Posts Tagged ‘queer

24
Sep
17

Review: ‘Queer British Art 1861-1967’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 5th April – 1st October 2017

Curators: Clare Barlow, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain with Amy Concannon, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain

 

 

Queer British Art book cover

 

Queer British Art 1861-1967 book cover

 

 

 

Very Pauline

Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain examines the “historical reality of same-sex relationships and non-normative sexual identities” from 1861, the year for the end of the death penalty for sodomy in Great Britain, through to 1967 which is when sex between consenting adults in private, obviously male homosexuality is partially decriminalised in England and Wales. The timescale of the exhibition encompasses the beginning of a more considered understanding of gender and sexual identity through to the beginnings of a limited freedom: from repression to liberation.

For a man who came out in London in 1975, only 8 short years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, this exhibition should have been more engaging than it was. While there were some outstanding art works and artefacts presented in the eight rooms of the exhibition, chronologically laid out in the posting below – such as the prison door from Oscar Wilde’s cell at Reading Gaol, Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s book covers, the paintings of Henry Scott Tuke and the photography of Angus McBean – there was little of the passion of being gay in evidence in much of the objects, or how they were presented. It all seemed so very academic, and not in a good way. Other than some stunning erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, Duncan Grant and Keith Vaughan (see below) there was little to suggest that being gay had anything to do with sex, the exhibition living up to that very British of axiom’s, “No sex please, we’re British!” The curators may have thought that sex would be a distraction, for it was all ‘very Pauline’.

The exhibition is full of innuendo, supposition, obfuscation, abstinence, hints, traces, clouded desires and supposed longings – in both the art work and the wall texts which accompanied the work. Of course, this is how artists had to hide their sexuality, same-sex desires and relationships during much of this period for fear of ostracisation from society and possible prosecution, but the presentation came across as little more than “au fait”, so much matter of fact. The exhibition was not helped by illuminating texts such as this: “The exact nature of Thomas and Philpot’s relationship is unknown. Many of Philpot’s depictions of Thomas carry a homoerotic charge and some are exoticising. What Thomas felt about his years with Philpot from 1929 to the artist’s death in 1937 is unknown.” Ugh!

You might as well have said nothing, and let the art work speak for itself.

Other commentaries could have done with a more insightful enunciation of the circumstances of the particular artist, in addition to text on the specific art work. A perceptive anointing of their life would have added invaluably to the frisson of the exhibition. For example, I wanted to know why the painter Christopher Wood died at the young age of 29 as well as the specifics of his painting Nude Boy in a Bedroom (1930, below). According to Wikipedia, Wood – bisexual, addicted to opium and painting frenetically in preparation for his Wertheim exhibition in London – became psychotic and jumped under a train at Salisbury railway station. These are the things that you need to know if you are to fully appreciate the gravitas of a life and a person’s relationship to their art, don’t you think?

Further, no pictures were allowed in the gallery spaces. Whereas I could take photographs of the Rachel Whiteread exhibition at the same venue to my heart’s content (even after being confronted by a guard who said I couldn’t, who was then corrected by a colleague with no apology for his attitude to me), I had to play a Machiavellian game of cunning hide and seek with guards and attendants to get the installation photographs of this exhibition. Why was this so? It almost seemed to be a case of the gallery being ashamed of the art they were exhibiting, as though the attitudes of the past towards art that explores same-sex relationships was being replicated by the duplicity of the gallery itself: the art could be seen but not heard, hidden away in the bowls of an academic institution. I also noted that one of 19 collages that Kenneth Halliwell exhibited at the Anno Domino gallery in 1967 (see below) was purchased by the Tate in 2016. Considering “the exhibition was a failure and Halliwell’s professional frustration contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Orton,” eventuating the murder of the playwright and his own suicide… for some of those very same works to now reside at the Tate is the ultimate irony. I doubt Halliwell would have been laughing in his grave.

The stand out works in this exhibition were by Duncan Grant and Keith Vaughan. Their work explores the strength and beauty of the male form with a vitality of purpose and harmony of composition that was succinct and illuminating for this viewer. Grant’s Bathing (1911, below) ascribes anthropomorphic qualities to distorted figures whose elongated arms, distended chests and exposed buttocks would have been shocking to the people of Belle Epoque Britain. His erotic drawings (below) were the most beautiful, sensitive and sensual art works in the whole exhibition. Vaughan’s simplification of the figuration of the male form into abstract shapes, whilst still retaining the enigma of sensuality, narrative and context, are the triumph of this inverts painting. Their patterning and displacement of time and space onto an intimate other – a copious, coital realm of existence full of feeling, information and matter – were a revelation to me.

While the exhibition enunciates a remarkable range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic, it was a deflating experience. I came away thankful that I had seen the work, that the artist’s had been able to express themselves however surreptitiously, but angry that so much of the world still sees LGBTQI people as second class citizens whose art work has to be examined through the prism of sexuality, rather than on the quality of the work itself.

Marcus

PS. How you can classify Claude Cahun as a British artist I will never know: she lived on the Channel Islands for a few years, but she was the very epitome of a French artist!

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Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. All installation images are by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Featuring works from 1861-1967 relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities, the show marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England. Queer British Art explores how artists expressed themselves in a time when established assumptions about gender and sexuality were being questioned and transformed.

Deeply personal and intimate works are presented alongside pieces aimed at a wider public, which helped to forge a sense of community when modern terminology of ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ were unrecognised. Together, they reveal a remarkable range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic. With paintings, drawings, personal photographs and film from artists such as John Singer Sargent, Dora Carrington, Duncan Grant and David Hockney the diversity of queer British art is celebrated as never before.

 

 

“Much more fucking and they’ll be screaming hysterics in next to no time.”

.
Joe Orton

 

“For me, to use the word ‘queer’ is a liberation; it was a word that frightened me, but no longer.”

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Derek Jarman

 

“It’s really interesting as to whether or not we should be concerned with the sexuality of an artist when we consider the merits of his artwork, because really what he does behind closed doors – or she does – has nothing to do, or shouldn’t have anything to do with the impact of the artwork as we see it. But what is important is the artist can use that material of their personal life and create a work that is almost a personal diary but visually.”

.
Estelle Lovatt

 

 

Room 1: Coded Desires

In spite of the Victorian era’s prudish reputation, there are many possible traces of transgressive desire in its art – in Frederic Leighton’s sensuous male nudes, for instance, or Evelyn De Morgan’s depictions of Jane Hales. Simeon Solomon attracted sustained criticisms of ‘unwholesomeness’ or ‘effeminacy’ – terms which suggest disapproval of alternative forms of masculinity as much as same sex desire. Yet other works which might look queer to us passed without comment.

The death penalty for sodomy was abolished in 1861 but it was still punishable with imprisonment. Sex between women was not illegal and society sometimes tolerated such relationships. Yet for most people, there seems to have been little sense that certain sexual practices or forms of gender expression reflected a core aspect of the self. Instead, this was a world of fluid possibilities.

These ambiguities offered scope for artists to produce work that was open to homoerotic interpretation. Queer subcultures developed: new scholarship on same-sex desire in Renaissance Italy and ancient Greece allowed artists to use these civilisations as reference points, while the beautiful youths in Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photographs attracted communities of collectors. As long as there was no public suggestion that artists had acted on their desires, there was much that could be explored and expressed.

 

Installation view of Room 1 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 1 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 1 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Frederic Leighton’s The Sluggard (1885, bronze) in the middle of the room

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene' 1864

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene
1864
Watercolour on paper
330 x 381 mm
Tate. Purchased 1980

 

 

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene is a touching image of female love. The piece is inspired by fragmented poems written by a woman named Sappho in the 4th century BC, in which she pleads that Aphrodite help her in her same-sex relationship. The term ‘lesbian’ derives directly from this poet, as her homeland was the Greek Island of Lesbos. Sappho’s story points to a longer history of same-sex desire. It’s perhaps for this reason that Simeon Solomon, a man who was attracted to men in defiance of the law, painted her. While a depiction of two men kissing would have been completely taboo, this is a passionate depiction of same-sex desire.

Solomon’s own sexual preferences eventually lead to his incarceration. When he was released from prison he was rejected by many of his acquaintances, struggled to find work and soon became homeless; a painful reminder of our repressive past. (Website text)

This strikingly frank image shows the ancient Greek poet Sappho in a passionate embrace with her fellow poet Erinna. Sappho is associated with the Island of Lesbos and her story gives us the word ‘lesbian’. There was a surge of interest in Sappho’s achievements and desires from the 1840s onwards. Solomon may be responding to his friend Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem Anactoria which includes Erinna amongst Sappho’s lovers. While female same-sex desire was considered more acceptable than its male equivalent, Solomon’s depiction of Sappho’s fervent kiss and Erinna’s swooning response is unusually explicit and the image was not publicly exhibited. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love' 1865

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love
1865
Ink on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This work was inspired by a passage from the Gospel of St John which tells how ‘the friend of the bridegroom… rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice’. In Solomon’s drawing, the friend of the bridegroom has the wings of love but his downcast expression identifies him as ‘sad love’, forever excluded. The positioning of his and the bridegroom’s hands hints at the reason for his grief, implying that that they are former sexual partners. He is forced to look on as his lover enters a heterosexual marriage: a fate shared by many men in same-sex relationships in this period. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'Bacchus' 1867

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
Bacchus
1867
Oil paint on paper on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

The classical god of wine, Bacchus also embodies sexual ambiguity and gender fluidity. While grapes and vine leaves identify the god in Solomon’s painting, Bacchus’s full lips, luxuriant hair and enigmatic gaze hint at his elusive sexuality. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1867, the critic of The Art Journal thought the figure looked effeminate, commenting ‘Bacchus is a sentimentalist of rather weak constitution; he drinks mead, possibly sugar and water, certainly not wine’. Solomon’s friend, critic Walter Pater wrote a favourable essay about the painting and poet Algernon Charles Swinburne said he found in Solomon and Bacchus alike, ‘the stamp of sorrow; of perplexities unsolved and desires unsatisfied’. (Wall text)

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) 'The Moon and Sleep' 1894

 

Simeon Solomon (1840-1905)
The Moon and Sleep
1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Miss Margery Abrahams in memory of Dr Bertram L. Abrahams and Jane Abrahams 1973

 

 

Made a few years after Solomon’s arrest and social ostracisation, this painting depicts the love of the moon goddess Selene for Endymion, who, in one version of the myth, is given eternal youth and eternal sleep by Zeus. While it ostensibly depicts a heterosexual pairing, the striking similarity of the profiles of the figures in Solomon’s painting gives them both an air of androgyny. This painting was given to Tate by a descendent of Rachel Simmons, Solomon’s first cousin, who helped to support him after his fall from public favour by regularly buying his works for small sums of money. (Wall text)

 

Photographer unknown. 'John Addington Symonds' (installation view) c. 1850s

 

Photographer unknown
John Addington Symonds (installation view)
c. 1850s
Photograph, tinted collodion on paper

 

 

John Addington Symonds was a writer, critic and an early campaigner for greater tolerance of same-sex desire. This photograph probably dates from Symonds’s time at Oxford University (1858-1863). His studies informed his later essay, A Problem in Greek Ethics 1873, one of the earliest attempts at a history of male same-sex desire. Symonds frankly discussed his desires in his diaries and unpublished writings, which he believed would be ‘useful to society’. However, when his friend Edmund Gosse inherited Symonds’s papers in 1926, he burned them all apart from Symonds’s autobiography. This destruction nauseated Symonds’s granddaughter Janet Vaughan. It was not until 1984 that Symonds’s autobiography was finally published. (Wall text)

 

Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947) 'Hope Comforting Love in Bondage' Exhibited 1901

 

Sidney Harold Meteyard (1868-1947)
Hope Comforting Love in Bondage
Exhibited 1901
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

Hope is depicted as a respectably fully-clothed matron, whereas Love’s only costume is his elaborate cloth bindings and the rose briars that are delicately threaded through the feathers of his wings. The flowers and thorns of the roses hint at pleasures and pains combined. Love’s pensive expression and androgynous beauty is reminiscent of the work of Simeon Solomon and, while Hope stretches out her hand to comfort him, his gaze is fixed elsewhere, leaving the object of his affections undefined. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Frederic Leighton's 'Daedalus and Icarus' 1896

 

Installation view of Frederic Leighton’s Daedalus and Icarus 1896 from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) 'Daedalus and Icarus' Exhibited 1869

 

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896)
Daedalus and Icarus
Exhibited 1869
Oil paint on canvas
Private collection

 

 

In a story from the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Daedalus made wings for his son Icarus to escape from Rhodes. Icarus’s golden beauty is here contrasted with his weather-beaten father. When the work was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1869, The Times anxiously remarked that Icarus had the air of ‘a maiden rather than a youth’ and exhibited ‘the soft rounded contour of a feminine breast’. This response may reflect increasing concern amongst educated circles about the pairings of older men and adolescent youths in books such as Plato’s Symposium, as new scholarship explored the eroticism of the original texts. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Henry Scott Tuke's 'A Bathing Group' 1914

 

Installation view of Henry Scott Tuke’s A Bathing Group 1914 from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) 'A Bathing Group' 1914

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929)
A Bathing Group
1914
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by the Royal Academy of Arts, London

 

 

While Henry Scott Tuke used the professional model Nicola Lucciani for this painting, it is similar to his images of Cornish youths in its frank appreciation of the male nude. Lucciani’s torso is illuminated by a shaft of sunlight and he looks towards the second figure, who crouches as if in awe of his godlike beauty. Tuke presented the painting to the Royal Academy on his election as a member. Tuke used professional models when he first moved to Cornwall, but he soon befriended some of the local fishermen and swimmers in Falmouth who modelled for him in many paintings. (Wall text)

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) 'The Critics' 1927

 

Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929)
The Critics
1927
Oil paint on board
Courtesy of Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (Warwick District Council)

 

 

Made just two years before Tuke’s death, The Critics is one of a number of works by Henry Scott Tuke depicting young men bathing off the Cornish coast. There has been much speculation about his relationships with his Cornish models although nothing has been substantiated. It is, however, not difficult to find a homoerotic undercurrent in this painting, as the two men on the shore appraise the swimming technique – and possibly the physique – of the youth in the water. Writer John Addington Symonds was a frequent visitor and he encouraged Tuke in his painting of male nudes in a natural outdoor setting. (Wall text)

 

Room 2: Public Indecency

This room looks at ways in which sexuality and gender identity did – and did not – go public, from the 1880s to the 1920s. Public debate over sexuality and gender identity was stirred up by scandals, campaigns and scientific studies. The trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895 for gross indecency and Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928 for supposed obscenity put a spotlight on same-sex desire. In the field of science, the project of classifying sexual practices and forms of gender presentation into distinct identities, which had been begun by German psychiatrists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing, reached Britain through the work of Havelock Ellis who co-authored his book Sexual Inversion 1896 with John Addington Symonds. However, change was slow, and many people remained unaware of new terminologies and approaches to the self that this new science offered.

 

Installation view of Henry Bishop's 'Henry Havelock Ellis' 1890s

 

Installation view of Henry Bishop’s Henry Havelock Ellis from the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Henry Bishop (1868-1939) 'Henry Havelock Ellis' 1890s

 

Henry Bishop (1868-1939)
Henry Havelock Ellis
1890s
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by François Lafitte, 2003

 

 

The sexologist Henry Havelock Ellis’s great work Sexual Inversion, co-authored with John Addington Symonds, defined queer sexualities in Britain for a generation. Published in English in 1897, it drew on the experiences of people such as Edward Carpenter (whose portrait hangs nearby). It was effectively banned in Britain after the prosecution of a bookseller, George Bedborough. This informal portrait was probably made around the time of Bedborough’s trial. It depicts Ellis sitting in a deckchair in Henry Bishop’s studio in St Ives. There is some evidence Bishop was attracted to men and Ellis’s non-judgemental attitudes may have encouraged Bishop to make his acquaintance. He became a lifelong friend. (Wall text)

 

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) 'Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints' 1920

 

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953)
Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon as Medieval Saints
1920
Tempera on linen over board
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

 

 

Oscar Wilde described the home of the artist and designer Charles Ricketts and his lifelong partner the painter Charles Shannon as ‘the one house in London where you will never be bored’. Here, the couple are playfully depicted by their friend Edmund Dulac in the robes of Dominican friars. These robes possibly hint at the permanence of their bond: monastic vows were, after all, intended to mark entry for life into an all-male community. The peacock feather in Rickett’s hand signals their devotion to aestheticism, an art movement dedicated to beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’. By the 1920s, this was an emblem of a previous era. (Wall text)

 

Charles Buchel (1872-1950) 'Radclyffe Hall' (installation view) 1918

 

Charles Buchel (1872-1950)
Radclyffe Hall (installation view)
1918
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by Una Elena Vincenzo (née Taylor), Lady Troubridge, 1963

 

 

Born ‘Marguerite’ Radclyffe Hall and known as ‘John’ to close friends, Radclyffe Hall was a key figure in provoking debate on female same-sex desire. This portrait was made ten years before Hall found fame as the author of The Well of Loneliness 1928. Despite the pleas of literary figures, including Virginia Woolf, this novel was effectively banned on the grounds of obscenity for its frank depiction of female same-sex desire. It was semi-autobiographical and was influenced by Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion. Hall’s sober jacket, skirt, cravat and monocle in this image reflected contemporary female fashions for a more masculine style of dress. After the trial, Hall’s clothes and cropped hair became associated with lesbianism and this portrait has become a queer icon. It was given to the National Portrait Gallery by Hall’s lover, Una Troubridge. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Room 2 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 2 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 2 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Oscar Wilde’s Prison Door c. 1883

 

 

This is the door of Oscar Wilde’s prison cell at Reading Gaol. Wilde spent three months of his incarceration writing a tortured letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. This was later published as De Profundis (‘from the depths’). Wilde was not allowed to send the letter, although the manuscript was given back to him when he left prison. He told his friend Robert Ross, ‘I know that on the day of my release I will merely be moving from one prison into another, and there are times when the whole world seems to be no larger than my cell, and as full of terror for me’. (Wall text)

 

Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington. 'Oscar Wilde' c. 1881

 

Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington
Oscar Wilde
c. 1881
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, California

 

 

The American artist Harper Pennington gave this portrait to Wilde and his wife Constance as a wedding present in 1884. It captures Wilde as a young man aged 27, on the cusp of success and it hung in Wilde’s home in Tite Street, Chelsea, London. While awaiting trial, Wilde was declared bankrupt and all his possessions, including this portrait, were sold at public auction to pay his debts. Few objects from his extensive collection have been traced. This painting was bought by Wilde’s friend Ada Leverson and it was kept in storage. Wilde told a friend that Ada’s husband ‘could not have it in his drawing-room as it was obviously, on account of its subject, demoralising to young men, and possibly to young women of advanced views’. (Wall text)

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) 'Enter Herodias from 'Salome' by Oscar Wilde' 1890s

 

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)
Enter Herodias from ‘Salome’ by Oscar Wilde
1890s
Photo-process print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Here Herodias, Salome’s mother makes a dramatic entrance, bare-breasted and positioned at the centre of the composition. The grotesque figure on the left plucks at her cloak, his robe barely concealing his giant phallus, while the slender page appears notably unmoved. They seem to epitomise two forms of masculinity: the grotesquely heterosexual and the elegantly ambiguous. Oscar Wilde is satirised as the showman-like jester in the foreground. (Wall text)

 

Cecil Beaton. 'Cecil Beaton and his Friends' 1927

 

Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)
Cecil Beaton and his Friends
1927
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London. Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1991

 

 

This photograph was taken at Wilsford Manor in Wiltshire, Stephen Tennant’s childhood home. The party depicted here includes Tennant, artist Rex Whistler, society hostess Zita Jungman and Beaton himself, although their elaborate fancy dress and make-up makes it hard to tell them apart. The poet Siegfried Sassoon, Tennant’s lover at this time, wrote in his diary, ‘It was very amusing, and they were painted up to the eyes, but I didn’t quite like it’. (Wall text)

 

Room 3: Theatrical Types

The use of ‘theatrical’ as a euphemism for queer hints at the rich culture on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stage. The extent to which audiences were aware of this varied. Music hall male and female ‘impersonation acts’ were wildly popular but were mostly seen as innocent ‘family fun’. In the formal theatre, plays for public production had to be passed by the Lord Chamberlain’s office. While some directors found ways to avoid censorship, there were few positive and explicit depictions of queer lives and experience. Many celebrities who were in same-sex relationships understandably tried to keep their lives from public view, although their desires were often open secrets. Nevertheless, whether as the subject of a moralistic ‘problem’ play or an innuendo in a saucy song, queer perspectives could find public expression on the stage.

 

Installation view of Room 3 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 3 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Unknown photographer, published by The Philco Publishing Company. 'Hetty King (Winifred Ems)' 1910s

 

Unknown photographer, published by The Philco Publishing Company
Hetty King (Winifred Ems)
1910s
National Portrait Gallery

 

 

Angus McBean

Angus McBean’s career was forged in the theatre. Success came in 1936 with his photographs of Max Beerbohm’s The Happy Hypocrite 1896, starring Ivor Novello. In a break with convention, McBean’s close-up images were well lit with studio lights and staged as intimate tableaux. Inspired by the International Surrealist exhibitions of 1936 and 1937, he began to make playful ‘surrealised portraits’, which were initially published in The Sketch. These used complex props and staging to create fantastical scenes and to give the illusion of distorted scale.

The images here all depict sitters who were in same-sex relationships. McBean’s own relationships with men led to a police raid on his house and his arrest in 1942 for criminal acts of homosexuality. He was convicted and sentenced to four years in jail but was released in 1944 and quickly reestablished his reputation as a photographer.

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Sir Robert Murray Helpmann' 1950

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Sir Robert Murray Helpmann
1950
Photograph, bromide print on paper
© Estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

McBean’s portrait of Robert Helpmann, published in The Tatler and Bystander on 28 April 1948, shows him in the role of Hamlet, which he was then playing at Stratford-upon-Avon. The production was designed to be Victorian gothic: an Elsinore of guttering candles and chiaroscuro lighting effects. There is perhaps some suggestion of this in the heavy shadows of McBean’s photograph, while Helpmann’s dramatic make-up emphasises his melancholic expression. The backdrop was created from a blown-up photograph of text from the First Folio of the play. In defiance of the law, Helpmann lived comparatively openly with his partner, the theatre director Michael Benthall. Their relationship lasted from 1938 until Benthall’s death, in 1974. (Wall text)

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Danny La Rue' 1968

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Danny La Rue
1968
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Born Danny Carroll, Danny La Rue was one of the greatest stars in female impersonation. La Rue first performed while in the navy during the Second World War and later toured with all male revues such as Forces in Petticoats before becoming a cabaret star. La Rue’s glamorous appearance on stage, captured here, was undercut by the gruff ‘wotcher mates’, with which he opened his set. La Rue preferred the term ‘comic in a frock’ to ‘female impersonator’ and described his act as ‘playing a woman knowing that everyone knows it’s a fella’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Glen Byam Shaw as 'Laertes'' 1934-5

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Glen Byam Shaw as ‘Laertes’
1934-5
Oil paint on canvas
Kindly lent by the sitter’s grandson, Charles Hart

 

 

The actor Glen Byam Shaw is depicted here as Laertes in John Gielgud’s 1934 critically acclaimed production of Hamlet in a costume designed by Motley: Elizabeth Montgomery, Margaret Percy and Sophie Harris. Glyn Philpot cut down the original three-quarter length portrait after it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1935. This reduction puts even greater focus on Byam Shaw’s face and heavy stage make-up. While the image is typical of productions of the period, the medium of the portrait removes it from its original theatrical context. Coupled with Byam Shaw’s arch expression, the overriding impression is one of high camp. Byam Shaw had almost certainly been the lover of the poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and may have met Philpot through Sassoon. (Wall text)

 

Francis Goodman (1913-1989) 'Oliver Messel' 1945

 

Francis Goodman (1913-1989)
Oliver Messel
1945
Photograph, silver gelatin print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London. Bequeathed by the estate of Francis Goodman, 1989

 

 

Francis Goodman’s carefully posed photograph depicts Oliver Messel, the foremost British stage designer from the 1920s to the 1950s, surrounded by eclectic props. The producer Charles Cochran recalled how Messel ‘would pull something new out of his pocket – usually something used for domestic work – which he proposed to employ to give the illusion of some other fabric’. Messel was attracted to men and his fascination with dandyish excess, pastiche and artifice has been interpreted as a queer aesthetic. (Wall text)

 

Paul Tanqueray (1905-1991) 'Douglas Byng' 1934

 

Paul Tanqueray (1905-1991)
Douglas Byng
1934
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery. Given by Paul Tanqueray, 1974

 

 

Gay performer Douglas Byng gained the title ‘The Highest Priest of Camp’ with songs such as ‘Doris the Goddess of Wind’, ‘I’m a Mummy (An Old Egyptian Queen)’ and ‘Cabaret Boys’, which he performed with Lance Lester. Coward described him as ‘The most refined vulgarity in London, mais quel artiste!’ Byng’s costume in Paul Tanqueray’s photograph was probably the one he wore for his song ‘Wintertime’. (Wall text)

 

Room 4: Bloomsbury and Beyond

The Bloomsbury Group of artists and writers famously ‘lived in squares and loved in triangles’. Dora Carrington had relationships with men and women but loved and was loved by Lytton Strachey, who was attracted to men. Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell lived together in Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex. A chosen few of Duncan Grant’s male lovers made visits but Paul Roche was forced to camp on the South Downs as he did not meet with Bell’s approval. Bell’s husband Clive lived apart from her but they remained happily married. While sexual intimacy was valued by the Group, it was not the most important bond tying the members together. Their network was a profoundly queer experiment in modern living founded on radical honesty and mutual support.

Bloomsbury’s matter-of-fact acceptance of same-sex desire was unusual but not unique. The objects in this room show a variety of different perspectives, from the quiet homeliness of Ethel Sands’s Tea with Sickert, to Gluck’s defiant self-portrait. Together, they reveal a generation of artists and sitters exploring, confronting and coming to terms with themselves and their desires.

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring Ethel Walker’s Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa 1920

 

Ethel Walker (1861-1951) 'Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa' 1920

 

Ethel Walker (1861-1951)
Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa
1920
Oil paint on canvas

 

 

The composition of this painting reveals Ethel Walker’s fascination with Greco-Roman friezes, as well as the artistic possibilities of the female nude. The painting is inspired by Book IV of Homer’s Odyssey, in which the princess Nausicaa bathes with her maidens. In 1900, Walker became the first woman member of the New English Arts Club, whose select committee reacted to this painting with ‘spontaneous and enthusiastic applause’. There has been some speculation about the nature of Walker’s relationship with painter Clara Christian, with whom she lived and worked in the 1880s, although little evidence survives. This image offers a utopian vision of an all-female community. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

Installation view of Room 4 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring Duncan Grant’s Bathing 1911 (at left in the bottom image)

 

Duncan Grant. 'Bathing' 1911

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Bathing
1911
Oil paint on canvas
2286 x 3061 mm
© Tate. Purchased 1931

 

 

Bathing was conceived as part of a decorative scheme for the dining room at Borough Polytechnic, and it was Duncan Grant’s first painting to receive widespread public attention. Grant’s design takes inspiration from summers spent around the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which was one of a number of sites associated with London’s queer culture. The painting celebrates the strength and beauty of the male form, and its homoerotic implications were not lost on Grant’s contemporaries: the National Review described the dining room as a ‘nightmare’ which would have a ‘degenerative’ effect on the polytechnic’s working-class students. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) 'Bathers by the Pond' (installation view) 1920-21

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Bathers by the Pond (installation view)
1920-21
Oil paint on canvas
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council 1985)

 

 

This painting shows a scene filled with homoerotic possibilities. The setting is possibly Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex, where Duncan Grant lived with Vanessa Bell, her children and his lover David (Bunny) Garnett. Grant’s use of dots of colour shows the influences of the pointillist technique pioneered by Georges Seurat. The nude figure in the foreground basks in the sun while the seated figures behind him exchange appreciative glances. Swimming ponds often served as cruising grounds and it is perhaps unsurprising that this work was not exhibited in Grant’s lifetime. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978) 'Paul Roche Reclining' c. 1946

 

Duncan Grant (1885-1978)
Paul Roche Reclining (installation view)
c. 1946
Oil paint on canvas
The Charleston Trust

 

 

This painting depicts Duncan Grant’s close friend and possible lover Paul Roche, lying as if asleep. He is depicted against a patterned background reminiscent of colours and fabrics produced by the Omega Workshop, the design collective founded in 1913 by Roger Fry. These soft textures contrast with Roche’s bare torso, which is further emphasised by his briefs, socks and open shirt. Grant and Roche met by chance in July 1946: after making eye contact crossing the road at Piccadilly Circus, the two struck up a conversation. Their friendship lasted until Grant’s death in 1978. (Wall text)

 

Duncan Grant

Duncan Grant produced erotic works on paper prolifically throughout his life. These objects were created in private and for personal consumption only. Racially diverse figures are presented in various states of sexual play, and Grant’s range of representation moves from explicit passion to tender post- coital repose. Overlapping bodies are depicted in impossible contortions, and the works reveal Grant’s fascination with the artistic possibilities of the male form as well as the importance of harmonious composition. The objects also demonstrate a characteristically witty approach to sexuality, with some copulating figures playfully masquerading as ballet dancers and wrestlers. As his daughter Angelica Garnett recalled, one of Grant’s favourite maxims was to ‘never be ashamed’, and his private erotica offers an unapologetic celebration of gay male sex and love.

 

Installation view of erotic drawing by Duncan Grant

Installation view of erotic drawing by Duncan Grant

 

Installation views of erotic drawings by Duncan Grant

 

Installation view of Ethel Sands' 'Tea with Sickert' c. 1911-12

 

Installation view of Ethel Sands’ Tea with Sickert c. 1911-12 from Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Ethel Sands (1873-1962) 'Tea with Sickert' c. 1911-12

 

Ethel Sands (1873-1962)
Tea with Sickert
c. 1911-12
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Bequeathed by Colonel Christopher Sands 2000, accessioned 2001

 

 

The scene of this painting is the sitting room Nan Hudson and Sands’s home. Although it features two figures – the artist Walter Sickert and Hudson – the table is set for afternoon tea for three. The composition of the painting is arranged as if the artist was standing behind Nan, and this perspective highlights their position as a couple. In 1912, the work was exhibited as part of Sands and Hudson’s joint exhibition at the Carfax Gallery and it drew mixed reactions: Westminster Gazette called it ‘a daring picture’ but ‘a somewhat overwhelming indulgence in pure orange vermilion’. (Wall text)

 

Clare Atwood (1866-1962) 'John Gielgud's Room' 1933

 

Clare Atwood (1866-1962)
John Gielgud’s Room
1933
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Mrs E.L. Shute 1937

 

 

This picture was painted in Sir John Gielgud’s flat at the time he was playing Richard II in Gordon Daviot’s Richard of Bordeaux at the New Theatre. Rather than emphasising his life in the public eye, this work draws attention to Gieglud’s domestic life. In this way, Clare ‘Tony’ Atwood gently subverts traditional associations of the feminine with private space. Atwood lived in a menage a trois with Gielgud’s second-cousin, Edith (Edy) Craig and the feminist playwright Christopher St John, who had previously lived together as an openly lesbian couple. St John later stated that ‘the bond between Edy and me was strengthened not weakened by Tony’s association with us’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Gluck's 'Self-Portrait' 1942

 

Installation view of Gluck’s Self-Portrait 1942 from Room 4 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) 'Self-Portrait' 1942

 

Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein)
Self-Portrait
1942
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London
Given by the sitter and artist, ‘Gluck’ (Hannah Gluckstein), 1973

 

 

Gluck locks gazes with the viewer in this unflinching self-portrait. Born Hannah Gluckstein, Gluck requested that the name Gluck be reproduced with ‘no prefix, suffix or quotes’. Gluck exhibited to great acclaim at the ‘The Gluck Room’ of The Fine Art Society, where visitors included Queen Mary. This painting was painted in 1942, in a difficult period in Gluck’s relationship with Nesta Obermer, Gluck’s ‘darling wife’. Obermer was frequently away, sometimes with her husband Seymour Obermer. In 1944, their relationship broke down and Gluck went to live with Edith Shackleton Herald. Their relationship lasted until Gluck’s death. (Wall text)

 

Gluck (1895-1978) 'Lilac and Guelder Rose' 1932-7

 

Gluck (1895-1978)
Lilac and Guelder Rose
1932-7
Oil paint on canvas
Manchester Art Gallery

 

 

This was one of a number of flower paintings that Gluck made during and immediately after her relationship with society florist and author Constance Spry, who she met in 1932. Spry was a leading figure in cultivating a fashion for white flowers, and often used Gluck’s paintings to illustrate her articles. Many of Spry’s customers also commissioned flower paintings from Gluck. When Lilac and Guelder Rose was exhibited at Gluck’s 1937 exhibition at the Fine Art Society, it was much admired by Lord Villiers, who remarked ‘It’s gorgeous, I feel I could bury my face in it’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Henry Thomas' (installation view) 1934-5

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Henry Thomas (installation view)
1934-5
Oil paint on canvas
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Bequeathed by Mrs Rosemary Newgas, the neice of the artist 2004)

 

 

Henry Thomas was Glyn Philpot’s servant and one of his favourite models. The high-cheekboned angularity of Thomas’s face is echoed in the diagonal lines of the abstracted background, perhaps an allusion to the batik fabric behind. The exact nature of Thomas and Philpot’s relationship is unknown. Many of Philpot’s depictions of Thomas carry a homoerotic charge and some are exoticising. What Thomas felt about his years with Philpot from 1929 to the artist’s death in 1937 is unknown. The words he wrote on Philpot’s funeral wreath, ‘For memory to my dear master as well as my father and brother to me’, hints at the imbalance between them, while also suggesting many complex layers of relationship. (Wall text)

 

Edward Wolfe (1897-1982) 'Portrait of Pat Nelson' 1930s

 

Edward Wolfe (1897-1982)
Portrait of Pat Nelson (installation view)
1930s
Oil paint on canvas
James O’Connor

 

 

Patrick Nelson emigrated from Jamaica to North Wales in 1937, before settling in London to study law the following year. While living in Bloomsbury, Nelson worked as an artists’ model and soon became acquainted with Edward Wolfe. Nelson would also meet other prominent gay artists at this time, including his sometime boyfriend and lifelong friend Duncan Grant. Wolfe’s depiction of Nelson against the rich green background is exoticising and his pose invites the viewer to admire his body. Such objectification was typical of many depictions of black men from this time and reflects an uneven power dynamic, although Nelson’s friendship with members of the Bloomsbury group adds a level of complexity to the relationship between artist and sitter. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Man with a Gun' (installation view) 1933

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Man with a Gun (installation view)
1933
Oil paint on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Bequeathed by Jeffrey Daniels, 1986

 

 

Glyn Philpot developed a strong reputation as a society portraitist until the 1930s, at which point he began to explore modernist forms, as well as express his sexuality more openly. This work depicts Philpot’s friend Jan Erland, who was the subject of a series of paintings by Philpot on the theme of sports and leisure. Erland is depicted cradling a gun which, he recalled, had been specifically borrowed for the occasion. Erland’s firm grip on the gun’s phallic barrel seems suggestive. Writing to his sister Daisy, Philpot described ‘every moment with this dear Jan’ as filled with ‘inspiration and beauty’. (Wall text)

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937) 'Man with a Gun' 1933

 

Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937)
Man with a Gun
1933
Oil paint on canvas
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Bequeathed by Jeffrey Daniels, 1986

 

 

Tate Britain today opens the first exhibition dedicated to queer British art. Unveiling material that relates to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ+) identities, the show marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. It presents work from the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861 to the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 – a time of seismic shifts in gender and sexuality that found expression in the arts as artists and viewers explored their desires, experiences and sense of self.

Spanning the playful to the political, the explicit to the domestic, Queer British Art 1861-1967 showcases the rich diversity of queer visual art and its role in society. Themes explored in the exhibition include coded desires amongst the Pre-Raphaelites, representations of and by women who defied convention (including Virginia Woolf), and love and lust in sixties Soho. It features works by major artists such as Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan, Evelyn de Morgan, Gluck, Glyn Philpot, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton alongside queer ephemera, personal photographs, film and magazines.

Work from 1861 to 1967 by artists with diverse sexualities and gender identities is showcased, ranging from covert images of same-sex desire such as Simeon Solomon’s Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864 through to the open appreciation of queer culture in David Hockney’s Going to be a Queen for Tonight 1960. A highlight of the exhibition is a section focusing on the Bloomsbury set and their contemporaries – an artistic group famous for their bohemian attitude towards sexuality. The room includes intimate paintings of lovers, scenes of the homes artists shared with their partners and large commissions by artists such as Duncan Grant and Ethel Walker.

Many of the works on display were produced in a time when the terms ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘trans’ had little public recognition. The exhibition illustrates the ways in which sexuality became publically defined through the work of sexologists such as Henry Havelock Ellis and campaigners such as Edward Carpenter. It also looks at the high profile trials of Oscar Wilde and Radclyffe Hall. Objects on display include the door from Wilde’s prison cell, Charles Buchel’s portrait of Radclyffe Hall and erotic drawings by Aubrey Beardsley.

In contrast to the bleak outlook from the courtroom prior to 1967, queer culture was embraced by the British public in the form of theatre. From music hall acts to costume design, the theatre provided a forum in which sexuality and gender expression could be openly explored. Striking examples on display include photographs of performers such as Beatrix Lehmann, Berto Pasuka and Robert Helpmann by Angus McBean, who was jailed for his sexuality in 1942, alongside stage designs by Oliver Messel and Edward Burra. Theatrical cards of music hall performers such as Vesta Tilley (whose act as ‘Burlington Bertie’ had a large lesbian following) are featured, as well as a pink wig worn in Jimmy Slater’s act ‘A Perfect Lady’ from the 1920s.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 shows how artists and audiences challenged the established views of sexuality and gender identity between two legal landmarks. Some of the works in the show were intensely personal while others spoke to a wider public, helping to forge a sense of community. Alongside the exhibition is a room showing six films co-commissioned by Tate and Channel 4 Random Acts. Created in response to Queer British Art 1861-1967 and featuring figures in the LGBTQ+ community, including Sir Ian McKellen and Shon Faye, they present personal stories prompted by the themes in the show, and invite visitors to relate their own experiences.

Queer British Art 1861-1967 is curated by Clare Barlow, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain with Amy Concannon, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Why is the word ‘queer’ used in the exhibition title?

Queer has a mixed history – from the 19th century onwards it has been used both as a term of abuse and as a term by LGBT people to refer to themselves. Our inspiration for using it came from Derek Jarman who said that it used to frighten him but now ‘for me to use the word queer is a liberation’. More recently, of course, it has become reclaimed as a fluid term for people of different sexualities and gender identities. Historians of sexuality have also argued that it is preferable to other terms for sexualities in the past as these often don’t map onto modern sexual identities. In addition to carrying out audience research, we took advice from Stonewall and other LGBT charities and held focus groups with LGBT people. The advice from all of these sources was overwhelmingly that we should use it. While we tried other titles, no other option captured the full diversity of sexualities and gender identities that are represented in the show.

Text provided by Clare Barlow, curator of Queer British Art.

 

Installation view of Alvaro Guevara's 'Dame Edith Sitwell' 1916

 

Installation view of Alvaro Guevara’s Dame Edith Sitwell 1916 from Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Alvaro Guevara (1894-1951) 'Dame Edith Sitwell' 1916

 

Alvaro Guevara (1894-1951)
Dame Edith Sitwell
1916
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Presented by Lord Duveen, Walter Taylor and George Eumorfopoulos through the Art Fund 1920

 

 

The poet Edith Sitwell does not seem to have had sexual relationships but was viciously satirised by the artist and writer Wyndham Lewis as a lesbian. Sitwell described the life of the artist as ‘very Pauline’, referring to the letters of St Paul, which may suggest she thought sex would be a distraction. She was close friends with Alvaro Guevara, the artist of this portrait, who had relationships with men and women. Diana Holman Hunt in her 1974 biography of Guevara suggested that Sitwell and Guevara shared a love that was ‘not physical but certainly romantic and spiritual.’ The bright colours reflect the designs of Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell’s Omega Workshops and Sitwell is sitting on a dining chair designed by Fry. (Wall text)

 

Room 5: Defying Conventions

This room shows how artists and writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenged gender norms. Some, such as Laura Knight, laid claim to traditionally masculine sources of artistic authority by depicting themselves in the act of painting nude female models. Others, such as Vita Sackville-West, had open marriages and same-sex relationships, or, like Claude Cahun, questioned the very concept of gender binaries. This was a period of radical social change. Women took on new roles during the First and Second World Wars, and gained the vote in 1918. Sackville-West worked with the Land Girls. Cahun resisted the Nazis on Jersey and was sentenced to death, imprisoned for a year and only freed by the end of the war. New fashions developed. For women, wearing trousers in public became stylishly avant-garde. Expectations were changing. Public discussion about female same-sex desire offered ways of viewing the self, but it also brought problems. Lives that had previously passed without comment might now be labelled transgressive. But for some, this was a time of liberating possibilities.

 

Installation views of Room 5 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation view of Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain featuring with at left, Laura Knight’s Self-portrait 1913; second right, William Strang’s Lady with a Red Hat 1918, and at right Alvaro Guevara’s Dame Edith Sitwell 1916

 

Installation view of William Strang's 'Lady with a Red Hat' 1918

 

Installation view of William Strang’s Lady with a Red Hat 1918 from Room 5 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

William Strang. 'Lady with a Red Hat' 1918

 

William Strang (1859-1921)
Lady with a Red Hat
1918
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council
Purchased 1919

 

 

This portrait is of writer Vita Sackville-West. According to her son, Nigel Nicolson, she attended sittings with her lover Violet Trefusis. Sackville-West adopted a male persona, ‘Julian’, at some points in this relationship, allowing her and Trefusis to pose as a married couple so they could stay together at a boarding-house. Her fashionable dress in this image, however, gives no sign of such androgynous role-playing. The book in Sackville-West’s hand may refer to her book Poems of East and West 1917. At the time this was painted she was writing Challenge, a novel about her relationship with Trefusis, but this was not published until 1974. (Wall text)

 

Laura Knight (1877-1970) 'Self-portrait' 1913

 

Laura Knight (1877-1970)
Self-portrait
1913
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

When this painting was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1913, the reviewer Claude Phillips wrote ‘it repels, not by any special inconvenience – for it is harmless enough and with an element of sensuous attraction – but by dullness and something dangerously close to vulgarity’. His strong reaction hints at anxieties over women painting the female nude, which subverted the hierarchy of male artist and female model. When Laura Knight was at art school women were not been allowed to attend life classes. Her sensuous depiction of herself painting Ella Naper, a friend, lays claim to a professional artistic identity. In 1936, Knight was the first woman to become an Academician since its foundation. (Wall text)

 

Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980) 'Rest Time in the Life Class' 1923

 

Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980)
Rest Time in the Life Class
1923
Oil paint on canvas
City Art Centre, City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries

 

 

This image depicts the life-class Johnstone taught for women at Edinburgh College of Art, which Johnstone presents as a space of friendship and collaboration. In the foreground, one woman comments on another’s drawing while in the background, Johnstone depicts herself gesturing towards the canvas. Johnstone had an intense relationship with Cecile Walton and Walton’s husband Eric Robertson, who were also part of the Edinburgh Group of artists. She later married fellow artist David Macbeth Sutherland. (Wall text)

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Untitled' 1936

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Untitled' 1936

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954)
Untitled
1936
2 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper

 

 

These images (to the left and right of I Extend My Arms), from a larger group of photographs, hint at different narrative possibilities for the sexless manikin. In one, the doll seems to take on a feminine air, posed as if delighting in the long hair that trails round its body. The other is less overtly gendered, wearing a hat made from an upright feather and holding aloft a tiny plant. The porcelain dolls’ heads outside the jar in one image are reminiscent of the masks that repeated occur in Cahun’s work and these images seem to hint at the themes of role-playing that Cahun explored in earlier self-portraits. (Wall text)

 

Room 6: Arcadia and Soho

London was a magnet for queer artists. In the 1950s and 1960s, Soho was the epicentre of queer culture, described by Francis Bacon as ‘the sexual gymnasium of the city’. Many of the artists shown in this room were friends, often living in London, sometimes sharing studios. Several were encouraged by the patron and collector Peter Watson, founder of the influential literary magazine Horizon and co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Their work was often inspired by travel: to the Mediterranean, to costal Brittany, or to the seedy American bars that inspired works such as Edward Burra’s Izzy Orts.

John Craxton, John Minton and Keith Vaughan have been described as ‘neo-romantics’. Craxton, however, preferred the term ‘Arcadian’, referencing a classical utopian vision of a harmonious wilderness, populated by innocent shepherds. Yet, while it is idealised, depictions of Arcadia still sometimes include references to death and its peace can be disrupted by undercurrents of desire.

 

Installation view of Christopher Wood's 'Nude Boy in a Bedroom' 1930

 

Installation view of Christopher Wood’s Nude Boy in a Bedroom 1930 from Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Christopher Wood (1901-1930) 'Nude Boy in a Bedroom' 1930

 

Christopher Wood (1901-1930)
Nude Boy in a Bedroom
1930
Oil paint on hardboard laid on plywood
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

 

 

Christopher Wood’s Nude Boy in a Bedroom depicts the artist’s friend and sometime lover Francis Rose, in a hotel room in Brittany where they stayed with a group of friends in 1930. The group was later joined by Wood’s mistress, Frosca Munster. According to Rose, the work ‘is a nude painting of me washing at a basin’ in which Wood ‘scattered playing cards on the bed’. The cards are tarot cards and the top card shows the Page of Cups reversed, symbolising anxiety about a deception that will be soon discovered, or referring to someone incapable of making commitments. Wood may have included these cards as an oblique reference to his ongoing relationships with his male lover and female mistress. (Wall text)

 

Edward Burra. 'Soldiers at Rye' 1941

 

Edward Burra (1905-1976)
Soldiers at Rye
1941
Tate
© Tate. Presented by Studio 1942

 

 

Edward Burra based Soldiers at Rye on sketches of troops around his home town of Rye between September and October 1940. His macabre sensibility was informed by his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. In the final stages of painting, he added red and yellow Venetian carnival masks, giving the figures the air of predatory birds – a regular symbol in Burra’s work from the 1930s. Seen from behind, the soldiers’ close-fitting uniforms and bulbous physiques led one critic to comment that they had the ‘bulging husky leathery shape’ of ‘military ruffians’. There is an ominous atmosphere to the painting, conveying a dangerous homoeroticism. (Wall text)

 

John Craxton (1922-2009) 'Head of a Cretan Sailor' 1946

 

John Craxton (1922-2009)
Head of a Cretan Sailor
1946
Oil paint on board
On loan from the London Borough of Camden Art Collection
© Estate of John Craxton. All rights reserved, DACS 2016
Photo credit: London Borough of Camden

 

 

The sitter in this portrait was on national service in the Greek Navy when he first met John Craxton in a taverna in Poros. He caught Craxton’s eye with his performance of the Greek dance the zeibékiko, with ‘splendidly controlled steps, clicking his thumbs and forefingers and circling round and round in his white uniform like a seagull’. Craxton followed him to Crete in 1947, where the sailor was now working as a butcher in Herákleion. The island was a revelation and Craxton returned often, eventually partly settling there in 1960. (Wall text)

 

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition 'Queer British Art' at Tate Britain

 

Installation views of Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain with Robert Medley’s Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists 1950 at left, Keith Vaughan’s Kouros 1960 second left, Keith Vaughan’s Three Figures 1960-1 second right, and his Bather: August 4th 1961 1961 at right

 

Robert Medley (1905-1994) 'Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists' 1950

 

Robert Medley (1905-1994)
Summer Eclogue No. 1: Cyclists
1950
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1992

 

 

Exhibited at the Hanover Gallery in February 1950, Robert Medley’s painting of racing cyclists on a summer’s evening in a Gravesend public park underscores his attraction to cross-class sociability. The river esplanade offers a permissible space for observing the muscular bodies and taut limbs of the youths and their admirers. The title refers to Virgil’s Eclogues, in which pastoral tranquillity is disrupted by erotic forces and revolutionary change. Medley wrote in his autobiography that the eclogue theme provided for ‘a more contemporary subject matter’. One of the cyclists was modelled on fellow artist Keith Vaughan’s lover, Ramsay McClure. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of Keith Vaughan's 'Kouros' 1960

 

Installation view of Keith Vaughan’s Kouros 1960 from Room 6 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Kouros' 1960

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Kouros
1960
Oil paint on canvas
Private collection

 

 

In a diary entry for 1956, Keith Vaughan wrote of ‘A silver bromide image of Johnny standing naked in my studio, aloof, slightly tense, withdrawn like a Greek Kouros, gazing apprehensively at himself in the mirror, lithe, beautiful…. it lies tormenting me on my table’. This was a photograph of Vaughan’s lover Johnny Walsh who is also represented in this painting. A ‘Kouros’ was a free-standing ancient Greek sculpture of a male youth and the image may also have been inspired by a visit Vaughan made to Greece in 1960. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Three Figures' (installation view) 1960-1

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Three Figures (installation view)
1960-1
Oil paint on board

 

 

Three Figures is typical of Keith Vaughan’s approach to group figure painting. The subjects are depicted in indeterminate locations and the lack of details a makes it to impossible to identify them or guess at their social class or profession. The close proximity of the figures in this image and the contrast between the nudity of the man with his back towards us and the other two men might suggest that this is an erotic encounter. Yet the composition remains intentionally enigmatic. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Bather: August 4th 1961' 1961

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Bather: August 4th 1961
1961
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1962

 

 

Keith Vaughan wrote in his journal, ‘The continual use of the male figure…retains always the stain of a homosexual conception… “K.V. paints nude young men”. Perfectly true, but I feel I must hide my head in shame. Inescapable, I suppose – social guilt of the invert’. He wrestled with the competing impulses of figuration and abstraction in his work, describing how: ‘I wanted to go beyond the specific, identifiable image – yet I did not want to do an “abstract” painting. Bather: August 4th 1961 was the first break through. Every attempt up to then had finally resolved itself into another figure painting or an “abstract”.’ (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan

In contrast over his concerns whether his desires would be shown in his paintings, Keith Vaughan’s private drawings are explicitly erotic. Across them he depicts a range of different encounters, from sadomasochistic fantasies through to moments of tender intimacy. This is perhaps a hint of these fluctuating desires in his descriptions of relationship with his lover Jonny Walsh, of which Vaughan said, ‘I can move from tenderness to sadism in the same harmonic key’.

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Drawing of two men kissing' 1958-73

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Drawing of two men kissing
1958-73
Tate Archive © DACS, The Estate of Keith Vaughan

 

 

Room 7: Public/Private Lives

This room explores the contradictions of queer life in the 1950s and 1960s. Before the partial decriminalisation of sex between men in 1967, the boundaries between public and private were acutely important to couples in same-sex relationships. Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell had separate beds in their tiny flat to maintain the pretence that they weren’t a couple. Such caution was justified. Peter Wildeblood, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Michael Pitt-Rivers were sent to jail in a case that became a rallying point for calls to change the law, which was increasingly attacked as a ‘blackmailer’s charter’. Lesbianism was not illegal, but women faced prejudice. Avant-garde photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer was thrown out of her room after she left a copy of Radclyffe Hall’s banned book The Well of Loneliness out in plain sight.

Yet despite the threat of exposure, couples lived happily together, community flourished, and a few even became queer celebrities.

 

Stephen Tennant (1906-1986) 'Lascar, a story of the Maritime Boulevard' Nd

 

Stephen Tennant (1906-1986)
Lascar, a story of the Maritime Boulevard
Nd
Ink, watercolour and collage on paper
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, London

 

 

In this illustration for Stephen Tennant’s novel Lascar a riotous collage of burly sailors, bright flowers, letters and visiting cards seem to burst forth from the page. Some of Tennant’s initial sketches of sailors were made on visits to the Old Port of Marseilles in the 1930s, but he constantly reworked the illustrations and text, never completing it. In the last two decades of his life, visitors to Wilsford Manor in Wiltshire where Tennant lived in virtual seclusion, found pages of the novel strewn across the decaying interiors. (Wall text)

 

Because We’re Queers

Between 1959 and 1962, couple Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell borrowed and stole books from libraries around Islington. They cut out some of the illustrations, which they used to paper the walls of their flat and to create new collaged covers for the books. They then returned the volumes to the shelves of the libraries and waited to watch reactions.

The covers they created are full of jokes and references to queer culture. The addition of wrestling men turns Queen’s Favourite into an innuendo. Acting family the Lunts become kitsch glass figurines, while The Secret of Chimneys is depicted as a pair of giant cats. Others were more explicit: The World of Paul Slickey gains not only a phallic budgerigar but also a cut out shape of an erect penis. The plays of Emlyn Williams are retitled Knickers must fall and Fucked by Monty.

Orton and Halliwell were eventually caught and jailed for six months for ‘malicious damage’, which Orton claimed was ‘because we’re queers’. Prison destroyed Halliwell. While Orton became a successful playwright, Halliwell became an alcoholic. In 1967, he killed Orton and took his own life. Yet while their lives ended in tragedy, the bookcovers give insight into a playful and subversive relationship.

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. 'The Secret Chimneys by Agatha Christie'

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
The Secret Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Islington Local History Centre

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. 'Queen's Favourite'

 

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell
Queen’s Favourite
Islington Local History Centre

 

Interior of the flat at 25 Noel Rd showing the extent of the collages

 

Interior of the flat at 25 Noel Rd showing the extent of the collages
Image courtesy of Islington Council

 

Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967) 'Untitled' (installation view) 1967

 

Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967)
Untitled (installation view)
1967
Printed papers on hardboard
Tate. Purchased 2016

 

 

This is one of 19 collages that Halliwell exhibited at the Anno Domino gallery in 1967. Unlike the earlier book-covers, these were made by Halliwell alone, yet they are similarly kaleidoscopic in their use of images. An archeological artefact here sits alongside fashion photography, sea-shells, insects and words from newspapers and magazines. Some of these juxtapositions are playful: ‘Eye’ appears where an eye would be. Others are more obscure and the phrases ‘Blackmail’ and ‘dirty word’ perhaps hint at oppression. The exhibition was a failure and Halliwell’s professional frustration contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Orton, who was now established as a playwright. (Wall text)

 

George Elam. 'Joe Orton in Islington, London' 1967

 

George Elam
Joe Orton in Islington, London
1967
George Elam/Daily Mail/REX

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990) 'Quentin Crisp' 1941

 

Angus McBean (1904-1990)
Quentin Crisp
1941
Photograph, bromide print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Angus McBean met the writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp while walking in the blackout in 1941 and the two became lovers. McBean later said of Crisp, ‘He was really one of the most beautiful people I have ever photographed. It was a completely androgynous beauty and under different circumstances it would have been difficult to know what sex he was’. This ambiguity is captured in McBean’s photograph, which is posed to emphasise Crisp’s long lashes, glossy lips and elaborate ring, the position of which is suggestive of an earring. Crisp’s refusal to conform to traditional masculine appearance was courageous and unswerving. (Wall text)

 

John Deakin (1912-1972) 'Colin' (installation view) c. 1950s

 

John Deakin (1912-1972)
Colin (installation view)
c. 1950s
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
John Deakin Archive / James Moores Collection

 

 

We don’t know anything about the sitter in this portrait. Deakin’s friend Bruce Bernard, who catalogued John Deakin’s negatives, likely gave it the label ‘Colin’, perhaps from memory, perhaps from an original sleeve note by Deakin. It is therefore not clear whether it depicts a drag performance or whether the glamorous outfit reflects the sitter’s true identity. It is, however, shot in a domestic setting rather than on the stage, leaving open the possibility that it depicts the sitter’s lived experience. (Wall text)

 

John Deakin

John Deakin seems almost to embody queer Soho of the 1950s. A close friend and drinking companion of Francis Bacon, his portrait photographs include many artists, actors, poets and celebrities. His style was often startlingly unflattering, capturing his sitters as they truly were. He said of his work, ‘Being fatally drawn to the human race, what I want to do when I take a photograph is make a revelation about it. So my sitters turn into my victims’. Deakin admitted to a drink problem which led to a chequered career and was twice sacked from Vogue. After his death, many of his photographic negatives were found in a box under his bed and were saved by his friend, writer and picture editor Bruce Bernard.

 

John Deakin (1912-1972) 'The Two Roberts Asleep - Colquhoun and MacBryde' c. 1953

 

John Deakin (1912-1972)
The Two Roberts Asleep – Colquhoun and MacBryde
c. 1953
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
John Deakin Archive / James Moores Collection

 

 

Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde are here shown asleep on each other shoulders in a moment of tender intimacy. They had met on their first day at Glasgow School of Art and became lovers and lifelong partners. This photograph was probably taken at Tilty Mill, the home of the writer Elizabeth Smart, who invited Colquhoun and MacBryde to live with her and her partner the poet George Barker, when they’d been evicted from their studio in London. They spent the next four years there, combining painting with helping to raise Smart and Barker’s four children. The edges of the image show evidence of fire damage from some forgotten occasion. (Wall text)

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer

Barbara Ker-Seymer was a photographer active in the interwar years. After studying at the Chelsea School of Art, she worked for the society portrait photographer Olivia Wyndham. When Wyndham moved to New York to be with her lover, the African-American actress Edna Lloyd-Thomas, Ker-Seymer was left in charge of her studio. She established her own studio on New Bond Street in 1931, and began a successful career as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. She pursued relationships with both men and women, and was associated with the queer subculture known as the Bright Young Things. After the Second World War, she ceased to work as a photographer, opening a laundrette in 1951. Her papers, in Tate Archive, are full of playful images of her friends.

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-1993) 'Photograph album' (installation view) Nd

 

Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-1993)
Photograph album (installation view)
Nd
Tate Archive

 

 

This creatively arranged spread in one of Ker-Seymer’s photograph albums shows images of a number of her friends, including Marty Mann, an American who was for a time Ker- Seymer’s business partner and lover. Mann’s drinking was increasingly a problem and their relationship floundered. She later became an important advocate for the newly formed ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’. (Wall text)

 

Room 8: Francis Bacon and David Hockney

The most fearless depictions of male same-sex desire in the years before 1967 are in the work of Francis Bacon and David Hockney. Bacon told how as a teenager his parents threw him out of their home for trying on his mother’s underwear. He gravitated to London, where he began his visceral exploration of the human figure. Hockney arrived in London in 1959 to study at the Royal College of Art. He was deeply impressed by Bacon’s 1960 exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, commenting ‘you can smell the balls’, but his own style was more playful, experimenting with abstraction and graffiti.

Hockney and Bacon both drew heavily on the visual culture that surrounded them, from well-established artistic sources such as Eadweard Muybridge’s innovative photographs of wrestlers to cheap bodybuilding magazines. They were not alone in spotting the homoerotic potential of this material – artists such as Christopher Wood had already used the trope of wrestlers to hint at queer intimacy. Yet Hockney and Bacon went further, fearlessly stripping away ambiguities.

Their work was controversial. Bacon’s 1955 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts was investigated by the police for obscenity while Hockney once described his early paintings as ‘homosexual propaganda’. They both continued to push the boundaries of what could be depicted in art, breaking new ground.

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 'Two Figures in a Landscape' (installation view) 1956

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Two Figures in a Landscape (installation view)
1956
Oil paint on canvas
Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council

 

 

Two Figures in a Landscape combines the homoerotic themes of the ‘crouching nude’ and ‘figures in the grass’ that Francis Bacon explored in multiple paintings throughout the 1950s. He was inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of wrestlers and athletes, along with Michelangelo’s drawings and sculpture. Bacon adapted these to explore his homosexuality with varying degrees of ambiguity. He later explained ‘Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together’ and ‘I manipulate the Muybridge bodies into the form of the bodies I have known’. (Wall text)

 

Francis Bacon. 'Seated Figure' 1961

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Seated Figure
1961
Tate. Presented by J. Sainsbury Ltd 1961
© Estate of Francis Bacon

 

 

This image probably depicts Francis Bacon’s former lover Peter Lacy. Bacon was a masochist and Lacy once told him ‘you could live in a corner of my cottage on straw. You could sleep and shit there’. Lacy’s suit and the inclusion of domestic details such as the exotic rug and chair contrast with the tempestuous abstract backdrop, giving the image an air of suppressed violence. Bacon spoke of his treatment of sitters in his portraits as an ‘injury’ and once said ‘I hate a homely atmosphere. . . I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior and the home’. (Wall text)

 

Installation view of David Hockney's 'Life Painting for a Diploma' 1962

 

Installation view of David Hockney’s Life Painting for a Diploma 1962 from Room 8 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

David Hockney (born 1937) 'Life Painting for a Diploma' 1962

 

David Hockney (born 1937)
Life Painting for a Diploma
1962
Oil paint, charcoal and collage on canvas
Yageo Foundation Collection, Taiwan

 

 

Life Painting for a Diploma formed part of David Hockney’s final submission at the Royal College of Art. The hanging skeleton displays Hockney’s skills as a draftsman but it is the well-toned bodybuilder who catches the viewer’s attention. Hockney’s gay American friend Mark Berger introduced him to ‘beefcake’ magazines such as Physique Pictorial. Here, the stereotypical model and inscription PHYSIQUE references this material. Hockney claimed he painted this image to satisfy the RCA’s requirement that students produce a number of life-drawings. The work’s title and its contrast between the arid skeleton and lively model (clearly not painted from life) subtly mocks his instructors. (Wall text)

 

David Hockney (born 1937) 'Going to be a Queen for Tonight' 1960

 

David Hockney (born 1937)
Going to be a Queen for Tonight
1960
Oil paint on canvas
Royal College of Art

 

 

The words ‘queer’ and ‘queen’, both terms for gay men at this time, are scrawled across the surface of this image. Hockney was fascinated with the graffiti in the public toilets at Earls Court Underground station. Here, messages about opportunities for casual sex were mixed with other slogans. The title playfully hints at these possibilities – ‘queen’ but only for the night. It was one of a number of paintings made by Hockney at the Royal College Of Art which reference queer urban life. Hockney described his early works as ‘a kind of mixture of Alan Davie cum Jackson Pollock cum Roger Hilton’. (Wall text)

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) 'Wrestlers' 1965

 

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Wrestlers (installation view)
1965
Watercolour and ink on paper
York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery)
Gifted through the Contemporary Art Society, as a bequest from Dr Ronald Lande, in memory of his life partner Walter Urech, 2012

 

 

Physique Photography In Britain

British Physique photography flourished after the Second World War. Body-building magazines such as Health and Strength or Man’s World could be purchased quite innocently in newsagents. For many gay men, however, these publications were an important first step towards finding a community.

Bodybuilding shots, wrestlers and ‘art studies’ offered a pretext for gay photographers such as Vince, Basil Clavery (alias ‘Royale’ and ‘Hussar’), Lon of London and John Barrington to produce homoerotic imagery. Their work often included references to classical civilisation, an established shorthand for queer culture. Some dropped the pretence of bodybuilding altogether and sold more explicit material directly to a burgeoning private market.

This was a risky business: selling or sending such images through the post could land both photographer and purchaser in jail. Yet for many gay men, the easy availability of physique imagery gave reassurance that they were not alone. Somebody out there understood and shared their desires.

 

Installation view of physique album pages

Installation view of physique album pages

 

Installation view of physique album pages from Room 8 of the exhibition Queer British Art at Tate Britain

 

 

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09
Jun
17

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 15th February – 11th June 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The State We're In, A' 2015

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The State We’re In, A (Room 14)
2015
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Cock (Kiss)' 2002

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Cock (Kiss)
2002
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

If one thing matters, everything matters
(A love letter to Wolfgang Tillmans)

I believe that Wolfgang Tillmans is the number one photo-media artist working today. I know it’s a big call, but that’s how I see it.

His whole body of work is akin to a working archive – of memories, places, contexts, identities, landscapes (both physical and imagined) and people. He experiments, engages, and imagines all different possibilities in and through art. As Adrian Searle observes, “Tillmans’ work is all a kind of evidence – a sifting through material to find meaning.” And that meaning varies depending on the point of view one comes from, or adopts, in relation to the art. The viewer is allowed to make their own mind up, to dis/assemble or deepen relationships between things as they would like, or require, or not as the case may be. Tillmans is not didactic, but guides the viewer on that journey through intersections and nodal points of existence. The nexus of life.

Much as I admire the writing of art critic John McDonald, I disagree with his assessment of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans at Tate Modern (see quotation below). Personally, I find that there are many memorable photographs in this exhibition … as valuable and as valid a way of seeing the world in a contemporary sense, as Eggleston’s photographs are in a historic visualisation. I can recall Tillmans’ images just an intimately as I can Eggleston’s. But they are of a different nature, and this is where McDonald’s analysis is like comparing apples and pears. Eggleston’s classical modernist photographs depend on the centrality of composition where his images are perfectly self-contained, whether he is photographing a woman in a blue dress sitting on a kerb or an all green bathroom. They are of their time. Times have changed, and how we view the world has changed.

For Tillmans no subject matter is trivial (If One Thing Matters, Everything Matters – the title of a 2003 exhibition at Tate Britain), and how he approaches the subject is totally different from Eggleston. As he says of his work, his images are “calls to attentiveness.” What does he mean by this? Influenced by the work of the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti whom I have also studied, a call to attentiveness is a way of being open and responsive to the world around you, to its infinite inflections, and to not walk around as if in a dream, letting the world pass you by. To be open and receptive to the energies and connections of the world spirit by seeing clearly.

Krishnamurti insightfully observed that we do not need to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. We must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – and then we might become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more.1 Then there would be less need for the absenting of self into the technological ether or the day dreams of foreign lands or the desire for a better life. But being aware is not enough, we must be attentive of that awareness and not make images just because we can or must. This is a very contemporary way of looking at the world. As Krishnamurti says,

“Now with that same attention I’m going to see that when you flatter me, or insult me, there is no image, because I’m tremendously attentive … I listen because the mind wants to find out if it is creating an image out of every word, out of every contact. I’m tremendously awake, therefore I find in myself a person who is inattentive, asleep, dull, who makes images and gets hurt – not an intelligent man. Have you understood it at least verbally? Now apply it. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. And if anybody says something to you, you are tremendously attentive, not to any prejudices, but you are attentive to your conditioning. Therefore you have established a relationship with him, which is entirely different from his relationship with you. Because if he is prejudiced, you are not; if he is unaware, you are aware. Therefore you will never create an image about him. You see the difference?”2

.
Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action. You are attentive and tremendously awake.

This is the essence of Tillmans work. He is tremendously attentive to the images he is making (“a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view” as he puts it) and to the associations that are possible between images, that we make as human beings. He is open and receptive to his conditioning and offers that gift to us through his art, if we recognise it and accept it for what it is. If you really look and understand what the artist is doing, these images are music, poetry and beauty – are time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. They are archaic and shapeless and fluid and joy and magic and love…

They are the air between everything.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. London: Penguin, 1975, p. 131
  2. Ibid., pp. 130-131

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

 

 

“To look at Eggleston alongside those he has inspire [Wolfgang Tillmans and Juergen Teller for example] is to see a surprisingly old-fashioned artist. No matter how instinctive his approach or how trivial his subjects, Eggleston believes in the centrality of composition. His images are perfectly self-contained. They don’t depend on a splashy, messy installation or a political stance. …

In the current survey of Tillmans’s work at Tate Modern photos of every description are plastered across the walls in the most anarchic manner, with hardly a memorable composition. Yet this shapeless stuff is no longer reviled by the critics – it’s the height of fashion.”

.
John McDonald “William Eggleston: Portraits”

 

“For a long time in Britain, there was a deep suspicion of my work. People saw me as a commercial artist trying to get into the art world, and the work was dismissed as shallow or somehow lightweight. There are still many misconceptions about what I do – that my images are random and everyday, when they are actually neither. They are, in fact, the opposite. They are calls to attentiveness.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017', which includes the latest iteration of the 'truth study centre' project

 

Installation view of room 4 (detail), which includes the latest iteration of the truth study centre project, with
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

 

The Tate show includes a room full of his “truth study centres”, which comprise often contradictory newspaper cuttings as well as photographs and pamphlets that aim to show how news is manipulated according to the political loyalties of those who produce it. As activists go, though, Tillmans is defiantly centre ground. “This is about strengthening the centre. I can understand left-wing politics from a passionate, idealistic point of view, but I do not think it is the solution to where we are now. The solution is good governance, moderation, agreement. Post-Brexit, post-Trump, the voices of reason need to be heard more than ever.”

Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on The Guardian website

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail) from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 13 (detail), which focuses in on Tillmans’ portraiture with Eleanor / Lutz, a (2016) at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Eleanor / Lutz, a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Eleanor / Lutz, a
2016
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Portrait of Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern Boiler House, Level 3, 14/02/2017 in front of his works, Transient 2, 2015 and Tag/Nacht II, 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tag/Nacht II' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tag/Nacht II
2010
Ink-jet print
Dimensions variable
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

The State We’re In, A, is part of Neue Welt [New World], the loose family of pictures I began at the end of the last decade. These had two points of departure: “What does the outside world look like to me 20 years after I began photographing?” and “What does it look like in particular with a new photographic medium?”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans

 

“This exhibition is not about politics, it’s about poetry, it’s about installation art. It’s about thinking about the world. I’ve never felt that l can be separated, because the political is only the accumulation of many people’s private lives, which constitute the body politics…”

“My work has always been motivated by talking about society, by talking about how we live together, by how we feel in our bodies. Sexuality, like beauty, is never un-political, because they relate to what’s accepted in society. Two men kissing, is that acceptable? These are all questions to do with beauty.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted on the Art News website

 

“There is music. There is dancing. Bewilderment is part of the pleasure, as we move between images and photographic abstractions. Tillmans’ asks us to make connections of all kinds – formal, thematic, spatial, political. He asks what the limits of photography are. There are questions here about time, place, belonging, voyeurism, affection, sex. After a while it all starts to tumble through me.”

.
Adrian Searle review on the Guardian website

 

 

What are we to make of the world in which we find ourselves today? Contemporary artist Wolfgang Tillmans offers plenty of food for thought.

This is Wolfgang Tillmans’s first ever exhibition at Tate Modern and brings together works in an exciting variety of media – photographs, of course, but also video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music – all staged by the artist in characteristically innovative style. Alongside portraiture, landscape and intimate still lifes, Tillmans pushes the boundaries of the photographic form in abstract artworks that range from the sculptural to the immersive.

The year 2003 is the exhibition’s point of departure, representing for Tillmans the moment the world changed, with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. The social and political form a rich vein throughout the artist’s work. German-born, international in outlook and exhibited around the world, Tillmans spent many years in the UK and is currently based in Berlin. In 2000, he was the first photographer and first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize.

 

Room one

Static interference typically appears on a television screen when an analogue signal is switched off. This can occur when a station’s official programme finishes for the night or if a broadcast is censored. In Tillmans’s Sendeschluss/End of Broadcast 2014 it represents the coexistence of two different generations of technology. The chaotic analogue static was displayed on a digital television, which allowed Tillmans’s high-resolution digital camera to record the pattern as it really appeared, something that would not have been possible with a traditional cathode ray tube television. This work shows Tillmans’s interest in questioning what we believe to be true: the seemingly black-and-white image turns out to be extremely colourful when viewed very close up.

Other works in this room reflect on digital printmaking and photography today. For example, the technical ability to photograph a nightscape from a moving vehicle without blurring, as in these images of Sunset Boulevard, is unprecedented. Itself the subject of many famous art photographs, this iconic roadway appears here littered with large format inkjet prints in the form of advertising billboards. In Double Exposure 2012-13 Tillmans juxtaposes images of two trade fairs – one for digital printers, the other for fruit and vegetables. Encounter 2014 shows a different photo-sensitive process. A pot had been left on top of a planter preventing light from reaching the sprouts underneath and leaving them white, while the surrounding growths that caught the daylight turned green.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
107 1/2 × 161 1/2″ (273.1 × 410.2 cm)
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Television white noise that the artist photographed while in Russia. For Tillmans, the image signifies resistance on his part to making clear images, but without the text its ostensibly radical nature would not be known.

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with 'Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I' 2014, at left

 

Installation view of room 1 (detail), with Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I, 2014, at left

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Double Exposure' 2012-13

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Double Exposure
2012-13
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room two

Tillmans spends much of his time in the studio, yet he only occasionally uses it as a set for taking portraits. Instead, it is where prints are made and exhibitions are planned in architectural models, and where he collects materials and generates ideas. Over the years this environment has become a subject for his photographs, presenting a radically different view of the artist’s studio to the more traditional depictions seen in paintings over the centuries.

These works made around the studio demonstrate Tillmans’s concern with the physical process of making photographs, from chemical darkroom processes and their potential to create abstract pictures without the camera, to digital technology that is vital to the production of contemporary images, and the paper onto which they are printed. Tillmans’s understanding of the material qualities of paper is fundamental to his work, and photographs can take on a sculptural quality in series such as Lighter, 2005-ongoing and paper drop, 2001-ongoing, seen later in the exhibition.

In CLC 800, dismantled 2011 Tillmans uses photography to record a temporary installation, the result of unfastening every single screw in his defunct colour photocopier. He prefers to photograph his three-dimensional staged scenarios rather than actually displaying them as sculptures. He has often described the core of his work as ‘translating the three dimensional world into two dimensional pictures’.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'paper drop' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
paper drop Prinzessinnenstrasse
2014
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Perhaps as a continuation of his more textural photographs – depicting fabrics and still lifes so close up they become difficult to read – experiments in abstraction followed suit, many of them featuring what is perhaps his favourite motif: the fold, which, as the exhibition’s curator Chris Dercon kindly reminded us, was considered by the philosopher Leibniz as one of the most accurate ways to depict the complexities of the human soul.

Text from the Art News website

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'CLC 800, dismantled' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
CLC 800, dismantled
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room three

Having spent the preceding decade working largely on conceptual and abstract photographs, in 2009 Tillmans embarked on the four-year project Neue Welt. Looking at the world with fresh eyes, he aimed to depict how it has changed since he first took up the camera in 1988. He travelled to five continents to find places unknown to him and visited familiar places as if experiencing them for the first time. Interested in the surface of things as they appeared in those lucid first days of being in a new environment, he immersed himself in each location for just a brief period. Now using a high resolution digital camera, Tillmans captured images in a depth of detail that is immediately compelling, but also suggests the excess of information that is often described as a condition of contemporary life.

Communal spaces, people, animals, and still-life studies of nature or food are just some of the subjects that feature in Neue Welt. Seen together, these images offer a deliberately fragmented view. Rather than making an overarching statement about the changing character of modern life, Tillmans sought only to record, and to create a more empathetic understanding of the world. Over the course of the project, however, some shrewd observations about contemporary worldviews did emerge. One related to the changing shape of car headlights, which he noted are now very angular in shape, giving them a predatory appearance that might reflect a more competitive climate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'astro crusto, a' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
astro crusto, a
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation shot of room 3 from the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern

 

Installation view of room 3 (detail), with Headlight (f) 2012, at left; and Munuwata sky, 2011 at right
Image © Tate Modern showing Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 at Tate Modern 15 February – 11 June

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Headlight (f)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Headlight (f)
2012
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Munuwata sky' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Munuwata sky
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room four

In the mid-2000s, prompted by global events, such as the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Tillmans became interested in the assertions made by individuals, groups or organisations around the world that their viewpoint represented the absolute truth about a number of political and ethical questions.

He began his wryly-named truth study center project in 2005. Photographs, clippings from newspapers and magazines, objects, drawings, and copies of his own images are laid out in deliberate – and often provocative – juxtapositions. These arrangements reflect the presentation of information by news outlets in print and online. They also draw attention to gaps in knowledge, or areas where there is room for doubt. For each installation, the material presented in the truth study centers is selected according to its topical and geographic context. In 2017, the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse across the world. This iteration of the project focuses in particular on how constructions of truth work on a psychological and physiological level.

The Silver 1998-ongoing prints connect to reality in a different way. Made by passing monochromatically exposed photographic paper through a dirty photo-developing machine, they collect particles and residue from the rollers and liquids. This makes them, in effect, a record of the chemical and mechanical process from which they originate.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'truth study center' 2017

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
truth study center
2017
Pigmented inkjet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room five

Tillmans has described how, as a photographer, he feels increasingly less obligated to reflect solely on the outside world through documentary images. In his abstract works, he looks inwards: exploring the rudiments of photographic processes and their potential to be used as a form of self-expression.

Like the Silver works in the previous room, the abstract Greifbar 2014-15 images are made without a camera. Working in the darkroom, Tillmans traces light directly onto photographic paper. The vast swathes of colour are a record of the physical gestures involved in their construction, but also suggest aspects of the body such as hair, or pigmentation of the skin. This reference to the figurative is reflected in the title, which translates as ‘tangible’.

Tillmans has observed that even though these works are made by the artist’s hand, they look as though they could be ‘scientific’ evidence of natural processes. For him, this interpretation is important, because it disassociates the works from the traditional gestural technique of painting. That the image is read as a photographic record, and not the result of the artist’s brushstroke, is essential to its conceptual meaning.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Greifbar 29' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Greifbar 29
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room six

Tillmans is interested in social life in its broadest sense, encompassing our participation in society. His photographs of individuals and groups are underpinned by his conviction that we are all vulnerable, and that our well-being depends upon knowing that we are not alone in the world.

Tillmans has observed that although cultural attitudes towards race, gender and sexuality have become more open over the three decades since he began his artistic practice, there is also greater policing of nightlife, and urban social spaces are closing down. His photographs taken in clubs, for example, testify to the importance of places where people can go today to feel safe, included, and free.

This concern with freedom also extends to the ways in which people organise themselves to make their voices heard. Images of political marches and protests draw attention to the cause for which they are fighting. They also form part of a wider study of what Tillmans describes as the recent ‘re-emergence’ of activism.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Blue Oyster Bar, Saint Petersburg
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE' 2006

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
NICE HERE but ever been to KRYGYZSTAN free Gender Expression WORLDWIDE
2006
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room seven

Playback Room is a space designed for listening to recorded music. The project first ran at Between Bridges, the non-profit exhibition space Tillmans opened in London in 2006 and has since transferred to Berlin. In three exhibition (‘Colourbox’, ‘American Producers’ ‘Bring Your Own’) that took place between September 2014 and February 2015, he invited visitors to come and listen to music at almost the same quality at which it was originally mastered.

Whereas live music can be enjoyed in concert halls and stadiums, and visual art can be enjoyed in museums, no comparable space exists for appreciating studio music. Musicians and producers spend months recording tracks at optimal quality, yet we often listen to the results through audio equipment and personal devices that are not fit for perfect sound reproduction. Playback Room is a response to this. An example of Tillmans’s curatorial practice, he has chosen to include it here to encourage others to think about how recorded music can be given prominence within the museum setting.

The three tracks you hear in this room are by Colourbox, an English band who were active between 1982 and 1987. Tillmans, a long-term fan of the band, chose their music for Playback Room because they never performed live, thus emphasising the importance of the studio recordings.

 

Room eight

Tillmans began experimenting with abstraction while in high school, using the powerful enlargement function of an early digital photocopier to copy and degrade his own photographs as well as those cut from newspapers. He describes the coexistence of chance and control involved in this process as an essential ingredient in most of his work.

Ever since then, he has found ways to resist the idea that the photograph is solely a direct record of reality. In 2011, this area of his practice was compiled for the first time in his book Abstract Pictures. For a special edition of 176 copies Tillmans manipulated the printing press, for example by running it without plates or pouring ink into the wrong compartments, to create random effects and overprinted pages.

Some of his abstract photographs are made with a camera and others without, through the manipulation of chemicals, light, or the paper itself. Importantly, however, Tillmans does not distinguish between the abstract and the representational. He is more interested in what they have in common. The relationship between photography, sculpture and the body, for example, is expressed in abstract photographs made by crumpling a sheet of photographic paper, but also in close-ups of draped and wrinkled clothing such as Faltenwurf (Pines) a, 2016 in Room 9.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Concorde L433-11' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Concorde L433-11
1997
Ink-jet print
Tate
© Wolfgang Tillmans, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

Room nine

Artist books, exhibition catalogues, newspaper supplements and magazine spreads, posters and leaflets are an integral part of Tillmans’s output. These various formats and the ways in which they are distributed or made visible in the public space allow him to present work and engage audiences in a completely different manner to exhibitions. For him the printed page is as valid a venue for artistic creation as the walls of a museum. Many such projects are vital platforms on which he can speak out about a political topic, or express his continued interest in subjects such as musicians, or portraiture in general.

Recently, the print layout has enabled Tillmans to share a more personal aspect of his visual archive. Originally designed as a sixty-six page spread for the Winter 2015/Spring 2016 edition of Arena Homme +, this grid of images looks back at Fragile, the name he gave as a teenager to his creative alter-ego. Spanning 1983 to 1989 – the year before he moved to England to study – the photographs and illustrations provide a sensitive insight into a formative period in Tillmans’s life, predating the time when he chose photography as his main medium of expression.

The layout is also an example of the intricate collaging technique that he has employed in printed matter since 2011, deliberately obscuring some images by overlapping others on top of them

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Faltenwurf (Pines), a' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Faltenwurf (Pines), a
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tukan' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tukan
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room ten

An acute awareness of fragility endures across Tillmans’s practice in all of its different forms. Often this is expressed in his attentiveness to textures and surfaces. Collum 2011 is taken from Central Nervous System 2008-13, a group of portraits featuring only one subject, where the focus on intimate details, such as the nape of the neck or the soft skin of the outer ear, both emphasises and celebrates the frailty of the human body.

Weed 2014, a four-metre tall photograph taken in the garden of the artist’s London home, invites us to consider the beauty and complexity of a plant usually seen as a nuisance. The dead leaf of a nearby fig tree appears as both a sculptural form and a memento mori. Dusty Vehicle 2012, photographed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is highly specific in its depiction of texture, yet the reasons leading to this roadside arrangement remain a mystery.

The focus on a very few works in this room serves as an example of Tillmans’s varied approaches to exhibiting his prints. Though best known for installations comprising many pictures, he always places emphasis on the strength of the individual image. By pinning and taping work to the wall, as well as using frames, Tillmans draws attention to the edges of the print, encouraging the viewer to interact with the photograph as an object, rather than a conduit for an image.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Dusty Vehicle' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Dusty Vehicle
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Collum' 2011

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Collum
2011
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Weed' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Weed
2014
Photograph, inkjet print on paper
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room eleven

In this room Tillmans highlights the coexistence of the personal, private, public, and political spheres in our lives. The simultaneity of a life lived as a sexual being as well as a political being, or in Tillmans’s case as a conceptual artist as well as a visually curious individual, plays out through the installation.

The entirely white view taken from the inside of a cloud, a word charged with multiple meanings, is presented alongside the close-up and matter-of-fact view of male buttocks and testicles. Like nackt, 2 2014, the small photograph The Air Between 2016 is the result of a lifelong interest in visually describing what it feels like to live in our bodies. Here the attention lies in photographing the air, the empty space between our skin and our clothes.

In still life, Calle Real II 2013, a severed agave chunk is placed on a German newspaper article describing the online depiction of atrocities by Islamic State. The image is as startling in its depiction of the finest green hues as it is in capturing how, simultaneously, we take in world events alongside details of our personal environment.

This room, which Tillmans considers as one work or installation in its entirety, is an example of his innovative use of different photographic prints and formats to reflect upon how we experience vastly different aspects of the world at the same time.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Air Between' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Air Between
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Still life, Calle Real II' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Still life, Calle Real II
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Nackt, 2 (nude, 2)
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Room twelve

Tillmans has always been sensitive to the public side of his role as an artist, acknowledging that putting images out in the public world unavoidably places himself in the picture as well. His participation in activities such as lectures and interviews has been a platform for his voice from the beginning of his career.

Since 2014 he has also allowed performance to become a more prominent strand of his practice. Filmed in a hotel room in Los Angeles and an apartment in Tehran, Instrument 2015 is the first time that Tillmans has put himself in front of the camera for a video piece. Across a split screen, we see two separate occasions on which he has filmed himself dancing. The accompanying soundtrack was created by distorting the sound of his feet hitting the floor. In the absence of any other music, his body becomes an instrument.

On one side of the screen we see his body, on the other only his shadow. Referring to the shadow, New York Times critic Roberta Smith commented that:

“Disconcertingly, this insubstantial body is slightly out of sync with the fleshly one. It is a ghost, a shade, the specter that drives us all. The ease with which we want to believe that the two images are connected, even though they were filmed separately, might also act as a reminder to question what we assume to be true.”

 

Room thirteen

Portraiture has been central to Tillmans’s practice for three decades. For him, it is a collaborative act that he has described as ‘a good levelling instrument’. No matter who the sitter – a stranger or someone close to him, a public figure, an unknown individual, or even the artist himself – the process is characterised by the same dynamics: of vulnerability, exposure, honesty and always, to some extent, self-consciousness. Tillmans sees every portrait as resulting from the expectations and hopes of both sitter and photographer.

The portrait’s ability to highlight the relationship between appearance and identity is a recurring point of interest. In 2016, at HM Prison Reading, Tillmans took a distorted self-portrait in a damaged mirror once used by inmates. The disfigured result is the artist’s expression of the effects on the soul wrought by physical and psychological confinement and also censorship. Whoever looked into the reflective surface would gain a completely inaccurate impression of what they looked like, and how they are perceived by others.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Separate System, Reading Prison' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Separate System, Reading Prison
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“The image’s reference to both Dorian Gray and Francis Bacon is evident. This catapults a new association: perhaps Bacon was painting Gray all along. Insistently, fearlessly, longingly.

As with much of Bacon’s oeuvre, and the very particular picture of Dorian Gray, a distorted, forward-facing male figure intimidates the viewer with his unmade face. However, Tillsman’s piece is not a picture, it is a photograph. Here, the artist (as was the case with Bacon/Wilde) is not the one dissembling what’s inside the frame, subjecting it with his brush. No. In Tillsman’s image, a piece of thick glass distorts the artist. Here, the artist is no longer the lens that is able to affect his surroundings. Here, the surroundings distort the artist.

The message Tillsman delivers is clear: things have changed. The world disfigures the subject while the artist is trapped, forced to stand there and watch.”

Text by Ana Maria Caballero on The Drugstore Notebook website

 

Room fourteen

Symbol and allegory are artistic strategies Tillmans is usually keen to avoid. The State We’re In, A 2015 is a departure from this stance: the work’s title is a direct reference to current global political tensions. Depicting the Atlantic Ocean, a vast area that crosses time zones and national frontiers, it records the sea energised by opposing forces, but not yet breaking into waves. Differing energies collide, about to erupt into conflict.

The photographs in this room deal with borders and how they seem clear-cut but are actually fluid. In these images, borders are made tangible in the vapour between clouds, the horizon itself or the folds in the two Lighter photo-objects. The shipwreck left behind by refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa, depicted in this photograph from 2008, is a reminder that borders, represented elsewhere in more poetic delineations, can mean a question of life and death.

The text and tables sculpture Time Mirrored 3 2017 represents Tillmans’s interest in connecting the time in which we live to a broader historical context. He always understands the ‘Now’ as the history of the future. Events perceived as having happened over a vast gulf of time between us and the past, become tangible when ‘mathematically mirrored’ and connected to more recent periods of time in our living memory.

In contrast to the epic themes of sea and time, the pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door, a subject he has photographed since 2002, suggest a day-to-day positive outlook.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Italian Coastal Guard Flying Rescue Mission off Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Lampedusa' 2008

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Lampedusa
2008
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail)

 

Installation view of room 14 (detail), featuring at left, pictures of an apple tree outside the artist’s London front door and at right, La Palma 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'La Palma' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
La Palma
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' 2007

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
2007
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Apple tree' Various dates

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Apple tree
Various dates
Ink-jet prints
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Book for Architects

Book for Architects 2014 is the culmination of Tillmans’s longstanding fascination with architecture. First presented at Rem Koolhaas’s 14th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice, 2013, it explores the contrast between the rationality and utopianism that inform design and the reality of how buildings and streets come to be constructed and inhabited.

In 450 images taken in 37 countries, across 5 continents, Tillmans hones in on the resourceful and ingenious ways in which people adapt their surroundings to fit their needs. These are individual and uncoordinated decisions that were not anticipated in architects’ plans, but still impact the contemporary built environment.

Across the double projection, we see examples of how buildings come to sit within a city plan, the ad-hoc ways in which they are modified, and the supposed ‘weaknesses’ of a space such as the corners where there are service doors, fire escapes, or alarm systems.

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Shit buildings going up left, right and centre' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Shit buildings going up left, right and centre
2014
Book for Architects Plate 083 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Untitled' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Untitled
2012
Book for Architects 2014
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“He has said of his photographs that “they are a representation of an unprivileged gaze or view … In photography I like to assume exactly the unprivileged position, the position that everybody can take, that chooses to sit at an airplane window or chooses to climb a tower.”

.
Wolfgang Tillmans quoted in Peter Halley, Midori Matsui, Jan Verwoert, Wolfgang Tillmans, London 2002, p. 136

 

 

Wolfgang Tillmans has earned recognition as one of the most exciting and innovative artists working today. Tate Modern presents an exhibition concentrating on his production across different media since 2003. First rising to prominence in the 1990s for his photographs of everyday life and contemporary culture, Tillmans has gone on to work in an ever greater variety of media and has taken an increasingly innovative approach to staging exhibitions. Tate Modern brings this variety to the fore, offering a new focus on his photographs, video, digital slide projections, publications, curatorial projects and recorded music.

Social and political themes form a rich vein throughout Tillmans’s work. The destabilisation of the world has arisen as a recurring concern for the artist since 2003, an important year when he felt the world changed with the invasion of Iraq and anti-war demonstrations. In 2017, at a moment when the subject of truth and fake news is at the heart of political discourse, Tillmans presents a new configuration of his tabletop installation truth study center 2005-ongoing. This ongoing project uses an assembly of printed matter from pamphlets to newspaper cuttings to his own works on paper to highlight Tillmans’s continued interest in word events and how they are communicated in the media.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 will particularly highlight the artist’s deeper engagement with abstraction, beginning with the important work Sendeschluss / End of Broadcast I 2014. Based on images the artist took of an analogue TV losing signal, this work combines two opposing technologies – the digital and the analogue. Other works such as the series Blushes 2000-ongoing, made without a camera by manipulating the effects of light directly on photographic paper, show how the artist’s work with abstraction continues to push the boundaries and definitions of the photographic form.

The exhibition includes portraiture, landscape and still lives. A nightclub scene might record the joy of a safe social space for people to be themselves, while large-scale images of the sea such as La Palma 2014 or The State We’re In, A 2015 document places where borders intersect and margins are ever shifting. At the same time, intimate portraits like Collum 2011 focus on the delicacy, fragility and beauty of the human body. In 2009, Tillmans began using digital photography and was struck by the expanded opportunities the technology offered him. He began to travel more extensively to capture images of the commonplace and the extraordinary, photographing people and places across the world for the series Neue Welt 2009 – 2012.

The importance of Tillmans’s interdisciplinary practice is showcased throughout the exhibition. His Playback Room project, first shown at his Berlin exhibition space Between Bridges, provides a space within the museum for visitors to experience popular music by Colourbox at the best possible quality. The video installation Instrument 2015 shows Tillmans dancing to a soundtrack made by manipulating the sound of his own footsteps, while in the Tanks Studio his slide projection Book for Architects 2014 is being shown for the first time in the UK. Featuring thirty-seven countries and five continents, it reveals the tension between architectural form and function. In March, Tillmans will also take over Tate Modern’s south Tank for ten days with a specially-commissioned installation featuring live music events.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is co-curated by Chris Dercon and Helen Sainsbury, Head of Programme Realisation, Tate Modern with Emma Lewis, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing designed by Wolfgang Tillmans and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Images from the exhibition

Installation view of the exhibition 'Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017' at Tate Modern 15 February - 11 June

 

Installation view of the exhibition Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 with at left, Sunset night drive (2014) and at centre right, Young Man, Jeddah (2012)

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Sunset night drive' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Sunset night drive
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Young Man, Jeddah (B)' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Young Man, Jeddah (B)
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) '17 Years Supply' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
17 Years Supply
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

“Now the camera is staring into a big cardboard box, half-filled with pharmacist’s tubs and packages, 17 years’ supply of antiretroviral and other medications to treat HIV/Aids. I imagine the sound that box would make if you shook it, what that sound might say about a human life, its vulnerability and value.” ~ Adrian Searle

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Market I' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Market I
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Studio still life, c' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Studio still life, c
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Juan Pablo & Karl Chingaza
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Iguazu' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Iguazu
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Oscar Niemeyer' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Oscar Niemeyer
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Tube escalator joint' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Tube escalator joint
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'JAL' 1997

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
JAL
1997
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Port-au-Prince' 2010

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Port-au-Prince
2010
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'London Olympics' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
London Olympics
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Fespa Car' 2012

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Fespa Car
2012
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Spectrum Dagger' 2016

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
The Spectrum Dagger
2016
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Gaza Wall' 2009

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Gaza Wall
2009
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Simon, Sebastian Street' 2013

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Simon, Sebastian Street
2013
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'Arms and Legs' 2014

 

Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968)
Arms and Legs
2014
Ink-jet print
© Wolfgang Tillmans

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday – Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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25
Apr
17

Exhibition: ‘Peter Hujar: Speed of Life’ at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Exhibition dates: 27th January – 30th April 2017

Curator: Joel Smith, “Richard L. Menschel Curator” and Director of the Department of Photography at the Morgan Library & Museum

Peter Hujar: Speed of Life has been organised by Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona, and The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. The exhibition and its travelling schedule have been made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

 

 

A love letter to Peter Hujar

.
You jumped so high

the boy on a raft

saluting the sky

absorbed in his craft

 

Of rhythm and eros

you offer no excess

just intimacy, connection

a timeless … transience

 

The line of skyscrapers, the lines of a thinker

the gaze of a baby, the eyes of a dreamer

two cows look direct, as direct as can be

and chrysanthemums and roses lay death near thee

 

Contortions and compression

of time and space

the twist of a wrist, the surge of a river

a certain, poignant – tenderness

 

In love with photography

and the stories it tells

A troubled man

brought out of his shell

 

You left us too soon

you beautiful spirit

your portraits of life

loved, immortal – never finished

 

Marcus

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

See more Peter Hujar images on The Guardian website.

 

 

I want you to talk about me in a low voice. When people talk about me, I want them to do it by whispering.

.
Peter Hujar

 

He was charismatic and complicated and, it turned out, deeply insecure, with a damaging family history he kept mostly to himself… Peter was, in a way, at his most moving when taking photographs. He was so absorbed by it. Peter was in many ways a very tortured man, and I felt like when he was taking photographs, he wasn’t. I had other friends who were photographers, but not like Peter. Peter was so profoundly absorbed and engaged by it. He was never not a photographer.

.
Vince Aletti

 

 

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

Installation view of 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

 

Installation views of Peter Hujar: Speed of Life at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona

 

 

Fundación MAPFRE is delighted to be presenting Peter Hujar: Speed of Life, a retrospective exhibition on the American photographer Peter Hujar. Offering the most detailed account of the artist’s work to date, from the 1950s to his death in New York in 1987, it will be on display between January 27 and April 30, 2017 at the Fundación MAPFRE’s Casa Garriga i Nogués exhibition space (Calle Diputació, 250) in Barcelona.

Hujar was a portraitist in everything he did. Regardless of the subject of the work – a lover, an underground theatre actor, a goose, the surface of the Hudson River, or the placid features of his own face – what moved and motivated him was the spark of encounter and exchange between artist and other. Hujar’s serene, meditative, square-format photographs confer gravity on the object of his attention, granting it an eternal moment’s pause within the rush of passing time.

Little recognised during his own lifetime, Hujar published only one book of photographs, Portraits in Life and Death, but his output is today recognised as distinctive. His portraits combine disclosure and secrecy, ferocity and peace. Hujar’s career involved both a quest for recognition in the world of fashion photography – the photographers he admired most were Irving Penn and Richard Avedon – and a more solitary, almost completely uncompensated body of work in which he depicted the creative and intellectual New York that he knew and admired.

The present exhibition follows Peter Hujar’s method of presenting his work. Rather than show his photographs in isolation or in an linear or chronological arrangements, he preferred to present them in dynamic, surprising and sometimes disconcerting juxtapositions.

Press release from Fundación MAPFRE

 

Four keys

Peter Hujar’s work falls within the photographic tradition of portraiture: he was a portraitist in everything he did. Whatever the subject – a lover, an actor, a horse, the surface of the Hudson River, or the gentle features of his own face – what moved and motivated Hujar was the spark in the encounter and the exchange between the artist and his subject, establishing a direct relationship with whatever he portrayed thereby revealing its true nature.

One of the themes reflected in Hujar’s work is homosexuality. These were the years of the first Gay Liberation movements and the famous Stonewall riots. Hujar lived close to the Stonewall Inn, and his partner at the time, Jim Fouratt, came onto the scene the night of the police raid and founded the Gay Liberation Front. Hujar was not an activist, though he attended the group’s first meeting and contributed his well-known photograph which would become the image for the Gay Liberation Front Poster, 1970.

The route followed by the exhibition reflects the preferences of the artist, who systematically chose to present his photographs in vibrant, surprising and sometimes disturbing Most of the photographs are grouped into sets, some of which reflect the artist’s recurrent concerns, while others exemplify his interest in emphasizing diversity and the internal contradictions in his work.

A distinguishing feature of his art is the invisibility of technique in his photographs and yet simultaneously his preoccupation with and care over it. Hujar produced his own copies and was also considered a good printer.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

Peter Hujar. 'La Marchesa Fioravanti' 1958

 

Peter Hujar
La Marchesa Fioravanti
1958
Gelatina de plata
The Peter Hujar Archive
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Horse in West Virginia Mountains' 1969

 

Peter Hujar
Horse in West Virginia Mountains
1969
Gelatina de plata
Colección de Richard y Ronay Menschel
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Stromboli' 1963

 

Peter Hujar
Stromboli
1963
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Palermo Catacombs (11)' 1963

 

Peter Hujar
Palermo Catacombs (11)
1963
Gelatina de plata
Colección de Allen Adler and Frances Beatty Adler
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'St. Patrick's, Easter Sunday' 1976

 

Peter Hujar
St. Patrick’s, Easter Sunday
1976
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Artist biography

Peter Hujar was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1934 and grew up in the countryside with his Polish immigrant grandparents. When he was eleven his mother, a waitress, brought him to live with her in Manhattan.

Interested in photography from childhood, after graduating from high school in 1953 Hujar worked as an assistant in the studios of magazine professionals and aspired to work in fashion like his idols Lisette Model, Irving Penn, and Richard Avedon.

Between 1958 and 1963 Hujar lived mainly in Italy with two successive partners, artists Joseph Raffael and Paul Thek. After studying for a year at a filmmaking school in Rome he returned to Manhattan, where he moved in the circles of writer Susan Sontag and Andy Warhol’s Factory. From 1968 to 1972 he pursued a freelance career in fashion photography, publishing over a dozen features in Harper’s Bazaar and GQ before concluding that the hustle of magazine work “wasn’t right for me.”

In 1973 Hujar definitively renounced his professional aspirations for a life of creative poverty in New York’s East Village. Living in a loft above a theatre at Twelfth Street and Second Avenue, he took paying jobs only when necessary in order to focus on the work that truly motivated him. He photographed the artists he knew and respected, animals, the nude body, and New York as he knew it, a city then in serious economic decline. In his book Portraits in Life and Death (1976) he combined intimate studies of his rarefied downtown coterie (painters, performers, choreographers, and writers such as Sontag and William S. Burroughs) with portraits  of mummies in the Palermo Catacombs that he had made during a visit with Thek thirteen years earlier. His focus on mortality would intensify and find its purpose in the 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic ravaged gay populations in New York and worldwide.

Briefly a lover and subsequently a mentor to the young artist David Wojnarowicz, in his last seven years Hujar continued chronicling a creative downtown subculture that was fast becoming unsustainable in the context of the increasing power of money. His most frequent subject in these years was his neighbour and friend Ethyl Eichelberger, a drag performer whom he called “the greatest actor in America.” With Wojnarowicz, Hujar made expeditions to the depressed areas around New York, photographing industrial ruins in Queens, neighbourhoods of Newark, New Jersey, that had been destroyed in the riots of the late 1960s, and the abandoned Hudson River piers of lower Manhattan, sites of sexual exploits by night and guerilla art installations by day. Hujar died in New York on Thanksgiving Day, 1987, around eleven months after being diagnosed with AIDS.

Throughout his life Hujar stubbornly aligned himself with what he called the “All-In people”: artists committed to a creative course all their own, unconcerned with mass-market acclaim. At the same time he both disdained and bitterly wished for public recognition such as that achieved by his famous contemporaries Diane Arbus – eleven years his senior and respected by him – and Robert Mapplethorpe, who was twelve years younger and whom he considered a facile operator. During the thirty years since Hujar’s death the highly localised downtown public that knew his work has all but completely passed into history, while a vastly expanded photography audience around the world has become familiar with specific facets of his work, such as his indelible 1973 image Candy Darling on her Deathbed, and his soulful portraits of animals. In Peter Hujar: Speed of Life what comes to light is a broader assessment of his unique oeuvre, which was diverse and enduring. Many of the subjects populating this retrospective are familiar, even iconic faces of their era, but what can be seen more clearly today is the vision of the artist who unites them, himself a great and singular talent of the post-war decades in American art.

 

Peter Hujar. 'Cindy Luba as Queen Victoria' 1973

 

Peter Hujar
Cindy Luba as Queen Victoria
1973
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'David Warrilow (1)' 1985

 

Peter Hujar
David Warrilow (1)
1985
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Flowers for the Dead, Mazatlán, Mexico (2)' 1977

 

Peter Hujar
Flowers for the Dead, Mazatlán, Mexico (2)
1977
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Pascal Imbert Scarred Abdomen' 1980

 

Peter Hujar
Pascal Imbert Scarred Abdomen
1980
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Grass, Port Jefferson, New York' 1984

 

Peter Hujar
Grass, Port Jefferson, New York
1984
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Paul Hudson (Leg)' 1979

 

Peter Hujar
Paul Hudson (Leg)
1979
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Robyn Brentano (1)' 1975

 

Peter Hujar
Robyn Brentano (1)
1975
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Structure of the exhibition

The exhibition includes 160 photographs that offer an exploration of the career of this American photographer, with works loaned from the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum and nine other collections. The result is the most detailed account of Peter Hujar’s work presented to date.

In its structure the exhibition takes account of Hujar’s preference for presenting his photographs in vivid, startling, and even puzzling juxtapositions. Although following a broadly chronological order, with formative work from the 1950s and 1960s concentrated in the first half and later photographs at the end, the visual and creative continuities that spanned the duration of Hujar’s artistic life are emphasised as the visitor follows the sequence of works.

Most of the photographs are presented in groups of three to eight images, some of which showcase enduring preoccupations of the artist while others exemplify his desire to stress the diversity and internal contradictions of his work.

Thus, for the final exhibition of his life, held at the Gracie Mansion Gallery in the East Village in January 1986, Hujar spent several days arranging seventy photographs into thirty-five tightly spaced vertical pairs, taking care not to let any single genre of image appear twice in a row. At the start of the present exhibition, a six-photograph grid pays homage to this method by presenting a checkerboard-format conversation between three images made in controlled indoor conditions and three exterior views. The subjects, in order, are: a man’s bare leg with the foot planted firmly on the studio floor; waves rolling in on an ocean beach; a portrait of an unidentified young man; the World Trade Center at sunset; Ethyl Eichelberger applying makeup before a performance; and a dark burned-out hallway in the ruins of the Canal Street pier.

 

The catalogue

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes texts by its curator Joel Smith and by Philip Gefter and Steve Turtell, making it a reference work for a detailed knowledge of Peter Hujar’s work from the 1950s until his death in 1987.

 

Peter Hujar. 'Peggy Lee' 1974

 

Peter Hujar
Peggy Lee
1974
Gelatina de plata
The Peter Hujar Archive
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Hudson River' 1975

 

Peter Hujar
Hudson River
1975
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Mural at Piers' 1983

 

Peter Hujar
Mural at Piers
1983
Gelatina de plata
The Peter Hujar Archive
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid' 1981

 

Peter Hujar
Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid
1981
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Steel Ruins 13' 1976

 

Peter Hujar
Steel Ruins 13
1976
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Gary in Contortion (1)' 1979

 

Peter Hujar
Gary in Contortion (1)
1979
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Self-Portrait Jumping (1)' 1974

 

Peter Hujar
Self-Portrait Jumping (1)
1974
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Candy Darling on Her Deathbed' 1973

 

Peter Hujar
Candy Darling on Her Deathbed
1973
Gelatina de plata
Colección de Richard and Ronay Menschel
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Chloe Finch' 1981

 

Peter Hujar
Chloe Finch
1981
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Butch and Buster' 1978

 

Peter Hujar
Butch and Buster
1978
Gelatina de Plata
Colección de John Erdman and Gary Schneider
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'David Wojnarowcz Reclining (2)' 1981

 

Peter Hujar
David Wojnarowcz Reclining (2)
1981
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'John McClellan' 1981

 

Peter Hujar
John McClellan
1981
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Susan Sontag' 1975

 

Peter Hujar
Susan Sontag
1975
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'New York: Sixth Avenue (1)' 1976

 

Peter Hujar
New York: Sixth Avenue (1)
1976
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
Adquirida gracias a The Charina Endowment Fund
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Boy on Raft' 1978

 

Peter Hujar
Boy on Raft
1978
Gelatina de plata
The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection
© The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Cover of the catalogue for the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona featuring the Peter Hujar image 'Boy on Raft' (1978)

 

Cover of the catalogue for the exhibition Peter Hujar: Speed of Life at Fundación MAPFRE, Barcelona featuring the Peter Hujar image Boy on Raft (1978)

 

 

Fundación MAPFRE – Instituto de Cultura
Casa Garriga i Nogués exhibition space
Calle Diputació, 250
Barcelona

Fundación MAPFRE website

The Peter Hujar Archive

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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