Posts Tagged ‘New Objectivity

13
Aug
17

Exhibition: ‘Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class’ at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Exhibition dates: 27th April to 13th August 2017

Curator: Dr Martin Engler, Head of the Collection of Contemporary Art, Städel Museum
Co-curator: Dr Jana Baumann, Städel Museum

Artists: Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich

 

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet' 1963

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet
1963
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
75.3 x 91.4 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

 

The Bechers depict the half-timbered houses from the Siegerland in a sober and restrained fashion. The picture removes the buildings from their original context. One view follows the next. Thus the form of the single building becomes more important than its function. In the photographs the half-timbered houses become aesthetic objects with a sculptural character. Bernd and Hilla Becher do not present their images individually, but in a grid. Not the single photo is the work, but the total of the typology is.

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' (detail) 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses (detail)
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' (detail) 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses (detail)
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

 

 

“What the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher sparked off – and their students developed further – is a new conception of the artwork according to which the boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography dissolve in terms of media and aesthetics alike. In other words, in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.” (Press release)

WHAT ABSOLUTE RUBBISH – the second sentence, that is!

Just look at the photographs as pictures.

The Bechers and their students’ photographs might invoke a new concept of the pictorial but that does not mean the death of photography far from it. In fact, this conceptualisation opens up an expanded terrain of becoming for photography (continuing the theme of the last post on the work of Walker Evans). In this sense, the work of these artists is vital to an understanding of the place of photography within the observation, construction and taxonomy of contemporary culture and its pictorial representation.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Städel Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For more information please see the interactive website.

 

One of the most radical changes in art’s relation to its aesthetic, media, and economic contexts is closely associated with the students of the first Becher Class at the Düsseldorf art academy – but even more so with the names of their teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher. The exhibition brings together 200 major works, some in large format, by these important artists, as well as a selection of their early works.

 

 

Candida Höfer (*1944) 'Weidengasse Cologne VIII 1977' 1977 (2013)

 

Candida Höfer (*1944)
Weidengasse Cologne VIII 1977
1977 (2013)
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
42.6 x 36.7 cm
Loan from the artist
© Candida Höfer, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Volker Döhne (*1953) 'Untitled (Colourful)' 1979 (2014)

 

Volker Döhne (*1953)
Untitled (Colourful)
1979 (2014)
Colour print from colour transparency
37 x 47 cm
Private collection
© Volker Döhne, Krefeld 2017

 

Thomas Ruff (*1958) 'Interior 1 D' 1982

 

Thomas Ruff (*1958)
Interior 1 D
1982
Chromogenic colour print
47 x 57 cm
Loan from the artist
© Thomas Ruff; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Andreas Gursky (*1955) 'Doorman, Passport Control' 1982 (2007)

 

Andreas Gursky (*1955)
Doorman, Passport Control
1982 (2007)
Inkjet print
43.2 x 52.5 cm
Loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers
© Andreas Gursky / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017 / Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London

 

Axel Hütte (*1951) 'Moedling House' 1982-1984

 

Axel Hütte (*1951)
Moedling House
1982-1984
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
66 x 80 cm
Loan from the artist
© Axel Hütte

 

Petra Wunderlich (*1954) 'Fossa Degli Angeli, Italy' 1989

 

Petra Wunderlich (*1954)
Fossa Degli Angeli, Italy
1989
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
61 x 75,2 cm
Private collection
© Petra Wunderlich; VG Bild-Kunst 2017

 

 

From 27 April to 13 August 2017, the Städel Museum is staging a comprehensive survey on the Becher Class at the Düsseldorf art academy and the major paradigm shift in the medium of artistic photography with which the Bechers and their students are associated. With the aid of some 200 photographs by Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich – a group of whom some enjoy international renown and others are due for rediscovery – the exhibition will examine the influence exerted by Bernd and Hilla Becher on their students at the Düsseldorf school. What unites the students’ works with those of their teachers? How do they differ? Is there really such a thing as the “Becher School” or is it ‘merely’ a matter of several highly successful photographers who happened to be studying at the ‘right place’ at an especially propitious moment in history? And how have those artists influenced our present conception of what a picture is? Taking the artist duo’s work as a point of departure, the exhibition “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class” will acquaint viewers with the radical changes in the medium of artistic photography that became manifest in the works of the Becher pupils in the eighties and above all the nineties, and investigate the art-historical impact of this development up to the very present. It will feature major large-scale works as well as key early endeavours by the members of what is presumably the most influential generation of German photographers in the field of fine art.

The students of the first in a long line of Becher Classes at the Düsseldorfer art academy introduced elementary changes to contemporary art’s aesthetic, media and economic contexts. They not only contributed decisively to shaping international photography in the 1990s, but also fundamentally redefined the status and perception of artistic photography in general. Their works can be considered as one of the most self-confident emancipations of photography as art in the mediums history, while at the same time reflecting the (not merely digital) moment when the boundaries between the media dissolve.

“Bernd and Hilla Becher’s first – meanwhile world-famous – students played a tremendously important role in establishing photography as an expressive medium on a par with other art forms. The nine artists featured in our show occupy a realm where the distinction between painting and photography is no longer clear. The permeability of the boundary between the media is deliberate in their work, and in that respect they mirror one of the key focuses of the Städel Museum’s collection of contemporary art,” observes Städel director Dr Philipp Demandt. And exhibition curator Dr Martin Engler adds: “What the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher sparked off – and their students developed further – is a new conception of the artwork according to which the boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography dissolve in terms of media and aesthetics alike. In other words, in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.”

The founding of a chair for artistic photography at the Düsseldorf art academy in 1976 provided perhaps the single most important impulse for a change in how the medium of photography was perceived. In close cooperation with his wife Hilla Becher, Bernd Becher held that chair until 1996. Even before their appointment to the Düsseldorf school, the Bechers had been taking pictures of historical industrial architecture, subscribing to a work concept that exceeded the scope of a common documentary approach in photography. They portrayed mining headframes, blast furnaces, gas tanks, water towers and other testimonies to a vanishing industrial culture – frontally, in central perspective, with fascinating depth of field, and where possible before the backdrop of a uniformly grey sky. They arranged the individual shots in grids to form large-scale tableaus they called typologies. The concern here was no longer merely the illustration of reality, but its perception. Reality could no longer be depicted singly, but only in a multiplicity of simultaneous images. From the formal aesthetic point of view, the staging of the pictorial subjects was now far more than documentary in nature. The affinity to minimal and concept art – evident in the rigour of the pictorial vocabulary, the industrial aesthetic and the new perception of a work in stages – is unmistakable.

Especially in their early work, the students of the first Becher Class explored their teachers’ artistic strategy with great intensity. Yet as they continued to pursue it in the nineties, they did so ever more independently, and in their own highly individual styles. With the aid of various strategies in terms of scale, presentation and motif, and not least of all with abstract pictorial inventions provoked by digital image techniques, they took the interpenetration of the mediums of painting and photography to an extreme. The result was a new concept of the picture that blurs aesthetic and media distinctions. “The dissolution of media boundaries, but also the use of technical innovations, are characteristic of the works of the first Becher Class. It is here that the impact of a changing media culture is felt,” explains Dr Jana Baumann, the co-curator of the exhibition.

A show devoted to such a complex phenomenon on the one hand, and such productive teaching activities on the other, must inevitably be limited in scope. “Photographs Become Pictures” concentrates deliberately on the students of the early years of the Becher Class, beginning with Höfer, Döhne, Hütte and Struth in 1976 and ending with the completion of Gursky’s and Sasse’s studies in 1987/1988. In retrospect, it is precisely in the heterogeneity of the first Becher Class – with its wide range of approaches that have influenced our present-day understanding of the pictorial image – that the success of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s teachings is evident.

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) is known above all for her pictures of public interiors such as libraries, universities, museums and waiting rooms. Nevertheless, the purely documentary aspect is ultimately of secondary importance to her, as is also true of her teachers. Particularly when she turned to colour photography, she began producing iconically clear shots of meaning-charged interiors extremely striking in their rigorous aesthetic. In composition, repetition and rhythm as well as the sculptural emphasis, Höfer’s formal staging of her interiors is reminiscent of the Becher typologies.

A distinct affinity to the typologies is also evident in early street shots by Thomas Struth (b. 1954), such as West Broadway, Tribeca, New York (1978) or Sommerstrasse, Düsseldorf (1980). He proceeded in a manner similar to his teachers, but broadened his spectrum of motifs. He is concerned in his work with cultural structures; in addition to streets he also depicts museums or religious cult sites and portrays families. With the aid of social and ethnological allusions he reveals orders and interrelationships, thus achieving a universal survey of human and their lifeworld in imagery.

Petra Wunderlich‘s (b. 1954) black-and-white series depict details of churches or quarries that the artist has introduced to a new, abstract compositional framework. By this method she reduces architecture visually to its stereometric tectonics in such a way that elementary architectonic forms unexpectedly emerge from the “broken” surfaces of nature. Wunderlich’s photographs, like those by the Bechers, can be read as sociological and historical testimonies.

The workgroups of Volker Döhne (b. 1953) closely resemble Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ typologies with regard to concept and motif alike. He developed series such as Small- Scale Iron Industry (1977/78) or Small Railway Bridges and Underpasses in the Bergisches and Märkisches Land (1979). With his experimental Colour (1979) series, he then emancipated himself from his teachers.

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) was interested primarily in factory gates, shop windows, beverage kiosks and snack bars, which she photographed in the even light of grey days. Many aspects of these works are strongly reminiscent of the Becher photographs: the consistent placement of the subject at the pictorial centre, the unchanging size of the prints, but also the serial, typologically comparative approach.

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) is likewise deeply indebted to his teachers’ serial method, which we encounter in his work in ever-different formulations. His portraits as well as the strongly enlarged nocturnal shots of, in part, found material, convey his fundamentally sceptical attitude towards photography’s claim to truth and documentation. His persistent investigations of new pictorial sources and technologies are perhaps the most impressive demonstrations of the manner in which Ruff continues the approach of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Axel Hütte‘s (b. 1951) early architectural details investigate social situations using a mode of photographic expression distinguished by distance and anonymity. Within this context, he devotes himself as much to spoiled landscapes as to supposedly untouched nature which nevertheless has always been formed by human intervention. A conspicuous aspect of his work is the strong reference to historical landscape painting, whose formal compositional principles he both copies and deconstructs. Whereas the Bechers directed their attention to the sculptural or conceptual potential of their pictures, Hütte focusses on painting as the leading medium of modern art.

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) initially devoted himself to highly artificial and at the same time prosaic arrangements of petit-bourgeois domestic culture. His later “tableaus” represent a virtual antithesis to the reductive rigour of these early works. Using digital and analogue techniques alike, he began processing found pictures as well as images of his own making, in which context he blurred the distinction between painting and photograph beyond recognition.

Andreas Gursky‘s (b. 1955) early photographs are likewise characterised by a keen interest in everyday surroundings – the private as well as the public sphere, the context of work as well as leisure time. Like Sasse, he investigates the aesthetic boundary between photographic and painterly image production. By means of digital manipulations he uses to duplicate and mount the pictorial motif to the point of abstraction, he creates perplexing pictorial architectures that merge construction and reality in large-scale colour prints.

The development of the Becher Class shows how concept art’s expanding notion of the artwork led to a new concept of the pictorial including photography. What the teachers introduced in rudiments was taken by their students and the following generation of artists to a momentous change in the picturing of reality. The realisation that photography cannot reproduce reality impartially does not detract from the medium. On the contrary, it means an enhancement in terms of artistic potential. What is more, the lack of focus in the portrayal of reality – in the literal and figurative sense alike – enriches photography’s complexity. It is not least of digital changes that enables innovative pictorial invention. Yet the boundaries of the photographic image also became fluid in the development from individual work to typology and series, and from detail to overall image. The answer to all questions about the significance, classification, doctrine and conception of what we refer to as the “Becher School” can thus be found in an insight as simple as it is surprising: in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.

Press release from the Städel Museum

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

At left, Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner) (detail) 1988 (2003)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Candida Höfer (left) and Thomas Struth (*1954) Louvre 3, Paris 1989 1989 (2012) (right)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Struth (*1954) Paradiese 09 Xi Shuang Banna, Provinz Yunnan, China, 1999

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'Paradiese 09' 1999

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
Paradiese 09
Xi Shuang Banna, Provinz Yunnan, China, 1999

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) with House No. 1 I 1987 (right)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Axel Hütte (*1951)

 

Axel Hütte (*1951) 'Castellina' 1992 (2015)

 

Axel Hütte (*1951)
Castellina
1992 (2015)
Chromogenic colour print
98.4 x 120.3 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung © Axel Hütte

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Struth (*1954) The Consolandi Family, Mailand, 1996 (2014) (left)

 

Exhibition views “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class”
Photo: Städel Museum

 

 

The Bechers

For their photographs Bernd and Hilla Becher are awarded the “Golden Lion” in the category of “sculpture” at the Venice Biennale in 1990. How is that possible? Surprisingly at the time there was no separate category for photography at the Biennale. But this is not the real reason. Already in 1969 the first larger exhibition of the Bechers is called “Anonymous Sculptures”, just like their first volume of photographs. The artists very consciously link the genres of photography and sculpture. This idea informs their entire oeuvre.

Bernd Becher and Hilla Wobeser begin to collaborate in 1959. At the time both study at the art academy Düsseldorf. Two years later they marry. During the following five decades the artist couple produces mostly tableaus of several parts – consisting of three, nine, twelve or more photos; they call them typologies. Their subjects are disused headstocks, furnaces, oil refineries, water reservoir towers, grain silos, gasometres or even half-timbered houses in former workers’ settlements – all of them testimonies of a declining industrial culture.

 

An Overall Concept

When Hilla and Bernd Becher presented their works at the Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 1969, this coincided with an exhibition on US-American minimal art – a juxtaposition that was to prove programmatic. In 1972 the American sculptor Carl Andre mentioned the insightful connection of the Bechers’ works and the movements of minimal and conceptual art. This prominent, art-theoretical connection significantly contributed to the great international success of the Bechers. This is also why – especially in the USA – the two are considered concept artists more than photographers.

The Bechers’ method of working – ostensibly – is concerned with sobriety and anonymity, rigidity and objectivity. They work in series, where the whole and a part of this whole, total view and detail are balanced. Setting their photographs into the context of sculpture, they test the boundaries of the genres of photography and sculpture. Working and presenting their works in series, they move the photograph beyond the individual work: the viewer can never see everything at once; instead the eye oscillates between detail and general context.

The artist couple directs the attention to formal, creative aspects of the photographed edifices at the same time allowing them to disappear in the typology’s grid. The rigidity of their pictorial vocabulary and the interest in an industrial aesthetic evidences the close proximity of the Bechers’ creative work to minimal and concept art.

 

Photography in Germany

“In principle it [photography] was a fallow field, where nothing ‘noteworthy’ had taken place in the past fifty years. We saw us in the tradition of objective photography of the 1920s; Bernd and Hilla Becher were the first to reconnect to this. There was absolutely nothing that we could fight or needed to disengage with. We could start from scratch.” ~ Thomas Ruff

 

“New Objectivity” this was the motto of the 1920s – also in photography. It was no longer the pictorial language of painting, but precision, focus and truth to detail, characteristics of photography that had garnered the artists’ interest.

The photographer August Sander focused on the society of the Weimar Republic and created a typology: in 1925 his pictorial atlas People of the 20th Century, where he systematically assembled hundreds of portraits of stereotypes of people of the most diverse social backgrounds and occupations. All of his sitters are portrayed frontally, which makes the photographs comparable. Sander also engaged in the photography of landscapes, industrial sites and cities.

Two more representatives of the photography of New Objectivity are also worth mentioning here: Albert Renger-Patzsch recorded industrial buildings and machinery in a sober directness. Karl Blossfeldt adopted scientific standards and photographed plants – always before a neutral background, removed from their natural setting.

Bernd and Hilla Becher draw on these approaches and develop them in their works. With a few exemptions, photography was not considered an autonomous artistic medium in Germany. Still in the 1960s, photography in art predominantly served as a means of documentation of actions, happenings and performances. Yet painting and photography interact. The painter Gerhard Richter for example, used photos as templates for his paintings since the early 1960s. The Bechers in turn greatly contributed to the recognition of photography as autonomous artistic medium with their photographs.

 

The Becher Class: Adoption, Distinction

DÖHNE GURSKY HÖFER HÜTTE RONKHOLZ RUFF SASSE STRUTH WUNDERLICH

These are the students of the first Becher class. In 1976 Bernd Becher is appointed first professor for photography at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In close cooperation with his wife Hilla he teaches there for twenty years. Their first students become artists, who will have a formative influence on photography in the 1980s and the 1990s internationally. The Becher students intensely study their teachers’ work. Especially in their early works comparable approaches develop: a distanced perspective, an interest in architecture and striving for technical precision.

The Bechers are preoccupied with an industrial architecture in decline, representative also of the social changes affecting the respective region. Taking this as a starting point, their students consider their direct surroundings and social contexts. They seek to identify systems of classification and in their photographs investigate the relationship of individual work and series. In the process the Becher students adopt their own positions. They discover new themes, techniques and creative strategies. Regardless of the distinctions they are indebted to the conceptual approach of their teachers, which they then developed in their individual ways.

In their teaching and their work Bernd and Hilla Becher explore a concept of the image, where medial and aesthetic distinctions of sculpture, painting and photography dissolve. Their students continue this work in very different ways. In the 1980s and 1990s their enquiries lead to a critical reflexion of the possibilities of representing reality. The lack of focus in the depiction of reality – literally and figuratively – represent an increase in artistic complexity. Innovative pictorial creations were now possible by way of digital intervention.

The borders of the photographic image blur at the stage between single work and typology and series. The alternation of perception, oscillating between detail and total image extend the possibilities of photography. The meaning of what is called “Becher school” can be summarised in a simple and surprising statement: at the historic moment, when photography becomes an independent medium, it also realises its potential and explores its limits. Photography reaches its limits, transgresses it and thus ultimately questions its existence.

 

Kiosks and Streets

The developments in American photography are also important to the Becher-students: Ed Ruscha, whose photos show everyday subjects, is one of their role models. In 1966 he creates Every Building on the Sunset Strip. With a simple handheld camera Ruscha photographs every building on the Los Angeles boulevard of that name; he presents his pictures in a fanfold or an artist’s book. This quickly reveals the serial principle behind the work. Volker Döhne’s approach in Reconstruction II is similar. He, too, documents the commercial architecture, largely determining the surrounding.

Ice cream parlour, garage, drug store, stationers, dwelling house, shoe shop – nicely aligned. Volker Döhne focuses on the urban space dominated by nondescript post war architecture and empty sites. Other than his American colleague Ed Ruscha, Döhne always positions his camera head-on in the same angle. Surprisingly this emphasises the buildings’ volume. Like his teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher he emphasises the three-dimensional, sculptural aspect of buildings and pursues a concept that he determined before he began to photograph.

The Bechers assemble identical, yet different photographs to a static tableau. Döhne on the other hand, required the viewer to move along the strip and proceed down the row of photographs. Above all the viewer must add together the photos of the Krefelder Straße by himself: the work forms as a result of the viewer’s active viewing and perception.

 

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Ostwall corner Rheinstraße, (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Ostwall corner Rheinstraße, (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 82 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 82 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 84 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 84 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 86 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 86 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 88 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 88 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Beverage kiosk, Düsseldorf, Hermannstraße 31' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Beverage kiosk, Düsseldorf, Hermannstraße 31
1978
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
41.2 x 51.2 cm
Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Köln/Dauerleihgabe der Sparkasse KölnBonn
© Tata Ronkholz, Nachlassverwaltung Van Ham Art Estate 2017

 

 

Cigarette and gumball machines are fixed to exterior walls. Advertising posters overlap. Beverages, magazines and sweets are visibly lined up behind glass. It is Tata Ronkholz’ serial presentation that enables the comparison of the kiosks and their study as a social phenomenon in urban contexts.

Kiosks are everyday meeting points and the setting for social life. At the same time their role fundamentally changed in the past decades. Ronkholz photographs kiosks as socially grown places. She positions them centrally in their architectural environment – people are absent. This is what the photos have in common with Becher-photographs. Like her teachers, Ronkholz is committed to the conservation and archiving of a changing urban culture.

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Dusseldorf, Sankt-Franziskusstraße 107' 1977

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Dusseldorf, Sankt-Franziskusstraße 107
1977
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne / Permanent Loan of the Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Without title' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Without title
1978
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Foundation Culture, Cologne / Dauerleihgabe der Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Düsseldorf, Germany, Konkordiastraße 85' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Düsseldorf, Germany, Konkordiastraße 85
1978
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne / Permanent Loan of the Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

 

PICTURE PARALLELS

Bernd and Hilla Bechers students are linked to the work of their teachers in many ways. And yet they devote themselves, in part, to new motifs, subjects, and picture formats during their studies. In addition to architecture, they also photograph interiors, simple everyday objects or people.

In the early 1980s the Becher-students Axel Hütte and Thomas Ruff turn to portrait photography practically at the same time. They capture their models with neutral facial expressions, generally head-on before a monochrome background. The extreme setting makes the individual recede while the surface of the background dominates. In the series the single faces turn into an interchangeable motif somewhere between person and typology.

 

From Near and Far

The directions of the persons’ gazes differs. Nothing distracts from their faces. The neutral background and the close details are reminiscent of giant passport photographs. One almost overlooks that some of the sitters are famous artists today.

Axel Hütte’s portraits with their conscious play with blurring and sharpness are irritating: some areas in the photo show up the slightest detail, while others are slightly blurred – a conscious reference to the Bechers’ works, characterised by their extreme depth of focus. When observing Hütte’s works from close-up the face becomes a surface of structures. If one wants to see it in focus, one needs to distance oneself. Thus the viewer is kept at bay and always in motion.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) '15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)' 1988 (2003)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)
1988 (2003)
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
113 x 91 each cm
Loan from the artist

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) '15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)' (detail) 1988 (2003)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner) (detail)
1988 (2003)
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
113 x 91 each cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

PICTURES GENERATION

Thomas Ruff explores the gap between reality and image. This is something he shares with the American artists of the so-called “Pictures Generation” from the 1970s and 1980s. This informal group of artists, among them Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Richard Prince, grew up with a flood of pictures in cinema, television and the print media. Their works show distrust for the media, as well as a fascination with it. The artists make use of existing images from film, advertising and art. They copy, quote and redesign this material – more subtly than the artists from American Pop Art in the 1960s. Instead of working with found images in print, collage or painting, the artists of the “Pictures Generation” make small interventions. By introducing minor changes or by producing a practically identical copy of an image they very consciously play with conventional ways of perception. In their works they draw attention to mechanisms of picture production and the methods of artificial construction of reality through pictures.

 

Photos of Faces

Like Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff does not believe in an image of human character. He is convinced that only the exterior reality – the appearance – can be represented. In this sense Ruff’s portraits are photos of faces that resemble expressionless surfaces. The monochrome background hides any hint at a recognisable location.

The face becomes a surface and thus resembles a projection screen for an advertising message. The serial juxtaposition turns the individual in Ruff’s photographs into a type that also represents a particular generation. The stereotypes communicated by mass media and the influence of images on individual and collective opinion-forming are being questioned.

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'Portrait (G. Benzenberg)' 1985

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
Portrait (G. Benzenberg)
1985
Chromogenic colour print
41 × 33 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

“Looks good. Continue in colour.”

The bed, bath and living rooms, the kitchen unit and the furniture of the 1950s and 1970s, Thomas Ruff finds at the homes of relatives and friends in the Black Forest, where he comes from. Bernd and Hilla Becher preferably work in black and white. Ruff on the other hand starts experimenting with colour photography early on during his studies:

“At some point I started, making use of the colour practice, which I […] had developed, in my interiors, and I thought this looked better than in black and white photos. The colleagues said, you cannot do this. Then I also asked Bernd Becher and he said: “Looks good. Continue in colour.”

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'Interior 3 A' 1979

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
Interior 3 A
1979
Chromogenic paint removal
45.7 x 39.4 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

A Question of Mise-en-Scène

The two clips on yellow ground look like two flies. The bright background emphasises the form of the represented objects. Their original function becomes secondary. The simple stationary objects become worthy of the photographer’s meticulous attention. Jörg Sasse uses and parodies the strategies of advertising photography, ever concerned with presenting an object as something special.

From the start, Sasse’s work shows a painterly tendency as well as a penchant for abstraction. This is also apparent in a sequence of still lives with reduced colour and shapes. In his early work Sasse is interested in his immediate environment. He seeks to capture the unusual in the everyday. This links his work with the typologies of his teachers. Other than they do, Sasse does not give titles to his works; instead he gives them random numbers. This allows him to remove the represented object even further from its original context without offering a new interpretation.

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 'ST-84-12-06' 1984

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
ST-84-12-06
1984
Chromogenic paint removal
18 × 24 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

Kitchen, Bath Room and Living Room

Almost in symmetry Jörg Sasse’s photo shows a light blue jug and a glass jug on two hobs. It belongs to a series, which Sasse dedicated to modest interiors between the post war years and the economic miracle. Sometimes the photos show individual objects, sometimes a combination of two or three objects. They capture details of tiles, furniture or floors.

They give the impression as if the objects were arranged by coincident or as if the inhabitants had left them behind like this. At the same time the scenes appear to be very artificial. Sasse transforms colour, shape and structure of the interior settings into individual, abstract compositions. He focuses on formal contrasts, sequences and similarities. According to the artist it is “not the preoccupation with interiors but with the picture.” The photographer is more interested in the painterly composition than in the representation of reality.

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 'W-84-02-13, Dusseldorf' 1984

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
W-84-02-13, Dusseldorf
1984
Chromogenic paint removal
57.2 × 67.6 cm
Courtesy Gallery Wilma Tolksdorf

 

 

Courtyards and Street Canyons

The artists Axel Hütte and Thomas Struth share an interest in urban non-spaces, indistinct streets or architectures.

In the 1980s modernist residential dwellings like the brutalist, square James Hammett House in London, become increasingly less popular and are turned into social housing. The raw concrete façade of the London block of flats spreads across almost the entire picture. The empty square in front of it is abandoned. There is no sign of inhabitants: a forbidding place.

Like Bernd and Hilla Becher in their pictures of industrial buildings, Axel Hütte emphasises the angular and unwieldy shapes of the architecture in his London series. From a distance the sad, functional façade appears to be an abstract pattern of rhythmically changing shades of grey, behind which the architecture recedes.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 'James Hammett House' 1982-1984

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
James Hammett House
1982-1984
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
66 x 80 cm
Loan of the artist

 

 

In the Street

The row of houses on New York’s 21st Street seems never ending. Old houses and modern high rises alternate and form a sequence of textures and geometric forms rich in contrast. Thomas Struth was struck by the deep street canyons of the metropolis. He took his photos from the middle of the street, positioning the camera at eye-level – a method that resembles that of his teachers. It is an unusual perspective unfamiliar to both pedestrians and drivers.

Struth begins capturing urban spaces already when in Cologne and Düsseldorf. A stipend takes him to New York in 1978. His photographic approach offers a completely new view of the city’s urbanity and structure.

“I may very well stem from the legacy of documentary photography and do use its means and perspective, but my true concern exceeds this. […] To me the street is a space, where manifold influences and historical events convene and become apparent. The public space has a subconscious language, addressing us continuously.”

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York' 1978 (1987)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York
1978 (1987)
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
66 x 84 cm
DZ BANK art collection at the Städel Museum
© Thomas Struth

 

 

VARIETY

Landscapes, families, places of leisure, libraries, museums – the subjects of the Becher-students are equally as varied as their approach to photography. Their own positions develop more and more, while shared characteristics with their teachers’ oeuvre become apparent.

“Not the subject, but the representation of a landscape is what matters to me.” ~Axel Hütte

Almost two thirds of the picture are concealed by thick fog. The rocks in the foreground, however, are razor sharp. In Furka Axel Hütte plays with the contrast of diffusion and focussed parts of the picture. He explores landscape photography and thus consciously enters into competition with the genre of painting.

Foggy landscape is of great importance in the paintings of German Romanticism. This art movement, which began in the late 19th century, is characterised by mystic nature, where religious ideas are intertwined with subjective sentiment. Caspar David Friedrich is recognised as one of the most important representatives of Romanticist landscape painting. To him nature mirrored the human soul. In his painting Mountains in the Rising Fog, which he painted around 1835, the hills are veiled and only the outlines can be made out. In his photographs, Hütte refers to this tradition and employs similar techniques to guide the viewer’s gaze and to compose the picture. The landscape can be sensually grasped. The atmosphere and the subjective experience come to the fore. While his teachers sought the proximity to sculpture, Hütte’s work reflects the strategies of painting.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 'Furka' 1994 (2012)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
Furka
1994 (2012)
Chromogenic colour print
56.7 × 65.7 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung

 

 

The Silence Beside the Storm

Andreas Gursky’s works are dedicated to traffic hubs, mass events, economic centres, transit zones or places of leisure. Gursky’s focus is always on the common denominator and questions the relationship of man with nature and society. The photograph Teneriffa, Swimming Pool shows a holiday resort from a bird’s eye perspective that makes the tiny holidaymakers almost disappear. The force of nature represented by the foaming sea is in stark contrast with the artificial silence of the adjacent pool.

Like his teachers, Gursky keeps a distance to his subject. But unlike them he does not work in series and concentrates on single works. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s compositions are always about one centrally positioned object. Gursky’s images on the other hand are rich in detail and the motives are spread across the picture plane in captivating sharpness – he plays with visual challenge.

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) 'Teneriffa, Swimming Pool' 1987

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955)
Teneriffa, Swimming Pool
1987
Chromogenic colour print
104.5 × 127 cm
On loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers

 

 

Own Vantage Points

Candida Höfer too, photographs public spaces. Her photographs follow the architecture of the buildings she finds. At the same time she chooses unusual positions for her camera and thus resists the symmetries or views prescribed by the spaces. Her photos defy architectural hierarchies and structures and thus communicate the spatial experience in a particular way.

Waiting Room Cologne III 1981 is an early example of Höfer’s artistic method. The furniture reaches diagonally into the space, a dynamic underscored by the pattern of the parquet flooring. The row of tables and chairs in the bottom corner is cut off by the edge. Instead of creating a balanced symmetrical composition, she works with alternative vantage points.

This allows Höfer to emphasize her personal view of the interior architecture. Concurrently she is enquiring how the architectural space is influenced by the way people use it in the course of time. The Waiting Room with Neo-Baroque décor dating from the second half of the 19th century forms a stark contrast to the simple furniture that is easily 100 years less old.

“By means of the print I then create my own space once again. It is not my intention to show the space in a manner as realistic as possible.”

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) 'Waiting Room Cologne III 1981' 1981

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944)
Waiting Room Cologne III 1981
1981
Chromogenic colour print
155 × 155 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

Libraries as Brand

Above all Candida Höfer is famous for her large-scale interior views of libraries devoid of people. The workspaces in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris are lined up like books in libraries. The artist frequently focuses on places that preserve and order knowledge and culture. Apart from libraries she also worked on museums or operas. She is interested in how humans influence architecture through their culture. Her photos are always determined by a cool sobriety. This is what they have in common with the photographs of the Bechers. However, Höfer always works with the light and the space present in each situation. She strives to capture the atmosphere and aura of a space.

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) 'Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998' 1998

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944)
Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998
1998
Chromogenic colour print
155 × 215 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

The Picture in the Picture

In his series Museum Photographs Thomas Struth focuses on imposing interior spaces such as the gallery at the Louvre in Paris – unlike Höfer, he always shows the visitors, too. They become a multifaceted continuation of the figures in the paintings on the wall. Through the photograph Struth establishes a connection of pictorial space and real space, the painterly and photographic space. Here, the formerly competing media painting and photography enter into a dialogue as equals.

Simultaneously the viewer is confronted with different levels of viewing: those who contemplate Struth’s photos inevitably also observe the visitors at the Louvre contemplating the art works there. Thus the artist prompts a reflection on how we deal with art and its history, with seeing and being seen. Struth does not influence the positions of the visitors in his Museum Photographs. He waits for situations that can serve as the basis of his compositions. Struth merely decides on the space and the visual angle he takes.

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'Louvre 3, Paris 1989' 1989 (2012)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
Louvre 3, Paris 1989
1989 (2012)
Chromogenic colour print
152.2 × 168.3 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung im Städel Museum, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

 

 

Family Relations

The photo The Consolandi Family, Milano by Thomas Struth belongs to the series Family Portraits, which shows relationships that are complex and full of tension. The viewer is challenged to explore the connections of the family, reflected in subtle looks, mimics or posture.

The Family Portraits evolved from an unpublished project, which Struth and a friend of his, a psychoanalyst, pursued in the early 1980s. Patients were asked to submit a couple of photographs that were typical of their families, which Struth then combined in a portfolio. Drawing on this project, the photographer began to work with family portraits he took. He photographed people he knew in their homes. The individuals were asked to choose their position in a space that the artist had selected. Struth’s psychological interest in the family as a social fabric is evident. The order resembles a sociagram after all.

Like the Bechers’ works, Struth’s photographs are determined by an intrinsic dynamic full of tension. While his teachers work with industrial fields of force, he balances psychological energies. This results in an alternation of perception – the eye sways between single pictorial elements and the total composition.

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'The Consolandi Family, Milan 1996' 1996 (2014)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
The Consolandi Family, Milan 1996
1996 (2014)
Chromogenic colour print
178 × 214.2 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

PICTURE EDITING

In February 1982 the first great scandal about a digitally edited press picture occurs: for the title of the periodical National Geographic – actually indebted to scientific exactitude – the pyramids at Gizeh have been pushed closer together so they would fit the portrait format. This represents a fundamental shift in photo and media culture that also affects the work of the Becher students.

Ruff, Sasse and Gursky especially, develop their works digitally. This inevitably distances them from their teachers’ documentary approach more and more. The artists do not depict reality they create their own reality. This results in photographs that cannot be explained through analogue camera technology. The truth in the pictures is questioned, just like the viewer’s perception. In nascent form this approach is already present in the typologies created by the Bechers.

 

Digital interventions

This photo of an average residential block from 1987 marks a turning point in Thomas Ruff’s oeuvre. Things – namely a tree and a street sign – are missing. Ruff decided to have these details erased. He also retouched an opened skylight. This is one of the first digitally edited pictures in the circle of the Becher students. Ruff’s idea is to emphasise the symmetrical appearance and the hermetic quality of the building. Still, he is not really meddling with the picture’s structure of reality.

Ruff’s photos of the House Series confront the viewer with urban banality. The enormous scale of the works, measuring nearly 2 x 3 metres exaggerates the uneventfulness as a crucial characteristic of this architecture. From the 1980s the Becher students increasingly use large formats. They become a trademark of the group. Mostly presented with a wooden frame the artists elevate the photos to the level of paintings. Like the Bechers, Ruff worked in series, but no longer arranged his works in typologies. His series preserve the suspicion of a single image that might represent the world.

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'House No. 1 I' 1987

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
House No. 1 I
1987
Chromogenic colour print
179 × 278 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

Giant Grid

In photos like Paris, Montparnasse Andreas Gursky enlarges the image to a monumental scale of over four metres in width. He, too, relies on digital editing. The frontal view of the residential block is presented in strictly right-angular lines. The building is so wide that it would be impossible to capture it in a single photo. Hence, Gursky used two photos and joined them on the computer.

From a distance, the geometrical grid of the building looks abstract. The skeleton structure of the block also means that the windows offer hundreds of single images. However, it is impossible to simultaneously perceive the detail as well as the overall structure. Gursky requires the viewer to constantly alternate his focus between close-up and distance.

“My pictures are always composed for two aspects […]. The smallest detail can be read from close up. From afar they are mega-signs.”

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

 

Exhibition view “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class”
Photo: Städel Museum

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) 'Paris, Montparnasse' 1993 (before 2003)

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955)
Paris, Montparnasse
1993 (before 2003)
Chromogenic colour print
207 × 422 cm
On loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers

 

 

Pixel and Pixel and Pixel

Sasse’s work 1546 (1993) also plays with perception at the border of abstraction. The single pixels as a trace of the digital reworking are immediately visible. The realistic representation of a curtain is ruptured. Instead pixel and square colour fields become the focus, while the original sense of space is lost. The photo appears two-dimensional.

Sasse takes up a basic issue with the illusion of space that has a long art historic tradition. Already in early Renaissance the artist and scholar Leon Battista Alberti considers painting as a window to the world. He considered it important for an illusionist way of painting to conceal the two-dimensionality of the canvas. In his oeuvre Sasses draws on this issue. He questions photography and painting’s claim to realism and questions the possibility of pictorially representing reality at all.

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 1546, 1993 (centre) and Jörg Sasse (*1962) 7341, 1996 (right)

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) '1546' 1993

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
1546
1993
Chromogenic colour print
137 × 200 cm
Private collection

 

Jörg Sasse (*1962) '7341' 1996

 

Jörg Sasse (*1962)
7341
1996
Chromogenic colour print
93 x 150 cm
DZ BANK art collection at the Städel Museum
© Jörg Sasse; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

 

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Schaumainkai 63
60596 Frankfurt

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29
Mar
17

Exhibition: ‘One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 23rd November 2016 – 2nd April 2016

 

NEARLY A WEEK SINCE MY LAST POSTING SO LET’S MAKE THIS A GOOD ONE…

A fabulous posting on the photocollages of that most excellent of artists, Josef Albers, where the selection of images and their pairings “take on questions of duality, time, and narrative…” – to which I might add, questions of perspective and context. These photocollages are a revelation to me.

The complex photo narratives move image across time and space. This can be seen in the photomontage Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian) (1930/1932, below) where the multitude of photographs of a bullfight in San Sebastien, “can be read as a short story or experimental film, where we as viewers recognise that we are being transported to a distant time and place…”

Here the visual plane is fragmented, the scale mixed, shape, direction and space/time continuity confused. Structures are repeated; time is overlaid; perspective is shifted; narrative is multiplied. This is complex, New Vision image making, not just the downwards or upward looking objectivity of Russian constructivism, but a more nuanced splicing of time and space. The bullfight is magnificent in its “in the round” picturing … the splitting of the arena in the central images confuses direction, scale and circularity.

There are further “in the round” elements (mimicking Renaissance triple portrait painting such as Triple Portrait of Cardinal de Richelieu (1642) in the National Gallery of Art, London), seen in the work Amédée Ozenfant, summer 1931 (below) which, while objectifying the human countenance, contains that nugget of truth: that portraiture is an expression of humanism. Other photocollages, for example Road, Paznauntal, July 1930; Hotel staircases, Geneva, 1929 (with its Escher-like construction); Flooded trees and forest; and Dessau, end of winter, 1931 (all below), challenge our orientation in the world both physically and spiritually.

These photocollages, 70 of which were made between 1928 and 1932, were never discovered until after Albers was dead. No one ever knew he took photographs. but it was obviously important to him that he did so. Would he be able to say whether he was being serious, or he was having fun? Probably both. What a shame that they are often mutually exclusive in the last 30 -40 years.

It’s all very well to be able to say you are having fun – but what about being in this state (i.e. Albers state when he was compositing the photographs) and not even knowing … not even thinking of the question. Perhaps his was a private form of meditation on the nature of vision.

Marcus

(Written using dictation software, the rest all cut and paste)

.
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.

 

 

“Beginning at the Bauhaus in 1928, Albers made hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photographs with his handheld Leica camera, and he made thousands more, mostly while traveling, in the decades following his emigration to the United States in 1933. But we concern ourselves here with a group of seventy photocollages mounted to A3 boards, established as a standard size in Germany in 1922 at 29.7 by 42 centimetres (11 3/4 by 16 1/2 inches). No record exists of Albers ever having exhibited these collages in his lifetime, nor does he appear to have spoken of them. Yet in their rigorous construction and allusive potential, they represent a singularly creative body of work. The images Albers used to make these collages fall rather neatly into four categories – portraits, mannequins, the natural world, and the built environment – and Albers attends to a remarkably narrow subsection within each of these: The portraits feature only people Albers knew well – fellow Bauhäusler, family, and friends. The primary urban motif is the mannequin, which was also featured in the photographs of contemporaries such as Eugène Atget, Bill Brandt, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Horacio Coppola, and scores of others who were attentive to the figures’ Surrealist echoes. His images of nature consist of mostly waves, some trees, and a few mountains, and there are only a handful of man-made structures. Albers’s limited range of subjects achieves new significance in his collages, where their selection and pairings take on questions of duality, time, and narrative, topics that resist being infused into single images of similar subjects.”
.
Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, pp. 11-12.

 

“The abstract language that Albers adopted for the great majority of his oeuvre precludes temporal specificity, which makes the close study of a number of his photocollages all the more compelling, specifically in Albers’s attentiveness to the complexity engendered by incorporating multiple photographs – each captured in a fraction of a second, but inevitably across time – into a single work.”
.
Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, p. 15.

 

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'El Lissitzky, Dessau' 1930/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
El Lissitzky, Dessau
1930/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

“The image on the left shows Lissitzky smiling warmly, almost conspiratorially, at Albers. The background divides neatly into three tones – black, white, and gray – each of which corresponds loosely to Lissitzky’s (black) tie, (white) shirt, and the middle shades of the photographic spectrum that echo Lissitzky’s tanned complexion and balding pate. The horizontal image on the right is the same width but half the height of the vertical image, and in it we see Lissitzky almost in profile, looking toward his other likeness. This time the asymmetry of his placement within the frame is even more pronounced: his nose is cropped by the left edge, his forehead by the top, but the right half of the image is virtually empty. While we feel confident that these photographs were captured at the same meeting, the darker background in the right-hand image and the differentiation between Lissitzky’s shirt and collar (which, on the left, seem identical) remind the viewer of the variability of photographic representation. Albers mounted these prints with their top edges roughly aligned and with nearly equivalent space between their outside edges and the sides of the board: there is no evident rhyme or reason in the interstitial spaces. This irregularity draws the viewer’s attention to the geometric forms within each image and to the prints themselves, which might be construed as Albers’s nod to the dynamic geometric vocabulary that Lissitzky employed in his own art and design.”

Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, pp. 13-14.

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'El Lissitzky, Dessau' 1930/1932 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
El Lissitzky, Dessau (detail)
1930/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian)' 1930/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian)
1930/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

“Nowhere does Albers change the rules of the game more profoundly than in his collages that feature a multitude of photographs. His collage of a bullfight in San Sebastian can be read as a short story or experimental film, where we as viewers recognise that we are being transported to a distant time and place, no less enchanting for its impossibility.

At the centre we find the nominal subject: a procession of banderilleros, picadors, and matadors. Surrounding this are three views of the arena filled with crowds, whose choreographed disjunction evokes the rhythm of the event they are gathered to see. The sweep of the arcade is plainly elevated in the central view, with a nearly symmetrical relationship to those architectural forms on the left and right, whereas the cropped edge of the ring awkwardly intersects its corresponding form, an oblique allusion, perhaps, to the impossibility of predicting the outcome of this highly ritualised event. The two images that anchor the bottom of the collage show more dramatic vantage points. A plethora of boater hats, caps, and a scattering of bare heads, each precisely described, is juxtaposed against a mass of automobiles presumably parked outside. These horizonless seas of repeated forms were common motifs for avant-garde photographers of the period. It is the tightly woven – but not flawless – relationships between these individual components, akin to cuts in a film, that reward our reconsideration of these elements with respect to the whole.”

Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, pp. 14-15.

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian)' 1930/1932 (detail)

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian)' 1930/1932 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian) (details)
1930/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Paris, Eiffel Tower' 1929/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paris, Eiffel Tower
1929/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

“Of the seventy photocollages Albers made at this time, more than half feature but two photographic prints: their placement reveals both formal innovation and a sensitivity to the unique characteristics of the individual photographs. Albers’s photographs of the Eiffel Tower, made during a summer break from teaching, suggest his attentiveness to the range of possibilities offered by his Leica, and the close relationship between his work and that of his contemporaries. Both images in his collage feature plunging perspectives; the sunlight and shadow in the image on the left draw our attention to the diminutive figures below. Albers was not a particularly fastidious printer, yet he was surely attuned to the fact that every tone in the photograph on the right exists on the continuum of tones between the highlights and shadows on the left. Lest the viewer suspect that these are purely mechanical byproducts of the process, Albers trims each image with a subtly but noticeably irregular hand, underscoring the artist’s creative agency. This marriage of industry and craft was a hallmark of the Bauhaus. To further emphasise the aesthetic, non-documentary function of these photographs, Albers anchors them at the top left of his board, pointedly shifting the viewer’s perspective.”

Sarah Hermanson Meister. “Josef Albers: An Open Mind for the Newer and Nearer,” from One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016, p. 14.

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Paris, Eiffel Tower' 1929/1932 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paris, Eiffel Tower (detail)
1929/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Paul Klee in his studio, Dessau, November 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paul Klee in his studio, Dessau, November 1929
November 1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker, 2015
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). 'Paul Klee, Dessau, November 1929' 1929/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paul Klee, Dessau, November 1929
1929/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 11/16 x 16 7/16″ (29.7 x 41.8 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). 'Paul Klee, Dessau' 1929/1932 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Paul Klee, Dessau, November 1929 (detail)
1929/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 11/16 x 16 7/16″ (29.7 x 41.8 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Amédée Ozenfant, summer 1931'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Amédée Ozenfant, summer 1931
1931
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Vasily Kandinsky, master on the terrace at Hannes Meyer’s, spring 1929; May 1930'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Vasily Kandinsky, master on the terrace at Hannes Meyer’s, spring 1929; May 1930
1929/1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). 'Marli Heimann, All During an Hour' 1931/1932

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Marli Heimann, All During an Hour
1931/1932
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 11/16 x 16 7/16″ (29.7 x 41.8 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, 1988
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Oskar Schlemmer, April 1929; Schlemmer in the Bauhaus Masters' Council, 1928; Schlemmer with Hans Wittwer, Ernst Kállai, and Marianne Brandt, Preliminary Course Exhibition, 1927/28; Schlemmer and Tut, summer 1928; Schlemmer, April 1930; Schlemmer, 1928' 1927/1929

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Oskar Schlemmer, April 1929; Schlemmer in the Bauhaus Masters’ Council, 1928; Schlemmer with Hans Wittwer, Ernst Kállai, and Marianne Brandt, Preliminary Course Exhibition, 1927/28; Schlemmer and Tut, summer 1928; Schlemmer, April 1930; Schlemmer, 1928
1927/1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted on board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Oskar Schlemmer, April 1929; Schlemmer in the Bauhaus Masters' Council, 1928; Schlemmer with Hans Wittwer, Ernst Kállai, and Marianne Brandt, Preliminary Course Exhibition, 1927/28; Schlemmer and Tut, summer 1928; Schlemmer, April 1930; Schlemmer, 1928' 1927/1929 (detail)

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Oskar Schlemmer, April 1929; Schlemmer in the Bauhaus Masters’ Council, 1928; Schlemmer with Hans Wittwer, Ernst Kállai, and Marianne Brandt, Preliminary Course Exhibition, 1927/28; Schlemmer and Tut, summer 1928; Schlemmer, April 1930; Schlemmer, 1928 (detail)
1927/1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted on board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

“Josef Albers (American, born Germany, 1888-1976) is a central figure in 20th-century art, both as a practitioner and as a teacher at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale University. Best known for his iconic series Homages to the Square, Albers made paintings, drawings, and prints and designed furniture and typography. The least familiar aspect of his extraordinary career is his inventive engagement with photography, which was only discovered after his death. The highlight of this work is undoubtedly the photocollages featuring photographs he made at the Bauhaus between 1928 and 1932. At once expansive and restrained, this remarkable body of work anticipates concerns that Albers would pursue throughout his career: seriality, perception, and the relationship between handcraft and mechanical production.

The first serious exploration of Albers’s photographic practice occurred in a modest exhibition at MoMA in 1988, The Photographs of Josef Albers. In 2015, the Museum acquired 10 photocollages by Albers – adding to the two donated by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation almost three decades ago – making its collection the most significant anywhere outside the Foundation. This installation celebrates both this landmark acquisition and the publication of One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, which focuses exclusively on this deeply personal and inventive aspect of Albers’s work and makes many of these photocollages available for the first time.

Book

The Museum of Modern Art announces the release of One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, the first publication to reproduce all 70 photocollages created by Josef Albers at the Bauhaus using photographs he made between 1928 and 1932. Hailed in his own lifetime as among the most important figures of 20th-century art, both as a practitioner and as a teacher at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale University, Albers (1888-1976) achieved widespread acclaim across a range of mediums, from glassworks and furniture design to printmaking and painting. Yet Albers’s engagement with modernist photography remained largely hidden until after his death, and it is only now that the entire series of unique photocollages the artist produced at the famed art school – before he and his wife fled Nazi Germany for the US – has been published together, many for the first time. At once expansive and restrained, this remarkable body of work anticipates concerns that Albers would pursue throughout his career: seriality, perception, and the relationship between handcraft and mechanical production.

One and One Is Four reveals an Albers at once familiar and unexpected – playful yet disciplined, personal yet enigmatic – through a body of work whose genius becomes fully apparent when considered as a whole. “Albers’s photocollages stand as remarkable contributions to the medium in their own right,” explains Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator in the Department of Photography and the author of the book, “while they anticipate in important ways key concerns that would animate the artist’s work throughout his career, including his iconic Homages to the Square.” An essay by art historian and Bauhaus scholar Elizabeth Otto underscores the originality of Albers’s achievement through a survey of photocollages by Albers’s fellow Bauhäusler, and a contribution by MoMA conservator Lee Ann Daffner examines the artist’s materials to suggest new insights into these works, the discovery of which has been celebrated as one of the great art finds of the past century. The publication also includes a transcription of a lecture delivered by Albers at Black Mountain College in February 1943 titled “Photos as Photography and Photos as Art” – Albers’s sole public statement about the medium – and a preface by Nicholas Fox Weber, Executive Director of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

The first serious exploration of Albers’s photographic practice occurred in a modest exhibition of 38 photographs organized by John Szarkowski at MoMA in 1988, The Photographs of Josef Albers. At the time, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation donated two photocollages to the Museum. In 2015, the Museum acquired 10 additional photocollages by Albers, making its collection the most significant anywhere outside the Foundation. A new installation featuring 16 photocollages, on view from November 23, 2016, through April 2, 2017, in the Museum’s fifth-floor galleries, celebrates both the publication and this landmark acquisition. The exhibition is organized by Sarah Meister with Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography. The exhibition is supported by the Annual Exhibition Fund.”

Press release from MoMA

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Mannequins' c. 1930

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Mannequins
c. 1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Walter Gropius and Schifra Canavesi, Ascona August 1930'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Walter Gropius and Schifra Canavesi, Ascona, August 1930
August 1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Susanne, Biarritz, August 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Susanne, Biarritz, August 1929
August 1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Mrs. Lewandowski of Munich, Ascona, August 1930'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Mrs. Lewandowski of Munich, Ascona, August 1930
August 1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Road, Paznauntal, July 1930'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Road, Paznauntal, July 1930
July 1930
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
16 3/8 x 11 5/8″ × (41.6 x 29.5 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Hotel staircases, Geneva, 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Hotel staircases, Geneva, 1929
1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker, 2015
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Flooded trees and forest' c. 1931

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Flooded trees and forest
c. 1931
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Dessau, end of winter, 1931'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Dessau, end of winter, 1931
1931
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker, 2015
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Brackish water, Biarritz, August 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Brackish water, Biarritz, August 1929
August 1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976) 'Biarritz, August 1929'

 

Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976)
Biarritz, August 1929
August 1929
Gelatin silver prints mounted to board
11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker, 2015
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: John Wronn

 

 

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01
Nov
16

Exhibition: ‘London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerbach, and Kitaj’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Centre, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 26th July – 13th November 2016

Curators: Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum; Julian Brooks, curator of Drawings at the Getty Museum; and Elena Crippa , curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art at Tate.

 

 

While there are a selection of non-figurative paintings in this exhibition, I decided to focus this posting on the figurative work. It seemed a logical and strong thematic choice.

I love these British artists. They get to the essence of contemporary life and portray it in an embodied, emboldened way. As curator Julian Brooks observes, “By pursuing painting as an activity that records and revitalizes an intense sensory experience, these artists rendered the frailty and vitality of the human condition, translating life into art and reinventing the way in which their surroundings could be represented.”

For me, the fluidity and gravitas of the Bacon drawings are a standout, as are the distended faces of the early Freud paintings. It’s almost as if the artist had a fish eye lens to observe his sitters; apparently his approach to them at this time had distinct psychological and spatial aspects, as most of the work in this exhibition does. “The artist admits his early portraits emerged from his ‘visual aggression’ with sitters. He claimed, ‘I would sit very close and stare. It could be uncomfortable for both of us’.” Photography and film have a distinctive influence upon these artists.

Nearly all of the works radiate an evocative psychological intensity. These are feelings about life and the world that come from deep within and… erupt and explode into life. Whether controlled realism (Freud) or molten accretions (Auerbach) these essential works challenge how we inhabit the world and how we see that in/habit-ation. Demons, refugees, murder, rape, suicide (George Dyer), illness, building sites, fascist grotesque bather, surreal-automatic women, nude, self-portrait are all grist to the mill – helping portray certain philosophical or fundamental truths extant to the human condition. The body is destablised in space and destabilized in the landscape of human existence. Anything is possible as long as the artist (and we) recognise it and represent it as such.

These palimpsestic paintings superimpose a new rendition on earlier writings of the body (Velázquez, Titian, Muybridge, Durer etc…). They contain within them the very DNA of our being, now effaced, reused and altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. These are deep and timeless paintings which upset our apparently secure equilibrium through the representation of a fundamental understanding of life in this very moment. Ego. Self. Other. Culture. Existence. They hold up a mirror to things that we would rather not see, an outsiders (mis)recognition of all that has gone before and all that is to come.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

 

“From the 1940s through the 1980s, a prominent group of London-based artists developed new styles and approaches to depicting the human figure and the landscape. These painters resisted the abstraction, minimalism, and conceptualism that dominated contemporary art at the time, instead focusing on depicting contemporary life through innovative figurative works.

On view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from July 26 to November 13, 2016, London Calling: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerbach, and Kitaj represents the first major American museum exhibition to explore the leaders of this movement, often called the “School of London,” as central to a richer and more complex understanding of 20th century painting. The exhibition includes 80 paintings, drawings, and prints by Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, and R.B. Kitaj.

“The majority of paintings and drawings in the Getty Museum’s collection are fundamentally concerned with the rendition of the human figure and landscape up to 1900,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and one of the exhibition curators. “This significant exhibition shows an important part of ‘what happened next’, highlighting an innovative group of figurative artists at a time when abstraction dominated avant-garde discourse in the U.S. and much of Europe. Working with our partners at Tate in London, we have brought together a fabulous group of pictures that exemplify the radical approaches to figure and landscape pioneered by this influential coterie of artists, illuminating their crucial place in modern art history.”

London Calling is a collaboration between Tate and the J. Paul Getty Museum and is curated by Julian Brooks, curator of Drawings at the Getty Museum, Timothy Potts, and Elena Crippa , curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art at Tate. Drawn largely from the unrivaled holdings of Tate, the exhibition has been enriched by a number of loans from other museums and private collectors.

“By pursuing painting as an activity that records and revitalizes an intense sensory experience, these artists rendered the frailty and vitality of the human condition, translating life into art and reinventing the way in which their surroundings could be represented,” said Brooks. “The ‘School of London’ artists doggedly pursued forms of figurative painting at a time when it was considered outmoded. In recent decades the work of these artists has rightly been reassessed. It is timely to look at them as a group and deepen our appreciation of their contribution.”

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)

Francis Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 to English parents. After traveling to Germany and France he settled in London. He received guidance from an older friend, the Australian artist Roy de Maistre, but was otherwise largely self-taught. In 1945, the showing of a number of his paintings at London’s Lefevre Gallery established his critical reputation, and he became central to an artistic milieu in Soho that included Lucian Freud and Michael Andrews. From the mid-1940s, he began taking as a starting point for his work reproductions of paintings, sculpture, photographs, and film stills, mostly relating to the imagery of angst that resonated with both historical and personal circumstances. From 1962 he expanded the range of his photographic sources by commissioning particular shots of models, mostly friends and lovers. For example, Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne, 1966, on view in the exhibition, was based on a photo of his friend and regular subject, the artist Isabel Rawsthorne (1912-1992).

A highlight of the exhibition, Triptych – August 1972 forms part of a series of so-called “Black Triptychs,” which followed the suicide of Bacon’s longtime lover, George Dyer, in 1971. In the composition, Dyer appears on the left and Bacon himself is on the right. The image on the central panel is derived from a photograph of wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge.

Bacon’s well-known Figure with Meat, 1954 belongs to a large series of works based on reproductions of Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. In this version, Bacon depicts the Pope between two halves of a hanging animal carcass, a motif relating to the first portrait of Bacon taken by the photographer John Deakin, in 1952, in which the painter is stripped to the waist and holds a split carcass. In establishing a connection between the raw, butchered meat and human flesh, Bacon expresses a sense of emotional turmoil and reminds the viewer of the vulnerability of the human body.

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Triptych August 1972' 1972

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Triptych August 1972
1972
Oil and sand on three canvases
Each 198.1 × 147.3 cm (78 × 58 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1980 ©
The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This work is generally considered one in a series of Black Triptychs which followed the suicide of Bacon’s lover, George Dyer. Dyer appears on the left and Bacon is on the right. The central group is derived from a photograph of wrestlers by Edward Muybridge, but also suggests a more sexual encounter. The seated figures and their coupling are set against black voids and the central flurry has been seen as ‘a life-and death struggle’. The artist’s biographer wrote: ‘What death has not already consumed seeps incontinently out of the figures as their shadows.’

September 2016

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Collapsed Figure' c. 1957-1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Collapsed Figure
c. 1957-1961
Oil on paper
34 × 27 cm (13 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Although no source has been identified it is likely that Collapsed Figure derived from sports photographs which, in a 1974 interview, Bacon specified as a valued stimulus: ‘I look all the time at photographs in magazines of footballers and boxers and all that kind of thing – especially boxers.’ He noted that he trawled them in the same way that he used Eadweard Muybridge’s stills of figures in motion.

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Blue Crawling Figure, No. 1' c. 1957-1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Blue Crawling Figure, No. 1
c. 1957-1961
Oil on paper
34 × 27 cm (13 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

These pages almost certainly came at the end of the dismembered sketchbook. They represent the most coherent programme of drawing through which Bacon explored compositional possibilities in a succession of images. The sense of structure of the body, as well as the degree of abstraction of  form, are progressively modified across the ‘Crawling Figure’ images. They were probably achieved by tracing from one to the other. Although no related oil painting is known to survive, the extent to which the possibilities are explored testifies to the significant role of sketches within Bacon’s working process.

September 2004

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Figure with Left Arm Raised, No. 2' c. 1957-1961

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Figure with Left Arm Raised, No. 2
c. 1957-1961
Oil on paper
34 × 27 cm (13 3/8 × 10 5/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Figure in a Landscape' c. 1952

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Figure in a Landscape
c. 1952
Oil on paper
33.9 × 26.3 cm (13 3/8 × 10 3/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Reclining Figure, No. 1' c. 1961

 

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Reclining Figure, No. 1
c. 1961
Oil and ink on paper
23.8 × 15.6 cm (9 3/8 × 6 1/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors in memory of Mario Tazzoli 1998
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

These two works on paper by Bacon are the only ones in the display in which the page has been filled. As the pose remains the same, they may have served as colour studies and may even be a response to Mark Rothko’s contemporary work (seen in London in 1959). The male nude, and the horizontal bands (derived from a sofa against a wall) are common to a series of Bacon’s oil  paintings from 1959 and 1961. The sketches appear to be later, as an impression of writing from another sheet but visible on ‘Reclining Figure, no.1’ gives his address as ‘7 Reece Mews’, the studio which he occupied in the autumn of 1961.

September 2004

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle' 1966

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle
1966
Oil on canvas
198 x 147.5 cm (77 15/16 x 58 1/16 in.)
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Beyeler Collection
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Figure with Meat' 1954

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Figure with Meat
1954
Oil on canvas
129.9 × 121.9 cm (51 1/8 × 48 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Harriott A. Fox Fund
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)' 1955

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Study for Portrait II (after the Life Mask of William Blake)
1955
Oil on canvas 61 × 50.8 cm (24 × 20 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1979
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2015
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is one of a series based on the life mask of poet and painter William Blake. Bacon first saw the mask at the National Portrait Gallery in London, but he also used photographs and, at some point, he even acquired a cast of it. His response to the source is typical of his preference for a mediated image of the body. The painting is more complex than it seems: it is built up with delicate layers of paint against a rich black ground. One commentator wrote, ‘broad strokes of pink and mauve, with which Bacon establishes an equivocation between waxen mask and human flesh, drag pain and loneliness and imperturbable spirit in their wake’.

May 2007

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992) 'Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne' 1966

 

Francis Bacon (British, born Ireland, 1909-1992)
Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne
1966
Oil on canvas
81.3 × 68.6 cm (32 × 27 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1966
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2016
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

Grandson of the creator of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Lucian Freud was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved with his family to London in 1933 to escape Nazism. He trained at the Central School of Art in London and at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham. Freud had his first solo exhibition in 1944 at London’s Lefevre Gallery. Throughout his career he focused on the human figure, rendered in a realist manner and imbued with a stark and evocative psychological intensity. He described his work as autobiographical, most of his work taking his surroundings and people he knew intimately as his subjects, as in the case of friends, lovers, and family members.

Between 1947 and 1951 Freud made eight portraits of his first wife Kathleen (“Kitty”) Garman (1926-2011). On view in the exhibition, Girl with a Kitten, 1947 is a psychologically charged composition featuring Garman holding a kitten by its neck in a tense grip, her white knuckles especially prominent. The precision in this work is achieved through the use of fine sable brushes on finely woven canvas.

One of Freud’s frequent subjects was the performance artist, designer, and nightclub personality Leigh Bowery (1961-1994). In an intimate and vulnerable small portrait from 1991 Freud depicts Bowery sleeping. In contrast, the monumental Leigh under the Skylight, 1994 renders his starkly naked form as theatrically statuesque.

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Man with a Thistle (Self-Portrait)' 1946

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Man with a Thistle (Self-Portrait)
1946
Oil on canvas
61 × 50.2 cm (24 × 19 3/4 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1961
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is one of a number of self-portraits painted by Freud during the 1940s. Freud has used a realistic, but emblematic, style which derives from Old Master paintings of the Northern Renaissance. The artist shows himself looking through a window at a spiky thistle resting on a ledge in the foreground. At the same time, the thistle may also be read as an emblem occupying flattened space at the bottom of the painting. This ambiguity allows the thistle to be interpreted as a real object, but also as a device which suggests the mood of the painting and Freud’s own psychological state. 

September 2004

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Girl with a Kitten' 1947

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Girl with a Kitten
1947
Oil on canvas
41 × 30.7 × 1.8 cm (16 1/8 × 12 1/16 × 11/16 in.)
Tate: Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

In 1946-7 Freud traveled to Paris and Greece, returning to London in February 1947. Here he began a relationship with Kitty Garman, the eldest daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein and the model and collector Kathleen Garman. The subsequent marriage between Freud and Kitty was short-lived – they wed in the spring of 1948 and divorced in 1952 after having two daughters. Freud’s portraits of Kitty include four oil paintings – beginning with Girl in a Dark Jacket 1947 and finishing with Girl with a White Dog 1950-1 (Tate N06039) – as well as two etchings, a work in pastel, and a drawing in ink and crayon.

The portraits of Kitty Garman mark the culmination of Freud’s early portrait style, which evoked the tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) – a form of realist painting that emerged in Germany in the early 1920s, and was characterised by its sharp and unsentimental style. (Freud, grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, was born in Berlin in 1922 and came to Britain in 1933, and studied at a number of art schools during the war.) The intensity of Girl with a Kitten, and especially the manner in which Garman dominates the pictorial frame, might also stem from Freud’s approach to his sitters at this time, which had distinct psychological and spatial aspects. The artist admits his early portraits emerged from his ‘visual aggression’ with sitters. He claimed, ‘I would sit very close and stare. It could be uncomfortable for both of us.’ (Quoted in Michael Auping, ‘Freud from America’, in Howgate, Auping and Richardson 2012, p.41.) By the mid-1950s Freud had abandoned the highly controlled style of portraiture seen in this work, and he began to paint in a looser and more viscous style.

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Narcissus' 1948

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Narcissus
1948
Ink on paper
Image: 21 × 13.7 cm (8 1/4 × 5 3/8 in.) Framed: 36 × 28.9 × 2.9 cm (14 3/16 × 11 3/8 × 1 1/8 in.)
Tate: Bequeathed by Pauline Vogelpoel, Director of the Contemporary Art Society, 2002, accessioned 2004
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

In the late 1940s the publishers MacGibbon & Kee commissioned Freud to illustrate Rex Warner’s book Men and Gods on classical mythology. He produced four drawings for the book, of which Narcissus is one. The others are Man of Hyacinths (Colin St John Wilson Collection), Hercules (private collection) and Actaeon (private collection). The figures in all the drawings are in modern dress. The publishing house rejected the drawings because they did not illustrate the stories sufficiently, and instead chose Elizabeth Corsellis’s drawings for the book, which was published in 1950. Freud made illustrations for several other books during the 1940s, though few were ever selected for publication.

The close-up view and tight framing of Narcissus are typical of Freud’s many portraits of this early period, which frequently emphasize the subjects’ large, almond-shaped eyes. These are depicted in a meditative mood looking down, as in Narcissus, or looking upwards and away from the viewer. Reflection and mirroring were to become recurring themes in Freud’s work, particularly in his many self-portraits. The pose portrayed in Narcissus is later echoed in the painting Man’s Head (Self-Portrait I) 1963 (Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester) in which the artist’s head, propped with one arm cutting aggressively into the frame, looks down at a mirror not included in the work. Another self-portrait, Interior with Hand Mirror (Self-Portrait) 1967 (private collection), shows the artist’s face isolated in a hand mirror propped between two sections of window. His expression is contorted in a winking grimace as though he is attempting to see, a reminder that viewing is central to Freud’s process as a painter. In this image the mirror’s cropping has cut off the viewing part of him from his body. In a similar manner, Narcissus shows the subject cut off from the viewer by the exclusion of his viewing eyes, omitted from the bottom of the image. A more recent image, the print Self-Portrait: Reflection 1996 (Tate P11509), again refers to this circular process of mirroring and interior looking which is emphasised in its title.

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Boy Smoking' 1950-1951

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Boy Smoking
1950-1951
Oil on copper
15.5 × 11.5 × 0.2 cm (6 1/8 × 4 1/2 × 1/16 in.)
Tate: Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury 2006, accessioned 2008
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

The painting was made by the British artist Lucian Freud in his studio in London in 1950. To create this work Freud took a used copper etching plate and prepared it with a thick layer of white primer. He then employed sable paintbrushes (as opposed to hogshair, which he would use almost exclusively from 1956 onwards) to apply a smoothly blended mixture of oil paint and tempera to the copper plate in fine, even brushstrokes. The white primer was left exposed by Freud to produce the lighter areas of the painting, except for the very brightest parts, which he created using a fresh application of white paint. Freud used thin washes of grey and brown underpaint to create areas of shadow around the boy’s eyes and hair. Each section of the painting has been given equal focus by Freud, establishing a uniformity of detail and flatness, characteristics not present in many of the artist’s later portraits.

The oversized almond shaped eyes and the plump mouth in Boy Smoking are features that recur in the portraits Freud made early in his career, as can be seen in Girl with a Kitten 1947 (Tate T12617), Narcissus 1948 (Tate T11793) and Francis Bacon 1952 (Tate N06040). Furthermore, the subjects of these early head-and-shoulder portraits are all presented in isolation, divorced from any context, with no indication of their personal history or social status. In this sense, they evoke the tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), a form of realist painting that emerged in the early 1920s in Germany and was characterised by its unsentimental style. (Freud was born in Berlin in 1922 and moved to Britain in 1933, and studied at a number of art schools during the war.) According to the art historian and Freud biographer William Feaver, Freud painted portraits such as Boy Smoking by sitting uncomfortably near to his subjects, often knee-to-knee, staring at them intently for periods of up to eight hours at a time during multiple sittings that extended over a period of several months (Feaver 2002, p.26).

The boy in the painting has been identified as Charlie Lumley, a neighbour and friend of Freud’s whom the artist painted regularly while occupying a studio in Delamere Terrace near Paddington during the 1950s. The inhabitants of this part of London at the time have been characterised by curator Catherine Lampert as ‘costermongers, villains and thieves’ (Lampert 1993, p.15), a description that could be applied to Lumley, whom Freud first encountered when Lumley and his brother were attempting to break into Freud’s studio (see Wilson 2008, p.112).

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Girl with a White Dog' 1950-1951

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Girl with a White Dog
1950-1951
Oil on canvas
76.2 × 101.6 cm (30 × 40 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1952
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This picture shows the artist’s first wife when she was pregnant. The style of the painting has roots in the smooth and linear portraiture of the great nineteenth-century French neoclassical painter, Ingres. This, together with the particular psychological atmosphere of Freud’s early work, led the critic Herbert Read to make his celebrated remark that Freud was ‘the Ingres of Existentialism’. The sense that Freud gives of human existence as essentially lonely, and spiritually if not physically painful, is something shared by his great contemporaries, Francis Bacon and the sculptor Alberto Giacometti.

April 2005

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Man Posing' 1985

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Man Posing
1985
Etching on paper
Image: 69.5 × 54.3 cm (27 3/8 × 21 3/8 in.) Framed: 99 × 84 × 4 cm (39 × 33 1/16 × 1 9/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1987
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Leigh Bowery' 1991

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Leigh Bowery
1991
Oil on canvas
51 × 40.9 cm (20 1/16 × 16 1/8 in.)
Tate: Presented anonymously 1994
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is a small portrait of the maverick gay performer and nightclub personality Leigh Bowery (1961-94). It portrays Bowery’s head and naked upper torso framed against dark red upholstery. His bald head rests against his raised left shoulder, his eyes are closed and his cheeks and mouth hang loosely as though he is asleep. Freud’s manner of painting emphasises the fleshiness of Bowery’s face. This is achieved through the application of paint in different textures – in some areas relatively smooth, in others thickly but delicately built up. Apparently unconscious of the artist’s gaze, Bowery has a vulnerable appearance which belies the bulk of his physical form.

Freud was introduced to Bowery by their mutual friend, the artist Cerith Wyn Evans (born 1958), in 1988. He had recently seen Bowery’s performance at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London. In his first public appearance in a fine art context, Bowery posed behind a one way mirror in the gallery for two hours a day over the period of a week. He was dressed in the flamboyant outfits he usually wore in the London nightclubs where he had become a leading figure in the underground scene, known for his outrageous and frequently offensive performances. Born and bred in Australia, he had come to London in 1980 in search of glamour. The extraordinary costumes he created for himself played on fashion, fetishism and carnival aesthetics and transformed his sixteen stones of flesh into an androgynous spectacle. Bowery used his body to construct an identity through which he could express aspects of his personality. This involved moulding and taping his torso, often quite masochistically, as though it were his sculptural material and masking his face or covering it with outlandish makeup. Holes in his cheeks, visible in Freud’s portrait, were pierced for the insertion of large safety-pins which would attach fake smiling lips to his face. Freud said of Bowery ‘I found him perfectly beautiful’ (quoted in Bernard, p.19). He also commented ‘the way he edits his body is amazingly aware and amazingly abandoned’ (quoted in Feaver, p.43). Bowery said of Freud: ‘I love the psychological aspect of his work – in fact I sometimes felt as if I had been undergoing psychoanalysis with him … His work is full of tension. Like me he is interested in the underbelly of things.’ (Quoted in Sue Tilley, Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon, London 1997, p.220.) …

Freud frames his subjects in the manner of a photographer; they are often viewed close-up and cropped dramatically. His treatment of bodies emphasises the tactile attributes of flesh almost to the point of viscerality. From his earliest paintings, his treatment of nudes was unorthodox and frequently viewed as shocking at the time of their making. At the age of fourteen he had painted a bearded, naked male figure Old Man Running 1936 (collection unknown), an irreverent representation of the patriarch whose nakedness is considered taboo in Western cultures. Man with Rat 1977 (Art Gallery of Western Australia) depicts a red-haired man lounging naked, legs splayed on a sofa and genitals almost painfully exposed, holding a black rat, the tail of which is draped sensuously over his thigh. Freud considers his paintings of nudes to be as much portraits as they refer to the traditional genre of the nude and it is significant that he chose to paint Bowery naked rather than in the costumes through which Bowery expressed his public identity. Rather than glorifying the body, Freud’s ‘realistic’ representation presents it in all the vulnerability of nakedness, emphasising his subject’s humanity.

Text from the Tate website

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Leigh under the Skylight' 1994

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Leigh under the Skylight
1994
Oil on canvas
270.5 × 119.4 cm (106 1/2 × 47 in.)
Private Collection
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Image: Bridgeman Images

 

 

Bowery posed regularly for Freud over a four year period. Freud’s first painting of him was Leigh Bowery (Seated) 1990 (private collection). To accommodate and emphasise Bowery’s enormous scale, it was one of the largest paintings Freud had ever made (2437 x 1830mm). In an even larger painting of Bowery, Leigh Under the Skylight 1994 (2972 x 1207mm, collection unknown), the model stands on a draped table towering over the artist and viewer as though he is a monumental sculpture. This contrasts markedly with the majority of Freud’s portraits and nudes which are almost exclusively painted looking down at his subject.

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Woman Sleeping' 1995

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Woman Sleeping
1995
Etching on paper
Image: 73 × 59.4 cm (28 3/4 × 23 3/8 in.) Framed: 89.8 × 124.5 × 3 cm (35 3/8 × 49 × 1 3/16 in.)
Tate: Presented anonymously 1997
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011) 'Naked Portrait' 2001

 

Lucian Freud (British, born Germany, 1922-2011)
Naked Portrait
2001
Oil on canvas
167.6 × 132.1 cm (66 × 52 in.)
Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman
© Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Copyright Service

 

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)

Leon Kossoff was born in London, where he still resides and works, to first-generation immigrants of Russian Jewish ancestry. He studied at Saint Martin’s (where he and Frank Auerbach became close friends), at Borough Polytechnic, and at the Royal College of Art. He had his first exhibition at London’s Beaux Arts Gallery in 1957. From the early 1950s, Kossoff began painting a close circle of family and friends, producing pictures in which they acquired a solid, material presence, similar to that of the buildings and streets of London that he knew intimately and to which he also constantly returned. He developed a painterly style with thickly applied, constantly reworked layers of paint in characteristic earth tones.

In the early 1950s, Kossoff and Auerbach were fascinated by building sites, abundant in London at the time as the bomb-damaged city was being rebuilt after the war. For these artists, they were places where the earth beneath the city was revealed, and ladders and scaffolding offered ready-made linear structures. Early drawings such as Building Site, Oxford Street, 1952 were intensively worked, as Kossoff constantly erased and restarted the image.

Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon, 1971, depicts a newly built swimming pool near the artist’s North London studio where he took his son to learn to swim. Kossoff made five large paintings of the pool and its light-filled space from 1969-1972, each distinguished by an expansive treatment of space and vibrant sense of energy.

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Building Site, Oxford Street' 1952

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Building Site, Oxford Street
1952
Crayon, charcoal and gouache on paper
112 × 133.5 cm (44 1/8 × 52 9/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1996
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Like his close friend Frank Auerbach Kossoff was fascinated by building sites during the 1950s. These abounded in London as its bomb-damaged fabric was rebuilt after the war. Perhaps they stood for the transient and ever-changing nature of the modern city. They were also places where the earth beneath the city was revealed. This drawing, like Auerbach’s painting on the same theme, shows how they also offered a  ready-made linear structure for the artist’s picture. 

September 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Man in a Wheelchair' 1959-1962

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Man in a Wheelchair
1959-1962
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
213.4 × 123.2 cm (84 × 48 1/2 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1963
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Kossoff developed a manner of painting with exceptionally thick paint which is deposited on the board in places almost untouched, giving a sense of three-dimensional form. The model for this painting was the painter John Lessore, who sat for Kossoff once or twice a week for three years. For most of that time, Kossoff recalled, he concentrated on developing the subject through drawings. The discipline of drawing every day is at the heart of Kossoff’s practice.

July 2012

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Woman III in Bed, Surrounded by Family' 1965

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Woman III in Bed, Surrounded by Family
1965
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
185.4 × 124.5 cm (73 × 49 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1981
© Leon Kossoff
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

‘Woman Ill in Bed, Surrounded by Family’ was painted at a time when there was illness in the artist’s family. In common with all his work Kossoff worked on the painting in his studio, basing it on drawings made from life. However, it departs from Kossoff’s usual practices in that the composition was based, not on preliminary sketches, but on an engraving of the Virgin in bed by Albrecht Durer. The sombre colours and great density of paint evoke vividly a sense of human suffering and the tragic nature of human existence, themes which are at the heart of Kossoff’s work.

September 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Children's Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon' 1971

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon
1971
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
168 × 214 × 5.6 cm (66 1/8 × 84 1/4 × 2 3/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1981
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Kossoff’s principal subjects are his immediate family and friends and the parts of London which he knows best. In the 1960s he set up a studio in Willesden, north London and in 1967 a swimming pool opened close by. He began taking his son there to teach him to swim, and the pool and its space provided him with a new subject. He made four large paintings of the pool between 1969 and 1972 of which this is one. All are distinguished by a lightness of touch and a sense of movement, noise and space.

August 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Two Seated Figures No. 2' 1980

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Two Seated Figures No. 2
1980
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
243.8 × 182.8 cm (96 × 71 15/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1983
© Leon Kossoff
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This painting is a unique departure from Kossoff’s usual methods. Normally he works on paintings for months and even years, continually scraping back and repainting the image. Instead, Kossoff completed this work ‘in two or three hours. There are no other attempts on this board’. He sees it as ‘a direct urgent extension’ of two drawings made earlier the same day. The thread-like traces of paint resulted from the brush dripping onto the painting’s surface while it was in a horizontal position. Its subject is Kossoff’s parents – Jewish immigrants from Russia – who arrived in England as children early this century. Kossoff has painted his parents ‘all my painting life’.

September 2004

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Booking Hall, Kilburn Underground' 1987

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Booking Hall, Kilburn Underground
1987
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
198.2 × 182.7 cm (78 1/16 × 71 15/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery and the Mail on Sunday through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1989
© Leon Kossoff
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This large and imposing oil painting belongs to a series of works – which began in 1976 and continued until the late 1980s – by the British painter Leon Kossoff depicting Kilburn Underground station in north-west London. In the foreground of this work, two men and three women walk through the station’s booking hall, and more shadowy human forms can be glimpsed on the staircase leading up to the platforms in the background and on the right-hand side of the painting. With the exception of the brighter clothing worn by some of the figures in the foreground, the palette is distinguished by cloudy blues, pinks and whites, and the painting seems filled with a distinct gloom, perhaps reflecting the drudgery of the daily commute. The figures are locked into a loose structure of vertical and diagonal lines formed by the booking hall’s roof and tilted-up floor.

Kossoff has said that, when painting public scenes such as Booking Hall, Kilburn Underground 1987, portraits of people close to him begin to appear within the crowds (see Rose 2013, p.18). Without exactly specifying the figures, curator Paul Moorhouse has identified the group in the foreground of this painting as comprising Kossoff’s wife, Peggy, his brothers, and his long-time model and friend Fidelma (Moorhouse 1996, p.24).

Text from the Tate website

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926) 'Christ Church, Spitalfields, Morning' 1990

 

Leon Kossoff (born 1926)
Christ Church, Spitalfields, Morning
1990
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
198.6 × 189.2 cm (78 3/16 × 74 1/2 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1994
© Leon Kossoff Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)

Andrews studied painting under William Coldstream at the Slade School of Art between 1949 and 1953. Lucian Freud, who also taught at the school, was an important example and offered encouragement, while Francis Bacon visited to talk about his work, also making a memorable impression. His first solo exhibition was presented at London’s Beaux Arts Gallery in 1958. From the early 1950s photographs became important sources in the creation of his work. During this early period Andrews concentrated on portraits of his friends and contemporaries as well as party scenes, developing his characteristic combination of meticulous observation with imaginative elements and implied narrative. From the mid-1970s the landscape he encountered while traveling became the subject of many paintings. In the 1990s, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he chose the river Thames as his final, major subject.

The Deer Park, 1962 was inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1955 novel of the same title. For Andrews, the novel seemed to describe the world of the Soho clubs and bars he frequented. Rather than illustrating the text, however, the painting creates a new, imaginary situation involving a cast of different characters exhibiting various social behaviors and interactions. The figures are all based on photographs and film images of people from the entertainment and literary worlds, past and contemporary. They include Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, and the poet Rimbaud. The background landscape is based on Diego Velasquez’s Philip IV Hunting Wild Boar (about 1632-37) in the National Gallery, London.

Melanie and Me Swimming, 1978-79 is a painting of Andrews and his daughter, then aged six, swimming together in a rock pool, based on a color photograph taken by a friend while they were on holiday at Glenartney Lodge, in Scotland, in the summer of 1976. As with many of his paintings, this one is a combination of real elements and his own memories of the event.

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over' 1952

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over
1952
Oil on hardboard
120.6 × 172.7 cm (47 1/2 × 68 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1958
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

In common with much of Andrews’s work this picture is partly autobiographical. It was painted for his Diploma Examination shortly before leaving the Slade School of Art to face a period of uncertainty. He later commented that this painting was ‘about the complete upsetting of someone’s apparently secure equilibrium and about their most immediate efforts at recovery and their attempt to conceal that they have perhaps been badly hurt or upset’. This might explain why the man seems to grin instead of crying out in shock. The image of the body destablised in space was of interest to a number of artists in the 1950s, including Francis Bacon and Anthony Caro.

September 2004

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'Study for a Man in a Landscape (Digswell)' 1959

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
Study for a Man in a Landscape (Digswell)
1959
Oil on canvas
40.6 × 35.9 cm (16 × 14 1/8 in.)
Tate: Presented by the executors of the estate of David Wilkie 1993
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

Many of the works owned by Wilkie held a particular, often personal, significance for him. He was interested in philosophy and he saw the art he admired as expressing certain philosophical or fundamental truths. This painting by Michael Andrews demonstrates this principle. It portrays a tramp whom the artist sometimes saw when he occupied a communal studio in Digswell, Hertfordshire, in the late 1950s. Wilkie’s attitude to such social outcasts – outsiders looking in on society – was compassionate and respectful. He observed that characters like Digswell Man, as Andrews called him, ‘possess a true knowledge of human life… through their fundamental life’.

September 2004

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'The Deer Park' 1962

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
The Deer Park
1962
Oil on board
214 × 244.5 cm (84 1/4 × 96 1/4 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1974
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

‘The Deer Park’ was inspired by Norman Mailer’s novel of the same title. For Andrews, the novel seemed to describe ‘the world of Soho’ whose clubs and bars he had frequented. Rather than illustrating the text, however, the painting creates a new, imaginary situation involving a cast of different characters. Its subject is social behaviour ‘where people are relaxed and project images close to themselves’. The figures are all based on photographs of people from show business and literary worlds, past and present. They include Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and the poet Rimbaud. The background is based on ‘The Boar Hunt’ by Velasquez in the National Gallery, London.

August 2004

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) 'Melanie and Me Swimming' 1978-1979

 

Michael Andrews (1928-1995)
Melanie and Me Swimming
1978-1979
Acrylic on canvas
182.9 × 182.9 cm (72 × 72 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1979
© the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)

Born in Berlin in 1931, Auerbach was sent to Kent, England at age seven to escape Nazism. In 1947 he moved to London, where he continues to live and work. After the war, he performed in small London theaters and studied painting at the Borough Polytechnic at Saint Martin’s School of Art and at the Royal College of Art. Auerbach’s early work focused on the human figure and numerous building sites in the British capital scarred by the war and undergoing reconstruction. In 1956 he had his first solo exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery. He quickly became known for his thick application of paint. In the 1960s he began employing brighter colors and scraping down entire canvases rather than working on top of previous attempts, often spending months or years on a single painting. Recurring subjects are regular portrait sitters, Primrose Hill (a part of Regent’s Park in north London), and the streets of Camden Town, where he has been living and working since 1954. He still draws and paints 365 days a year.

Mornington Crescent with the Statue of Sickert’s Father-in-Law, 1966, depicts the area of North London in which Auerbach works, an area that has long captivated other artists such as Walter Sickert and the Camden Town Group. While Auerbach acknowledges this, he has stated that he doesn’t paint this area to ally himself with such history, rather that he simply sees London as a raw unpainted city. A streetlight can be seen at upper right, and the multitude of railings and lampposts in this view give the composition an almost grid-like formal structure, animated by the bright, bold pigments that Auerbach began to favor during the 1960s.

One of the most recent paintings in the exhibition, Mornington Crescent – Summer Morning, 2004 refers to the same location and captures the intense process of its making, with the use of large brushes to apply the paint energetically and rapidly. Elements of the composition – such as the windows and edges of buildings, rooftops, cars, and passersby – are highlighted with thick strokes. These straight marks contrast with the gestural quality of the marks that build up the large areas of the sky, road, and buildings.

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'E. O. W. Nude' 1953-1954

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
E. O. W. Nude
1953-1954
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
50.8 × 76.8 cm (20 × 30 1/4 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1959
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Auerbach studied with Bomberg longer than anyone else. He started at Borough Polytechnic in January 1947 and went to evening classes there until 1953, while officially attending St Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Auerbach said he learnt from Bomberg not technique but ‘a sense of the grand standards of painting.’ He developed a distinctive manner of painting in which thick paint is given an independent reality of its own, as well as being used as a means of representing a physical object.

September 2004

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'Self-Portrait' 1958

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
Self-Portrait
1958
Charcoal and paper collage
77.2 × 56.5 cm (30 3/8 × 22 1/4 in.)
Courtesy of the Daniel Katz Gallery, London
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'Study after Titian II' 196

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
Study after Titian II
1965
Oil on canvas
67.3 × 62.2 cm (26 1/2 × 24 1/2 in.)
Tate: Presented by the executors of the estate of David Wilkie 1993
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

Both this painting and the related work, ‘Study after Titian I’, shown nearby, were inspired by Titian’s ‘Tarquin and Lucretia’. Although the original work exists in two versions, one being in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Wilkie specified that the version in question was the one in the Akademie der Bildenden Künst in Vienna. Titian’s subject is Tarquin’s rape of Lucretia. Auerbach created his versions of that image by working from a reclining female model who adopted the pose of Lucretia, and from a drawing made from a reproduction of the original work. In both works a gash in the paint surface forcefully conveys a sense of violence and violation.

September 2004

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'J. Y. M. Seated No. 1' 1981

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
J. Y. M. Seated No. 1
1981
Oil on masonite attached to auxiliary wooden framework
71.1 × 61 cm (28 × 24 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1981
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

The subject of this painting is Juliet Yardley Mills (JYM), Auerbach’s principal model since 1963. Auerbach has completed over seventy portraits and studies of Mills. This, the first of three paintings of her executed in 1981, was completed in about twenty sittings. As in nearly all his studies of her, Mills is shown looking out of the picture and is seen slightly from below. In contrast to Auerbach’s earlier paintings, in which the paint surface is built up to a thick accretion, this portrait demonstrates the freedom of drawing and fluid movement of paint which characterise his later style.

August 2004

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) 'Self-Portrait II' 2010

 

Frank Auerbach (born 1931)
Self-Portrait II
2010
Graphite on paper
76.5 × 57.5 cm (30 1/8 × 22 5/8 in.)
Private Collection
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

 

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)

R. B. Kitaj was born in Cleveland. After high school Kitaj sailed extensively as a merchant seaman and served in the U.S. Army in Europe. Between those assignments he studied painting at Cooper Union and the Academy of Fine Art, Vienna. Following his army stint, he moved to England to attend the Ruskin School, Oxford, and the Royal College of Art, London. His first exhibition was held at Marlborough Fine Art in 1963. It was around this time that Kitaj met Andrews, Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, and Kossoff, who were also with the gallery. During the early 1960s Kitaj concentrated on combining figurative imagery with abstraction and began to incorporate collage into his paintings, drawing on photography and cinema and referring to historical events and political circumstances. In the mid-1970s he began to work increasingly from life, moving away from complex compositions to more straightforward figure studies. During the late 1980s he continued to read widely in Jewish culture – studying Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, and Franz Kafka – and positioned himself more explicitly as a Jewish artist. In 1989 he published his First Diasporist Manifesto, analyzing the Jewish dimension in his art and his role as an outsider. In 1997 he left London and moved to Los Angeles, where he died in 2007.

Cecil Court, London W.C.2. (The Refugees), 1983-84 is set in the London thoroughfare famous for its secondhand bookshops and a favorite haunt of Kitaj. The artist is shown reclining on a sofa in the foreground, while figures from his life jump out in the background. Kitaj has explained that this theatrical composition was inspired by the peripatetic troupes of the Yiddisher Theatre in Central Europe, which he had learned about from his grandparents and from Kafka’s diaries.

The Wedding 1989-93 is a major work by Kitaj that brings together crucial themes in his practice – including his Jewish identity and his friendships and associations as a School of London artist. Depicting Kitaj’s wedding to the American artist Sandra Fisher (1947-94), which took place in 1983, the painting prominently depicts School of London artists Freud, Kossoff, and David Hockney, painters who were linked by both friendship and shared artistic concerns.

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'Erasmus Variations' 1958

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
Erasmus Variations
1958
Oil on canvas
104.9 × 84.2 cm (41 5/16 × 33 1/8 in.)
Tate: Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2007
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

 

The work’s title refers to the initial source for the image, a series of doodles the Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) made in the margins of a manuscript he was annotating. Kitaj encountered Erasmus’s scribbled faces in one of the first books he read while in Oxford, the biography of the scholar by the historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945). Kitaj’s composition follows the grid-like arrangement imposed on Erasmus’s doodles in the reproduction in Huizinga’s book, and his faces have broadly the same exaggerated features as those drawn by Erasmus.

To Kitaj, Erasmus’s absent-minded doodles suggested a prefiguration of the method of automatic drawing (that is, drawing made without the intervention of reason) that would later be favoured by the surrealists. In Erasmus Variations, the artist employs a loose and gestural method of painting evocative of abstract expressionism. The work thus links the surrealist belief that automatic drawing provides an insight into the workings of the mind with a similar idea implied in gestural abstraction: that the artwork reveals the personality of the artist (Livingstone, 2010, pp.16-7).

Kitaj derived the style and technique of painting that he used in Erasmus Variations specifically from the Dutch-born abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning (1904-97), in particular the images of female nudes de Kooning made in the late 1940s. Kitaj explained: ‘De Kooning’s surreal-automatic ‘Women’ were my favourite action paintings of the School of New York, a recalcitrant or truant of which I had been during my Manhattan years, and so I adapted something of that mode here; Double Dutch (Erasmus and De Kooning, both of Rotterdam).’ (Quoted in Livingstone, 2010, p. 232.)

Text from the Tate website

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg' 1960

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg
1960
Oil, ink, graphite and paper on canvas
153 × 152.4 cm (60 1/4 × 60 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1980
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This is an early example of Kitaj’s many paintings on the theme of the unjust infliction of human suffering. Its ostensible subject is the murder in 1919 of the Jewish agitator and theoretician Rosa Luxemburg, who was killed by troops opposed to the revolutionary movement that swept Germany in the wake of the First World War. In the centre of this painting a figure holds Luxemburg’s corpse, while at top right is a collaged transcription of an account of the murder. Kitaj associated Luxemburg with his grandmother Helene, who was forced to flee Vienna in the 1930s. The veiled figure at top left represents his maternal grandmother, who fled Russia as a result of earlier pogroms of the Jewish people.

September 2004

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'Boys and Girls!' 1964

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
Boys and Girls!
1964
Screen print on paper
Image: 52.7 × 41.3 cm (20 3/4 × 16 1/4 in.) Framed: 87 × 62.5 × 3 cm (34 1/4 × 24 5/8 × 1 3/16 in.)
Tate: Presented by Rose and Chris Prater through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Photo
© Tate, London 2016

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'The Rise of Fascism' 1975-1979

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
The Rise of Fascism
1975-1979
Oil, charcoal and pastel on paper
85.1 × 158.4 cm (33 1/2 × 62 3/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1980
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

‘The central grotesque bather is the fascist. The bather at the left is the beautiful victim. The righthand bather is the ordinary European watching it all happen. A bomber appears in the upper left corner which will cross the English Channel and bring an end to it all one day.

‘The three figures were originally drawn on separate sheets of paper from women who posed for me in New York and London. Later, between 1975 and 1979, when I took it into my head to make a composition, I asked a few other women to assume the poses that would represent the bathers in fascist Europe. After the drawings were glued together, the images began to change many times.

Much of the drawing was ultimately invented but the pose of the righthand figure is based on a picture by the Cordoban painter Romero de Torres (d. 1930).’ ~ R. B. Kitaj

The method of fusing together drawings done on separate pieces of paper to produce a single image, which can be seen in several other pastels of this period … contributes to the ambiguous relationship, both physical and psychological, between the three figures… While one effect of this cutting and joining is to emphasise the fragmentary nature of the composition, Kitaj also makes use of the edges of the paper to reinforce contour and volume. When questioned about the extreme anatomical foreshortening in the torso of the left-hand bather the artist replied that it was in fact possible and that a source existed for it in a pornographic magazine. ‘The often unlikely joining’, Kitaj added, ‘of limbs and postures in Cézanne’s Bather compositions are also entrenched in one’s memory … but the pose was taken from the life.’

Text from the Tate website

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'Cecil Court, London W. C. 2. (The Refugees)' 1983-1984

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
Cecil Court, London W. C. 2. (The Refugees)
1983-1984
Oil on canvas 183 × 183 cm (72 1/16 × 72 1/16 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1985
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This painting is set in Cecil Court, a street famous for its second-hand bookshops and a favourite haunt of the artist. It is one of many paintings made by Kitaj arising out of an increasing awareness of his own Jewishness. He wrote, ‘I have a lot of experience of refugees from Germany and that’s how this painting came about. My dad and grandmother … just barely escaped.’ The work shows the artist reclining on a sofa while figures from his life pop out of the street behind him. Kitaj has explained that this theatrical composition was inspired by the peripatetic troupes of the Yiddisher Theatre in Central Europe, which he had learned about from his grandparents and from in the diaries of the writer Franz Kafka.

September 2004

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'The Wedding' 1989-1993

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
The Wedding
1989-1993
Oil on canvas
182.9 × 182.9 cm (72 × 72 in.)
Tate: Presented by the artist 1993
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

This painting depicts the wedding of Kitaj and the American artist Sandra Fisher (1947-94) which took place in 1983, some six years before this painting was begun. The couple first met in Los Angeles, where Kitaj was teaching. Upon his return to London in 1972, they became reacquainted. Kitaj wrote the following text to accompany the painting’s exhibition in the 1994 Tate Gallery retrospective:
.

Sandra and I were married in the beautiful old Sephardic Synagogue founded in London by Rembrandt’s friend, Menasseh ben Israel. Under the chupa (canopy), aside from my children and the Rabbi in top hat, Freud is on the left, Auerbach in the middle, then Sandra and me, and Hockney (best man) is to the right of us. Kossoff appears at the far right, transcribed from a drawing by John Lessore. I worked on the painting for years and never learned how to finish it even though painter friends, including most of those in the picture, gave me good advice about it which I took up and changed things all the time. In the end, instead of finishing it, I finished with it and gave it away to a deserving old friend.

.
Kitaj has described Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as ‘the most important influence’ on this picture, ‘not a source but a hovering presence’ (unpublished Board note presented to Tate Gallery Trustees, July 1993). The Wedding brings together several crucial themes in Kitaj’s art and thought, including his increasing awareness of his identity as a Jew. The prominent depiction of several of the so-called ‘School of London‘ artists relates to Kitaj’s identification of these artists as part of a group of painters who were linked by friendship, their response to great masters, their emphasis on drawing and their concern with the human subject.

Text from the Tate website

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) 'My Cities (An Experimental Drama)' 1990-1993

 

R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007)
My Cities (An Experimental Drama)
1990-1993
Oil on canvas
183.2 × 183.2 cm (72 1/8 × 72 1/8 in.)
Tate: Purchased 1997
© R.B. Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
Photo © Tate, London 2016

 

 

For his 1994 Tate Gallery retrospective exhibition, Kitaj wrote the following text to accompany this picture:
.

The three main actors represent myself in youth, middle age and old age. Behind them is a drop-curtain inscribed with historiated capital letters of cities where I’ve lived or loved. Over the course of a few years these capital letters (inspired by William Blake and the paintings of Victor Hugo) have been sublimated by white paint for the most part because they got too emphatic, so not they’re not too easy to read or even see, some of them representing faded (whitened) memories anyway. The idea for the painting comes from a page I’ve kept as long as I can remember, torn from a copy of the old American magazine Theater Arts, showing a scene from what is described as ‘an experimental drama’, ‘A Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden’ by Thornton Wilder. The catwalk stage upon which the figures tread and stumble through life becomes the roof of a baseball dugout in which I’ve tried half-heartedly to draw some of my demons (Don’t Ask!), colourless spectres only thinly isolated from the three leading players above as in a predella.

.
The painting develops an idea in Kitaj’s 1960 A Reconstitution (private collection), whereby the map of the Americas is presented in a radically distorted form. In the earlier work, the map was prominent. In My Cities, however, it is virtually buried, running down the left side of the painting. The contour of the east coast of South America can be seen between the left and central figures. Although My Cities celebrates various places that were of special significance in Kitaj’s life, only the Americas are represented in map form…

Kitaj combines painting and drawing in a manner which recalls the techniques of Cézanne, Degas, Matisse and Giacometti. The lower or predella section of the picture relates to the theme of American baseball, which the artist views as a compelling human drama. The players sit in a limbo-like dugout, awaiting a call which may not come, or which, if it does, may lead to heaven or hell. Combined with the upper section, the predella contributes to a reading of the painting as an allegory of life.

Text from the Tate website

 

 

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14
Jan
16

Exhibition: ‘New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 4th October 2015 – 18th January 2016

 

 

If I had to nominate one period of art that is my favourite, it would be European avant-garde art between 1919 – 1939. The sense of renewed creativity, inventiveness, and sustained enquiry into the nature of things by artists, this texture of reality, just fascinates me. A hyper-sensory, objective sobriety, yes, but more – an opposite, apposite expression of critical, cultural opprobrium that sticks its proboscis into mental and machinic spaces.

The relations between the physical and the psychic are evidenced during this period “as a general movement and multiplicity, rather than just a series of mechanisms.” What surrounds the metaphysical body, its environment, is enacted as a performance upon the body through a “continuous set of relations, multiplicities, speeds, connections. Bodies are only distinguished by certain singularities, which are clarifications of expression drawing together certain multiplicities, under the aegis of an event.” Bodies are (en)acted upon. Conversely, “Just as bodies can be seen as machinic, so too does the machinic depend upon bodies wrought out of vibration [of energy, of ideas] by clarity of expression of events.” They are folded and refolded into each other, in a series of multiplicities and intensities – of architecture and art, of sex and gender, of flagellation and flight – so that  there is a ‘synthesis of heterogeneties’, or hetero(gene)ties that evidence the DNA of our becoming, our diverse difference, our heterogeneic alterity. This folding, this vibration of energy, these clear zones of expression and performance produce this dazzling, de(gene)rate art.1

In this huge posting I have tried to sequence the machinic (the spelling auto correct keeps changing it to “mechanic” which is quite ironic) with the figurative, the painting of architecture with the architectural photograph; the photograph of the sewing machine with the painting of the Paper Machine; the distorted, etched face with the photographic war damaged face; the Modernist housing estate with the alienation of the Picture of Industry. You get the picture. One is folded into the other as performance, as vibration of energy, as (destructive, or creative) ritual of re/production. And there we have the gay lovers, the first transgender woman who dies after operations on her body, the climax – in an erotic sense – of the scar on the woman’s leg in Friedrich Seidenstücker’s Untitled (c. 1930, below) or the blood lines of the eyeball in Herbert Ploberger’s Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (c. 1928-30, below). Or the cool objectiveness of Sander’s photographs – Coal Carrier, Painter’s Wife, The Architect – against the detached titles (The Jeweller, Portrait of a Lawyer, Portrait of an Architect, name of person secondary) but outrageous colours and distortions/elongations of the painted portraits. Fascinating archetypal, subjective/objective correlation.

This is a mad, dangerous, exciting world in which these artists lived, which they mapped and depicted in all its glorious intensity. Flowering one minute, dead the next.

Marcus

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

Further reading: New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 (135kb pdf)

  1. Some of these ideas came from Murphie, Andrew. “Computers are not theatre: the machine in the ghost in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s thought,” in Genosko, Gary (ed.,). Deleuze and Guattari: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers. London, Routledge, 2001, pp. 1311-1312

 

 

“German Expressionism is an art which above all, celebrated, inwardness.”

“There’s no contradiction between being a Fascist and being an artist… I’m sorry but there isn’t. It happens that not very many good artists have been Nazis.”

.
Robert Hughes

 

 

Georg Scholz Industrial Peasants (Industriebauern), 1920

 

Georg Scholz (1890-1945)
Industrial Peasants (Industriebauern)
1920
Lithograph on wove paper
15 1/2 × 19 in. (39.4 × 48.3 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation, Beverly Hills, CA, and the Modern Art Deaccession Fund
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo
© Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Otto Dix Sex Murder (Lustmord), 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Sex Murder (Lustmord)
1922
Etching
10 7/8 x 13 5/8 in. (27.5 x 34.6 cm)
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy Galerie Nierendorf, Berlin

 

Otto Dix 'Card Players' (Kartenspieler), 1920

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Card Players (Kartenspieler)
1920
Drypoint
19 7/8 × 13 1⁄16 in. (50.5 × 32.5 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, purchased with funds provided by the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation, Beverly Hills, CA, and Helgard Field-Lion and Irwin Field
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © 2015 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Facial reconstruction WW1

 

Willie Vicarage, suffering facial wounds in the Battle of Jutland 1916 Naval Battle was one of the first men to receive facial reconstruction using plastic surgery. Doctor Harold Gillies created the “tubed pedicle” technique that used a flap of skin from the chest or forehead and swung it into place over the face. The flap remained attached but was stitched into a tube, keeping the original blood supply intact and dramatically reducing the infection rate.

 

 

This photograph is not in the exhibition, but I have included it to show an actual case study of facial reconstruction during WW1. While there were few books in Britain about the war, soldiers injuries and facial reconstruction, Otto Dix produced his seminal portfolio Der Krieg [War] (below).

“Otto Dix was born in 1891 in Untermhaus, Thuringia, the son of an ironworker. He initially trained in Gera and at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts as a painter of wall decorations and later taught himself how to paint on canvas. He volunteered as a machine-gunner during World War I and in the autumn of 1915 he was sent to the Western Front. He was at the Somme during the major allied offensive of 1916.

After the war he studied at the academies of Dresden and Dusseldorf. Together with George Grosz, he was one of the leading exponents of the artistic movement Die Neue Sachlichkeit [New Objectivity], a form of social realist art which unsentimentally examined the decadence and underlying social inequality of post-war German society. With the rise of the National Socialists in 1933, Dix was dismissed from his teaching post at the Dresden Academy. He moved south to Lake Constance and was only allowed to continue practising as an artist after he agreed to relinquish overtly political subject matter in favour of landscape painting. Dix was conscripted into the army during World War II and in 1945 was captured and put into a prisoner of war camp. He returned to Dresden after the war where his paintings became more religiously reflective of his war-time experiences. He died in 1969.

Der Krieg [War] 1924 arose out of Dix’s own experiences of the horrors of war. As outlined above, he had volunteered for service in the army and fought as a machine-gunner on the Western Front. He was wounded a number of times, once almost fatally. War profoundly affected him as an individual and as an artist, and he took every opportunity, both during his active service and afterwards, to document his experiences. These experiences would become the subject matter of many of his later paintings and are central to the Der Krieg cycle.

Der Krieg itself, as a cycle of prints (51 in total), is consciously modelled on Goya’s [1746-1828] equally famous and equally devastating Los Desastres de la Guerra [The disasters of war]. Los Desastres detailed Goya’s own account of the horrors of the Napoleonic invasion and the Spanish War of Independence from 1808 to 1814. Goya’s cycle of 82 etchings, which he worked on for a decade after the Spanish War of Independence were not, however, published until 1863, long after his death.

Like Los Desastres, Der Krieg uses a variety of etching techniques and does so with an equally astonishing facility. Similarly, it exploits the cumulative possibilities of a long sequence of images and mirrors Goya’s unflinching, stark realism in terms of its fundamental presentation. GH Hamilton describes Dix’s cycle as ‘perhaps the most powerful as well as the most unpleasant anti-war statements in modern art… It was truly this quality of unmitigated truth, truth to the most commonplace and vulgar experiences, as well as the ugly realities of psychological experience, that gave his work a strength and consistency attained by no other contemporary artist, not even by [George] Grosz…’ It has become a commonplace to see this cycle as an admonition against the barbarity of war. And there is no doubt that as a human document it is a powerful cautionary work. At a psychological level, however, its truth goes deeper than this. Dix was both horrified and fascinated by the experience of war…

This nightmarish, hallucinatory quality pervades all of the Der Krieg images. Paradoxically, there is also a quality of sensuousness, an almost perverse delight in the rendering of horrific detail, which indicates that there was perhaps, in Dix’s case, an almost addictive quality to the hyper-sensory input of war. In terms of the general corpus of Dix’s work, Der Krieg occupies a central place amongst the large number of paintings and works-on-paper devoted to the theme of war. The work is astonishingly powerful and, as stated above, it remains one of the most powerful indictments of war ever conceived. It is universally regarded as one of the great masterpieces of twentieth century. Dix’s oeuvre as a whole, and Der Krieg in particular, was hugely influential on a number of other twentieth century artist such as Ben Shahn, Pablo Picasso and Robert Motherwell.”

Mark Henshaw. “The Art of War: Otto Dix’s Der Krieg [War] cycle 1924,” on the National Gallery of Australia website [Online] Cited 07/01/2016

 

Otto Dix Skin Graft (Transplantation) from the portfolio War (Der Krieg), 1924

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Skin Graft (Transplantation) from the portfolio War (Der Krieg)
1924
Etching with aquatint on copperplate paper
18 11/16 x 13 7/8 in. (47.5 x 35.2 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

 

“The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, the first comprehensive show in the United States to explore the themes that characterize the dominant artistic trends of the Weimar Republic. Organized in association with the Museo Correr in Venice, Italy, this exhibition features nearly 200 paintings, photographs, drawings, and prints by more than 50 artists, many of whom are little known in the United States. Key figures – Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, August Sander, and Max Beckmann – whose heterogeneous careers are essential to understanding 20th century German modernism, are presented together with lesser known artists, including Herbert Ploberger, Hans Finsler, Georg Schrimpf, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, Carl Grossberg, and Aenne Biermann, among others. Special attention is devoted to the juxtaposition of painting and photography, offering the rare opportunity to examine both the similarities and differences between the movement’s diverse media.

During the 14 years of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), artists in Germany grappled with the devastating aftermath of World War I: the social, cultural, and economic effects of rapid modernization and urbanization; staggering unemployment and despair; shifting gender identities; and developments in technology and industry. Situated between the end of World War I and the Nazi assumption of power, Germany’s first democracy thrived as a laboratory for widespread cultural achievement, witnessing the end of Expressionism, the exuberant anti-art activities of the Dadaists, the establishment of the Bauhaus design school, and the emergence of a new realism.

This new turn to realism, best recognized by a 1925 exhibition in Mannheim, Neue Sachlichkeit (of which New Objectivity is the English translation), has at times been called Post-Expressionism, neo-naturalism, Verism, and Magic Realism. The diverse group of artists associated with this new realism was not unified by manifesto, political tendency, or geography, they shared a skepticism regarding the direction Germany society was taking in the years following World War I and an awareness of the human isolation these changes brought about.

Germany’s financial, sociopolitical, and emotional defeat in WWI took a profound toll on the nation. In contrast to their Expressionist predecessors – who had enthusiastically embraced the war before confronting its harrowing realities on the battlefield – practitioners of the New Objectivity movement were disillusioned with the complex realities of the new Germany. Digressing from Expressionism’s penchant for bold, abstract subjectivity, the Weimar Republic’s burgeoning group of artists favored realism, precision, objective sobriety, and the appropriation of Old Master painting techniques, including a nostalgic return to portraiture and heightened attention to the appearance of surface…

 

Hans Finlser Eggs on a Plate (Eier auf Teller), 1929

 

Hans Finlser (1891-1972)
Eggs on a Plate (Eier auf Teller)
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 9/16 x 6 13/16 in. (24.3 x 17.3 cm)
Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)
© 2015 Finsler Estate, Stiftung Moritzburg Halle (Saale), Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt

 

Hans Finsler Electric Bulb with Parts of the Socket (Elektrische Birne mit Teilen der Fassung), 1928

 

Hans Finsler (1891-1972)
Electric Bulb with Parts of the Socket (Elektrische Birne mit Teilen der Fassung)
1928
Vintage print
8 5/8 x 5 7/8 in. (21.9 x 14.9 cm)
Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)
© 2015 Finsler Estate, Stiftung Moritzburg Halle (Saale), Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt

 

 

Born in Munich, Hans Finsler was a gifted teacher of photography in Switzerland from the 1920s to the 1950s, where he taught students the vocabulary of modernism and its strength of vision. Finsler was also well-known for his stylish and innovative commercial work reflecting the contemporary Neue Sachlichkeit (New Vision) aesthetic of describing machinery, architecture and manufactured products with clarity and respect. His private work, however, was more profound and philosophical. He experimented tirelessly with simple and elemental forms, developing theories of motion and stillness with highlights and shadows, often using eggs as his principal subject matter. Finsler’s photographs were exhibited in the important exhibition Film und Foto in Stuttgart in 1929.

 

Carl Grossberg The Yellow Boiler (Der Gelbe Kessel), 1933

 

Carl Grossberg (1894-1940)
The Yellow Boiler (Der Gelbe Kessel)
1933
Oil on wood
37 x 29 in. (94 x 73.7 cm)
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany
Photo courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany

 

Carl Grossberg The Paper Machine (Die Papiermaschine), 1934

 

Carl Grossberg (1894-1940)
The Paper Machine (Die Papiermaschine)
1934
Oil on wood
35 7/16 x 45 11/16 in. (90 x 116 cm)
Private collection
Photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich

 

Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski Sewing Machine (Nähmaschine), c. 1930

 

Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski (1870-1935)
Sewing Machine (Nähmaschine)
c. 1930
Photograph
7 7/16 x 5 5/16 in. (18.9 x 15.1 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch Flat Irons for Shoe Manufacture, Fagus Factory I (Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation, Fagus-Werk, Alfeld), 1926

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Flat Irons for Shoe Manufacture, Fagus Factory I (Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation, Fagus-Werk, Alfeld)
1926
Gelatin silver print
9 x 6 5/8 in. (22.9 x 16.8 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2015 Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv/Ann u. Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

We still don’t sufficiently appreciate the opportunity to capture the magic of material things. The structure of wood, stone, and metal can be shown with a perfection beyond the means of painting… …To do justice to modern technology’s rigid linear structure…… only photography is capable of that.

So wrote Albert Renger-Patzsch in 1927 about the camera’s innate ability to depict the Industrial Age. Here he studied the materials of identically shaped, finished wooden handles and industrially produced steel heads, while also representing the flatirons as an army of tools standing at attention like bowling pins. Renger-Patzsch’s photograph celebrates the beauty of the commonplace object. (Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website)

 

Renger-Patzsch was born in Würzburg and began making photographs by age twelve. After military service in the First World War he studied chemistry at Dresden Technical College. In the early 1920s he worked as a press photographer for the Chicago Tribune before becoming a freelancer and, in 1925, publishing a book, The choir stalls of Cappenberg. He had his first museum exhibition in 1927. A second book followed in 1928, Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful). This, his best-known book, is a collection of one hundred of his photographs in which natural forms, industrial subjects and mass-produced objects are presented with the clarity of scientific illustrations. The book’s title was chosen by his publisher; Renger-Patzsch’s preferred title for the collection was Die Dinge (“Things”).

In its sharply focused and matter-of-fact style his work exemplifies the esthetic of The New Objectivity that flourished in the arts in Germany during the Weimar Republic. Like Edward Weston in the United States, Renger-Patzsch believed that the value of photography was in its ability to reproduce the texture of reality, and to represent the essence of an object. He wrote: “The secret of a good photograph – which, like a work of art, can have esthetic qualities – is its realism … Let us therefore leave art to artists and endeavor to create, with the means peculiar to photography and without borrowing from art, photographs which will last because of their photographic qualities.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Wilhelm Lachnit Worker with Machine (Arbeiter mit Maschine), 1924–28

 

Wilhelm Lachnit (1899-1962)
Worker with Machine (Arbeiter mit Maschine)
1924-28
Oil on wood
19 11/16 x 20 1/2 in. (50 x 52 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2015 Estate of Wilhelm Lachnit
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen/Jörg P. Anders/Art Resource, NY

 

 

Lachnit was born in the small town of Gittersee; his family moved to Dresden in 1906. He studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule Dresden under Richard Guhr, and later at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, where he was acquainted with and influenced by Otto Dix, Conrad Felixmüller, and Otto Griebel. He joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1924 and was active in producing various forms of Agitprop throughout the 1920s. He co-founded the “Neue Gruppe” with Hans Grundig, Otto Griebel, and Fritz Skade; successful exhibitions in Paris, Düsseldorf, Ansterdam, and Dresden followed.

After the Nazis seized power in 1933, Lachnit’s work was declared “degenerate” and confiscated by authorities. During this period he was not allowed to make art and worked as an exhibition designer. Much of his confiscated work was destroyed during the February 1945 firebombing of Dresden. His 1923 watercolours Man and Woman in the Window and “Girl at Table” were found in the 2012 Nazi loot discovery. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Hans Mertens Still Life with Household Appliances (Stilleben mit Hausgeräten), 1928

 

Hans Mertens (1906-1944)
Still Life with Household Appliances (Stilleben mit Hausgeräten)
1928
Oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 27 9/16 in. (65 x 70 cm)
Sprengel Museum Hannover
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Sprengel Museum/Aline Gwose/Art Resource, NY

 

Herbert Ploberger Dressing Table (Toilettentisch), 1926

 

Herbert Ploberger (1902-1977)
Dressing Table (Toilettentisch)
1926
Oil on canvas
17 11/16 x 27 9/16 in. (45 x 70 cm)
Private collection
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Bildrecht, Vienna
Photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich

 

Arthur Köster St. Georgs-Garten Housing Settlement, Architect Otto Haesler (St. Georgs-Garten Siedlung, Architekt Otto Haesler), 1920s

 

Arthur Köster (1890-1960)
St. Georgs-Garten Housing Settlement, Architect Otto Haesler (St. Georgs-Garten Siedlung, Architekt Otto Haesler)
1920s
Vintage print
8 13/16 x 6 3/4 in. (22.4 x 17.2 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Karl Völker Picture of Industry (Industriebild), c. 1924

 

Karl Völker (1889-1962)
Picture of Industry (Industriebild)
c. 1924
Oil on canvas
36 5/8 x 36 5/8 in. (93 x 93 cm)
Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)
© Klaus Völker
Photo: Klaus E. Göltz

 

Unknown photographer. 'Karl Völker' early 1930s

 

Unknown photographer
Karl Völker
early 1930s
Silver gelatin photograph

 

This photograph is not in the exhibition. It looks like the man at left in the painting above, possibly a self-portrait.

 

George Grosz Construction (Untitled) (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel]), 1920

 

George Grosz (1893-1959)
Construction (Untitled) (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel])
1920
Oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 24 in. (81 x 61 cm)
Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
Art © 2015 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Photo: Walter Klein

 

In Grosz’s Germany, everything and everybody is for sale. All human transactions, except for the class solidarity of the workers, are poisoned. The world is owned by four breeds of pig: the capitalist, the officer, the priest and the hooker, whose other form is the sociable wife. He was one of the hanging judges of art.  – Robert Hughes

 

 

 

This is a documentary from 1993 by David Grubin (written, produced, and directed) about the art exhibit under the Nazi regime of what they considered to be the most corrupting and corrosive examples of what they called ‘Entartete Kunst’ or ‘Degenerate Art.’ The exhibit, which opened in July of 1937, was meant to be laughed at and despised. I ran across it in a class on Modernism and Post-Modernism. The film is not generally available at the time of this writing (other than on VHS). Personally, I could think of no better backdrop for the ideas and pathos of expressionist art than Nazi Germany, shown by a great deal of actual footage (most provided by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – they had an exhibit of their own based on the event that same year). The music is similarly striking, including Schoenberg, Hindemith, and Wagner.

“You know, one of the, most grotesque kind of, unintended results of this…. I remember seeing as a kid one of the newsreels of the liberation of the camps… I never forgot that shot of the bulldozer rolling the mass of starved corpses, the typhoid dead, the murdered, into this mass grave… and it always comes back to me strangely enough when I look at the distortion and elongation in German, in certain German expressionist pictures… as though the, uh, the aesthetic distortions of expressionism had been made real, absolute and concrete on the real suffering human body by the Nazis, you know as though this was some kind of climactic work of art which ended up mimicking what they had attempted to suppress.  This is a very superficial way of looking at it, I know, because it leaves out the actual content of the suffering, but for a, a gentile boy seeing that in Australia, forty-some years ago… uh, on a grainy movie – I compare the two images and I can’t help thinking of it.” – Robert Hughes, 50:52

 

Anton Räderscheidt Man with Bowler (Mann mit steifem Hut), 1922

 

Anton Räderscheidt (1892-1970)
Man with Bowler (Mann mit steifem Hut)
1922
Oil on canvas
19 11/16 × 15 3/4 in. (50 × 40 cm)
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn,
Photo © Rheinisches Bildarchiv

 

In 1934-1935 Räderscheidt lived in Berlin. He fled to France in 1936, and settled in Paris, where his work became more colorful, curvilinear and rhythmic. He was interned by the occupation authorities in 1940, but he escaped to Switzerland. In 1949 he returned to Cologne and resumed his work, producing many paintings of horses shortly before adopting an abstract style in 1957.

 

Werner Mantz Entrance to an Apartment Block in the Cologne–Kalkerfeld Housing Settlement (Eingang in einen Wohnblock in der Siedlung Köln–Kalkerfeld), 1928

 

Werner Mantz (1901-1983)
Entrance to an Apartment Block in the Cologne-Kalkerfeld Housing Settlement (Eingang in einen Wohnblock in der Siedlung Köln-Kalkerfeld)
1928
Gelatin silver print
15 3/16 × 8 3/4 in. (38.6 × 22.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image source: Art Resource, NY

 

During the 1920s and ’30s Mantz photographed functionalist architecture such as houses, factories, bridge constructions and motorways. The pictures are extremely detailed, and with their bold cropping and angles they profit from architecture’s geometric and modern idiom. Mantz later moved to the Netherlands where he set up a portrait studio.

 

Franz Radziwill The Handtowel (Das Handtuch), 1933

 

Franz Radziwill (1895-1983)
The Handtowel (Das Handtuch)
1933
Oil on canvas on wood
20 7/8 x 17 11/16 in. (53 x 45 cm)
Radziwill Sammlung Claus Hüppe, courtesy Kunsthalle Emden
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo by Fotostudio Blatterspiel & Haftstein, Wardenburg

 

Radziwill spent most of his life in the North Sea resort Dangast at Varel on Jadebusen. During the period of National Socialism he had repeatedly been banned from exhibiting, three of his early works were shown in the exhibition “Entartete Kunst”. Despite the exhibition ban he was committed to Nazism and was a functionary of the Nazi Party. He addressed the tension between art and nature.

 

Aenne Biermann Ficus elastic: Rubber Plant (Ficus elastic: Gummibaum), c. 1927

 

Aenne Biermann (1898-1933)
Ficus elastic: Rubber Plant (Ficus elastic: Gummibaum)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
18 2/5 x 13 3/4 in. (46.7 x 35 cm)
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne
Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Fotoarchiv

 

Biermann’s photographs of minerals transformed her practice from the early personal views of her children to the close-up, direct studies of form that would define her photographs of plants and people that followed and make her a central figure in New Objectivity photography. Thus 1926 began a period of intense productivity for Biermann that lasted until her untimely death, from liver disease, at the age of thirty-five, in 1933.

 

George Scholz Cacti and Semaphore (Kakteen und Semaphore), 1923

 

George Scholz (1890-1945)
Cacti and Semaphore (Kakteen und Semaphore)
1923
Oil on hardboard
27 3/16 x 20 9/16 in. (69 x 52.3 cm)
LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur (Westfälisches Landesmuseum), Münster/Rudolf Wakonigg

 

Franz Radziwill The Harbor II (Der Hafen II), 1930

 

Franz Radziwill (1895-1983)
The Harbor II (Der Hafen II)
1930
Oil on canvas
29 15/16 x 39 3/16 in. (76 x 99.5 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie/Klaus Goeken/Art Resource, NY

 

Franz Radziwill The Street (Die StrasseI), 1928

 

Franz Radziwill (1895-1983)
The Street (Die StrasseI)
1928
Oil on canvas
31 11/16 x 33 7/8 in. (80.5 x 86 cm)
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Rheinisches Bildarchiv

 

 

New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 is organized into five thematic sections: Life in Democracy and the Aftermath of the War examines both the polar conditions dividing Germany’s rising bourgeoisie and those who suffered most from the war’s aftereffects, including maimed war veterans, the unemployed, prostitutes, and victims of political corruption and violence; The City and the Nature of Landscape addresses the growing disparity between an increasingly industrialized urbanity and nostalgic longing for the pastoral; Still Life and Commodities highlights a new form of the traditional still life in which quotidian objects – often indicative of mass production – are staged to create object-portraits; Man and Machine looks to artists’ attempts to reconcile the transformative yet dehumanizing effects of rapid industrialization; and lastly, New Identities: Type and Portraiture showcases a new trend in portraiture in which subjects are rendered as social typecasts rather than individual subjects.

Stephanie Barron, Exhibition Curator and Senior Curator of Modern Art at LACMA, said, “Close examinations of this period still yield new insights into a complicated chapter in modern German art. With very different backgrounds, these artists – some among the most well-known artists of the century, while others are virtually unknown outside Germany – eschewed emotion, gesture, and ecstasy, and sought instead to record and unmask the world around them with a close, impersonal, restrained gaze. Together, they created a collective portrait of a society in uneasy transition, in images that are as striking today as they were in their own time.”

“Contemporary art and popular culture alike are preoccupied with documenting ‘the real,’ and it is worth taking a fresh look at how artists in the 1920s dealt with the uses of realism in a time of postwar uncertainty,” said Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. “We hope that New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 will shed new light on this important intersection of art, politics, and modernization that marks one of the most crucial periods of the 20th century.”

Press release from LACMA

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, with photo mural showing the exterior of famous Berlin nightclub Eldorado, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 4, 2015 – January 18, 2016, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, showing photographs by Albert Renger-Patzsch (left), Aenne Biermann (centre top) and Hans Finsler (centre bottom), and Hans Finsler (right top) and Gerda Leo (bottom right), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 4, 2015 – January 18, 2016, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, showing photographs by August Sander.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, showing Aenne Biermann, Woman with Monocle (Dame mit Monokel), c. 1928 at left, with photographs by Friedrich Seidenstücker (right top) and Franz Roh (right bottom)

 

 

Exhibition themes

New Objectivity is divided into five sections that address the competing and, at times, conflicting approaches that the adherents to this new realism applied to the turbulent and ever-changing Weimar years.

The first section, Life in the Democracy and the Aftermath of the War, highlights the disparity between victims of the Weimar Republic and the growing bourgeoisie that benefited from the deprivation of that period. Artists such as Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, August Sander, and Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, portrayed urban landscapes highlighting postwar outcasts and their environs: the unemployed, disfigured, victims of violence, and prostitutes are set amid backdrops of bordellos, street corners and other scenes fraught with menace. In contrast, the Weimar Republic’s burgeoning upper class was often depicted as corrupt and ruthless. Davringhausen’s The Profiteer (1920-21), for example, caricatures a common social type of the early Weimar era: the exploitative businessman making his fortune during the period of hyperinflation. Davringhausen places his profiteer on the top floor of a skyscraper in a long, narrow room filled with windows that appear to be left open, as if there may be the danger of falling out. The brick red walls add to the psychological intensity of the hyper-modern space, in which the well-dressed businessman sits at his desk, enjoying a glass of wine and a cigar as he stares out dispassionately, avoiding the viewer’s gaze.

In The City and the Nature of Landscape, artists respond to the tensions caused by the effects of industrialization, which bled from cities into rural areas. As factories and jobs proliferated, Germany experienced a mass migration of its population from the countryside to urban areas. The notion of the city became associated with the future while the rural was nostalgically regarded as the past, and those who experienced the transition of migration were subject to feelings of displacement. The complex relationship between the urban and rural reflected the disparate conditions of the Weimar Republic. In addition to artists such as Leonhard Schmidt, Gustav Wunderwald, Erich Wegner, Georg Scholz, and Anton Räderscheidt, this section features Arthur Köster, whose photographs of architect Otto Haesler’s Georgsgarten Siedlung represented architectural spaces using high-contrast lighting and experimental framing. In St. Georgs-Garten Siedlung, Architekt Otto Haesler, Köster’s human subjects, dwarfed by the buildings’ geometric rigor and frozen in the composition’s overriding sense of stillness, suggest an apprehension toward the new, modernized Germany; meanwhile, his images portraying the green spaces of Georgsgarten Siedlung distill nature through the lens of industry.

Still Life and Commodities proposes a new form of the still life, meticulously staged compositions that might be called object-portraits. Zeroing in on disparate, banal objects of everyday life, these images represent things as markers of modernity and mass production. This section sees a recurring motif of cacti and rubber plants – “exotic” plants that were common in households at the time – and includes work by Aenne Biermann, Georg Scholz, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Finsler, among others.

Man and Machine, the penultimate section of New Objectivity, highlights artists’ attention to the Weimar Republic’s advancements in technology and industry. While some were skeptical about the lack of humanity found within networks of new machinery, others acknowledged the transformative power of technologies and sought new ways of conceiving man’s relationship to industry. Photography plays a key role in this section, not only commenting on its newly accepted position as an art form, but also serving as a key influence for painters such as Carl Grossberg, who executed paintings of factories with photographic precision as seen in Paper Machine (1934). Additionally, some artists, such as Renger-Patzch, attempted to bridge the psychological divide between the natural and the industrial by drawing structural parallels between machinery and botany.

The final section of New Objectivity is dedicated to New Identities: Type and Portraiture, which examines the way artists including Beckmann, Dix, Schad, and their peers turned to portraiture. While diverse in approach, the portraits featured numerous commonalities, including social typecasting, unsentimental renderings, and self-portraiture. Dominating these portraits are depictions of other artists, writers, and performers, the working class, and marginalized members of society as well as newly established types specific to the period, such as the war veteran and the “new woman.” One of the most iconic images to derive from this new trend informal realism is Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (1927) in which he wears a smoking jacket and its class connotations like a costume and stares brazenly at the viewer. Another of the most important practitioners of this new portraiture is August Sander, who photographed his many subjects in somber, unexpressive poses, which he then arranged according to profession. The faces captured in his unfinished series – his subjects are only rarely identified by name – form an indelible archive of Weimar society.

Text from the LACMA press release

 

Die Insel (The Island), L–R: June 1928, July 1930, April 1931

 

Die Insel (The Island), L-R: June 1928, July 1930, April 1931
Schwules Museum, Berlin
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

Die Freundin (The Girlfriend), September 1932, and Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), 1929

 

Die Freundin (The Girlfriend), September 1932, and Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), 1929
Spinnboden Berlin
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

Lili Elbe. Ein Mensch wechseit sein Geschlecht (Man into Woman The First Sex Change), 1932, edited by Niels Hoyer

 

Niels Hoyer (editor)
Lili Elbe. Ein Mensch wechseit sein Geschlecht (Man into Woman The First Sex Change)

1932
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

 

Lili Ilse Elvenes, better known as Lili Elbe (28 December 1882 – 13 September 1931), was a Danish transgender woman and one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery. Elbe was born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener and was a successful artist under that name. She also presented as Lili, sometimes spelled Lily, and was publicly introduced as Einar’s sister. After transitioning, however, she made a legal name change to Lili Ilse Elvenes and stopped painting.

Elbe met Gerda Gottlieb at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, and they married in 1904, when Gottlieb was 19 and Wegener was 22. The two of them worked as illustrators, with Elbe specializing in landscape paintings, while Gottlieb illustrated books and fashion magazines. They both traveled through Italy and France, eventually settling in Paris in 1912, where Elbe could live openly as a woman, and Gottlieb a lesbian. Elbe received the Neuhausens prize in 1907 and exhibited at Kunstnernes Efterårsudstilling (the Artists Fall Exhibition), at the Vejle Art Museum, and in the Saloon and Salon d’Automme in Paris. She is represented at Vejle Art Museum in Denmark.

Elbe started dressing in women’s clothes one day filling in for Gottlieb’s absentee model; she was asked to wear stockings and heels so her legs could substitute for those of the model. Elbe felt surprisingly comfortable in the clothing. Over time, Gottlieb became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gottlieb’s depictions of petites femmes fatales was in fact Gottlieb’s spouse, “Elbe”.

In 1930, Elbe went to Germany for sex reassignment surgery, which was experimental at the time. A series of four operations was carried out over a period of two years. The first surgery, removal of the testicles, was made under the supervision of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin. The rest of Elbe’s surgeries were carried out by Kurt Warnekros, a doctor at the Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic. The second operation was to implant an ovary onto her abdominal musculature, the third to remove the penis and the scrotum, and the fourth to transplant a uterus and construct a vaginal canal. At the time of Elbe’s last surgery, her case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. A Danish court invalidated the Wegeners’ marriage in October 1930, and Elbe managed to get her sex and name legally changed, including receiving a passport as Lili Ilse Elvenes…

In June 1931, Elbe had her fourth operation, which consisted of a uterus transplant and the construction of a vagina, both of which were new and experimental procedures at that time. She died three months after the surgery due to heart paralysis caused by the uterus transplant.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Der Eigene (The Unique), 1925

 

Der Eigene (The Unique)
1925
Schwules Museum, Berlin
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

Christian Schad Boys in Love (Liebende Knaben), 1929

 

Christian Schad (1894-1982)
Boys in Love (Liebende Knaben)
1929
Silverpoint
11 13/16 x 9 1/4 in. (30 x 23.5 cm)
Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg, Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg, Leihgabe der Kurt-Gerd-Kunkel Stiftung Aschaffenburg, MSA Dep. KGKS 1/1986
© 2015 Christian-Schad-Stiftung Aschaffenburg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Christian Schad Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis mit Modell), 1927

 

Christian Schad (1894-1982)
Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis mit Modell)
1927
Oil on wood
29 15/16 x 24 3/16 in. (76 x 61.5 cm)
Private collection, courtesy of Tate
© 2015 Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich

 

 

Christian Schad (August 21, 1894 – February 25, 1982) was a German painter associated with Dada and the New Objectivity movement. Considered as a group, Schad’s portraits form an extraordinary record of life in Vienna and Berlin in the years following World War I.

Schad’s art was not condemned by the Nazis in the way that the work of Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, and many other artists of the New Objectivity movement was; this may have been because of his lack of commercial success. He became interested in Eastern philosophy around 1930, and his artistic production declined precipitously. After the crash of the New York stock market in 1929, Schad could no longer rely on his father’s financial support, and he largely stopped painting in the early 1930s. In 1937, unknown to him, the Museum of Modern Art showed three Schadographs, given by Tristan Tzara, in a show about Dada and Surrealism. The same year, Nazis included Schad in Great German Art, their antidote to the Degenerate Art show.

Schad lived in obscurity in Germany through the war and after it. After the destruction of his studio in 1943 Schad moved to Aschaffenburg. The city commissioned him to copy Matthias Grünewald’s Virgin and Child (Stuppach, parish church), a project on which he worked until 1947. Schad continued to paint in the 1950s in Magic Realist style and returned in the 1960s to experiments with photograms. Schad’s reputation did not begin to recover until the 1960s, when a couple of shows in Europe dovetailed with the rise of Photorealism. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Rudolf Schlichter Meeting of Fetishists and Maniacal Flagellants (Zusammenkunft von Fetischisten und manischen Flagellanten), c. 1921

 

Rudolf Schlichter (1890-1955)
Meeting of Fetishists and Maniacal Flagellants (Zusammenkunft von Fetischisten und manischen Flagellanten)
c. 1921
Watercolor on paper
17 5/16 x 10 3/4 in. (43.9 x 27.3 cm)
Private Collection
© Viola Roehr v. Alvensleben, Munich
Photo by Christian Wirth, Munich

 

Meeting of Fetishists and Maniacal Flagellants (1921) is a group fantasy of clothed males, half-naked women, old men masturbating and young women with knee-high boots flashing what Mick Jagger once called “far away eyes”.

 

Gert Wollheim Untitled (Couple) (Ohne Titel [Paar]), 1926

 

Gert Wollheim (1894-1974)
Untitled (Couple) (Ohne Titel [Paar])
1926
Oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 29 1/2 in. (100.3 x 74.9 cm)
The Jewish Museum, New York, gift of Charlotte Levite in memory of Julius Nassau, 1990-130
Photo: The Jewish Museum, New York/Art Resource, NY by John Parnell

 

Immediately after Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 his works were declared degenerate art and many were destroyed. He fled to France and became active in the Resistance. He was one of the co-founders of the artists’ federation, the Union des Artistes Allemandes Libres, an organization of exiled German artists founded in Paris in autumn 1937. In that same year, he became the companion of the dancer Tatjana Barbakoff. Meanwhile, in Munich, three of his pictures were displayed in the defamatory Nazi exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) in 1937.

From Paris, he fled to Saarbrücken and later to Switzerland. He was arrested in 1939 and held in a series of labor camps in France (Vierzon, Ruchard, Gurs and Septfonds) until his escape in 1942, after which he and his wife hid in the Pyrénées with the help of a peasant woman. At war’s end in 1945 he returned to France, and in 1947 moved to New York and became an American citizen. He died in New York in 1974. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

 

Homosexuality Is a German Invention

Nana Bahlmann, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Exhibitions

December 14, 2015

Homosexuality was invented in Germany? While this might at first sound like a rather preposterous proposition, the idea of an identity based on a fixed sexual orientation did indeed originate in Germany. The public discourse and political movement supporting this idea also started in Germany, in Berlin in particular, and not, as one might assume, in London or New York. As Robert Beachy describes in his recent groundbreaking book Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity (2014), even the term HOMOSEXUALITÄT itself was a German invention, first appearing in a German language pamphlet in 1869. Although the origins of the movement date back to the 19th century, it was during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), with its new social and democratic freedoms, that gay life experienced its unprecedented heyday. Despite the fact that sexual acts between men (women were simply not addressed) were still criminalized by Paragraph 175 of the penal code, homosexual men and women were able to express their identity more visibly than ever before. By the mid-1920s, around fifty thousand gays and lesbians lived in Berlin. With its countless nightclubs and meeting points for homosexuals, bisexuals, or transvestites, the city became a true “Eldorado” for this growing and vibrant community.

Our exhibition, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 (on view until January 18, 2016), devotes a whole section to these new social identities of the Weimar Republic. Here you will find stunning paintings and photographs depicting the so-called New Woman, with her bob, monocle, cigarette, and overall masculine demeanor, next to striking renderings of even more androgynous types, whose gender identity is ambiguous and even inscrutable at times. Look at Gert Wollheim’s Couple (1926, above), for instance, who might have come straight out of the popular nightclub Eldorado. With its transvestite hostesses, the infamous establishment attracted an illustrious crowd from all over Europe and featured performances by the likes of Marlene Dietrich. A contemporary visitor described the clientele of the famous cabaret as follows: “… you had lesbians looking like beautiful women, lesbians dressed exactly like men and looking like men. You had men dressed like women so you couldn’t possibly recognize they were men (…) Then you would see couples dancing and wouldn’t know anymore what it was.”

Or look at Christian Schad’s extraordinary Boys in Love (1929, above). This exquisite silverpoint drawing is a rare rendering of male homosexuality. The tenderness of the embrace is astonishing and congruent with the delicate subject matter. The loving intimacy between men so sensitively represented here seems even more provocative than a more explicit depiction of homosexual acts.

To illustrate the vast and far-reaching discourse surrounding the new identities of the Weimar Republic and to introduce the main protagonists defining and steering the movement, we are presenting books, magazines, and other ephemeral objects alongside the artworks. The vitrines in the exhibition include publications by the influential physician and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, a pioneer and principal advocate of homosexual and transgender rights. The so-called “Einstein of Sex” founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the first gay-rights organization and gathered more than five thousand signatures to overturn Paragraph 175. His prolific empirical research resulted in the publication of several anthologies examining gender and sexual identity and in the founding of the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, a museum, clinic, meeting point, and research center. There, in 1930, the first sex reassignment surgery in history was performed on Lili Elbe (previously Einar Wegener). This process is chronicled in the book Man into Woman, also displayed in the exhibition and the basis for the film The Danish Girl directed by Tom Hooper, which is currently playing in theaters across America.

Shining a light on the various publications – over thirty at the time – for homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, and transvestites, a selection of the most important gay and lesbian magazines is also presented in these vitrines. They include Der Eigene (The Unique), the first gay journal in the world. Published from 1896 until 1932 by Adolf Brand, it featured texts about politics and homosexual rights, literature, art, and culture, as well as aesthetic nude photography. Der Eigene was followed by many other gay magazines like Friedrich Radzuweit’s Die Insel (The Island). Surprisingly, these publications were displayed publicly and sold at newsstands alongside other mainstream papers. They included advertisements and announcements for various kinds of nightspots and meeting points, catering to the respective preferences of their readers.

Throughout the 1920s, Radzuweit, who was also an important homosexual rights activist and author, established a publishing network for gay and lesbian magazines. In 1924 he issued Die Freundin (The Girlfriend: Journal for Ideal Friendship between Women), the first lesbian magazine, for instance, and later Das dritte Geschlecht (The Third Gender). After his death in 1932, his son Martin took over the business. Other lesbian magazines presented here are Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), and Frauenliebe (Women Love).

With Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933, the vibrant movement came to an abrupt and brutal end. The Nazis immediately raided Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research and burned its archives. Wisely, Hirschfeld had not returned from a speaking tour and remained in exile until his death in 1935. Gay publications and organizations were banned and homosexuals were incarcerated, sent to concentration camps, or murdered; the Nazis eradicated the achievements and memories of this pioneering movement in Germany. We are happy to bring it back to life here in our exhibition at LACMA.

Nana Bahlmann. “Homosexuality Is a German Invention,” on the LACMA website, December 14, 2015 [Online] Cited 06/02/2016.

 

Georg Schrimpf Reclining Girls in the Countryside (Liegende Mädchen im Grünen), 1930

 

Georg Schrimpf (1889-1938)
Reclining Girls in the Countryside (Liegende Mädchen im Grünen)
1930
Oil on canvas
21 1/4 × 39 3/4 in. (54 × 101 cm)
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Photo © 2015 Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker Untitled, c. 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966)
Untitled
c. 1930
Vintage print
6 15/16 x 5 1/16 in. (17.6 x 12.9 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) is noted for his atmospheric photographs of everyday life in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. Thanks to his compassionate studies of animals, he has an almost legendary reputation among animal and zoo lovers, and his haunting pictures of Berlin in ruins are a precious source of material for historians. His images seem to be spontaneous, sympathetic examples of the kind of photography that excels at capturing the moment. They are free of any exaggeration or extravagance, and display a sense of humor rarely found in photography. His work is buoyed by a fundamental optimism, yet it does not ignore the harshness, poverty, and suffering that prevailed at that time.

 

Max Beckmann Paris Society (Gesellschaft Paris), 1931

 

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Paris Society (Gesellschaft Paris)
1931
Oil on canvas
43 × 69 1/8 in (109.2 × 175.6 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn,
Photo © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

 

 

“My pictures reproach God for his errors.”

“We have to lay our hearts bare, to the cries of people who have been lied to.”

Max Beckmann

 

Unlike several of his avant-garde contemporaries, Beckmann rejected non-representational painting; instead, he took up and advanced the tradition of figurative painting. He greatly admired not only Cézanne and Van Gogh, but also Blake, Rembrandt, and Rubens, as well as Northern European artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, such as Bosch, Bruegel, and Matthias Grünewald. His style and method of composition are partially rooted in the imagery of medieval stained glass.

Engaging with the genres of portraiture, landscape, still life, and history painting, his diverse body of work created a very personal but authentic version of modernism, one with a healthy deference to traditional forms. Beckmann reinvented the religious triptych and expanded this archetype of medieval painting into an allegory of contemporary humanity.

From his beginnings in the fin de siècle to the period after World War II, Beckmann reflected an era of radical changes in both art and history in his work. Many of Beckmann’s paintings express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Some of his imagery refers to the decadent glamor of the Weimar Republic’s cabaret culture, but from the 1930s on, his works often contain mythologized references to the brutalities of the Nazis. Beyond these immediate concerns, his subjects and symbols assume a larger meaning, voicing universal themes of terror, redemption, and the mysteries of eternity and fate. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Kurt Günter Portrait of a Boy (Knabenbildnis), 1928

 

Kurt Günther (1893-1955)
Portrait of a Boy (Knabenbildnis)
1928
Tempera on wood
18 7/8 x 14 9/16 in. (48 x 37 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie/Art Resource, NY

 

Herbert Ploberger Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (Selbstbildnis mit ophthamologischen Lehrmodellen), c. 1928-30

 

Herbert Ploberger (1902-1977)
Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (Selbstbildnis mit ophthamologischen Lehrmodellen)
c. 1928-30
Oil on canvas
19 11/16 x 15 3/4 in. (50 x 40 cm)
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Bildrecht, Vienna

 

August Sander Coal Carrier, Berlin (Berliner Kohlenträger), 1929

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Coal Carrier, Berlin (Berliner Kohlenträger)
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 6 in. (24.1 x 15.2 cm)
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XM.126.52
© 2015 Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur-August Sander Archiv, Cologne/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Sander’s Face of our Time was published in 1929. It contains a selection of 60 portraits from his series People of the 20th Century, and is introduced by an essay by Alfred Döblin titled “On Faces, Pictures, and their Truth.” Under the Nazi regime, his work and personal life were greatly constrained. His son Erich, who was a member of the left wing Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP), was arrested in 1934 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he died in 1944, shortly before the end of his sentence. Sander’s book Face of our Time was seized in 1936 and the photographic plates destroyed. Around 1942, during World War II, he left Cologne and moved to a rural area, allowing him to save most of his negatives. His studio was destroyed in a 1944 bombing raid. Thirty thousand of Sander’s roughly forty-thousand negatives survived the war, only to perish in an accidental fire in Cologne in 1946. Sander practically ceased to work as a photographer after World War II. He died in Cologne in 1964.

 

George Grosz Portrait of Dr. Felix J. Weil (Bildnis Dr. Felix J. Weil), 1926

 

George Grosz (1893-1959)
Portrait of Dr. Felix J. Weil (Bildnis Dr. Felix J. Weil)
1926
Oil on canvas
53 x 61 in. (134.6 x 154.9 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Richard L. Feigen in memory of Gregor Piatigorsky Art
© 2015 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Photo © 2015 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

August Sander Painter’s Wife (Helene Abelen) (Frau des Malers Abelen), 1926

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Painter’s Wife (Helene Abelen) (Frau des Malers Abelen)
1926
Gelatin silver print
9 x 6 7/16 in. (22.9 x 16.4 cm)
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur-August Sander Archiv, Cologne/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

August Sander The Architect (Hans Poelzig) (Der Architekt Hans Poelzig), 1928

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
The Architect (Hans Poelzig) (Der Architekt Hans Poelzig)
1928
Vintage print
11 7/16 x 7 11/16 in. (29.1 x 19.5 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© 2015 Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur—August Sander Archiv, Cologne/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Otto Dix The Jeweller Karl Krall (Der Juwelier Karl Krall), 1923

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
The Jeweller Karl Krall (Der Juwelier Karl Krall)
1923
Oil on canvas
35 5/8 x 23 13/16 in. (90.5 x 60.5 cm)
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany

 

Otto Dix Portait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons (Porträt des Rechtsanwalts Hugo Simons), 1925

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Portait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons (Porträt des Rechtsanwalts Hugo Simons)
1925
Tempera and oil on plywood
39 1/2 x 27 11/16 in. (100.3 x 70.3 cm)
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, purchase, grant from the Government of Canada under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, gifts of the Succession J. A. DeSève, Mr. and Mrs. Charles and Andrea Bronfman, Mr. Nahum Gelber and Dr. Sheila Gelber, Mrs. Phyllis Lambert, the Volunteer Association and the Junior Associates of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Mrs. Louise L. Lamarre, Mr. Pierre Théberge, the Museum’s acquisition fund, and the Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn,
Photo: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Brian Merrett

 

Wilhelm Schnarrenberger Portrait of an Architect (Porträt eines Architekten), 1923

 

Wilhelm Schnarrenberger (1892-1966)
Portrait of an Architect (Porträt eines Architekten)
1923
Oil on canvas
34 1/4 x 23 1/16 in. (87 x 58.5 cm)
Städtische Galerie Karlsruhe, on loan from private collection
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo by Ernst Reinhold, Munich

 

Aenne Biermann Woman with Monocle (Dame mit Monokel), c. 1928 Gelatin silver print; 7 1/4 x 5 1/5 in. (18.4 x 13 cm)

 

Aenne Biermann (1898-1933)
Woman with Monocle (Dame mit Monokel)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
7 1/4 x 5 1/5 in. (18.4 x 13 cm)
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne
Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Fotoarchiv

 

Max Beckmann Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (Selbstbildnis im Smoking), 1927

 

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (Selbstbildnis im Smoking)
1927
Oil on canvas
54 15/16 x 37 5/8 in. (139.5 x 95.5 cm)
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College

 

Christian Schad Agosta, “The Pigeon Chested Man,” and Rasha, “The Black Dove,” (Agosta, der Flügelmensch, und Rasha, die schwarze Taube), 1929

 

Christian Schad (1894-1982)
Agosta, “The Pigeon Chested Man,” and Rasha, “The Black Dove,” (Agosta, der Flügelmensch, und Rasha, die schwarze Taube)
1929
Oil on canvas
47 1/4 x 31 1/2 in. (120 x 80 cm)
Private Collection, loan by courtesy of Tate Gallery London
© 2015 Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Jeanne Mammen Chess Player (Schachspieler), c. 1929–30

 

Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976)
Chess Player (Schachspieler)
c. 1929-30
Oil on canvas
27 9/16 × 31 11/16 in. (70 × 80.5 cm)
Berlinische Galerie, Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen The Profiteer (Der Schieber), 1920–21

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (1894-1970)
The Profiteer (Der Schieber)
1920-21
Oil on canvas
47 1/4 x 47 1/4 in. (120 x 120 cm)
Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf
© Renata Davringhausen
Photo © Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast-ARTOTHEK

 

Perhaps the best-known work from Davringhausen’s New Objectivity period is Der Schieber (The Black-Marketeer), a Magic realist painting of 1920-21, which is in the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof. Painted in acidulous colors, it depicts a glowering businessman seated at a desk in a modern office suite that foreshortens dramatically behind him. Although Davringhausen rarely presented social criticism in his work, in Der Schieber “the artist created the classic pictorial symbol of the period of inflation that was commencing.”

 

Otto Dix To Beauty (An die Schönheit), 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
To Beauty (An die Schönheit)
1922
Oil and collage on canvas
54 15/16 x 47 7/16 in. (139.5 x 120.5cm)
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany

 

George Grosz Eclipse of the Sun (Sonnenfinsternis), 1926

 

George Grosz (1893-1959)
Eclipse of the Sun (Sonnenfinsternis)
1926
Oil on canvas
81 5/8 × 71 7/8 in. (207.3 × 182.6 cm)
The Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York, Museum, Purchase Art
© 2015 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

Max Beckmann Dance in Baden-Baden (Tanz in Baden-Baden), 1923

 

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Dance in Baden-Baden (Tanz in Baden-Baden)
1923
Oil on canvas
42 1/2 x 26 in. (108 x 66 cm)
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen/Art Resource, NY

 

 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
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T: 323 857 6000

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11
Oct
15

Exhibition: ‘Karl Blossfeldt. From Nature’s Studio’ at Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

Exhibition dates: 24th July – 25th October 2015

Curator: Simone Förster

 

 

Karl Blossfeldt’s photographs have been associated with Modernism (Bauhaus), Surrealism and New Objectivity / New Vision.

“Blossfeldt’s factual yet finely detailed imagery was praised by Walter Benjamin, who declared that Karl Blossfeldt ‘has played his part in that great examination of the inventory of perception, which will have an unforeseeable effect on our conception of the world’. He compared him to Maholy-Nagy and the pioneers of New Objectivity, and ranked his achievements alongside the great photographers August Sander and Eugene Atget. The Surrealists also championed him, and George Bataille included his images in the periodical Documents in 1929.” (Wikipedia)

Hailed as a master for discovering a hitherto ‘unknown universe’ and for his exemplary technical feats as a photographer Blossfeldt’s work is, nevertheless, decidedly subjective as author Hanako Murata notes in her excellent essay on the artist Material Forms in Nature: The Photographs of Karl Blossfeldt (2014). “Not only did he carefully select, arrange, and in some cases physically modify his specimens, but his meticulous attention to detail and image refinement continued throughout each step of production, beginning with his negatives.” Blossfeldt uses the logic of the plant and the logic of his mind to achieve his final vision. A/symmetry as art form.

It was Blossfeldt’s conception of the world that created this inventory of perception. He was the human being who recognised these structures, who used the photographs as teaching aids, who saw them as art and a way of restoring the link between man and nature. His vision and his alone. Nothing was left to chance, everything was controlled. You only have to look at his Self portrait, Rome (1895, below) to see that here is a determined man. His body points one way in suit with braces and stiff, high collared shirt, hand clenched at waist while his head snaps towards us with the most incredible stare, almost piercing the viewer with its ferocity. You can still feel that stare after all these decades.

Ranking his photographs alongside that of Sander and Atget is a big call. Personally, too big a call. If I had to put my finger on it, what they lack for me is any form of context in relationship to an externalised nature. They rely on the form of the plant and not its relationship to the world in which it lives. To discover those forms in science and then transfer them to the field of art is a truly inspiring vision that only Blossfeldt had. He manipulated reality to achieve his beautiful, formal re/presentations. But do they take me to the places that Sander and Atget’s photographs do. No. Here is the thing itself, and not what else it can stand for. Despite their call to Surrealism, their attention to detail leaves the images little room for rumination. Perhaps he took each step of that image refinement too far. Sometimes you need a little chaos in your world order, for the world of pattern cannot exist without randomness and mutation.

Marcus

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

Download Hanako Murata’s essay Material Forms in Nature: The Photographs of Karl Blossfeldt (2.3Mb pdf)

 

 

“If I give someone a horsetail he will have no difficulty making a photographic enlargement of it – anyone can do that. But to observe it, to notice and discover its forms, is something that only a few are capable of.”

“My botanical documents should contribute to restoring the link with nature. They should reawaken a sense of nature, point to its teeming richness of form, and prompt the viewer to observe for himself the surrounding plant world.”

“The plant never lapses into mere arid functionalism; it fashions and shapes according to logic and suitability, and with its primeval force compels everything to attain the highest artistic form.”

.
Karl Blossfeldt

 

“The striking uniformity of Blossfeldt’s photographs suggests an excellent mastery of studio technique, and indeed, for all the prints’ subsequent associations with New Objectivity, Blossfeldt’s work was decidedly subjective, insofar as he was not shy about modifying his subjects or his images to achieve his final vision. Not only did he carefully select, arrange, and in some cases physically modify his specimens, but his meticulous attention to detail and image refinement continued throughout each step of production, beginning with his negatives.”

.
Hanako Murata Material Forms in Nature: The Photographs of Karl Blossfeldt 2014, p.2

 

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Self portrait, Rome' 1895

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Self portrait, Rome
1895
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Self portrait, Rome' 1895 (detail)

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Self portrait, Rome (detail)
1895
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Nature study (chestnut)' 1890s

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Nature study (chestnut)
1890s
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Four Herbariums with groomed Thistels and Delphinium' undated

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Four Herbariums with groomed Thistels and Delphinium
Undated
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Papaver orientale. Oriental Poppy' before 1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Papaver orientale. Oriental Poppy
Before 1928
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

 

“The photographs of plants by the university professor and amateur photographer Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) are among the milestones in the history of 20th-century photography. To mark the 150th anniversary of Blossfeldt’s birth, the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich is staging a comprehensive exhibition on his life and work.

Focal points of the exhibition are Blossfeldt’s early training as a modeller, his work together with the reformer Moritz Meurer, the photographer’s own handcrafted designs and his teaching at the Königliche Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin. The preliminary works he made for his seminal publication Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) of 1928 and the reception it received at that time, for example at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1929, form an additional aspect.

The exhibition comprises some 120 photographs, including numerous large-format, historical exhibition prints. Collages of his work, drawings in the artist’s own hand, drafts, archival material and documents render the concept behind Blossfeldt’s teaching and work visible.

The Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation manages the Karl Blossfeldt Archive with its unique holdings of original photographs, negatives and documents by Karl Blossfeldt. Together with a large volume of photographs in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, an exceptionally high-quality presentation of Karl Blossfeldt’s photographic work can now be staged and its development shown by means of historical documents and archival material that have hardly ever been seen by the general public.”

Text from the Pinakothek der Moderne website

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Adiantum pedatum. Maidenhair Fern' before 1926

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Adiantum pedatum. Maidenhair Fern
Before 1926
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Eryngium bourgatii. Bourgatis Eryngo' before 1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Eryngium bourgatii. Bourgatis Eryngo
Before 1928
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. Heracleum sphondylium. Hogweed' 1898-1932

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Heracleum sphondylium. Hogweed
1898-1932
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

 

 

Karl Blossfeldt (June 13, 1865 – December 9, 1932 – age 67) was a German photographer, sculptor, teacher, and artist who worked in Berlin, Germany. He is best known for his close-up photographs of plants and living things, published in 1929 as, Urformen der Kunst. He was inspired, as was his father, by nature and the way in which plants grow. He believed that ‘the plant must be valued as a totally artistic and architectural structure.’ Among his students at the Berlin Arts and Crafts School was Heinz Warneke. From 1924, he was professor at the Vereinigte Staatsschulen für freie und angewandete Kunst (United State School for Fine and Applied Art) in Berlin.

Blossfeldt made many of his photographs with a home-made camera that could magnify the subject up to thirty times its size, revealing details within a plant’s natural structure. Appointed for a teaching post at the Institute of Royal Arts Museum in 1898 (where he remained until 1930), he established an archive for his photographs. Blossfeldt never received formal training in photography. Blossfeldt developed a series of home-made cameras that allowed him to photograph plant surfaces in unprecedented magnified detail. This reflected his enduring interest in the repetitive patterns found in nature’s textures and forms.

In Berlin from the late nineteenth century until his death, Blossfeldt’s works were primarily used as teaching tools and were brought to public attention in 1928 by his first publication Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature). Published in 1928 when Blossfeldt was 63 and a professor of applied art at the Berliner Kunsthochschule (Berlin Academy of Art), Urformen der Kunst quickly became an international bestseller and in turn, made Blossfeldt famous almost overnight. His contemporaries were impressed by the abstract shapes and structures in nature that he revealed. Swiftly regarded as a seminal book on photography, Blossfeldt’s factual yet finely detailed imagery was praised by Walter Benjamin, who declared that Karl Blossfeldt ‘has played his part in that great examination of the inventory of perception, which will have an unforeseeable effect on our conception of the world’. He compared him to Maholy-Nagy and the pioneers of New Objectivity, and ranked his achievements alongside the great photographers August Sander and Eugene Atget. The Surrealists also championed him, and George Bataille included his images in the periodical Documents in 1929.

In 2001 Urformen der Kunst was included in “The Book of 101 Books” as one of the seminal photographic books of the twentieth century. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Blumenbachia hieronymi. Blumenbachia' 1898 - 1932

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Blumenbachia hieronymi. Blumenbachia
1898-1932
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Dipsacus laciniatus. Cutleaf Teasel' before 1927

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Dipsacus laciniatus. Cutleaf Teasel
Before 1927
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Equisetum hyemale. Winter Horsetail' before 1929

 

Karl Blossfeldt
Equisetum hyemale. Winter Horsetail
Before 1929
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

 

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Barer Strasse 40
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Thursday 10am – 8pm

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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.

 

 

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15
Mar
15

Exhibition: ‘Florence Henri. Mirror of the avant-garde 1927-1940’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 24th February – 17th May 2015

Curator: Cristina Zelich

 

 

Objects in and of space, the two the same

Florence Henri is rapidly becoming one of my favourite photographers, an artist who emerged during one of the golden periods of photography, the avant-garde of the 1920s-30s. While we have seen some of these photographs before in a previous posting, there are some new and delightful images to enjoy here.

If you believe the text by Priscilla Frank, “Meet Florence Henri, The Under-Acknowledged Queen Of Surrealist Photography,” on the Huffington Post website, you could be forgiven for thinking that her photography is based on Surrealist themes. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is nothing about Henri’s photographs to suggest that they are based on the creative potential of the unconscious mind exemplified by the irrational juxtaposition of images. Henri’s photographs are quite logical and ordered, being an investigation into space, time and object using the “extension of the formal and structural aesthetics of Cubism, Purism and Constructivism.”

Her geometric abstractions “exploited the dialogue between realism and abstraction… and she explored spatial extension and fragmentation in her utter modern vocabulary. Her still life and abstract compositions achieved by balancing abstraction with a pure and essential subject were created in the spirit of the machine age. She viewed space as if it were elastic, distorting figure and ground and altering planes through the use of mirrors and lenses.”

Through attention and attentiveness to subject, Henri achieved her results by using created space to investigate the fragmentation and distortion of the world. Her art is not about the production of phenomena (the spectacle), but about the creation of volumes that are in an of space itself. As Donald Judd’s observes of his created volumes in 1981: “… familiar objects, objects as we habitually perceive them, assume physical neutrality because they and their environment are deactivated: “They are points in space, and space is an empty surround. Instead, what is needed is a created space, space made by someone, space that is formed as a solid, the two the same, with the space and the solid defining each other.” Objects in and of space, the two the same: this was the crux. Judd did more than set new solids into existing voids. He formed solids and their correlative spaces as an integrated operation, as if he were establishing an architecture from the ground up, creating the entire environment, intensifying it, saturating it with its own sensation.”1

In a photographic sense, Henri can be seen as a precursor to Judd’s volumes, creating her own worlds from the ground up, creating the entire environment where the space and the object are one and the same thing… only to then record and flatten that space into the essential nature of the photograph, its physicality. Her sensory affects “remain fixed in the concatenation of materials, structure and placement that generates it. They are the lived equivalent of those conditions, experienced as continuous in time – hence, timeless – remaining wholly the same until interrupted.”2 How appropriate for Henri’s photographs for they do indeed have a timeless “air”, a transcendence of the time and place they were taken, a transcendence of the space which her volumes inhabit. Objects in and of space, the two the same.

As Judd observes, “Time and space don’t exist [as idealized absractions]; they are made by events and positions. Time and space can be made and don’t have to be found like stars in the sky or rocks on a hillside.” Time and space are grounded in being human: they exist when someone experiences them.”3 Here is the nub of the matter, for it matters that we experience Henri’s photographs each in its definite time and space. Henri’s being is immersed in these volumes and they hold our interest because the created environments are saturated with her own sensations.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. Donald Judd quoted in Richard Shiff. “Sensous Thoughts,” in Marianne Stockebrand (ed.,). Donald Judd. The Multicolored Works. Yale University Press, 2014, p. 106
2. Ibid.,
3. Ibid., p. 107.

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

 

 

“With photography, what I really want to do is compose the image, as I do in painting. The volumes, lines, shadows and light should submit to my will and say what I would like them to say. All of this under the strict control of the composition, because I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.”

.
Florence Henri in an interview with Attilio Colombo, “Specchio, essenzialità, geometría,” in Florence Henri (Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1983)

 

“Henri soon recognised the medium’s capacity as a pictorial language and outlet for creative expression. Upon returning to France [from the Bauhaus], Henri began to develop a large body of photographic work based upon her Bauhaus experience and an extension of the formal and structural aesthetics of Cubism, Purism and Constructivism. These non-objective principles forged an alternative to the then-dominant French art movement Surrealism. Henri transcended the avant-garde of one art form to that of another…

Henri’s greatest experimentation with geometric abstraction occurred during the period between 1929-1930… In the photographic work, Florence Henri exploited the dialogue between realism and abstraction, but always maintained a recognisable subject. She was concerned with transparency and movement, and she explored spatial extension and fragmentation in her utter modern vocabulary.

Her still life and abstract compositions achieved by balancing abstraction with a pure and essential subject were created in the spirit of the machine age. She viewed space as if it were elastic, distorting figure and ground and altering planes through the use of mirrors and lenses.”

.
Lynne Warren. Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, 3-Volume set. Routledge, 2005, p. 691

 

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
27.2 x 37.5 cm
Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti Photo
© Bauhaus Archiv

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
27 x 37.1 cm
Museum Folkwang, Essen
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition abstraite [Still-life composition]' 1929

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition abstraite [Still-life composition]
1929
Collage, gelatin silver print cut and pasted on paper
12 x 14 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Portrait Composition, Tulia Kaiser' c. 1930

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Portrait Composition, Tulia Kaiser
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print, vintage
23 x 29.2 cm
Achat grâce au mécénat de Yves Rocher, 2011
Ancienne collection Christian Bouqueret Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti Photo
© Centre Pompidou, Mnam-Cci, Dist. Rmn-Grand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian

 

 

Summary of exhibition

Florence Henri. Mirror of the avantgarde illustrates the desire of the Jeu de Paume to highlight the important role played by women photographers from the 1920s to the 1950s, and follows on from previous exhibitions devoted to Claude Cahun, Kati Horna, Eva Besnyö, Berenice Abbott, Lisette Model, Laure Albin Guillot and indeed,Lee Miller.

The exhibition brings together, for the first time in France, over 130 vintage prints by Florence Henri, as well as rare documents and publications, revealing the artist’s photographic production. Influenced by Constructivism, Cubism and Surrealism, Florence Henri’s work is part of the exciting creative tenor of the period, during which, photography, like cinema or architecture, embodied a spirit of innovation and progress, as well as a certain unconventionality in terms of the dominant visual order.

Familiar with Bauhaus, Florence Henri was one of the figures of the European artistic intelligentsia of the time. Her friendship with Fernand Léger, the Delaunays, Hans Arp, László Moholy-Nagy and Theo van Doesburg would have a profound influence on her work. In 1929, Florence Henri opened a photography studio in Paris. It soon rivalled that of Man Ray’s. Her classes were very well-attended and her talents as a portrait photographer were quickly recognized.

It is not so much the image alone as the constant research that brings Florence Henri’s work to life. Lines and geometric compositions are recurring elements in her photographs. Over the years, she made her compositions increasingly complex through the use of mirrors, industrial and natural objects, or through collage and superposition. The exhibition attempts to both decipher and highlight the work of Florence Henri in terms of reflections, perspective, the depth of field and photomontage – key technical experimentations in the history of modern photography.

 

Florence Henri. 'Mannequin de tailleur [Tailor's mannequin]' 1930-1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Mannequin de tailleur [Tailor’s mannequin]
1930-1931
Gelatin silver print, vintage
17.1 x 22.8 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
©Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]' 1931

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition Nature morte [Still-life composition]
1931
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
23 x 30 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Pont [Bridge]' 1930-1935

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Pont [Bridge]
1930-1935
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
23.5 x 23.8 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Composition, The Glory that was Greece' c. 1933

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Composition, The Glory that was Greece
c. 1933
Photomontage, gelatin silver print dated 1975
23.5 x 29.5 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

“All that I know, and how I know this, is primarily made up of abstract elements: spheres, planes, and grids whose parallel lines provide numerous opportunities, without taking into account the mirrors I use, to present the same object from several different angles within a single photograph, in order to yield, in the same way, different visions that complement and complete each other, and which when taken as a whole, are better able to explain it. Essentially, all of this is much more difficult to explain than to do.”

.
Florence Henri in an interview with Attilio Colombo, “Specchio, essenzialità, geometría,” in Florence Henri (Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1983)

 

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne (France) 1982) was a multi-faceted artist, who was first known for her paintings before making a name for herself as a major figure in avant-garde photography between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1940s. She lived in Silesia, Munich, Vienna, Rome and above all Berlin, before finally settling in Paris in 1924 and devoting herself to photography. This medium enabled her to experiment new relationships with space, in particular by the use of mirrors and other objects in her compositions.

The Jeu de Paume is presenting a vast panorama of Florence Henri’s photographic production from 1927 to 1940, including her self-portraits, abstract compositions, portraits of artists, nudes, photomontages, photocollages, as well as documentary photos taken in Rome, Paris and Brittany. The exhibition comprises vintage prints, various documents and published material.

When she was young, Florence Henri studied music and painting in England and Germany. In 1919, when she was a student at the Berlin Academy of Arts, she made the acquaintance of writer and art historian Carl Einstein and became friends with several figures of the avant-garde, including Hans Arp, Adrian Ludwig Richter, John Heartfield and Lázló Moholy-Nagy. She took classes with Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky at the Bauhaus in Weimar. In 1924 she moved to Paris, where she followed classes at the Académie Montparnasse, whose director was André Lhote, then at the Académie moderne (founded by Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant). In 1927, after a visit to Bauhaus in Dessau, she abandoned painting in favour of photography. It was at this time that she produced her famous self-portraits in mirrors and her still lifes; the result of her first steps in the spatial research that she would carry out through the medium of photography.

Between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, three mythical exhibitions in terms of the history of European photography took place in Germany: “Fotografie der Gegenwart” at the Folkwang Museum in Essen (1929); “Film ind Foto” (Fifo) organised the same year by the Deutscher Werkbund in Stuttgart and “Das Lichtbild” held in Munich (1931). These exhibitions bore witness to the rapid expansion of new photographic concepts and a rupture with tradition. Fifo marked the zenith of the Neues Sehen (New Vision) movement of which László Moholy-Nagy was an exponent and “Das Lichtbild” marked the triumph of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), whose leading representative was Albert Renger-Patzsch.

Florence Henri was invited to show an important number of prints at these three exhibitions in recognition of her photographic production during this fundamental period that saw the photography used to free our vision and open out onto new experiences.

Florence Henri’s studio rivalled that of Man Ray, even if she had also opened a school of photography where Lisette Model and Gisèle Freund, amongst others, would enrol. In fact, despite the central position that her oeuvre occupied in avant-garde photography at the end of the 1920s, her reputation as a portraitist in Paris, and the fact that her photos had been published in many of the period’s illustrated magazines such as Arts et Métiers and Lilliput etc, Florence Henri’s body of work remains largely unknown.

László Moholy-Nagy’s* comments are a perfect illustration of Florence Henri’s position: “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today. Above and beyond the precise and exact documentary composition of these highly defined photos, research into the effects of light is tackled not only through abstract photograms, but also in photos of real-life subjects. The entire problem of manual painting is taken onboard by the photographic process and is manifestly given a whole new depth thanks to this new optical instrument. Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.”

*László Moholy-Nagy, “Zu den Fotografien von Florence Henri”, i10, No 17-18, Amsterdam, December 20, 1928.

Press release from the Jeu de Paume website

 

Florence Henri. 'Double portrait' 1927-1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Double portrait
1927-1928
Gelatin silver print dated 1977
24 x 18 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

Florence Henri. 'Autoportrait [Self-portrait]' 1928

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Autoportrait [Self-portrait]
1928
Gelatin silver print, vintage
39.3 x 25.5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti

 

 

Her most well-known work is a self-portrait, in which Henri sits before a mirror, dolled up almost as if in drag. Two silver balls lay reflected up against the mirror, equivocal symbols of both testicles and breasts. Henri, influential in both her artistic style and personal styles, toyed with gender binaries, using her personal appearance to emphasize the performative nature of gender. The artist was married to a Swiss house servant, but went on to have other relationships with both men and women, including a longtime affair with artist and model Margarete Schall.

Henri established herself as a formidable photographer, and remained consistent in her work up until World War II. Then her work declined considerably, both due to lack of materials and the prohibitions imposed under the Nazi occupation. Henri briefly returned to painting, but her central period of output remained in the 1920s and 1930s. Her compositions, simultaneously warm, playful, clever and inquisitive, set the stage for future explorations into the limits of photography, or lack thereof.

Priscilla Frank. “Meet Florence Henri, The Under-Acknowledged Queen Of Surrealist Photography,” on the Huffington Post website, 20th February 2015.

 

Florence Henri. 'Femme aux cartes [Woman with cards]' 1930

 

Florence Henri (New York 1893 – Compiègne 1982)
Femme aux cartes [Woman with cards]
1930
Gelatin silver print, vintage
39 x 28.5 cm
Private collection, courtesy Florence Henri Archive, Genoa
© Florence Henri / Galleria Martini & Ronchetti