Posts Tagged ‘religion


Exhibition: ‘Robert Frank in America’ at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University Part 1

Exhibition dates: 10th September 2014 – 5th January 2015

Curator: Peter Galassi



The lunatic sublime of America

This is the first part of a bumper two-part posting.

Robert Frank (born November 9, 1924) is one of the most important photographic artists of the twentieth century. He was born in Switzerland but he emigrated to American in 1947. He soon gained a job as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. He honed his craft as a photographer in England where he took formal, classical images of British life during a trip to Europe and South America in 1947.

He became friends with Edward Steichen and Walker Evans, and it was Evans who supported him in his Guggenheim Fellowship application in 1955 which enabled him “to travel across the United States and photograph all strata of its society. Cities he visited included Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan; Savannah, Georgia; Miami Beach and St. Petersburg, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana;Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Reno, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; Butte, Montana; and Chicago, Illinois. He took his family along with him for part of his series of road trips over the next two years, during which time he took 28,000 shots. 83 of these were selected by him for publication in The Americans.”1

In The Americans, Frank documents, “the tensions between the optimism of the 1950s and the realities of class and racial differences. The irony that Frank found in the gloss of American culture and wealth over this tension gave his photographs a clear contrast to those of most contemporary American photojournalists, as did his use of unusual focus, low lighting and cropping that deviated from accepted photographic techniques.2

Originally published as Les Américains in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris, and finally in 1959 in the United States by Grove Press, reaction in America was initially hostile. They American critics did not like Frank’s shoot from the hip style of photography, nor the mirror that was being held up to their society, especially by a Jewish foreigner. Over time The Americans came to be seen as a seminal work of American photography and social history. Like many artists, Frank only took photographs for a relatively short period of time, before moving on to become a filmmaker.

One cannot forget the era in which Frank took these photographs – that of McCarthyism and “the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1950 to 1956 and characterized by heightened political repression against communists, as well as a campaign spreading fear of their influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents.”3 Americans were suspicious of foreigners, especially ones with cameras, and this was still the era of racial segregation pre the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

With regard to the structure of the photographs, their origin is based in classicism. This was Frank’s training. It was his skill as an artist, his intuitive and prescient vision of America – how he saw America like no one else before him had – that enabled him to ramp up the intensity, shoot from weird angles, low lighting, cropping, depth of field, unusual focus – and focus on the iconography of America as never seen before: jukeboxes, American flags, cars, highways, death, racial segregation – that was so revolutionary. But he could not have done that without his formal training. You only have to look at the comparison between the photographs of Robert Frank and Walker Evans. Formal and elegant in Evans Church Organ and Pews (1936) and Downtown street, New Orleans (December 1935) with lines vertical and clean… and then Frank, with hardly a straight line or neat angle to be seen. But the one does inform the other, otherwise Frank’s photographs would just become snapshots, vernacular photographs with very little meaning. Which they are not.

This is one of the most powerful, lyrical, humanist photo essays of a country that has ever been taken. Critic Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian in 2014, said The Americans “changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it. [ . . . ] it remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.”4 As an artist, Frank became the great connector for he is the critical link in the chain that stretches from Lewis Hine through Walker Evans… and on to Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz.

As an artist you marvel at his intuition and inspiration, to look at the world as no one else had done before, to push the boundaries of medium and message. To photograph people, alone and in groups; politics; religion; race; automobiles and the road; and the media and thrust them into the white, bright, happy world of 1950s consumerist America saying: this is what this country is really like, this is my “impression” of you in all your fleeting madness, “America as an often bleak and lonely place.” You only have to look at the “eye” in U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho (1956, below) or look at the photograph of the grave by the side of the road to know that you are in Blue Velvet territory (David Lynch, director 1986, the title is taken from The Clovers’ 1955 song of the same name). I am not sure yet how one world pierces the other but believe me they surely do.


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



“It was the vision that emanated from the book that lead not only me, but my whole generation of photographers out into the American landscape, in a sense, the lunatic sublime of America.”

Joel Meyerowitz


“Like a boxer trains for a fight, a photographer by walking the streets, and watching and taking pictures, and coming home and going out the next day, the same thing again, taking pictures. It doesn’t matter how many he takes, or if he takes any at all, it gets you prepared to know what you should take pictures of, or what is the right thing to do and when.”

Robert Frank



Walker Evans. 'Main St., Ossining, New York' 1932


Walker Evans
Main St., Ossining, New York
Gelatin silver print


Robert Frank. 'Detroit' 1955


Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary



“In 1955 and 1956, Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank (b. 1924) traveled throughout the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship, photographing ordinary people in their everyday lives. His book The Americans – 83 photographs, mostly from those travels, published in 1959 – repudiated the bland good cheer of the magazines with an image of the country that was starkly at odds with the official optimism of postwar prosperity. The book became a landmark of photographic history; but Frank soon turned to filmmaking, and the rest of his early photographic career was largely forgotten. An important group of unknown or unfamiliar photographs in the Cantor Arts Center’s collection provides the core of the exhibition Robert Frank in America, which sheds new light on the making of The Americans and presents, for the first time, Frank’s American photographs from the 1950s as a coherent body of work.

“We are delighted that the Cantor’s collection has provided the basis for a fresh look at one of the great achievements of 20-century photography,” said Connie Wolf, John and Jill Freidenrich Director of the Cantor Arts Center. “We are also deeply grateful to Robert Frank, who has generously contributed to the project.”

The exhibition Robert Frank in America, on view September 10, 2014 through January 5, 2015, features 130 photographs drawn primarily from the Cantor’s collection as well as from other public and private collections and from Frank himself. Peter Galassi, former chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is the exhibition’s guest curator and author of the accompanying publication.


The Exhibition’s Development from the Cantor’s Collection

In the summer of 2012, Wolf invited Galassi to offer his thoughts on one of the museum’s hidden treasures: more than 150 photographs by Robert Frank given to the Cantor in the mid-1980s by Stanford alumnus Bowen H. McCoy and his colleague Raymond B. Gary. This remarkable collection spans the full range of Frank’s photographic career before he turned to filmmaking in the early 1960s. It is especially rich in Frank’s American work of the 1950s, including scores of photographs that are unknown or unfamiliar even to scholars. Wolf and Galassi saw an opportunity to share this work with Stanford students, faculty, scholars at large and the general public.

Research began at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where more than two decades ago the artist established the archive of his photographic career prior to 1970. Studying more than 1,000 contact sheets enabled Galassi to determine the locations and dates of dozens of previously unidentified photographs in the Cantor collection. He then selected works for the exhibition so as to identify Frank’s major themes and artistic strategies. The compelling sequence of The Americans poetically weaves diverse images into a seamless whole, but Robert Frank in America groups related pictures to explore the pictorial strategies that Frank developed as he worked, and also to highlight important subjects – people, alone and in groups; politics; religion; race; automobiles and the road; and the media.

Frank repeatedly photographed isolated figures so that they seemed trapped by pictorial forces, for example. This powerful metaphor for Frank’s vision of lonely individuals imprisoned by social circumstances is announced in the first picture, The Americans, where the flag obliterates a spectator’s face (Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955). In Robert Frank in America, that photograph is juxtaposed with another that uses the identical pictorial scheme but a different subject; the interior of a bar (New York City, 1955).

“Although The Americans is famous – partly because it is famous – Robert Frank’s American work of the 1950s has never been considered as a whole,” said Galassi. “The full range of the work shows just how Frank turned the vocabulary of magazine photojournalism on its head and used it to speak in a personal, poetic voice.”

Inviting Galassi to organize the exhibition was part of the museum’s renewed commitment to collecting, studying and presenting photography, Wolf says. The Cantor has been adding to its already strong holdings, presenting innovative exhibitions of work by distinguished artists and providing a valuable opportunity for Stanford students and faculty to work directly with photographs. Leland Stanford’s commission more than a century ago for Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering work on animal locomotion serves as a foundation for the museum’s extensive collection today.


Exhibition catalogue

The major catalogue accompanying this exhibition is published by the Cantor Arts Center in association with international publisher Steidl, with whom Frank has worked closely on most of his books. All 130 photographs in the exhibition are reproduced as full-page tritone plates. Galassi’s extensive essay traces the evolution of Frank’s work from his arrival in the United States in 1947 until he abandoned his first photographic career in the early 1960s. The text provides a thorough outline of the photographic context in which Frank at first sought success as a magazine photojournalist as well as a detailed analysis of the methods and strategies that lie behind The Americans. The essay features 24 illustrations, including an unprecedented map of Frank’s 1955-56 Guggenheim travels, which locates the sites of nearly all of the photographs in The Americans and in Robert Frank in America. The 200-page book, with a foreword by Connie Wolf, is designed by Katy Homans, New York.


Robert Frank

Robert Frank was born in 1924 in Zürich, Switzerland. The conclusion of World War II ended his vulnerability (his father was a German-born Jew) and enabled him to escape what he regarded as a narrow, antiquated culture. Soon after reaching New York in March 1947, he was hired by Harper’s Bazaar, but his distaste for photographing fashion led him to quit after six months. Over the next five or six years, in Europe and the United States, Frank aimed to establish himself as a freelance photojournalist, with limited success. A Guggenheim Fellowship, awarded in March 1955 and renewed a year later, freed him to pursue his work independently, and he soon began to travel in hopes of making a book. Les Américains was published by Robert Delpire in Paris in 1958 and, as The Americans, by Grove Press in New York in 1959. The latter included an introduction by Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road.

Film and video have formed a central aspect of Frank’s work since 1959, when he collaborated with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Alfred Leslie on Pull My Daisy. In 1972, however, he resumed making photographs, often using Polaroid positive-negative materials and incorporating text and multiple images. That same year he published the first of several editions of The Lines of My Hand, a book that surveyed his career in all mediums and initiated reconsiderations of his early photographic career. The first full-scale retrospective of his photographs was organized at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1986. In 1990, a major gift by Frank established the Robert Frank Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, which has since presented two major exhibitions, each accompanied by an important book: Robert Frank: Moving Out (1994) and Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans” (2009).”

Press release from the Cantor Arts Center


Robert Frank. 'Beaufort, South Carolina' 1955


Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Beaufort, South Carolina
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary



Guggenheim proposal summary

“To photograph freely throughout the United States, using the miniature camera exclusively. The making of a broad, voluminous picture record of things American, past and present. This project is essentially the visual study of a civilization and will include caption notes; but it is only partly documentary in nature: one of its aims is more artistic than the word documentary implies.”


The full statement

“I am applying for a Fellowship with a very simple intention: I wish to continue, develop and widen the kind of work I already do, and have been doing for some ten years, and apply it to the American nation in general. I am submitting work that will be seen to be documentation - most broadly speaking. Work of this kind is, I believe, to be found carrying its own visual impact without much work explanation. The project I have in mind is one that will shape itself as it proceeds, and is essentially elastic. The material is there: the practice will be in the photographer’s hand, the vision in his mind. One says this with some embarrassment but one cannot do less than claim vision if one is to ask for consideration.

“The photographing of America” is a large order - read at all literally, the phrase would be an absurdity. What I have in mind, then, is observation and record of what one naturalized American finds to see in the United States that signifies the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere. Incidentally, it is fair to assume that when an observant American travels abroad his eye will see freshly; and that the reverse may be true when a European eye looks at the United States. I speak of the things that are there, anywhere and everywhere - easily found, not easily selected and interpreted. A small catalog comes to the mind’s eye: a town at night, a parking lot, a supermarket, a highway, the man who owns three cars and the man who owns none, the farmer and his children, a new house and a warped clapboard house, the dictation of taste, the dream of grandeur, advertising, neon lights, the faces of the leaders and the faces of the followers, gas tanks and postoffices and backyards.

The uses of my project would be sociological, historical and aesthetic. My total production will be voluminous, as is usually the case when the photographer works with miniature film. I intend to classify and annotate my work on the spot, as I proceed. Ultimately the file I shall make should be deposited in a collection such as the one in the Library of Congress. A more immediate use I have in mind is both book and magazine publication.”


Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924) 'En route from New York to Washington, Club Car' 1954


Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
En route from New York to Washington, Club Car
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary


Robert Frank. 'Florida' 1958


Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary



“I am grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation for their confidence and the provisions they made for me to work freely in my medium over a protracted period. When I applied for the Guggenheim Fellowship, I wrote: “To produce an authentic contemporary document, the visual impact should be such as will nullify explanation.”

With these photographs, I have attempted to show a cross-section of the American population. My effort was to express it simply and without confusion. The view is personal and, therefore, various facets of American life and society have been ignored. The photographs were taken during 1955 and 1956; for the most part in large cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and in many other places during my Journey across the country. My book, containing these photographs, will be published in Paris by Robert Delpire, 1958.

I have been frequently accused of deliberately twisting subject matter to my point of view. Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference. Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others – perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness. Also, it is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.

My photographs are not planned or composed in advance and I do not anticipate that the on-looker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind – something has been accomplished.

It is a different state of affairs for me to be working on assignment for a magazine. It suggests to me the feeling of a hack writer or a commercial illustrator. Since I sense that my ideas, my mind and my eye are not creating the picture but that the editors’ minds and eyes will finally determine which of my pictures will be reproduced to suit the magazines’ purposes.

I have a genuine distrust and “mefiance” toward all group activities. Mass production of uninspired photojournalism and photography without thought becomes anonymous merchandise. The air becomes infected with the “smell” of photography. If the photographer wants to be an artist, his thoughts cannot be developed overnight at the corner drugstore.

I am not a pessimist, but looking at a contemporary picture magazine makes it difficult for me to speak about the advancement of photography, since photography today is accepted without question, and is also presumed to be understood by all – even children. I feel that only the integrity of the individual photographer can raise its level.

The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?”

Robert Frank, U.S. Camera Annual, p. 115, 1958


Robert Frank. 'Lusk, Wyoming' 1956


Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Lusk, Wyoming
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary


Robert Frank. 'Main Street - Savannah, Georgia' 1955


Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
Main Street – Savannah, Georgia
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Raymond B. Gary


Walker Evans. 'Downtown street, New Orleans' December 1935


Walker Evans
Downtown street, New Orleans
December 1935
Gelatin silver print


Robert Frank. 'New York City' 1949


Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
Gelatin silver print
Lent by Peter Steil




Robert Frank. 'New York City' early 1950s


Robert Frank (U.S.A., b. Switzerland 1924)
New York City
early 1950s
Gelatin silver print
Cantor Arts Center Collection, Gift of Bowen H. McCoy



Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060
T: 650-723-4177

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University website


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Artwork: Hamzeh Carr. Lord Buddha. 1926


Absolutely divine. In the flesh, the colouring and radiance of these plates has to be seen to be believed.
God they knew how to print back then!

I shall be posting more of these stunning works over the coming weeks. They deserve to be seen and meditated upon. Please click on the artwork for a larger version of the image.




Hamzeh Carr
Lord Buddha
from Sir Edwin Arnold. The Light of Asia. London: John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd
Limited edition of 3,000 copies




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

Exhibition dates: 22nd November – 8th March 2009


Les Kossatz. 'Digger's glory box' 1965


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



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

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

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

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

The Diggers throne painting also features these prophetic words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,074

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


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


Postscript 2018

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

Text from the High Court of Australia website

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


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


Les Kossatz. "Ram in sling" 1973


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


Les Kossatz. 'Trophy room' 1975


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



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

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

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

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

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


Les Kossatz. "Hard slide" 1980


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


Les Kossatz. "Guggenheim spiral" 1983


Les Kossatz
Guggenheim spiral



Heide Museum of Modern Art
7 Templestowe Road
Bulleen Victoria 3105 Australia
Phone: +61 3 9850 1500

Opening hours:
(Heide II and Heide III)
Tue – Fri 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Sat/Sun/Public Holidays 12.00 noon – 5.00 pm

Heide Museum of Modern Art website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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