, March 29, 1982

 

Janet Stein (designer)
Poster for ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’, slide show by Nan Goldin, with ‘Desperate Living’, a film by John Waters
O.P. Screening Room, New York, March 29, 1982
Photocopy
11 × 8 1/2″ (27.9 × 21.6 cm)
Collection Nan Goldin

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Monday – Thursday, Saturday – Sunday 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm

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06
May
15

Research paper: ‘Beginnings: The International Photographic Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria’ Dr Marcus Bunyan

May 2015

 

This is a story that has never been told. It is the story of how the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia set up one of the very first photography departments in a museum in the world in 1967, and employed one of the first dedicated curators of photography, only then to fail to purchase classical black and white masterpieces by international artists that were being exhibited in Melbourne and sold at incredibly low prices during the 1970s and early 1980s, before prices started going through the roof.

The NGV had a golden chance to have one of the greatest collections of classical photography in the world if only they had grasped the significance and opportunity presented to them but as we shall see – due to personal, political and financial reasons – they dropped the ball. By the time they realised, prices were already beyond their reach.

Justifications for the failure include lack of financial support, the purchasing of non-vintage prints and especially the dilemma of distance, which is often quoted as the main hindrance to purchasing. But as I show in this research essay these masterpieces were already in Australia being shown and sold in commercial photography galleries in Melbourne at around $150, for example, for a Paul Strand photograph. As a partial public institution the NGV needs to take a hard look at this history to understand what went wrong and how they missed amassing one of the best collections of classical photography in the world.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
May 2015

Word count: 5,594

 

Download this research paper:

Beginnings: The International Photographic Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria (2.1Mb Word doc)

 

Abstract

This research paper investigates the formation of the international photographic collection at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

 

Keywords

Photographs, photography, 19th century photography, early Australian photography, Australian photography, international photography collection, National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria photography department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne, photographic collections, curator.

 

 

Beginnings: The International Photographic Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Introduction

Invented by Louis Daguerre in 1839, the daguerreotype – a plate of copper coated in silver, sensitised to light by being exposed to halogen fumes – was the first publicly announced photographic process and the first to come into widespread use. The first photograph taken in Australia was a daguerreotype, a view of Bridge Street (now lost) taken by a visiting naval captain, Captain Augustin Lucas in 1841.1 The oldest surviving extant photograph in Australia is a daguerreotype portrait of Dr William Bland by George Barron Goodman taken in 1845 (see image below). This daguerreotype is now in the State Library of New South Wales collection.2

After these small beginnings, explored in Gael Newton’s excellent book Shades of Light,3 the Melbourne Public Library (later to become the State Library of Victoria) launched the Museum of Art in 1861 and the Picture Gallery in 1864, later to be unified into the National Gallery in 1870, a repository for all public art collections, the gallery being housed in the same building as the Library.4 The Pictures Collection (including paintings, drawings, prints, cartoons, photographs and sculpture) was started in 1859.5 The collection of photographs by the Library had both moral and educative functions. Photographs of European high culture reminded the colonists of links to the motherland, of aspirations to high ideals, especially in conservative Melbourne.6 Photographs of distant lands, such as Linnaeus Tripe’s Views of Burma, document other ‘Oriental’ cultures.7 Photographs of settlement and the development of Melbourne recorded what was familiar in an unknown landscape. “Documentation of both the familiar and the unknown intersected with the scientific desire for categorisation and classification.”8

It is not the purview of this essay to dwell on the development of photography in Australia during intervening years between the 1860s – 1960s, but suffice it to say that the collecting of photographs at the State Library of Victoria continued the archiving of Australian identity and place through the ability “to define the self, claim the nation and occupy the world.”9 Australian photographic practice followed the development of international movements in photography in these years: art and commerce from the 1860s – 1890s, Pictorialism from the 1900s – 1930s, Modernism in the 1930s – 1940s and documentary photography from the 1940s – 1960s. The development of Australian photography was heavily reliant on the forms of international photography. Analysis of these years can be found in Gael Newton’s book Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839 – 198810 and Isobel Crombie’s book Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria.11

In 1959 the epic The Family of Man exhibition, curated by the renowned photographer Edward Steichen from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, toured Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide to massive crowds. Featuring 503 photographs by 273 famous and unknown photographers from 68 countries this exhibition offered a portrait of the human condition: birth, love, war, famine and the universality of human experience all documented by the camera’s lens.12 In Melbourne the exhibition was shown in a car dealer’s showroom (yes, really!) and was visited by photographers such as Jack Cato, Robert McFarlane, Graham McCarter.13 The photographs in the exhibition, accompanied by text, were printed “onto large panels up to mural size [and] gave The Family of Man works an unprecedented impact, even given the role illustrated magazines had played through most of the century.”14 This loss of the aura of the original, the authenticity of the vintage print, a print produced by the artist around the time of the exposure of the negative, would have important implications for the collection of international photographs in the fledgling National Gallery of Victoria photographic collection (even though Walter Benjamin saw all photography as destroying the authenticity of the original through its ability to reproduce an image ad nauseum).15 As Benjamin observes in his Illuminations,The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject.”16 Other ways of looking at the world also arrived in Australia around the same time, namely Robert Frank’s seminal book The Americans,17 a road movie photographic view of American culture full of disparate angles, juke boxes, American flags, car, bikes and diners.18

 

Beginnings

While legislatively the National Gallery had split from the State Library of Victoria in 1944,19 it wasn’t until August, 1968 that the National Gallery of Victoria moved into it’s own building designed by Roy Grounds at 180 St Kilda Road (now known as NGV International).20 In the years leading up to the move the Trustees and Staff went on a massive spending spree:

But although the sources of income from bequests were limited during the year [1967], a somewhat increased Government purchasing grant continued, which, with the allowance made by the Felton Committee, seemed to stimulate Trustees and Staff almost to a prodigality of spending. Perhaps, too, an urge for as full a display as possible at the opening of the new Gallery contributed; for by the end of the year the entire grant for purchase until the end of June 1968 had been consumed, and as well some commitments made for the future. Only donations made from private sources, and through the generosity of the National Gallery society, enabled the rate of acquisition to be maintained.”21

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Unfortunately, this profligacy did not include spending on photography. This was because the Department of Photography was only formed in April 1967 after the Director at the time, Dr Eric Westbrook, convinced the Trustees of the Gallery “that the time had come to allow photographs into the collection.”22 The impetus for establishing a photography collection “was the growing recognition and promotion of the aesthetics of photography.”23 The Department of Photography at the NGV thus became the first officially recognised curatorial photography department devoted to the collection of photography as an art form in its own right in Australia and one of only a few dedicated specifically to collecting photography in the world.24 While the collecting criteria of the NGV has always emphasised “the primacy of the object as an example of creative expression,”25 the fluid nature of photography was acknowledged in a 1967 report on the establishment of the Department of Photography.26

The new department, however, did not gain momentum until the establishment of a Photographic Subcommittee in October 1969 that consisted of the Director of the Gallery and three notable Melbourne photographers: Athol Shmith, Les Gray and Chairman, Dacre Stubbs, along with the Director of the National Gallery Art School, Lenton Parr. Advising the Committee were honorary representatives Albert Brown (in Adelaide) and Max Dupain (in Sydney).27 The Photographic Subcommittee defined the philosophies of the Department and began acquiring photographs for the collection.28 While the Department was located in the Gallery’s library and had no designated exhibition space at this time,29 Committee members stressed the need to make contacts with the international art world and fact-finding missions were essential in order to establish a curatorial department in Australia as no photography department had ever been established in Australia before. “Members were also concerned to position the new Department in an international context (achieved initially through linking the Gallery to an international exhibitions network and later by purchasing international photography.”30

Financial support and gallery space was slow in materialising and then (as now) “it was enlightened corporate and individual support that would significantly help the NGV to create its photography collection.”31 The first attributable international photograph to enter the collection was the 21.8 x 27.5 cm bromoil photograph Nude (1939) by the Czechoslovakian photographer Frantisek Drtikol in 1971 (Gift of C. Stuart Tompkins),32 an artist of which there remains only one work in the collection, and other early international acquisitions included twenty-seven documentary photographs taken during NASA missions to the moon in the years 1966 – 1969 (presented by Photimport in 1971)33 and work by French photographer M. Lucien Clergue in 1972, founder of the Arles Festival of Photography.34 Early international exhibitions included The Photographers Eye from the Museum of Modern Art in New York (facilitated through Albert Brown’s connections with photography curator John Szarkowski of MoMA).35

The purchasing of the Dritkol nude is understandable as he is an important photographer of people and nudes. “Drtikol made many portraits of very important people and nudes which show development from pictorialism and symbolism to modern composite pictures of the nude body with geometric decorations and thrown shadows, where it is possible to find a number of parallels with the avant-garde works of the period.”36 The acceptance of the set of twenty-seven NASA photographs is understandable but still problematic. Although some of the photographs are breathtakingly beautiful and they would have had some social significance at that time (the first lunar landing was in 1969), their relative ‘value’ as pinnacles of international documentary photography, both aesthetically and compositionally, must be questioned.37 One wonders on what grounds the Photographic Subcommittee recommended their acceptance at the very start of the collection of international photography for the Department of Photography when so many definitive photographs by outstanding masters of photography could have been requested as a donation instead. Similarly, the purchase by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1980 of over 108 space photographs by NASA, Washington, D.C. (manufacturer) for the international collection is equally mystifying when there was a wealth of European and American master photographers work being shown in exhibitions around Melbourne (and sold at very low prices, eg. $150 for a Paul Strand vintage print) that did not enter the collection.

In 1972 Jenny Boddington (with a twenty year background in documentary film)38 was appointed Assistant Curator of Photography. She was selected from fifty-three applicants,39 and was later to become the first full-time curator of photography at the NGV, the first in Australia and perhaps only the third ever full-time photography curator in the world. In 1973, the Melbourne photographer Athol Shmith, who sat on the Photographic Subcommittee, visited major galleries and dealers in London and Paris for five weeks and reserved small selections of non-vintage prints for purchase by Henri Lartigue, Bill Brandt, Paul Strand, Andre Kertesz, Edward Steichen and Margaret Bourke-White40 (non-contemporary ie. vintage work not being generally available at this time). Also in 1973 the corridor beside the Prints and Drawings Department opened as the first photography exhibition space, to be followed in 1975 by the opening of a larger photography gallery on the third floor.41

In 1975 Boddington made a six-week tour of Europe, London and America that included meeting photographers Andre Kertesz and Bill Brandt and the Director of the Museum of Modern Art, John Szarkowski.42 Boddington also spent four weeks viewing photography at the MoMA, time that radically changed her ideas about running the department, including the decision that priority be given to the acquisition of important overseas material. She states:

“My ideas about the running of my department are radically changed … I believe that for some time in the future immediate priority and all possible energy should be given to the acquisition of important overseas material, remembering that ours is the only museum in Australia with a consistent policy of international collecting, and that effort in the initiation and mounting of exhibitions can be saved by showing some of the best work we have already purchased.”43

As Suzanne Tate notes in her Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, Boddington “was also determined to achieve autonomy from the Photographic Subcommittee, and to act on her own judgement, as other curators did.”44 Perhaps this understandable desire for autonomy and the resultant split and aversion (towards the Photographic Subcommittee) can be seen as the beginning of the problems that were to dog the nascent Photography department. In 1976 the Photographic Subcommittee was discontinued although Les Gray (who expressed a very ‘camera club’ aesthetic) continued to act as honorary advisor.45 The Photography department continued to collect both Australian and international photography in equal measure (but of equal value?) and held exhibitions of international photography from overseas institutions (including the early exhibition The Photographer’s Eye in 1968)46 and from the permanent collection (such as an exhibition of work by Andre Kertész, Bill Brandt and Paul Strand)47 in order to educate the public, not only in the history of the medium but how to ‘see’ photography and read ‘good’ photographic images from the mass of consumer images in the public domain.48

 

Paradigms and problems of international photography collecting at the National Gallery of Victoria

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It does not do to be impatient in the business of collecting for an art museum. A public collection is a very permanent thing. It is really necessary to think in terms of the future and how our photographs and our century will appear in that future. We would like those in the future to inherit material that is intelligible both for itself and in relation to the other arts; at the same time there is the need to satisfy the present. A collection cannot be richer than the responses of its artists but it is hoped that it will represent a rich trawl of each historical period.”

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Jenny Boddington 49

 

The current photography collection at The National Gallery of Victoria consists of over 15,000 photographs of which around 3,000 are by international artists (a ratio of 20% whereas the ratio between Australian/international photographers at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra is 60/40%).50 Dr Isobel Crombie, now Assistant Director, Curatorial and Collection Management and former Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria, notes in her catalogue introduction “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” from the exhibition Re_View: 170 years of Photography that several factors have affected the collection of international photographs at The National Gallery of Victoria. I have identified what I believe to be the three key factors:

  1. Lack of financial support
  2. The purchasing of non-vintage prints
  3. The dilemma of distance

 

Financial support

When the Department of Photography was set up at The National Gallery of Victoria the lack of adequate funds tempered the Photography Subcommittees purchasing aspirations. This situation continued after the appointment of Jenny Boddington and continues to this day. Athol Shmith noted that there were two options for building a collection: one was to spend substantial funds to acquire the work of a few key photographers, the other option (the one that was adopted) was a policy of acquiring a small number of works by a wide range of practitioners, a paradigm that still continues.51 “A broadly based collecting policy was established to purchase work by Australian and International practitioners from all periods of photographic history.”52

The majority of early acquisitions of the Department were overwhelmingly Australian but this collection policy broadened dramatically after the overseas travel of Athol Shmith and Jenny Boddington.53 Cultural cringe was prevalent with regard to Australian photography and it was rarely, if ever, talked about as art. Australian photography was still in the hands of the camera clubs and magazines and influenced by those aesthetics… but the ability to purchase the desired international work was severely curtailed due, in part, to the low exchange rate of the Australian dollar. In 1976 one Australian dollar was worth approximately US 40 cents. Another reason was the lack of money to purchase international work. In the early 1970s the Department had approximately $3,000 a year to purchase any work (international or Australian) that gradually built up to about $30,000 per annum in the mid 1970s. In 1981-82, this was reduced to almost zero because of the financial crisis and credit squeeze that enveloped Australia. This lack of funds to purchase work was compounded by sky rocketing prices for international photographs by renowned photographers in the early 1980s.

While generous help over eight years from Kodak (Australasia) Pty. Ltd had helped buy Australian works for the collection (a stipulation of the funds),54 money for international acquisitions had been less forthcoming. In a catalogue text from 1983 Boddington notes,

.
“… classic, well-known photographs are now very expensive indeed. One can only look back with sincere appreciation to the days when the department’s purchasing budget was $1000 a year and the trustees agreed to buy 27 Bill Brandts, whilst the National Gallery Society donated a further 13 from ‘Perspective of Nudes’, thus concluding out first major international purchase, happily before Brandt’s prices quintupled in a single blow early in 1975. Photography was then beginning to be a factor in the market place of art and a budget of $1000 a year was no longer adequate – even for the purchase of Australian work! Where funds are limited (as they are) a fairly basic decision has to be made as to the direction a collection will follow. Here in Melbourne we have on the whole focused on the purest uses of straight photography as it reflects broad cultural concerns …”
55

.
By 1976 the Felton Bequest purchased works by Julie Margaret-Cameron (one image!) and the NGV purchased thirty-four André Kertész, evidence that the status of the Photography department was rising. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s and early 1980s, eighty works were acquired by artists such as Imogen Cunningham (five images), Edward Muybridge (two images – the only two in the collection), Lois Conner (three images) and Man Ray (eleven images).56 In 1995 Isobel Crombie revised the collecting policy of the Department and she notes in “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” Appendix 1 in Suzanne Tate’s Postgraduate Diploma Thesis under the heading ‘International Photography’57 that, “Given our financial resources extremely selective purchases are to be made in this area to fill those gaps in the collection of most concern to students and practicing photographers.”58 Crombie further notes that the contemporary collection is an area that needs much improvement whilst acknowledging the dramatic increases in prices asked and realised for prime photographs and the restricted gallery funds for purchases.59

While today the importance of philanthropy, fund raising and sponsorship is big business within the field of museum art collecting one cannot underestimate the difficulties faced by Boddington in collecting photographs by international artists during the formative years of the collection. As photography was liberated to become an art form in the early 1970s through the establishment of museum departments, through the emergence of photographic schools and commercial photographic galleries (such as the three commercial photography galleries showing Australian and international work in Melbourne: Brummels (Rennie Ellis), Church Street Photographic Centre (Joyce Evans) and The Photographers Gallery (Paul Cox, John Williams, William Heimerman and Ian Lobb), photography was given a place to exist, a place to breathe and become part of the establishment. But my feeling is that the status of photography as an art form, which was constantly having to be fought for, hindered the availability of funding both from within the National Gallery of Victoria itself and externally from corporate and philanthropic institutions and people.

To an extent I believe that this bunker mentally hindered the development of the photographic collection at the National Gallery of Victoria until much more recent times. Instead of photography being seen as just art and then going out and buying that art, the battle to define itself AS art and defend that position has had to be replayed again and again within the NGV, especially during the late 1970s-1980s and into the early 1990s.60 This is very strange position to be in, considering that the NGV had the prescience to set up one of the first ever photography departments in a museum in the world. Then to not support it fully or fund it, or to really understand what was needed to support an emergent art form within a museum setting so that the masterpieces vital for the collection could to be purchased, is perplexing to say the least. I also wonder whether more could not have been done to attract philanthropy and funds from personal and big business enterprises to support international acquisitions. I also wonder about the nature of some of the international purchases for the Department of Photography (the choice of photographer or photographs purchased) and the politics of how those works were acquired.

 

The purchasing of non-vintage prints

The paradigm for collecting international photographs early in the history of the Department of Photography was set by Athol Shmith in 1973 on his visit to Paris and London.

“Typically for the times, Shmith did not choose to acquire vintage prints, that is, photographs made shortly after the negative was taken. While vintage prints are most favoured by collectors today, in the 1970s vintage prints supervised by the artists were considered perfectly acceptable and are still regarded as a viable, if less impressive option now.”61

.
This assertion is debatable. While many museums including the NGV preferred to acquire portfolios of modern reprints as a speedy way of establishing a group of key images, Crombie notes in the catalogue essay to 2nd Sight: Australian Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria that the reason for preferring the vintage over the modern print “is evident when confronted with modern and original prints: differences in paper, scale and printing styles make the original preferable.”62 Crombie’s text postulates that this sensibility, the consciousness of these differences slowly evolved in the photographic world and, for most, the distinctions were not a matter of concern even though the quality of the original photograph was not always maintained.63 I believe that this statement is only a partial truth. While modern prints may have been acceptable there has always been a premium placed on the vintage print, a known value above and beyond that of modern prints, even at the very dawn of photography collecting in museums. I believe that price (which is never mentioned in this discussion) is the major reason for the purchase of non-vintage prints. In Crombie’s “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” she notes under the heading ‘Past Collecting Policy’ Point 1 that “Many non-vintage photographs have been collected … Purchase of non-vintage prints should not continue though we may we accept such photographs as gifts on occasion.”64

I vividly remember seeing a retrospective of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh in 2005. One room consisted of small, jewel-like vintage prints that were amazing in their clarity of vision and intensity of the resolution of the print. In the other three rooms there were large blown-up photographs of the originals, authorised by the artist. Seen at mural size the images fell apart, the tension within the picture plane vanished and the meaning of the image was irrevocably changed. Even as the artist’s intentions change over time, even as the artist reprints the work at a later stage, the photograph is not an autonomous object – it becomes a post-structuralist textual site where the artist and curator (and writers, conservators, historians and viewers) become the editors of the document and where little appeal can be made to the original intentions of the author (if they are known).65 While change, alteration, editing, revision and restoration represent the true life of objects66 (and noting that the same re-inscription also happens with vintage photographs), the purchase of non-vintage prints eliminates the original intention of the artist. This is not to say that the modern printing, such as Bill Brandt’s high contrast version of People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station (1940 printed 1976, below) cannot become the famous version of the image, but that some acknowledgement of the history of the image must be made. Ignoring the negative/print split is problematic to say the least, especially if the original was printed with one intention and the modern print with an entirely different feeling. This is not a matter of refinement of the image but a total reinterpretation (as in the case of the Brandt). While all artists do this, a failure to acknowledge the original vision for a work of art and the context in which it was taken and printed – in Brandt’s case he was asked by the War Office to record the Blitz, in which Londoners sheltered from German air raids in Underground stations – can undermine the reconceptualisation of the modern print.

 

Bill Brandt. 'People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station' 1940

 

Bill Brandt
People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station
1940
Silver gelatin print
© Bill Brandt Archive © IWM Non-Commercial License
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

Civilians sheltering in Elephant and Castle London Underground Station during an air raid in November 1940. Elephant and Castle London Underground Station Shelter: People sleeping on the crowded platform of Elephant and Castle tube station while taking shelter from German air raids during the London Blitz.

 

Bill Brandt. 'People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station' 1940 printed 1976

 

Bill Brandt
People sheltering in the Tube; Elephant and Castle, underground station
1940 printed 1976
Silver gelatin print
34.4 x 29.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1974

© Bill Brandt Archive
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

NB. Note the removal of the man sitting up at right in mid-foreground

 

 

The dilemma of distance

While the dilemma of distance is cited as an obstacle to the collection of international photographs by the Department of Photography in the early 1970s by Isobel Crombie,67 this observation becomes less applicable by the middle of the decade. Master prints from major international photographers were available for purchase in Australia by The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra (which had been collecting photography since the early 1970s),68 The Art Gallery of New South Wales (which established a Department of Photography in 1974),69 and The National Gallery of Victoria, through exhibitions at newly opened commercial galleries in both Melbourne and Sydney. Public touring exhibitions were held of the work of international photographers, most notably British Council exhibition of Bill Brandt in 1971, and the French Foreign Ministry’s major exhibition of Cartier-Bresson in 1974.70

In Melbourne commercial galleries specialising in photography and photographer run galleries had emerged, namely Brummels established by Rennie Ellis in 1972, The Photographers Gallery and Workshop founded by Paul Cox, Ingeborg Tyssen, John F. Williams and Rod McNicoll in 1973 (the Gallery was taken over in late 1974 by Ian Lobb, his first exhibition as director being at the beginning of 1975; Bill Heimerman joined as joint director at the beginning of 1976), and Church Street Gallery established by Joyce Evans in 1977.71 At the commercial galleries the main influence was overwhelmingly American:

“The impact of exhibitions held by the NGV was reinforced by exhibitions of the work of Ralph Gibson, William Clift, Paul Caponigro, Duane Michals and Harry Callahan at The Photographers Gallery and by the series of lectures and workshops that the artists conducted during those exhibitions. Joyce Evans also organised important exhibitions during this period but again the focus was American with work by Minor White, Jerry Uelsmann, Les Krims and others.”72

Shows of American photography, many of which toured extensively, became relatively commonplace and it was the first time Australian photographers and the general public had access to such a concentration of international photography in a variety of styles.73 Ian Lobb, who took over the running of the Photographers Gallery in late 1974 with Bill Heimerman), notes that the first exhibition of international photography at the gallery was that of Paul Caponigro in 1975.74

“We sold 22 prints which he told us was the second highest sale he had made to that point. With the success of the Caponigro show, we closed the gallery for a few months while the gallery was rebuilt. I took Bill as a business partner, and he made a trip to the USA to set-up some shows. From 1975, every second show was an international show.”75

Lobb observes that,

“The initial philosophy was simply to let people see the physical difference between the production of prints overseas and locally. After a while this moved from the Fine Print to other concerns both aesthetic and conceptual. The gallery at best, just paid for itself. During international shows the attendance at the gallery was high. During Australian shows the attendance was low.”76

.
From 1975 – 1981 The Photographers Gallery held exhibitions of August Sander (German – arranged by Bill Heimerman), Edouard Boubat (France), Emmet Gowin (USA – twice), Paul Caponigro (USA – twice), Ralph Gibson (UK – twice, once of his colour work), William Eggelston (USA), Eliot Porter (USA), Wynn Bullock (USA), William Clift (USA), Harry Callahan (USA), Aaron Siskind (USA – twice, once with a show hung at Ohnetitel) Jerry Uelsmann (USA), Brett Weston (USA). There was also an exhibition of Japanese artist Eikoh Hosoe (Japan) and his Ordeal by Roses series in 1986. These exhibitions comprise approximately 60% of all international exhibitions at The Photographers Gallery during this time, others being lost to the vagaries of memory and the mists of time. Prices ranged from $100 per print (yes, only $100 for these masterpieces!!) in the early years rising to $1500 for a print by Wyn Bullock towards the end of the decade.77 At Church Street Photographic Centre the focus was predominantly on Australian and American artists, with some British influence. Artists exhibited other than those noted above included Athol Shmith, Rennie Ellis, Wes Placek, Fiona Hall, Herbert Ponting, Julia Margaret Cameron, Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jack Cato, Norman Deck, Jan Saudek, Robert Frank, Edouard Boubat, Jerry Uelsmann and Albert Renger-Patzsch to name just a few.78

The purchasing of vintage prints by major international artists from these galleries by the National Gallery of Victoria was not helped by the allegedly strained relationships that Boddington had with the directors of these galleries. The feeling I get from undertaking the research is that one of the problems with Boddington’s desire to achieve autonomy and make her own decisions about what to purchase for the Photography Department (being strong willed) was that she ignored opportunities that we right here in Melbourne – because of the aforesaid relationships and lack of money (a lack of support from the hierarchy of the National Gallery of Victoria).

 

Conclusion

It would be a great pity if the oral history of the early exhibition of international photographers in Melbourne was lost, for it is a subject worthy of additional research. It would also be interesting to undertake further research in order to cross-reference the purchases of the Department of Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria in the years 1975-1981 with the independent international exhibitions that were taking place at commercial galleries in Melbourne during this time. What international photographs were purchased from local galleries, what choices were made to purchase or not purchase works, what works were actually purchased for the collection and what were the politics of these decisions?

For example, during 1976 nine photographs by the Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli (1925-2000) entered the collection as well as nineteen photographs by German photographer Hedda Morrison; in 1977 twelve photographs entered the collection by a photographer name Helmut Schmidt (a photographer whose name doesn’t even appear when doing a Google search). Under what circumstances did these photographs come into the collection? While these people might be good artists they are not in the same league as the stellar names listed above that exhibited at The Photographers Gallery and Church Street Photographic Centre. Questions need to be asked about the Department of Photography acquisitions policy and the independent choices of the curator Jennie Boddington, especially as the international prints were here in Melbourne, on our doorstep and not liable to the tyranny of distance.

Dr Isobel Crombie notes that the acquisitions policies were altered so that there was no major duplication between collections within Australia79 but it seems strange that, with so many holes in so many collections around the nation at this early stage, major opportunities that existed to purchase world class masterpieces during the period 1975-81 were missed by the Department of Photography at the NGV.

While Crombie acknowledges the preponderance of American works in the collection over European and Asian works she also notes that major 20th century photographers that you would expect to be in the collection are not, and blames this lack “on the massive increases in prices for international photography that began in the 1980s and which largely excluded the NGV from the market at this critical time.”80 Crombie further observes that major contemporary photographers work can cost over a million dollars a print and the cost of vintage historical prints are also prohibitively high,81 so the ability to fill gaps in the collection is negligible, especially since the photography acquisitions budget is approximately 0.5-1 million dollars a year.82

Crombie’s time scale seems a little late for as we have seen in this essay, opportunities existed locally to purchase world class prints from master international photographers before prices rose to an exorbitant level. Put simply, the NGV passed up the opportunity to purchase these masterworks at reasonable prices for a variety of reasons (personal, political and financial) before the huge price rises of the early 1980s. They simply missed the boat.

I believe that this subject is worthy of further in-depth research undertaken without fear nor favour. While it is understandable that the NGV would want to protect it’s established reputation, the NGV is a partial public institution that should not be afraid to open up to public scrutiny the formative period in the history of the international collection of photography, in order to better understand the decisions, processes and photographic prints now held in it’s care.

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan
May 2015

Word count: 5,594

 

Bibliography

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. 1936

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Shocken, 1969

Boddington, Jennie. International Photography: 100 images from the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Adelaide: The Art Gallery of South Australia, 1983

Boddington, Jennie. Overseas Travel by Assistant Curator of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976

Boddington, Jennie. Modern Australian Photographs. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976

Cox, Leonard B. The National Gallery of Victoria, 1861-1968: The Search for a Collection. Melbourne: The National Gallery of Victoria; Brown Prior Anderson Pty Ltd, 1971

Crombie, Isobel. Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009

Crombie, Isobel. Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002

Downer, Christine. “Photographs,” in Galbally, Ann [et al]. The first collections: the Public Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in the 1850s and the 1860s. Parkville, Vic.,: The University of Melbourne Museum of Art, 1992, pp. 73-79

Frank, Robert. The Americans. Washington: Steidl/National Gallery of Art, Revised edition, May 30, 2008

Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, Collins, 1988

Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, 1998

 

 

George Baron Goodman, d. 1851. [Dr William Bland, ca. 1845 - portrait] c. 1845

 

George Baron Goodman, d. 1851
[Dr William Bland]
c. 1845
Daguerreotype (ninth plate daguerreotype in Wharton case)
7.5 x 6.3 cm
© State Library of New South Wales collection
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

This daguerreotype is the earliest known surviving photograph taken in Australia. It is probably that mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald 14/1/1845, page 2, top column 5… It would appear to be a product of Goodman’s new studio at 49 Hunter Street, Sydney (see SMH 5/8/1844), before the introduction of hand colouring (see SMH 9/1/1845) and before the introduction of decorative backgrounds (see SMH 25/4/1846). It was probably produced between November 1844 and early January 1845 – Alan Davies, Curator of Photographs, State Library of NSW, 1993. (Image used for research under fair use conditions).

 

Front cover of John Szarkowski's book 'The Photographers Eye'

 

Front cover of John Szarkowski’s book The Photographers Eye, originally published by The Museum of Modern Art in 1966

 

André Kertész. 'A Bistro at Les Halles, Paris' 1927

 

André Kertész
A Bistro at Les Halles, Paris
1927
Gelatin silver photograph
17.7 x 24.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1976
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Mrs Herbert Duckworth, her son George, Florence Fisher and H. A. L. Fisher' c. 1871

 

Julia Margaret Cameron
Mrs Herbert Duckworth, her son George, Florence Fisher and H. A. L. Fisher
c. 1871
Albumen silver photograph
31.0 x 22.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Herald & Weekly Times Limited, Fellow, 1979
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Leaf pattern' c. 1929; printed 1979

 

Imogen Cunningham
Leaf pattern
c. 1929; printed 1979
Gelatin silver photograph
33.0 x 26.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 1979
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

NASA, Washington, D.C. (manufacturer) 'Instrument called Gnomon to determine size and distance of objects on moon' 1969

 

NASA, Washington, D.C. (manufacturer)
Instrument called Gnomon to determine size and distance of objects on moon
1969
Gelatin silver photograph on aluminium
49.0 x 39.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Photimport, 1971
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

Neil Armstrong. 'Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the Moon near the leg of the Lunar Module (LM)' 1969

 

Neil Armstrong / NASA, Washington, D.C. (manufacturer)
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the Moon near the leg of the Lunar Module (LM)
1969
Colour transparency
50.8 x 40.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 1980
Photograph used under conditions of “fair use” for the purpose of academic research

 

 

Endnotes

  • 1. Anon. “Photography in Australia,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 01/08/2014.
  • 2. “Daguerreotype Portrait of Dr William Bland circa 1845,” on the State Library of New South Wales website [Online] Cited 27/07/2014.
  • 3. Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, Collins, 1988 [Online] Cited 02/06/2014.
  • 4. Fennessy, Kathleen. “For ‘Love of Art’: The Museum of Art and Picture Gallery at the Melbourne Public library 1860 – 1870,” in The La Trobe Journal 75, Autumn, 2005, p. 5 [Online] Cited 27/07/2014.
  • 5. Anon. “Pictures,” on the State Library of Victoria website [Online] Cited 02/09/2010. No longer available.
  • 6. Fox, Paul. “Stretching the Australian Imagination: Melbourne as a Conservative City,” in The La Trobe Journal 80, Spring, 2007, p. 124 [Online] Cited 27/07/2014.
  • 7. Tsara, Olga. “Linnaeus Tripe’s ‘Views of Burma’,” in The La Trobe Journal 79, Autumn, 2007, p. 55 [Online] Cited 27/07/2014.
  • 8. Crombie, Isobel. “Likenesses as if by magic: The early years 1840s – 1850s,” in Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002, p. 15.
  • 9. Fox, Paul Op. cit., p. 124.
  • 10. Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, Collins, 1988 [Online] Cited 02/07/2014. Chapter 11 “Live in the Year 1929” and Chapter 12 “Commerce and Commitment.”
  • 11. Crombie, Isobel. Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002. See chapters “In a new light: Pictorialist photography 1900s – 1930s” (p.38), “New Photography: Modernism in Australia 1930s – 1940s” (p.50) and “Clear statements of actuality: Documentary photography 1940s – 1960s” (p.64).
  • 12. Anon. “The Family of Man,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 02/09/2014
  • 13. Newton, Gael. Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988. Canberra: Australian National Gallery, Collins, 1988 [Online] Cited 02/06/2010. Chapter 13 “Photographic Illustrators: The Family of Man and the 1960s – an end and a beginning” and Footnote 13.
  • 14. Ibid., See also the layout and size of the photographic murals on the Musuem THE FAMILY OF MAN, Chateau de Clervaux / Luxembourg website, the only permanent display of the exhibition left in the world. [Online] Cited 02/09/2014.
  • 15. “Benjamin’s work balances, often with paradoxical results, tensions between aspects of experience: the experiences simultaneously of being too late and too early (too soon) in the temporal dimension (c.f. Hamlet’s “the time is out of joint”) and being both distant and close (in the spatial dimension), and anyway of being both temporal and spatial. The concept of “aura,” which is one of Benjamin’s most influential contributions, is best understood in terms of these tensions or oscillations. He says that “aura” is a “strange web of space and time” or “a distance as close as it can be.” The main idea is of something inaccessible and elusive, something highly valued but which is deceptive and out of reach. Aura, in this sense, is associated with the nineteenth century notions of the artwork and is thus lost, Benjamin argues, with the onset of photography. At first photographs attempted to imitate painting but very quickly and because of the nature of the technology photography took its own direction contributing to the destruction of all traditional notions of the fine arts.”
    Phillips, John. On Walter Benjamin. [Online] Cited 02/06/2014.
    “One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.”
    Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. 1936, Section 2. [Online] Cited 02/06/2014.
  • 16. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Shocken, 1969, p. 236.
  • 17. Frank, Robert. The Americans. Washington: Steidl/National Gallery of Art, Revised edition, May 30, 2008.
  • 18. Newton, op.cit., Chapter 13.
  • 19. Anon. “A chronology of events in the history of the State Library of Victoria,” on the State Library of Victoria website. [Online] Cited 03/06/2010. No longer available.
  • 20. See Cox, Leonard B. The National Gallery of Victoria, 1861 – 1968: The Search for a Collection. Melbourne: The National Gallery of Victoria; Brown Prior Anderson Pty Ltd, 1971.
  • 21. Ibid., p. 378.
  • 22. Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 7.
  • 23. Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 7.
  • 24. Westbrook, Eric. “Minutes of the Photographic Subcommittee” 22/07/1970 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, Chapter One, 1998, pp. 12-13. Other institutions included the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • 25. Crombie, Isobel. op. cit., Introduction p. 6.
  • 26. Westbrook, Eric and Brown, Albert. “Establishment of Photography at the Victorian Arts Centre,” in Minutes of Trustees Reports, NGV, 4th April, 1967, p. 886 quoted in Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 6. Footnote 2.
  • 27. See Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 8 and Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 14-15.
  • 28. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1969 – 70. Melbourne, 1970, np quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 14-15.
  • 29. NGV Photographic Subcommittee. Report. Melbourne, 1970, p. 2 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. p. 16.
  • 30. Crombie, Isobel. op cit., Introduction p. 8.
  • 31. Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 7.
  • 32. Ibid.,
  • 33. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1971-72. Melbourne, 1970, np quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. p. 16.
  • 34. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1972-73. Melbourne, 1970, np quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. p. 16.
  • 35. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1969-70. Melbourne, 1970, np quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. p. 16.
  • 36. Anon. “Frantisek Drtikol,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 06/10/2014.
  • 37. Some of these images have been shown for the first time in over twenty years in the 2009 exhibition Light Years: Photography and Space in the third floor photography gallery at NGV International.
  • 38. “After Eureka Stockade Boddington went to work at Film Australia and in 1950 worked for the GPO Film Unit. With the introduction of television she went to work at the ABC as an editor. She and her second husband cameraman Adrian Boddington would then set up their own company Zanthus Films. After his death she became the curator of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1971.”
    Allen, J. “Australian Visions. The films of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings,” in Eras Journal Edition 4, December 2002, Footnote 33 [Online] Cited 14/10/2014
  • 39. Minutes of the NGV Photographic Subcommittee. Melbourne, 16/05/1972 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 17-18.
  • 40. Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9.
  • 41. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1974-75. Melbourne, 1975, p. 24 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 17-18.
  • 42. Boddington, J. Overseas Travel by Assistant Curator of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976, pp. 1-3 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 43. Boddington, J. quoted in Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9.
    See also Boddington, J. quoted in quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 44. Boddington, J. Overseas Travel by Assistant Curator of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976, pp. 1-3 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 45. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1975-76. Melbourne, 1976, p. 26 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 46. See Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9.
  • 47. NGV Trustees. National Gallery of Victoria Annual Report 1975-76. Melbourne, 1976, p. 27 quoted in Tate, Suzanne. op cit., Chapter 2: The Photography Department of the National Gallery of Victoria. pp. 18-19.
  • 48. See Crombie, Op. cit., p. 9.
  • 49. Boddington, Jenny. Modern Australian Photographs. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976. Catalogue essay.
  • 50. See Crombie, Op. cit., p. 7.
    “The first formulation of policy in the Gallery’s annual report of 1976/77 stated the aim was to ‘develop a department of photography which will include both Australian and overseas works. The Australian collection will be historically comprehensive, while the collection of overseas photographers will aim to represent the work of the major artists in the history of photography’. Since that statement of intent thirty years ago, the collection has grown to include over 16,000 works. There are approximately sixty per cent Australian to forty per cent international photographs, a ratio that has remained constant over the years.”
    O’Hehir, Anne. “VIP: very important photographs from the European, American and Australian photography collection 1840s – 1940s” exhibition 26 May – 19 August 2007 on the National Gallery of Australia website [Online] Cited 12/10/2014.
  • 51. See Crombie, Op. cit., p. 9.
  • 52. Crombie, Isobel. “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” in Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, 1998, p. 73. Appendix 1
  • 53. Crombie, Isobel. Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002, p. 9
  • 54. Boddington, Jennie. Modern Australian Photographs. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1976. Catalogue essay.
  • 55. Boddington, Jennie. International Photography: 100 images from the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Adelaide: The Art Gallery of South Australia, 1983. Catalogue essay.
    Here we must acknowledge the contradiction between the quotations at footnotes 52 and 55, where the former proposes a broad based collecting policy from all eras both internationally and locally and, a few years later, the other proposes a focus on the purest uses of straight photography (in other words pure documentary photography) as it reflects broad cultural concerns.
  • 56. Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, 1998, pp. 19-20
  • 57. Crombie, Isobel. “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” cited in Tate, Suzanne. Ibid., Appendix 1 ‘International Photography’ Point 2, 1900 – 1980,  p. 73
  • 58. Ibid.,
  • 59. Ibid.,
  • 60. This battle is still being fought even in 2014. See Jones, Jonathan. “The $6.5m canyon: it’s the most expensive photograph ever – but it’s like a hackneyed poster in a posh hotel,” on The Guardian website 11/12/2014 [Online] Cited 15/11/2014
  • 61. Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9
  • 62. Crombie, Isobel. Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002, p. 10
  • 63. Ibid., p. 10
  • 64. Crombie, Isobel. “Collecting Policy for the Department of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (Revised October 1995),” in Tate, Suzanne. Photographic Collections in Victoria: Waverley City Gallery, Horsham Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria: An Analysis of Past History and Future Directions. The University of Melbourne: Postgraduate Diploma Thesis, 1998, p. 73. Appendix 1
  • 65. McCaughy, Patrick. Review of ‘Securing the Past: Conservation in Art, Architecture and Literature’ by Paul Eggert on The Australian newspaper website [Online] December 2nd, 2009. Cited 01/01/2015
  • 66. Ibid.,
  • 67. Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p. 9
  • 68. O’Hehir, Anne. op.cit.
  • 69. Dean, Robert. “Foreign Influences in Australian Photography 1930 – 80.” Lecture delivered at Australian Photographic Society Conference (APSCON), Canberra, 2000, p. 10. [Online] Cited 01/01/2015 Download the lecture (40kb pdf)
  • 70. Ibid.,
  • 71. Ibid., See also footnote 28
  • 72. Ibid., p. 11
  • 73. Ibid.,
  • 74. Lobb, Ian. Text from an email to the author, 20th May, 2014
  • 75. Ibid.,
  • 76. Ibid.,
  • 77. Ibid.,
  • 78. Evans, Joyce. Text from an email to the author, 6th September 2014
  • 79. Crombie, op. cit., p. 10
  • 80. Ibid.,
  • 81. Ibid.,
  • 82. Vaughan, Gerard. Lecture to Master of Art Curatorship students by the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne, 30/03/2010.

 

 

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12
Apr
15

Exhibition: ‘Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 13th December 2014 – 19th April 2015

Exhibition coincides with the culmination of the Thomas Walther Collection Project, a four-year research collaboration between MoMA’s curatorial and conservation staff

The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor

 

 

OMG, OMG, OMG if we had tele-transportation to travel around the world, I would be at this exhibition in an instant. Please MoMA, fly me to New York so that I can do a proper review of the exhibition!

Not only are there photographs from well known artists that I have never seen before – for example, the brooding mass of Boat, San Francisco (1925) by Edward Weston with the name of the boat… wait for it… ‘DAYLIGHT’ – there are also outstanding photographs from artists that I have never heard of before.

There is so much to like in this monster posting, from the glorious choreography of British ‘Chute Jumpers (1937) to the muscular symmetry and abstraction of Rodchenko’s Dive (1934); from the absolutely stunning light and movement of Riefenstahl’s Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race (August 1936) to the ecstatic, ghost-like swimming in mud apparitions of Kate Steinitz’s Backstroke (1930) – an artist who I knew nothing about (Kate Steinitz was a German-American artist and art historian affiliated with the European Bauhaus and Dadaist movements in the early 20th century. She is best known for her collaborative work with the artist Kurt Schwitters, and, in later life, her scholarship on Leonardo da Vinci). Another artist to flee Germany in the mid-1930s to evade the persecution of the Nazis.

In fact, when you look through the checklist for this exhibition I look at the country of origin of the artist, and the date of their death. There are a lot of artists from Germany and France. Either they lived through the maelstrom of the Second World War and survived, escaped to America or England, or died during the war and their archive was lost (such as the artist Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945)). For some artists surviving the war was not enough either… trapped behind the Iron Curtain after repatriation, artists such as Edmund Kesting went unacknowledged in their lifetime. What a tough time it must have been. To have created this wonderful avant-garde art and then to have seen it dashed against the rocks of violence, prejudice and bigotry – firstly degenerate, then non-conforming to Communist ideals.

Out of the six sections of the exhibition (The Modern World, Purisms, Reinventing Photography, The Artist’s Life, Between Surrealism and Magic Realism, and Dynamics of the City) it would seem that the section ‘Reinventing Photography’ is the weakest – going from the checklist – with a lack of really memorable images for this section, hence only illustrated in this posting by one image. But this is a minor quibble. When you have images such as Anne W. Brigman’s A Study in Radiation (1924) or Edmund Kesting’s magnificent Glance to the Sun (Blick zur Sonne) (1928) who cares! I just want to see them all and soak up their atmosphere.

Marcus

PS. There is an excellent website titled Object:Photo to accompany the exhibition. It contains sections that map and compare photographs, connect and map artists’ lives along with many more images from the collection, conservation analysis and essays about the works. Well worth a look.

.
Many thankx to the MoMA for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images © The Museum of Modern Art

Note: Images below correspond to their sections in the exhbition.

 

 

“Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949, on view from December 13, 2014, to April 19, 2015, explores photography between the First and Second World Wars, when creative possibilities were never richer or more varied, and when photographers approached figuration, abstraction, and architecture with unmatched imaginative fervor. This vital moment is dramatically captured in the photographs that constitute the Thomas Walther Collection, a remarkable group of works presented together for the first time through nearly 300 photographs. Made on the street and in the studio, intended for avant-garde exhibitions or the printed page, these objects provide unique insight into the radical intentions of their creators. Iconic works by such towering figures as Berenice Abbott, Karl Blossfeldt, Alvin Langdon Coburn, El Lissitzky, Lucia Moholy, László Moholy-Nagy, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and Paul Strand are featured alongside lesser-known treasures by more than 100 other practitioners. The exhibition is organized by Quentin Bajac, the Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, and Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, Department of Photography, MoMA.

The exhibition coincides with Object:Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949, the result of a four-year collaborative project between the Museum’s departments of Photography and Conservation, with the participation of over two dozen leading international photography scholars and conservators, making it the most extensive effort to integrate conservation, curatorial, and scholarly research efforts on photography to date. That project is composed of multiple parts including a website that features a suite of digital-visualization research tools that allow visitors to explore the collection, a hard-bound paper catalogue of the entire Thomas Walther collection, and an interdisciplinary symposium focusing on ways in which the digital age is changing our engagement with historic photographs.

Modern Photographs from the Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949, is organized thematically into six sections, suggesting networks between artists, regions, and objects, and highlighting the figures whose work Walther collected in depth, including André Kertész, Germaine Krull, Franz Roh, Willi Ruge, Maurice Tabard, Umbo, and Edward Weston. Enriched by key works in other mediums from MoMA’s collection, this exhibition presents the exhilarating story of a landmark chapter in photography’s history.”

Press release from the MoMA website

 

The Collection

In the 1920s and ’30s photography underwent a period of exploration, experimentation, technical innovation, and graphic discovery so dramatic that it generated repeated claims that the true age of discovery was not when photography was invented but when it came of age, in this era, as a dynamic, infinitely flexible, and easily transmissible medium. The Thomas Walther Collection concentrates on that second moment of growth. The Walther Collection’s 341 photographs by almost 150 artists, most of them European, together convey a period of collective innovation that is now celebrated as one of the major episodes of modern art.

The Project

Our research is based on the premise that photographs of this period were not born as disembodied images; they are physical things – discrete objects made by certain individuals at particular moments using specific techniques and materials. Shaped by its origin and creation, the photographic print harbors clues to its maker and making, to the causes it may have served, and to the treatment it has received, and these bits of information, gathered through close examination of the print, offer fresh perspectives on the history of the era. “Object:Photo” – the title of this study – reflects this approach.

In 2010, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave the Museum a grant to encourage deep scholarly study of the Walther Collection and to support publication of the results. Led by the Museum’s Departments of Photography and Conservation, the project elicited productive collaborations among scholars, curators, conservators, and scientists, who investigated all of the factors involved in the making, appearance, condition, and history of each of the 341 photographs in the collection. The broadening of narrow specializations and the cross-fertilization between fields heightened appreciation of the singularity of each object and of its position within the history of its moment. Creating new standards for the consideration of photographs as original objects and of photography as an art form of unusually rich historical dimensions, the project affords both experts and those less familiar with its history new avenues for the appreciation of the medium. The results of the project are presented in multiple parts: on the website, in a hard-bound paper catalogue of the entire Thomas Walther Collection (also titled Object:Photo), and through an interdisciplinary symposium focusing on the ways in which the digital age is changing our engagement with historic photographs.

Historical Context

The Walther Collection is particularly suited to such a study because its photographs are so various in technique, geography, genre, and materials as to make it a mine of diverse data. The revolutions in technology that made the photography of this period so flexible and responsive to the impulse of the operator threw open the field to all comers. The introduction of the handheld Leica
 in 1925 (a small camera using strips of 35mm motion-picture film), of enlargers to make positive prints from the Leica’s little negatives, and of easy-to-use photographic papers – each of these was respectively a watershed event. Immediately sensing the potential of these tools, artists began to explore the medium; without any specialized training, painters such as László Moholy-Nagy and Aleksandr Rodchenko could become photographers and teachers almost overnight. Excitedly and with an open sense of possibility, they freely experimented in the darkroom and in the studio, producing negative prints, collages and photomontages, photograms, solarizations, and combinations of these. Legions of serious amateurs also began to photograph, and manufacturers produced more types of cameras with different dimensions and capacities: besides the Leica, there was the Ermanox, which could function in low light, motion-picture cameras that could follow and stop action, and many varieties of medium- and larger-format cameras that could be adapted for easy transport. The industry responded to the expanding range of users and equipment with a bonanza of photographic papers in an assortment of textures, colors, and sizes. Multiple purposes also generated many kinds of prints: best for reproduction in books or newspapers were slick, ferrotyped glossies, unmounted and small enough to mail, while photographs for exhibition were generally larger and mounted to stiff boards. Made by practitioners ranging from amateurs to professional portraitists, journalists, illustrators, designers, critics, and artists of all stripes, the pictures in the Walther Collection are a true representation of the kaleidoscopic multiplicity of photography in this period of diversification.

Text from the MoMA website

 

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Gustav Klutsis. 'Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event' 1928

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)
Postcard for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event
1928
Offset lithograph
5 3/4 x 4 1/8″ (14.1 x 10.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Gustav Klutsis (Latvian, 1895-1938)

Latvian painter, sculptor, graphic artist, designer and teacher, active in Russia. He was an important exponent of Russian Constructivism. He studied in Riga and Petrograd (now St Petersburg), but in the 1917 October Revolution joined the Latvian Rifle Regiment to defend the Bolshevik government; his sketches of Lenin and his fellow soldiers show Cubist influence. In 1918 he designed posters and decorations for the May Day celebrations and he entered the Free Art Studios (Svomas) in Moscow, where he studied with Malevich and Antoine Pevsner. Dynamic City (1919; Athens, George Costakis priv. col., see Rudenstine, no. 339) illustrates his adoption of the Suprematist style. In 1920 Klucis exhibited with Pevsner and Naum Gabo on Tver’skoy Boulevard in Moscow; in the same year Klucis joined the Communist Party. In 1920-21 he started experimenting with materials, making constructions from wood and paper that combined the geometry of Suprematism with a more Constructivist concern with actual volumes in space. In 1922 Klucis applied these experiments to utilitarian ends when he designed a series of agitprop stands based on various combinations of loudspeakers, speakers’ platforms, display units, film projectors and screens. He taught a course on colour in the Woodwork and Metalwork Faculty of the Vkhutemas (Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops) from 1924 to 1930, and in 1925 helped to organize the Soviet section at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. During the 1920s he became increasingly interested in photomontage, using it in such agitprop posters as ‘We will repay the coal debt to the country’ (1928; e.g. New York, MOMA). During the 1930s he worked on graphic and typographical design for periodicals and official publications. He was arrested and died during the purges in World War II.

From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

 

Willi Ruge. 'Photo of Myself at the Moment of My Jump' (Selbstfoto im Moment des Abspringens) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
Photo of Myself at the Moment of My Jump (Selbstfoto im Moment des Abspringens)
1931
Gelatin silver print
5 9/16 × 8 1/16″ (14.2 × 20.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Willi Ruge. 'With My Head Hanging Down before the Parachute Opened . . .' (Mit dem Kopf nach unten hängend, bei ungeöffnetem Fallschirm . . .) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
With My Head Hanging Down before the Parachute Opened . . .
(Mit dem Kopf nach unten hängend, bei ungeöffnetem Fallschirm . . .)
1931
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 × 8″ (14 × 20.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
Seconds before Landing (Sekunden vor der Landung)
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump (Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm)
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 × 5 9/16″ (20.4 × 14.1 cm) (irreg.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931 (detail)

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961)
Seconds before Landing (Sekunden vor der Landung) (detail)
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump (Ich fotografiere mich beim Absturz mit dem Fallschirm)
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 1/16 × 5 9/16″ (20.4 × 14.1 cm) (irreg.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Unknown photographer. 'British 'Chute Jumpers' 1937

 

Unknown photographer
British ‘Chute Jumpers
1937
Gelatin silver print
5 15/16 x 6 15/16″ (15.1 x 17.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Robert Petschow. 'Lines of Modern Industry: Cooling Tower' (Linien der modernen Industrie: Kühlturmanlage) 1920-29

 

Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945)
Lines of Modern Industry: Cooling Tower (Linien der modernen Industrie: Kühlturmanlage)
1920-29
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.5 × 11.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Albert Renger-Patzsch, by exchange

 

Robert Petschow. 'The Course of the Mulde with Sand Deposits in the Curves' (Der Lauf der Mulde mit Versandungen in den Windungen) 1920-33

 

Robert Petschow (German, 1888-1945)
The Course of the Mulde with Sand Deposits in the Curves (Der Lauf der Mulde mit Versandungen in den Windungen)
1920-33
Gelatin silver print
3 3/8 × 4 1/2″ (8.5 × 11.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Albert Renger-Patzsch, by exchange

 

 

Robert Petschow was studying in Danzig as a free balloon pilot in the West Prussian air force. During the First World War Petschow was a balloon observer with the rank of lieutenant in Poland, France and Belgium. Maybe it was the work of a balloon observer which led him to photography, in which he was worked freelance from 1920. His images appeared in the prestigious photographic yearbook The German photograph in which he was presented with photographers such as Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch Chargesheimer and Erich Salomon. The book Land of the Germans, which was published in 1931 by Robert Diesel and includes many photographs of Petschow went on to be published in four editions. In 1931 he journeyed with the airship LZ 127, the “Graf Zeppelin” to Egypt. He participated as an unofficial member of the crew to document the trip photographically. In 1936, at the age of 48 years, Petschow joined the rank of captain in the Air Force and ended his work as a senior editor at the daily newspaper The West, a position he held from 1930. For the following years, there is no information to Petschow.

Robert Petschow died at the age of 57 years on 17 October 1945 in Haldensleben after he had to leave his apartment in Berlin-Steglitz due to the war. He left there a picture archive with about 30,000 aerial photographs, which fell victim of the war. His contemporaries describe Petschow as a humorous person and a great raconteur. (Translated from the German Wikipedia)

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' (Pryzhok v vodu) 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive (Pryzhok v vodu)
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 3/8″ (29.7 x 23.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Dive' (Pryzhok v vodu) 1934

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Dive (Pryzhok v vodu)
1934
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 9 5/16″ (29.9 × 23.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Leni Riefenstahl. 'Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race' (Nächtlicher Start zum 1500-m-Lauf des Zehnkampfes) August 1936

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003)
Nocturnal Start of Decathlon 1,500m Race
(Nächtlicher Start zum 1500-m-Lauf des Zehnkampfes)

August 1936
Gelatin silver print 9 5/16 x 11 3/4″ (23.7 x 29.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Leni Riefenstahl. 'Untitled' 1936

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003)
Untitled
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 3/16 x 11 5/8″ (23.4 x 29.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Kate Steinitz 'Backstroke' (Rückenschwimmerinnen) 1930

 

Kate Steinitz (American, born Germany 1889-1975)
Backstroke (Rückenschwimmerinnen)
1930
Gelatin silver print
10 1/2 × 13 7/16″ (26.6 × 34.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

The Modern World

Even before the introduction of the handheld Leica camera in 1925, photographers were avidly exploring fresh perspectives, shaped by the unique experience of capturing the world through a lens and ideally suited to express the tenor of modern life in the wake of World War I. Looking up and down, these photographers found unfamiliar points of view that suggested a new, dynamic visual language freed from convention. Improvements in the light sensitivity of photographic films and papers meant that photographers could capture motion as never before. At the same time, technological advances in printing resulted in an explosion of opportunities for photographers to present their work to ever-widening audiences. From inexpensive weekly magazines to extravagantly produced journals, periodicals exploited the potential of photographs and imaginative layouts, not text, to tell stories. Among the photographers on view in this section are Martin Munkácsi (American, born Hungary, 1896-1963), Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003), Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956), and Willi Ruge (German, 1882-1961).

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, born Hawaii 1869-1950) 'A Study in Radiation' 1924

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, born Hawaii 1869-1950)
A Study in Radiation
1924
Gelatin silver print
7 11/16 × 9 3/4″ (19.6 × 24.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. B. S. Sexton and Mina Turner, by exchange

 

Bernard Shea Horne. 'Untitled' 1916-17

 

Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933)
Untitled
1916-17
Platinum print
8 1/16 × 6 1/8″ (20.5 × 15.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

Bernard Shea Horne. 'Design' 1916-17

 

Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933)
Design
1916-17
Platinum print
7 15/16 x 6 1/8″ (20.2 x 15.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Bernard Shea Horne was the son of Joseph Horne, who built a legendary department store in Pittsburgh. The younger Horne retired from the family business when he was in his thirties and moved to northern Virginia to pursue his interests in golf and photography. In 1916 he enrolled at the Clarence H. White School of Photography, in New York, and became friends with one of its teachers, the avant-garde painter Max Weber. Horne produced numerous Weber-inspired design exercises, which he compiled into albums of twenty Platinum prints each. The four prints in the Thomas Walther Collection belonged to an album that he gave to Weber.

In 1917 Horne was elected president of the White School’s alumni association, a post he retained until 1925. In 1918 instructor Paul L. Anderson left the school, and Horne took his place as teacher of the technique class, a job he held until 1926. That a middle-aged man of independent means commuted to the school several days a week from Princeton, New Jersey, where he then lived with his two sons, suggests Horne’s devotion to White and his Pictorialist aims. During these years, Horne played a major role in the White School’s activities. In 1920 he was given a one-person show in the exhibition room of the school’s new building, a show that the alumni bulletin described as “interesting and varied in subject and technique, rich in bromoils, strong in design.” Supportive of the practical applications of artistic photography, in 1920 White joined his school to other institutions, including the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Art Directors Club, to form The Art Center in New York. In 1926 Horne was given a one-person show at The Art Center, which marked the end of his active association with the school.

Abbaspour, Mitra, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg

 

Jarislav Rössler. 'Untitled' 1924

 

Jarislav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990)
Untitled
1924
Pigment print
9 1/16 × 9 1/16″ (23 × 23 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

 

Jaroslav Rössler (1902-1990) was one of the Czech avant-garde photographers of the first half of the twentieth century whose work has only recently become known outside Eastern Europe. Czech photography in the twenties and thirties produced radical modernist works that incorporated principles of abstract art and constructivism; Jaroslav Rossler was one of the most important and distinctive artists of the period. He became known for his fusing of different styles, bringing together elements of symbolism, pictorialism, expressionism, cubism, futurism, constructivism, new objectivity, and abstract art. His photographs often reduced images to elementary lines and shapes that seemed to form a new reality; he would photograph simple objects against a stark background of black and white, or use long exposures to picture hazy cones and spheres of light. From 1927 to 1935 he lived and worked in Paris, producing work influenced by constructivism and new objectivity. He used the photographic techniques and compositional approaches of the avant-garde, including photograms, large details, diagonal composition, photomontage, and double exposures, and experimented with color advertising photographs and still lifes produced with the carbro print process. After his return to Prague, he was relatively inactive until the late 1950s, when he reconnected with Czech artistic and photographic trends of that period, including informalism. This book documents each stage of Rossler’s career with a generous selection of duotone images, some of which have never been published before. The photographs are accompanied by texts by Vladimir Birgus, Jan Mlcoch, Robert Silverio, Karel Srp, and Matthew Witkovsky. (Amazon)

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo. 'A Fish Called Sierra' (Un pez que llaman sierra) 1944

 

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
A Fish Called Sierra (Un pez que llaman sierra)
1944
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 7 1/4″ (24.1 x 18.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection
Edward Steichen Estate and gift of Mrs. Flora S. Straus, by exchange

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo. 'Somewhat Gay and Graceful' (Un poco alegre y graciosa) 1942

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Somewhat Gay and Graceful (Un poco alegre y graciosa)
1942
Gelatin silver print
6 5/8 × 9 1/2″ (16.9 × 24.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo. 'Day of Glory' (Día de gloria) 1940s

 

Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Day of Glory (Día de gloria)
1940s
Gelatin silver print
6 3/4 × 9 1/2″ (17.2 × 24.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Edward Weston. 'Steel: Armco, Middletown, Ohio' October 1922

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Steel: Armco, Middletown, Ohio
October 1922
Palladium print
9 1/16 × 6 7/8″ (23 × 17.4 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

In Edward Weston’s journals, which he began on his trip to Ohio and New York in fall 1922, the artist wrote of the exhilaration he felt while photographing the “great plant and giant stacks of the American Rolling Mill Company” in Middletown, Ohio. He then went to see the great photographer and tastemaker Alfred Stieglitz. Were he still publishing the magazine Camera Work, Stieglitz told him, he would have reproduced some of Weston’s recent images in it, including, in particular, one of his smokestacks. The photograph’s clarity and the photographer’s frank awe at the beauty of the brute industrial subject seemed clear signs of advanced modernist tendencies.

In moving away from the soft focus and geometric stylization of his recent images, such as Attic of 1921 (MoMA 1902.2001), Weston was discovering a more straightforward approach, one of considered confrontation with the facts of the larger world much like that of his close friend Johan Hagemeyer, who was photographing such modern subjects as smokestacks, telephone wires, and advertisements. Shortly before his trip east, Weston had met R. M. Schindler, the Austrian architect, and had been excited by his unapologetically spare, modern house and its implications for art and design. Weston was also reading avant-garde European art magazines full of images and essays extolling machines and construction. Stimulated by these currents, Weston saw that by the time he got to Ohio he was “ripe to change, was changing, yes changed.”

The visit to Armco was the critical pivot, the hinge between Weston’s Pictorialist past and his modernist future. It marked a clear leave-taking from his bohemian circle in Los Angeles and the first step toward the cosmopolitan connections he made in New York and in Mexico City, where he moved a few months later to live with the Italian actress and artist Tina Modotti. The Armco photographs went with him and became talismans of the sea change, emblematic works that decorated his studio in Mexico, along with a Japanese print and a print by Picasso. When he sent a representation of his best work to the Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart in 1929, one of the smokestacks was included.

In the midst of such transformation, Weston maintained tried-and-true darkroom procedures. He had used an enlarger in earlier years but had abandoned the technique because he felt that too much information was lost in the projection. Instead he increasingly favored contact printing. To make the smokestack print, Weston enlarged his 3 ¼ by 4 ¼ inch (8.3 by 10.8 centimeter) original negative onto an 8 by 10 inch (20.3 by 25.4 centimeter) interpositive transparency, which he contact printed to a second sheet of film in the usual way, creating the final 8 by 10 inch negative. Weston was frugal; he was known to economize by purchasing platinum and palladium paper by the roll from Willis and Clements in England and trimming it to size. He exposed a sheet of palladium paper to the sun through the negative and, after processing the print, finished it by applying aqueous retouching media to any flaws. The fragile balance of the photograph’s chemistry, however, is evinced in a bubble-shaped area of cooler tonality hovering over the central stacks. The print was in Modotti’s possession at the time of her death in Mexico City, in 1942.

Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg

 

Edward Weston. 'Boat, San Francisco' 1925

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Boat, San Francisco
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 x 7 9/16″ (23.7 x 19.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Tina' January 30, 1924

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Tina
January 30, 1924
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 6 7/8″ (23 x 17.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund and The Fellows of Photography Fund, by exchange

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) 'Acanthus mollis' (Acanthus mollis [Akanthus, Bärenklau. Deckblätter, die Blüten sind entfernt, in 4facher Vergrößerung]) 1898-1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Acanthus mollis (Acanthus mollis [Akanthus, Bärenklau. Deckblätter, die Blüten sind entfernt, in 4facher Vergrößerung])
1898-1928
Gelatin silver print
11 3/4 × 9 3/8″ (29.8 × 23.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Purisms

The question of whether photography ought to be considered a fine art was hotly contested from its invention in 1839 into the 20th century. Beginning in the 1890s, in an attempt to distinguish their efforts from hoards of Kodak-wielding amateurs and masses of professionals, “artistic” photographers referred to themselves as Pictorialists. They embraced soft focus and painstakingly wrought prints so as to emulate contemporary prints and drawings, and chose subjects that underscored the ethereal effects of their methods. Before long, however, most avant-garde photographers had come to celebrate precise and distinctly photographic qualities as virtues. On both sides of the Atlantic, photographers were making this transition from Pictorialism to modernism, while occasionally blurring the distinction. Exhibition prints could be made with precious platinum or palladium, or matte surfaces that mimicked those materials. Perhaps nowhere is this variety more clearly evidenced than in the work of Edward Weston, whose suite of prints in this section suggests the range of appearances achievable with unadulterated contact prints from his large-format negatives. Other photographers on view include Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932), Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002), Jaromír Funke (Czech, 1896-1945), Bernard Shea Horne (American, 1867-1933), and Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946).

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1916-17

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
Vortograph
1916-17
Gelatin silver print
11 1/8 x 8 3/8″ (28.2 x 21.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

 

Vortograph

The intricate patterns of light and line in this photograph, and the cascading tiers of crystalline shapes, were generated through the use of a kaleidoscopic contraption invented by the American/British photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, a member of London’s Vorticist group. To refute the idea that photography, in its helplessly accurate capture of scenes in the real world, was antithetical to abstraction, Coburn devised for his camera lens an attachment made up of three mirrors, clamped together in a triangle, through which he photographed a variety of surfaces to produce the results in these images. The poet and Vorticist Ezra Pound coined the term “vortographs” to describe Coburn’s experiments. Although Pound went on to criticize these images as lesser expressions than Vorticist paintings, Coburn’s work would remain influential.

 

Reinventing Photography – Here Comes New Photographer 

In 1925, László Moholy-Nagy articulated an idea that became central to the New Vision movement: although photography had been invented 100 years earlier, it was only now being discovered by the avant-garde circles for all its aesthetic possibilities. As products of technological culture, with short histories and no connection to the old fine-art disciplines – which many contemporary artists considered discredited – photography and cinema were seen as truly modern instruments that offered the greatest potential for transforming visual habits. From the photogram to solarization, from negative prints to double exposures, the New Vision photographers explored the medium in countless ways, rediscovering known techniques and inventing new ones. Echoing the cinematic experiments of the same period, this emerging photographic vocabulary was rapidly adopted by the advertising industry, which appreciated the visual efficiency of its bold simplicity. Florence Henri (Swiss, born America, 1893-1982), Edward Quigley (American, 1898-1977), Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965), Franciszka Themerson and Stefan Themerson (British, born Poland, 1907-1988 and 1910-1988), and František Vobecký (Czech, 1902-1991) are among the numerous photographers represented here.

 

André Kertész. 'Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris' 1926-29

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary 1894-1985)
Magda, Mme Beöthy, M. Beöthy, and Unknown Guest, Paris
1926-29
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 7/8″ (7.9 × 9.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

André Kertész. 'Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe' 1926

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary 1894-1985)
Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 11/16″ (7.9 × 9.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund

 

Unknown Photographer. 'White Party, Dessau' (Weißes Fest, Dessau) March 20, 1926

 

Unknown Photographer
White Party, Dessau (Weißes Fest, Dessau)
March 20, 1926
Gelatin silver print
3 x 1 15/16″ (7.6 x 5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Acquired through the generosity of Howard Stein

 

Iwao Yamawaki. 'Lunch (12-2 p.m.)' (Mittagessen [12-2 Uhr]) 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Lunch (12-2 p.m.) (Mittagessen [12-2 Uhr])
1931
Gelatin silver print
6 7/16 × 4 5/8″ (16.3 × 11.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Gertrud Arndt. 'At the Masters' Houses' (An den Meisterhäusern) 1929-30

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)
At the Masters’ Houses (An den Meisterhäusern)
1929-30
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 x 6 1/4″ (22.6 x 15.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Gertrud Arndt (née Hantschk; 20 September 1903 – 10 July 2000) was a photographer associated with the Bauhaus movement. She is remembered for her pioneering series of self-portraits from around 1930.

Arndt’s photography, forgotten until the 1980s, has been compared to that of her contemporaries Marta Astfalck-Vietz and Claude Cahun. Over the five years when she took an active interest in photography, she captured herself and her friends in various styles, costumes and settings in the series known as Masked Portraits. Writing for Berlin Art Link, Angela Connor describes the images as “ranging from severe to absurd to playful.” Today Arndt is considered to be a pioneer of female self-portraiture, long predating Cindy Sherman and Sophie Calle. (Wikipedia)

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987) 'Untitled' 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Untitled
1931
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 6 1/2″ (22 x 16.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Hajo Rose. 'Untitled (Self-Portrait)' 1931

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910-1989)
Untitled (Self-Portrait)
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/16″ (23.9 × 17.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

‘Finally – a house made of steel and glass!’ This was the enthusiastic reaction of Hajo Rose (1910-1989) to the Bauhaus building in Dessau when he began his studies there in 1930. Rose promoted the methods of the Bauhaus throughout his lifetime: as a lecturer at universities in Amsterdam, Dresden and Leipzig, and also as an artist and photographer.

Hajo Rose experimented with a wide variety of materials and techniques. The photomontage of his self-portrait combined with the Dessau Bauhaus building (c. 1930), the surrealism of his photograph Seemannsbraut (Sailor’s Bride, 1934), and the textile print designs that he created with a typewriter (1932) are examples of the extraordinary creativity of this artist. He also contributed to an advertising campaign for the Jena Glass Company: the first heat-resistant household glassware stood for modern product design and is still regarded as a kitchen classic today.

Shortly before the Bauhaus was closed, Hajo Rose was one of the last students to receive his diploma. Subsequent periods in various cities shaped his biography, which is a special example of the migratory experience shared by many Bauhaus members after 1933. After one year as an assistant in the Berlin office of László Moholy-Nagy, Hajo Rose immigrated to The Netherlands together with Paul Guermonprez, a Bauhaus colleague, in 1934. He worked there as a commercial artist and taught at the Nieuwe Kunstschool in Amsterdam. At the 1937 World Exposition in Paris, he won an award for his poster ‘Amsterdam’. After the Second World War, Rose worked as a graphic designer, photographer and teacher in Dresden and Leipzig. He continued to advocate Bauhaus ideas in the GDR, even though the Bauhaus was regarded in East Germany as bourgeois and formalistic well into the 1960s. Rose resigned from the Socialist Unity Party (SED) – in spite of the loss of his teaching position as a consequence. From that time, he worked as one of the few freelance graphic designers in the GDR. Hajo Rose died at the age of 79 – shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg 1879-1973) 'Gertrude Lawrence' 1928

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg 1879-1973)
Gertrude Lawrence
1928
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 9/16″ (24 × 19.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Edward Steichen Estate and gift of Mrs. Flora S. Straus, by exchange

 

 

The Artist’s Life

Photography is particularly well suited to capturing the distinctive nuances of the human face, and photographers delighted in and pushed the boundaries of portraiture throughout the 20th century. The Thomas Walther Collection features a great number of portraits of artists and self-portraits as varied as the individuals portrayed. Additionally, the collection conveys a free-spirited sense of community and daily life, highlighted here with photographs made by André Kertész and by students and faculty at the Bauhaus. When the Hungarian-born Kertész moved to Paris in 1925, he couldn’t afford to purchase photographic paper, so he would print on less expensive postcard stock. These prints, whose small scale requires that the viewer engage with them intimately, function as miniature windows into the lives of Kertész’s bohemian circle of friends. The group of photographs made at the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s, before the medium was formally integrated into the school’s curriculum, similarly expresses friendships and everyday life captured and printed in an informal manner. Portraits by Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954), Lotte Jacobi (American, born Germany, 1896-1990), Lucia Moholy (British, born Czechoslovakia, 1894-1989), Man Ray (American, 1890-1976), August Sander (German, 1876-1964) and Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) are among the highlights of this gallery.

 

Aenne Biermann. 'Summer Swimming' (Sommerbad) 1925-30

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Summer Swimming (Sommerbad)
1925-30
Gelatin silver print
7 x 7 7/8″ (17.8 x 20 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Bequest of Ilse Bing, by exchange

 

 

Aenne Biermann (March 8, 1898 – January 14, 1933), born Anna Sibilla Sternfeld, was a German photographer of Ashkenazi origin. She was one of the major proponents of New Objectivity, a significant art movement that developed in Germany in the 1920s.

Biermann was a self-taught photographer. Her first subjects were her two children, Helga and Gershon. The majority of Biermann’s photographs were shot between 1925 and 1933. Gradually she became one of the major proponents of New Objectivity, an important art movement in the Weimar Republic. Her work became internationally known in the late 1920s, when it was part of every major exhibition of German photography.

Major exhibitions of her work include the Munich Kunstkabinett, the Deutscher Werkbund and the exhibition of Folkwang Museum in 1929. Other important exhibitions include the exhibition entitled Das Lichtbild held in Munich in 1930 and the 1931 exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts (French: Palais des Beaux Arts) in Brussels. Since 1992 the Museum of Gera has held an annual contest for the Aenne Biermann Prize for Contemporary German Photography, which is one of the most important events of its kind in Germany. (Wikipedia)

 

Helmar Lerski. 'Metamorphosis 601' (Metamorphose 601) 1936

 

Helmar Lerski (Swiss, born Germany 1871-1956)
Metamorphosis 601 (Metamorphose 601)
1936
Gelatin silver print
11 7/16 × 9 1/16″ (29 × 23 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. The Family of Man Fund

 

 

There can hardly be another name in the international history of photography whose work has been so frequently misunderstood and so controversially evaluated as that of Helmar Lerski (1871-1956). “In every human being there is everything; the question is only what the light falls on”. Guided by this conviction, Lerski took portraits that did not primarily strive for likeness but which left scope for the viewer’s imagination, thus laying himself open to the criticism of betraying the veracity of the photographic image.

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

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

Peter Pfrunder
Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

Max Burchartz. 'Lotte (Eye)' (Lotte [Auge]) 1928

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
Lotte (Eye) (Lotte [Auge])
1928
Gelatin silver print
11 7/8 x 15 3/4″ (30.2 x 40 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Acquired through the generosity of Peter Norton

 

Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. 'Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane' 1911-12

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane
1911-12
Gelatin silver print 6 11/16 × 4 3/4″ (17 × 12.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Willard Helburn, by exchange

 

Edmund Kesting. 'Glance to the Sun' (Blick zur Sonne) 1928

 

Edmund Kesting (German, 1892-1970)
Glance to the Sun (Blick zur Sonne)
1928
Gelatin silver print
13 1/16 x 14 1/2″ (33.2 x 36.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Edmund Kesting (27 July 1892, Dresden – 21 October 1970, Birkenwerder) was a German photographer, painter and art professor. He studied until 1916 at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts before participating as a soldier in the First World War, upon returning his painting teachers were Richard Müller and Otto Gussmann and in 1919 he began to teach as a professor at the private school Der Weg. In 1923 he had his first exposition in the gallery Der Sturm in which he showed photograms. When Der Weg opened a new academy in Berlin in 1927, he moved to the capital.

He formed relations with other vanguardists in Berlin and practiced various experimental techniques such as solarization, multiple images and photograms, for which reason twelve of his works were considered degenerate art by the Nazi regime and were prohibited. Among the artists with whom he interacted are Kurt Schwitters, László Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky and Alexander Archipenko. At the end of World War II he formed part of a Dresden artistic group known as Künstlergruppe der ruf – befreite Kunst (Call to an art in freedom) along with Karl von Appen, Helmut Schmidt-Kirstein and Christoph Hans, among others. In this city he made an experimental report named Dresdner Totentanz (Dance of death in Dresden) as a condemnation of the bombing of the city. In 1946 he was named a member of the Academy of Art in the city.

He participated in the controversy between socialist realism and formalism that took place in the German Democratic Republic, therefore his work was not realist and could not be shown in the country between 1949 and 1959. In 1955 he began to experiment with chemical painting, making photographs without the use of a camera and only with the use of chemical products such as the developer and the fixer and photographic paper, for which he made exposures to light using masks and templates. Between 1956 and 1967 he was a professor at the Academy of Cinema and Television of Potsdam.

His artistic work was not recognized by the authorities of the German Democratic Republic until 1980, ten years after his death. (Wikipedia)

 

Maurice Tabard. 'Am I Beautiful?' (Suis-je belle?) 1929

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Am I Beautiful? (Suis-je belle?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 6 15/16″ (23.6 × 17.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

Between Surrealism and Magic Realism

In the mid-1920s, European artistic movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity moved away from a realist approach by highlighting the strange in the familiar or trying to reconcile dreams and reality. Echoes of these concerns, centered on the human figure, can be found in this gallery. Some photographers used anti-naturalistic methods – capturing hyperreal, close-up details; playing with scale; and rendering the body as landscape – to challenge the viewer’s perception. Others, in line with Sigmund Freud’s definition of “the uncanny” as an effect that results from the blurring of distinctions between the real and the fantastic, offered visual plays on life and the lifeless, the animate and the inanimate, confronting the human body with surrogates in the form of dolls, mannequins, and masks. Photographers influenced by Surrealism, such as Maurice Tabard, subjected the human figure to distortions and transformations by experimenting with photographic techniques either while capturing the image or while developing it in the darkroom. Additional photographers on view include Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933), Jacques-André Boiffard (French, 1902-1961), Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961), Helmar Lerski (Swiss, 1871-1956), and Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Daily News Building, 220 East 42nd Street, Manhattan' November 21, 1935

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Daily News Building, 220 East 42nd Street, Manhattan
November 21, 1935
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 × 7 1/2″ (24.4 × 19.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

Marjorie Content. 'Steamship Pipes, Paris' Winter 1931

 

Marjorie Content (American, 1895-1984)
Steamship Pipes, Paris
Winter 1931
Gelatin silver print
3 13/16 × 2 11/16″ (9.7 × 6.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Andreas Feininger, by exchange

 

 

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was an American photographer active in modernist social and artistic circles. Her photographs were rarely published and never exhibited in her lifetime, but have become of interest to collectors and art historians. Her work has been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chrysler Museum of Art; it has been the subject of several solo exhibitions. (Wikipedia)

Marjorie Content (1895-1984) was a modest and unpretentious photographer who kept her work largely to herself, never published or exhibited. Overshadowed by such close friends as Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, she was more comfortable as a muse and source of encouragement for others, including her fourth husband, poet Jean Toomer. This text presents her beautiful, varied photographs and provides a glimpse into her life. Her pictures portray a variety of images including: New York’s frenetic cityscape distilled to essential patterns and rhythms; the Southwestern light and heat along with the strength and dignity of the Taos pueblo culture; and cigarettes and other everyday items arranged in jewel-like compositions. The discovery of the quality and extent of her work is proof that an artist’s determination can surmount a lack of recognition in her lifetime. (Amazon)

 

Walker Evans. 'Votive Candles, New York City' 1929-30

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Votive Candles, New York City
1929-30
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 6 15/16″ (21.6 x 17.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Willard Van Dyke and Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., by exchange

 

Georgii Zimin. 'Untitled' 1926

 

Georgii Zimin (Russian, 1900-1985)
Untitled
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 11/16 x 3 1/4″ (9.4 x 8.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Georgii Zimin was born in Moscow in 1900, where he lived and worked for his entire life. Before the Russian Revolution he enrolled as a student at the Artistic-Industrial Stroganov Institute, known after 1918 as SVOMAS (Free state art studios). Zimin continued his studies at VKhUTEMAS (Higher state artistic and technical studios), which replaced SVOMAS in 1920. It was during his time at the school that he published the portfolio Skrjabin in Lukins Tanz (Scriabin in Lukin’s dance), in an edition of one hundred. This set of Cubo-Futurist lithographs from 1922 features costumed dancers in erotic poses, complementing a ballet choreographed by Lev Lukin. This work garnered Zimin acknowledgment by the Academy of Arts and Sciences and marked his affiliation with the Russian Art of Movement group. Throughout the 1920s he showed regularly at Art of Movement exhibitions at GAKhN (State academy for artistic sciences), in Moscow. Zimin also experimented with photography in the late 1920s and early 1930s, producing photograms akin to those made by László Moholy-Nagy and others at the time. Later in life, he served as Art Director of Exhibitions at the Department of Trade and held a post at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. – Ksenia Nouril

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) 'Mystery of the Street' (Mysterium der Strasse) 1928

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
Mystery of the Street (Mysterium der Strasse)
1928
Gelatin silver print
11 7/16 x 9 1/4″ (29 x 23.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

 

Trained at the Bauhaus under Johannes Itten, a master of expressivity, Berlin-based photographer Umbo (born Otto Umbehr) believed that intuition was the source of creativity. To this belief, he added Constructivist structural strategies absorbed from Theo Van Doesburg, El Lissitzky, and others in Berlin in the early twenties. Their influence is evident in this picture’s diagonal, abstract construction and its spatial disorientation. It is also classic Umbo, encapsulating his intuitive vision of the world as a resource of poetic, often funny, ironic, or dark bulletins from the social unconscious.

After he left the Bauhaus, Umbo worked as assistant to Walther Ruttmann on his film Berlin, Symphony of a Great City 1926. In 1928, photographing from his window either very early or very late in the day and either waiting for his “actors” to achieve a balanced composition or, perhaps, positioning them as a movie director would, Umbo exposed three negatives. He had an old 5 by 7 inch (12.7 by 17.8 centimeter) stand camera and a 9 by 12 centimeter (3 9/16 by 4 ¾ inch) Deckrullo Contessa-Nettle camera, but which he used for these overhead views is not known, as he lost all his prints and most negatives in the 1943 bombing of Berlin. The resulting images present a world in which the shadows take the active role. Umbo made the insubstantial rule the corporeal and the dark dominate the light through a simple but inspired inversion: he mounted the pictures upside down (note the signature in ink in the lower right).

In 1928-29, Umbo was a founding photographer at Dephot (Deutscher Photodienst), a seminal photography agency in Berlin dedicated to creating socially relevant and visually fascinating photoessays, an idea originated by Erich Solomon. Simon Guttmann, who directed the business, hired creative nonconformists, foremost among them the bohemian Umbo, who slept in the darkroom; Umbo in turn drew the brothers Lore Feininger and Lyonel Feininger to the agency, which soon also boasted Robert Capa and Felix H. Man. Dephot hired Dott, the best printer in Berlin, and it was he who made the large exhibition prints, such as this one, ordered by New York gallerist Julien Levy when he visited the agency in 1931. Umbo showed thirty-nine works, perhaps also printed by Dott, in the 1929 exhibition Film und Foto, and he put Guttmann in touch with the Berlin organizer of the show; accordingly, Dephot was the source for some images in the accompanying book, Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here comes the new photographer!). Levy introduced Umbo’s photographs to New York in Surréalisme (January 1932) and showcased them again at the Julien Levy Gallery, together with images by Herbert Bayer, Jacques-André Boiffard, Roger Parry, and Maurice Tabard, in his 1932 exhibition Modern European Photography.

Maria Morris Hambourg, Hanako Murata

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr). 'Six at the Beach' (Sechs am Strand) 1930

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
Six at the Beach (Sechs am Strand)
1930
Gelatin silver print
9 3/8 × 7 1/8″ (23.8 × 18.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn. 'The Octopus' 1909

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
The Octopus
1909
Gelatin silver print
22 1/8 × 16 3/4″
(56.2 × 42.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Dynamics of the City – Symphony of a Great City 

In his 1928 manifesto “The Paths of Contemporary Photography,” Aleksandr Rodchenko advocated for a new photographic vocabulary that would be more in step with the pace of modern urban life and the changes in perception it implied. Rodchenko was not alone in this quest: most of the avant-garde photographers of the 1920s and 1930s were city dwellers, striving to translate the novel and shocking experience of everyday life into photographic images. Equipped with newly invented handheld cameras, they used unusual vantage points and took photos as they moved, struggling to re-create the constant flux of images that confronted the pedestrian. Reflections in windows and vitrines, blurry images of quick motions, double exposures, and fragmentary views portray the visual cacophony of the metropolis. The work of Berenice Abbott (American, 1898- 1991), Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966), Germanie Krull (Dutch, born Germany, 1897-1985), Alexander Hackenschmied (Czech, 1907-2004), Umbo (German, 1902-1980), and Imre Kinszki (Hungarian, 1901-1945) is featured in this final gallery.

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
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New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
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02
Jan
15

Exhibition: ‘Nicholas Nixon: Forty Years of The Brown Sisters’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 22nd November 2014 – 4th January 2015

Organized by Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator, Department of Photography

 

This is the most successful, long running group portrait series in the history of photography. I have always liked the images because of their stunning clarity, delicate tonality and wonderful arrangement of the figures. Much as they shield their privacy, as a viewer I feel like I have grown up with these women, the sisters I never had. Some images are more successful than others, but as a body of work that focuses on the “face” we present to the world, they are without peer.

Just imagine being these women (and being the photographer), taking on this project and not knowing where it would lead, still not knowing where it will lead. There is a fascinating period in the photographs between 1986 and 1990, as we see the flush of youth waning, transitioning towards the beginning of middle age. As they grow older and closer I feel that I know their characters. I look for that inflection and nuance of presentation that make them more than just faces, more than just photographic representation. The lines on their faces are the handwriting of their travails and I love them all for that.

In each photograph they are as beautiful as the next, not in a Western sense, but in the sense of archetypal beauty, the Platonic form of all beauty – the beauty of women separated from the individuality of the object and considered by itself. In each of these images you can contemplate that form through the faces of these women – they are transcendent and pure. It is as if they live beyond space and time, that the photographs capture this sense of the sublime. Usually the sublime is regarded as beyond time… but not here. A simply magnificent series.

Marcus

 

PS. Let’s hope that there are more images from the series that we can eventually see and that there are some platinum prints being produced. The images deserve such a printing.

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

 

“Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience. While many of us can, when pressed, name things we are grateful to Time for bestowing upon us, the lines bracketing our mouths and the loosening of our skin are not among them. So while a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it. We detect more sorrow, perhaps, in the eyes, more weight in the once-fresh brows. But the more we study the images, the more we see that aging does not define these women. Even as the images tell us, in no uncertain terms, that this is what it looks like to grow old, this is the irrefutable truth, we also learn: This is what endurance looks like. …

These subjects are not after attention, a rare quality in this age when everyone is not only a photographer but often his own favorite subject. In this, Nixon has pulled off a paradox: The creation of photographs in which privacy is also the subject. The sisters’ privacy has remained of utmost concern to the artist, and it shows in the work. Year after year, up to the last stunning shot with its triumphant shadowy mood, their faces and stances say, Yes, we will give you our image, but nothing else.”

.
Susan Minot. “Forty Portraits in Forty Years: Photographs by Nicholas Nixon,” on the New York Times website, October 2014

 

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, New Canaan, Connecticut' 1975

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, New Canaan, Connecticut
1975
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Harwich Port, Massachusetts' 1978

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Harwich Port, Massachusetts
1978
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, East Greenwich, R.I.' 1980

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, East Greenwich, R.I.
1980
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Allston, Mass' 1983.

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Allston, Mass.
1983
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Cambridge, Mass.' 1986

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Cambridge, Mass.
1986
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Wellesley, Massachusetts.' 1988

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Wellesley, Massachusetts
1988
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Woodstock, Vt.' 1990

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Woodstock, Vt.
1990
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Grantham, N.H.' 1994

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Grantham, N.H.
1994
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

 

“In August 1974, Nicholas Nixon made a photograph of his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters. He wasn’t pleased with the result and discarded the negative. In July 1975 he made one that seemed promising enough to keep. At the time, the Brown sisters were 15 (Mimi), 21 (Laurie), 23 (Heather), and 25 (Bebe). The following June, Laurie Brown graduated from college, and Nick made another picture of the four sisters. It was after this second successful picture that the group agreed to gather annually for a portrait, and settled on the series’ two constants: the sisters would always appear in the same order – from left to right, Heather, Mimi, Bebe, and Laurie – and they would jointly agree on a single image to represent a given year. Also significant, and unchanging, is the fact that each portrait is made with an 8 x 10″ view camera on a tripod and is captured on a black-and-white film negative.

The Museum has exhibited and collected the Brown Sisters from the beginning; since 2006, acquiring the series both as lusciously tactile contact prints and as striking 20 x 24″ enlargements (a new scale for Nixon). This installation – featuring all 40 images – marks the first time the Museum has displayed these larger prints.

In his first published statement about photography, written the year he made the first of the Brown Sisters portraits, Nixon remarked, “The world is infinitely more interesting than any of my opinions about it.” If he was modest about his opinions, though, his photographs clearly show how the camera can capture that infinitely interesting world. And to the attentive viewer, these silent records, with their countless shades of visual and emotional gray, can promote a new appreciation of an intangible part of it: the world of time and age, of commitment and love.”

Text from the MoMA website

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Marblehead, Mass.' 1995

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Marblehead, Mass.
1995
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Brookline, Massachusetts' 1999

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Brookline, Massachusetts
1999
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Eastham, Mass.' 2000

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Eastham, Mass.
2000
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Cataumet, Mass.' 2004

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Cataumet, Mass.
2004
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Dallas' 2008

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Dallas
2008
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.' 2010

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.
2010
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.' 2011

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Truro, Mass.
2011
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Boston' 2012

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Boston
2012
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

Nicholas Nixon. 'The Brown Sisters, Wellfleet, Massachusetts' 2014

 

Nicholas Nixon
The Brown Sisters, Wellfleet, Massachusetts
2014
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2014 Nicholas Nixon

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Monday, 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website

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02
Oct
14

Exhibition: ‘A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York Part 1

Exhibition dates: 8th February – 2nd November 2014

The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries, third floor

Curators: Organized by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator, with Lucy Gallun, Assistant Curator, Department of Photography

 

A bumper two part posting on this fascinating, multi-dimensional subject: photographic practices in the studio, which may be a stage, a laboratory, or a playground. The exhibition occupies all MoMA’s six photography galleries, each gallery with its own sub theme, namely, Surveying the Studio, The Studio as Stage, The Studio as Set, A Neutral Space, Virtual Spaces and The Studio, from Laboratory to Playground.

The review of this exhibition “When a Form Is Given Its Room to Play” by Roberta Smith on the New York Times website (6th February 2014) damns with faint praise. The show is a “fabulous yet irritating survey” which “dazzles but often seems slow and repetitive.” Smith then goes on to list the usual suspects: “And so we get professional portraitists, commercial photographers, lovers of still life, darkroom experimenters, artists documenting performances and a few generations of postmodernists, dead and alive, known and not so, exploring the ways and means of the medium. This adds up to plenty to see: around 180 images from the 1850s to the present by some 90 photographers and artists. The usual suspects here range from Julia Margaret Cameron to Thomas Ruff, with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Lucas Samaras, John Divola and Barbara Kasten in between.” There are a few less familiar and postmodern artists thrown in for good measure, but all is “dominated by black-and-white images in an age when colour reigns.” The reviewer then rightly notes the paucity of “postmodern photography of the 1980s, much of it made by women, that did a lot to reorient contemporary photo artists to the studio. It is a little startling for an exhibition that includes so many younger artists dealing with the artifice of the photograph (Ms. Belin, for example) to represent the Pictures Generation artists with only Cindy Sherman, James Casebere and (in collaboration with Allan McCollum) Laurie Simmons” before finishing on a positive note (I think!), noting that the curators “had aimed for a satisfying viewing experience, which, these days, is something to be grateful for.”


SOMETHING TO BE GRATEFUL FOR… OH, TO BE SO LUCKY IN AUSTRALIA!

Just to have the opportunity to view an exhibition of this quality, depth and breadth of concept would be an amazing thing. Even a third of the number of photographs (say 60 works) that address this subject at any one of the major institutions around Australia would be fantastic but, of that, there is not a hope in hell.

Think Marcus, think… when was the last major exhibition, I mean LARGE exhibition, at a public institution in Australia that actually addressed specific ISSUES and CONCEPTS in photography (such as this), not just putting on monocular exhibitions about an artists work or exhibitions about a regions photographs? Ah, well… you know, I can’t really remember. Perhaps the American Dreams exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery, but that was a GENERAL exhibition about 20th century photography with no strong investigative conceptual theme and its was imported from George Eastman House.

Here in Australia, all we can do is look from afar, purchase the catalogue and wonder wistfully what the exhibition actually looks like and what we are missing out on. MoMA sent me just 10 images media images. I have spent hours scouring the Internet for other images to fill the void of knowledge and vision (and then cleaning those sometimes degraded images), so that those of us not privileged enough to be able to visit New York may gain a more comprehensive understanding of what this exhibition, and this multi-faceted dimension of photography, is all about. It’s a pity that our venerable institutions and the photography curators in them seem to have had a paucity of ideas when it comes to expounding interesting critiques of the medium over the last twenty years or so. What a missed opportunity.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

.
Many thankx to MoMA for allowing me to publish six of the photographs in the posting. The rest of the images were sourced from the Internet. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Surveying the Studio

Bruce Nauman (American, born 1941) 'Composite Photo of Two Messes on the Studio Floor' 1967

 

Bruce Nauman (American, born 1941)
Composite Photo of Two Messes on the Studio Floor 
1967
Gelatin silver print
40 1/2″ x 10′ 3″ (102.9 x 312.4 cm)
Gift of Philip Johnson

 

Uta Barth (American, born 1958) 'Sundial (07.13)' 2007

 

Uta Barth (American, born 1958)
Sundial (07.13)
2007
Chromogenic color prints
each 30 x 28 1/4″ (76.2 x 71.8 cm)
The Photography Council Fund

 

Geta Brâtescu (Romanian, born 1926) 'The Studio. Invocation of the Drawing' (L'Atelier. Invocarea desenului) 1979

 

Geta Brâtescu (Romanian, born 1926)
The Studio. Invocation of the Drawing (L’Atelier. Invocarea desenului)
1979
Gelatin silver prints with tempera on paper
33 1/16 x 27 9/16″ (84 x 70 cm)
Modern Women’s Fund

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Laboratory of the Future' 1935

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Laboratory of the Future
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7″ (23.1 x 17.8 cm)
Gift of James Johnson Sweeney

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965) 'Cactus and Photographer's Lamp, New York' 1931

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Cactus and Photographer’s Lamp, New York
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 6 5/8″ (23.5 x 16.6 cm)
Gift of Samuel M. Kootz

 

 

“Bringing together photographs, films, videos, and works in other mediums, A World of Its Own: Photographic Practices in the Studio examines the ways in which photographers and artists using photography have worked and experimented within the four walls of the studio space, from photography’s inception to today. Featuring both new acquisitions and works from the Museum’s collection that have not been on view in recent years, A World of Its Own includes approximately 180 works, by approximately 90 artists, such as Berenice Abbott, Uta Barth, Zeke Berman, Karl Blossfeldt, Constantin Brancusi, Geta Brătescu, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Jan Groover, Barbara Kasten, Man Ray, Bruce Nauman, Paul Outerbridge, Irving Penn, Adrian Piper, Edward Steichen, William Wegman, and Edward Weston.

The exhibition considers the various roles played by the photographer’s studio as an autonomous space; depending on the time period, context, and the individual motivations (commercial, artistic, scientific) and sensibilities of the photographer, the studio may be a stage, a laboratory, or a playground. Organized thematically, the display unfolds in multiple chapters. Throughout the 20th century, artists have explored their studio spaces using photography, from the use of composed theatrical tableaux (in photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron or Cindy Sherman) to neutral, blank backdrops (Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe); from the construction of architectural sets within the studio space (Francis Bruguière, Thomas Demand) to chemical procedures conducted within the darkroom (Walead Beshty, Christian Marclay); and from precise recordings of time and motion (Eadweard Muybridge, Dr. Harold E. Edgerton) to amateurish or playful experimentation (Roman Signer, Peter Fischli/David Weiss). A World of Its Own offers another history of photography, a photography created within the walls of the studio, and yet as groundbreaking and inventive as its seemingly more extroverted counterpart, street photography.”

Text from the MoMA website

 

The exhibition is divided into 6 themes each with its own gallery space:

1. Surveying the Studio

2. The Studio as Stage

3. The Studio as Set

4. A Neutral Space

5. Virtual Spaces

6. The Studio, from Laboratory to Playground

 

The Studio as Stage

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955) 'Untitled' 1941

 

George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled
1941
Gelatin silver print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8″ (19.2 x 24.4 cm)
Anonymous gift

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936) 'Auto Polaroid' 1969-71

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936)
Auto Polaroid
1969-71
Eighteen black-and-white instant prints (Polapan), with hand-applied ink
each 3 3/4 x 2 15/16″ (9.5 x 7.4 cm)
overall 14 5/8 x 24″ (37.2 x 61 cm)
Gift of Robert and Gayle Greenhill

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936) 'Auto Polaroid' 1969-71 (detail)

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936) 'Auto Polaroid' 1969-71 (detail)

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936) 'Auto Polaroid' 1969-71 (detail)

 

Lucas Samaras (American, born Greece 1936)
Auto Polaroid (details)
1969-71
Eighteen black-and-white instant prints (Polapan), with hand-applied ink
each 3 3/4 x 2 15/16″ (9.5 x 7.4 cm)
overall 14 5/8 x 24″ (37.2 x 61 cm)
Gift of Robert and Gayle Greenhill

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879) 'Madonna with Children' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
Madonna with Children
1864
Albumen silver print
10 1/2 x 8 5/8″ (26.7 x 21.9 cm)
Gift of Shirley C. Burden

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879) 'Untitled (Mary Ryan?)' c. 1867

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815-1879)
Untitled (Mary Ryan?)
c. 1867
Albumen silver print
13 3/16 x 11″ (33.5 x 27.9 cm)
Gift of Shirley C. Burden

 

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910) Adrien Tournachon (French, 1825-1903) 'Pierrot Surprised' 1854-55

 

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910)
Adrien Tournachon (French, 1825-1903)
Pierrot Surprised
1854-55
Albumen silver print
11 1/4 x 8 3/16″ (28.6 x 20.8 cm)
Suzanne Winsberg Collection. Gift of Suzanne Winsberg

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984) 'Untitled' 1929

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Untitled
1929
Gelatin silver print
6 9/16 x 6 1/2″ (16.7 x 16.5 cm)
Gift of Robert Shapazian

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg. 1879-1973) 'Anna May Wong' 1930

 

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg. 1879-1973)
Anna May Wong
1930
Gelatin silver print
16 9/16 x 13 7/16″ (42.1 x 34.1 cm)
Gift of the artist

 

Cindy Sherman (American, born 1954) 'Untitled #131' 1983

 

Cindy Sherman (American, born 1954)
Untitled #131
1983
Chromogenic color print
35 x 16 1/2″ (89 x 41.9 cm)
Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Fund

 

The Studio as Set

Barbara Kasten (American, born 1936) 'Construct I-F' 1979

 

Barbara Kasten (American, born 1936)
Construct I-F
1979
Color instant print (Polaroid Polacolor)
9 1/2 x 7 1/2″ (24.0 x 19.0 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Wendy Larsen

 

Barbara Kasten (American, born 1936) 'Construct NYC 17' 1984

 

Barbara Kasten (American, born 1936)
Construct NYC 17
1984
Silver dye bleach print
29 3/8 x 37 1/16″ (74.7 x 94.1 cm)
Gift of Foster Goldstrom

 

James Casebere (American, born 1953) 'Subdivision with Spotlight' 1982

 

James Casebere (American, born 1953)
Subdivision with Spotlight
1982
Gelatin silver print
14 13/16 x 18 15/16″ (37.6 x 48.1 cm)
Purchase

 

Francis Bruguière (American, 1879-1945) 'Light Abstraction' c. 1925

 

Francis Bruguière (American, 1879-1945)
Light Abstraction
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
9 15/16 x 7 15/16″ (25.2 x 20.2 cm)
Gift of Arnold Newman

 

Paul Outerbridge (American, 1896-1958) 'Images de Deauville' 1936

 

Paul Outerbridge (American, 1896-1958)
Images de Deauville
1936
Tri-color carbro print
15 3/4 x 12 1/4″ (40 x 31.1 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Ralph Seward Allen

 

Elad Lassry (Israeli, born 1977) 'Nailpolish' 2009

 

Elad Lassry (Israeli, born 1977)
Nailpolish
2009
Chromogenic color print
14 1/2 x 11 1/2″ (36.8 x 29.2 cm)
Fund for the Twenty-First Century

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Monday, 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website

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02
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Robert Heinecken: Object Matter’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 7th September 2014

 

A bumper posting on probably the most important photo-media artist who has ever lived. This is how to successfully make conceptual photo-art.

A revolutionary artist, this para-photographer’s photo puzzles are just amazing!

Marcus

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

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

 

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Figure Horizon #1' 1971

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Figure Horizon #1
1971
Ten canvas panels with photographic emulsion
Each 11 13/16 x 11 13/16″ (30 x 30 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Le Voyeur / Robbe-Grillet #2' 1972

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Le Voyeur / Robbe-Grillet #2
1972
Three canvas panels with bleached photographic emulsion and pastel chalk
14 x 40″ (35.6 x 101.6 cm)
George Eastman House, Rochester, New York. Museum Purchase with National Endowment for the Arts support

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Child Guidance Toys' 1965

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Child Guidance Toys
1965
Black-and-white film transparency
5 x 18 1/16″ (12.7 x 45.8 cm)
The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Boardroom, Inc.

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Lessons in Posing Subjects / Matching Facial Expressions' 1981

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Lessons in Posing Subjects / Matching Facial Expressions
1981
Fifteen internal dye diffusion transfer prints (SX-70 Polaroid) and lithographic text on Rives BFK paper
15 x 20″ (38.1 x 50.8 cm)
Collection UCLA Grunwald Center for Graphic Art, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Gift of Dean Valentine and Amy Adelson

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Kodak Safety Film / Taos Church' 1972

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Kodak Safety Film / Taos Church
1972
Black-and-white film transparency
40 x 56″ (101.6 x 142.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Photography Fund

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'As Long As Your Up' 1965

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
As Long As Your Up
1965
Black-and-white film transparency
15 1/2 x 19 5/8″ (39.4 x 49.8 cm)
The Robert Heinecken Trust, Chicago. Courtesy Petzel Gallery, New York

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Periodical #5' 1971

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Periodical #5
1971
Offset lithography on found magazine
12 1/4 x 9″ (31.1 x 22.9 cm)
Collection Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons, New York

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Six Figures/Mixed' 1968

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Six Figures/Mixed
1968
Layered Plexiglas and black-and-white film transparencies
5.75 x 9.75 x 1.5″ (14.61 x 24.77 x 3.81 cm)
Collection Darryl Curran, Los Angeles

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Figure / Foliage #2' 1969

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Figure / Foliage #2
1969
Layered Plexiglas and black-and-white film transparencies
5 x 5 x 1 1/4″ (12.7 x 12.7 x 3.2 cm)
Collection Anton D. Segerstrom, Corona del Mar, California

 

Kaleidoscopic-Hexagon-#2-WEB

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Kaleidoscopic Hexagon #2
1965
Six gelatin silver prints on wood
Diameter: 14″ (35.6 cm)
Black Dog Collection. Promised gift to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) '24 Figure Blocks' 1966

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
24 Figure Blocks
1966
Twelve gelatin silver prints on wood blocks, and twelve additional wood blocks
14 1/16 x 14 1/16 x 13/16″ (35.7 x 35.7 x 2.1 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Jeanne and Richard S. Press

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Multiple Solution Puzzle' 1965

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Multiple Solution Puzzle
1965
Sixteen gelatin silver prints on wood
11 1/4 x 11 1/4 x 1″ (28.6 x 28.6 x 2.5 cm)
Collection Maja Hoffmann/LUMA Foundation

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Robert Heinecken: Object Matter, the first retrospective of the work of Robert Heinecken since his death in 2006 and the first exhibition on the East Coast to cover four decades of the artist’s unique practice, from the early 1960s through the late 1990s, on view from March 15 to September 7, 2014. Describing himself as a “para-photographer,” because his work stood “beside” or “beyond” traditional ideas associated with photography, Heinecken worked across multiple mediums, including photography, sculpture, printmaking, and collage. Culling images from newspapers, magazines, pornography, and television, he recontextualized them through collage and assemblage, photograms, darkroom experimentation, and rephotography. His works explore themes of commercialism, Americana, kitsch, sex, the body, and gender. In doing so, the works in this exhibition expose his obsession with popular culture and its effects on society, and with the relationship between the original and the copy. Robert Heinecken: Object Matter is organized by Eva Respini, Curator, with Drew Sawyer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition will travel to the Hammer Museum, and will be on view there from October 5, 2014 through January 17, 2015.

Heinecken dedicated his life to making art and teaching, establishing the photography program at UCLA in 1964, where he taught until 1991. He began making photographs in the early 1960s. The antithesis of the fine-print tradition exemplified by West Coast photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, who photographed landscapes and objects in sharp focus and with objective clarity, Heinecken’s early work is marked by high contrast, blur, and under- or overexposure, as seen in Shadow Figure (1962) and Strip of Light (1964). In the mid-1960s he began combining and sequencing disparate pictures, as in Visual Poem/About the Sexual Education of a Young Girl (1965), which comprises seven black-and-white photographs of dolls with a portrait of his then-five-year-old daughter Karol at the center.

The female nude is a recurring motif, featured in Refractive Hexagon (1965), one of several “photopuzzles” composed of photographs of female body parts mounted onto 24 individual “puzzle” pieces. Other three-dimensional sculptures – geometric volumes ranging in height from five to 22 inches – consist of photographs mounted onto individual blocks, which rotate independently around a central axis. In Fractured Figure Sections (1967), as in Refractive Hexagon, the female figure is never resolved as a single image – the body is always truncated, never contiguous. In contrast, a complete female figure can be reconstituted in his largest photo-object, Transitional Figure Sculpture (1965), a towering 26-layer octagon composed from photographs of a nude that have been altered using various printing techniques. At the time, viewer engagement was key to creating random configurations and relationships in the work; any number of possibilities may exist, only to be altered with the next manipulation. Today, due to the fragility of the works, these objects are displayed in Plexiglas-covered vitrines. However, the number of sculptures and puzzles gathered here offer the viewer a sense of this diversity.

Heinecken’s groundbreaking suite Are You Rea (1964-68) is a series of 25 photograms made directly from magazine pages. Representative of a culture that was increasingly commercialized, technologically mediated, and suspicious of established truths, Are You Rea cemented Heinecken’s interest in the multiplicity of meanings inherent in existing images and situations. Culled from more than 2000 magazine pages, the work includes pictures from publications such as Life, Time, and Woman’s Day, contact-printed so that both sides are superimposed in a single image. Heinecken’s choice of pages and imagery are calculated to reveal specific relationships and meanings – ads for Coppertone juxtaposed with ads for spaghetti dinners and an article about John F. Kennedy superimposed on an ad for Wessex carpets – the portfolio’s narrative moves from relatively commonplace and alluring images of women to representations of violence and the male body.

Heinecken began altering magazines in 1969 with a series of 120 periodicals titled MANSMAG: Homage to Werkman and Cavalcade. He used the erotic men’s magazine Cavalcade as source material, making plates of every page, and randomly printing them on pages that were then reassembled into a magazine, now scrambled. In the same year, he disassembled numerous Time magazines, imprinting pornographic images taken from Cavalcade on every page, and reassembled them with the original Time covers. He circulated these reconstituted magazines by leaving them in waiting rooms or slipping them onto newsstands, allowing the work to come full circle – the source material returning to its point of origin after modification. He reprised this technique in 1989 with an altered issue of Time titled 150 Years of Photojournalism, a greatest hits of historical events seen through the lens of photography.

 

Installation views of 'Robert Heinecken: Object Matter' at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Installation views of 'Robert Heinecken: Object Matter' at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Installation views of 'Robert Heinecken: Object Matter' at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Installation views of 'Robert Heinecken: Object Matter' at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

 

Installation views of Robert Heinecken: Object Matter at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Photos by Jonathan Muzikar
© The Museum of Modern Art

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Breast / Bomb #5' 1967

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Breast / Bomb #5
1967
Gelatin silver prints, cut and reassembled
38 1/2 x 38 1/4″ (97.8 x 97.2 cm)
Denver Art Museum. Funds From 1992 Alliance For Contemporary Art Auction

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Then People Forget You' 1965

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Then People Forget You
1965
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 x 12 15/16″ (26.3 x 32.8 cm)
The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Boardroom, Inc.

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Cliche Vary / Autoeroticism' 1974

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Cliche Vary / Autoeroticism
1974
Eleven canvas panels with photographic emulsion and pastel chalk
39 1/2 x 39 1/2 in. (100.3 x 100.3 cm)
Collection Susan and Peter MacGill, New York

 

Robert Heinecken. 'Surrealism on TV' 1986

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Surrealism on TV
1986
216 35 mm color slides, slide-show time variable
The Robert Heinecken Trust, Chicago; courtesy Cherry and Martin Gallery, Los Angeles
© 2013 The Robert Heinecken Trust.

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Shiva Manifesting as a Single Mother' 1989

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Shiva Manifesting as a Single Mother
1989
Magazine paper, paint and varnish
Collection Philip F. Denny, Chicago
© 2014 The Robert Heinecken Trust

 

 

Transparent film is also used in many of Heinecken’s works to explore different kinds of juxtapositions. In Kodak Safety Film/Christmas Mistake (1971), pornographic images are superimposed on a Christmas snapshot of Heinecken’s children with the suggestion in the title that somehow two rolls of film were mixed up at the photo lab. Kodak Safety Film/Taos Church (1972) takes photography itself as a subject, picturing an adobe church in New Mexico that was famously photographed by Ansel Adams and Paul Strand, and painted by Georgia O’Keeffe and John Marin. Presented as a negative, Heinecken’s version transforms an icon of modernism into a murky structure flanked by a pickup truck, telephone wires, and other modern-day debris.

Heinecken’s hybrid photographic paintings, created by applying photographic emulsion on canvas, are well represented in the exhibition. In Figure Horizon #1(1971), Heinecken reprised the cut-and-reassemble techniques from his puzzles and photo-sculptures, sequencing images of sections of the nude female body, to create impossible undulating landscapes. Cliché Vary, a pun on the 19th-century cliché verre process, is comprised of three large-scale modular works, all from 1974: Autoeroticism, Fetishism, and Lesbianism. The works are comprised of separately stretched canvas panels with considerable hand-applied color on the photographic image, invoking clichés associated with autoeroticism, fetishism, and lesbianism. Reminiscent of his cut-and-reassembled pieces, each panel features disjointed views of bodies and fetish objects that never make a whole, and increase in complexity, culminating with Lesbianism, which is made with seven or eight different negatives.

In the mid-1970s, Heinecken experimented with new materials introduced by Polaroid – specifically the SX-70 camera (which required no darkroom or technical know-how) – to produce the series He/She (1975-1980) and, later, Lessons in Posing Subjects (1981-82). Heinecken experimented with different types of instant prints, including the impressive two-panel S.S. Copyright Project: “On Photography” (1978), made the year after the publication of Susan Sontag’s collection of essays On Photography (1977). The S.S. Copyright Project consists of a magnified and doubled picture of Sontag, derived from the book’s dustcover portrait (taken by Jill Krementz). The work equates legibility with physical proximity – from afar, the portraits appear to be grainy enlargements from a negative (or, to contemporary eyes, pixilated low-resolution images), but at close range, it is apparent that the panels are composed of hundreds of small photographic scraps stapled together. The portrait on the left is composed of photographs of Sontag’’ text; the right features random images taken around Heinecken’s studio by his assistant.

Heinecken’s first large-scale sculptural installation, TV/Time Environment (1970), is the earliest in a series of works that address the increasingly dominant presence of television in American culture. In the installation, a positive film transparency of a female nude is placed in front of a functioning television set in an environment that evokes a living room, complete with recliner chair, plastic plant, and rug. Continuing his work with television, Heinecken created videograms – direct captures from the television that were produced by pressing Cibachrome paper onto the screen to expose the sensitized paper. Inaugural Excerpt Videograms (1981) features a composite from the live television broadcast of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration speech and the surrounding celebrations. The work, originally in 27 parts, now in 24, includes randomly chosen excerpts of the oration and news reports of it. Surrealism on TV (1986) explores the idea of transparency and layering using found media images to produce new readings. It features a slide show comprised of more than 200 images loaded into three slide projectors and projected in random order. The images generally fit into broad categories, which include newscasters, animals, TV evangelists, aerobics, and explosions.

Text from the MoMA press release

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Figure Cube' 1965

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Figure Cube
1965
Gelatin silver prints on Masonite
5 7/8 x 5 7/8″ (15 x 15 cm)
The Robert Heinecken Trust. Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Figure in Six Sections' 1965

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Figure in Six Sections
1965
Gelatin silver prints on wood blocks
8 1/2 x 3 x 3″ (21.6 x 7.6 x 7.6 cm)
Collection Kathe Heinecken. Courtesy The Robert Heinecken Trust, Chicago

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Fractured Figure Sections' 1967

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Fractured Figure Sections
1967
Gelatin silver prints on wood blocks
8 1/4 x 3 x 3″ (21 x 7.6 x 7.6 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund and Committee on Photography Fund

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'The S.S. Copyright Project: "On Photography"' (Part 1 of 2) 1978

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
The S.S. Copyright Project: “On Photography” (Part 1 of 2)
1978
Collage of black and white instant prints attached to composite board with staples
b 47 13/16 x 47 13/16″ (121.5 x 121.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased as the partial gift of Celeste Bartos

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Recto/Verso #2' 1988

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Recto/Verso #2
1988
Silver dye bleach print
8 5/8 x 7 7/8″ (21.9 x 20 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mr. and Mrs. Clark Winter Fund

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Figure Parts / Hair' 1967

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Figure Parts / Hair
1967
Black-and-whtie film transparencies over magazine-page collage
16 x 12″ (40.6 x 30.5 cm)
Collection Karol Heinecken Mora, Los Angeles

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'V.N. Pin Up' 1968

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
V.N. Pin Up
1968
Black-and-white film transparency over magazine-page collage
12 1/2 • 10″ (31.8 • 25.4 cm)
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Gift of Daryl Gerber Stokols

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Typographic Nude' 1965

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Typographic Nude
1965
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 x 7″ (36.8 x 17.8 cm)
Collection Geofrey and and Laura Wyatt, Santa Barbara, California

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Are You Rea #1' 1968

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Are You Rea #1
1968
Twenty-five gelatin silver prints
Various dimensions
Collection Jeffrey Leifer, San Francisco

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'Are You Rea #25' 1968

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
Are You Rea #25
1968
Twenty-five gelatin silver prints
Various dimensions
Collection Jeffrey Leifer, San Francisco

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931–2006) 'Cybill Shepherd / Phone Sex' 1992

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931–2006)
Cybill Shepherd / Phone Sex
1992
Silver dye bleach print on foamcore
63 x 17″ (160 x 43.2 cm)
The Robert Heinecken Trust, Courtesy of Petzel Gallery, New York

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006) 'MANSMAG: Homage to Werkman and Cavalcade' 1969

 

Robert Heinecken (American, 1931-2006)
MANSMAG: Homage to Werkman and Cavalcade
1969
Offset lithography on bound paper
8 3/4 x 6 5/8″ (22.2 x 16.8 cm)
The Robert Heinecken Trust, Chicago

 

 

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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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