Posts Tagged ‘Picturesque

28
Feb
14

Exhibition: ‘Félix Thiollier (1842-1914), photographs’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 13th November 2013 – 10th March 2014

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“Why is the price of justice so high?”

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Maheude, Germinal

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“Beneath the blazing of the sun, in that morning of new growth, the countryside rang with song, as its belly swelled with a black and avenging army of men, germinating slowly in its furrows, growing upwards in readiness for harvests to come, until one day soon their ripening would burst open the earth itself.”

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Émile Zola. Germinal (1885)

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This is the biggest collection of photographs by the French photographer Félix Thiollier available on the Internet. I spent hours cleaning up the images to a presentable standard (mixing them with appropriate paintings by Corot and Francois-Auguste Ravier), so I hope you enjoy the posting.

While the bucolic photographs of ruins, pastoral landscapes and shepherdess (bucolic – via Latin from Greek boukolikos, from boukolos ‘herdsman’) are relatively straight forward, it is Thiollier’s sensitive portrayal of the “industrial image” – of the mines and factories of Forez – that hold weight here. Thiollier emphasises the theatrical aspects of the landscape (he loved shooting at dusk), finding new subject matter among the photogenic nature of industrial sites “his last images… extolling these new “worthless” locations that included scrapheaps, wasteland and abandoned pitheads, such were the ruins of modern Forez, that met his melancholy and clear-sighted gaze.”

His photographs of the “black city” are atmospheric, vivid and powerful. Post-Romantic lyricism is still present in these images but is now coupled with a unique vision that has more earthy, psychological overtones. The anonymous figures of workers or coal pickers toiling away in oppressive landscapes are never better realised than in the line of figures silhouetted against the dying light in Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne (1895-1910, below); the solitary figure caught in the rising dust on the side of the hill in Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne (1895-1910, below – enlarge the image to see the figure). The desolation of an industrial revolution mining town is also perfectly captured in Mining Landscape, The Chatelus Pit at Saint-Etienne (1907-1912, below).

All three images remind me of the epic film Germinal staring Gerard Depardieu, based on the novel of the same name by Émile Zola. I’m sure that Thiollier would have been familiar with the book, it being a sensation upon original publication (1885). The book may well have appealed to Thiollier because he was a wealthy man, an industrialist who had reinvented himself as a gentleman farmer, who finally leaves the picturesque behind to photograph, “atmospheric phenomena studies, the architectural and mineral landscape created by the hard work of men, and how the human figure related to this.” In all its hope and misery.

Thiollier becomes so much more than an amateur photographer. His impressions of a dark, hidden drama beating at the heart of industrial, fin de siècle France provided him with the opportunity to become a progenitor of modernism, “ten years before the photogenic nature of industrial sites would be elevated into a credo of photographic modernism.” (Fin de siècle has connotations of both the closing and onset of an era, as the end of the 19th century was felt to be a period of degeneration, but at the same time a period of hope for a new beginning).

Finally, despite his willingness to remain on the sidelines, Thiollier may well be getting the approbation he deserves.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Émile Zola. 'Germinal' Title page of the 1885 edition

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Émile Zola
Germinal
Title page of the 1885 edition

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Emma Thiollier painting on top of one of the towers of Notre Dame, photographed by her father Félix Thiollier' 1907

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Emma Thiollier painting on top of one of the towers of Notre Dame, photographed by her father Félix Thiollier
1907

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Undergrowth in Forez' (Sous-bois en Forez) Nd

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Undergrowth in Forez (Sous-bois en Forez)
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© Félix Thiollier

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Autochrome-EnvironsStEtienne-1907-1912-WEB

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Around Saint-Etienne (Environs Saint-Etienne)
1907-1912
Autochrome

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Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875) 'Forest of Fontainebleau' 1834

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Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
Forest of Fontainebleau
1834
Oil on canvas
69 1/8 x 95 1/2 in. (175.6 x 242.6 cm)

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914). 'Figure contemplating the mountains of Menzenc (Emma Thiollier, daughter of the photographer)' 1895-1905

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Figure contemplant les monts du Menzenc (Emma Thiollier, fille du photographe)
Figure contemplating the mountains of Menzenc (Emma Thiollier, daughter of the photographer)

1895-1905
Collection Julien Laferrière
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN) / Patrice Schmidt

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire)' c. 1880-1882

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire)
c. 1880-1882
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 18.5; W. 22 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Gift of Mr and Mrs Noël Sénéclauze, 2007
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire)' (detail) c. 1880-1882

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Landscape with Figure, Forez (Loire) (detail)
c. 1880-1882
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 18.5; W. 22 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Gift of Mr and Mrs Noël Sénéclauze, 2007
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Francois-Auguste Ravier (1814-1895) 'Landscape with Setting Sun' Nd

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Francois-Auguste Ravier (1814-1895)
Landscape with Setting Sun
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Oil on canvas

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne' 1895-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne
1895-1910
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 28; W. 39.5 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Félix Thiollier

“Although the talent of photographer Félix Thiollier was still unrecognised twenty years ago, this is mainly because it never occurred to him to seek recognition as such. When, at the age of 35, he decided to live off his private income, this ribbon manufacturer from Saint-Étienne intended to devote himself to art and archaeology. But feeling restricted in his role as scholar of the local area, Thiollier very quickly started publishing illustrated books. This enterprise, intended to promote both the rich natural environment and cultural heritage of Forez and the work of his artist friends, seemed to take up most of his energy, when he was not otherwise involved with initiatives to protect the local heritage of Saint-Étienne or promote the culture of the area.

It was his activities in these two latter fields that brought him both regional and national recognition, and until recently his reputation was based on these activities alone. Today, his resolute determination to remain on the fringes of the photographic circles of his time seems consistent with Thiollier’s passion for this medium that he would practise continuously for over half a century. In addition to showing the rich variety of subjects that inspired him, this exhibition seeks to give the viewer an appreciation of the originality of an approach based wholly on an inexhaustible passion for the picturesque: guiding his photographical machine, this mechanics of looking would lead him from bucolic landcapes and scenes of rural life to sensitive images of an industrial environment largely ignored by the amateur photographers at the turn of the 20th century.

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“At an age when I deluded myself into believing that it was possible to combine the picturesque and archaeology…”

Thiollier’s intellectual and aesthetic background was typical of that section of the provincial elite in the 19th century who took a keen interest in art and archaeology, and had a great love of books. When, at the end of the 1850s, senior figures encouraged him to take photographs of notable sites and monuments in the Forez area, they already had a project in mind to produce a book about this ancient province which, celebrated by Honoré d’Urfé in L’Astrée (1607-1627), extended right across the department of the Loire into parts of the Haute-Loire and Puy-de-Dôme. They were all steeped in the Romantic tradition of the illustrated picturesque book, a tradition that would flourish in the second half of the century through many regional publications, like many local responses in this search for the identity of the regions of France. Illustrated with his early and more recent photographs, Thiollier’s Le Forez pittoresque et monumental, published in 1889, is one of the last and most outstanding examples of these.

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Perpetuating the rustic ideal

In leaving the town and his activities as an industrialist, Thiollier did not just move closer to the monuments and landscapes he had undertaken to describe. Having acquired two modest country estates - a hunting lodge near the ponds around Précivet, and the former commandery of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem at Verrières – he also reinvented himself as a gentleman farmer in the heart of this arcadian Forez countryside, which, in his view, was under threat. Heavily influenced by the example of the Barbizon artists whose paintings he collected along with those of his naturalist painter friends, he never tired of capturing the disappearing traces of traditional skills and ways of life with the eye of a painter. However, it required a certain poetic detachment for photographs to complete this grief. This was usually achieved with the loyal help of his daughter, who appeared in his photographs whenever he wanted to draw attention to the timeless nature of peasant genre scenes.

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“Stylistic Landscapes”

Although Thiollier had nursed an ambition to become a landscape photographer before he met Ravier in 1873, it is essential to recognise the influence of this painter from Morestel – who had been practising photography since the 1850s – in order to understand why Thiollier moved towards a more committed, if unrevealed, artistic approach to the medium. After many sessions spent “photographicking” together, their shared vision is expressed in the resulting images of autumnal and winter landscapes, which, devoid of any human presence, offer many light-filled variations on the handful of motifs chosen by the painter: still pools or the banks of streams, solitary outlines of dead trees, undergrowth and country paths, it is a complete repertoire of images of the Dauphiné region that stimulated Thiollier’s desire to extol the natural beauty of the Forez. Although he had to include riverscapes and mountain panoramas to reflect the true variety of this beautiful area, he almost always concentrate on the sky and studies of clouds, ideally enhanced by reflections playing on the still water.

The range of effects Thiollier developed, although intended in part to transpose the Post-Romantic lyricism which, in Ravier’s work, was conveyed through blazing colours and highly skilful brush- work, nonetheless indicates that his images of the countryside were produced with a perfect understanding of his medium. In pushing for a rapprochement with contemporary artistic photography, the main feature of his style was thus the expressiveness of the contrasts in values. It is this preference for representing nature in monochrome that partly explains his liking for snowscapes, and also prompted him to undertake almost systematic research into contre-jour, the most appropriate effect for both synthesizing his motifs and revealing the theatrical aspects of the landscape. Indeed, the all-revealing clarity of broad daylight was far less of an inspiration to Thiollier than the atmosphere of solitude and silence that came with the dusk. As he often noted in his descriptions, it was when the shadows were at their most dramatic that the countryside cast its strongest spell over him.

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Territories of intimacy

Alongside the search for effects that so often excited this landscape photographer, Thiollier’s solitary wanderings too were a source of more physical, more earthy themes that reveal a personal shift in the sensitive approach towards the territory. Although the traditional picturesque approach, which he had adopted until the 1880s, had been fuelled by Romanticism, it was also partly because it implied a way of considering the environment as a spectacle and thus relied heavily on the subjectivity of the first viewer that chose to depict it.

It was this look at the landscape that Thiollier now seems to stage, finding that this, far more than the self-portrait, offered him a way to incorporate himself into the landscape that he claimed as his own, and in doing so, into his work. Admittedly, the natural world he shows us is always uninhabited, but this makes it now all the better to fill with the presence of the photographer: the bleaker his selected locations, in relation to the accepted picturesque aesthetic, the more personal these choices turn out to be. Swept along by the rapid improvements in photographic techniques, the snap shot practitioner was freed from the pictorial tradition that restricted him to this side of Alberti’s “window”: his images are those of someone taking a stroll into the heart of the countryside, or more precisely, pausing at some point, seized by the desire to capture forever the emotion that had prompted him to set up his equipment right in the middle of the pathway, or, as often happened, in a quiet corner of his garden.

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The picturesque as developer: the photogeneity of the black city

Forty years after having made the first important choices of his life, learning photography at the same time when he renounced a career as a mine engineer, the former ribbon manufacturer discovered a photographic passion for Saint-Étienne, “a lively and animated city (…) to which the local industries brought a special picturesque character”. It was not easy to break away from a code of aesthetic appreciation, which, at a deeper level, was also a way of recognising the world.

The mines and factories in the cradle of the first French industrial revolution were, moreover, particularly appropriate subjects for what came to absorb him more than ever: atmospheric phenomena studies, the architectural and mineral landscape created by the hard work of men, and how the human figure related to this. It was as if the anonymous figures of workers or coal pickers had come just at the right moment, not only to enhance that “impression (…) of a sort of hidden drama” that best reveals the continuing influence of Ravier in his work, but also to fuel his inexhaustible desire for the picturesque. Besides, how could the poor people of this black town have concealed the exotic charm of their poverty from the lens of this bourgeois citizen who, in spite of himself, was still Thiollier?

Although Thiollier’s interest in photography gradually developed until eventually it became much more than the project to promote the natural and archaeological treasures of the area, it was perhaps because this industrialist turned gentleman farmer had realised intuitively that “machine art” (Delacroix) could be the way to resolve, in images, this tension between two worlds that lived side by side – the rural and traditional on one side and the industrial and contemporary on the other – and he belonged to both. The union of the picturesque and photography was sealed and could not be broken until his project as the editor of Le Forez pittoresque et monumental was completed, and this meant the aesthetic appropriation of the mental and identitarian territory of Forez as he saw it, reconciled with itself in the context of the “industrial image”. The choice of medium, precisely because Thiollier officially refused to give it any artistic legitimacy, would not however be made without consequences.

By admitting the creative superiority of the eye over the hand, the mechanised tool for reproducing images would gradually enable him to establish an independent vision, with a boldness that would burst into colour: ten years before the photogenic nature of industrial sites would be elevated into a credo of photographic modernism, his last images were extolling these new “worthless” locations that included scrapheaps, wasteland and abandoned pitheads, such were the ruins of modern Forez, that met his melancholy and clear-sighted gaze.”

Text from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) '4 am Roche-La-Moliere, Forez' c. 1870

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
4 am Roche-La-Moliere, Forez (4H du matin vers Roche-La-Moliere, Forez)
c. 1870

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne' 1895-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Mining Landscape, Saint-Etienne
1895-1910
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Decor for a fete or fair, Saint-Etienne' (Décor de fête ou de foire, Saint-Etienne) 1890-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Decor for a fete or fair, Saint-Etienne (Décor de fête ou de foire, Saint-Etienne)
1890-1910
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Mining Landscape, The Chatelus Pit at Saint-Etienne' 1907-1912

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Mining Landscape, The Chatelus Pit at Saint-Etienne
1907-1912
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 28; W. 40 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN)

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Francois-Auguste Ravier. 'A Marsh at Sunset' Nd

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Francois-Auguste Ravier (1814-1895)
A Marsh at Sunset
Nd
Oil on canvas

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Boats on the Seine, Paris' 1903-1905

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Boats on the Seine, Paris (Bateaux sur la Seine, Paris)
1903-1905
Silver gelatin print
29.7 x 39.4 cm

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Shepherdess and Flock' 1890 - 1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Shepherdess and Flock
1890-1910
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 29.2; W. 38.4 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay (dist. RMN) / Patrice Schmidt

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'The Verpilleux Coking Plant, near Saint-Etienne' 1895-1910

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
The Verpilleux Coking Plant, near Saint-Etienne
1895-1910
Silver gelatin dry plate print on barium paper from a silver gelatin dry plate glass negative
H. 39.3; W. 29.9 cm
Paris, Julien-Laferrière collection
© Musée d’Orsay / Patrice Schmidt

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914) 'Landscape with Ruin' c. 1870

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Félix Thiollier (1842-1914)
Landscape with Ruin
c. 1870

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Biography

1842
Maurice Félix Thiollier is born in Saint-Étienne into a wealthy family of ribbon manufacturers who espouse the values of social Catholicism.

1847
The Thiollier family moves to Paris. A French priest, l’abbé Paul Lacuria, is engaged as a tutor for Félix’s older brothers.

1851-52
The Thiollier family returns to Saint-Étienne. Félix Thiollier goes to school at the Collège Saint-Thomas d’Acquin in Oullins near Lyon.

1858
Eligible to take the competitive entrance test for the École des Mines de Saint-Étienne, Félix Thiollier chooses to train at the ribbon factory. He takes up photography, and possibly receives technical advice at this time from Stéphane Geoffray, a photographer from Roanne.

1867
At the age of 25, he sets up his own ribbon factory in Saint-Étienne.

1869
Through the painter Henri Baron, his father’s cousin, he is offered a place in the studio of the painter Louis Français, which he turns down for family reasons.

1870
Marries Cécile Testenoire-Lafayette, daughter of Claude-Philippe Testenoire-Lafayette, a lawyer and local scholar from Saint-Étienne, and president of La Diana – the Historical and Archaeo-logical Society of Forez (1870-1879).

1873
Meets the Dauphinois painter Auguste Ravier and soon gives up hope of becoming a professional painter.

1879
Decides to live off his private income. Becomes a member of La Diana.

1881
Publication of the first book to be illustrated with his photographs, Le Poème de l’âmeby his friend the painter Louis Janmot.

1885
First exhibition of his photographs, presented in the great hall belonging to La Diana in Montbrison, on the occasion of the 52nd congress of the Société Française d’Archéologie. Becomes a member of this society, which awards him its silver medal.

1886
Publication of Château de la Bastie d’Urfé et ses seigneurs.

1889
Publication of Forez pittoresque et monumental. Receives a silver medal for his illustrated books at the universal exhibition in Paris.

1894
Becomes a non-resident member of the Committee for Historic and Scientific Works at the Ministry for Public Instruction.

1895
Receives the Légion d’Honneur for his work as a photographer.

1897
Receives the title of honorary curator of the Saint-Étienne Museum of Art and Industry.

1900
Receives another silver medal for his illustrated books at the universal exhibition in Paris.

1902
Publication of L’Histoire de Saint-Etienne by Claude-Philippe Testenoire Lafayette, illustrated with photographs by Félix Thiollier.

1914
Death of Félix Thiollier on 12 May at Saint-Étienne.

1917
Publication of his biography by Sébastien Mulsant.

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Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07
France

Opening hours:
9.30 am – 6 pm
9.30 am – 9.45 pm on Thursdays
Closed on Mondays

Musée d’Orsay website

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02
Feb
11

Exhibition: ‘Between Here and There: Passages in Contemporary Photography’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 2nd July 2010 – 3rd February 2011

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My apologies for the lack of local reviews over the next five weeks. I shall be overseas. Hopefully, international postings will continue as normal as long as I can get internet connection with my laptop. Marcus

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

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Richard Long (British, born 1945)
County Cork, Ireland
1967
Gelatin silver print
76.2 x 101.6 cm (30 x 40 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2010 (2010.12)
© Richard Long

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Long was a key figure in recasting sculpture in two directions: inward toward the gestures of bodies in space and outward toward the creation of ephemeral works made directly in the landscape. A student of the sculptor Anthony Caro at Saint Martins College of Art, Long was well versed in the reductive quality of geometric abstraction but sought to make the form of his works even more elegantly simple and wedded to life. He would go for solitary walks in the English countryside, and at a particular place he would create elemental forms such as a line, an x shape, or a circle by walking over the ground to leave a temporary imprint. A photograph such as County Cork, Ireland – in which the shape seems to hover in the image like a flying saucer – is thus an imprint of an imprint; the form of the work is derived from the holistic relationship between the concept (idea), the action of the body (figure), and the site of his gesture (ground). It is also informed by an astute understanding of the profound links between British culture and the landscape, from prehistoric hill figures through nineteenth-century theories of the Picturesque. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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VALIE EXPORT (Austrian, born 1940)
Encirclement
1976
Gelatin silver print
40.8 x 61 cm (16 1/16 x 24 in.)
Promised Gift of Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner
© VALIE EXPORT, Courtesy Charim Gallery Vienna

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In her series Body Configurations, the artist had herself or female colleagues photographed in local streets, stairwells, and alleyways, contorting their bodies to mimic the harsh geometries of the city. Influenced not only by the Actionists but also by the human sculpture of Robert Morris, Export complicates the coolly inhuman systems of Minimalism by reintroducing the human body into abstraction, an intimate yet public gesture that effortlessly transmutes the personal into the political. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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Doug Aitken (American, born 1968)
Passenger
1997
Chromogenic print
100.5 x 122 cm (39 9/16 x 48 1/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2004 (2004.223)
© Doug Aitken

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Aitken is best known for multiscreen video installations exploring the ways in which perception and consciousness are transformed by our global, technology-driven existence. Passenger belongs to a group of still photographs made in 1997 showing planes in flight, most of which focus on the faint traceries of takeoffs and landings over desolate airport landscapes. In its emphasis on luminosity and atmosphere, this example reveals Aitken’s debt to older California artists such as James Turrell and Robert Irwin. It is also unabashedly sensual: Aitken’s high production values – reminiscent of Technicolor cinematography and glossy advertising – refer directly to the media images that unavoidably condition our responses to the world.

There is something of the sublime in Aitken’s photograph, however, in that it describes the limits of the visible while flooding the eye with color. Starting from an experience familiar to all air travelers of “two ships passing” in the ether, the artist proposes a more complex statement about the way we perceive reality – namely, that the one thing that we cannot see is ourselves seeing and thus that our understanding of the world is always partial and incomplete. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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“Themes of dislocation and displacement in contemporary photography will be explored in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s forthcoming exhibition in the Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography. Drawn almost entirely from the Museum’s collection, Between Here and There: Passages in Contemporary Photography on view July 2, 2010 through February 13, 2011, will feature 22 artists whose photographic works convey a sense of a rootless or unfixed existence.

In the 1960s and 1970s, photography was often embraced by artists who had abandoned conventional art media and who were more interested in creating a work of art that took place over a period of time, in a serial progression, or in a fleeting gesture. The individual painting or sculpture was deemed insufficient to represent the fragmented experience that characterizes the modern world; thus artists showed how a work of art could take the form of a walk (Richard Long), a 20-foot-long book (Ed Ruscha), or a series of postcards outlining the precise time that the artist got up each day (On Kawara). Since the 1980s, however, the more conventional practice of creating a carefully executed, singular photograph has regained prominence in contemporary art. Works by Rineke Dijkstra, Thomas Struth, and Weng Fen embody a belief in photography’s traditional powers of description, while reflecting feelings of dislocation in our newly global society.

The exhibition also will include works by: Vito Acconci, Doug Aitken, Darren Almond, Lothar Baumgarten, Matthew Buckingham, VALIE EXPORT, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Svetlana Kopystiansky, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim, Allen Ruppersberg, Fazal Sheikh, Erin Shirreff, Robert Smithson, Anne Turyn, and Jeff Wall.

The first half of the exhibition shows how artists in 1960s and 1970s, working in the context of Minimal and Conceptual art, were drawn to photography for its differences from traditional art media: it was low-tech, easily reproducible, and not considered a valuable art object. Photography was also enlisted to document ephemeral works of art. Bruce Nauman and Vito Acconci, for instance, created performances that focused on the actions and movements of their bodies in space, and captured these works in photographs and videos.

Other artists, such as Robert Smithson, chose to work directly in the landscape – often in distant or inaccessible locations – and their “Earthworks” could generally be seen only through photographs. Smithson is best known for his landmark Spiral Jetty (1970) in the Great Salt Lake, Utah. For an early experiment in his Mirror Displacements series of photographs, Smithson placed small mirrors into snow drifts on the roof of his apartment building. Through dizzying shifts in scale, the artist’s 1969 study transforms a corner of his Manhattan roof into an Alpine landscape.

A student of Anthony Caro, British artist Richard Long was well versed in the reductive quality of geometric abstraction, but sought to make his works even more simple and wedded to life. He would go for solitary walks in the countryside, and at a particular place he would create elemental forms such as a line, X, or circle by walking over the ground to leave a temporary imprint. Long’s photograph County Cork, Ireland (1967) – in which a circle seems to hover over the grass like a flying saucer – is thus an imprint of an imprint, creating a holistic relationship between the concept, the action of the body, and the site of his gesture.

For her series Body Configurations, the Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT had herself and female colleagues photographed in local streets, as they contorted their bodies to mimic the harsh geometries of the city. Encirclement (1976) shows a woman lying in the street, her body elongated and arched to follow the bright red curve the sidewalk. The photograph reintroduces the human body into abstraction in an intimate yet public gesture.

Beginning in the 1980s, there was a renewed interest in photography’s historical genres and recommitment to technical skill and visual fidelity, as seen in Rineke Dijkstra’s portraits. Geopolitical displacement and cultural migration are referenced in one of Dijkstra’s most important bodies of work to date: her photographs of a Bosnian refugee girl, Almerisa. Between Here and There will feature four portraits of Almerisa that Dijkstra made between 1994 and 2000, beginning at an asylum seekers’ center in the Netherlands. Eight photographs from this series of 11 works were acquired recently by the Museum.

In both photographs and films, Doug Aitken explores the ways in which perception is transformed by our global, technology-driven existence. Aitken’s photograph Passenger (1997), taken from the window of an airplane in flight, shows another plane flying in parallel in the remote distance, illuminated by the sun setting on a slanted horizon. Aitken references sensations of being adrift in mid-air and of “two ships passing” – paths that do not quite connect, despite their proximity to each other.

Chinese artist Weng Fen explores a young generation poised at a transitional moment between China’s traditional rural society and a quickly burgeoning urbanism. Bird’s Eye View: Haikou V (2002) shows a woman – perhaps an outsider or a new arrival to the city – perched on an old wall, looking toward the new skyscrapers on the horizon, but not fully occupying the space of the past or the future. This work is part of a group of recent gifts and promised gifts of contemporary Chinese photographs to the Museum.

The exhibition comes full circle with a recently acquired video by Erin Shirreff. Roden Crater (2009) takes as its subject artist James Turrell’s legendarily inaccessible and still unfinished celestial observatory carved out of a 400,000-year-old extinct volcano. Shirreff’s mesmerizing fixed-camera view of the distant “Earthwork” shows an improbable succession of slow-moving climactic and light effects on the crater, creating a haunting meditation on the never-ending quest for resolution in life and in art.

Between Here and There: Passages in Contemporary Photography is organized by Douglas Eklund, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs.”

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Jeff Wall (Canadian, born 1946)
Rainfilled Suitcase
2001
Transparency in light box
Collection of Jennifer Saul and Stephen Rich, New York
© Jeff Wall

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Wall’s tableaux straddle the worlds of the museum and the street. For the last three decades, the artist has created elaborately staged and meticulously rendered scenes of urban and suburban conflict and disorder that he witnessed firsthand, which were then shown as color transparencies in light boxes reminiscent of backlit advertising images seen in airports and bus stops. About 2000, Wall also began to make smaller, more elliptical photographs – isolating the kinds of details that previously would have been seen in the background of his larger, more programmatic pictures. This grimy half of an abandoned suitcase filled with old clothes and rain seems paradoxically to be both as obsessively arranged as a still life and as randomly disordered as the average flotsam and jetsam on any down-and-out street corner. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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Matthew Buckingham (American, born 1963)
Canal St. Canal No. 3
2002
Chromogenic prints
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Vital Projects Fund Inc. Gift, through Joyce and
Robert Menschel, 2010
© Matthew Buckingham

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This is the maquette for a postcard that the artist created for the group show “Nostalgia.” The postcard was sold in the shops along Canal Street accompanied by the following text beneath the image:

ABOVE: a section of Canal Street as it might look today if a 1791 proposal to build a “Venetian-style” canal connecting the Hudson and East Rivers across Lower Manhattan had been realized. The canal and an accompanying commercial harbor were meant to replace both a small stream which ran along present-day Canal Street, and the so-called Fresh Water or Collect Pond, a befouled 70-acre swamp that one New York newspaper of the day called a “shocking hole.” Instead, real-estate interests prevailed, and the stream was widened only enough to drain the pool so it could be filled in and developed. Many basements of new buildings on the landfill soon flooded, so the stream was further enlarged to increase drainage – making it, in effect, an open sewer. After much complaint about odor, and despite efforts to beautify the waterway with a tree-lined promenade, it was covered over in 1819. Flaws in this re-design kept Canal Street smelling foul for years. It is rumored that the natural spring which once fed the Fresh Water Pond still flows deep below Canal Street today.* (Wall text from the exhibition)

*Luc Sante defines nostalgia as a state of inarticulate contempt for the present combined with a fear of the future.

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Weng Fen (Chinese, born 1961)
Bird’s Eye View: Haikou V
2002
Chromogenic print
50 x 62.7 cm (19 11/16 x 24 11/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Ellie Warsh, 2009 (2009.539.4)
© Weng Fen

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Weng Fen belongs to a generation of Chinese photographers whose principal subject is a China in the throes of physical, social, economic, and political change. His Bird’s Eye View series focuses on the elevated urbanism of cities such as Haikou, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. Many of these photographs feature schoolgirls with their backs to the camera, perched on a wall or precipice, staring at the landscape – adolescent figures on the threshold of personal transition looking out onto a landscape and a culture at a similarly transformational moment. (Wall text from the exhibition)

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Rineke Dijkstra (Dutch, born 1959)
Almerisa, Asylum Seekers’ Center, Leiden, The Netherlands, March 14, 1994
1994
Chromogenic print
120 x 100 cm (47 1/4 x 39 3/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Ellen Kern, 2008 (2008.661.1)
© Rineke Dijkstra

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Dijkstra is best known for her portraits of teenage beachgoers in Poland, Croatia, the Ukraine, Belgium, England, and America, which convey the poignant intensity of adolescence with startling eloquence. In all her work, she is particularly drawn to subjects in a state of transition – blood-spattered matadors just minutes after bullfights, women cradling their newborns moments after delivery – and renders them with respect, attentiveness, and compassion.

Between 1994 and 2008 Dijkstra made eleven photographs of a Bosnian refugee girl named Almerisa, from her initial processing at an asylum seekers’ center in the Netherlands to her fully Westernized adulthood and motherhood. Here, the imprint of geopolitical displacement is rendered without cant and that of childhood is captured without nostalgia. Like all great portraitists, Dijkstra extracts an elemental, almost mythic quality from the irreducible individuality of her subject – of the eternal radiating from the everyday. This selection is from a recent gift to the Metropolitan of eight of the eleven portraits of Almerisa.

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

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

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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