Posts Tagged ‘Pop Art

02
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs’ at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 2nd October, 2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Eight photo booth self-portraits)' Nd

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Eight photo booth self-portraits)
Nd
Gelatin silver prints on whiteboard
Sheet: 8 × 9 1/2 in. (20.32 × 24.13 cm)
Courtesy of the Ray Johnson Estate

 

 

Ray Johnson was an American artist “known primarily as a collagist and correspondence artist, he was a seminal figure in the history of Neo-Dada and early Pop art…” He absorbed from his teachers Josef Albers, Alvin Lustig, and Robert Motherwell and “entered into Zen kinship with two teachers, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and into romantic partnership with another, the sculptor Richard Lippold.” And then he burnt all the early paintings in his possession and took the path less trodden. He developed his own artistic language “through the creation of slight, irregular-shaped, frame-resistant (but mailable) collages he called “moticos”.” (The name was an anagram of the word “osmotic”)

After moving from New York to Locust Valley, Long Island in 1968, Johnson continued to make art but only had two more solo exhibitions, the last one in 1991. “Johnson was forever constructing miniature sets for his own delirious theatre of the absurd: puzzles within puzzles. The sensibility is not unlike Joseph Cornell’s [whose work was a major influence], minus the romance and period nostalgia. Johnson worked in another sort of outsider vernacular – at once banal, vulgar, campy, and deeply sophisticated.”1 The curator Joel Smith refers to “the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation” behind all of the artist’s work.

Towards the end of his life Johnson took up photography and became a master of the throwaway camera, using the machine to create intimate, staged actions “which served the artist as a form of citation: as a way to “reference,” rather than “represent,” his subjects. The hands-off nature of the medium gave Johnson a way to bring topics up yet keep his viewer (his recipient, his reader) focused on something he cared about more: the messaging process itself.”

Each person, each artist has a different reason to communicate. But what are they communicating? In Johnson’s case I think he was expressing his inner alternate reality, a different point of view of the world communicated through a new and fantastical visual language. Inhabited by bunnies and pop stars, Johnson’s work was a collage of the unclassifiable, bizarre, wired, wonderful, pop, performance, licked, action, nothings, dreams, concept, sexual, stamped, eccentric and enigmatic moticos… osmotic and fluidly subversive observational images, staged interventions, obsessive, witty and weird constructions. As Loring Knoblauch observes, “these pictures find new pathways of physical intervention, creating staged installations that combine Johnson’s restless collage combinations and the quirks of photographic vision into something cleverly unexpected.”2

Revelling in his insider-outsider status, Johnson was a naive draftsman / Navy draftsman (he loved a good play on words). There is a “distinctive wit – and the evident delight of discovery – that runs through these photographs.” But it is a dark witticism, as dark one of my favourite movies, Donnie Darko (full of bunnies). His is art as performance… of nothings, of everything, moving everything, setting everything in motion. We follow his in/actions whether it be documenting a flopped stranger wearing a bunny cutout, six Movie Stars in the back of a car, or his prescient undated Eight photo booth self-portraits (above) in which he acts out and obscures different personas.

In his last performance this creative man of nothing (real life) “was seen jumping from a bridge in Sag Harbor… [and] appeared to be doing a backstroke toward the open Atlantic.” He could not swim. As he said of one of his early performances, it (he) “went off into the void in some marvellous fashion…”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Vince Aletti. “A Trove of Snapshots from a Sly Master of Collage,” on The New Yorker website July 22, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022
  2. Loring Knoblauch. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website September 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

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

 

 

Johnson, however, was a prankster. Like the bunny head he adopted as his trademark – a cartoonish line drawing that appeared in much of his work, often bearing the name of a key figure in 20th-century art – he hopped lightly, merrily across this playing field. Revelling in puns and irreverence (an untitled 1973 collage known as “Jackson Pollock Fillets” includes cut-out recipes for Pollock Fillets Amandine and Barbecued Pollock Burgers), conducting his life as a nonstop performance, he revived the Dada tradition embodied by his hero Marcel Duchamp. In contrast to the grandiosity of Minimal art, land art, Pop Art and other macho midcentury movements, he offered something much humbler: collages or drawings of portable size and wry wit. … Johnson created some of the earliest works of Pop Art and was an early influence on conceptual art. …

The contents of Johnson’s pictures fall into several categories. At times, he chopped up the photos and used them to form a collage. Usually, though, and more interestingly, he found or created a collage-like pattern within the photographic frame. He made corrugated cardboard pieces that he called movie stars, and carried them to places where he could photograph them. Sometimes they incorporated images of celebrities: Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kerouac, Johns. Often they were renditions of his signature creation, a bunny with long, erect ears and a pendulous nose that, like a “Kilroy was here” graffiti drawing from World War II, feels both childlike and sexualized. He would inscribe a bunny with a name, thereby transforming it into a standardized personal portrait. And then he would drive his movie stars to a picturesque setting and shoot them with his camera.

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Arthur Lubow. “An Elusive Artist’s Trove of Never-Before-Seen Images,” on The New York Times website March 23, 2021 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

As a body of work, these photographs by Johnson absolutely feel unfinished, in an open-ended and unwieldy way, as though he was grasping for new ways to communicate. Seen together, there is both dogged teach-yourself inventiveness and a hint of loneliness on display, with a nostalgia for stars of the past and his own younger face percolating through his iterative reworkings. At their best, these pictures find new pathways of physical intervention, creating staged installations that combine Johnson’s restless collage combinations and the quirks of photographic vision into something cleverly unexpected. At the end of his life, Johnson was actually becoming an interesting photographer, and these unearthed leavings provide tantalizing glimpses of what might have been.

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Loring Knoblauch. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website September 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

 

Overview

Dubbed “New York’s most famous unknown artist” by the New York Times, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was a widely connected downtown figure, Pop art innovator, and pioneer of collage and mail art. After moving from Manhattan to suburban Long Island in 1968, Johnson selectively distanced himself from the mainstream art world, holding only two exhibitions after 1978. Yet even after his last show, in 1991, he remained a prolific and unpredictable artist.

Johnson used photographs in his work for decades, but it was only with his purchase of a single-use, point-and-shoot camera in January 1992 that he embarked on his own “career as a photographer.” By the end of December 1994 he had used 137 disposable cameras. His most frequent subjects were what he called his Movie Stars: meter-high collages on cardboard, often featuring the bunny head that served as his artistic signature. They became ensemble players in the curious tableaux he staged in everyday locales near his Locust Valley home.

At his death by suicide in January 1995, Johnson left a vast archive of art in boxes stacked throughout his house, including over five thousand colour photographs, still in the envelopes from the developer’s shop. This body of work, virtually unseen until now, comprised his final major art project, the last act in a romance with photography that had begun some forty years earlier.

 

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs

A widely connected pioneer of Pop and mail art, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was described as “New York’s most famous unknown artist.” Best known for his multimedia collages, he stopped exhibiting in 1991, but his output did not diminish. In 1992-1994, he used 137 disposable cameras to create a large body of work that is coming to light only now. Staging his collages in settings near his home in Locust Valley, Long Island – parking lots, sidewalks, beaches, cemeteries – he made photographs that pull the world of everyday “real life” into his art. In his “new career as a photographer,” Johnson began making collages in a new, larger format that made them more effective players in his camera tableaux. The vast archive he left behind at his death included over three thousand of the late photographs. Now, his final project makes its debut alongside earlier photo-based collages and works of mail art: fruits of a romance with the camera that spans the four decades of the artist’s career.

 

Hazel Larsen Archer (American, 1921-2001) 'Ray Johnson at Black Mountain College' 1948

 

Hazel Larsen Archer (American, 1921-2001)
Ray Johnson at Black Mountain College
1948
Gelatin silver print
13 3/4 × 9 7/8 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

 

 

As a student at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College from 1945 to 1948, Johnson thrived under the rigorous tutelage of his foundation-course teacher Josef Albers (1888-1976). Johnson also modelled for Archer, a fellow student who would go on to teach photography at the school. This portrait – lush, faceless, and sexually ambiguous – foreshadows the complexity of Johnson’s use of photography throughout his career. Though attracted by the camera’s peerless ability to bestow glamour, he often tried to undercut its role as a transparent conveyor of facts.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ silhouette and wood, Stehli Beach' Autumn 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ silhouette and wood, Stehli Beach
Autumn 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

As an artist, Johnson was a master hunter-recycler, constantly revisiting and reinterpreting images from his past. On a visit to the beach at nearby Oyster Bay in 1992, he brought along a camera and a cardboard cutout of his head. Propping the board against a piece of driftwood log, he created a visual pun: the log’s central rings evoke the swirl of hair that Hazel Archer had once photographed on his (now long-bald) head.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Moticos with KAFKAYLLA)' c. 1953-1954

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Moticos with KAFKAYLLA)
c. 1953-1954
Collage on illustration board
13 × 5 in. (33.02 × 12.7cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson applied one all-purpose noun, “moticos” (both singular and plural), to his short writings, his collages, and the glyph-like shapes he drew. He and his friend Norman Solomon coined the term by reshuffling the word “osmotic,” chosen out of the dictionary. On this moticos made from a flattened box, Johnson paired a photograph of a pigeon with its strange twin: a sort of photo-bird, composed of cookie cutters and a checkerboard. Johnson proposes a second unlikely duo by combining the names of the author Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and the photographer Ylla (Camilla Koffler, 1911-1955), known for her images of animals.

 

Moticos

In the autumn of 1955, artist Ray Johnson walked through the streets of New York City with a slip of paper, asking strangers if they could define the word he’d written on it: “motico.” People gamely racked their brains: “‘Gee, I wish to hell I knew,’ said one. A nun asked, ‘Isn’t it a kind of colour?'” Johnson recalled these encounters in a story that ran that year in the very first issue of The Village Voice, when he was 27 years old and living in Manhattan, and working primarily in painting and collage.

The word was one Johnson had invented. An anagram of osmotic (a word allegedly chosen at random from a book), “moticos” could refer to several different things. Johnson called the small collage panels he made “moticos” but he also used the word to refer to textual representations too. Johnson would paint and transform the cardboard pieces that came with his laundry into parts of his collages, transforming them into silhouettes and then glyphs, new moticos.

Rebecca Bengal. “Photo Dump: Digging into the 5,000 Photographs Ray Johnson Left Behind,” on the Elephant Art website 20 Jul 2022 [Online] Cited 25/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (James Dean in the Rain)' c. 1953-1959

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (James Dean in the Rain)
c. 1953-1959
Collage on illustration board
15 1/2 × 11 3/4 in. (39.37 × 29.85cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

From the early 1950s, Johnson embraced photocollage as a way to inject Hollywood glamour into the cloistered world of avant-garde art. He was appropriating mass-media imagery years before Andy Warhol began populating monumental canvases with celebrity portraits. Here Johnson worked directly upon Dennis Stock’s iconic Life magazine photograph of James Dean walking alone through Times Square, which was published a few months before Dean died in a 1955 car crash. Whether Johnson made this work before or after Dean’s death is unknown. In the 1990s, he would again incorporate the actor’s silhouette in collages and photographs.

 

Elisabeth Novick. 'Untitled (Moticos on floor)' c. 1955

 

Elisabeth Novick
Untitled (Moticos on floor)
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 13 1/4 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
Elisabeth Loewenstein / ArenaPAL
© Elisabeth Loewenstein

 

 

For a short feature in the first issue of the Village Voice (26 October 1955), a reporter walked with Johnson as he approached strangers in Grand Central Terminal and asked them whether they knew what a “moticos” was. As seen here, Johnson also literally took moticos to the streets, staging crowds of them for the camera in disused spaces in downtown Manhattan. Few early moticos have survived intact: over the next several decades, in a practice he called Chop art, Johnson continually disassembled his work and used the fragments to create new pieces.

 

Elisabeth Novick. 'Untitled (Ray Johnson and Suzi Gablik)' 1955

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) '1955 moticos photographs from ladder' January 1992

 

Elisabeth Novick
Untitled (Ray Johnson and Suzi Gablik)
1955
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
Elisabeth Loewenstein / ArenaPAL
© Elisabeth Loewenstein

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
1955 moticos photographs from ladder
January 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In 1955 Johnson asked his friend Elisabeth Loewenstein (later Novick) to bring a camera along on a walk with their mutual friend Suzi Gablik (1934-2022). Novick’s photographs record the impromptu performance that ensued, in which Johnson draped moticos on Gablik’s face and body. A fellow Black Mountain College alum, Gablik would become an influential critic; in her 1969 book on Pop art, she described improvised actions such as this one as the first “informal happenings” – ephemeral events conceived as works of art – in the postwar era.

Johnson preserved the photographs Novick made that day. Nearly forty years later, in one of his earliest experiments with a “throwaway camera,” he laid out the prints in a grid on his driveway and photographed them from atop a ladder.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Correspondence to Frances X. Profumo' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Correspondence to Frances X. Profumo
Undated
Typewritten text on paper, newspaper clippings
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In the mid-1950s, Johnson simultaneously shifted from oil painting to small-scale collage and from gallery exhibitions to the mail as a way of putting his art before an individual viewer. An envelope from Johnson often contained enigmatic clippings from books and magazines, including photographic illustrations drawn from the same stockpile that fuelled his collages. These are items Johnson sent in the 1950s to Frances X. Profumo, whom he befriended when he was a student and she an employee at Black Mountain College. The many visual and textual Xs invoke both Profumo’s distinctive middle initial and the convention of signing a fond letter “with kisses” (XXX).

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Nothing with Brancusi)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Mapplethorpe with moticos)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (book page with umbrella as splint)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Nothing with Brancusi)
Undated
Ink on book page
9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (24.13 × 19.05cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Mapplethorpe with moticos)
Undated
Ink on magazine page
Image: 7 × 7 in. (17.78 × 17.78cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
The Morgan Library & Museum. Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (book page with umbrella as splint)
Undated
Ink on paper
Image: 9 1/2 × 7 in. (24.13 × 17.78cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Over the years, Johnson inducted hundreds or thousands of recipients into what he called the New York Correspondence School by mailing them oblique yet personalised messages. These altered book and magazine pages were among the unmailed works found in his house after his death.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Offset printing plate (Ara Ignatius portrait)' c. 1964

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with a photograph of lips)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with bunnyheads)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Offset printing plate (Ara Ignatius portrait)
c. 1964
Metal
Image: 15 1/2 × 10 in. (39.37 × 25.4cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with a photograph of lips)
Undated
Cut paper on paper
Image: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.94 × 21.59cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with bunnyheads)
Undated
Ink on paper
Image: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.94 × 21.59cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson favoured likenesses that masked as much about him as they revealed. He repeatedly used a headshot that his friend Ara Ignatius made around 1963. It is an unnerving image, lacking the conceit of intimacy that characterises most formal portraits; instead it “stands for” Johnson, in the artless manner of a government-issued ID.

Many pieces of mail art that look like photocopies are in fact products of offset printing – a means of transferring photographs and other images to the page from reusable metal plates. The medium allowed Johnson to return to an image repeatedly, imposing variations that reflected his ever-changing purposes.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled ("I shot an arrow into the air..." with Shirley Temple and Vikki Dougan)' c. 1970-1972

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (“I shot an arrow into the air…” with Shirley Temple and Vikki Dougan)
c. 1970-1972
Ink, wash, collage, vintage photograph on illustration board
18 × 15 in. (45.72 × 38.1cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In this photocollage, two movie actors meet: Vikki Dougan (b. 1929), who became a sex symbol in the 1950s by publicly appearing in backless dresses, and the quintessentially innocent child star Shirley Temple (1928-2014). Temple’s rendering as a blacked-out, moticos-like figure may allude to her adult married name, Shirley Temple Black. Across the bottom of the image, a line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1845 poem “The Arrow and the Song” is altered to refer to Johnson’s forerunner in collage and assemblage art, Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), who lived in Flushing, Queens.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'David Hockney's Mother's Potato Masher' 1972-80-88-94

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
David Hockney’s Mother’s Potato Masher
1972-80-88-94
Collage on cardboard panel
20 3/8 × 15 1/4 in. (51.75 × 38.74cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The title of each collage in the Potato Masher series begins with a notable artist’s or celebrity’s name. The titles then take an abrupt turn away from stardom by alluding first to the famed figure’s mother, and then to her potato masher. Here, Johnson included his own likeness in the form of a headshot, made around 1963 by the photographer Ara Ignatius. His face is covered by black moticos and cut-up fragments of his earlier artworks. Johnson created his collages over a span of weeks, months, or even years, dating each element in pencil as it joined the composition.

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum presents PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs, opening June 17 and running through October 2, 2022. This exhibition explores the previously unknown camera work of the widely connected downtown New York figure, Pop art innovator, and pioneer of collage and mail art. At his death on 13 January 1995, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) left behind a vast archive of art in his house, including over five thousand colour photographs made in his last three years. Small prints, neatly stored in their envelopes from the developer’s shop, the photographs remained virtually unexamined for three decades. Now they can be seen as the last act in a romance with photography that had begun in Johnson’s art some forty years earlier. After retracing the story of Johnson’s use of photography throughout his career, PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE offers an in-depth look at the late work the artist called “my career in photography.”

After moving from Manhattan to suburban Long Island in 1968, Johnson selectively distanced himself from the mainstream art world, holding only two exhibitions after 1978. Yet even after his last show, in 1991, he remained a prolific and unpredictable artist. With his purchase of a single-use, point-and-shoot camera in January 1992, he embarked on an entirely fresh creative enterprise. By the end of December 1994, he had used 137 disposable cameras. His most frequent subjects were what he referred to as his Movie Stars: meter-high collages on cardboard, often featuring the bunny head that served as his artistic signature. They became ensemble players in the curious tableaux he staged in everyday locales near his Locust Valley home.

As an artist, Johnson was a master hunter-recycler, constantly revisiting and reinterpreting images from his past. He appears to have first used a disposable camera for a practical purpose: documenting his enormous backlog of unused collage fragments. He performed that work in his driveway and on the back steps of his house, but soon he was carrying a pocket-size camera on daily outings to nearby beaches, parks, and cemeteries. Johnson’s photographs exhibit a collagist’s instinct for insertion, layering, and surprise: most of them are centred on objects that he placed between himself and a scene as he found it. In his photographs as in his pun-filled writing and his densely worked collages, Johnson used juxtaposition to suggest that everything finds correspondence in something else. The point-and-shoot habit gave him a way to create an image almost as quickly as he could think of it. As curator Joel Smith writes in the book that accompanies the exhibition, “Nowhere in Johnson’s art does he look more intensely engaged by the present tense, more thrilled to be immersed in real life, than in the inventions of his throwaway camera.”

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE offers a rare chance to examine photographs taken by Ray Johnson, an artist known primarily for his brilliant work in collage,” said Colin B. Bailey, Director of the Morgan Library & Museum. “The images, most of which have gone unexplored until now, are truly innovative and ahead of their time. The exhibition also celebrates a significant gift of Johnson’s work, generously made by Ray Johnson estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.”

“These photographs show that in his last years, Ray Johnson remained irrepressibly, explosively creative,” said Smith, the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at the Morgan. “It’s his last great body of work, and its very casualness is prophetic: ten years later, smart phones and social media turned daily life into a constant exchange of personal photographs and commentary. Johnson was still making collages right up to the end – but now he made them in a camera, and the ‘real life’ all around him was his medium.”

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs is accompanied by a book with the same title published by Mack Books, which includes an essay by the exhibition’s curator, Joel Smith.

Press release from the Morgan Library & Museum

 

 Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Photo Booth Collage)' 1972

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Photo Booth Collage)
1972
Collage on illustration board
12 7/8 × 19 in. (32.7 × 48.26cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Here, Johnson (visible at top left) employs a booth as an affordable studio for documenting works from his Potato Masher series. Sitting in the photo booth, he simply held up one collage after another for the automatic camera. The resulting sequence of vertical photo strips combines the qualities of a crude performance document and an art gallery’s inventory sheet. David Hockney’s Mother’s Potato Masher appears, not yet finished, fourth from the left in the bottom row.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Tab Hunter William Burroughs)' c. 1976-1981

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'William S. Burroughs silhouette and kingfisher' Winter 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
William S. Burroughs silhouette and kingfisher
Winter 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gifts of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Tab Hunter William Burroughs)
c. 1976-1981
Collage on cardboard panel
12 × 12 1/2 in. (30.48 × 31.75cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Allen Adler, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In 1976 Johnson began asking friends, art-world figures, and celebrities to sit and have their silhouettes traced onto paper. He thus built a library of nearly three hundred profile templates he could use and reuse. As a portrait form, the silhouette reduces its subject to a graphic shape, identifiable but resistant to psychological interpretation. In this example, Johnson overlapped the profiles of 1950s movie heartthrob Tab Hunter (1931-2018) and avant-garde writer William S. Burroughs (1914-1997).

In the 1990s Johnson photographed one of his stock props, a stuffed kingfisher, in combination with Burroughs’s silhouette. The beak of the bird extends the author’s prominent nose: a bill replacing the bill of a Bill.

 

Even when Johnson avoided direct self-portraiture, his quirky fixations were always evident. (In an essay for the exhibition catalogue, the curator Joel Smith refers to “the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation” behind all of the artist’s work.) In one of the collages on display, William Burroughs’s profile nearly eclipses that of the nineteen-fifties movie star turned gay icon Tab Hunter, and both are all but obscured by a swarm of pebble-like fragments and bits of collage. Johnson was forever constructing miniature sets for his own delirious theatre of the absurd: puzzles within puzzles. The sensibility is not unlike Joseph Cornell’s, minus the romance and period nostalgia. Johnson worked in another sort of outsider vernacular – at once banal, vulgar, campy, and deeply sophisticated. Like John Baldessari, he favored artless lettering and crisp graphic design. The cardboard slats, especially, might be mistaken for portable Baldessaris.

Vince Aletti. “A Trove of Snapshots from a Sly Master of Collage,” on The New Yorker website July 22, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Elvis with Bunny Ears)' 1987

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Elvis with Bunny Ears)
1987
Collage with acrylic and ink on canvasboard
16 × 8 in. (40.64 × 20.32cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Beginning in the 1950s, Johnson made artistic use of photographs of the twentieth-century cultural icon Elvis Presley (1935-1977). Johnson’s most emblematic motif, a stylised bunny face, first appeared beside the artist’s name in 1964. Bunny ears would serve both as a kind of trademark and as a way of turning anyone – Elvis, in this case – into a Ray Johnson character. The enlarged halftone dots that compose Elvis’s image confirm its status as a mass-market photographic reproduction.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Rubble and photo credit' Summer 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Andy Warhol life dates on flowers' July 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Shadow and manhole' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Rubble and photo credit
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Andy Warhol life dates on flowers
July 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Shadow and manhole
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson appears to have first used a disposable camera for a practical purpose: documenting his backlog of unused collage fragments. But in January 1992, he told curator Clive Phillpot, “I’m pursuing my career as a photographer,” and in March he added, “I’m having fun with my throw-away camera.” Always faithful to the rapidity of his own thinking, Johnson found in the “throwaway” Fuji Quicksnap a way to give graphic form to ideas as they occurred to him.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Path of headshots and back steps' Spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Joseph Cornell silhouette and payphone' Spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bills, Stehli Beach' Summer 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Path of headshots and back steps
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Joseph Cornell silhouette and payphone
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bills, Stehli Beach
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6
The Morgan Library & Museum. Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty; 2022.2:11
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson’s first photography studios were the driveway and back steps of his house, but soon he was carrying a pocket-size camera on his daily outings to nearby beaches, parks, and cemeteries. In spring 1992, he threaded a cutout silhouette of Joseph Cornell over the cord of a payphone, then photographed it with one hand while holding the receiver with the other – acting as operator of a hotline to the collage-art pioneer.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'One-legged figure beside back steps' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
One-legged figure beside back steps
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Mondrian's grave and playing card, Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Queens' spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Billboard' Summer 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Mondrian’s grave and playing card, Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Queens
spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Billboard
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Even in his photography, Johnson exhibits a collagist’s instinct for insertion and layering. Most of his photographs are centred on objects that he placed between himself and a scene as he found it. On occasion, though, he used the camera in a conventional way, simply collecting views of sights that drew his interest, such as a billboard advertising nothing or the word HELP on the underside of a boat. Photographs such as these are the field notes of a minutely attentive observer.

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE

Joel Smith

In January 1992, a few weeks after his last lifetime exhibition closed at Moore College in Philadelphia, the artist Ray Johnson began photographing in and around his house in Locust Valley, Long Island, using what he called “my throwaway camera”: a single-use point-and-shoot, preloaded with daylight color film. Thirty-five months and 137 throwaways later, he photographed views through the storefront window of an even-more-final exhibition called Ray Johnson: Nothing. It was up during the Christmas week lull of 1994 in a gallery on the main street of Sea Cliff, a few minutes’ drive from Johnson’s house, and around the corner from that of his friend and frequent mail-art partner, Sheila Sporer. Then, one Friday a couple of weeks into 1995, a man was seen jumping from a bridge in Sag Harbor, an hour and a half’s drive east. Witnesses reported that Johnson – the body, when recovered, proved to be his – appeared to be doing a backstroke toward the open Atlantic. (He could not swim.) Johnson’s presumed suicide is often described as the final work of a career in which art and life had long been inseparable.

In his last three years Johnson made and mailed art incessantly, went out for a drive most days, and ran through about one camera a week. When he finished a twenty-four-frame roll, he would drop off the camera – he used a couple of Kodaks at first and then, consistently, Fujicolor Quicksnaps – at Living Color, a shop in Glen Cove, for developing and printing. After turning sixty-five in October 1992, he often took advantage of a senior discount and ordered duplicate prints. For some forty years his art practice had consisted mainly of collage, relief assemblages, and correspondence art. Though photographs had figured in all three channels of work, they were not photographs made by Johnson himself, but portraits of him by others, or images he cut out of books or magazines. Now, in what he called his new “career as a photographer,” Johnson incorporated a few of his own photographs in modest little collages. He also mailed his photographs to correspondents, usually in the form of photocopies. But in the season after his death, among the dozens of boxes of art and effects Johnson left packed up in every room of his house, over five thousand of the color photos were found, still filed with their negatives and receipts in Living Color envelopes. To say the photographs were found needs qualifying: their existence was recorded, but years would pass before photography registered as a central creative pursuit of his final years.

It is not surprising that this work evaded scrutiny. Physically, these are plain, consumer-grade four-by-six-inch color snapshots, indistinguishable from those anyone would take home from the processor’s – whereas Johnson’s art more often took the form of distinctly, peculiarly altered public imagery. After the rise and canonization of Pop art in the 1960s, his work of a few years earlier, notably his addition of dripping red tears to a fan-magazine photo of Elvis Presley (1956-1957), looked prescient. Johnson, like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, took mass-market imagery for his muse – but, instead of enlarging it to grandiose scale, his instinct was to bestow the status of an artistic “original” upon ordinary, available-to-everyone printed matter itself. His collages, in that sense, define an antipode to Pop painting’s monumentalised appropriations. His prototype, you could say, was the sardonic teenager he had been not long before, scribbling mustaches onto Marilyns in magazines.

Spend time with the color photographs, and Johnson’s playful, punky persona becomes evident – not in anything he did to the pictures, but in their contents. The straight-men in these images are the streets, beachfronts, and parking lots of bucolic, smalltown northern Long Island: Locust Valley, Sea Cliff, Roslyn, Lattingtown, Glen Cove, Bayville. The scribbled mustaches are the dramatis personae Johnson introduces to those spaces. Within a few months of starting his photo-work, he began making, and photographing, collages on what were, for him, large (thirty-two-by-eight-inch) pieces of corrugated cardboard (62). (The cardboard often bears Fuji brand info; it, too, comes from the camera shop, or out of its dumpster.) In a letter to art critic David Bourdon in summer 1993, Johnson introduces ninety-three of these collages by name (Bobby Short, Greta Garbo …) and calls them his Movie Stars (or Move Stars). Indeed, despite their rectilinear format, they read as figures: paper-doll play-actors for his photo-tableaux. They have faces – most frequently Johnson’s signature pop-eyed, schlong-nosed bunny, inscribed with a name or phrase. (Many of those are rendered in mirror letters, correctly sequenced but laterally FLOPPED, as if in a misbegotten effort to address a reader on the other side of a steamy window.) As he did with his collages generally, Johnson would glue new elements onto these figures over time, dating each newly added bit in pencil. As the weeks of photo-shoots roll by, you can watch as a figure that starts as mostly naked cardboard fills up with information. I picture Johnson exiting his little grey house (he described its color as “grey with an e,” but named it The Pink House) with a freshly worked batch of Movie Stars under his arm, loading them into the back of his Volkswagen Golf, and taking them out on a drive, camera in pocket.

About a decade after these photographs were made, smart phones came into use, and everyone began having a camera on their person all the time. In 1992, making a photograph still required deciding and preparing to do so, and not simply asking oneself (or not even asking), “Why don’t I?” Buying the camera, noting how close to frame zero it was getting, dropping it off, returning to pick up the prints: making these pictures called for effort, on a par with the effort of crafting the Movie Stars. The whole enterprise reflects the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation that drives all of Johnson’s work. The art he made was irreducibly personal, if gnomic, and he went to lengths to maintain control over how his collages, punning defacements, paradoxes, and near-nothings would make their way into the world. Johnson’s New York Correspondence School – the vast network he invented for circulating mail art – existed mainly in his head, but this, from his angle, made it no less real than the art world.

In the art-historical fairy tale of postwar New York City, young Ray Johnson must have looked, for a few years, like an avant-garde heir apparent. Born in 1927, the only child of loving working-class parents, he grew up in Detroit and, from 1945 to 1948, attended North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, crucible of every far-seeing artistic impulse of that moment. He was shy and hard-working and he devoured all he could from instructors who included Josef Albers, Alvin Lustig, and Robert Motherwell. He left BMC having entered into Zen kinship with two teachers, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and into romantic partnership with another, the sculptor Richard Lippold. The four of them took up residence in a building in the deep reaches of downtown Manhattan. Johnson earned money working in Ad Reinhardt’s studio and at the Orientalia bookstore. He showed his Albers-sized, minutely rendered geometric paintings as a member of the American Abstract Artists group. In short, he seemed destined for middling highbrow success.

Instead, he became Ray Johnson. Between 1954 and 1956, he ditched his qualifications by burning all the early paintings still in his possession and redirecting his creative effort onto the slight, irregular-shaped, frame-resistant (but mailable) collages he called “moticos.” His move to print-media-based figural collage came at an historical moment far too late to boast a Dada-Surrealist pedigree and too early to get swept neatly up into Pop. The concerted wrongness of this switch makes it, in retrospect, quietly brilliant, and it points to the singularity that doomed Johnson’s crown-prince prospects. (Two of his successors and friends at BMC, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, picked up those prospects and put them to good use.)

Johnson hung onto a number of photographs that documented his fateful conversion. At age sixty-four he arranged twenty of them in a grid on the drive behind his house, then scaled a ladder to re-photograph them (26). In most of these old photographs, moticos in profusion can be seen arrayed in two real-world sites, a pallet on a sidewalk and a large industrial interior. In others – which were made in the street by a friend of Ray’s, the future fashion photographer Elisabeth Novick (then Loewenstein) – you can see Johnson draping moticos all over another friend (and fellow BMC alum), Suzi Gablik. These are, in effect, performance records; Gablik even came to describe Johnson’s moticos-stagings as perhaps the first Happenings in art—a notion that arguably proceeds from their having been photographed. Interviewed in 2015, Novick emphasized how casually this came about. Not long before, she had been given her first camera, and one day, Ray simply asked her to bring it along on a walk. “Suzi just sat there,” Novick said, “and he just threw the things on top of her.” She explains: “He was a very lighthearted sort of whimsical person. […] He wasn’t intense. It was the opposite of intense. If I could look up the opposite word of intense, I would say that was him.”

The “opposite-of-intense” mode of hardly-work Johnson was auditioning that day led him to an art based on play, exchange, and movement; on remaining light-footed enough to follow any association that came to mind, be it ever so slight, silly, or hermetic. Perhaps for just that reason, Johnson’s art found its ideal helpmate in the camera, with its knack for lending graphic form to the ephemeral. In any event, the 1955 documents turn up repeatedly in his color photographs of forty years later (44, 102).

Even more prevalent in these images is the infinitely malleable bunny head (64) that Johnson described as “a sort of self-portrait.” Its partner, equally ever-present, is a headshot of Johnson made by Ara Ignatius around 1963. (Johnson kept on hand an offset plate of this image, from which he could order new printings by the hundreds whenever he needed them.) In one early-1992 photograph, nineteen headshots are laid down in a path leading to Johnson’s backdoor stairs, where he would be staging many more photographs (20). In the summer of 1993, four headshots stare in through the windshield of his car, like a posse of avid fans (126). The headshot rides shotgun with Elvis (108) and, reduced to a pair of eyes, lends consciousness to a mob of moticos on camelback (98).

Johnson’s longtime collector, advocate, and chief interpreter, William Wilson, observed that photographs served the artist as a form of citation: as a way to “reference,” rather than “represent,” his subjects. The hands-off nature of the medium gave Johnson a way to bring topics up yet keep his viewer (his recipient, his reader) focused on something he cared about more: the messaging process itself. Using another photography adjacent tool, the silhouette, Johnson could convert the people he knew into references-to-themselves. Starting in 1976, he used pencil and paper to trace the profile shadows of some 284 sitters. He filed these in two big template binders, ready for use in the studio. Most of his profile subjects were writers, artists, and actors, whose shared characteristic is their publicly traded names.

Some of the silhouettes appear in the colour photographs, as do various celebrity portraits – but many more people show up as bunny faces inscribed with their names. Johnson wrote to Bourdon that seventy-two of his Movie Stars were going to appear in a “RAY JOHNSON OUTDOOR MOVIE SHOW” (see 110, 122, and 124 for variant stagings) that would stand “45 feet in length if ever actually placed next to each other and the wind didn’t blow them down.” In the meantime, he posed individual Movie Stars in the company of obliging strangers (54) or leaned them against the occasional dog (222).

The photographs include some one-offs, such as the shadow cast by Johnson’s mailbox (2) and a tar seam in a parking lot (176). Many of the subjects, though, are ones he revisited dozens of times, such as local beaches, cemeteries, and storefronts, a bathtub he found in a field (106, 107), and himself as a shadow, encountering a manhole cover (4).

Most of the photographs work in a collage-like way: they record Johnson’s alteration of a real-world setting through the addition of some flat thing he has made or chosen, such as one of his grimly cartoony black-on-white graphic characters, hiding amid spiky succulents (18), or an ace of clubs, leaning against Piet Mondrian’s grave marker (42).

At other times he works like a conventional photographer, observing but not intervening, as when he captures the horizon across Long Island Sound (230), a faceless billboard (41), the snapped arrow of a rooftop weathervane (16), or a palm frond splayed on beach sand (92).

Still other images define a mode between these two options, as Johnson finds some noteworthy thing to photograph (dragon’s teeth icicles [6], a mortuary angel [8]), then props up beside it a sign that emblazons the view like a maker’s logo or a graffitist’s tag: “PHOTO BY RAY JOHNSON”; “RAY JOHNSON THE PARIS CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL.”

Here are a few of the subjects that kept Johnson and his 137 cameras coming back most often:

Inside. When Johnson photographed inside his house, the daylight-exposure film in his pre-loaded cameras restricted his work area to patches of direct sunlight. In late afternoon, the window in his front door cast a scalloped picture frame, or spotlight, around whatever he photographed on the floor (132, 168). The window’s shape in turn became a player, alone or in tandem with its mirror image (45).

Telephones. Johnson was as tireless a phone-caller as he was a mailer. Once, while at home, he held the phone for a bunny labeled EAR MUFS, posing between a 1955 photo and a clutch of moticos glyphs (28). Out driving around, he staged momentary installations in payphone boxes (65, 232). He unhooked one phone’s receiver and threaded over its cord a cardboard cutout silhouette of the artist Joseph Cornell, whom he used to visit in Flushing, Queens (12). The cutout void of Cornell’s head frames the telephone’s number-pad, turning Johnson into the operator of a Cornell-box hotline: camera in one hand, receiver in the other, plugged into the head of the master collagist.

Doubles. In Johnson’s universe, doubleness – correspondence – is the norm. No surprise, then, that he should photograph twins, replicas (48, 50), and those spellbinding autocopies, twin-initialed celebrities (Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse [160]). He gives dualism a distinctly photographic turn by pairing things with their reflections or shadows. When photographed, these light-borne modes of doubling assume a concrete presence: they make reality look Johnsonian. A reflection echoes its original, but the two are non-identical. The reflection – being laterally flopped, like Johnson’s mirror letters – is the original’s opposite (52, 172). As for the shadow, it is a flat, graphic version of its original (70), an incorporeal counterpart to reality (136).

Recycling. A collagist traffics in the reincarnation of materials and images. The beginnings of Johnson’s photographs look like an effort to document his vast inventory of “chop art” – his term for the densely-reworked chunks of assemblage he had been building up and cutting apart again for decades (30-33). He abandoned this cataloguing, but his photographs remain as full of junk (130, 131) as his house (228); “WHAT A DUMP.” His movie-reel memory encompassed everything from Bette Davis films to a porn video made famous in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas [150]). He created a deadpan cardboard memorial to his old associate, arch-recycler Andy Warhol, and laid it atop a raked pile of cemetery flowers (142), and, two years later, atop a scattering of donated clothes (144).

Bills. Scavenged out of those clothing drops, most likely, were the many baseball cap visors Johnson photographed. He held them up before the camera, always in C formation, with deep spaces behind them: the sky, or receding railway tracks (34, 78). He arrayed them on Stehli Beach like a school of migrating horseshoe crabs (94). He cut the bill’s crescent-moon shape out of his headshot (33). If they stand for a name, “Bill,” perhaps he is William Wilson. Or the writer William S. Burroughs, who sat for his silhouette in 1976. Johnson laid a cutout of Burroughs down on cardboard, then extended Bill’s prominent nose with the bill of a kingfisher (96).

Photographers. The photographs feature many images drawn from photography’s historical canon, making Johnson-collaborators of, among others, Walker Evans (via Sherrie Levine) (136), Dennis Stock (158), and Félix González-Torres (186). Some Movie Star bunnies are given the names of photographers, including Horst, Duane Michals (154, 170), and Lord Snowdon (snowed-in / snowed-N [236]). The crane in Bill Brandt’s famous photograph of Kew Gardens provides the top half of an awkward composite figure (159, 174). Johnson perched Michals’s book of portraits on the front bumper of his car, making a third headlight of its cyclopean eye (138). He turned Richard Avedon’s An Autobiography face-down to reveal its author photo and dressed the portraitist in a hat (163) that channels Marianne Moore, who is portrayed in that book wearing her signature tricorn (a moticos-like garment that fascinated Johnson). Late one dusk, Johnson photographed the legs of his shadow spanning a copy of Lee Friedlander’s book Like a One-Eyed Cat, laid down open to its frontispiece, one of Friedlander’s many self-portraits in shadow (80).

Please Send. Between July and December 1994, over twenty wrapped packages appear in Johnson’s photographs. They are addressed to or from his mail-art correspondents, most frequently his local friend Sheila Sporer (158, 242). (The ones Sheila opened – those not marked “DO NOT OPEN” – turned out to be stuffed with plain craft paper.) Often the packages are pictured in the midst of what look like obscure rituals. One stands in Johnson’s driveway, tethered to a helium bunny balloon, ready to begin its physically impossible ascent (206). Others he positioned inside the gallery show-window of his late December 1994 un-show, Ray Johnson: Nothing, and then photographed them from out on the sidewalk (169). (He never ventured inside.) A few days later, he posed two packages, tourist-like, at the end of a pier at sunset (214); distressingly, one of them is next seen drifting in the water below (216).

In late December 1994, Johnson photographed himself in a shop window mirror, holding up a bunny inscribed PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE (246). (On the collage, this bunny bears the date December 21; below it, on December 30, Johnson added ONLY YOU [244].) REAL LIFE refers, at one level, to the New York-based art magazine REALLIFE (1979-1994): since late November, Johnson had been urging Sporer to pitch its editor, Thomas Lawson, an article about their three years of collaborative correspondence art.

But the message can mean something else, too – something like: “Here, Life, take this thing I’ve made; I’m going to the other place.” For decades death had been a resolute presence in Johnson’s work, taking such forms as Nothing, pitch-black humor, and a fixation on life dates. Is death palpably present in the photographs of his last three years? It would be silly to deny that it is. And yet it would be trivial to hunt through this large, complex, often comical, always personal body of work for nothing more than a rebus suicide note. Ray Johnson never made himself that easily readable. And nowhere in his art does he look more intensely engaged by the present tense, more thrilled to be immersed in Real Life, than in the inventions of his throwaway camera.

Joel Smith. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE,” in PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs. Mack Books, 2022, pp. 188-195

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show on RJ's car' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show in RJ's backyard' 1 June 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show on RJ’s car
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show in RJ’s backyard
1 June 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The photographs Johnson made between January 1992 and December 1994 feature several dozen collages in a large, vertical format he had never used before. He referred to these works as Movie Stars (or Move Stars), writing that “if the wind didn’t knock them down,” he planned to cast them in a “Ray Johnson Outdoor Movie Show,” lined up like dancers in a musical revue. In the end, still photography was the nearest he came to filmmaking.

 

 

In the same way that Johnson burned his early paintings, renouncing the most reliable route to a successful art career in mid-20th-century New York, he exited the fray of Manhattan. In 1968 he moved to Locust Valley, Long Island, and after 1978 he had only two solo exhibitions – the last one in 1991. He continued to make art, though, and looked to artists like Joseph Cornell, famous for his box assemblages, who lived on Utopia Parkway in Queens. Many of Johnson’s works take Cornell’s idea of the display box filled with quirky objects and expands it to tableaus staged for the camera, using the suburban environment, the woods or the seashore as found theatrical sets. …

Johnson’s presence in many of the photos could be called self-portraiture – but the photos also feel very much like ancestors to the ubiquitous cellphone selfie. The photo “RJ with Please Send to Real Life and camera in mirror” (1994) is an obvious selfie precursor. It includes a number of conceptual twists, however: Johnson appears in a mirror, holding a disposable camera and one of his cardboard signs with an alter-ego bunny and the words “Please Send to Real Life” partially printed in reverse – a reminder of how the camera doesn’t merely document reality, but shapes and potentially distorts it. (This photo might also be a reference to his mail-art practice or the New York art magazine Real Life, published from 1979 to 1994.) …

What is art? What is real? Does the image document reality or create it? “Please Send to Real Life” raises some of these questions and shows how Johnson predicted the growing fuzziness between the realms of photography and IRL (in real life) – from snapshots to social media – suggesting that the relationship between them is porous but also ripe for creative intervention.

Anonymous. “Ray Johnson’s Camera Was Disposable. The Photos Are Unforgettable,” on The New York Times website 24th August 2022 [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (yellow DUANE MICHALS bunny)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (JOSEF ALBERS with cat)' 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (six blue Rays in Rolls)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (yellow DUANE MICHALS bunny)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
13 3/4 × 4 1/2 in. (34.93 × 11.43cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (JOSEF ALBERS with cat)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
17 3/8 × 7 1/2 in. (44.13 × 19.05cm)
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (six blue Rays in Rolls)
Undated
Collage on corrugated cardboard
21 × 8 1/2 in. (53.34 × 21.59cm)
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Movie Stars

Overhead are some of the several dozen collages that appear in photographs Johnson made between January 1992 and December 1994. He referred to these large, vertical pieces as Movie Stars (or Move Stars), writing that “if the wind didn’t knock them down,” he planned to cast them in a “Ray Johnson Outdoor Movie Show,” lined up like dancers in a musical revue. In the end, still photography was the nearest he came to filmmaking. Were the Movie Stars made to be photographed? Or are the photographs mere documents of the Movie Stars? Perhaps the two bodies of work are best understood as complementary parts of a continuous creative cycle. Many of the Movie Stars are made on cardboard that bears photographic product information, suggesting that it was scavenged from the dumpster of the shop where Johnson bought his cameras and turned them in for developing.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Cage and Satie with Orpheus and Eurydice, Planting Fields Arboretum' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Jasper John' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'WIGART grave and Movie Star of RJ between David Bs' April 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Cage and Satie with Orpheus and Eurydice, Planting Fields Arboretum
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Jasper John
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
WIGART grave and Movie Star of RJ between David Bs
April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The Movie Stars feature a roll call of celebrity faces and names that is, in composite, unique to Johnson’s imagination. By photographing the collages, Johnson animated his personal pantheon in the familiar settings of his daily life. Composers Erik Satie and John Cage rest in the arms of a statue of Orpheus, the prophetic music-maker of Greek myth. Artist Jasper Johns punningly marks the door of an outhouse-like wooden structure. Johnson himself rides shotgun in his Volkswagen Golf while Elvis takes the wheel. And art critic David Bourdon and rock star David Bowie (embodiments, in different ways, of Pop’s legacy) join Johnson at the grave of “Wig art.” Once Johnson even photographed the Movie Stars in their staging area at home, ready to be loaded into the car and taken out for a day’s work.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Headshot and Elvises in RJ's car' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show on dumpster' 18 May 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Four Movie Stars, Locust Valley Cemetery' 31 March 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Headshot and Elvises in RJ’s car
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show on dumpster
18 May 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Four Movie Stars, Locust Valley Cemetery
31 March 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Silhouette version of RJ portrait by Joan Harrison, Lattingtown Beach' Autumn 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Silhouette version of RJ portrait by Joan Harrison, Lattingtown Beach
Autumn 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

To create this picture-within-a-picture, Johnson returned to the site of a much-reproduced portrait of him that photographer Joan Harrison made in the early 1980s. In the spot where he once sat, knees raised and arms outstretched, Johnson leaned a card that features a black silhouette of his symmetrical pose. As so often occurs in his photographs, Johnson here strikes an unsettling balance between absence and presence, erasure and memorialisation.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Bill and Railroad Tracks)' Spring 1992)

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bill and Long Island Sound' Winter 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Bill and Railroad Tracks)
Spring 1992)
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bill and Long Island Sound
Winter 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson held up the sky-blue bill of a baseball cap over a railroad crossing and photographed it. When he holds it over the ocean in another image, it resembles a crescent moon. With his “throwaway” camera he photographed arrangements of photographs and photobooks by Walker Evans, Lord Snowden, Richard Avedon, Bill Brandt, and Lee Friedlander. Friedlander-like, Johnson photographed his own shadow, interacting with the places of his solitary visits.

He photographed his own works in infinite arrangements and continuous correspondence: two bunnyheads sitting up conversationally in tall chairs. He photographed his headshot, affixed to the passenger seat of a car, next to a double photo of Elvis, in the driver’s seat. He photographed a blank billboard in a field; he photographed a pier; he photographed the ocean. He photographed a picture of himself in his shadow cast across a mailbox, a bunny head peeking out. The unearthed photographs become the last note sent.

Rrebecca Bengal. “Photo Dump: Digging into the 5,000 Photographs Ray Johnson Left Behind,” on the Elephant Art website 20 Jul 2022 [Online] Cited 25/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ reflected in ice truck and split Duane Michals Movie Star' 11 May 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Back steps and moticos' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ reflected in ice truck and split Duane Michals Movie Star
11 May 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Back steps and moticos
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Twins

In his writing and visual art, Johnson used juxtapositions and puns to suggest that nothing stands alone: everything finds correspondence in something else. Photography’s optical literalness gave him new ways to explore reality’s doubleness. Twins – and photocopied photographs – are nearly alike yet insistently distinct. Mirrors give back a faithful, yet laterally reversed, image of nature. The shadow of a thing echoes its original, but (like a moticos) it is flat and empty of internal detail.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bunny drawn on Felix Gonzalez-Torres's "Untitled"' 2 January 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Long Dong Silver, Lattingtown Beach' 16 November 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Six Movie Stars in RJ's car' April 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bunny drawn on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled”
2 January 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Long Dong Silver, Lattingtown Beach
16 November 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Six Movie Stars in RJ’s car
April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Bunnies

A round-eyed, long-nosed bunny head functioned as Johnson’s signature and, as he said, “a kind of self-portrait.” Despite the bunny’s blank expression, context can render it comical, hapless, sinister, or obscene. Johnson altered Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s photograph of a rumpled empty bed – an iconic image of gay mourning during the AIDS crisis – by resting a lone bunny’s head on one of the two pillows. Johnson cut a face-sized hole out of one bunny, then photographed the view outside his front window through the gap. He gave the same bunny to passersby to wear and, once, laid it suggestively atop his toilet bowl. When a large old tree next door was being chainsawed apart, Johnson found in its branching form a gaunt, eyeless bunny’s face.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Harpo Marx bunny, headshot, and payphone' February 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bunny tree in backyard' 17 April 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (red bunny NOTHING)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ad Rein Hardt Bunny)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Flopped stranger wearing cutout bunny' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Harpo Marx bunny, headshot, and payphone
February 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bunny tree in backyard
17 April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (red bunny NOTHING)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
12 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (31.75 × 19.05cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ad Rein Hardt Bunny)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
12 1/2 × 7 5/8 in. (31.75 × 19.37cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Flopped stranger wearing cutout bunny
Spring 1992
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

What did Johnson intend to do with the thousands of photographs he made between 1992 and 1994? There are few solid indications. He mailed some to correspondents, either in the form of original prints or as photocopies. He also incorporated a handful of his photographs into collages that differ markedly in scale and sensibility from the larger, contemporaneous Movie Stars. In one collage, a photograph of five Movie Stars – arranged like sequential ads beside a road – is punningly combined with a bunny head bearing the name of abstract painter Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967), a friend and employer of Johnson’s in his early New York years.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Shadow of RJ's mailbox' March 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ with PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE and camera in mirror' 23 December 1994

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Shadow of RJ’s mailbox
March 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ with PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE and camera in mirror
23 December 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

This self-portrait appears on a roll of film Johnson turned in for developing about three weeks before his suicide by drowning on 13 January 1995. The flopped lettering on the Movie Star in his hand undergoes a further reversal in the mirror. On a literal level, the words “REAL LIFE” refer to the New York-based art magazine REALLIFE (1979-1994), which Johnson hoped would soon publish an article about his years-long collaboration with a friend, Sheila Sporer. But the message unmistakably announces, too, that the artist was soon to venture beyond the reach of “real life.”

 

 

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20
May
18

Exhibition: ‘Stephen Shore’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 19th November, 2017 – 28th May, 2018

Stephen Shore is organised by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, MoMA.

 

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'West 9th Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, October 2, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
West 9th Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, October 2, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4 in. (43.2 × 55.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

 

The truth in the detail of day-to-day life

1970s colour photography is the key period in the work of Stephen Shore. These classical, formal colour photographs capture “mundane aspects of American popular culture in straightforward, unglamorous images.” They are what made him famous. They are, historically, conceptually and emotionally, his most effective means of communication as an artist.

American Surfaces and Uncommon Places made Shore “one of the most prominent figures of the American New Color movement,” showing colour just as colour.

I know that is a strange thing to say, but Shore was showing the world in a different light… and he was using an aesthetic based on the straight forward use of colour. Colour is just there, part of the form of the image. Of course there are insightful subjective judgements about what to photograph in American surburbia, but this subjectivity and the use of colour within it is subsumed into the song that Shore was composing. It all comes back to music. Here’s a Mozart tune, this is his aesthetic, for eternity.

I remember seeing two vintage Stephen Shore chromogenic colour prints from 1976 where the colours were still true and had not faded in the exhibition American Dreams: 20th century photography from George Eastman House at Bendigo Art Gallery. This was incredible experience – seeing vintage prints from one of the masters of colour photography; noticing that they are not full of contrast like a lot of today’s colour photographs – more like a subtle Panavision or Technicolor film from the early 1960s. Rich, subtle, beautiful hues with the photograph containing this amazing presence, projected through the construction of the image and the physicality of the print.

Shore has a fantastic eye and his colour photographs are beautifully resolved. The subjectivity is not pushed, because his song was in tune, and he just sang it. Like his contemporaries, Wiliam EgglestonRichard Misrach and Joel Meyerwitz, there are some artists who just know how to play the tune.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

Stephen Shore encompasses the entirety of the artist’s work of the last five decades, during which he has conducted a continual, restless interrogation of image making, from the gelatin silver prints he made as a teenager to his current engagement with digital platforms. One of the most significant photographers of our time, Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) has often been considered alongside other artists who rose to prominence in the 1970s by capturing the mundane aspects of American popular culture in straightforward, unglamorous images. But Shore has worked with many forms of photography, switching from cheap automatic cameras to large-format cameras in the 1970s, pioneering the use of colour before returning to black and white in the 1990s, and in the 2000s taking up the opportunities of digital photography, digital printing, and social media.

The artist’s first survey in New York to include his entire career, this exhibition will both allow for a fuller understanding of Shore’s work, and demonstrate his singular vision – defined by an interest in daily life, a taste for serial and often systematic approaches, a strong intellectual underpinning, a restrained style, sly humour, and visual casualness – and uncompromising pursuit of photography’s possibilities.

 

 

 

Stephen Shore | MoMA LIVE

Join us for a conversation with MoMA Chief Curator of Photography Quentin Bajac and artist Stephen Shore on the opening of the exhibition, “Stephen Shore,” moderated by MoMA Senior Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs, Peter Reed.

One of the most significant photographers of our time, Stephen Shore has often been considered alongside other artists who rose to prominence in the 1970s by capturing the mundane aspects of American popular culture in straightforward, unglamorous images. But Shore has worked with many forms of photography, and this exhibition encompasses the entirety of the artist’s work of the last five decades, during which he has conducted a continual, restless interrogation of image making, from the gelatin silver prints he made as a teenager to his current engagement with digital platforms.

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'New York, New York' 1964

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
New York, New York
1964
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 × 13 1/2 in. (23.2 × 34.3cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) '1:35 a.m., in Chinatown Restaurant, New York, New York' 1965-67

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
1:35 a.m., in Chinatown Restaurant, New York, New York
1965-67
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1995
9 × 13 1/2 in. (22.9 × 34.3cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Kanab, Utah, June 1972'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Kanab, Utah, June 1972
1972
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
3 1/16 × 4 5/8 in. (7.8 × 11.7cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Amarillo, Texas, July 1972'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Amarillo, Texas, July 1972
1972
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
3 1/16 × 4 5/8 in. (7.8 × 11.7cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Washington, D.C., November 1972'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Washington, D.C., November 1972
1972
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
3 1/16 × 4 5/8 in. (7.8 × 11.7cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Second Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Second Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973
1973. Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
17 × 21 3/4 in. (43.2 × 55.2cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973
1973
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2002
17 3/4 x 21 15/16 in. (45.1 x 55.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Breakfast, Trail's End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Breakfast, Trail’s End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973
1973
Chromogenic colour print
16 7/8 × 21 1/4 in. (42.8 × 54cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'West Third Street, Parkersburg, West Virginia, May 16, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
West Third Street, Parkersburg, West Virginia, May 16, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print
8 × 10 1/2 in. (20.3 × 26.7cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine, July 16, 1974'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine, July 16, 1974
1974
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4 in. (43.2 × 55.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents the most comprehensive exhibition ever organised of photographer Stephen Shore’s work, on view from November 19, 2017, until May 28, 2018. The exhibition tracks the artist’s work chronologically, from the gelatin silver prints he made as a teenager to his current work with digital platforms. Stephen Shore establishes the artist’s full oeuvre in the context of his time – from his days at Andy Warhol’s Factory through the rise of American colour photography and the transition to large-scale digital photography – and argues for his singular vision and uncompromising pursuit of photography’s possibilities. The exhibition will include hundreds of photographic works along with additional materials including books, ephemera, and objects. Stephen Shore is organised by Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography, with Kristen Gaylord, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography, MoMA.

Born in 1947, Shore spearheaded the New Color Photography movement in the United States in the 1970s, and became a major catalyst in the renewal of documentary photography in the late 1990s, both in the US and Europe, blending the tradition of American photographers such as Walker Evans with influences from various artistic movements, including Pop, Conceptualism, and even Photo-Realism. Shore’s images seem to achieve perfect neutrality, in both subject matter and approach. His approach cannot be reduced to a style but is best summed up with a few principles from which he has seldom deviated: the search for maximum clarity, the absence of retouching and reframing, and respect for natural light. Above all, he exercises discipline, limiting his shots as much as possible – one shot of a subject, and very little editing afterward.

Shore started developing negatives from his parents when he was only six, received his first camera when he was nine, and sold prints to Edward Steichen, then director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, at the age of 14. In the early 1960s Shore became interested in film, both narrative and experimental, and he showed his short film Elevator in 1965 at the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque, where he first met Andy Warhol. That spring, he dropped out of high school and started photographing at Warhol’s studio, The Factory, initially on an almost daily basis, then more sporadically, until 1967. Elevator has been restored by conservators and will be screened in the exhibition for the first time since the 1960s.

In 1969, Shore used serial black-and-white projects to deconstruct the medium and rebuild it on a more detached, intellectual foundation. In these works, many shot in Amarillo, Texas, with his friend Michael Marsh as his main model, Shore was striving to free himself from certain photographic conventions: the concept of photography as the art of creating isolated and “significant” images, and the related cult of the “decisive moment”; perfect framing; and the expressive subjectivity of the photographer. The principle of multiplicity prevails in Shore’s work of that period – series, suites, and sequences that resist all narrative temptation. In their attempt to eliminate subjectivity, these series are related to a number of Conceptual photographic works by other artists of the same period.

In November 1971 Shore curated an exhibition called All the Meat You Can Eat at the 98 Greene Street Loft. Embracing a century of photography, the show was composed largely of found images collected by Shore and two friends, Weston Naef, then a curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Michael Marsh. It also included images by Shore, such as shots taken with a Mick-a-Matic camera and colour photos that would serve as the basis for the postcards in his series Greetings from Amarillo, “Tall in Texas.” Stephen Shore will include a reconstructed version of this display, using material from Shore’s archives – some that was originally in the exhibition and some that has been selected by Shore for this installation.

In the early 1970s Shore turned to colour photography, a format that at that time was still largely overlooked by art photographers. In March 1972, he started taking snapshots of his daily life, embarking in June and July of the same year on a road trip to the southern US. For two months he photographed his everyday life in an almost systematic way – unremarkable buildings, main streets, highway intersections, hotel rooms, television screens, people’s faces, toilet seats, unmade beds, a variety of ornamental details, plates of food, shop windows, inscriptions, and commercial signs. In September and October 1972, images from the series were shown at Light Gallery in New York under the title American Surfaces. The MoMA display of this work echoes that initial presentation, in which the small Kodacolor prints were attached directly to the wall, unframed, in a grid of three rows.

Begun in 1973 and completed almost 10 years later, Shore’s next project, Uncommon Places, inhabits the same world and deals with the same themes as American Surfaces. Yet because of Shore’s move from a handheld 35mm camera to a large-format one, Uncommon Places features fewer details and close-ups and a more detached approach. Appearing in the context of accelerated change in the national landscape, especially in areas of suburban sprawl, it betrays a more contemplative reading of individual images. Before being published as a book in 1982, the series was exhibited both in the US and abroad, especially in Germany, making Shore one of the most prominent figures of the American New Color movement. Though he is best known for his large-format work of this period, Shore was at the same time experimenting with other photographic formats. The exhibition will include a selection of stereo images he made in 1974 that were never published, and have not been exhibited since 1975.

While working on what would become Uncommon Places, Shore began to accept photographic commissions, not only for editorial work but also for institutions and companies. If some of these commissions seem quite distant from Uncommon Places, most of them still show some affinity with the series in their attention to architecture and exploration of “Americanness.” He took photographs focusing on contemporary vernacular architecture that the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown used in their 1976 exhibition Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City. This exhibition will feature some of the original, gridded transparencies from Signs of Life that incorporate images by Shore and other photographers, not seen since 1976. Finally, some commissions he did for magazines alternate between urban landscapes, portraits, and architectural details in a direct extension of Uncommon Places. Shore would include a number of commissioned photographs in his personal body of work, showing how porous the borders were between the two groups of images, and Stephen Shore will include examples both of the photographs in context in books and periodicals, and of others that were not subsequently published.

Starting in the late 1970s, Shore gradually abandoned urban and suburban areas and turned to the natural landscape, a subject he would concentrate on almost exclusively during the next decade. These included the landscapes of Montana (1982-83), where he settled with his wife in 1980, Texas (1983-88), and the Hudson Valley (1984-86), where he moved in 1982, but also more international locations: the Highlands of Scotland (1988); Yucatán, in Mexico (1990); and finally the Po Valley, with a series in Luzzara, Italy (1993). This period corresponds also to a reduced public visibility of his photographic work, marked by fewer exhibitions, publications, and commissions.

In the early 2000s Shore began experimenting with digital tools and technologies that had only recently become available. Between 2003 and 2010, he made dozens of print-on-demand books, which were each printed in limited editions of 20 copies, making them similar to artist’s books. But the ease of production, speed of execution, democratic nature of the technique used, and modesty of the finished product are in direct line with the snapshots of American Surfaces and the immediacy of Polaroid images. In the choice of subjects and approaches, the series of books seems both literally and figuratively to be a mini-version of Shore’s entire oeuvre, blending and reworking the themes that have always been important to him – an exhaustive exploration of a particular subject or place, a penchant for the vernacular, an interest in sequence, a tendency toward autobiography, a search for a kind of immediacy, and a dry sense of humour – while still retaining its autonomy and specificity. A few years later he created Winslow, Arizona in a single day in 2013. The precise temporal duration of the series – one day from sunrise to sunset – links it to some of Shore’s print-on-demand books, but it takes on a new performance-based dimension. Over 180 of the pictures Shore took that day were presented, unedited and in the order in which they were shot, in a slide show, projected on a drive-in screen in Barstow, California, a few days after he took them.

In 1996 and 1997 Shore, who had always been fascinated by archaeology, undertook photographic projects around excavation sites in Israel and Italy, shooting solely in black and white. Within the archaeological remains of these vanished cities, Shore was especially interested in the human dimension, both domestic and secular, seen in bones, pottery, and vestiges of dwellings and shops. Then, between September of 2009 and the spring of 2011, Shore returned to the region five times, photographing throughout the entire territory from north to south, or From Galilee to the Negev, as he titled the book he published of a selection of his photographs in Israel and the West Bank. As indicated by the title and structure of the book, with chapters organised geographically, the project was guided by a topographical exploration. It mixes various temporalities – which are echoed by the diversity of the images – bringing together the “short term” of people and events with and the “long term” of the landscape and planet.

The photographs Shore took in Ukraine in the summer of 2012 and the fall of 2013 have as their subject the country’s Jewish community, specifically survivors of the Holocaust who are assisted today by the Survivor Mitzvah Project. Following three years of photographing primarily in Israel, the series provided Shore with the opportunity to continue working with subjects related to his Jewish roots. In a break from his norm, Shore structured the Ukraine series around the human figure. Survivors in Ukraine, the book of photographs he published in 2015, provides accounts of 22 survivors, all more than 80 years old, through a wide range of images: close-ups, busts, and full-length portraits; fragmentary portraits of hands, arms, and legs; views of dwellings and interiors; and still-life details of meals, belongings, and memorials to departed family members.

In the summer of 2014 Shore decided to devote most of his photographic activity to Instagram, where he posts images almost every day. While he continues to take on commissions, the bulk of his personal production over the past three years has been through the social networking app; he considers this output his current “work.” With Instagram Shore has reestablished a rapid, instantaneous practice, one that requires him to be on constant alert. It also presents a new, dual aesthetic challenge for Shore in the square format and the small size of the image. These constraints encourage a simplification of the picture, making it more a “notation” than a constructed image. Tablets will be stationed within a gallery of the exhibition, allowing viewers to scroll through Shore’s Instagram feed, which will feature new images as Shore continues to post them.

Press release from MoMA

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975
1975
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4 in. (43.2 × 55.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Thomas and Susan Dunn
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'U.S. 93, Wikieup, Arizona, December 14, 1976'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
U.S. 93, Wikieup, Arizona, December 14, 1976
1976
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
17 × 21 3/4 in. (43.2 × 55.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired through the generosity of Thomas and Susan Dunn
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Giverny, France, 1977'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Giverny, France, 1977
1977
Chromogenic colour print
7 11/16 x 9 5/8 in. (19.5 x 24.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the Estate of Lila Acheson Wallace
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Graig Nettles, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 1, 1978'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Graig Nettles, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 1, 1978
1978
Chromogenic colour print
7 11/16 x 9 11/16 in. (19.5 x 24.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Acquired with matching funds from Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller and the National Endowment for the Arts, 1978
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13, 1979'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13, 1979
1979
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2013
35 7/8 x 44 15/16 in. (91.2 x 114.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Gallatin County, Montana, August 2, 1983'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Gallatin County, Montana, August 2, 1983
1983
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
36 × 45 in. (91.4 × 114.3cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'County of Sutherland, Scotland, 1988'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
County of Sutherland, Scotland, 1988
1988
Chromogenic colour print
35 1/2 × 45 1/2 in. (90.2 × 115.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of Susan and Arthur Fleischer, Jr.
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Sderot, Israel, September 14, 2009'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Sderot, Israel, September 14, 2009
2009. Chromogenic colour print
17 × 21 3/4 in. (43.2 × 55.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Peqi'in, Israel, September 22, 2009'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Peqi’in, Israel, September 22, 2009
2009. Chromogenic colour print
17 × 21 3/4 in. (43.2 × 55.2cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Gift of the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947) 'Uman, Cherkaska Province, Ukraine, July 22, 2012'

 

Stephen Shore (American, b. 1947)
Uman, Cherkaska Province, Ukraine, July 22, 2012
2012
Chromogenic colour print, printed 2017
16 × 20 in. (40.6 × 50.8cm)
Courtesy the artist
© 2017 Stephen Shore

 

 

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06
May
18

Exhibition: ‘The Polaroid Project’ at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 16th March – 17th June 2018

 

Anna Reynolds. 'Marcus / Mutilation of the Soul' October 1992

 

Anna Reynolds
Marcus / Mutilation of the soul
October 1992
Phillip Institute, Melbourne
Polaroid

 

 

I love Polaroid photography. As “instant” photography it can have immediacy, but it can also be used for conceptual work as can be see in this posting. You can manipulate the image while it is still developing, and you can also later reclaim the negative from the Polaroid itself, providing a useful scannable or printable negative for further experimentation.

The idea of “instant” photography bemuses me. Nothing is ever “instant”. For example, in the Polaroid image of me above (and in all of the images below), there was thought, an idea, a process, and imagination going on well before the photograph was taken, and during its development (the manipulation of the Polaroid around the figure). Even a simple, vernacular photograph of a family scene contains the fact that the person behind the camera made a conscious decision to capture something that they saw, and press the shutter at a particular moment. It is never a “snapshot” for the process of taking a photograph is always a sub/conscious, imaginative, exclamation of choice.

So there is this space and time of in/decision; there is also the space and time of waiting (and manipulating if so desired) for the Polaroid to develop. That is the magical part for me… to see the image develop not in the drip tray of the darkroom, but holding the image in your hand, watching it emerge from the ether right in front of your eyes. Instant no, unforgettable, yes.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The Polaroid Project will shed light on the broad aesthetic spectrum made possible by the groundbreaking technology of instant photography, showcasing around 220 works by over 100 artists. Polaroid – a brand that has long since become a legend – revolutionised photography in a way that can still be felt today and which lives on in photo apps and on Instagram. The exhibition was developed by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis / New York / Paris / Lausanne, the MIT Museum in Cambridge (Massachusetts), and WestLicht. Schauplatz für Fotografie (Vienna), in cooperation with MKG, and will be shown at numerous international museums.

 

James Nitsch. 'Razor Blade' 1976

 

James Nitsch
Razor Blade
1976
Polaroid SX-70 assemblage with razor blade
10.7 x 8.8cm
© James Nitsch

 

Guy Bourdin. 'Charles Jourdan' 1978

 

Guy Bourdin (French, 1928-1991)
Charles Jourdan 1978
1978
C-Print
88.9 x 116.8cm
© The Guy Bourdin Estate 2017 / Courtesy of Louise Alexander Gallery

 

André Kertész. 'August 13' 1979

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
August 13, 1979
1979
Polaroid SX-70
10.7 x 8.8cm
© The Estate of André Kertész, courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery

 

Victor Landweber. 'Garbage Candy' 1979

 

Victor Landweber (American, b. 1943)
Garbage Candy
1979
Polaroid Polacolor Type 669 composite, bound in a book
10.8 x 16.1 cm
© Victor Landweber, Collection Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona

 

Bruce Charlesworth. 'Untitled' 1979

 

Bruce Charlesworth (American, b. 1950)
Untitled
1979
Hand-painted Polaroid SX-70
10.7 x 8.8cm
© Bruce Charlesworth 1979

 

Barbara Crane. 'Private Views' 1981

 

Barbara Crane (American, 1928-2019)
Private Views
1981
Polaroid Polacolor 4×5 Type 58
10.2 x 12.7 cm
© Barbara Crane

 

Sandi Fellman. 'Grey Lion, Tokyo, Japan' 1983

 

Sandi Fellman (American, b. 1952)
Grey Lion, Tokyo, Japan
1983
Polaroid 20 x 24 Polacolor
73.7 x 56 cm
© Sandi Fellman

 

Şahin Kaygun. 'Buttock' 1983

 

Şahin Kaygun (Turkish, 1951-1992)
Buttock
1983
Hand coloured, manipulated Polaroid Type 600 High Speed
10.7 x 8.8cm
© Şahin Kaygun

 

David Levinthal. 'Untitled' 1983-85

 

David Levinthal (American, b. 1949)
Untitled from the series Modern Romance
1983-1985
Polaroid SX-70
10.7 x 8.8cm
© David Levinthal, ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017

 

 

In the exhibition The Polaroid Project, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg presents for the first time the full scope of the phenomenon of the Polaroid photograph. Based on some 220 photos by over 100 artists, as well as 90 camera models and prototypes, the show sheds light on the whole aesthetic spectrum of instant photography and on the innovative technology that made this visual revolution possible. Polaroid stands for a technology, an industry, a company, and its products. Presented to the public for the first time in 1947 by Edwin Land in New York, instant camera film made the photo lab superfluous. As if by magic, the picture gradually appears before the eyes of the photographer and subject. Polaroid – a brand that has long since attained legendary status – thus transformed our handling of photography in a way that is still pervasive today, living on in photo apps and Instagram. In the heyday of the company in the mid-20th century, Polaroid sold its cameras and film to millions of amateurs and professionals. The technical and aesthetic qualities of the new medium, and above all the immediacy and spontaneity of the photos, made it an exciting field of experimentation for artists as well.

Polaroid itself has worked closely with photographers from the start. One of the earliest advisors to Edwin Land, inventor and founder of the Polaroid Corporation, was Ansel Adams, the godfather of American landscape photography. In its Artist Support Program, the company provides film and cameras to both established figures and nascent talents in the art and photography scene. In return, it receives not only feedback on its products but also selected works for the company collection. For artists, the inventions from Land’s company offer a playground for their own discoveries, one that provides fresh inspiration for their photography. It thus came about that the exponents of Pop Art – chief among them Andy Warhol – raised the status of the Polaroid photo to a whole new level with their excessive use of the medium, securing for it a place in the artistic sphere.

Press release from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

 

Dennis Hopper. 'Los Angeles, Back Alley' 1987

 

Dennis Hopper (American, 1936-2010)
Los Angeles, Back Alley
1987
Polaroid SX-70
10.7 x 8.8cm
© Dennis Hopper, Courtesy of The Hopper Art Trust

 

Pierre-Louis Martin. 'Graines de Pissenlit' 1990

 

Pierre-Louis Martin
Graines de Pissenlit
1990
Gelatin silver print from Polaroid-Film Type 55
48.9 x 40cm
© Pierre-Louis Martin

 

Shelby Lee Adams. 'Esther and Bee Jay' 1991

 

Shelby Lee Adams (American, b. 1950)
Esther and Bee Jay
1991
Polaroid Polapan 4×5 Type 52
12.7 x 10.2cm
© Shelby Lee Adams

 

Kunihiro Shinohara. 'Cosmic #9' 1993-2000

 

Kunihiro Shinohara (Japanese, b. 1948)
Cosmic #9
1993-2000
Inkjet print from Polaroid-Film Type 55
29.8 x 22.3cm
© Kunihiro Shinohara

 

Mark Klett. 'Contemplating the View at Muley Point, Utah' 1994

 

Mark Klett (American, b. 1952)
Contemplating the View at Muley Point, Utah
1994
Gelatin silver print from Polaroid-Film Type 55
40.6 x 50.8cm
© Mark Klett

 

Ellen Carey. 'Pulls (CMY)' 1997

 

Ellen Carey (American, b. 1952)
Pulls (CMY)
1997
Polaroid 20 x 24 Polacolor-Montage
210.8 x 167.6cm
© Ellen Carey, Jayne H. Baum Gallery, NYC, NY and M+B Gallery, LA, CA

 

Timothy White. 'Untitled' 1998

 

Timothy White (American, b. 1956)
Untitled
1998
Inkjet print from Polaroid-Film Type 665
50.8 x 40.6cm
© Timothy White

 

Toshio Shibata. 'Untitled (# 228)' 2003

 

Toshio Shibata (Japanese, b. 1949)
Untitled (#228)
2003
Gelatin silver print from Polaroid-Film, Type 55
61 x 50.8cm
© Toshio Shibata

 

Chen Wei. 'Everlasting Radio Wave-Test #5' 2008

 

Chen Wei (Chinese, b. 1980)
Everlasting Radio Wave-Test #5
2008
Fujifilm FP-100C
8.5 x 10.8cm
© Chen Wei

 

Paolo Gioli. 'This Is Not My Face' 2010

 

Paolo Gioli (Italian, b. 1942)
Questo volto non è il mio volto (This Face Is Not My Face)
2010
Polaroid 20 x 24 Polacolor and Polacolor transfer on acrylic
71 x 55cm
© Paolo Gioli

 

 

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Steintorplatz, 20099 Hamburg

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 9pm
Closed Mondays

Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg website

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21
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960-1975’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 29th January – 8th May 2016

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960-1975 at the Albertina, Vienna

 

 

I absolutely love Japanese photography from this period.

Subjective photographs with a gutsy pictorial language: rough, grainy, and blurred intimations of a postwar reality mated with “the search for a new Japanese identity.” An identity (pop!) art with a elemental, chthonic twist – containing a dark sensuality – producing images that pull no punches. Wonderful stuff.

Marcus

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

 

The Japanese photo magazine Provoke, which ran for three issues in 1968 and 1969, is viewed as a one-of-a-kind agglomeration of post-war artistic efforts. In the world’s first-ever exhibition on this topic, the Albertina examines the complex genesis of this magazine and thereby presents a representative cross-section of photographic trends present in Japan between the 1960s and 1970s.

With around 200 objects, this showing unites works by Japan’s most influential photographers including Daidō Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi, Shomei Tomatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. In light of the massive protest movements active in Japan during this period, their photographs arose at a historical turning point between societal collapse and the search for a new Japanese identity. These images thus represent both an expression of this political transformation and the renewal of prevalent aesthetic norms.

This exhibition is a coproduction between Albertina, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Le Bal (Paris), and Art Institute of Chicago.

 

 

Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Okada Takahiko, Yukata Takanashi, Kōji Taki. 'Provoke 3' cover, 1969

 

Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Okada Takahiko, Yukata Takanashi, Kōji Taki
Provoke 3 cover
1969
© Nakahira Gen/Moriyama Daido/Takahiko Okada/Takanashi Yukata/Taki Koji

 

 

The three numbers of Provoke were printed in small editions of only one thousand copies each. Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi, Kōji Taki, and Takahiko Okada founded the magazine; Daidō Moriyama joined the group with the magazine’s second issue. While the first two numbers were dedicated to the subjects Summer 1968 and Eros, the last issue had no focal theme.

The photographers of Provoke worked spontaneously and dynamically, often without looking through the viewfinder of their small-format cameras. This made for a rough, grainy, and blurred (“are,” “bure,” “boke”) pictorial language influenced by Ed van der Elsken and William Klein. This language broke with traditional photography defined by sophisticated compositions, perfect tonal values, and the vintage print. The tonal quality of pictures reproduced through printing differed from that of traditional photographic prints, and the pictures were regarded as independent works in their own right. Contrary to the objectives of the traditional matter-of-fact documentary photography, they mirrored their authors’ subjective experience of Japan’s postwar reality. The manifesto in the first Provoke issue defined photography as an autonomous medium independent of spoken language and aimed at “provoking” thoughts and ideas. The title of the magazine Provoke: Provocative Materials for Thought expresses this intention.

Wall text

 

Takuma Nakahira (1938-2015) | For a Language to Come

The photographer, theorist, and critic Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki were responsible for the discursive orientation of Provoke. Nakahira’s works rejected the rules of photojournalism and its claim of rendering facts in a generally valid, objective way. They were also critical of the visual mass media which increasingly pervaded the everyday life of Japan’s consumerist society. According to Nakahira, the media, having lost all relation to reality through the information explosion, were only concerned with presenting a virtual reality. Nakahira did not regard the photograph as an artist photographer’s means of expression but as a mere mechanical document of his subjective perception.

It is the relationship between photography and language which is central for Nakahira’s photography. This is not only evident in Provoke but also in his book For a Language to Come published in 1970. This volume assembles a non-linear and unhierarchical sequence of snapshots evoking imaginary, post-apocalyptic sceneries which not least reveal the photographer’s skepsis about the US consumerist culture spreading throughout Japan.

Wall text

 

Three Waves of Protest Books

The protest books can be divided into three groups. From the 1960s, mainly collective publishing projects highlighted social unrest such as mass demonstrations and strikes organised by the trade unions against the ratification of the Security Treaty. The trade union publication Rope Ladder and Iron Helmet, for example, documents the occupation of a publishing house by its employees. The second wave saw primarily individual publications by various photographers such as Kazuo Kitai’s book Resistance. It depicts the students’ activities, and its rough and grainy pictorial language became important for Provoke. The third wave of protest books, generally designed by students and published from 1967 on, focused on violent street fights in Tokyo directed against the Vietnam War. The collectively produced volume Sanrizuka – The Hokusō Plateau on Fire. Document 1966-71 deals with the protests against the construction of the airport in Sanrizuka, in which students joined forces with the local farmers.

Wall text

 

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Provoke: Between Protest and Performance - Photography in Japan 1960 - 1975' at the Albertina, Vienna

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition Provoke: Between Protest and Performance – Photography in Japan 1960-1975 at the Albertina, Vienna

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu. 'Blood and Rose, Tokyo, 1969' 1969

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu (Japanese, 1930-2012)
Blood and Rose, Tokyo, 1969
1969
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna; permanent loan of the Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science
© Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate, courtesy | PRISKA PASQUER, Cologne

 

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu (1930-2012)

Shōmei Tōmatsu is seen as a key figure for Provoke. He photographed the sociopolitical changes in Japan from the 1950s on, depicting US military bases, the consequences of dropping a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, and the student protests in a new, symbolic documentary style. The pictures’ subjective approach revolutionised traditional documentary and reportage photography, which strove to convey a comprehensible story and a clear social message. The strategies developed by Tōmatsu are to be found in the Provoke artists’ works in a pointed form.

Tōmatsu also supported the Provoke photographers as an exhibition organiser and editor. Together with Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki, he prepared the first major exhibition of Japanese photography in 1968, which was to stimulate the founders of the magazine to explore the medium. Tōmatsu and Nakahira edited the photo galleries I am a King in the magazine Gendai no me (The Contemporary Eye), which for the first time assembled works by the photographers who would form the Provoke group.

Wall text

 

Eikoh Hosoe. '"Kamaitachi" #31' 1968

 

Eikoh Hosoe (Japanese, b. 1933)
“Kamaitachi” #31
1968
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna – permanent loan of the Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science
© Eikoh Hosoe/Taka Ishii Gallery

 

 

Performance

Pictures taken in the context of performances breach the boundary between photographic documentation and live action and emphasize performative aspects of the medium like the brief act of pictorial production and the materiality of the picture. For his series Kamaitachi, Eikō Hosoe portrayed the butoh and performance artist Tatsumi Hijikata from 1965 on. The performer incorporated the demon Kamaitachi in scenes specifically staged for the camera, visualising the photographer’s memories of World War II. As Hosoe used his camera in a very dynamic way, the shooting may be seen as a happening involving two artists.

Competing with Provoke, Nobuyoshi Araki produced a number of Xerox photography books from 1970 on. Araki and his assistants xeroxed photographs and sent the copies bound between black covers to colleagues and friends. The production process resembling a happening, the use of technically inadequate means, and the preference of copies over the original defied classical photography in ways to be found in the Provoke magazines.

Also inspired by Provoke, Jirō Takamatsu turned to conceptual photography. For Photograph of Photograph he employed a photographer to take pictures of pictures from his family albums. The snapshot-like pictorial language manifesting itself in reflections and random image sections defamiliarises the album pictures. Like in Daidō Moriyama’s series Accident, processes connected with the production of prints become a visible element of work that questions the supposed factuality of the medium.

Wall text

 

Anonym (Bild 1) 'Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport' c. 1969

 

Anonym (Bild 1)
Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport
c. 1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago © AIC

 

 

Protest

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Japan was shaken by massive, partly violent waves of protests. The key event was the ratification of the Security Treaty between Japan and the United States in 1960. Japan’s role as a military base for the war against Vietnam, the construction of Narita Airport in Sanrizuka, and the neoliberal activities of big concerns also led to protests. The years between 1960 and 1975 saw the publication of about eighty publications on the protests and the assessment of Japan’s recent history, particularly the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, connected with it.

Published by artist photographers, student associations, trade unions, and professional photo journalists, the protest books were produced in different ways. They were aimed at spreading information and mobilising people for further protests. The strategies of subversive self-representation were characterised by an innovative design: appeal-like combinations of texts and images, suggestive sequences, dynamic croppings, and an interplay of inferior materials and sophisticated layouts.

Though the members of Provoke, excepting Moriyama, were active politically, they held the opinion that the possibilities of protest photography had been exhausted and that it could not bring about political change. Nevertheless, Provoke followed the models developed by it. The most striking feature next to layout and printing techniques is the protest photographers’ abstract and blurry aesthetic resulting from technical shortcomings.

Wall text

 

Anonym (Bild 2) 'Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport' c. 1969

 

Anonym (Bild 2)
Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport
c. 1969
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago © AIC

 

 

The Japanese photo magazine Provoke, which ran for three issues in 1968 and 1969, is regarded as a highlight of post-war photography. The Albertina, in the world’s first-ever exhibition on this topic, is taking a close look at this publication’s creators and its long genesis. The presentation encompasses a representative cross-section of Japanese photographic trends during the 1960s and 1970s. With around 200 objects, the exhibition Provoke unites works by Japan’s most influential photographers – including Daidō Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi, Shōmei Tōmatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. Before the backdrop of the massive protest activities in Japan during this period, they created their images out of an awareness of being at a historical turning point between societal collapse and the search for a new Japanese identity. These works thus represent both an expression of this political transformation and a renewal of prevalent aesthetic norms.

This exhibition places Provoke in a historical context, focussing on the dialogue between the group’s photography in particular and contemporary protest photography and performance art in general.

Photography is examined as a document of – and/or a call to – protest against injustice: the period around 1960 saw numerous books published in connection with the first great wave of protests in Japan against renewal of the alliance with the USA. A few of them document the demonstrations themselves, while others deal with related themes – above all with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The years during which Provoke was published saw these protests, which were staged employing great creativity, give rise to a captivating visual world of resistance to the illegal actions of large corporations and the despotism of the neoliberal Japanese state.

As the 1960s wore on, the protest movements intensified, leading to a flood of photo volumes and prints. The makers of Provoke – critic Kōji Taki, author Takuma Nakahira, critic and photographer Takuma Nakahira, and photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Daidō Moriyama – were of the opinion that journalistic photography had exhausted itself and that it was impossible to effect long-term change through direct political action. But even so, in their texts and their photos, they oriented themselves on the aesthetic strategies to which Japan’s protest photography had given rise: their works feature strikingly innovative graphic design that employs image sequences, pithy text/image combinations, dynamic outtakes, and the interplay of specifically chosen cheap materials (rough paper, low-resolution printing) with fold-outs and unusual formats.

The exhibition concludes by examining the Japanese photography of its chosen period as a variant of performance art and/or as documentation of live actions: Daidō Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, and Nobuyoshi Araki are among those photographers who, around 1970, developed great interest in portraying darkroom work or other processes connected to the production of photographic prints as visible and active components of photographic creativity. They were preceded in their efforts by dance performers such as Tatsumi Hijikata, who worked with filmmakers and photographers, as well as by groups like the Hi-Red Center, which blurred the distinctions between photographic documentation and live actions in which photography and other media played a role.

But such influences worked both ways: directly inspired by the activities of the photographers of Provoke, Hi-Red Center member Jiro Takamatsu and Koji Enokura turned to photographic conceptual art in the early 1970s.

Press release from the Albertina

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu. 'Editor, Takuma Nakahira, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1964' 1964

 

Shōmei Tōmatsu (Japanese, 1930-2012)
Editor, Takuma Nakahira, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
© Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate – INTERFACE

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'The Beatles' 1965

 

Yutaka Takanashi (Japanese, b. 1935)
The Beatles
1965
From the series Tokyoites
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna
© Takanashi Yutaka

 

 

Yutaka Takanashi (b. 1935) | Towards the City

From the mid-1960s, Yutaka Takanashi focused on the urban change of the metropolis. Tokyo’s massive expansion, the modernisation of its infrastructure, and its ruthless industrialisation were captured in spontaneous pictures often shot from a driving car. Unlike his Provoke colleagues’ works, Takanashi’s photographs are easier to read, less pessimistic, and show a stronger affinity to classical documentary photography. He composed all his pictures by looking through the viewfinder.

In close collaboration with the book designer Kōhei Sugiura, Takanashi published the artist book Toshi e (Towards the City). Embedded in a cardboard box, its two volumes comprise a number of different, partly overlapping work groups: while the smaller one, titled Tokyo-jin (Tokyoites) contains pictures of the city’s inhabitants from 1966, the larger one explores Tokyo’s new topography, documenting its outlying districts. Shot in the Provoke era, the pictures’ blurriness and apparent exposure mistakes testify to the group’s influence.

Wall text

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'Ohne Titel (Toshi-e)' 1969

 

Yutaka Takanashi (Japanese, b. 1935)
Ohne Titel (Toshi-e)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Takanashi Yutaka/Taka Ishii Gallery

 

Yutaka Takanashi. 'Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)' 1969

 

Yutaka Takanashi (Japanese, b. 1935)
Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Takanashi Yutaka / Taka Ishii Gallery
© Keio University Art Center / Courtesy of Butoh Laboratory Japan

 

Daidō Moriyama. 'Untitled' from the series 'Akushidento (Accident)' 1969

 

Daidō Moriyama (Japanese, b. 1938)
Untitled, from the series Akushidento (Accident)
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Daidō Moriyama / Shadai Gallery, Tokyo Polytechnic University

 

 

Daidō Moriyama (b. 1938) | Accident

Daidō Moriyama’s series Accident interlinks sociopolitical subjects, references to Western art, and media-analytical considerations. Against the background of Japan’s strengthening consumerist culture, Moriyama, inspired by Andy Warhol’s pop art pictures, relied on everyday mass media. Next to demonstrations and pop culture motifs, Moriyama, alluding to Warhol’s work Silver Car Crash of 1963, photographed police posters that campaigned for safe driving with deterrent pictures of car accidents. Reflections on the material and blurs resulting from the pictures’ enlargement emphasise the reproduction process. Moriyama questions the illusionary nature of photography and underlines their material quality. Regarding contents, the series investigates the conflict between the US consumerist culture’s attraction and the quest for a Japanese identity.

Wall text

 

 

Albertina
Albertinaplatz 1
1010 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43 (0)1 534 83-0

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 6pm
Wednesday 10am – 9pm

Albertina website

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24
Mar
16

Exhibition: ‘Cosa Mentale: Art and Telepathy in the 20th century’ at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, Paris

Exhibition dates: 28th October 2015 – 28th March 2016

 

Louis Darget. 'Fluidic Thought-Image Photography' 1896

 

Louis Darget (French, 1847-1923)
Fluidic Thought-Image Photography
1896

(L) Inscribed: “Photo… of thought. Head obtained by Mr. Henning, having a plate wrapped in black paper on his forehead while he played the piano. Opposite him on the piano was a portrait of Beethoven. Could this be that [same] portrait reflected by the brain onto the plate through the black paper. Comt. Darget”

(R) “Photograph of a Dream: The Eagle.” 25 June, 1896.
Inscribed: “Obtained by placing a photographic plate above the forehead of Mme Darget while she was asleep.”

 

 

Telepathic art in the 20th century. What a fascinating subject for a spiritual, phantasmagoric exhibition which explores artists’ fascination with the direct transmission of thought and emotion. A lot of phenomena – for example telepathy, X-rays, psychoanalysis – were named or discovered in the last half of the nineteenth century or are concepts and things that began to gain popularity in the collective consciousness at that time, such as the unconscious mind, the anima and animus, the study of signs, photographs of thought, photographs of hysteria (Charcot) and notes and photographs on unexplained paranormal experiences.

“The exhibition enables the spectator to understand how, throughout the 20th century, attempts to give material and visible form to thought processes coincide with the experiments of avant-garde artists. This fantasy of a direct projection of thought not only had a decisive impact on the birth of abstraction but also influenced surrealism and its obsession with the collective sharing of creation and, in the post war period, it gave rise to numerous visual and sound installations inspired by the revolution in information technology, leading to the declaration of “the dematerialisation of art” in conceptual practices.”

Love the work of Émile Cohl and Len Lye, both a revelation to me.

Marcus

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

 

 

Edvard Munch. 'Madonna' 1895

 

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Madonna
1895
Paris, Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’Art moderne
© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Georges Meguerditchian

 

Odilon Redon. 'Portrait de Paul Gauguin' 1903-1906

 

Odilon Redon (French, 1840-1916)
Portrait of Paul Gauguin
1903-1906
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

 

Émile Cohl (French, 1857-1938)
Le retapeur de cervelles (The creators brain)
1910

 

Auguste Rodin. 'Le Penseur [The Thinker]' 1903

 

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917)
Le Penseur [The Thinker]
1903
Plâtre patiné / patinated plaster
72 x 37 x 57.50cm
© Photographe: Christian Baraja
© Musée Rodin, Paris

 

 

When conceived in 1880 in its original size (approx. 70cm) as the crowning element of The Gates of Hell, seated on the tympanum, The Thinker was entitled The Poet. He represented Dante, author of the Divine Comedy which had inspired The Gates, leaning forward to observe the circles of Hell, while meditating on his work. The Thinker was therefore initially both a being with a tortured body, almost a damned soul, and a free-thinking man, determined to transcend his suffering through poetry. The pose of this figure owes much to Carpeaux’s Ugolino (1861) and to the seated portrait of Lorenzo de Medici carved by Michelangelo (1526-31).

While remaining in place on the monumental Gates of Hell, The Thinker was exhibited individually in 1888 and thus became an independent work. Enlarged in 1904, its colossal version proved even more popular: this image of a man lost in thought, but whose powerful body suggests a great capacity for action, has became one of the most celebrated sculptures ever known. Numerous casts exist worldwide, including the one now in the gardens of the Musée Rodin, a gift to the City of Paris installed outside the Panthéon in 1906, and another in the gardens of Rodin’s house in Meudon, on the tomb of the sculptor and his wife.

Text from the Rodin Museum website [Online] Cited 22/03/2016. No longer available online

 

Stephen Haweis and Henry Coles. 'Le Penseur' c. 1903-1904

 

Stephen Haweis (British, 1878-1969) and Henry Coles
Le Penseur
c. 1903-1904
Epreuve au charbon / Charcoal
23 x 16.60cm
© Musée Rodin, Paris

 

 

Cosa Mentale  is a unique exhibition that offers a re-reading of the history or art from 1990 to modern day by exploring artists’ fascination with the direct transmission of thought and emotion. It invites the spectator to re-live one of the unexpected adventures of modernity: telepathic art in the 20th century. This exhibition traces a chronological path from symbolism to conceptual art with a collection of some one hundred works by major artists, ranging from Edvard Munch to Vassily Kandinsky, and from Joan Miró to Sigmar Polke. These artists provide innovative ways of communicating with spectators that take us beyond conventional linguistic codes.

The exhibition enables the spectator to understand how, throughout the 20th century, attempts to give material and visible form to thought processes coincide with the experiments of avant-garde artists. This fantasy of a direct projection of thought not only had a decisive impact on the birth of abstraction but also influenced surrealism and its obsession with the collective sharing of creation and, in the post war period, it gave rise to numerous visual and sound installations inspired by the revolution in information technology, leading to the declaration of “the dematerialisation of art” in conceptual practices.

The exhibition begins with the invention of the term “telepathy” in 1882, at a time when the study of psychology interacted with rapid developments in telecommunications. Endeavours ranged from the creation of “photographs of thought” in 1895 to the first “encephalograms” in 1924 (the year when the Surrealist Manifesto was published) and it was the actual activity of the brain which was to be shown in all its transparency, which encouraged artists to reject the conventions of representation by suppressing all restrictions of translation. Telepathy was far from remaining an obscure paranormal fantasy and consistently intrigued and enthralled artists throughout the 20th century. Always present in the world of science fiction, it resurfaced in psychedelic and conceptual art in the period from 1960 to 1970 before reappearing today in contemporary practices enraptured by technologies of “shared knowledge” and the rapid development of neuroscience.

 

Curator

Pascal Rousseau, professor of contemporary history of art at the University of Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne. Pascal Rousseau has also curated Robert Delaunay exhibitions: From impressionism to abstraction, 1906-1914, at the Centre Pompidou (1999) and To the origins of abstraction (1800-1914) at the Musée d’Orsay (2003).

Press release from the Centre Pompidou-Metz

 

Joan Miró. 'La Sieste' July-September 1925

 

Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983)
La Sieste
July – September 1925
© Successió Miró/ ADAGP, Paris, 2015

 

Vassily Kandinsky. 'Bild mit rotem Fleck [Tableau à la tache rouge / Image with red spot]' 25 February 1914

 

Vassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944)
Bild mit rotem Fleck [Tableau à la tache rouge / Image with red spot]
25 February 1914
Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne
© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adam Rzepka

 

Frantisek Kupka. 'Facture robuste' 1920

 

Frantisek Kupka (Czech, 1871-1957)
Facture robuste
1920
Strasbourg, Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain
© ADAGP, Paris, 2015
© Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jacques Faujour

 

 

Len Lye (New Zealand/America, 1901-1980)
Tusalava
1929
Film
10 min. 5 sec.

 

 

As a student, Lye became convinced that motion could be part of the language of art, leading him to early (and now lost) experiments with kinetic sculpture, as well as a desire to make film. Lye was also one of the first Pākehā artists to appreciate the art of Māori, Australian Aboriginal, Pacific Island and African cultures, and this had great influence on his work. In the early 1920s Lye travelled widely in the South Pacific. He spent extended periods in Australia and Samoa, where he was expelled by the New Zealand colonial administration for living within an indigenous community.

Working his way as a coal trimmer aboard a steam ship, Lye moved to London in 1926. There he joined the Seven and Five Society, exhibited in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition and began to make experimental films. Following his first animated film Tusalava, Lye began to make films in association with the British General Post Office, for the GPO Film Unit. He reinvented the technique of drawing directly on film, producing his animation for the 1935 film A Colour Box, an advertisement for “cheaper parcel post”, without using a camera for anything except the title cards at the beginning of the film. It was the first direct film screened to a general audience. It was made by painting vibrant abstract patterns on the film itself, synchronising them to a popular dance tune by Don Baretto and His Cuban Orchestra. A panel of animation experts convened in 2005 by the Annecy film festival put this film among the top ten most significant works in the history of animation (his later film Free Radicals was also in the top 50).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rudolf Steiner. 'Untitled (drawing on blackboard at a conference of 14 May 1924)' Dornach, 14 May 1924

 

Rudolf Steiner (Austrian, 1861-1925)
Untitled (drawing on blackboard at a conference of 14 May 1924)
Dornach, 14 May 1924
Chalk on black paper
Rudolf Steiner Archive, Dornach
© Rudolf Steiner Archiv, Dornach
© ADAGP, Paris, 2015

 

 

A room of the exhibition features ten blackboards by Rudolf Steiner. They are the instructions of a new design language that the artist wants to develop. Steiner believes in the development of a supersensible consciousness, a big change for the future of humanity. He gives many lectures in which he details his research on the concept of transmission and its influence on the social. Whether true or not, artists such as Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and others are interested in the complex graphics of Steiner and his research. Mondrian will even write: “Art is a way of development of mankind.”

Text from the Culture Box website translated from the French

 

Victor Brauner. 'Signe' 1942-45

 

Victor Brauner (Romanian, 1903-1966)
Signe
1942-45
© ADAGP, Paris, 2015

 

 

Exhibition layout

Introduction

The exhibition starts with a version of the famous figure of Rodin’s Thinker, set off against a sequence of seven photographs from the start of the century, in which the Pictorialist dimension seems to attempt to show lighting emissions produced by the cerebral concentration of the subject. This collection is presented opposite TV Rodin, a video installation created by the artist Nam June Paik who, in the 1970s, reinterpreted electromagnetic animation of closed-circuit thought, when interest in cybernetics was at its peak.

 

Auras

The direct visualisation of thought and emotional states and the impact of this on the beginnings of abstraction at the start of the 20th century.

The first room focuses on the passion during the century for “photography of thought.” As a direct response to the discovery of radiography by Röntgen, in 1895, numerous amateur researchers attempted to produce images of the brain on photosensitive plates. Since it was possible to see through opaque bodies, why not try to see through the skull, which was now transparent? A curiosity cabinet presents the photographic experiments of Hippolyte Baraduc and Louis Darget with “psychic ones” or “images of thought.” This selection of photographs interacts with two film animation extracts by Émile Cohl, showing, with some humour, the direct projection of thought onto the big screen with the arrival of the cinema.

In the second room, a collection of engravings from the theosophical works of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater, presented by the American artist Christian Sampson, reveals the close relationship between the representation of emotional states (thought-patterns) and early abstract painting. They inspired many pioneers of abstract painters, including Kupka and Kandinsky. A group of auras and halos is shown, associated with a colour code for different effects, captured by Kandinsky in order to paint authentic abstract (auto) portraits. In the same vein, paintings by Wilhelm Morgner, Janus de Winter and Jacob Bendien present “psychic portraits” which illustrate a psychological range of emotions by means of chromatic signs.

The third room presents a sequence of ten “blackboards” by Rudolph Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy (the “science of the mind” that was a major influence on some of the members of the avant-garde abstract movement), showing how he developed his theories of the “mental body” and “psychic force”. Next to this is a collection of watercolours by the Swedish painter Hilma af Klint, a pioneer of abstract art. Around this area a multimedia installation by the artist Tony Oursler has been specially created for this exhibition reinterpreting the historical imagination of these “mental projections”.

 

Magnetic fields

The spread of telepathy in the inter-war period and its influence on surrealism.

In 1924, André Breton published the Surrealist Manifesto (1924) just when the neurologist Hans Berger invented the first electroencephalogram as a result of experimental research into telepathy: this being a less than accidental coincidence, relating to automated transcriptions of the mind. The “exquisite corpses” or “communicated drawings” of the surrealists are linked to experiments that took place at that time into the telepathic transfer of images.

The first room presents a sequence of photographs of the surrealist group in poses in which heads and bodies communicate with each other to produce a collective work under the mysterious influence of “magnetic fields.” Tusalava (1929), a film by the Australian artist Len Lye, illustrates the cinematographic solution found to make mental activity visible, in the form of abstract ideograms taken from aboriginal language.

The second room shows a collection of photographs from the 1920s, some of which are presented by the artist Frédéric Vaesen, relating to the materialisation of psychic entities, the famous “ectoplasms” which give a more tangible reality to imponderable thought. Next to this is a series of works by Joan Miró, in which the painter depicts coloured auras, including a mental map of emotional states, a “photograph of his dreams”.

 

Mind expander

With the reconstruction of the post war period, divided between the cybernetic model and psychedelic liberation, telepathy remained more than ever a creative horizon for artists in search of perception extended to the electromagnetic manifestations of consciousness.

The New Age spirit of the 1960s witnessed the curious revival of “photographs of thought” (Ted Serios and Salas Portugal), which influenced experimental cinema and psychedelic video (Jordan Belson), a well as some photographic practices (Anna and Bernhard Blume, Dieter Appelt, Suzanne Hiller, John Baldessari and Sigmar Polke).

Under the influence of psychotropic drugs or immersed in highly intense audiovisual devices, electric thought in motion is captured with a penetrating eye. Experimental and radical architectural patterns embody “expanded consciousness”, as is seen in the Mind Expander project (1967) by the Austrian group Haus Rucker Co, which invites the spectator to venture into “superception.” Music has its role here, with the rise in “biomusic” at the end of the 1960s, led by Alvin Lucier, Pierre Henry and David Rosenboom, who produced authentic “brain symphonies,” by means of the sound transcription of the activity of electric waves emitted by the brain, directly captured by electrodes.

 

Telepathy

The establishment of telepathic art in the 1970s influenced by conceptual practices.

On the margins of pop art, avant-garde artists in the 1970s produced a critique of both form and the art market, by means of strategies that emphasised language and sociological discourse. This also involved a major project in the dematerialisation of art works in which telepathy could be an ideal model for a new non-standard form of communication.

The American artist Robert Morris produced his own Autoportrait in the form of an encephalogram (EEG Portrait) at the same time as his compatriot Robert Barry, a central figure in conceptual art, produced Telepathic Pieces (1969) and Vito Acconci explored extra sensory perception through the form of video (Remote Control, 1971). Against this backdrop, we see considerable new interest in a utopia of shared creation (Robert Filliou and Marina Abramovic) in the era of global communication and the “noosphere” prophetically declared by Teilhard de Chardin and Marshall McLuhan.

The exhibition ends with a vast installation by the artist Fabrice Hyber, a major figure of contemporary art in France, with experimental telepathic booths, paintings, drawings and “prototypes of operating objects” (POF). Hyber invites the spectator to participate, alone or in groups, in an experience which has several surprises, reminding us how, today, under the influence of information networks, neuroscience and the globalised internet, telepathy (ultra democratic and utopian yet also obscure) is more topical than ever and can be explored by artists with the same spirit of derision or anticipation.

Press release from the Centre Pompidou-Metz

 

Haus-Rucker-Co. Laurids, Zamp and Pinter with 'Environment Transformern (Flyhead, Viewatomizer and Drizzler)' 1968, from the 'Mind Expander project'

 

Haus-Rucker-Co (Viennese, founded 1967)
Laurids, Zamp and Pinter with Environment Transformern (Flyhead, Viewatomizer and Drizzler)
1968
From the Mind Expander project
Photo: Gert Winkler

 

 

Taking their cue from the Situationist’s ideas of play as a means of engaging citizens, Haus-Rucker-Co created performances where viewers became participants and could influence their own environments, becoming more than just passive onlookers. These installations were usually made from pneumatic structures such as Oase No. 7 (1972), which was created for Documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany. An inflatable structure emerged from the façade of an existing building creating a space for relaxation and play, of which contemporary echoes can be found in the ‘urban reserves’ of Santiago Cirugeda. The different versions of the Mind Expander series (1967-69), consisted of various helmets that could alter the perceptions of those wearing them, for example the ‘Fly Head’ disoriented the sight and hearing of the wearer to create an entirely new apprehension of reality; it also produced one of their most memorable images.

Haus-Rucker-Co’s installations served as a critique of the confined spaces of bourgeois life creating temporary, disposable architecture, whilst their prosthetic devices were designed to enhance sensory experience and highlight the taken-for-granted nature of our senses, seen also in the contemporaneous work of the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark. Contemporary versions of such work can be found in the pneumatic structures favoured by Raumlabor and Exyzt.

Anonymous text from the Spatial Agency website [Online] Cited 22/03/2016.

 

Installation view of Haus-Rucker-Co, 'Mindexpander 1' 1967 in the exhibition 'Cosa mentale' at the Centre Pompidou-Metz

 

Installation view of Haus-Rucker-Co, Mindexpander 1 1967 in the exhibition Cosa mentale at the Centre Pompidou-Metz.
Photo Pompidou Centre. MNAM CCI-distrib. RMN / G. Meguerditchian.

 

 

In 1968, the Austrian collective Haus-Rucker-Co designed the Mind Expander as an immersive capsule propelling the audience into a new mode of perception of reality: the “Superception”. This, then, is a synthesis of avant-garde utopias, throughout the twentieth century, influenced by the imagination that gave rise to the development of telecommunications, seeking to develop a way of live transmission of emotion. Its aim was to invent a new, immediate, relationship between the artist and the viewer.

 

Haus-Rucker-Co. 'Mind Expander' 1967

 

Haus-Rucker-Co (Viennese, founded 1967)
Mind Expander
1967 Vienna
Epreuve gélatino-argentique
Photo: Michael Plitz. Haus-Rucker-Co.

 

David Rosenboom. 'Portable Gold and Philosophers' Stones in Paris 1' 1975

 

David Rosenboom (American, b. 1947)
Portable Gold and Philosophers’ Stones in Paris 1
1975
© David Rosenboom 1975
All rights reserved

 

 

Pianist-composer J.B. Floyd, a long-time collaborator with David Rosenboom is seen with electrodes attached to his head while performing a solo version of Rosenboom’s brainwave music composition Portable Gold and Philosophers’ Stones at Centre Culturel Americain in Paris on 7 January 1975. The equipment shown includes a brainwave monitoring device and an ARP 2600 Synthesizer. The performance occurred simultaneously with a lecture given by David Rosenboom in a presentation titled Biofeedback and the Arts. Artist Jacqueline Humbert, who also participated in the performance, is seated off to the right of the picture frame.

 

Nam June Paik. 'TV Rodin' 1976-1978 (detail)

 

Nam June Paik (American, 1932-2006)
TV Rodin (detail)
1976-1978
Plaster, video camera, tripod, monitor, pedestal
132 x 110 x 115 cm

 

 

Long considered the most important video artist since the advent of the form in the late 1960s, Nam June Paik’s TV Rodin is one of several related works that involve sculpture – in this case, a cast of Auguste Rodin’s Thinker, studying itself in a small video monitor via closed circuit television. As museum visitors walk around the work and look over the sculpture’s shoulder, their image also appears on the screen. Paik’s influential vision of television as a global cultural force found intelligent and witty form in his videotapes, video sculptures, and intercontinental satellite performances.

Text from the Carnegie Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 22/03/2016.

 

Nam June Paik. 'TV Rodin' 1976-1978

 

Nam June Paik (American, 1932-2006)
TV Rodin
1976-1978
Plaster, video camera, tripod, monitor, pedestal
132 x 110 x 115cm
Photo: Primae / Claude Germain. The Estate of Nam June Paik

 

Marina Abramovic and Ulay. 'That Self - Point of Contact' 1980

 

Marina Abramovic (Serbian, b. 1946) and Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen) (German, 1943-2020)
That Self – Point of Contact
1980
Performance au De Appel Art Centre, Amsterdam
© Adagp, Paris 2015
Courtesy Marina Abramovic Archives

 

Sigmar Polke. 'Untitled (Blue)' 1992

 

Sigmar Polke (German, 1941-2010)
Untitled (Blue)
1992
Set of 10 Cibachromes trials
61 x 51cm
The estate of Sigmar Polke / ADAGP, Paris, 2015

 

Fabrice Hyber. 'screen+télépathy' 2013

 

Fabrice Hyber (French, b. 1961)
screen+télépathy
2013
Watercolour, charcoal on paper
76 x 57cm
Collection of the artist
© Photographie Marc Domage

 

Susan Hiller. 'Homage to Marcel Duchamp: Aura (Blue Boy)' 2011

 

Susan Hiller (American, 1940-2019)
Homage to Marcel Duchamp: Aura (Blue Boy)
2011
© Susan Hiller

 

 

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05
Jul
14

Review: ‘Polaroid Project’ at Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th June – 12th July 2014

 

Alan Constable creating one of the cameras for the 'Polaroid Project'

 

Alan Constable creating one of the cameras for the Polaroid Project

 

 

Polaroid Project is a vaguely disappointing exhibition at Arts Project Australia. The intentions and concept are good but the work sits rather silently and uneasily in the gallery space.

Constable’s anthropomorphised cameras are as lumpy and charismatic as ever, but the black colour does them no favours. Instead of transporting the viewer they become rather heavy and dull. They loose most of their transformative appeal.

Atkins’ boxes, “readymade abstractions” – his first attempt at sculpture – needed to be pushed further. While his painting practice uses distinctive graphic, jazz and minimalist colour forms, what makes them so watchable and mesmerising is that the eye has to attempt to go beyond the two-dimensional plane, to interrogate the juxtaposition of shape and space. The MDF cubes hand painted with auto acrylic paint deny the eye the ability to probe beyond the surface because the surface is already three dimensional. These boxes, these gestures of appropriation (devoid of text) just become perfect simulacra and, in reality, they really don’t take you anywhere.

Here’s an idea (or two): as Constable has had to take the camera out of the boxes – interior becomes exterior – what about carving into the MDF boxes in a series of steps that move inwards – exterior becomes interior! The colours would then move away from you. Not in all of them, just a few. It would certainly add more life and movement to the ensemble. And then, for good measure, paint a couple of the walls in the colours of the boxes – the whole goddam wall. THEN, place the cameras and cubes against this neon pop surface and see what happens… WHAM! KAPOW! Now we have something to think about, not this side by side act of representation that is really rather awkward.

Just me rabbiting on with some ideas, but as I said at the beginning, the whole exhibition is too silent and deadly. The whole shebang needs a good jolt of electricity to get the juices flowing. After all these ARE pop colours and these ARE Polaroid cameras – which produced the most popular form of instantaneous photograph, and representation in a physical form, so far invented. Ah, that speed and velocity of transmission.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Arts Project Australia for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. As noted installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Complete reference forms for Polaroid Project

 

Polaroid camera inspiration

 

Polaroid camera inspiration

 

Polaroid camera inspiration

 

 

Polaroid Project is an in-depth collaborative project between celebrated Melbourne based artists Alan Constable and Peter Atkins examines both artists shared interests in the reinterpretation of existing forms, offering the viewer an opportunity to experience the complimentary ways these diverse artists view their distinctive worlds. This significant exhibition sees both artists responding to a collection of twelve original Polaroid cameras and packaging manufactured in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

Alan Constable (Arts Project Australia, Melbourne)

Alan Constable is both a painter and a ceramicist who has exhibited in Australian and International galleries for over 25 years and has been a finalist in a number of significant contemporary art awards. Based on imagery from newspapers and magazines, his recent paintings are notable for their vibrant kaleidoscopic effects and strong sense colour and patterning. Though Constable’s works are often centred on political events and global figures, his thematic concerns are frequently subjugated by the pure visual experience of colour and form. Despite the occasional gravity of his subject matter, there is a genuine sense of joy within Constable’s paintings.

Constable’s ceramic works reflect a life-long fascination with old cameras, which began with his making replicas from cardboard cereal boxes at the age of eight. The sculptures are lyrical interpretations of technical instruments, and the artist’s finger marks can be seen clearly on the clay surface like traces of humanity. In this way, Alan Constable cameras can be viewed as extensions of the body, as much as sculptural representations of an object. Alan Constable’s clay cameras were recently exhibited in Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria. All thirteen cameras displayed were subsequently acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria for their permanent collection.

 

Peter Atkins (Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne)

Peter Atkins is a leading Australian contemporary artist and an important representative of Australian art in the International arena. Over the past twenty-five years he has exhibited in Australia, New Zealand, England, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Mexico. His practice has centred around the appropriation and reinterpretation readymade abstract forms and patterns that are collected within his immediate environment, either within a local or international context. This material becomes the direct reference source for his work, providing tangible evidence to the viewer of his relationship and experience within the landscape. Particular interest is paid to the cultural associations of forms that have the capacity to trigger within the viewer, memory, nostalgia or a shared history of past experiences. Recent projects including ‘Disney Color Project’, ‘The Hume Highway Project’, ‘Monopoly Project’ and ‘In Transit’ all reference this collective cultural recall and shared experience.

Peter Atkins has held over 40 solo exhibitions with his survey exhibition titled Big Paintings 1990-2003 touring regional galleries during 2003-04. He has been represented in over fifty significant group exhibitions, including The Loti and Victor Smorgan Gift of Australian Contemporary Art at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Uncommon World: Aspects of Contemporary Australian Art and Home Sweet Home: Works from the Peter Fay Collection, both at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and more recently in the prestigious Clemenger Contemporary Art Award at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2009/2010. His work is represented in the collections of every major Australian State Gallery as well as prominent Institutional, Corporate and Private collections both Nationally and Internationally. In 2010 his solo exhibition for Tolarno Galleries at the Melbourne Art Fair titled Hume Highway Project was purchased for The Lyon Collection in Melbourne.

Text from the Arts Project Australia website

 

Peter Atkins with Alan Constable in the Arts Project Australia Studio in Northcote

 

Peter Atkins with Alan Constable in the Arts Project Australia Studio in Northcote.

 

Alan Constable work in progress at Arts Project Australia Studio in Northcote

 

Alan Constable work in progress at Arts Project Australia Studio in Northcote. The cameras are inspired by a collection of retro Polaroid cameras collected by Peter Atkins.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Polaroid Project' at Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Polaroid Project' at Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Polaroid Project at Arts Project Australia, Melbourne
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Two Takes On The Pop Object

Polaroid Project, which brings together Peter Atkins’ re-creations of Polaroid camera packaging and Alan Constable’s versions of the cameras found within those boxes, demonstrates the continued relevance of how artists engage with the objects of consumer culture fifty years after the advent of Pop Art. At first glance, Peter Atkins and Alan Constable seem like unlikely collaborators. Atkins is a painter and Constable is best known as a sculptor, a maker of ceramic cameras. Atkins is invested in reproducing the clean lines and abstract, colourful design of the advertising industry in exacting detail. The lines of Constable’s cameras are never clean. His forms are inherently exaggerated, and the cameras themselves showcase the thumbing, handling, and kneading of the clay medium. If Atkins goes out of his way to convince us that his Polaroid box paintings-cum-sculptures share the near-seamlessness of the real thing, Constable seems to do just the opposite with his cameras. The latter are obviously NOT real cameras: their comic-book personalities, decidedly handmade disposition, their larger-than-life scale, and the fact that they wear their ceramic qualities so proudly (glazed in any number of colours) collectively proclaim their fiction. Despite the apparent disparity of the two artists, both rely exclusively on their own hands to create their work, even when that labour replicates the aesthetic of mechanical reproduction, in the case of Atkins. If we dig deep, we can ascertain a pronounced kinship shared by the two artists that dates back to early Pop in the United States – before the advent of Warhol’s screenprinting techniques that relied on the photograph. Both Atkins and Constable inhabit the handmade rather than the machine-produced realm of Pop, and signal to us that such strategies are still surprisingly timely today despite the digital and highly mediated culture we inhabit.

For nearly 20 years, Peter Atkins has been painting design forms on tarpaulin canvases (occasionally using other supports as well) appropriated from a range of sources including outdoor advertising, record albums, matchbooks, paperback books, product packaging, and street signage. Atkins reduces the essential forms of selected designs by deleting accompanying text and focusing completely on the graphic qualities of the image itself. Atkins has labelled his engagement with the graphic design of packaging and signage ‘readymade abstraction’ – utilising imagery that already exists in the world to transpose and distil into pared-down paintings. Steeped in the gesture of appropriation that has concerned artists for a century now (the readymade made its debut at the 1913 Armory Show when Marcel Duchamp displayed a porcelain urinal as a sculpture), Atkins has worked exclusively as a painter until recently.

Atkins has long been a collector of the objects on which he bases his paintings and the genesis of Polaroid Project firmly demonstrates this. Struck by the iconic graphic design of bright rainbow colour patterns on the original containers for Polaroid instant cameras, Atkins began collecting the camera boxes in earnest about three years ago (the original cameras were still inside the packaging). All of the packages and cameras date between 1969 and 1978; the colour spectrum / rainbow motif evident on the packages is not only indicative of graphic design of the period, but also alludes to the purported chromatic vibrancy of Polaroid film. Atkins knew he wanted to make a body of work using the boxes and was aware that he would be breaking new ground within the evolution of his practice by painting three-dimensionally. Atkins acknowledges that he first ignored what was inside the boxes he was collecting – the cameras themselves. Fetishising the veneer surrounding the product rather than the thing itself, Atkins almost forgot that the purpose of the packaging was to sell cameras. Halfway through the development of the project, Atkins began to marvel at the engineering elegance of the cameras and a light bulb went off in his head – the Arts Project Australia studio artist Alan Constable, recognised for his ceramic sculptures of cameras, would be an inspired collaborator for the project. If Atkins explores the visual language of how we are drawn to things, thereby making images designed for the masses his own, Constable’s skill lies in personalising what is inside the box, transforming a mass-produced consumer product into an idiosyncratic object.

Polaroid Project marks the first time Atkins has focused on replicating consumer packaging in 3D, creating what Donald Judd might have termed ‘specific objects’, art objects that incorporate aspects of painting and sculpture, but do not fit neatly into either category. As Atkins admits himself, his transformed Polaroid camera containers are difficult to categorise: Are they 3D paintings or sculptures? Similarly, they exist in the interstices of Pop and Minimalism, referencing images taken from advertisements, but eliminating descriptive text, distilling ads to abstraction. If it were not for Alan Constable’s cameras exhibited nearby, the viewer would most likely be unable to make the associative leap that these brightly coloured objects are in fact based on commercial packaging that housed and marketed cameras. In order to create boxes that appear as realistic as possible while still retaining proper rigidity as a support for a painting, Atkins used 6mm thick MDF board that he painstakingly sanded, infilling any gaps or surface blemishes with epoxy in order to simulate paper packing material as closely as possible. He then masked out the designs with tape and finally painted the Polaroid signature designs using carefully matched automobile spray paint. What looks machine-printed and fabricated is actually the product of artistic labour. Atkins’ boxes are the same size as the original packaging and are seemingly authentic in every way except for his decision not to reproduce text or photographic imagery, concentrating only on the colourful designs and the cubic format of the container.

Alan Constable’s glazed ceramic cameras lack precise lines and angles; their handmade wonkiness imbues them with a sentience, as if each sculpture is a character, a refugee from a cartoon narrative. If Philip Guston was a ceramicist, these are the kind of objects he would make. Constable has had a near life-long fascination with cameras. He made his first cameras from cardboard at the age of eight. The ceramic cameras have ranged from accordion-style devices to digital cameras to Polaroids, and all share the noticeable imprint of the artist’s hands and fingers, and quite often, an enlargement of scale compared to their real-world counterparts. Constable is legally blind and has pinhole vision so must work close-up during the creative process. For objects whose very existence are predicated on recording the visible, Constable’s cameras are created far more out of a sense of touch than sight. In Constable’s hands, cameras, which we usually associate with the optical, are transformed into the tactile.

Constable’s cameras are made by adding, subtracting, forming, and inscribing clay. A viewfinder or dial might be modelled separately from the camera body and then grafted on later and finally secured in the firing process. Viewfinders and lenses may be actual apertures or voids, but sometimes (as in the case of Constable’s copies of digital cameras) the display might feature an incised drawing of an imagined landscape, Constable’s take on trompe l’oeil realism. Constable also incises line work onto the camera’s surface to suggest dimension and detail. Constable’s cameras are structurally engineered from the inside out, containing internal chambers and walls to provide inherent stability, but also, perhaps, as a nod to speculative authenticity. Constable usually makes his cameras based on magazine advertisements; for Polaroid Project he had the rare opportunity of using real cameras as models for his sculptures.

Atkins is firmly situated within the handmade domain of the pop object/painting, as his renditions of Polaroid boxes are fabricated and painted only by him not by mechanical means, although the precise and seamless nature of his paint application replicates the look of commercial printing nearly exactly. While Alan Constable also relies on his hands in an endeavour to create a rendering of a commercial product, he does not in any way attempt to copy the Polaroid camera perfectly, or at least the results of his labour do not suggest a desire for verisimilitude. In a certain sense, Atkins plays Roy Lichtenstein to Constable’s Claes Oldenburg – two masters of early 1960s Pop. Lichtenstein made paintings of mass-produced printed imagery – notably comics – enlarging the image to reveal the building block of newsprint, the Ben Day dot. While Atkins does not necessarily play with scale the way Lichtenstein did, he shares with Lichtenstein a keen interest in exploring the imagery of popular culture, transposing it in paint to mimic commercial printing. In his installation The Store (1961), Claes Oldenburg riffed on the consumer products of the day creating handmade, cartoonish objects of exaggerated scale. While Constable forms his cameras out of clay, Oldenburg made his renditions of consumer goods from plaster-soaked muslin formed over wire frames, then painted in enamel – making no attempt to ape the real. Oldenburg’s objects have more in common with paintings than Constable’s cameras, but both amplify scale and instil an animated sensibility in the work, anthropomorphising objects. Lichtenstein and The Store-era Oldenburg represent the extremes of how Pop artists engaged with representation – mimicking commercial printing technology through exacting paintings, on the one hand, versus reproducing commercial goods through awkward handcraft on the other. The pairing of Atkins and Constable shows that the Lichtenstein / Oldenburg diametric is alive and well today and that artists continue to explore different registers of the real in depicting the pop object, relying solely on their own hands.

© ALEX BAKER 2014
Director Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia USA

Reproduced with permission

 

Alan Constable & Peter Atkins. 'Square Shooter 2 #2' 2014

 

Alan Constable and Peter Atkins
Square Shooter 2 #2 (installation view)
2014
Ceramic camera and auto acrylic on MDF
Box: 16.7 x 16.7 x 18.4cm
Camera: 16 x 14 x 16cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable & Peter Atkins. 'Super Shooter' 2014

 

Alan Constable and Peter Atkins
Super Shooter (installation view)
2014
Ceramic camera and auto acrylic on MDF
Box: 16 x 17.5 x 18cm
Camera: 16 x 14 x 16cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable & Peter Atkins. 'Colorpack ll' 2014

 

Alan Constable and Peter Atkins
Colorpack ll (installation view)
2014
Ceramic camera and auto acrylic on MDF
Box: 16.7 x 16.7 x 19.8cm
Camera: 15.5 x 16 x 20cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable & Peter Atkins. 'Colorpack ll' 2014 (detail)

Alan Constable & Peter Atkins. 'Colorpack ll' 2014 (detail)

 

Alan Constable and Peter Atkins
Colorpack ll (detail)
2014
Ceramic camera and auto acrylic on MDF
Camera: 15.5 x 16 x 20cm
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable & Peter Atkins. 'The Clincher' 2014 (detail)

 

Alan Constable and Peter Atkins
The Clincher (detail)
2014
Ceramic camera and auto acrylic on MDF
Camera: 17.5 x 18 x 18cm
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Alan Constable & Peter Atkins. 'Colorpack 82' 2014

 

Alan Constable and Peter Atkins
Colorpack 82 (catalogue view)
2014
Ceramic camera and auto acrylic on MDF
Box: 16.7 x 16.7 x 18.4cm
Camera: 16.5 x 14.5 x 20cm

 

Alan Constable & Peter Atkins. 'Super Color Swinger' 2014

 

Alan Constable and Peter Atkins
Super Color Swinger (catalogue view)
2014
Ceramic camera and auto acrylic on MDF
Box: 16.7 x 16.7 x 18.4cm
Camera: 17 x 15 x 15cm

 

Alan Constable & Peter Atkins. 'Square Shooter 2 (with flash)' 2014

 

Alan Constable and Peter Atkins
Square Shooter 2 (with flash) (catalogue view)
2014
Ceramic camera and auto acrylic on MDF
Box: 16.7 x 16.7 x 18.4cm
Camera: 17 x 14 x 18cm

 

 

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03
Dec
13

Essay: ‘Made ready: A Philosophy of Moments’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century’ at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 3rd October – 14th December 2013

Presented by Monash University Museum of Art in association with Melbourne Festival

 

Marcel Duchamp. 'Bicycle wheel' (detail) 1913 reconstructed 1964 (installation view detail)

 

Marcel Duchamp (French-American, 1887-1968)
Bicycle wheel (installation view detail) (with Dr Marcus Bunyan)
1913 reconstructed 1964
Painted wooden stool and bicycle wheel
Stool: 50.4cm (h.); wheel: 64.8cm (diam.); overall: 126.5cm (h.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: © Joyce Evans

 

 

Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) is generating an enviable reputation for holding vibrant, intellectually stimulating group exhibitions on specific ideas, concepts and topics. This exhibition is no exception. It is one of the best exhibitions I have seen in Melbourne this year. Accompanied by a strong catalogue with three excellent essays by Thierry de Duve, Dr Rex Butler and Patrice Sharkey, this is a must see exhibition for any Melbourne art aficionado before it closes. My favourite pieces were Jeff Koons’ tactile Balloon dog (Red) (1995, below) and the coupling, copulating lights of Lou Hubbard’s Stretch (2007, below).

I am not going to critique the exhibition pieces per se but offer some thoughts about the nature of the readymade below.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to MUMA for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs taken at the opening © Monash University Museum of Art and Dr Marcus Bunyan unless otherwise stated.

Download this essay as a pdf (9.8Mb pdf) Text © Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

“This transition is a flash, a boundary where this becomes that, not then, not that – falling in love, jumping of a bridge. Alive : dead; presence : absence; purpose : play; mastery : exhaustion; logos : silence; worldly : transcendent. Not this, not that. It is an impossible presence, present – a moment of unalienated production that we know exists but we cannot define it, place it. How can we know love? We can speak of it in a before and after sense but it is always a past moment that we recognise.

.
Dr Marcus Bunyan. Made Ready: A Philosophy of Moments. December 2013

 

 

Made ready: A Philosophy of Moments

Dr Marcus Bunyan

December 2013

 

The readymade is everywhere in the world (for the readymade can be made of anything); the readymade is nowhere in the world. This is the paradox of the readymade: it does not exist in the world as art until after the artist has named it. In this sense it can be argued that there is no such thing as a readymade. It only comes into being through the will and intention of the artist. The readymade may live unnamed in the world for years but it does not exist in the world as art until the artist has intentionally named it (or made it). As Marcel Duchamp observes,

“It’s not the visual aspect of the readymade that matters, it’s simply that fact that it exists… Visuality is no longer the question: the readymade is no longer visible, so to speak. It is completely grey matter. It is no longer retinal.”1

The readymade is (initially) a concept of the brain and not of the eye. It is a commodity made by man living in the world made ready for identification as art ‘already made’ by the recognition of the artist of its exchange value – the object as transitory metonym which “stands in” for another place of being through a change of name or purpose. It is the intention of the artist to impose an (alternate) order on the object, an order in which the readymade questions aesthetic criteria and categories such as taste, authorship and intentionality. As Dr Rex Butler notes, “The work is not simply intended – which is an obvious fact about any work of art – but about an intention that has come to replace, while entirely reproducing, that which is the very embodiment of the contingent and unpredictable.”2

According to Thierry de Duve, the choosing of the object is accompanied by three other acts: naming the object, signing it and devising some original presentation for it.3 There are the so called unassisted readymades (such as Duchamp’s Bottle dryer, 1914 reconstructed 1964 below) and there are also plain, aided, sick, unhappy, reciprocal and semi-readymades.4 In reality no readymade is unassisted as all are called into being by the mind of the artist. But the concept of the readymade “heralds the realisation that art can be made from anything whatsoever.”5 If this is the case then the readymade “makes of all aesthetic judgements something unconvincing, derivative, second-hand,”6 perhaps even deliberately “invoking” criticism before the artwork is even constructed. If the inherent structural and aesthetic function of all things is predetermined, as though fulfilling some underlying design, it is the artists intentionality in naming the object as art – a model of explanation “that abducts from external products to internal processes, from what is visible to what must be inferred”7 – that deliberately places and fixes these objects in a new moment in space and time.

Through appropriation, readymades “make their claim to the dignity of an art object through some unexpected presentation that decontextualises them and pulls them away from their daily use.”8 Through appropriation, artists laud everyday objects as art for all to see.9 Through appropriation, art institutes emphasise the power of the art institution, the readymade made taxidermied, stuffed object, placed on a stand, an everyday object lauded as art for all to see. In this scenario, the desire of manufacturing that wants consumer objects to be seen as useful, valuable is inverted as readymades become institutional objects of desire just out of reach of the audience (10,000 dollar coins just lying around on the floor!). The death of the object as an object and its reanimation “to the dignity of an art object” is completed “simply by its presence in the museum.”10 As Elizabeth Wilson states, “The only defence against transgressive desire is to turn either oneself or the object of desire to stone.”11 In this case it is the museum officials that turn the object of desire into stone (by lionising them as readymades). In actuality, these objects that artists imagine explore the dichotomy between presence and absence and the nature of transgressive desire.

Essentially, the concept of the readymade is both elastic (like the band that holds together the brick and book cover in Claire Fontaine’s witty La société du spectacle brickbat 2006, below) and fixed (like the brick itself), the readymade being both a performative act (ritualised play) and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects it names.12 Further, a link can be made to Bachelard’s theory of space and imagination which describes literary space as reflexive, resonant and moulded by consciousness.13 In their playfulness the spatial dynamics of readymades challenge and illuminate the human, sensory possibility. They examine how the reality of contemporary life is disguised and concealed from view, and how human beings are alienated from the very objects that they produce. For the French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre, “(The) critique of everyday life is … at once a rejection of the inauthentic and the alienated, and an unearthing of the human which still lies buried therein.”14

“One avenue for this unearthing is what Lefebvre describes as moments of presence – fleeting, sensate instants in which the “totality of possibilities contained in daily existence” were revealed. While destined to pass in an instant, it is through such moments that we are able to catch glimpses of the relation between the everyday and the social totality.”15 This philosophy or theory of moments was developed in opposition to Bergson’s understanding of time as a linear duration (duree) of separate instances and for Lefebvre, these “moments are “experiences of detachment from the everyday flow of time” which puncture the banality of everyday life…”16

“All the activities that constitute everyday life must then be rethought in terms of a dialectic of presence and absence and each moment is simultaneously an opportunity for alienation and disalienation.”17 The readymade, then, explores the politically radical potential that lies within the everyday through play and the intentionality of the artist. Through representation, readymades mediate between absence and presence; through poësis they begin to inhabit another time and space.

“In the poetic act, presence is the given. Lefebvre intends ‘poetic’ to cover unalienated production – the Greek poësis – as he explained in The Production of Space (1974)… Presence and poësis stand outside social relations of production. Flashes of inspiration, moments when one feels ‘all together’ and ‘in touch’, are not determined by economic relations, and cannot be prevented, even in a prison camp.”18

Readymades are a reaction against the linear production of industry, which is both functional and hierarchical. They are a reaction against the banality and repetition of the everyday – of the hegemony of capitalist production and the social relations of everyday life. In a culture of use and use by, the readymade “inscribes the work of art within a network of signs and pre-existing material.”19 Theses assemblages enable us to ask the question, what makes aesthetic judgement possible. They offer an alternative form of resistance to the imposition of linear repetition, through a form of mental and visual play. The moment of the representation encloses a transition (something transitory, something which ‘traverses’)20 – through a plethora of creative, emotive and imaginative practices – from something stable to un/stable.

This transition is a flash, a boundary where this becomes that, not then, not that – falling in love, jumping of a bridge. Alive : dead; presence : absence; purpose : play; mastery : exhaustion; logos : silence; worldly : transcendent. Not this, not that. It is an impossible presence, present – a moment of unalienated production that we know exists but we cannot define it, place it. How can we know love? We can speak of it in a before and after sense but it is always a past moment that we recognise.

It is the same with the readymade. The inscriptions on the early readymades (such as the bottle dryer and urinal) detailing authorship, dates, times, places can be seen as an attempt to ‘fix’ an individual artwork in the flow of time, to distinguish it from its unacknowledged neighbour – like “fixing” a photograph. It is telling that when the bottle rack was lost and remade in the 1960s the text that was originally on the lower metal ring was lost with the object itself.21 The text sought to fix these transitory moments of absence : presence.

Søren Kierkegaard calls this transition a “leap,” where a human being chooses an ethical life-view, one that resides in the actual and not in an ironic-aesthetic attitude.

“It is important to see that choice, as the characteristic of the ethical lifeview, forms a radical break with the ironic spiral of the aesthetic attitude. Kierkegaard sometimes calls the ethical choice a “leap,” a term that expresses the fundamental uncertainty of each commitment to actuality: contrary to aesthetic fantasy, which is “safely” self-contained, the outcome of the individual’s ethical choice is dependent on actuality and therefore not fully under the individual’s control. This is a decisive difference between aesthetic irony (including meta-irony) and the ethical leap: instead of merely rejecting all actuality, the latter takes responsibility for a certain actuality and tries to reshape it.”22

And tries to reshape it. Thus we can say that readymades are human beings taking responsibility for their actuality by choosing to name an object as art, creating objects that challenge aesthetic value judgements and an ironic-aesthetic lifeview through their very presence, by their very selfness. Remembering (ah memory!), that it is always a past moment that we recognise. The familiar is not necessarily the known – it has to be named.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Endnotes

  1. Duchamp, Marcel. “Talking about Readymades,” Interview by Phillipe Collin, June 21, 1967, quoted in Girst, Thomas. “Duchamp for Everyone,” in The Indefinite Duchamp. Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2013, p. 55 quoted in Day, Charlotte. “Introduction,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 85
  2. Butler, Rex. “Two Snapshots of the Readymade Today,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 98
  3. Duve, Thierry de. “Readymade,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 92
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Ibid.,
  6. Butler, op. cit.,
  7. Danto, Arthur C. “Criticism, advocacy, and the end-of-art condition: a working paper,” on Artnet website [Online] Cited 01/12/2013. www.artnet.com/magazine_pre2000/features/danto/danto97-3-6.asp
  8. Duve, op. cit. p. 91
  9. “Still, appropriationism, which defines the end-of-art condition, is pretty much the defining principle of our moment, putting, as it does, everything and every combination of things at the service of art, even including bad drawing and bad painting, since these, being designated, tell us only what kind of point the artist who appropriates them intends, not what kind of artist she or he is.”
    Danto op. cit.,
  10. Duchamp, Marcel. Definition of the readymade in the Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme quoted in Duve, op. cit. p. 92
  11. Wilson, Elizabeth. “The Invisible Flaneur,” in Watson, Sophie and Gibson, Katherine (eds.,). Postmodern Cities and Spaces. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1995, p. 75
  12. Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993, p. 1-2
  13. See Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1958 (1994)
  14. Trebitsch, M. “Preface,” in Lefebvre, Henri. Critique of everyday life Vol. I. London: Verso, 1991, pp.ix-xxviii quoted in Butler, Chris. Law and the Social Production of Space. August 2003, p.60 [Online] Cited 01/12/2013. No longer available online
  15. Harvey, D. “Afterword,” in Lefebvre, Henri. The production of space. Blackwell, Oxford, 1991, see note 1, at p. 429 quoted in Butler, Chris. Ibid., p. 60
  16. Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, love and struggle: spatial dialectics. London: Routledge, 1999, see note 4, at p. 61 quoted in Butler, Chris. Ibid., p. 61
  17. Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, love and struggle: spatial dialectics. London: Routledge, 1999, see note 4, at p. 70 quoted in Butler, Chris. Ibid., p. 61
  18. Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, love and struggle: spatial dialectics. London: Routledge, 1999, p. 99 [Online] Cited 01/12/2013. Google Books website.
  19. Sharkey, Patrice. “When Everything is already a Readymade,” in Reinventing the Wheel: The Readymade Century. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 2013, p. 107
  20. Lefebvre, Henri. The production of space. Blackwell, Oxford, 1991, p. 213 quoted in Shields, Rob op. cit., p. 99
  21. Duve, op. cit. p. 91
  22. Dulk, Allard Den. “Beyond Endless “Aesthetic” Irony: A Comparison of the Irony Critique of Søren Kierkegaard and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” in Studies in the Novel Vol. 44, No. 3. University of North Texas: Fall 2012, pp. 325-345

 

 

Man Ray. 'Cadeau (Gift)' 1921 reconstructed 1970 (installation view)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Cadeau (Gift) (installation view)
1921 reconstructed 1970
Iron with brass tacks and wooden base
Overall: 19.0 x 14.9 x 14.9cm; iron & base: 17.9 x 14.9 x 14.9cm; glass cover: 19.0cm (h.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan

 

Marcel Duchamp. 'Bicycle wheel' 1913 and 'Bottle dryer' 1914 (installation view)

 

Marcel Duchamp (French-American, 1887-1968)
Bicycle wheel
1913 reconstructed 1964
Painted wooden stool and bicycle wheel
Stool: 50.4cm (h.); wheel: 64.8cm (diam.); overall: 126.5cm (h.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Marcel Duchamp (French-American, 1887-1968)
Bottle dryer
1914 reconstructed 1964
Galvanised iron bottle dryer
65 x 44 x 43cm (overall); base: 37.5cm (diam.)
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Martin Creed (British, b. 1968)
Work no. 88 A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball
1995
A4 paper, ed. 625/Unlimited
Approx. 2 in / 5.1cm diameter
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, London

Aleks Danko (Australian, b. 1950)
Art stuffing
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on paper-stuffed hessian bag
75 x 58 x 30cm
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales – John Kaldor Family Collection
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan

 

Barry Humphries. 'Battle of the plate' 1958 (installation view)

 

Barry Humphries (Australian, b. 1934)
Battle of the plate (installation view)
1958
Welded steel forks
28.5 x 87 x 26.5cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of Barrett Reid 2000
Photo: © Joyce Evans

 

Haim Steinbach. 'Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks)' 1990 (installation view)

Haim Steinbach. 'Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks)' 1990 (installation view detail)

Haim Steinbach. 'Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks)' 1990 (installation view detail)

 

Haim Steinbach (Israeli-American, b. 1944)
Untitled (graters, Victorian iron banks) (installation view details)
1990
Aluminium laminated wood shelf with glass display case and objects
150 x 150 x 62cm (overall installed)
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales
Photos: © Marcus Bunyan

 

Tony Cragg. 'Spyrogyra' 1992 (installation view)

Tony Cragg. 'Spyrogyra' 1992 (installation view)

 

Tony Cragg (British, b. 1949)
Spyrogyra (installation views)
1992
Glass and steel
220.0 x 210.0cm
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan

 

Tony Cragg. 'Spyrogyra' 1992 (installation view detail)

 

Tony Cragg (British, b. 1949)
Spyrogyra (installation detail)
1992
Glass and steel
220 x 210 cm
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Arguably the most influential artistic development of the twentieth century, the readymade was set in motion one hundred years ago when Marcel Duchamp mounted an upturned bicycle wheel on a stool. Duchamp’s conversion of unadorned, everyday objects into fine art completely inverted how artistic practice was considered. Suddenly, art was capable of being everywhere and in everything. It was a revolutionary moment in modern art and the ripples from this epochal shift still resonate today.

Reinventing the Wheel: the Readymade Century pays tribute to Duchamp’s innovation, including two key examples of his work: Bicycle wheel 1913 and Bottle dryer 1914. Other important historical works that MUMA has borrowed for the exhibition reveal the readymade’s presence in Minimalism and Conceptual art as well as its echoes in Pop art. The exhibition traces some of the ways the readymade has been reinterpreted by subsequent artists in acts of homage to Duchamp or further expanding the possibilities the readymade has unfurled.

Among the various trajectories of the readymade, Reinventing the Wheel traces its elaborations in neo-dada practices, with a particular focus on everyday and vernacular contexts; the mysterious and libidinous potential of sculptural objects; institutional critique and nominal modes of artistic value. These discursive contexts also provide a foundation to explore more recent tendencies related to unmonumental and social sculpture, post-Fordism and other concerns, particularly among contemporary Australian artists. Bringing together works by over forty artists – from Duchamp and Man Ray to Andy Warhol and Martin Creed, along with some of Australia’s leading practitioners – this is a one-of-a-kind salute to an idea that continues to define the very nature of contemporary art.

“This is the most ambitious exhibition that MUMA has yet presented, including works that establish the historical moment of the readymade in Europe and its reception in the USA and in Australia. Most exciting is the opportunity for living artists to see their work as part of this ongoing history,” said Charlotte Day, Director of MUMA.

Press release from the MUMA website

 

Joseph Kosuth. 'One and three tables' 1965 (installation view)

 

Joseph Kosuth (American, b. 1945)
One and three tables (installation view)
1965
Wooden table, gelatin silver photograph, and photostat mounted on foamcore
Installation dimensions variable
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan