Posts Tagged ‘myth

24
Jan
20

Exhibition: ‘Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan’ at The Morgan Library & Museum

Exhibition dates: 25th October 2019 – 2nd February 2020

Curator: Joel Smith

 

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'Self-Portrait Asleep in a Tomb of Mereruka Sakkara' 1978

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Self-Portrait Asleep in a Tomb of Mereruka Sakkara
1978
6 (5 x 7 inch) silver gelatin prints with hand-applied text
© Duane Michals, Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

The things-for-which-there-are-no-words

Duane Michals is one of the greatest photographic storytellers of the twentieth century. His parables – seemingly simple stories used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson – resonate, vibrate, with energy, and insight into, the human condition. They are as profound as the air we breathe but cannot see – expressing the invisible, presencing the spiritual. I feel, I know these stories, intimately. Those things-for-which-there-are-no-words.
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Presencing. In 1885, Van Gogh, wrote a letter to his brother Theo: ‘Rembrandt goes so deep into the mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language. It is with justice that they call Rembrandt – [a] magician.’ (Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh [letter 534], on or about 10 October 1885, in Leo Jansen, Luijten and Nienke Bakker (eds.,). Vincent van Gogh: The Letters. Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute, Amsterdam, 2009 [Online] Cited 11/10/2019)

The things-for-which-there-are-no-words remain hidden when approached with conceptual thought. They need to be experienced to be known. The currency of this experience, as we have seen, is deeply personal, but in allowing it we can touch on truth, perhaps even the truth.”1

 

There are things here not seen in this photograph. The spirit leaves the body. William Blake and Duane Michals. Enchanted melancholy. The mysterious / music. In swift embrace. In love. In memory. In death. The fluidity of the line of the artist. Things are queer. The world implodes and ravages itself. Paradise is reborn. The letter, and love, from my father that I, also, never did receive. The nature of reality. Truth?

“I’m completely overwhelmed by the nature of our reality,” he is quoted as saying in the exhibition catalog about human evolution. “We’ve been working on this version of man for a thousand years. He lives longer, he’s healthier, but he’s still an unproven product. Still the same greedy little bastard.”

“For Michals, photography is not documentary in nature but theatrical and fictive: the camera is one of many tools humanity uses to construct a comprehensible version of reality. In his imaginative, visually rich photographs, the artist exploits the medium’s storytelling capacity,” says the press release. Isobel Crombie suggests the ‘medium’ of photography has ‘The ability to speak to us across time and to connect to the mind and the heart.’2

When I was young. What was time?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Kim Devereux. “Me and My Muse,” in the NGV Magazine Issue 19 Nov-Dec 2019, p. 55
  2. Isobel Crombie. “One Suggestive Moment,” in the NGV Magazine Issue 19 Nov-Dec 2019, p. 33

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

 

 

“I write with this photograph not to tell you what you can see, rather to express what is invisible.”

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Duane Michals 1966 in Johnson, B. (ed.,) 2004, ‘Photography speaks: 150 photographers on their art’, Aperture, New York p. 150

 

“I think photographs should be provocative and not tell you what you already know. It takes no great powers or magic to reproduce somebody’s face in a photograph. The magic is in seeing people in new ways.”

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Duane Michals

 

Duane Michals uses visual narrative, symbolism and metaphysical imagery to interpret the human condition. His photographic sequences have a film-like appearance and represent intangible elements of dreams, imagination, death, time, myth and spirit. A freelance commercial photographer, Michals began experimenting with sequence works in the 1960s, later adding text to illuminate emotion and philosophical ideas and following in the tradition of painters such as René Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico whom he greatly admired. His staged, fictive tableaux vivants are intimate scenes that explore the atmosphere of the invisible and metaphysical…

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

 

 

DEATH

Robert Wiles. 'Evelyn Francis McHale May 1, 1947' 1947

 

Robert Wiles
Evelyn Francis McHale May 1, 1947
1947
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 9 1/2 × 8 in. (24.1 × 20.3 cm)
Purchased on the Goldsmith Fund for Americana
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

On 30 April she visited her fiancée in Easton presumably to celebrate his 24th birthday and boarded a train back to NYC at 7 a.m., 1 May 1947. Barry [Rhodes] stated to reporters that “When I kissed her goodbye she was happy and as normal as any girl about to be married.”

Of course we’ll never know what went through Evelyn’s mind on 66 mi train ride home. But after she arrived in New York she went to the Governor Clinton Hotel where she wrote a suicide note and shortly before 10:30 a.m. bought a ticket to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Around 10:40 am Patrolman John Morrissey, directing traffic at Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, noticed a white scarf floating down from the upper floors of the building. Moments later he heard a crash and saw a crowd converge on 34th street. Evelyn had jumped, cleared the setbacks, and landed on the roof of a United Nations Assembly Cadillac limousine parked on 34th street, some 200 ft west of Fifth Ave.

Across the street, Robert C. Wiles, a student photographer, also noticed the commotion and rushed to the scene where he took several photos, including this one, some four minutes after her death. Later, on the observation deck, Detective Frank Murray found her tan (or maybe gray, reports differ) cloth coat neatly folded over the observation deck wall, a brown make-up kit filled with family pictures and a black pocketbook with the note which read:

“I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me. Could you destroy my body by cremation? I beg of you and my family – don’t have any service for me or remembrance for me. My fiance asked me to marry him in June. I don’t think I would make a good wife for anybody. He is much better off without me. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.”

Lizz Buzz. “The Story Behind the “The Most Beautiful Suicide” Picture of Evelyn McHale (1947),” on the Atchuup! website April 23, 2019 [Online] Cited 17/11/2019

 

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

Duane Michals. 'The Spirit Leaves The Body' 1968

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Spirit Leaves the Body
1968
Gift of Richard and Ronay Menschel
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'I Build a Pyramid' 1978

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
I Build a Pyramid
1978
6 (5 x 7 inch) silver gelatin prints with hand-applied text
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

ILLUSION

Francesco Salviati (1510-1563) 'Emblematic Design with Two-Headed Horse and Moth' c. 1550-63

 

Francesco Salviati (1510-1563)
Emblematic Design with Two-Headed Horse and Moth
c. 1550-63
Pen and brown ink, brown wash, on paper; framing lines at upper left and right edges in pen and brown ink
Overall: 7 1/2 × 7 3/8 in. (19.1 × 18.7 cm)
Gift of János Scholz
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) 'Satan Smiting Job with Boils' c. 1805-10

 

William Blake (British, 1757-1827)
Satan Smiting Job with Boils
c. 1805-10
Pen and black and gray ink, gray wash, and watercolour, over faint indications in pencil, on paper
Overall: 9 3/16 x 11 inches (233 x 280 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) in 1909
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Jehan Georges Vibert (1840-1902) 'A Cardinal in Profile' 1880

 

Jehan Georges Vibert (French, 1840-1902)
A Cardinal in Profile
1880
Watercolour on paper
Overall: 4 7/8 × 3 3/8 in. (12.4 × 8.6 cm)
Gift of John M. Thayer
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Henry Pearson (American, 1914-2006) '128th Psalm (Study for "Five Psalms")' 1968

 

Henry Pearson (American, 1914-2006)
128th Psalm (Study for “Five Psalms”)
1968
Chinese ink on heavy paper
Overall: 23 1/2 × 18 in. (59.7 × 45.7 cm)
Gift of Regina and Lawrence Dubin, M.D
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'The Illuminated Man' 1968

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Illuminated Man
1968
Gelatin silver print, unique print
Image: 15 5/8 x 22 7/8 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

When Michals arrived in New York from Pittsburgh in the early 1950s, the city provided not only freedom from the strict conventions of his Catholic upbringing, but an opening to worlds of ideas and experiences that extended in all directions. By the early 1960s, he was living with his life partner, the architect Frederick Gorree (who passed away in 2017) and experimenting with the photographic image beyond the single frame, often including handwritten texts.

“Duane cut photography’s umbilical cord,” Smith said about the photographer’s contributions to the medium. “He saw there’s no reason to limit the camera to what you find in the world; it should be part of the history of expressing ideas.” Michals’s 1970 one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art confirmed his significance in establishing a new genre.

In the 1960s, he became interested in Buddhism and meditation, further expanding his artistic concerns. At the Morgan, Michals walked over to a large, eye-popping ink drawing by Henry Pearson, an abstract artist loosely associated with the Op Art movement. Pearson’s “128th Psalm (Study for ‘Five Psalms’)” from 1968, is a light-bulb-shaped form with lines emanating from the center like electrified nerve endings and pulsating out beyond the frame.

“This drawing is pure energy,” he said. That same year, Michals – who had not known Pearson’s work – made “The Illuminated Man,” a photograph of a male figure facing the camera, his head emanating light, suggesting enlightenment. “The Illuminated Man” and “128th Psalm” share the theme of spiritual radiance.

Michals cited a 1937 painting by René Magritte not in the Morgan Collection called “The Pleasure Principle.” It is a portrait of the poet Edward James, a patron of Surrealist art, his head a glowing light bulb. “I only discovered the painting later,” he said, after he had made his own photographic homage, in 1965, in which Magritte appears ghostlike in double exposure, against a canvas on an easel, behind an empty chair. “I was very proud to have had a similar idea to one of my deities,” he said.

Philip Gefter. “Duane Michals Searches the Morgan and Finds Himself,” on The New York Times website Oct 29, 2019 [Online] Cited 14/11/2019

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'The Human Condition' 1969

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Human Condition
1969
© Duane Michals via DC Moore Gallery
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

“The nature of consciousness is always the central question,” he asserted. In The Human Condition, his panel of six photographs from 1969 begins with a man standing on the 14th Street subway platform; the train arrives and he is bathed in a halo of light; the light becomes a swirl and in the last frame he is swept into a white disc the size of a galaxy passing through the night sky. From the immediate to the universal in six frames.

Philip Gefter. “Duane Michals Searches the Morgan and Finds Himself,” on The New York Times website Oct 29, 2019 [Online] Cited 14/11/2019

 

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

Duane Michals. 'The Bewitched Bee' 1986

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
The Bewitched Bee
1986
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Duane Michals
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

IMAGE AND WORD

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'There Are Things Here Not Seen in This Photograph' 1977

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
There Are Things Here Not Seen in This Photograph
1977
10 15/16 x 13 7/8 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals. From the series 'I Remember Pittsburgh' 1982

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
I Remember Pittsburgh 8
1982
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Ciro Ferri (Italian, 1634-1689) 'Fame Painting a Portrait Held by Religion' 17th century

 

Ciro Ferri (Italian, 1634-1689)
Fame Painting a Portrait Held by Religion
17th century
Brush and brown and white gouache, pen and and brown ink, over black chalk, on brown toned paper
Overall: 11 x 7 9/16 inches (279 x 192 mm)
Purchased as the gift of the Fellows
The Morgan Library & Museum

Design for a frontispiece engraved by Gérard Audran for a volume of portraits of cardinals published by Giovanni Giacomo de’ Rossi

 

Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009) 'Giorgio de Chirico, Rome' Rome, 1944

 

Irving Penn (American, 1917-2009)
Giorgio de Chirico, Rome
Rome, 1944 (negative), 1946-47 (print)
Gelatin silver print on paper; mounted to cardstock
Image And Sheet: 7 1/16 × 7 3/8 in.
Gift of Irving Penn, 2006
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'Andy Warhol' 1958

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Andy Warhol
1958
Gelatin silver print
8 × 10 inches (20.3 × 25.4 cm)
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'René Magritte at His Easel' 1965

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
René Magritte at His Easel
1965
77/8 × 97/8 inches (20 × 25.1 cm)
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Florian, Marquis de (1755-1794) 'Red leather portfolio [realia]' 18th century

 

Florian, Marquis de (1755-1794)
Red leather portfolio [realia] – Portefeuille de Monsieur de Voltaire and Donné à Monsieur de Florian
“Voltaire’s briefcase”
18th century
Leather, gold clasp
Stamped on front: “Portefeuille de Monsieur / de Voltaire”; on back: “Donné a Monsieur / de Florian”
Overall: 16 15/16 × 12 5/8 in. (43 × 32 cm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1911
Pierpont Morgan Library Dept. of Literary and Historical Manuscripts
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

Voltaire gave this briefcase to the marquis de Florian, the husband of his niece Elisabeth Mignot. Her sister, Marie-Louise Mignot, Mme Denis, was Voltaire’s companion for the last twenty-nine years of his life. With extensive decorative gold tooling. Exhibited numerous times at the Morgan Library as “Voltaire’s briefcase.”

Text from The Morgan Library & Museum website

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'Candide, 2019'

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Candide, 2019
2019
Inspired by Voltaire
© Duane Michals via DC Moore Gallery
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

“The things we chose from the collection were so close to what my instincts are,” he said to Joel Smith, the curator of photography at the Morgan, who organised the show with Michals.

The photographer was referring to the kinship between things he chose and the irreverent nature of his own work. “I’m completely overwhelmed by the nature of our reality,” he is quoted as saying in the exhibition catalog about human evolution. “We’ve been working on this version of man for a thousand years. He lives longer, he’s healthier, but he’s still an unproven product. Still the same greedy little bastard.”

To illustrate the point, he reached for Voltaire’s briefcase among the holdings in the Morgan’s collection. It dates from the 1700s and is decorated with gold-leaf filigree on its red leather casing.

Smith recalled that Michals was so “wowed at the thought of Voltaire’s ideas living inside it and amused by the showbiz of its provenance” that he went home and painted a portrait of Candide on an old tintype, adding Voltaire’s bitterly ironic refrain in white block letters: “This Is the Best of All Possible Worlds.” The briefcase and Candide, 2019 are both in the show.

Yet, Michals doesn’t share Voltaire’s bleak view of existence. His own work is often characterised by an iconoclastic wit, imbued with serious metaphysical inquiry – a “curiosity about the nature of reality, in a much more profound sense than just a bunch of atoms.”

Philip Gefter. “Duane Michals Searches the Morgan and Finds Himself,” on The New York Times website Oct 29, 2019 [Online] Cited 14/11/2019

 

Auguste Rodin. 'Lucifer' c. 1900

 

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917)
Lucifer
c. 1900
Pencil and watercolour, on paper
Overall: 9 3/8 × 12 7/16 in. (23.8 × 31.6 cm)
Gift of Alexandre P. Rosenberg
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890-1918) 'Embrace' 1914

 

Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890-1918)
Embrace
1914
Graphite on wove paper
Overall: 19 1/8 × 12 3/4 in. (48.6 × 32.4 cm)
Bequest of Fred Ebb
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

[Looks at Egon Schiele’s drawing Embrace (p. 22)] There’s so much emotion in this; it’s so immediate. There’s a few things happening: physical entanglement, then you see the look on his face, registering some kind of emotional response. I love the idea: Schiele had no thought that in a hundred years we’d be standing here or how we’d be talking about it. Art is not really about the future.

Duane Michals in Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan exhibition catalogue 2019, p. 21

 

In this depiction of the artist in the arms of an unidentified companion, the jagged, seemingly erratic contours suggest a psychological agitation characteristic of Schiele’s self-portraits. A feeling of tension derives from the position of the artist’s head-turned away from the woman embracing him – as well as from the placement of the couple to the left of the sheet, with the figure of the woman cropped. The resulting asymmetry conveys the artist’s emotional unbalance and emphasises his egocentric character while demonstrating the amazing technical agility he brought to bear to express a wide range of emotions.

Text from The Morgan Library & Museum website

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'A Letter from My Father' 1960

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
A Letter from My Father
1960 (image), 1975 (text)
15 3/4 × 19 7/8 inches (40 × 50.5 cm)
Gift of Duane Michals
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum proudly presents an exhibition combining a six-decade retrospective of Duane Michals with an artist’s-choice selection of works from all corners of the permanent collection. Michals is known for his picture sequences, inscribed photographs, and, more recently, films that pose emotional, conceptual, and cosmic questions beyond the scope of the lone camera image. Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan (October 25, 2019 to February 2, 2020) takes viewers on a tour of the artist’s mind, putting work from his expansive career in conversation with Old Master and modern drawings, books, manuscripts, and historical objects.

The first retrospective on Michals to be mounted by a New York City institution, the exhibition is organised around animating themes in the artist’s work: Theatre, Reflection, Love and Desire, Playtime, Image and Word, Nature, Immortality, Time, Death, and Illusion. It showcases his storytelling instincts, both in stand-alone staged photographs and in sequences. The exhibition also includes screenings of short films, Michals’s preferred medium in recent years.

For Michals, photography is not documentary in nature but theatrical and fictive: the camera is one of many tools humanity uses to construct a comprehensible version of reality. In his imaginative, visually rich photographs, the artist exploits the medium’s storytelling capacity. For example, the six images in I Build a Pyramid (1978) find the artist in Egypt, stacking stones in a modest pile that, from the camera’s perspective, appears to rival the scale of the ancient pharaohs’ monuments. Michals reveals that the scenario echoes his childhood habit of building cities from stones in his backyard in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. In the exhibition, Michals’s staged scenes are juxtaposed with those of his creative heroes, who include William Blake, Edward Lear, and Saul Steinberg. In his dual role as artist and curator he matches wits with writers, stage designers, toy makers, and his fellow portraitists of the past and the present.

Since 2015 Michals has focused his creative efforts on filmmaking, a natural outgrowth of his directorial habits as a photographer. On a screen in the exhibition, three short films are featured amid a cycle of over 200 photographs from the series Empty New York (1964-65), the project through which the artist first recognised his theatrical vision of reality. Michals will host two special programs of film screenings in the Morgan’s Gilder Lehrman Hall, introducing films that have never been screened publicly before.

Illusions of the Photographer revives the format of the 2015 exhibition Hidden Likeness: Emmet Gowin at the Morgan, which The New York Times said “all but redefined the genre” of the collection dive curated by a contemporary artist. The present project is a personal one for Michals, who explains, “The Morgan literally is my favourite museum in New York. I always learn something at the Morgan. I’m so thrilled about this show, because it’s probably going to be the very last time to see me there, with all my resources and touchstones. I’m … archaic, in a way. I’m eighty-seven! I’m of my generation. My references are not at all to what people are talking about today. I’m comfortable there, that’s where I belong – and that’s what I contribute.”

Joel Smith, the Morgan’s Richard L. Menschel Curator and Department Head, says “Duane Michals’s art is contemplative, confessional, and comedic. It transcends the conventional bounds, and audience, of photography. Through narration and sequencing he reorients the camera towards timeless human dilemmas; he derives poetic effects from technical errors such as double exposure and motion blur. His originality and intimacy as an artist come through in the discoveries he brings to light from the Morgan’s collection.”

Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan is accompanied by an 88-page softcover catalogue featuring a wide-ranging interview with the artist and illustrations of seventy works, including his selections from the Morgan’s collection and the previously unpublished 1969 title sequence.

 

About Duane Michals

Duane Michals (b. February 18, 1932, McKeesport, Pennsylvania) is an American photographer who often combines images with text in a format that recalls cinematic storytelling. Michals received his BA from the University of Denver in 1953. He began photographing for magazines in 1960 and became a prolific portraitist of artists such as Andy Warhol, René Magritte, and Marcel Duchamp. His first solo exhibition was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1970. Michals lives and works in New York City.

Press release from The Morgan Library & Museum [Online] Cited 14/11/2019

 

 

NATURE

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) 'God Creating the World' c. 1900-1902

 

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902)
God Creating the World
c. 1900-1902
Gouache on board
7 3/4 x 5 1/4 inches (201 x 135 mm)
Morgan Family Collection

 

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) 'God Creates Eve while Adam is Asleep' c. 1900-1902

 

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902)
God Creates Eve while Adam is Asleep
c. 1900-1902
Gouache on board
12 x 9 1/8 inches (305 x 233 mm)
Morgan Family Collection

 

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) 'Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden' c. 1900-1902

 

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902)
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
c. 1900-1902
Gouache on board
11 x 8 inches (279 x 203 mm)
Morgan Family Collection

 

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) 'Adam and Eve Perceive their Nakedness' c. 1900-1902

 

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902)
Adam and Eve Perceive their Nakedness
c. 1900-1902
Gouache on board
12 1/8 x 8 3/4 inches (308 x 221 mm)
Morgan Family Collection

 

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

Duane Michals. 'Paradise Regained' 1968

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Paradise Regained
1968
6 silver gelatin prints with hand-applied text

 

 

… He picked up a panel of gouache drawings from around 1900 by French illustrator James Jacques Joseph Tissot titled “God Creating the World,” a biblical morality tale in a series of lighthearted scenes depicting the creation of Adam; then Eve; the two of them frolicking; Eve eating the apple; and their banishment from paradise. The Tissot sequence is among nearly 60 works in his final selection for the current exhibition Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan, through Feb. 2. His pick of drawings, paintings and artefacts resides in dialogue with 38 of Michals’s photographic works – his narrative sequences as well as stand-alone prints, projected images from a series titled “Empty New York,” and several of his recent short films.

He pointed out a link between the Tissot drawings and his own “Paradise Regained,” from 1968: a suite of six images that begins with a well-dressed young couple sitting and facing the camera in an empty apartment. With each frame they get progressively undressed, and more and more plants fill up the space behind them. In the final image, they are naked amid a lush, domestic Eden.

“I had been looking at a lot of Rousseau paintings when I made the sequence,” Michals said, referring to the jungle scenes of the French Post-Impressionist. While he loves the Tissot panel, he admitted, “I’m a raging atheist,” distancing himself from its religious message. “I was a pretend Catholic and then I stopped pretending.” The spiritual dimension of “Paradise Regained” is balanced by the artist’s tongue-in-cheek view of urban life, where men and women only return to a natural state indoors, where everything is unnatural.

Philip Gefter. “Duane Michals Searches the Morgan and Finds Himself,” on The New York Times website Oct 29, 2019 [Online] Cited 14/11/2019

 

Jacob Hoefnagel (1573? - c. 1632) 'Orpheus Charming the Animals' 1613

 

Jacob Hoefnagel (1573? – c. 1632)
Orpheus Charming the Animals
1613
Watercolour and gouache, heightened with white gouache, over traces of black chalk, on vellum mounted to panel; bordered in gold
Overall: 6 9/16 × 8 5/16 in. (16.7 × 21.1 cm)
Purchased on the Sunny Crawford von Bülow Fund 1978
Morgan Family Collection

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'Warren Beatty' 1967

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Warren Beatty
1967
Gelatin silver print
8 × 9 15/16 inches (20.3 × 25.2 cm)
Purchased on the Photography Acquisition Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

PLAYTIME

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

Duane Michals. 'Things are Queer' 1973

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Things Are Queer
1973
Nine gelatin silver prints
Images: 5 × 7 inches (12.7 × 17.8 cm) each
Gift of Duane Michals
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

REFLECTION

Wallace Studio, Manchester, New Hampshire. 'Untitled (Mirror)' c. 1880s

 

Wallace Studio, Manchester, New Hampshire
Untitled (Mirror)
c. 1880s
Cabinet card with rounded corners
Mount: 6 7/16 × 4 3/16 in. (16.4 × 10.6 cm)
Print: 5 11/16 × 4 in. (14.4 × 10.2 cm)
Gift of Adam Fuss
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Carlo Galli Bibiena (1728 - c. 1778) 'Interior of a Gallery' 1750s

 

Carlo Galli Bibiena (1728 – c. 1778)
Interior of a Gallery
1750s
Pen and black ink and gray and brown wash
Sheet is framed by an overmount of paper that leaves around 8 5/8 x 11 7/8 inches visible
Overall: 9 1/4 × 12 13/16 in. (23.5 × 32.5 cm)
Thaw Collection
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

John F. Collins (American, 1888-1990) 'Multiple Self-Portrait' 1935

 

John F. Collins (American, 1888-1990)
Multiple Self-Portrait
1935
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 3/4 × 10 9/16 in. (34.9 × 26.8 cm)
Purchase on the Photography Collectors Committee Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'A Story About a Story' 1989

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
A Story About a Story
1989
15 7/8 x 19 3/4 inches (40.3 × 50.2 cm)
Purchased on the Photography Collectors Committee Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

In Michals work, the immediate and the infinite spar. In the show is a single image by a little-known photographer named John F. Collins. The 1935 self-portrait shows Collins looking at us while holding a large photograph of himself; in that photograph he is looking down at the same photograph of himself. In each subsequent picture within a picture, he is looking out, and then into the photograph he is holding, into a spiralling infinity.

It is a striking parallel to Michals’ “A Story Within a Story” of 1989, in which a man leans against a mirror in the corner of the frame and faces a mirror in which his reflection echoes repeatedly as it recedes behind him. “This is a story about a man telling a story about a man. …” starts his text.

He might as well have been describing himself.

Philip Gefter. “Duane Michals Searches the Morgan and Finds Himself,” on The New York Times website Oct 29, 2019 [Online] Cited 14/11/2019

 

N. Institoris (d. 1845) 'Interior of a Prison' c. 1825-45

 

N. Institoris (d. 1845)
Interior of a Prison
c. 1825-45
Pen and black ink, with gray wash, over pencil, on paper; verso contains slight sketch of a building, in graphite.
13 x 17 1/2 inches (330 x 445 mm)
Gift of Mrs. Donald M. Oenslager, 1982
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Gabriel Pierre Martin Dumont (French, 1720-1791) 'Perspective View of the Mechanical Works and Construction of a Theater. Verso: Sketch of an elevation of a colonnade' 18th century

 

Gabriel Pierre Martin Dumont (French, 1720-1791)
Perspective View of the Mechanical Works and Construction of a Theater. Verso: Sketch of an elevation of a colonnade
18th century
Pen and black ink, with gray wash, over graphite, on paper; verso: graphite
12 1/4 x 14 9/16 inches (310 x 369 mm)
Purchased as the gift of Mrs. Donald M. Oenslager in memory of her husband
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927) 'Cour de Rouen' 1898

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Cour de Rouen
1898
Albumen print
Overall: 8 × 6 3/4 in. (20.3 × 17.1 cm)
Purchased on the Photography Collectors Committee Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Louis Faurer (1916-2001) 'Penn Station Lovers' 1946-47, printed c. 1981

 

Louis Faurer (1916-2001)
Penn Station Lovers
1946-47, printed c. 1981
Gelatin silver print
14 x 11 in. (sheet)
Purchased as the gift of Elaine Goldman
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'Empty New York, Subway Interior' c. 1964

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Empty New York, Subway Interior
c. 1964
Gelatin silver print
8 × 10 inches (20.3 × 25.4 cm)
Collection of Nancy and Burt Staniar
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'Empty New York' c. 1964

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
Empty New York, Dry cleaners upper East side
c. 1964
Gelatin silver print
8 × 10 inches (20.3 × 25.4 cm)
Collection of Nancy and Burt Staniar
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'Empty New York' c. 1964

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'Empty New York' c. 1964

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'Empty New York' c. 1964

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
From the series Empty New York
c. 1964
Gelatin silver prints
8 × 10 inches (20.3 × 25.4 cm)
Collection of Nancy and Burt Staniar
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

TIME

Herbert Matter (1907-1984) 'Alexander Calder hanging mobile in motion' 1936

 

Herbert Matter (1907-1984)
Alexander Calder hanging mobile in motion
1936
Gelatin silver print with additions by hand
5 9/16 × 6 3/16 in. (14.13 × 15.72 cm)
Purchased as the gift of Richard and Ronnie Grosbard
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Saul Steinberg (American, b. Romania, 1914-1999) 'Untitled (Cat and wheel of time)' 1965

 

Saul Steinberg (American, b. Romania, 1914-1999)
Untitled (Cat and wheel of time)
1965
Ink (black, blue, red, green, brown) and pencil on laid Strathmore
19 × 25 in. (48.26 × 63.5 cm)
Gift of the Saul Steinberg Foundation
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

Saul Steinberg defined drawing as “a way of reasoning on paper,” and he remained committed to the act of drawing. Throughout his long career, he used drawing to think about the semantics of art, reconfiguring stylistic signs into a new language suited to the fabricated temper of modern life. Sometimes with affection, sometimes with irony, but always with virtuoso mastery, Saul Steinberg peeled back the carefully wrought masks of 20th-century civilisation.

Text from The Morgan Library & Museum website

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'When He Was Young' 1979

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
When He Was Young
1979
8 x 9 15/16 inches (20.3 × 25.2 cm)
Purchased on the Photography Collectors Committee Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932) 'What is Time?' 1994

 

Duane Michals (American, b. 1932)
What is Time?
1994
Gelatin silver print
16 × 19 7/8 inches (40.6 × 50.5 cm)
Gift of Duane Michals
The Morgan Library & Museum

 

 

Included in his selection from the Morgan is an amusing drawing by Saul Steinberg, “Cat and the Wheel of Time,” 1965, in which the months of the year, the days of the week, and the hours of the day are written in circles inside a large wheel following a small cat down a hill. “Time has always been central to so much of my thinking,” Michals said. Smith handed him his text and image piece, What Is Time? from 1994, in which an eternally handsome young man holds an old-fashioned round clock to his ear. The text beneath it begins, “Time is the duration of everything, and life is an event, a fluttering of wings … the moment is the interval between now and then and, then, again.”

Philip Gefter. “Duane Michals Searches the Morgan and Finds Himself,” on The New York Times website Oct 29, 2019 [Online] Cited 14/11/2019

 

 

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225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York, NY
Phone: (212) 685-0008

Opening hours:
Tuesday through Thursday: 10.30 am – 5 pm
Friday: 10.30 am – 9 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 6 pm
Sunday: 11 am – 6 pm

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08
Jun
12

Exhibition: ‘Cindy Sherman’ at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 26th February – 11th June 2012

 

Cindy Sherman society portraits (2008) to left and centre at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman society portraits (2008) to left and centre at MoMA, New York

 

 

Ceaselessly inventive, the bodies (literally) of work of Cindy Sherman are a wonder to behold. From film stills to head shots, from history portrait to society portraits, Sherman constantly reinvents herself, her variations of identity exploring “the complexity of representation in a world saturated with images,” her iterations into the construction of femininity and masculinity constantly “provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.”

Where to next? Her recent series of digitally altered landscapes and portraits (Cindy Sherman at Metro Pictures, New York, April – June 2012) seem less resolved than her earlier work, becoming almost a pastiche of themselves. Despite their massive size they seem to lack resolution, the great female impersonator of our time relying for effect on Self as feminine earth (m)Other, tricked up in dubious, quasi-ethnic regalia. Sherman is almost sacrosanct with regard to criticism but it’s about time someone said it: these images are pretty awful.

After so many simulacra, so many layerings and expositions of identity isn’t it about time Sherman got back to basics and ditched these grandiose notions of identity sublime. The sublimation (an unconscious defence mechanism by which consciously unacceptable instinctual drives are expressed in personally and socially acceptable channels) of her/Self, her actual body, the energy of her (non) presence is finally starting to wear thin. Will the real Cindy Sherman (if ever there is such a thing) please stand up and tell us: what do you really stand for, where as a human being, is your spirit really at?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

Cindy Sherman history portraits (1988-90) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman history portraits (1988-90) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman headshots (2000-2002) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman headshots (2000-2002) installation photograph at MoMA, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #21' 1978

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #21 
1978
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 9 1/2″ (19.1 x 24.1cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #6' 1977

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #6 
1977
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 x 6 1/2″ (24 x 16.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #56' 1980

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled Film Still #56 
1980
Gelatin silver print
6 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (16.2 x 24cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd

 

 

Gallery 2

In fall 1977, Sherman began making pictures that would eventually become her groundbreaking Untitled Film Stills. Over three years, the series (presented here in its entirety) grew to comprise a total of seventy black-and-white photographs. Taken as a whole, the Untitled Film Stills – resembling publicity pictures made on movie sets – read like an encyclopaedic roster of stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films. But while the characters and scenarios may seem familiar, Sherman’s Stills are entirely fictitious; they represent clichés (career girl, bombshell, girl on the run, vamp, housewife, and so on) that are deeply embedded in the cultural imagination. While the pictures can be appreciated individually, much of their significance comes in the endless variation of identities from one photograph to the next. As a group they explore the complexity of representation in a world saturated with images, and refer to the cultural filter of images (moving and still) through which we see the world.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #137' 1984

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #137 
1984
Chromogenic colour print
70 1/2 x 47 3/4″ (179.1 x 121.3cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1985

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #458' 2007-08

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #458 
2007-08
Chromogenic colour print
6′ 5 3/8″ x 58 1/4″ (196.5 x 148cm)
Glenstone

 

 

Gallery 3

Fashion – a daily form of masquerade that communicates culture, gender, and class – has been a constant source of inspiration for Sherman and a leading ingredient in the creation of her work. Throughout her career the artist has completed a number of commissions for fashion designers and magazines, and this gallery gathers many of these works. Sherman’s fashion pictures challenge the industry’s conventions of beauty and grace. Her first such commission, made in 1983, parodies typical fashion photography. Rather than projecting glamour, sex, or wealth, the pictures feature characters that are far from desirable – whether goofy, hysterical, angry, or slightly mad. Later commissions resulted in more extreme images of characters with bloodshot eyes, bruises, and scars. These exaggerated figures reached ostentatious heights in a 2007-08 commission, in which fashion victims – including steely fashion editors, PR mavens, assistant buyers, and wannabe fashionistas – wear clothing designed by Balenciaga and ham it up for the camera. Sherman’s interest in the construction of femininity and the mass circulation of images informs much of her work; the projects that take fashion as their subject illustrate the artist’s fascination with fashion images but also her critique of what they represent.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #424' 2004

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #424 
2004
Chromogenic colour print
53 3/4 x 54 3/4″ (136.5 x 139.1cm)
Holzer Family Collection

 

 

Gallery 5

Sherman, who photographs alone in her studio, has used a variety of techniques to suggest different locations and imaginary (sometimes impossible) spaces, extending the narrative possibilities of her images. In her first foray into colour, in 1980, the artist photographed herself in front of rear-screen projections of various cityscapes and landscapes, evoking films from the 1950s and 1960s that used similar techniques to create the illusion of a change in location. In later series, such as the head shots (2000-2002), clowns (2003-04), and society portraits (2008), the artist used digital tools to create a variety of environments. The garish fluorescent colours in a clown picture contribute to the disturbing quality of the portrait, while a fairy tale forest provides a dreamy backdrop for a well-to-do lady.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents the exhibition Cindy Sherman, a retrospective tracing the groundbreaking artist’s career from the mid-1970s to the present, from February 26 to June 11, 2012. The exhibition brings together 171 key photographs from the artist’s significant series – including the complete Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), the critically acclaimed centerfolds (1981), and the celebrated history portraits (1988-90) – plus examples from all of her most important bodies of work, ranging from her fashion photography of the early 1980s to the breakthrough sex pictures of 1992 to her 2003-04 clowns and monumental society portraits from 2008. In addition, the exhibition features the American premiere of her 2010 photographic mural. An exhibition of films drawn from MoMA’s collection selected by Sherman will also be presented in the Museum’s theatres in April. Cindy Sherman is organised by Eva Respini, Associate Curator, with Lucy Gallun, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.

Cindy Sherman is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential artists of our time and her work is the unchallenged cornerstone of post-modern photography. Masquerading as a myriad of characters in front of her own camera, Sherman creates invented personas and tableaus that examine the construction of identity, the nature of representation, and the artifice of photography. Her works speak to an increasingly image-saturated world, drawing on the unlimited supply of visual material provided by movies, television, magazines, the Internet, and art history.

Ms. Respini says, “To create her photographs, Sherman works unassisted in her studio and assumes multiple roles as photographer, model, art director, make-up artist, hairdresser, and stylist. Whether portraying a career girl or a blond bombshell, a fashion victim or a clown, a French aristocrat or a society lady of a certain age, for over 35 years this relentlessly adventurous artist has created an eloquent and provocative body of work that resonates deeply with our visual culture.”

The American premiere of Sherman’s recent photographic mural (2010) will be installed outside the galleries on the sixth floor. The mural represents the artist’s first foray into transforming space through site-specific fictive environments. In the mural Sherman transforms her face via digital means, exaggerating her features through Photoshop by elongating her nose, narrowing her eyes, or creating smaller lips. The characters, who sport an odd mix of costumes and are taken from daily life, are elevated to larger-than-life status and tower over the viewer. Set against a decorative toile backdrop, her characters seem like protagonists from their own carnivalesque worlds, where fantasy and reality merge. The emphasis on new work presents an opportunity for reassessment in light of the latest developments in Sherman’s oeuvre.

Entering the galleries, the exhibition strays from a chronological narrative typical of retrospectives, and groups photographs thematically to create new and surprising juxtapositions and to suggest common threads across several series. A gallery devoted to her work made for the fashion industry brings together commissions from 1983 to 2011. Sherman’s interest in the construction of femininity and mass circulation of images informs much of the work that takes fashion as its subject, illustrating not only a fascination with fashion images but also a critical stance against what they represent. A gallery exploring themes of the grotesque focuses on bodies of work from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, including disasters (1986-89) and sex pictures (1992). Sherman’s investigation of macabre narratives followed a trajectory of the physical disintegration of the body, and features prosthetic parts as a stand-in for the human body. A gallery devoted to Sherman’s exploration of myth, carnival, and fairy tales pairs works from her 2003 clowns with her 1985 fairy tales series. These theatrical pictures revel in their own artificiality, with menacing characters and fantastical narratives.

Galleries devoted to single bodies of work are interspersed among the thematic rooms. Sherman’s seminal series the Untitled Film Stills, comprising 70 black-and-white photographs made between 1977 and 1980, are presented in their entirety (the complete series is in MoMA’s collection). Made to look like publicity pictures taken on movie sets, the Untitled Film Stills read like an encyclopaedic roster of female roles inspired by 1950s and 1960s Hollywood, film noir, B movies, and European art-house films. While the characters and scenarios may seem familiar, Sherman’s Stills are entirely fictitious. Her characters represent deeply embedded clichés (career girl, bombshell, girl on the run, housewife, and so on) and rely on the persistence of recognisable manufactured stereotypes that loom large in the cultural imagination.

Other series presented in depth include Sherman’s 1981 series of 12-colour photographs known as the centerfolds. Originally commissioned by Artforum magazine, these send-ups of men’s erotic magazine centerfolds depict characters in a variety of emotional states, ranging from terrified to heartbroken to melancholic. With this series, Sherman plays into the male conditioning of looking at photographs of exposed women, but she turns this on its head by taking on the roles of both (assumed) male photographer and female pinup. The history portraits investigate the relationships between painter and model, and are featured in depth in the exhibition. These theatrical portraits borrow from a number of art historical periods, from Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical. This free-association sampling creates an illusion of familiarity, but not with any one specific era or style (just as the Untitled Film Stills evoke generic types, not particular films). The subjects (for the first time, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonna and child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milkmaids, who pose with props, elaborate costumes, and obvious prostheses.

Sherman has explored the experience of ageing in a youth- and status-obsessed society with several bodies of work made since 2000. For her headshots from 2000-2002 (sometimes called Hollywood / Hamptons), the artist conceived a cast of characters of would-be or has-been actors (in reality secretaries, housewives, or gardeners) posing for head shots to get an acting job. With this series, Sherman underscores the transformative qualities of makeup, hair, expression, and pose, and the recognition of certain stereotypes as powerful transmitters of cultural clichés. Her monumental 2008 society portraits feature women “of a certain age” from the top echelons of society who struggle with today’s impossible standards of beauty. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through in the unrelenting honesty of the description of ageing and the small details that belie the attempt to project a certain appearance. In the infinite possibilities of the mutability of identity, these pictures stand out for their ability to be at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.

Press release from the MOMA website

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #193' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #193 
1989
Chromogenic colour print
48 7/8 x 41 15/16″ (124.1 x 106.5cm)
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #213' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #213 
1989
Chromogenic colour print
41 1/2 x 33″ (105.4 x 83.8cm)
Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #216' 1989

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #216 
1989
Chromogenic colour print
7′ 3 1/8″ x 56 1/8″ (221.3 x 142.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser

 

 

Gallery 7

Sherman’s history portraits (1988-90) investigate modes of representation in art history and the relationship between painter and model. These classically composed portraits borrow from a number of art-historical periods – Renaissance, baroque, rococo, Neoclassical – and make allusions to paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Fragonard, and Ingres (who, like all the Old Masters, were men). This free-association sampling creates a sense of familiarity, but not of any one specific era or style. The subjects (for the first time for Sherman, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonnas with child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milk-maids, who pose with props, costumes, and obvious prostheses. Theatrical and artificial – full of large noses, bulging bellies, squirting breasts, warts, and unibrows – the history portraits are poised between humorous parody and grotesque caricature.

A handful of Sherman’s portraits were inspired by actual paintings. Untitled #224 was made after Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus (c. 1593), which is commonly believed to be a self-portrait of the artist as the Roman god of wine. In Sherman’s reinterpretation, the numerous layers of representation – a female artist impersonating a male artist impersonating a pagan divinity – create a sense of remove, pastiche, and criticality. Even where Sherman’s pictures offer a gleam of art-historical recognition, she has inserted her own interpretation of the canonised paintings, creating contemporary artefacts of a bygone era.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #359' 2000

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #359 
2000
Chromogenic color print
30 x 20″ (76.2 x 50.8cm)
Collection Metro Pictures, New York

 

 

Gallery 8

After almost a decade of staging still lifes with dolls and props, in her 2000-2002 head-shots series Sherman returned to a more intimate scale and to using herself as a model. The format recalls ID pictures, head shots, or vanity portraits made in garden-variety portrait studios by professional photographers. First exhibited in Beverly Hills, the series explores the cycle of desire and failed ambition that permeates Hollywood. Sherman conceived a cast of would-be or has-been female actors posing for head shots in order to get acting jobs; later, for an exhibition in New York, she added East Coast types. Whichever part of the country they’re from, we’ve seen these women before – on reality television, in soap operas, or at a PTA meeting. With these pictures, Sherman underscores the transformative qualities of makeup, hair, expression, and pose, and the power of stereotypes as transmitters of cultural clichés. She projects well-drawn personas: the enormous pouting lips of the woman in Untitled #360 suggest a yearning for youth, while the glittery makeup and purple iridescent dress worn by the character in Untitled #400 indicate an aspiration to reach a certain social status. In her role as both sitter and photographer, Sherman has disrupted the usual power dynamic between model and photographer and created new avenues through which to explore the very apparatus of portrait photography itself.

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #465' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #465 
2008
Chromogenic colour print
63 3/4 x 57 1/4″ (161.9 x 145.4cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Photography Committee, 2009

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #466' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #466
2008
Chromogenic colour print

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #474' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled #474 
2008
Chromogenic colour print
7′ 7″ x 60 1/4″ (231.1 x 153cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor, Michael Lynne, Charles Heilbronn, and the Carol and David Appel Family Fund

 

 

Gallery 10

Set against opulent backdrops and presented in ornate frames, the characters in Sherman’s 2008 society portraits seem at once tragic and vulgar. The figures are not based on specific women, but the artist has made them look entirely familiar in their struggle with the impossible standards of beauty that prevail in a youth – and status – obsessed culture. At this large scale, it is easy to decipher the characters’ vulnerability behind the makeup, clothes, and jewellery. The psychological weight of these pictures comes through the unrelenting honesty of their description of ageing, the tell-tale signs of cosmetic alteration, and the small details that belie the characters’ attempts to project a polished and elegant appearance. Upon careful viewing, they reveal a dark reality lurking beneath the glossy surface of perfection. As with much of her work, in her society portraits Sherman has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to channel the zeitgeist. These well-heeled divas presaged the financial collapse of 2008, the end of an era of opulence – the size of the photographs alone seems a commentary on an age of excess. Among the numerous iterations of contemporary identity, these pictures stand out as at once provocative, disparaging, empathetic, and mysterious.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled #475' 2008

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled #475 
2008
Chromogenic colour print
7′ 2 3/8″ x 71 1/2″ (219.4 x 181.6cm)
The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica

 

 

Gallery 11

Because the majority of Sherman’s pictures feature the artist as model, they showcase a single character. In the 1970s Sherman experimented with cutouts of multiple figures, in her whimsical 1975 stop-motion animated short film Doll Clothes and her rarely seen 1976 collages, which were achieved through a labor-intensive process of cutting and pasting multiple photographs. When Sherman began working digitally in the early 2000s, she was able to more easily incorporate multiple figures in one frame, allowing for a variety of new narrative possibilities. Where the early works chart the movements and gestures of a single character through space, the multiple figures in recent works interact with one another to create tableaus.

Wall text from the exhibition

 

 

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12
Dec
08

Review: ‘The Art of Existence’ exhibition by Les Kossatz at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd November – 8th March 2009

 

Les Kossatz. 'Digger's glory box' 1965

 

Les Kossatz
Digger’s glory box
1965
Silk, felt, canvas, cardboard, wood, brass, ink, fibre-tipped pen and synthetic polymer paint
106.0 x 76.0 x 7.0 cm
Courtesy the artist
Photographer: Viki Petherbridge
© Les Kossatz

 

 

Heide Museum of Modern Art has brought together nearly 100 pieces of work by the Australian artist Les Kossatz in an eclectic survey show, appropriately titled The Art of Existence. Featuring sculpture, painting and mixed media from the 1960s to the present the exhibition is appropriately titled because Kossatz’s work addresses certain archetypal themes that affect human existence:

His life-long fascination with the natural world and desire to understand both its human and animal inhabitants; exploration of the systems of knowledge and codes of behaviour that structure individual and communal life; and his critical and playful reflections on contemporary behaviour and the mysteries of existence.”1

.
Strong symbolic paintings are the focus of the work in the 1960s, paintings that address the shocking brutality of war and its aftermath, when soldiers return home. To the observation that these are of the ‘pop-style’ school of painting suggested by the Heide website I feel these works are also influenced by the collage of Cubism, the boxes of Joseph Cornell and the dismembered bodies of Francis Bacon. They engage with the symbolism of war and remembrance: memory, myth, and the banality of heroism and sacrifice.

The key work in this series is the painting Diggers throne (1966). This is a powerful disturbing image, effervescent and unnerving at the same time. It features a disembodied arm on the hand of a throne, surrounded by a wonderful kaleidoscopic assemblage of pictorial planes, artefacts and memories – an English flag, the flag of St George, a crown, medals and the words RSL. The arm reminds me of the Francis Bacon painting Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953) as it rests, roughly drawn in pencil on the arm of the throne, drawing the eye back up into nothingness.

The Diggers throne painting also features these prophetic words:

“throne slow to rot
and twisted the memory
becomes sacred.
Bloody was the truth
And this a chair.”

.
All other work in this period seems to flow through this painting – the other large paintings, the small canvases featuring individual medals and the less successful hanging banners. But it is to this work we return again and again as a viewer, trying to decipher and reconcile our inner conflicts about the painting.

As we move into the 1970s the work changes focus and direction. There emerges a concern with the desecration of the Australian landscape investigated in a series of large paintings and sculptures. In Packaged landscape 1 (1976) a steel suitcase with leather straps, slightly ajar, fulminates with artificial gum leaves trying to escape the strictures of the trap. In Caged landscape (1972) nature is again trapped behind steel wire, weighed in the balance on a set of miniature scales. The paintings feature trees that are surrounded by concrete and the rabbit becomes a powerful symbol for Kossatz – a suffering beast, strung up on fences, a plague in a pitted landscape of chopped down trees, erosion and empty holes.

Into this vernacular emerges the key symbol of the artist’s oeuvre – the sheep. In 1972 Kossatz began a series of sculptures of sheep, “initially inspired by the experience of nursing an injured ram.” For Kossatz “the sheep represent the hardship of pioneer existence, the grazing industries prosperity, environmental concerns and the sheep act as narrative devices, potent metaphors for human behaviour.”2

The first sheep presented ‘in show’ is Ram in Sling (1973, below). In this sculpture a metal bar is suspended in mid-air and from this bar heavy wire mesh drops to support the fleecy stomach and neck of the ram almost seeming to strangle it in the process, it’s metal feet just touching the ground. Again the scales of justice seem to weigh nature in the balance.

The themes life and death, order and chaos are further developed in the work Hard slide (1980, below) where a sheep emerges mid-air from a trapdoor, two more tumble down a wooden slide end over end and another disappears into the ground through a wooden trapdoor opening. Sacrifice seems to be a consistent theme with both the earlier paintings and the metallised sheep:

“The completed life cycle, down the trapdoor, down the chute, after sacrifice by shearing.” ~ Daniel Thomas 1994

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Further sculptures of sheep, both small maquettes and large sculptures follow in the next room of the exhibition. This is the artist is full flow, featuring the inventive taking of 2D things into the round, investigating the key themes of his work: the contrast between nature and artifice, or humanity.

The small maquettes of sheep feature races, gantries, sluices, pens, trapdoors and paddocks. Sheep tumble in a cataclysmic maelstrom, falling with flailing legs into the darkness of the holding pen below. These are my favourite works – small, intimate, detailed, dark bronzes of serious intensity – the sheep becoming a theatre of the absurd, suspended, weighed and balancing in the performance of ritualised acts, a cacophony of flesh at once both intricate and unsettling. Their skins lay flayed and lifeless disappearing into the ‘unearth’ of the slated wooden floor of the shearing shed. The sheep “can be viewed metaphorically as a commentary of the existential situation of the individual and collective behaviour.”3 As Kossatz himself has noted, “It is hard to bring a piece of landscape inside and give it a living animated form. The sheep somehow gives me this quality of landscape.”

But we must also remember that this strictly a white man’s view of the Australian landscape. Nowhere does this work comment on the disenfranchisement of the native people’s of this land – the destruction of native habitats that the sheep brought about, the starvation that they caused to Aboriginal people just as they bought riches to the pastoralists and the country that mined the land with this amorphous mass of flesh.

Recent work in the exhibition returns to the earlier social themes of memory, war, remembrance, religion, shrines, atomic clouds and temples but it is the work of the late 1970s – 1980s that is the most cogent. As Kossatz ponders the nature of existence on this planet he does not see a definitive answer but emphasises the journey we take, not the arrival. Here is something that we should all ponder, giving time to the nature of our personal journey in this life, on this earth.

Here also is an exhibition worthy our time and attention as part of that journey. Go visit!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,074

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Many thankx to Heide 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.

 

  1. From the Heide website
  2. From wall notes to the exhibition
  3. From wall notes to the exhibition

 

Postscript 2018

The late Les Kossatz (1943-2011) was a well known Melbourne-based artist and academic whose work is represented in many regional and state galleries and the National Gallery of Australia. He studied art at the Melbourne Teachers’ College and the RMIT, and went on to teach at the RMIT and Monash University. Kossatz’s first significant commission was for the stained glass windows at the Monash University Chapel in Melbourne. Later commissions included works for the Australian War Memorial, the High Court, the Ian Potter Foundation at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Darling Harbour Authority, Sydney. His sculpture, Ainslie’s Sheep, commissioned by Arts ACT in 2000, is a popular national capital landmark in the centre of Civic. A major retrospective of Kossatz’s work was held in 2009 at the Heide Park and Art Gallery, Melbourne.

Text from the High Court of Australia website

Francis Bacon. 'Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X' 1953

 

Francis Bacon
Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X
1953

 

Les Kossatz. "Ram in sling" 1973

 

Les Kossatz
Ram in sling
1973
Cast and fabricated stainless steel and sheepskin
129.3 x 126.5 x 66.0 cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art Collection
Purchased from John and Sunday Reed 1980
© Les Kossatz

 

Les Kossatz. 'Trophy room' 1975

 

Les Kossatz
Trophy room
1975
Colour lithograph
74.0 x 76.0 cm (sheet)
Courtesy the artist
Photographer: Viki Petherbridge
© Les Kossatz

 

 

The art of existence is the first exhibition to review Les Kossatz’s contribution to Australian art in a career that spans the 1960s to today. Kossatz’s consistently experimental approach to media and techniques is revealed in works that display a lifelong fascination with humanity and the interaction of man and nature. His paintings, sculptures and works on paper stimulate a questioning and exploration of such concerns, which form the basis of this artist’s practice.

Les Kossatz’s early works of the 1960s draw on his training and ability to work across a diversity of media, including painting, drawing, printmaking and glass. Early paintings and etchings on the theme of the emptiness of memorials to the Australian ‘digger’ or soldiers were succeeded by images and objects offering impressions of the world around the artist – the rural domain and interior life of St Andrews in Victoria where Kossatz lived and worked. Such works demonstrated his determination to pursue a figurative practice at a time when abstract art had been imported to Australia and was considered the avant garde.

Remaining a staunchly independent artist, at the start of the 1970s Kossatz painted images of rabbits and sheep from St Andrews. In addition, the practice of working in three dimensions was to become more significant. Kossatz continued to develop familiar themes in the creation of installations and cast objects. Although he has produced drawings and prints across his career, working with sculpture has, since the early 1970s, been his primary mode of art-making. Large scale cast and assembled objects show Kossatz pursuing related themes of caged and packaged landscapes, shrines to the harvest and the still life.

The art of existence surveys Kossatz’s monumental life-sized sheep sculptures, which he began making in 1972 from casts of animal parts, and for which he is best known. These include Hard slide (1980), his prize-winning commission in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Kossatz has won numerous commissions for outdoor sculptures that employ the sheep as literal and metaphorical beings. Kossatz’s work across three decades reveals a number of ongoing engagements, such as his observations of human behaviour and at times its similar manifestation in animals; the beliefs that sustain individuals and communities (such as religion, music and politics); and the forms of the landscape and our understanding of these relationships.

Introduction to the exhibition written by Zara Stanhope, Guest Curator, Heide Museum of Modern Art, 2008

 

Les Kossatz. "Hard slide" 1980

 

Les Kossatz
Hard slide
1980
Sheepskins, aluminium, Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga sp.), leather, steel
372.0 x 100.0 x 304.0 cm (installation)

 

Les Kossatz. "Guggenheim spiral" 1983

 

Les Kossatz
Guggenheim spiral
1983

 

 

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Phone: +61 3 9850 1500

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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

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