Posts Tagged ‘Roland Barthes

22
Jun
17

Exhibition: ‘Acting for the Camera’ at the Albertina, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 10th March – 5th June 2017

Featured artists (selection):
Ottomar Anschütz | Bill Brandt | Brassaï | Günter Brus | John Coplans | Hugo Erfurth | Trude Fleischmann | Seiichi Furuya | Eikoh Hosoe | Martin Imboden | Dora Kallmus | Rudolf Koppitz | Johann Victor Krämer | Heinrich Kühn | Helmar Lerski | O. Winston Link | Will McBride | Arnulf Rainer | Henry Peach Robinson | Otto Schmidt | Rudolf Schwarzkogler | Franz Xaver Setzer | Anton Josef Trčka | Erwin Wurm

 

 

I made this posting way before my operation, but have been unable to post until now because of my ongoing recuperation.

While the exhibition may have finished, I am so enamoured of the theme of the exhibition, the people and artists, that I think it’s valuable to have the posting, images and the additional research I did online. I especially like the striking work of Helmar Lerski and the “Aktionen” of Rudolf Schwarzkogler which reflect on the hurtfulness of the world, but remind me of the yet to come political art of the first wave of HIV/AIDS. What a beautiful installation as well…

Marcus

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

 

 

Anonymous. 'The Sculptor Hans Gasser and Workshop Assistants at Work' 1855-1857

 

Anonymous
The Sculptor Hans Gasser and Workshop Assistants at Work
1855-1857
Daguerreotype
Albertina, permanent loan of the Höhere Graphische Bundes-Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt, Vienna

 

 

Ottomar Anschütz
Elektrischer Schnellseher
1886

 

Anton Josef Trčka. 'Egon Schiele' 1914

 

Anton Josef Trčka
Egon Schiele
1914
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna

 

 

Josef Anton Trčka, Antios (7. September 1893 Vienna – 16. March 1940), was a Czech photographer , painter, sculptor, draftsman, designer of tapestries and silver jewellery, collector of folk art Moravian, occasional antiquarian, poet and philosopher . He was a representative of Viennese Modernism, Art Movement, which influenced European culture of the 20th century…

Around 1910 the Trčka decided to study at the professional school of photography Lehr- Graphische und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna, one of the best in Europe. Coincidentally, at the school was Professor Karel Novák, in his time one of the most important personalities of the beginnings of art photography. In 1914 he got the opportunity to portray several leading personalities of Viennese Modernism. Among them was Gustav Klimt, Peter Alternberg and the 50 year old Josef Svatopluk Machar. However, the highlight for Trčka prewar contracts were the photographic series of portraits of Egon Schiele, which focused on facial expressions and hand gestures.

 

Franz Xaver Setzer. 'Conrad Veidt' 1919

 

Franz Xaver Setzer
Conrad Veidt
1919
Gelatin Silver Print
Albertina, Vienna

 

 

Hans Walter Conrad Veidt (22 January 1893 – 3 April 1943) was a German actor best remembered for his roles in films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Man Who Laughs (1928), and, after being forced to migrate to Britain by the rise of Nazism in Germany, his English-speaking roles in The Thief of Bagdad (1940), and, in Hollywood, Casablanca (1942). After a successful career in German silent film, where he was one of the best-paid stars of Ufa, he left Germany in 1933 with his new Jewish wife after the Nazis came to power. They settled in Britain, where he participated in a number of films before emigrating to the United States around 1941…

He starred in a few films, such as George Cukor’s A Woman’s Face (1941) where he received billing just under Joan Crawford’s and Nazi Agent (1942), in which he had a dual role as both an aristocratic German Nazi spy and as the man’s twin brother, an anti-Nazi American. His best-known Hollywood role was as the sinister Major Heinrich Strasser in Casablanca (1942), a film which was written and began pre-production before the United States entered the war.

In 1943, at the age of fifty, he died of a massive heart attack while playing golf at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. In 1998, his ashes were placed in a niche of the columbarium at the Golders Green Crematorium in north London.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dora Kallmus, Arthur Benda. 'Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste in their dance Märtyrer [Martyrs]' 1922

 

Dora Kallmus, Arthur Benda
Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste in their dance Märtyrer [Martyrs]
1922
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna

 

 

Her hair was cut fashionably into a short bob and was frequently bright red, as in 1925 when the German painter Otto Dix painted a portrait of her, titled “The Dancer Anita Berber”. Her dancer friend and sometime lover Sebastian Droste, who performed in the film Algol (1920), was skinny and had black hair with gelled up curls much like sideburns. Neither of them wore much more than low slung loincloths and Anita occasionally a corsage worn well below her small breasts.

Her performances broke boundaries with their androgyny and total nudity, but it was her public appearances that really challenged taboos. Berber’s overt drug addiction and bisexuality were matters of public chatter. In addition to her addiction to cocaine, opium and morphine, one of Berber’s favourites was chloroform and ether mixed in a bowl. This would be stirred with a white rose, the petals of which she would then eat.

Aside from her addiction to narcotic drugs, she was also a heavy alcoholic. In 1928, at the age of 29, she suddenly gave up alcohol completely, but died later the same year. She was said to be surrounded by empty morphine syringes.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rudolf Koppitz. 'In the Arms of Nature' 1923

 

Rudolf Koppitz
In the Arms of Nature
1923
Multicolor gum bichromate print
Albertina, permanent loan of the Höhere Graphische Bundes-Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt, Vienna

 

Rudolph Koppitz. 'Movement Study' 1925

 

Rudolf Koppitz
Bewegungsstudie (Motion Study)
1926
Multicolor gum bichromate print
Albertina, permanent loan of the Höhere Graphische Bundes-Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt, Vienna

 

 

Rudolf Koppitz (4 January 1884 – 8 July 1936), often credited as Viennese or Austrian, was a Photo-Secessionist whose work includes straight photography and modernist images. He was one of the leading representatives of art photography in Vienna between the world wars. Koppitz is best known for his works of the human figure including his iconic Bewegungsstudie, “Motion Study” and his use of the nude in natural settings….

Koppitz’s work is marked by a pronounced awareness of form, line, and the surface play of light and shadow. Early in his career, Koppitz was known for staging groups of subjects in the style of the Vienna Secession, the most well known example of this being his Bewegungsstudie, “Motion Study”.

Bewegungsstudie (Motion Study) is surely the most widely published and best known image in Austrian photography from the early decades of the last century. This is for good reason, as no photograph better captures the cultural strands that characterized the Austrian avant-garde at that time. Here one can see a graphic strength and compositional clarity that reflects the modernist ambitions initiated in the fine as in the applied arts by the Secession and by the Wiener Werkstätte. But what gives the image its power is the aura of mystery, of symbolist sensuality that resonates through this enigmatic grouping of the three uniformly coiffed and draped figures and the one single naked figure.” ~ Christies

Bewegungsstudie’s languid nude, elaborately robed women and undeniable sensuality, in the context of its rigorous and artistic composition, bring to mind the sexual morbidity of Viennese artists like Gustav Klimt and Alphonse Mucha, as well as the Swiss symbolist painter Ferdinand Hodler and has made it as unforgettable then as it is today. It has become the Koppitz’s signature image, and was also his best-seller. Prints of the image were purchased by, among others, the Toledo Museum of Art; the New York Camera Club notable Joseph Bing, head of that club’s print committee; and the Englishman Stephen Tyng, who published it in a small portfolio of works from his collection.

His earliest works show evidence of influence by Gustav Klimt, Japanese art, Art Nouveau and Constructivism. During the First World War, Koppitz’s photographs took on a documentary quality when his photographs became more simple and direct in their subject matter and composition. Koppitz’s work came of age during the inter-war period when most of Austria’s photographers were supporters of art photography. Photographs from that time are full of symbolic meanings often capturing nude and clothed dancers as well as liberal use of both male and female, many of which were of Koppitz himself and female nudes placed in elements of nature and posed to give the impression of a Greek or Roman statue…

Although he did not possess a consistent style, Koppitz was a virtuoso of the dark room, seemingly determined to make the photograph as much of an art object as possible. His beautifully grainy, subtly tinted images align him with American Pictorialists like Edward Steichen and Clarence Smith. Koppitz’s work, much of it using the gum bichromate process, reflected his links with modern artists such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, and their involvement with the ‘life reform’ movement including; nudism, sun culture, and expressive dance popular in Central Europe from the early 1900s as well as agrarian romanticism. Koppitz’s extraordinary mastery of pictorial processes – pigment, carbon, gum, and bromoil process of transfer printing – gained the respect of his colleagues throughout the world and garnered mention in the Encyclopædia Britannica of 1929.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Trude Fleischmann. 'Actress and Dancer Lucy Kieselhausen' c. 1925

 

Trude Fleischmann
Actress and Dancer Lucy Kieselhausen
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna

 

 

Lucy Kieselhausen was born in 1897 in Vienna, Austria. She was an actress, known for Tausend und eine Frau. Aus dem Tagebuch eines Junggesellen (1918), Erdgeist (1923) and Die siebente Großmacht (1919). She was a student of Grete Wiesenthal and was celebrated as a successful dancer at the beginning of the 20th century who had great successes on German stages. Besides her dancing activity she also wrote the dance drama “Salambo”, which was set to music by Heinz Tiessen. She died in December 1926 in Berlin, Germany.

“Around 1915 another Viennese, Lucy Kieselhausen (1897-1927), began specializing in performing waltzes. She, too, had evolved out of ballet culture, but her embodiment of the waltz was virtually opposite that of Wiesenthal. She favoured luxuriously decorative hothouse costumes and the utmost refinement of movement. For her the waltz was not a lyrical expansion of space into the freedom of nature but an almost perfumed distillation of the stirrings within an opulent boudoir, with its scenography of exquisite privileges and voluptuous secrets. An adroit sense of irony shaded her movements with a abruptly “bizarre and jerky” rhythms; “her joyfully flashing temperament did not hover on a smooth surface but over a shadowy abyss from which issued her fool’s dance with its slumbering, half-animal rapture.” Her curious appropriation of the waltz ended suddenly when she died in a benzine explosion.”

Karl Eric Toepfer. Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935. University of California Press, 1997, pp. 161-162.

 

Hugo Erfurth. 'Clotilde von Derp-Sacharoff' c. 1928

 

Hugo Erfurth
Clotilde von Derp-Sacharoff
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna – permanent loan of the Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science

 

 

Clotilde von Derp, stage name of Clotilde Margarete Anna Edle von der Planitz (5 November 1892 – 11 January 1974), was a German expressionist dancer, an early exponent of modern dance. Her career was spent essentially dancing together with her husband Alexander Sakharoff with whom she enjoyed a long-lasting relationship…

Among her admirers were artists such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Yvan Goll. For his Swiss dance presentations, Alexej von Jawlensky gave her make-up resembling his abstract portraits. From 1913, Clotilde appeared with the Russian dancer Alexander Sacharoff with whom she moved to Switzerland during the First World War. Both Sacharoff and Clotilde were known for their transvestite costumes. Clotilde’s femininity was said to be accentuated by the male attire. Her costumes took on an ancient Greek look which she used in Danseuse de Delphes in 1916. Her style was said to be elegant and more modern than that achieved by Isadora Duncan. Their outrageous costumes included wigs made from silver and gold coloured metal, with hats and outfits decorated with flowers and wax fruit.

They married in 1919 and. with the financial support of Edith Rockefeller, appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York but without any great success. They lived in Paris until the Second World War. Using the name “Les Sakharoff”. Their 1921 poster by George Barbier to advertise their work was seen as showing a “mutually complementary androgynous couple” “united in dance” joined together in an act of “artistic creation.”

They toured widely visiting China and Japan which was so successful that they returned again in 1934. They and their extravagant costumes visited both North and South America. They found themselves in Spain when France was invaded by Germany. They returned to South America making a new base in Buenos Aires until 1949. They toured Italy the following year and they took up an invitation to teach in Rome by Guido Chigi Saracini. They taught at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena for Saracini and they also opened their own dance school in Rome. She and Sakharoff stopped dancing together in 1956. They both continued to live in Rome until their deaths. Clotilde gave and sold many of their writings and costumes, that still remained, to museums and auctions. She eventually sold the iconic 1909 painting of her husband by Alexander Jawlensky. In 1997 the German Dance Archive Cologne purchased many remaining items and they have 65 costumes, hundreds of set and costume designs and 500 photographs.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Martin Imboden. 'The Dancer Gertrud Kraus' c. 1929

 

Martin Imboden
The Dancer Gertrud Kraus
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna

 

 

In the 1920s, Gertrud Kraus’s style was known as expressionistic dance, or German dance. In 1929 Gertrud Kraus, together with Gisa Geert, was chief assistant to Rudolf von Laban, director of a trade union parade during the “Vienna Festival” in Vienna.

In 1930, an impresario invited her to perform in Mandate Palestine. Her tour was a great success and she was invited back the following season. In 1933, her company performed her work Die Stadt wartet (“The City Waits”), presenting the modern metropolis as a fascinating but dangerous place. It was based on a short story by Maxim Gorki. On the night that Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany, Kraus’s company performed this piece on the open-air stage in the Burg-garden next to the Hofburg.

In 1933, while she was in Prague performing for the Zionist Congress, leaders of a Czech communist cell contacted her and tried to recruit her for their purposes. The next day, she went to the Palestine Office in Prague, and applied for immigration. Kraus moved to Tel Aviv in 1935, first living with friends and then renting a basement that became her studio. She formed a modern dance company affiliated with the Tel Aviv Folk Opera, which was probably the only one of its kind in the world. In 1949, she won a scholarship to travel to the United States to learn the newest trends in modern dance.

In 1950-1951, she founded the Israel Ballet Theatre, and became its artistic director. The company folded after a year due to financial difficulties. Until her death in 1977, Kraus devoted herself to teaching dance, as well as painting and sculpture.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Acting for the Camera' at the Albertina, Vienna, March - June 2017

Installation view of the exhibition 'Acting for the Camera' at the Albertina, Vienna, March - June 2017

Installation view of the exhibition 'Acting for the Camera' at the Albertina, Vienna, March - June 2017

Installation view of the exhibition 'Acting for the Camera' at the Albertina, Vienna, March - June 2017

The work of Jan Coplans left and centre

Installation view of the exhibition 'Acting for the Camera' at the Albertina, Vienna, March - June 2017

Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures at right

Installation view of the exhibition 'Acting for the Camera' at the Albertina, Vienna, March - June 2017

 

Installation views of the exhibition Acting for the Camera at the Albertina, Vienna, March – June 2017

 

 

With circa 120 works from the Albertina’s Photographic Collection, the exhibition Acting for the Camera examines the diverse ways in which models are staged or stage themselves before the camera. The featured photographic works, created between the 1850s and the present, represent a cross-section of photographic history as well as the diversity of the Albertina’s own holdings. The present selection is divided between six thematic emphases: motion studies, models for artists, dance, picture stories, portraits of actresses and actors, and Viennese Actionist stagings of the body.

All of these photographs arose from diverse and multi-layered forms of collaboration between the model before and the photographer behind the camera lens. Some of the models are staged according to their photographers’ instructions, while other shots originated via a creative process in which model and photographer collaborated on an equal footing. And in some cases, the pictures were even taken according to highly specific instructions given by the model.

 

Beginnings

It was photographic studies done in the interest of scientific research that made it possible for the first time to visually analyse the processes of human locomotion in high detail. Anonymous models, such as in the photographs taken by Ottomar Anschütz beginning around 1890, made themselves available in order to render understandable processes such as spear-throwing. The individuals seen in such works act according to the exact instructions of the photographer. Series of this type were used to compare the motion patterns of “healthy” and “unhealthy” bodies as well as undergird medical theories with visual evidence.

While such motion studies occasionally doubled as working studies for artworks by other artists, there was also a category of works created specifically for this purpose such as Johann Victor Krämer’s staged studio photographs as well as Otto Schmidt’s nudes, and some of these were also sold “under the table” as pornography.

 

Expressive Gestures

A strong and likewise mutually influential relationship arose between photography and dance. At the beginning of the 20th century, modern expressionist dance was an avant-garde art form, and dancers would work together closely with photographers in order to document and disseminate their performances. Such partnerships made possible expressive stagings that helped define the styles of that era. The expressive gestures often seen therein were also taken up by Anton Josef Trčka, who had Egon Schiele pose with a hand position reminiscent of something one might see in dance.

Portraits of well-known actors such as a laughing Romy Schneider, along with role-portraits for film productions, were created in Viennese studios by photographers such as Trude Fleischmann and Madame d’Ora, and these iconic pictures represent yet another emphasis in this presentation.

 

Bodies as Photographic Material

Much like the way in which classic portraits convey the personalities of those being portrayed, photography can also stage the body in the opposite way, as something purely material. Helmar Lerski, for example, treated the human face as a landscape that could be modelled by light and shadow. John Coplans, on the other hand, explored his own naked body centimetre by centimetre, portraying himself without his head and thus questioning stagings of masculinity and social norms.

In Viennese Actionism, the artists likewise placed themselves front and centre as pictorial subjects. Rudolf Schwarzkogler, who wrapped himself like a mummy in muslin bandages during the late 1960s, as well as his Actionist colleague Günter Brus, staged performances specifically for the photographic camera. And the newest works in Acting for the Camera are as recent as Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures, for which the artist had models assume ridiculous poses with everyday objects.

Following Black & White (2015) and Landscapes & People (2016), this is the third large-scale presentation of the Albertina’s Photographic Collection. The Albertina, as a treasure trove of visual knowledge, began collecting photographs all the way back in the mid-19th century – but it was only upon the establishment of the Photographic Collection in 1999 that these fascinating works were rediscovered.

Press release from the Albertina

 

Helmar Lerski. 'Metamorphosis 601' (Metamorphose 601) 1936

 

Helmar Lerski
Metamorphosis through Light #601 (Metamorphose 601)
1936
Gelatin silver print

 

Helmar Lerski. 'Metamorphosis through Light #587' 1935-36

 

Helmar Lerski
Metamorphosis through Light #587
1935-36
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Wall texts

Motion Studies

Photographs taken in the context of scientific experimental arrangements visualise the different phases of human and animal locomotion sequences. Several cameras are mounted one after another, their shutters release at short intervals while the model is moving. Shortly after Eadweard Muybridge, who makes a name for himself with motion studies of racehorses in 1877, achieves his first successes, the physician Étienne-Jules Marey and the photographers Ottomar Anschütz and Albert Londe also dedicate themselves to capturing movement sequences photographically. Londe works with Jean-Martin Charcot, a neurologist at the Pitié-Salpêtrière psychiatric hospital in Paris. Anonymous models have to perform certain movements defined by the scientists. The photographs are used to compare the movement patterns of “healthy” and”unhealthy” people and to provide visual evidence for medical theories. Artists interested in the anatomically correct representation of movements use the photographs as models.

 

Models for Artists

Photographs are used as a workaround in the fine arts quite early on; special collections are compiled. Photographs of models in motion, for example, come to replace preparatory drawings after nature. The expanding demand for photographic material creates a new market for professional studios. The Viennese photographer and publisher Otto Schmidt produces body and facial expression studies as well as nudes (so-called academies). Since these photographs, thanks to their erotic pictorial repertoire, enjoy great popularity not only with artists, Schmidt’s circle of customers keeps growing.

The reduction in price and the easier handling of the photographic material increases the number of artists that take up a camera themselves. The painter Johann Victor Krämer has his models pose in front of half-finished paintings to check or complete their posture and gestures. Grids drawn on the photographs sometimes help to transfer subjects to the canvas.

 

Dance

Germany’s and Austria’s cultural scenes of the early twentieth century see the triumphant progress of modern expressionist dance. Many dancers develop choreographies and movement vocabularies of their own. They visit photographic studios, commissioning presentation and promotion materials. The artists present themselves in the costumes of the performances they currently star in on the stage.

Photographers resort to various possibilities for their dance studies. Hugo Erfurth relies on sequences to convey the flow of movements. The emphasis is on the dancer’s pose in these photographs from the early days of modern dance. Shadows are eliminated by massive retouches, since the pictures were to be reproduced in the book Der Künstlerische Tanz unserer Zeit (The Artistic Dance of Our Time, 1928), published by Langewiesche. Martin Imboden, on the other hand, focuses on the expression of the artistic performance in his static suggestive photographs.

 

Picture Stories

Restaging paintings and other works of art is a favourite pastime of the upper middle classes and the aristocracy in the nineteenth century. Costumed amateur actors adopting rigid poses for a few moments present the “living pictures” at certain events. The emergence of photography makes it possible to reenact these fleeting performances in the studio and to preserve them for the long term. The theatrical group photos are sold as editions on the art market or used as models to emulate.

Henry Peach Robinson is one of those who devote themselves to staging photographs in a way that lean on the tradition of tableaux vivants. Brassaï’s and Bill Brandt’s photo reportages, which seem to document nocturnal scenes the photographers chanced upon, are actually staged for the occasion. Brandt, for example, has members of his family embody precisely conceived parts in his mysteriously toned series A Night in London. The American O. Winston Link, who shows a penchant for steam engines, plans his pictures in every detail. Relying on an elaborate flash technique and the use of spotlights, his photographs, taken in the open and by night, exhibit a filmic aesthetic.

 

Portraits of Actresses and Actors

In Vienna, Madame d’Ora, Franz Xaver Setzer, and Trude Fleischmann specialise in portraits of performing artists from the 1910s to the 1930s. They not only catered to the public’s great demand; focusing on the cultural scene’s clientele also ties in with the personal interest of the studios’ owners. The models collaborate with the photographers to realise the desired notions regarding their appearance and the interpretation of their look. Stars from the theatre world choose the costume, make-up, and pose they prefer for their photographic portraits. Some of the character portraits and scenic representations show sweepingly theatrical gestures. Film actresses and actors are only rarely captured in traditional character portraits in the early days of the medium. Setzer’s portrait of Conrad Veidt, who stars in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1919, is an exception. The lighting and styling as well as his facial expression and the expressive gesture of his hand mirror the film’s Expressionism.

 

Actionist Stagings of the Body

The Actionist art gaining momentum from the 1960s on shows itself inseparably bound up with photography. Next to film, photography is the only way to provide live documentations of performances. Some actions are specifically staged for the photo camera. From about the mid-1960s on, the Viennese Actionist artists Günter Brus and Rudolf Schwarzkogler realise constellations of bodies and objects for photographs that are intended as visual works of art.

Arnulf Rainer, whose grimaces, like the Vienna Actionists’s works, are aimed at criticising the socially standardised body, also poses for a photographer. The photographer was not supposed to pursue an artistic approach of his own but to neutrally capture the given representations of the body. After the pictures were taken, Rainer defines the final image area and overpaints the photos by relying on gestural techniques that emphasise physical and emotional moments of expression.

John Coplans combines observations on the representation of the body with reflections on the nature of media. Using a straightforward and precise exposure technique and keen on obtaining sharp pictures, he confronts the viewer with defamiliarised views of his body transforming it into sculptural fragments. The humorous and absurd poses in which models present themselves for Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures with the help of everyday objects are often based on drawn studies and are captured in factual photographs lending the ephemeral performances durability.

 

Will McBride. 'Romy Schneider in Paris' 1964, printed 2001

 

Will McBride
Romy Schneider in Paris
1964, printed 2001
Gelatin Silver Print
Albertina, Vienna
© Will McBride Estate/Berlin

 

Rudolf Schwarzkogler. '2nd Action' 1965

 

Rudolf Schwarzkogler
2nd Action
1965
Gelatin Silver Print

 

Rudolf Schwarzkogler. '3rd Action' 1965

 

Rudolf Schwarzkogler
3rd Action
1965
Gelatin Silver Print

 

Rudolf Schwarzkogler. '4th Action' 1965

 

Rudolf Schwarzkogler
4th Action
1965
Gelatin Silver Print

 

 

Rudolf Schwarzkogler (13 November 1940, Vienna – 20 June 1969, Vienna) was an Austrian performance artist closely associated with the Viennese Actionism group that included artists Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, and Hermann Nitsch.

He is best known today for photographs depicting his series of closely controlled “Aktionen” featuring such iconography as a dead fish, a dead chicken, bare light bulbs, coloured liquids, bound objects, and a man wrapped in gauze. The enduring themes of Schwarzkogler’s works involved experience of pain and mutilation, often in an incongruous clinical context, such as 3rd Aktion (1965) in which a patient’s head swathed in bandages is being pierced by what appears to be a corkscrew, producing a bloodstain under the bandages. They reflect a message of despair at the disappointments and hurtfulness of the world.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Seiichi Furuya. 'Christine Furuya Gössler' 1983; printed 1988

 

Seiichi Furuya
Christine Furuya Gössler
1983; printed 1988
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna

 

 

“The other person is absent as a point of reference but present as an addressee. This strangely warped situation causes an unbearable presence: You are gone (which I lament); you are here (because I am turning to you).” ~ Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse

“If you consider the taking of photographs to be in a sense a matter of fixing time and space, then this work – the documenting of the life of one human being – is exceptionally thrilling… in facing her, in photographing her, and looking at her in photographs, I also see and discover “myself.”” ~ Seiichi Furuya, 1979

.
Seiichi Furuya and Christine Gössler would soon marry, and they would later have a child, Komyo. Throughout their seven years together, Christine would plunge in and out of depressions and psychiatric institutions. And one Sunday in October of 1985, she would jump to her death from the 9th floor of their apartment building in East Berlin. Furuya photographed her throughout, to the very end. And this faithful and macabre portrait making would become his artistic and philosophical project.

Text by Stacey Platt on the space in between website

 

Erwin Wurm. 'One Minute Sculpture' 1997

 

Erwin Wurm
One Minute Sculpture
1997
Silver dye bleach print
Albertina, Vienna

 

 

Since the late 1980s, he has developed an ongoing series of One Minute Sculptures, in which he poses himself or his models in unexpected relationships with everyday objects close at hand, prompting the viewer to question the very definition of sculpture. He seeks to use the “shortest path” in creating a sculpture – a clear and fast, sometimes humorous, form of expression. As the sculptures are fleeting and meant to be spontaneous and temporary, the images are only captured in photos or on film.

To make a One Minute Sculpture, the viewer has to part with his habits. Wurm’s instructions for his audience are written by hand in a cartoon-like style. Either Wurm himself or a volunteer follow the instructions for the sculpture, which is meant to put the body in an absurd and ridiculous-looking relationship with everyday objects. Whoever chooses to do one of Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures holds the pose for a minute, or the time it takes to capture the scene photographically. These positions are often difficult to hold; although a minute is very short, a minute for a One Minute Sculpture can feel like an eternity.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Erwin Wurm. 'One Minute Sculpture' 1997

 

Erwin Wurm
One Minute Sculpture
1997
Silver dye bleach print
Albertina, Vienna

 

 

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11
Apr
17

Exhibition: ‘Cy Twombly’ at the Centre Pompidou, Paris

Exhibition dates: 30th November 2016 – 24th April 2017

 

This posting is for a friend who is a great Twombly fan.

Of the installation photograph of the series Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963, below) he observes:

“Quite an amazing installation… who would have thought #6 being placed there.
The text(?) which replaces the position of the “main” elements in #4, #5 sets the position of #6 – what a choice!
And it all had to be on one wall apparently – it looks tight, yet it is a success.”

It would take years to understand the intricacies of Twombly’s work, but the main archetypes that we can all interpret are there: themes such as love, war, death and night.

“Roland Barthes famously wrote of Twombly: ‘His work is based not upon concept (the trace) but rather upon an activity (tracing)’. In Twombly’s graphic art, the trace is the record of a gesture. Barthes again: ‘line is action become visible’. Like Olson, Twombly connects heart to line via the body.”

This is a visceral art of smudges, smears, and inscriptions. It is art that tells a story, an art that emotes? evokes deep inward feelings while challenging the intellect.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Centre Pompidou for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“To explore Twombly’s work with the eyes and the lips is therefore to continuously dash the expectations inspired by ‘what it looks like’.”

.
Roland Barthes in Yvon Lambert, ed., ‘Cy Twombly: Catalogue raisonné des oeuvres sur papier’ (Multhipla Edizioni, Milan, 1979) Éditions du Seuil, 1995

 

“My line is childlike but not childish. It is very difficult to fake… to get that quality you need to project yourself into the child’s line. It has to be felt.”

.
Cy Twombly

 

“Each line now is the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate – it is the sensation of its own realisation. The imagery is one of the private or separate indulgences rather than an abstract totality of visual perception.”

.
Cy Twombly, ‘L’Esperienza moderna’, no. 2 (1957)

 

 

“The Centre Pompidou is presenting a major retrospective of the work of American artist Cy Twombly. A key event of the fall 2016, this exceptionally vast exhibition will only be shown in Paris, and will feature remarkable loans from private and public collections from all over the world.

Organized around three major cycles – Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), Fifty Days at Iliam (1978) and Coronation of Sesostris (2000) – this retrospective covers the artist’s entire career in a chronological circuit of some 140 paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs, providing a clear picture of an extraordinarily rich body of work which is both intellectual and sensual. The selection includes many of Twombly’s iconic works, several of them never previously exhibited in France.

Born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia, Cy Twombly died in 2011 at the age of 83 in Rome, where he spent a large part of his life. Unanimously acclaimed as one of the greatest painters of the second half of the 20th century, Twombly, who began dividing his life between Italy and America in the late Fifties, merged the legacy of American abstract expressionism with the origins of Mediterranean culture. From his first works in the early Fifties (marked by the so-called primitive arts, graffiti and writing) to his last paintings with their exuberant colour schemes, by way of the highly carnal compositions of the early Sixties and his response to minimalist and conceptual art during the Seventies, this retrospective emphasises the importance of cycles and series for Twombly, in which he reinvented great history painting. The exhibition is also the occasion to highlight the artist’s close relationship with Paris. The Centre Pompidou had devoted a first substantial retrospective to him as early as 1988.”

Press release from the Centre Pompidou

 

“The exhibition is deployed around three Cycles: Nine Discourses on Commodus, 1963, Fifty Days at Iliam, 1978, and Coronation of Sesostris, 2000. Each of them reinterprets an antique tradition by addressing themes such as love, war, death and night. Next to these exceptional series are exhibited magnificent works in which the artist confronts abstraction and figuration while exploring psychoanalysis, primitivism, writing and painting. The works incorporate names of gods, lyric heroes of Homer and Virgil and confirms his fascination for Classical authors, cosmogony, Greece, Rome and Egypt. Mysterious, obscene, crude, this exhibition confirms that Twombly was one the most original and unexpected of artists of the twentieth century.”

Mercedes Lambarri
Cataloguer, Contemporary art

 

Cy Twombly. 'Still Life, Black Mountain College I' 1951

Cy Twombly. 'Still Life, Black Mountain College II' 1951

Cy Twombly. 'Still Life, Black Mountain College III' 1951

 

Cy Twombly
Still Life, Black Mountain College
1951
Dry print on cardboard
43,1 x 27.9 cm
Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio collection
© Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly 'Untitled (Lexington)' 1951

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Lexington)
1951
Oil-based house paint on canvas
101.6 x 121.9 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Volublis' 1953

 

Cy Twombly
Volubilis
1953
White lead pencil, oil-based house paint, wax crayon on canvas
139.7 x 193 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation, on deposit at the Menil Collection, Houston
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy The Menil Collection

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) III' 1957

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) IV' 1957

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) V' 1957

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) VI' 1957

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Grottaferrata) VII' 1957

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Grottaferrata) (No’s 3-7)
1957
Wax crayon and lead pencil on squared paper
7 drawings: 21,6 x 29,9 cm (each)
Private Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve, St.

 

 

“Resisting the term ‘graffiti’ (‘naughty or aggressive’ protest) that is often applied to his work, Twombly says that, ‘it’s more lyrical … in the totality of the painting, feeling and content are more complicated, or more elaborate than say just graffiti.’ Barthes suggests that Twombly’s impossible calligraphy invokes ‘what one might call writing’s field of allusions’ – a cultural field as well as feeling and content; a long way from a fine hand. His writing is also epigraphic, in the double sense of alluding to the object or surface on which it is written, and requiring to be deciphered like an ancient inscription. Twombly’s illegible scrawls and polyglot, non-standardised capitals, his interweaving of phrases from high modernist European poets and names from the Graeco-Roman tradition, evoke the longue durée of a commemorative culture that reaches back to Egypt and beyond: cult as well as culture.”

Mary Jacobus. “Time-Lines: Rilke and Twombly on the Nile,” in Tate Papers no. 10

 

Cy Twombly. 'Sperlonga Collage' 1959

 

Cy Twombly
Sperlonga Collage
1959
Pieces of semi-transparent cristal paper, oil-based house paint on paper
85 x 62 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

 

ROOM 1

The 1950s saw Twombly evidence a precocious maturity. After leaving Black Mountain College – the experimental liberal arts college in North Carolina where he encountered the crème de la crème of the US avant-garde – the 24-year-old painter from Lexington, Virginia, set off on a trip to Europe and North Africa in the company of Robert Rauschenberg. On returning to New York in late spring 1953, he produced his first major works, the sounds of their titles recalling villages and archaeological sites of Morocco. These were followed by white canvases covered in script – Twombly disliked the term “graffiti” employed by many of the critics – and its suggestion of triviality. The masterpiece of the decade is undoubtedly the series of white paintings done at Lexington in 1959, which Leo Castelli however refused to show. The austerity of their pictorial language makes outstanding works, economy of means being pushed to an extreme in the combination of white house paint and pencil.

ROOM 2

In the summer of 1957, Cy Twombly returned to Italy to visit his friend Betty Stokes, who was married to Venetian aristocrat Alvise Di Robilant and had just given birth to their first child. The Robilants were then living at Grottaferrata, where Twombly took several photographs of Betty. During his stay, he also made a series of eight wax crayons drawings, which he presented to her. One of these has since been separated from the group, leaving only seven, outstanding in their vigorous hand and lively colour.

 

Cy Twombly. 'School of Athens' 1961

 

Cy Twombly
School of Athens
1961
Oil, oil-based house paint, coloured pencil and lead pencil on canvas, 190,3 x 200,5 cm
Private Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus' 1962

 

Cy Twombly
Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus
1962
259 x 302 cm
Oil, lead pencil on canvas
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Describing space in Twombly’s work, Barthes uses the term ‘rare’ (Latin, rarus): ‘that which has gaps or interstices, sparse, porous, scattered’.

 

Cy Twombly. 'The Vengeance of Achilles' 1962

 

Cy Twombly
The Vengeance of Achilles
1962
Oil, lead pencil on canvas
300 x 175 cm
Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich

 

Roland Barthes famously wrote of Twombly: ‘His work is based not upon concept (the trace) but rather upon an activity (tracing)’. In Twombly’s graphic art, the trace is the record of a gesture. Barthes again: ‘line is action become visible’. Like Olson, Twombly connects heart to line via the body.

 

Cy Twombly. View of the series 'Nine Discourses on Commodus' 1963

 

Cy Twombly
View of the series Nine Discourses on Commodus
1963
Guggenheim Bilbao Museo, Bilbao
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

 

ROOM 4

After Twombly’s marriage to Italian aristocrat Luisa Tatiana Franchetti, celebrated in New York on 20 April 1959, the couple settled in Rome, living in a palazzo on the Via di Monserrato, in a quarter known for its intellectual life. Twombly had just given up using his fluid and viscous house paint for oil paint in tubes with precisely the opposite properties. Between 1960 and 1962 he produced some of his most sexual paintings, Empire of Flora being an evocative example. Partial glimpses of body parts, male and female, are scattered over canvases that seem to preserve the sensual memory of hot Roman nights.

ROOM 5

In late 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Cy Twombly devoted a cycle of nine paintings to the Roman emperor Commodus (161-192), son of Marcus Aurelius and remembered as a cruel and bloodthirsty ruler. In these he conveys the climate of violence that prevailed during his reign, marked by executions and terror. Shown at Leo Castelli’s in New York in the spring of 1964, the paintings were roundly condemned by the critics. Won to the newly emergent Minimalism, the New York public was unable to grasp Twombly’s painterly gifts and his ability to render on canvas the complex psychological phases informing the life and death of the emperor. At the close of the exhibition, Twombly recovered the paintings, which would be sold to an Italian industrialist before being acquired in 2007 by the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.

ROOM6

Having painted a series under the sign of Eros in the very early part of the decade, in 1962 Twombly turned to Thanatos, death, a theme that finds paroxysmal expression in his first two meditations on the Trojan War, Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus and Vengeance of Achilles. In these two paintings, brought together for this exhibition, Twombly gives form to Achilles’ sorrow and fury on the death of his friend. The Ilium triptych, for its part, was broken up at an unknown date, the first panel joining the Eli and Edythe Broad collection in Los Angeles. In the early 2000s, Twombly painted a new version of that panel to recreate the triptych, then owned by collector François Pinault.

 

Cy Twombly. 'Alessandro Twombly' 1965

 

Cy Twombly
Alessandro Twombly
1965
Dry print on cardboard
43.2 x 28 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Night Watch' 1966

 

Cy Twombly
Night Watch
1966
Oil-based house paint, wax crayon on canvas
190 x 200 cm
Private Collection
Courtesy Jeffrey Hoffeld Fine Arts, Inc.
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Cheim & Read

 

Cy Twombly. 'Pan' 1975

 

Cy Twombly
Pan
1975
Oil pastel and collage on paper
148 x 100 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives
Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Apollo' 1975

 

Cy Twombly
Apollo
1975
Oil pastel and lead pencil on paper
150 x 134 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy
Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Venus' 1975

 

Cy Twombly
Venus
1975
Oil Pastel, lead pencil and collage on paper
150 x 137 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola
Del Roscio

 

 

Walter Benjamin’s 1917 essay, ‘Painting, or Signs and Marks’, argues that, ‘The graphic line is defined by its contrast to area’ as opposed to the mark (‘Mal’) and painting (‘Malerei’): ‘the realm of the mark is a medium.’ His distinction between line and mark, drawing and painting, is especially hard to maintain in relation to Cy Twombly: the scribbled pencilling, the smudges and smears, are the marks of an affective body used as a writing instrument. Where Benjamin speaks proleptically to Twombly is in the decisive role he gives to writing, inscription, and naming, along with the spatial marks on monuments and gravestones. ‘[T]he linguistic word’, he writes, ‘lodges in the medium of the language of painting.’ With its collage of quotations, inscriptions, and names, Twombly’s entire oeuvre could be read as a retrospective commentary on this early Benjamin essay.

Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol.1, 19131926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996, pp.84-5 quoted in Mary Jacobus. “Time-Lines: Rilke and Twombly on the Nile,” in Tate Papers no. 10

 

Cy Twombly. 'Fifty Days at Iliam Shield of Achilles (Part 1)' 1978

 

Cy Twombly
Fifty Days at Iliam Shield of Achilles (Part I)
1978
Oil, oil stick, lead pencil on canvas
191.8 x 170.2 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, gift (by exchange) of Samuel S.White 3rd and Vera White 1989-90-1
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphie

 

Cy Twombly. 'Fifty Days at Iliam Shades of Achilles, Patroclus and Hector (Part VI)' 1978

 

Cy Twombly
Fifty Days at Iliam Shades of Achilles, Patroclus and Hector (Part VI)
1978
Oil, Oil Pencil, lead pencil on canvas
299.7 x 491.5 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphie, gift (by exchange) of Samuel S.White 3rd and Vera White, 1989-90-6
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphie

 

 

ROOM 9

Reacting to the Minimalism and Conceptualism that emerged in the United States in the 1960s, in 1966 Twombly, then living in Rome, embarked on a new series of remarkably austere paintings, with backgrounds of grey or black inscribed with simple forms or script-like loops in white wax crayon. He showed these at the Galleria Notizie, Turin, in early 1967. In the autumn, Leo Castelli in New York exhibited a second series, painted in January in a Canal Street loft made available to the painter by curator and collector David Whitney. Among the works shown was Untitled (New York City) (1967, cat. No. 75), which Twombly would later exchange with Andy Warhol for one of his Tuna Fish Disasters.

ROOM 11

Twombly’s sculptures might be described as “assemblages” or “hybridisations”, in that they consist of disparate elements. These combinations of found materials (pieces of wood, electrical plugs, cardboard boxes, scraps of metal, dried or artificial flowers) are unified by a thin coat of plaster. The white in which they are roughly painted catches the light, bringing out subtle nuances in the surface and giving them a spectral appearance. As Twombly explained in an interview with art critic David Sylvester, “White paint is my marble”. Sometimes later cast in bronze, these sculptures suggest myths, symbolic objects, archaeological finds, as in Winter’s Passage Luxor (Porto Ercole) (1985). “Cy Twombly’s sculpture,” wrote Edmund de Waal, “seems more archaic than archaizing, as if the impulse behind its creation were ancient itself.”

ROOM 12

In 1975, Cy Twombly bought a 16th-century house at Bassano in Teverina, north of Rome, and after basic renovations he established his summer studio there. Inspired by Homer’s Iliad, read in Alexander Pope’s 18th-century English translation, he embarked in 1977 on the major cycle “Fifty Days at Iliam,” whose ten paintings were completed over two successive summers. In the word “Ilium”, one of the ancient names for Troy, Twombly replaced the U with an A, preferring the sound. For him, the letter A evoked Achilles, the Greek hero to whom he had devoted two paintings in 1962. After being shown in 1978 at the Lone Star Foundation (now Dia Art Foundation) in New York, the work remained boxed up for 10 years, to be seen again only upon its purchase in 1989 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it is on permanent exhibition in a room devoted to Cy Twombly. This exhibition marks the first time it has been shown in Europe.

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Formia)' 1981

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Formia)
1981
Wood, iron wire, nails, string, white paint
152 x 88.5 x 33.5 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Foundazione
Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Lexington)' 2004

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Lexington)
2004
Wood , screw, rope, scakcloth, plaster, synthetic resin paint
206.5 x 44.5 x 45 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Sammlung Udo and Anette Brandhorst

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Bassano in Teverina)' 1985

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Bassano in Teverina)
1985
Oil, acrylic on wooden panel
181.7 x 181.7 cm
Cy Twombly Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Wilder Shores of Love' 1985

 

Cy Twombly
Wilder Shores of Love
1985
Oil-based house paint , oil (oil paint stick), coloured pencil, lead pencil on wooden panel
140 x 120 cm
Private Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Summer Madness' 1990

 

Cy Twombly
Summer Madness
1990
Acrylic, oil, coloured pencil, lead
Pencil on paper mounted on wooden panels
150 x 126 cm
Udo and Anette Brandhorst Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Quattro Stagioni: Primavera' 1993-1995

 

Cy Twombly
Quattro Stagioni: Primavera
1993-1995
Acrylic, oil, coloured pencil and et lead pencil on canvas
313.2 x 189.5
Tate, London
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Tate, London 2016

 

 

ROOM 15

“Coronation of Sesostris” is one of the major painting cycles that punctuate Cy Twombly’s career, differing from the purely abstract series in their incorporation of narrative elements. Inspired by the example of the god Râ, whose sun-boat traverses the heavens from dawn to dusk to the end of night, Twombly opens the series with luminous canvasses dominated by sunny yellow and red to close it in black and white with an evocation of Eros from a poem of Sappho’s: “Eros weaver of Myth / Eros, sweet and bitter / Eros, bringer of pain.” Twombly combines fragmentary references to Sesostris I, to ancient Greek poets Sappho and Alcman, and to the contemporary poet Patricia Waters. Begun at Twombly’s house in Bassano, this cycle was completed after the canvases were shipped to Lexington. Sally Mann’s photographs show canvases of different sizes tacked to the walls of the little studio, showing that they were stretched only when finished.

ROOM 17

For the Bacchus series, painted at Twombly’s Gaeta studio in early 2005, in the midst of the Iraq War, the artist remembered again Homer’s Iliad and returned to the very characteristic writing he had explored in the “Black Paintings” of the late 1960s. Here, however, he replaced the white wax crayon with red paint evocative of both blood and wine, allowed to run freely across the vast beige canvases. The first series consisted of eight monumental paintings that were shown in late 2005 at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York. Between 2006 and 2008, Twombly produced another series on the theme of Bacchus, some of these paintings being even larger in format. The two works here are from the first series.

Twombly took up photography at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and never afterwards gave it up. Studying under American photographer Hazel-Frieda Larsen, in 1951 he produced a series of still lifes with bottles and other glass vessels that recall the memory of the work of the Italian painter Giorgio  Morandi. In Morocco in 1953, on his first trans-Atlantic travels, he attentively studied the chairs and draped tablecloths of a Tetouan restaurant. But it was only later, on discovering the square format of the Polaroid, that he discovered his own photographic identity. Reflecting his taste for the blurred, for colours sometimes pastel and sometimes stridently saturated, the dry-printed enlargements evoke a world of contemplation. The photographs evoke the places he lived and his interest in sculpture, flowers and plants. When a friend brought him citrons, Buddha’s hands and other citrus fruits, he captured their sculptural and sensual aspect in a series of Polaroids. Distant from the photographic conventions of the time, Twombly’s images are “succinct and discreet poems.”

 

Cy Twombly 'Lemons (VI)' (Gaète) (detail) 1998

 

Cy Twombly
Lemons (VI) (Gaète) (detail)
1998
Dry print on cardboard
43.1 x 27.9
Fondazione Nicola del Roscio collection
© Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio, courtesy Archives Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Coronation of Sesostris (Part III)' 2000

 

Cy Twombly
Coronation of Sesostris (Part III)
2000
Acrylic, wax crayon, lead pencil on canvas
206.1 x 136.5 cm
Pinault Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Pinault Collection

 

 

Cy Twombly’s remark that ‘lines have a great effect on painting’ resonates not only with his graphic practice but with his relation to poetry. The importance of the modern German poet Rainer Maria Rilke to Twombly includes the figure of the Orphic poet and their shared interest in the ancient River Nile. Twombly’s Egyptian series, Coronation of Sesostris, 2000, represents a late flowering of his remarkable graphic inventiveness…

Twombly’s ten-part Coronation of Sesostris, 2000, is the culminating synthesis of his ship ideographs and whirling expeditionary chariots: a blazing, triumphal departure that burns itself out on the far side of the Nile. Begun in Gaeta and completed in Virginia, it combines deceptive simplicity with painterly sophistication and poetic adaptation. Twombly calls this multi-media series (drawn, written, painted) one of his favourite sets and ‘very personal’. It incorporates a poem of 1996 by the Southern poet Patricia Waters, not a translation this time, although its title (‘Now is the Drinking’) translates Nunc est bibendum. With a few strokes and deletions, Twombly ‘interprets’ the poem to create his own reticent version:

.
When they leave,
Do you think they hesitate,
Turn and make a farewell sign,
Some gesture of regret?

When they leave,
the music is loudest,
the sun high,

and you, dizzy with wine
befuddled with well-being,
sink into your body
as though it were real,
as if yours to keep.

You neither see their going,
nor hear their silence.

.
Either side of this ambiguous celebration of bodily oblivion, Twombly’s sequence tracks the energetic course of the Pharaonic conquerer, Sesostris II.

Mary Jacobus. “Time-Lines: Rilke and Twombly on the Nile,” in Tate Papers no. 10

 

Cy Twombly. 'Coronation of Sesostris (Part V)' 2000

 

Cy Twombly
Coronation of Sesostris (Part V)
2000
Acrylic, wax crayon, lead pencil on canvas
206.1 x 156.5 cm
Pinault Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Pinault Collection

 

Cy Twombly. 'Coronation of Sesostris (Part VI)' 2000

 

Cy Twombly
Coronation of Sesostris (Part VI)
2000
Acrylic, wax crayon, lead pencil on canvas
203.7 x 155.6 cm
Pinault Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Pinault Collection

 

 

Jonas Storsve: Curator’s point of view

Rich and complex, the work of Cy Twombly, who passed away in 2011, spans a period of some sixty years without ever losing any of its force, even in the very last years of the artist’s life. One of the most productive in recent history, Twombly’s career links the culture of post-war America, dominated artistically by Abstract Expressionism, and the Classical Mediterranean culture that he discovered as a young man and made his own. The artist would remain very close to the world of his birth, that of the Southern United States, better known in Europe for its literature, with William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote and more.

From his childhood and youth in Lexington, Virginia, where he grew up under the attentive eye of his African-American nanny, Lula Bell Watts, he retained the characteristic and sometimes difficult-to-understand accent of the South. The boy’s family environment seems to have stimulated his intellectual curiosity, cultivated his sensibility and encouraged an interest in painting. When in 1952, at the age of 24, he applied for a grant to travel to Europe, he said he wanted “to study the prehistoric cave drawings of Lascaux.” He also planned to view French, Italian and Dutch museums, Gothic and Baroque architecture, and Roman ruins. He also declared himself to be “drawn to the primitive, the ritual and fetishistic elements, to the symmetrical visual order.” Once he had his grant, he invited the artist Robert Rauschenberg, whom he met in New York two years earlier, to accompany him. They took a ship for Naples on 20 August 1952. The rich and original culture that he acquired would nourish his work. His readings were also voyages – Goethe, Homer, Horace, Herodotus, Keats, Mallarmé, Ovid, Rilke, Sappho, Virgil – on which he would draw for his creation. He found inspiration too in less well-known authors, among them Lesley Blanch, Robert Burton, George Gissing and 13th-century Persian poet and mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. This uncommonly refined sensibility found an expressive outlet in his painting.

Yet while Twombly was indeed a highly cultivated and well-read painter, this was only one aspect of his complex personality. The sophistication of his work is accompanied by a constant attention to vernacular realities, visible to varying degrees but always present. Endowed with a rare wit and humour, Twombly could be deliciously irreverent and even dirty-minded when he wanted. In front of his painting Apollo (1963), he remarked laconically to Paul Winkler, who used to be director of the Menil Collection in Houston: “Rachel and I used to love to go dancing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem”. And in a whole series of drawings from 1981-1982, he wrote the phrase “Private Ejaculations”, in the knowledge that in the 17th century it referred to short, intense prayer at regular intervals.

We know today, too, that photography played an important role in Twombly’s work and life. A private, even secretive man, he nonetheless regularly allowed himself to be photographed. Some of the most famous pictures of the artist were taken by Horst P. Horst for Vogue magazine, illustrating an article by Valentine Lawford entitled “Roman Classic Surprise” published in the November 1966 issue. Taken in Twombly’s apartment in the Via Monserrato in Rome, the photographs reveal a dandy living in palatial accommodations. This appearance in Vogue did little to improve his relationship with the United States, at a low ebb since the controversy of the Nine Discourses on Commodus shown at Leo Castelli’s in New York. It was considered too smart and sophisticated: too distant, in brief, from the American idea of an American artist.

Twelve years later, in 1978, Heiner Bastian published the first monograph on Twombly’s painting, for which the artist took care to present himself differently. The cover picture shows him dressed in jeans and pull-over, boots on his feet, sitting on the ground beneath a tree, with sheep close by – an image intended to communicate an idea of an artist close to the earth, living a healthy and simple life. Twombly indeed was probably both, dandy and Roman shepherd.

Sally Mann, a friend from Lexington, often photographed Twombly and his studio toward the end of his life. Thanks to her we have photos that document the development of the Coronation of Sesostris series, which he finished in the city of his birth. Among the most beautiful of the images are those of the studio, empty of work, with just traces of paint on the walls. From some of these ghostly images of a whole phase of Twombly’s work, of his place of work and creation, Mann assembled an album, recently published as Remembered Light.

The Centre Pompidou is staging the first comprehensive retrospective of Cy Twombly’s work in Europe. Unprecedented in scope, bringing together works from public and private collections the whole world over, the exhibition will be shown only in Paris. Organised around three great series – Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), Fifty Days at Iliam (1978) and Coronation of Sesostris (2000) – it offers a chronological survey of the whole of the artist’s career, the 140 paintings, drawings and photographs affording an insight into the complexity of his work as a whole, simultaneously scholarly and sensual. Among the works shown are some of his best-known ones, many never exhibited in France before. Polyphonic in conception, the accompanying catalogue proposes a multiplicity of approaches, with essays on different aspects and periods of Twombly’s career. It also includes reflections and personal impressions by other artists, and accounts of the formation of the two great collections of Twombly’s work – the Brandhorsts’ and Yvon Lambert’s – as well as recollections by his son Alessandro Twombly. The catalogue closes on a lively and joyful portrait of Twombly from the pen of Nicola Del Roscio. Through this varied testimony, readers will discover not only the artist, but also the man, seemingly returned to life before our eyes.”

Jonas Storsve in Code Couleur, no. 26, September – December 2016, pp. 18-23.

 

Cy Twombly. 'Blooming' 2001-2008

 

Cy Twombly
Blooming
2001-2008
Acrylic, wax crayon on 10 wooden panels
250 x 500 cm
Private collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Archives Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled, (A Gathering of Time)' 2003

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled, (A Gathering of Time)
2003
Acrylic on canvas
215.9 x 267.3 cm
Udo and Anette Brandhorst Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Untitled (Bacchus)' 2005

 

Cy Twombly
Untitled (Bacchus)
2005
Acrylic on canvas
317.5 x 417.8 cm
Udo and Anette Brandhorst Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Sans titre' (Gaète) 2007

 

Cy Twombly
Sans titre (Gaète)
2007
Acrylic, wax crayon on wooden panel
252 x 552 cm
Museum Brandhorst, Munich
Udo and Anette Brandhorst Collection
© Cy Twombly Foundation

 

Cy Twombly. 'Camino Real (V)' 2010

 

Cy Twombly
Camino Real (V),
2010
Acrylic on wood panel
252.4 x 185.1 cm
Louis Vuitton Foundation
© Cy Twombly Foundation, courtesy Gagosian Gallery

 

 

Centre Pompidou 
75191 Paris cedex 04
Tel: 00 33 (0)1 44 78 12 33

Opening hours:
Exhibition open every day from 11 am – 9 pm except on Tuesday
Closed on May 1st

Centre Pompidou website

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20
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Art AIDS America’ at Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma

Exhibition dates: 3rd October 2015 – 10th January 2016

 

 

This is the biggest exhibition on art relating to HIV/AIDS since the seminal exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra in 1995, which I was a part of.

I was lucky to survive the initial wave of HIV/AIDS infections. The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981… and I had my first HIV test in London in 1983. In those days, as the wall text from the exhibition spells out below, you had to wait 16 days to get the result of a blood test. I vividly remember sitting outside a doctor’s office knowing that when I went in, if he said yes you have it, it was a death sentence. In those early days, there was no treatment. You were going to die. I only survived by luck. Many of my friends and lovers didn’t.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says exhibition co-curator Rock Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

This deep understanding can be supplemented by this posting. I spent many hours securing more images than were sent to me in the press pack, because I think it is really important to have as great a cross-section as possible of work online from this exhibition, as a record of this time and space in the ongoing HIV/AIDS story. At present, there is no website for the 1995 exhibition Art in the Age of AIDS but I am hoping to correct this in the near future, with installation images, art work, interviews and videos.

In terms of the art, I find the earlier narratives are much more powerful and focused than the contemporary work. One of the most moving of these, and one that I have never seen before, is Keith Haring’s Altar Piece (1990, cast 1996, below). Can you imagine being an artist, being Haring, working on the wax mould in hospital being treated for AIDS-related illness, thinking that this could possibly be the last art work that you would ever complete. That you would never see it produced. And then to make something that is so compassionate, so beautiful that it is almost beyond belief… my heart is full of admiration and, like the crowd in the triptych, I am washed with tears.

By comparison, some of the contemporary works seem to have become mere graphic symbolism (leaves, milk and flowers) rather than engaging activism. For example, Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers (2010, below) – while referencing his Mexican heritage through skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead – is not about loss with presence but loss without presence: a febrile graphic activity that is pure decoration. Other works such as Derek Jackson’s Perfect Kiss (2007, below) or LADZ’s Eden #31 (2012, below) enact only the most tenuous link to HIV/AIDS and only when it is spelled out in text. Again, while not denying the pain of the death of her mother, her persecution when growing up or the problems with living with HIV, Kia Labeija’s 24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room) (2014, below) propositions us with a women photographed in deadpan photography style as glamorous mother with vivid pink lipstick or a Beyonce music star in sequin dress and 6 inch heels. Only in the last photograph is there any hint of vulnerability and, funnily enough, it is the only photograph that I care about and engage with.

In all of these works the key word is enact, for these works are performances of gender and sexuality conceptualised for the viewer, where living with HIV/AIDS is shown to us at a distance. Instead of ACTing up, unleashing the power of the oppressed, artists are now acting out in this (supposed) post-death HIV/AIDS climate. Look at me, I can be whoever I want to be (and still have HIV). Nothing wrong with that I hear you say, and you would be completely right… if only the art commenting on this post-death resurrection of the author, was memorable.

While 1,218,400 persons aged 13 years and older are living with HIV infection in the USA and an estimated 47, 352 people were diagnosed with the disease in 2013, people are still dying by the thousands in America (an estimated 13,712 people died in 2012 of an AIDS related disease – source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website). This is not pretty pink lipstick and sequin dresses, this is 13 thousand people a year still DYING from this disease.

Just think about that for a while.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Tacoma Art Museum, Mark I. Chester and Steven Miller for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Did You Know?

 

Art AIDS America at Tacoma Art Museum from Tacoma Art Museum on Vimeo.

 

 

Art AIDS America aims to abolish the silence about the pervasive presence of HIV/AIDS in American art and open meaningful and respectful dialogues about our experiences with the ongoing epidemic. For too long, we have considered art about AIDS as a tragic, closed chapter in the history of American art. This exhibition demonstrates the deep and continued impact of the AIDS crisis on American art from the early 1980s and continuing to today.

For more than thirty years, artists have actively responded with exquisite sensitivity to HIV/AIDS. They have adopted a broad spectrum of styles and messages from politically activist to quietly mournful art that nonetheless thrums with political content. Through poignant portraits, some artists brought much needed attention to personal suffering and loss from the AIDS crisis. Others employed abstraction and coded imagery to reveal the social and political factors that exacerbated the spread of HIV/AIDS. Artists also widely appropriated various art historical traditions to speak about the devastating impact of the epidemic. Art AIDS America offers an overview of how these various approaches redirected the course of American art from postmodern “art for art’s sake” formulas to art practice that highlights the personal experience and expertise of the artist.

Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful. HIV and AIDS are not just past-tense problems. As we persist in the struggle with HIV/AIDS, these artworks remind us of humanity’s resilience, responsibility, and history. The legacy of the AIDS crisis and our new relationships with the virus continue to inform contemporary art and American culture.

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987–1995), Let the Record Show… 1987/recreated 2015.

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show…
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

 

In 1987, the New Museum’s curator William Olander invited ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to create a work about AIDS. ACT UP, a diverse, nonpartisan, grassroots organization, responded with Let the Record Show… providing information about the crisis.

At the time, the only visual presence of AIDS activism was the Silence=Death stickers. Let the Record Show… recreated here in full for the first time, included an LED reader board with statistics about the unfolding medical and political crisis, the neon pink triangle with “Silence=Death,” a photomural from the Nuremberg trials, and photographs of contemporary public figures with their statements about AIDS.

Using the 1986 graphics from the Silence=Death Project, ACT UP appropriated the pink triangle from the badges assigned to gay prisoners in Nazi Germany during World War II. The artists combined this historic symbol of powerlessness along with the photomural of the Nuremberg courtroom to make an explicit comparison between the severity of the AIDS crisis and government inaction and the Holocaust. The complicated installation asked whether simple silence in a crisis is as culpable as actively encouraging one. The anonymous collective Gran Fury formed as a committee of ACT UP, as a result of Olander’s invitation. Gran Fury continued to make provocative and important works about the AIDS crisis.

For the installation of Let the Record Show… at the New Museum, quotes were cast in concrete under the photograph of the irresponsible speaker:

 

“The logical outcome of testing is a quarantine of those infected.”

Jesse Helms, U.S. Senator

“It is patriotic to have the AIDS test and be negative.”

Cory Servass, Presidential AIDS Commission

“We used to hate faggots on an emotional basis. Now we have a good reason.”

Anonymous Surgeon

“AIDS is God’s judgment of a society that does not live by His rules.”

Jerry Falwell, Televangelist

“Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm to protect common needle users, and on the buttocks to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.”

William F. Buckley, Columnist

” …”

Ronald Reagan, President of the United States

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995) 'Let the Record Show…' (detail) 1987/recreated 2015

 

ACT UP NY/Gran Fury (active New York, New York, 1987-1995)
Let the Record Show… (detail)
1987/recreated 2015
Mixed media installation, dimensions variable
Courtesy of Gran Fury and the New Museum, New York
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

Carrie Yamaoka (Born Glen Cove, New York, 1957) 'Steal This Book #2' 1991

 

Carrie Yamaoka (Born Glen Cove, New York, 1957)
Steal This Book #2
1991
Unique chemically altered gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Carrie Yamaoka takes inspiration from Abbie Hoffman’s iconic Steal This Book, a counterculture manual for social revolution. By photographing a page spread and then obliterating all of the words except “slaughter” and “history,” Yamaoka rejects any passive understanding of history. As an activist and artist, Yamaoka will use any means necessary to affect change. Steal This Book #2 may be considered as referring to Yamaoka’s experience as an AIDS activist and her desire to reshape our understanding of our relations with HIV.

 

Jerome Caja (Born Cleveland, Ohio, 1958; Died San Francisco, California, 1995) 'Bozo Fucks Death' 1988

 

Jerome Caja (Born Cleveland, Ohio, 1958; Died San Francisco, California, 1995)
Bozo Fucks Death
1988
Nail polish on plastic tray
Collection of Ed Frank and Sarah Ratchye

 

One of Jerome Caja’s alter egos was the clown Bozo. Here Caja aggressively turns the tables on death and seeks to gain some control and power over the inevitable, even if only a transgressive, psychological fantasy.

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (born 1930, died 2002) 'AIDS, you can't catch it holding hands' 1987

 

Niki de Saint Phalle (born 1930, died 2002)
AIDS, you can’t catch it holding hands
1987
Book, 52 pages 8 × 10 inches
The Lapis Press, San Francisco
© 2015 Niki Charitable Art Foundation, All rights reserved / ARS, NY / ADAGP, Paris

 

Working with collaborator Professor Silvio Barandun, Niki de Saint Phalle wrote and illustrated AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands for young adults. Using her characteristically colorful and joyous style, de Saint Phalle offers unusually straightforward information about the transmission of HIV from unprotected sex and unclean needles in intravenous drug use. She also uses the same frank approach to assuring her readers that casual contact from flowers, doorknobs, and toilet seats does not transmit AIDS, notions that were not widely understood in the early years of the AIDS crisis.

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (In a Dream You Saw a Way To Survive and You Were Full of Joy)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950) 'Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)' 1983-85

 

Jenny Holzer (Born Gallipolis, Ohio, 1950)
Untitled (Expiring for Love Is Beautiful but Stupid)
1983-85
Packaged latex condoms with printed text, each is 2 x 2 inches
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Anonymous gift, 2001

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse I' 1988

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990)
Apocalypse I
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

In their first collaboration, Keith Haring illustrated William S. Burroughs’ dystopic poem Apocalypse by mixing references to advertising, art history, and Catholic theology. Haring included his “devil sperm,” the black, horned symbol he created to give shape to HIV and its reign of death and terror.

Burroughs introduced the chaos unfolding:

“The final Apocalypse is when every man sees what he sees, feels what he feels, and hears what he hears. The creatures of all your dreams and nightmares are right here, right now, solid as they ever were or ever will be, electric vitality of careening subways faster faster faster stations flash by in a blur.”

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990) 'Apocalypse III' 1988

 

Keith Haring (Born Reading, Pennsylvania, 1958; Died New York, New York, 1990)
Apocalypse III
1988
From the series Apocalypse, 1988
Silkscreen, Edition of 90
Courtesy of the Keith Haring Foundation

 

 

Grassroots Activism

Artists provided the early warnings of the AIDS crisis with their artworks deployed at the street level. Posters, stickers, T-shirts and other projects made it impossible to ignore messages about AIDS. These activist artists were informed by earlier precedents of feminist art and artists working on issues of identity politics. Communities coalesced around the calls to action.

The most prominent group to address the AIDS crisis was the anonymous artist collective Gran Fury in New York, a committee of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The collective used techniques and ideas from advertising, marketing, and the art world to raise awareness and affect political change. Their bold graphic style and refined text continues to influence politically-themed art.

Gran Fury and other activists changed how Americans thought about AIDS. The political and social pressure instigated by their actions and artworks played important roles in changing the approval process for AIDS drugs and treatment protocols. Women’s health issues were brought to the forefront. As a result, American society positively changed their opinions about HIV/AIDS when they had correct information.

 

Memento Mori

The AIDS crisis compelled contemporary American artists to address death with urgency. Artists witnessed a plague sweep through their communities and wipe out their friends, colleagues, and lovers. They used art to express their rage and terror when AIDS had no effective treatment. Their artwork provided a vitally important way to mourn their losses and share their sorrow.

Artists looked back to European and American artistic traditions of memento mori, Latin for “Remember that you must die,” to share their experiences, feelings, and stories. They adapted symbols like skulls and flowers to depict the fragility and fleeting nature of life.

Artists in this section shifted the intent of memento mori away from concepts of death and the afterlife. They refocused on the preciousness and precariousness of life, without forgetting the political and social realities behind the massive wave of death. Nayland Blake’s clock marks the passing of so many individuals with a call to action. David Wojnarowicz rages against the senseless death of Peter Hujar. Bill Jacobson and Karen Finley give form to the fragility of memory. Latino folk traditions connect the living and the dead in the paintings of Tino Rodriguez and Thomas Woodruff.

 

Poetic Postmodernism

In the early 1980s, American art was dominated by a new, postmodern theory. It held that meaning belongs not to the artist who made the work but to their audiences who interpret the works. Called “the death of the author,” the theory was named after a 1967 essay by the French postmodernist thinker Roland Barthes.

As AIDS actually caused the death of thousands of authors and artists by the late 1980s, this metaphor became a terrifying reality. At the same time, a powerful Christian conservative movement aggressively politicized AIDS. Using homophobia and fear of the disease, these politicians passed Federal laws that made it illegal to “promote, encourage, or condone homosexual sexual activities or the intravenous use of illegal drugs” in an AIDS awareness and education bill.

The ramifications for artists and art exhibitions were equally prohibitive. Federal laws were passed that made it impossible for museums to receive government support if an exhibition included obscene content, which was understood to mean gay themes among others, including AIDS-specific art. In this climate, artists knew that overt political content would result in censorship. So they developed a new way to smuggle political meaning into art.

In his research for Art AIDS America, Jonathan David Katz named this new approach “poetic postmodernism.” Artists used the postmodern theory “death of the author” to camouflage their own personal, expressive meanings. Many of the works in this exhibition have the same title format, the word “untitled” followed by a more specific description in parentheses such as in “Untitled” (Water), Untitled (Hujar Dead), or Untitled (Corrupt HIV Activism). The first term, “untitled,” signals the prevailing postmodernist idea that all meanings come from the audience. But the phrase inside the parentheses reveals clues to the artist’s associations and intentions. Because recognition of AIDS content was a product of the viewer’s thought and not the artist’s explicit claim, such works could be shown in museums without fear of being censored under the new laws.

 

Andres Serrano (Born New York, New York, 1950) 'Milk/Blood' 1989, printed 2015

 

Andres Serrano (Born New York, New York, 1950)
Milk/Blood
1989, printed 2015
Chromogenic color print
Exhibition print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Milk/Blood recall the pure, flat color of hard edged abstract painters such as Ellsworth Kelly. But the simple saturated color fields in Serrano’s photograph bear the evocative title Milk/Blood, the two main body fluids that transmit HIV. Serrano appropriates the formal language of modernism for political purposes, a means of potentially slipping AIDS consciousness into a museum context without fear of exclusion or censure. As with HIV infection itself, the photograph underscores how our key sense, vision, is unreliable in the face of AIDS.

 

Andres Serrano (born 1950) 'Blood and Semen III' 1990

 

Andres Serrano (born 1950)
Blood and Semen III
1990
Chromogenic color print, edition 1 of 4
40 × 60 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Like his Milk/Blood in this exhibition, Blood and Semen III also appears to be a rigorously formal composition, this time evoking the gestural appearance of an abstract expressionist painting. Again, the title references two body fluids that transmit HIV. As examples of poetic postmodernism, Serrano activates meaning in Blood and Semen III and Milk/Blood using formal arrangements and references to earlier artistic styles to inform his photographs with personal and potentially political content.

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' 1998

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957) 'Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.)' (detail) 1998

 

Shimon Attie (born 1957)
Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.) (detail)
1998
Ektacolor photograph, edition 1 of 3
32 × 38¾ inches
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

After an extensive period working in Europe memorializing the Holocaust, Shimon Attie returned to San Francisco in 1996 and began his series Untitled Memory. Attie projected old photographs of his friends and lovers onto places with special meaning to him, including this room of a former apartment. His photographs of these projections became personal studies of loss and melancholy.

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Untitled (Hujar Dead)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992)
Untitled (Hujar Dead)
1988-89
Black and white photograph, acrylic, text and collage on Massonite
Collect of Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol
Courtesy Second Ward Foundation

 

Wojnarowicz was briefly lovers with and then became a close friend of the famous photographer Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1987. Untitled (Hujar Dead) incorporates still images from a film by Wojnarowicz of Hujar’s lifeless body on his hospital bed. Wojnarowicz then overprinted the text of one of his famous “rants.” In these politically-charged performances and texts, he laid blame for the AIDS crisis squarely on the conservative right-wing demagogues who politicised the disease and continually spewed homophobic rhetoric which only exacerbated the crisis.

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965) 'Eternal Lovers' 2010 (detail)

 

Tino Rodriguez (Born Ciudad ObregoÅLn, Sonora, Mexico, 1965)
Eternal Lovers (detail)
2010
Oil on wood
Private collection

 

Tino Rodriguez’s Eternal Lovers incorporates aspects of his Mexican heritage, and especially the tradition of skull imagery from Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. This family-oriented celebration of ancestors brings the living and dead into affectionate proximity. Rodriguez here exuberantly conflates familiar American oppositions such as death and life, growth and decay, and even good and evil. Inherently androgynous, the gender of the skulls remains unknown as does their cause of death. But as in the Dia de los Muertos celebration itself, Rodriguez’s image supplants horror with humor and loss with presence, offering the triumph of love and memory over death in the age of AIDS.

 

David Wojnarowicz (Born Red Bank, New Jersey, 1954; Died New York, New York, 1992) 'Untitled (Buffalo)' 1988-89

 

David Wojnarowicz (Born Red Bank, New Jersey, 1954; Died New York, New York, 1992)
Untitled (Buffalo)
1988-89
Vintage gelatin silver print, signed on verso
Collection of Michael Sodomick

 

For Untitled (Buffalo), David Wojnarowicz simply photographed a diorama in a museum in Washington, DC. This image of buffalo being herded off a cliff served as a chilling metaphor of the politics of AIDS in the US in the late 1980s. Rather than an illustration of traditional Native American hunting techniques, Wojnarowicz eloquently expressed his rage, desperation, and helplessness through the great symbol of American identity. His shifting and layering of meaning onto this symbol is a classic example of poetic postmodernism.

One example of how artists hid their message is David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (Buffalo). It’s a diorama of a buffalo fall, a traditional method of harvesting large numbers of buffalo by chasing herds off cliffs. The buffalo are made from plastic. Wojnarowicz photographed the diorama and cropped it. “This is appropriation,” Hushka said. “He used it as this extraordinarily eloquent cry about the state of American politics at the time.” Katz added, “It’s telling that even an artist of Wojnarowicz’s activist fervor engaged in a metaphor that only cohered in the mind’s eye. You needed to be attentive to what it might be saying to read it. There’s nothing specifically AIDS about it.”

 

 

Spiritual Forces

Because of the overwhelming number of deaths, the unspeakable losses, and the constant presence of disease, it should not be surprising that artists also turned to issues of spirituality. Yet, the art history of AIDS often neglects this important aspect. Across the United States, faith communities tended to the spiritual needs of people with AIDS and provided critical services for them. These communities continue to support people living with HIV.

The AIDS crisis exposed deep division within many spiritual traditions. Artists such as Jerome Caja, Robert Gober, and Barbara Kruger expressed discomfort and displeasure in how some religious ideologies oppressed gays and lesbians and worsened the AIDS crisis. Others made inspiring works within long-established traditions like Keith Haring’s altar piece. In other artworks, artists created symbols for the dignity of people suffering from AIDS, ranging from Christian saints and Biblical texts to imagery inspired by Buddhism and healing traditions from India.

 

Keith Haring (born 1958, died 1990) 'Altar Piece' 1990 (cast 1996)

 

Keith Haring (born 1958, died 1990)
Altar Piece
1990 (cast 1996)
Bronze with white gold leaf patina, edition 2 of 9
60 × 81 x 2 inches
Denver Art Museum, Gift of Yoko Ono, 1996.204A-C.
© Keith Haring Foundation
Photo © Denver Art Museum

 

This altar piece by Keith Haring is the last work the artist completed. He worked on the wax mold while he was hospitalized for AIDS-related illnesses. The triptych format echoes traditional Roman Catholic altar pieces. The image of the crying mother holding an infant speaks to the inconsolable losses from AIDS. The mother’s tears fall on the crowds, seeking solace and mercy from the AIDS epidemic.

 

Barbara Kruger (Born Newark, New Jersey, 1945) 'Untitled (It's our pleasure to disgust you)' 1991

 

Barbara Kruger (Born Newark, New Jersey, 1945)
Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you)
1991
Photographic silkscreen on vinyl
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Gift of Eric and Nannette Brill

 

Despite provocative imagery and text, Barbara Kruger intends no specific meaning to her artworks. Rather, Kruger wants to demonstrate how the reader generates meaning each time the text is read. She activates ambiguity and political charge with the phrase “It’s our pleasure to disgust you.” Kruger underscores the gulf between and image and its possible meanings, an issue brought into high relief in the culture wars promoted by religious conservatives, during the period when this work was made.

The work may be interpreted as evidence that artists like Kruger were deliberately insensitive to cultural norms. Alternatively, it could be read as proof that artworks were deliberately manipulated for political purpose by others. Because AIDS was framed in political terms from its earliest moment, Kruger’s Untitled (It’s our pleasure to disgust you) reflects the complexity and deliberate uses of language about AIDS.

 

Robert Gober (Born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954) 'Drains' 1990

 

Robert Gober (Born Wallingford, Connecticut, 1954)
Drains
1990
Cast pewter Edition of 8, with 2 artist’s proofs, artist’s proof 1 of 2
Collection of the artist

 

Robert Gober’s Drains is meticulously handcrafted to resemble a mass-produced consumer good. Because we think about drains primarily as a tool to remove waste often associated with personal hygiene and cleaning, connections to HIV/AIDS are obvious. By placing the sculpture in an unexpected position on a gallery wall, Gober seeks to generate unanswerable, metaphorical questions about the functions of a drain and the unknown space behind it. The cruciform shape at the back of the drain recalls his childhood and his complicated relationship with Catholicism.

 

Izhar Patkin (Born Haifa, Israel, 1955) 'Unveiling of a Modern Chastity' 1981

 

Izhar Patkin (Born Haifa, Israel, 1955)
Unveiling of a Modern Chastity
1981
Rubber paste, latex theatrical wounds, and
printing ink on a stretched linen canvas
Courtesy of the artist

 

Izhar Patkin painted Unveiling of a Modern Chastity one year before there was any public announcement about a new disease striking formerly healthy young men. This is the earliest work in the exhibition, and, in retrospect, one of the earliest AIDS paintings ever. Troubled by the sight of a group of such young men with similar dark purple skin lesions waiting in his dermatologist’s office, he presciently titled the work to reflect what he felt might be a forthcoming change in sexual culture. The painting’s skin-like surface erupts in what looks like Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions.

Patkin’s heavily textured surface and use of artificial wounds was his effort to destroy minimalism and other traditions of pure abstraction. He wanted to expose the inability of modernist art to contain pressing social and contextual significance.

DID YOU KNOW? The Centers for Disease Control issued its first statement about a cluster of 19 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma (a rare skin cancer most common in elderly men from southern Italy) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young, gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in July 1981.

 

Albert J. Winn (born 1947, died 2014) 'Akedah' 1995

 

Albert J. Winn (born 1947, died 2014)
Akedah
1995
Gelatin silver print
171/2 × 21 ¾ inches
Courtesy of Scott R. Portnoff
Photo courtesy of the Estate of Albert J. Winn

 

In the artist’s own words: “Every month, because of my illness, I need to undergo a blood test. During the process, a tourniquet is bound tightly about my upper arm. At times when I’ve been on a study protocol for an experimental medicine, I’ve had my blood drawn every day. Having my blood drawn has become a ritual in what sometimes seems is a new religious practice, an AIDS ritual.

“Over time, I’ve transformed this ritual in relation to my Judaism. I wonder if like Isaac, I am being sacrificed. This time to science. I pray that an angel will intercede and spare my life. When my arm is bound with a tourniquet and the veins bulge, I am reminded that I am bound to my illness. I look at the rubber strap and see tefillin. Sometimes the impression of the leather straps from the tefillin are still visible on my skin by the time the tourniquet is wrapped around my arm. The binding of the tefillin is a reminder of being bound to my heritage. The straps also make my veins bulge. Except for the needle stick the binding feels the same.”

 

 

Art AIDS America at the Tacoma Art Museum

Politics, sex, religion, loss, and beauty – all of the topics that you can’t talk about over dinner but can at a museum – are open for discussion in Art AIDS America, an exhibition that reveals for the first time how the AIDS crisis forever changed American art. Since the first reports of mysterious illnesses in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS have touched nearly every American in some way, and operated as an undeniable (though often unacknowledged) force in shaping politics, medicine, and culture. Art AIDS America presents the full spectrum of artistic responses to AIDS, from the politically outspoken to the quietly mournful.

Art AIDS America is a story of resilience and beauty revealed through art, and the community that gathered to bring hope and change. While recognizing and honoring loss and grief, it refutes the narrative that AIDS is only a tragic tangent in American art, exploring how artists’ responses to the crisis and its legacy continue to inform contemporary American art. These artworks offer a vibrant representation of community, caring, creativity and activism. And, Art AIDS America will serve as a vivid reminder that the crisis is not over; HIV infections are increasing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV.

A decade in the making, this exhibition is co-curated by TAM’s Chief Curator, Rock Hushka, and Jonathan D. Katz, PhD, Director, Visual Studies Doctoral Program, University at Buffalo.

“AIDS fundamentally changed American art, remaking its communicative strategies, its market, its emotional pitch and – not least – its political possibilities. But we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in the making of contemporary American culture, as we’ve repressed the role of AIDS in every other aspect of our lives. This exhibition underscores how powerfully a plague that is still with us has changed us,” says Katz. “Art AIDS America creates spaces for mourning and loss, yes, but also for anger and for joy, for political resistance and for humor, for horror, and for eroticism.”

The exhibition assembles 125 significant works in a wide range of media. The artists are diverse, including the internationally acclaimed such as Robert Gober, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Martin Wong, and those not yet as widely celebrated such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Chloe Dzubilo, Derek Jackson, Kia Labeija, and Joey Terrill. The works date from 1981 to today, and some, like Catherine Opie’s photographs of the 1986 AIDS/ARC vigil in San Francisco, will be on public view for the first time.

“Art reflects and reacts to social, cultural, and political climates, and in the past 30 years, HIV and AIDS has been a constant presence,” says Hushka. “So many of us recall friends, family, and partners we have lost and the terror of the early years of the crisis, while younger people are just learning this story. We seek to create a deeper understanding of the legacy of HIV/AIDS in contemporary American art, and encourage our visitors to see their experiences in these works.”

Works in the exhibition will generally fall into two categories: art with a clear tie to AIDS, and art that requires the viewer to look beyond the surface to understand its connection to HIV/AIDS. Some artists addressed the AIDS crisis through activist works, community projects, graphics, and direct political statements. For example, the collective ACT UP NY/Gran Fury’s installation Let the Record Show… sears the words of public officials whose actions inflamed the crisis, including the silence of President Ronald Reagan, who would not speak publicly about AIDS until 1987. Other artists use camouflage, coding, misdirection, symbols, or other covert strategies to address the social, political, and physical impacts of HIV. An example is Robert Sherer’s beautifully rendered Sweet Williams, a basket of cut flowers, painted in HIV-negative and HIV-positive blood, about the untimely deaths of so many young men. The exhibition will be organized roughly by works created pre- and post-cocktail (in this case, ‘cocktail’ refers to the combination of drugs and therapies used to manage HIV and prevent the development of AIDS).

“Tacoma Art Museum is a safe space where people are able to address important and challenging issues. We are proud to present Art AIDS America. It is fitting that the exhibition debuts in Tacoma, the city that established the nation’s first government-sanctioned needle exchange program in a proactive approach toward controlling the spread of AIDS,” said Stephanie Stebich, TAM’s Executive Director. “TAM also has the scholarship to support this exhibition through our chief curator Rock Hushka and the exhibition’s co-curator Dr. Jonathan D. Katz, who also co-curated the award-winning Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which we brought to TAM in 2012.”

The Art AIDS America catalogue is a significant component of the exhibition, with 15 contributors, nearly 300 pages, and more than 200 illustrations. It is published in association with the University of Washington Press of Seattle and London and designed by Marquand Books, Seattle. Art AIDS America is organized by TAM in partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts and will tour nationally. See it first at TAM, on view October 3, 2015 through January 10, 2016. The exhibition will then travel to Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, GA; and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, NY.”

Press release from the Tacoma Art Museum website

 

Bill Jacobson (born 1955) 'Interim Portrait #373' 1992

 

Bill Jacobson (born 1955)
Interim Portrait #373
1992
Chromogenic color print
24 × 20 inches
Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Alon Reininger (Born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947) 'Ken Meeks, PWA' 1985

 

Alon Reininger (Born Tel Aviv, Israel, 1947)
Ken Meeks, PWA
1985
Archival pigment print
Courtesy of Contact Press Images, New York

 

Mark I. Chester (Born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950) 'Robert Chesley - ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1–#6' 1989, printed 2015

 

Mark I. Chester (Born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1950)
Robert Chesley – ks portraits with harddick & superman spandex, #1–#6
from the series Diary of a Thought Criminal
1989, printed 2015
Pigment print
Courtesy of the artist

 

Mark I. Chester gives us the first portrait of a sexually active person with AIDS. Robert Chesley (1943-1990) was a playwright, theater critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and music composer. Perhaps his most celebrated play was Jerker, or The Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty. At a time when many gay men had come to associate their own sexuality with death, the artist showed Chesley as a vibrant, active person with AIDS, intended as a rebuke to the routine AIDS portraits of mortally ill people. With this series, Chester rewrote the late-1980s codes for representing gay male sexuality from sexlessness and death towards a renewed embrace of life and its pleasure.

 

Steven Miller (Born Tucson, Arizona, 1968) 'Robert' from the series 'Milky' 2004

 

Steven Miller (Born Tucson, Arizona, 1968)
Robert from the series Milky
2004
Inkjet print
Edition 2 of 10
Tacoma Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from Curtis Man

 

For his series Milky, photographer Steven Miller asked his friends if he could photograph them as he poured milk over their heads. These portraits capture the different reactions to the sensation and convey a sense of discomfort from being drenched by fluids like milk. Miller likens these two aspects to a symbolic infection of HIV. For many gay artists of his generation, HIV looms as a constant presence, and body fluids remain deeply ingrained as transmitters of the virus.

 

 

Portraiture

Artists used portraits to directly convey the devastating effects of the crisis on individuals. Even if we do not know the subject, portraits remind us that someone we know was likely affected by AIDS. Because the science about the retrovirus was new and extremely complicated and frightening, such portraits humanized the disease so it could be understood through personal stories.

Early portraits brought attention to the physical symptoms of AIDS such as the deep purple lesions of the skin cancer Kaposi’s sarcoma and the devastating weakness caused by AIDS-related wasting syndrome. Artists soon refocused on portraits of defiant individuals living with HIV. Refusing to show people as victims of an incurable disease, these portraits depicted fighters and survivors.

From pure abstract representations to straightforward photographic likenesses, portraits continue to illuminate how individuals respond to and overcome even the most complex aspects of HIV/AIDS such as stigma, racism, sexism, and poverty.

 

The Legacy of the AIDS Crisis

HIV is no longer an immediate life-or-death issue facing American artists, but one that quietly and continually persists in intriguing ways. The legacy of the AIDS crisis can be traced either through the motifs and influences of earlier artists or by understanding the psychological trauma and challenges that result from living in a world with HIV.

Artworks made after antiretroviral medicines became available in the mid-1990s beg the questions: If HIV is undetectable in a body and all but invisible in society, why should visibility in art be any different? How do you identify HIV if an artist is unwilling to speak about it but doesn’t live a moment of his or her intimate life without being aware of its near-certain presence?

Artists such as John Arsenault, Kalup Linzy, Patte Loper, and Donald Moffett bring their personal histories as activists and care givers into their artwork. They also use their art to express the discomfort and complexities of living in a world with the constant presence of HIV.

Works of art should be read with empathy and compassion to understand the fullness and richness of the artist’s experience. We need to remind ourselves of the stresses, anxieties, fears, and realities caused by the burden of HIV. To honor these artists’ experiences, we must insist that HIV inform at least part of the meaning of their work. This will ensure an understanding of their art as part of an art history of deep social engagement and connection.

 

Julie Tolentino (Born San Francisco, California, 1964) 'THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey's Self-Obliteration #1' 2008

 

Julie Tolentino (Born San Francisco, California, 1964)
THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1
2008
Chromogenic color print
Edition 1 of 5
Documentation courtesy of Leon Mostovoy
Courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles

 

These three photographs capture different moments in the archive/performance of THE SKY REMAINS THE SAME: Tolentino Archives Ron Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1. Tolentino first observes Athey’s performance of Self-Obliteration #1 from a nearby platform; then she and Athey repeat the action on separate platforms as a duet. Finally, Tolentino repeats Athey’s Self-Obliteration #1 by herself.

As needles hidden within the performers’ long blond wigs lacerate their scalps, blood streams down their faces and bodies and smears a plane of glass. This forces the performers into unpredictable psychic territory. The HIV status of both perfomers – Athey is HIV-positive and Tolentino is negative – informs the tension between the two performers that runs like a low current throughout the work. The simultaneous flows of blood from the performers quickly conjoins them in a profound act of communion across pain, suffering, memory, and ultimately, an affirmation of life.

 

Catherine Opie (Born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961) 'Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)' 2000

 

Catherine Opie (Born Sandusky, Ohio, 1961)
Ron Athey/The Sick Man (from Deliverance)
2000
Polaroid
Private collection

 

This work by Catherine Opie, taken with the world’s largest polaroid camera, was made in collaboration with the performance artist Ron Athey. Athey achieved both fame and censure as an HIV positive performance artist whose work involved physical and psychic trials, along with, on occasion, blood.

Clearly a response to AIDS, the pose of Ron Athey/The Sick Man recalls the traditional iconography of the Pieta, in which the Virgin Mary supports the body of the dead Christ. Athey is held by his performance partner Darryl Carlton (a.k.a. Divinity Fudge), two heavily tattooed men in place of the holy family. The implications of self-sacrifice and transcendence through pain and suffering animate both the original scene and this more contemporary incarnation. Opie situated the figures in a beautiful, richly saturated black space. She offers a contemporary allegory of the excluded sufferer whose exile and death can be laid at the feet of those who consider themselves pious.

 

Eric Rhein (Born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961) 'Life Altering Spencer from Leaves' 2013

 

Eric Rhein (Born Cincinnati, Ohio, 1961)
Life Altering Spencer from Leaves
2013
Wire and paper
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
Purchased as the gift of Louis Wiley, Jr. (PA 1963) in Memory of Paul Monette (PA 1963) and his partner Roger Horwitz

 

Eric Rhein began The Leaf Project in 1996 to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS and chose to memorialize his friends who had died of AIDS-related causes. He selected the leaf motif to honor the individuality of each person, while also evoking the countless leaves shed by trees in autumn. Life Altering Spencer honors AIDS activist Spencer Cox (1968-2012), a member of ACT UP, Treatment Action Group, and the Food and Drug Administration’s Anti-Viral Advisory Committee. In this capacity, Cox and others became experts on drug trials and approval, successfully lobbying to hasten the approval time for new HIV medications. Cox and his group thus changed the course of medicine in America – the first non-physicians to do so – and, not coincidentally, these new treatments saved the life of artist Eric Rhein.

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991) 'For the Record' 2013

 

fierce pussy (formed New York, New York, 1991)
For the Record
2013
Two offset prints on newsprint, two panels, installed: 22⅝ x 70 inches
Courtesy of the artists
Photo courtesy of the artists

 

The collaborative group fierce pussy created this work for the organization Visual AIDS in New York City. Playing off Gran Fury’s 1987 Let the Record Show… and evoking postmodern text based art, fierce pussy asks that we remember the thousands of people who died of HIV-related causes before antiretroviral drugs became available to control the virus. They insist that we continue the work to end HIV/AIDS despite these new drugs.

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honor of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950) Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota 'More Time Expected' 2002 (detail)

 

Thomas Haukaas (born 1950)
Tribal Affiliation: Sicangu Lakota
More Time Expected (detail)
2002
Handmade ink and pencil on antique ledger paper, 161/2 x 271/2 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom in honor of Rock Hushka, 2008.10
Photo by Richard Nicol
© TAM

 

The horse with no rider at the center of the composition represents individuals on the reservation who have died of AIDS-related causes. Using the 19th-century tradition of ledger drawing, with a riderless horse as symbolic of a warrior who fell in battle, Haukaas weaves together the complicated issues of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and the Native American experience with the disease.

 

Robert Sherer (Born Jasper, Alabama, 1957) 'Sweet Williams' 2013

 

Robert Sherer (Born Jasper, Alabama, 1957)
Sweet Williams
2013
HIV- and HIV+ blood on paper
Courtesy of the artist

 

The title Sweet Williams comes from Robert Sherer’s childhood. His grandmother, an avid gardener, often asked him to help gather flowers from her garden and instructed, “Now, honey, cut down the most beautiful ones first.” Upon reflection, Sherer realized that AIDS was deeply correlated to beauty and sexual attraction. He remembers his many handsome friends and acquaintances who died too early – the Williams, the Billys, the Wills, the Willies – memorializing them in an image drawn in HIV negative and positive blood. Of all his colleague friends, two of whom were named William, only Sherer is still alive.

 

Joey Terrill (Born Los Angeles, California, 1955) 'Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week's Dose of Truvada' 2012

 

Joey Terrill (Born Los Angeles, California, 1955)
Still-Life with Forget-Me-Nots and One Week’s Dose of Truvada
2012
Mixed media on canvas
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Foundation purchase

 

Long-time Latino queer rights and AIDS activist Joey Terrill makes paintings that resemble the work of such well-known pop artists as Tom Wesselmann. Departing from Wesselmann’s 1960s pop still-life paintings, Terrill subverts the genre through his many queer references, not least the regular inclusion of the HIV medication Truvada. In these his appropriations of the American dream, Terrill shows himself to be a political activist – a role he has inhabited since the 1970s.

Terrill’s addition of the forget-me-nots at the center of the composition pays homage to his artistic hero David Wojnarowicz. He also alludes to the daily routine of the antiviral medicine Truvada and pointedly questions why changes in the social and political realms have allowed this to be a normal part of so many people’s lives.

 

Derek Jackson (Born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972) 'Perfect Kiss' 2007

 

Derek Jackson (Born Boston, Massachusetts, 1972)
Perfect Kiss
2007
Slideshow with found music and original still imagery
Courtesy of the artist

 

Derek Jackson enacts a series of “hookups” in which his sexual activity should necessarily raise issues of HIV. Although not explicitly mentioned, HIV is evoked by the lyrics of his soundtrack. Jackson relies on New Order’s 1987 hit Perfect Kiss to equate unsafe sex with a suicide. The lyrics of the chorus plead with a suicidal friend, “I know, you know, you believe in a land of love.” Jackson’s hookups demonstrate how self-esteem, mutual respect, and communication are necessary to avoid becoming HIV positive.

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland) John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971 Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980 'Eden #31' 2012

 

LADZ (John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland)
John Arsenault, Born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 1971
Adrian Gilliland, Born Douglas, Arizona, 1980
Eden #31
2012
Chromogenic color print
Courtesy of the artists

 

LADZ coined their name after a humorous autocorrect of “ladies” while texting on their smart phones. The artist group finds virtually abandoned industrial spaces where they enact elaborate scenarios reflecting the complexities of life in Los Angeles. The heightened sexual tension combined with the boxing gloves provides a glimpse into the daily navigation of sexual activity and HIV.

 

Kalup Linzy (Born Stuckey, Florida, 1977) 'Lollypop' 2006

 

Kalup Linzy (Born Stuckey, Florida, 1977)
Lollypop
2006
Single-channel video
3 minutes, 24 seconds
Collection of Driek and Michael Zirinsky

 

Kalup Linzy and his friend, artist Shaun Leonardo, lip sync the 1933 Hunter & Jenkins tune. Laden with the sexual innuendo of the song’s lyrics, Linzy attempts to coax treats from Leonardo. The artist playfully raises issues of gender and performance.

Given the high rates of HIV infection of men of color who have sex with men particularly in urban centers, a viewer should keep in mind that individuals like Linzy continually navigate HIV in all their sexual encounters. Unlike a generation ago, young men and women have come to have a different relationship with HIV and no longer fear the virus as a death sentence. Empathy toward their experiences is key to understanding how they cope and survive.

 

Deborah Kass (born 1952) 'Still Here' 2007

 

Deborah Kass (born 1952)
Still Here
2007
Oil and acrylic on canvas
45 × 63 inches
Private collection
© 2015 Deborah Kass / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery

 

Deborah Kass painted Still Here as part of a group of paintings called Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times, beginning in 2006. A response to the ongoing foreign wars and domestic political issues after the second election of George W. Bush, Kass underscored the gulf between the literal and metaphorical significance of the phrases she painted. Still Here comes from the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies in which a faded film star recalls how she persevered. The song opens “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all, and, my dear, I’m still here.”

The sentiment of the song speaks to the resilience of the many people who lived through the AIDS crisis and those who continue the struggle against the virus and social injustice. Kass’s title may also recall Still/Here, a dance about perseverance, dying, and HIV by the HIV positive choreographer Bill T. Jones.

 

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990) '24' 2014

 

Kia Labeija (Born New York, New York, 1990)
24 (Mourning Sickness; Kia and Mommy; In my room)
2014
Inkjet prints
13 × 19 inches
Courtesy of the artist

 

Artist and performer Kia Labeija was born HIV positive. She struggled with HIV throughout her childhood, including the side effects of the medications, the stigma associated with the disease, and the death of her mother. In her three photographs titled 24, she celebrates coming to terms with the disease and her new-found role as advocate and spokesperson for AIDS awareness. The title also commemorates her 24th birthday and her home on the 24th floor of a Manhattan apartment building.

 

 

 

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04
Dec
15

Exhibition: ‘Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Exhibition dates: 5th September 2015 – 6th December 2015

Curator: Anna Tellgren

 

 

Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) achieved more in five years of artistic creativity than many artists achieve in a lifetime.

As a viewer you can read whatever you want into her photographs: feminism, surrealism, psychoanalytical theory, avant-garde, sexuality, gender, identity, sadness, happiness, joy. One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind but you can also feel echoes of Diane Arbus, the conceptual, narrative mystery of Duane Michals, the postmodern generation of Cindy Sherman (1977 onwards) and, someone who nobody mentions as an influence, the darkness of Ralph Eugene Meatyard (family members enacting symbolic dramas in masks, often set in abandoned places). Woodman also places masks on or off of her face. Further, “There are similarities in style to surrealistic photography, such as Woodman’s frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, gloves, hands, swans, fish, eels, masks, and sexual symbols. Photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, and Man Ray spring to mind.”1

Here, I see the influence of Carl Jung in her work, specifically in Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” of the self (traces and silhouettes) which may refer to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. This shadow aspect may be positive or negative. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”2 This shadow aspect can be see in the photograph Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976 (below).

Another element embedded in the work is that of the Mirror stage, which is a concept in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. “The mirror stage is based on the belief that infants recognize themselves in a mirror (literal) or other symbolic contraption which induces apperception (the turning of oneself into an object that can be viewed by the child from outside themselves) from the age of about 15 to 18 months… Lacan believed that the mirror stage represented a permanent structure of subjectivity, or as the paradigm of “Imaginary order”.”3 The basis of the Imaginary order is the formation of the ego in the “mirror stage”. “Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, “identification” is an important aspect of the imaginary. The relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification is a locus of “alienation”, which is another feature of the imaginary, and is fundamentally narcissistic.”4 This imaginary order can be seen in photographs such as Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978 (below), where the image and even the title alludes to a form of self-alienation.

Riffing on the “highly influential writings of French philosophers and cultural critics such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva that were just beginning to be made available in translation. Among these thinkers’ central ideas was that identity was not organic and innate, but manufactured and learned through highly refined social constructions of gender, race, sexuality, and citizenship”5, Woodman’s work can also be seen to embody and ennoble these subjective and surrealist constructions (of self).

The artist is a CHIMERICAL CREATURE. Woodman’s transformations, her interior elements, become part of the wall or the house. She vanishes “from the room, out of the picture, at an given second.” A preoccupation with the body / her own body, and the dichotomy of subject-object, also adds multiple meanings and complexity to Woodman’s work. Her many angel images (and also images of umbrellas – Mary Poppins was released in 1964 when Woodman was growing up) suggest movement and the ability to fly, a fascination that found its ultimate expression when she jumped off a building in lower Manhattan at the age of 22.

We can read of all these things into the image/inary of Francesca Woodman if we want to. But they are not necessary to admire or appreciate her work. All we have to do is look at the photographs themselves; just return to the work. Here was a young artist, a young human being, expressing themselves through photography. She was just going for it and, as Corey Keller (a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) has noted, her youth was the source of her potency.

“Art students are drawn to the conviction she brought to her work and, in contrast to the cool slickness of the digital, it embraces tactility and decay in a very sensual and seductive way.” Keller sees Woodman’s youth not as a liability, but as the source of her potency, though she admits the issue of her self-portraits continues to be fraught. “They are certainly an expression of selfhood. She’s not interested in images of women in general, for example, and even when the subject of the photograph is not herself physically, one always has the sense it is about her psychically.””6

While she may not have fully understood the layered nuances of French philosophy and Jungian psychology she INTUITIVELY knew what she was doing and what she wanted to achieve and capture in her work. There are lots of other photographers around the world that work in this same idiom, at art school and as mature artists, but none have that special something that Woodman has, something that one cannot quite put your finger on.

It is … a gap we can see across but cannot map.

Woodman is one of the greats. In her few short years as an artist, she achieved immortality through her images.
Her narrative – one of youth and vitality, of self exploration and transformation – is no myth. For she is legend.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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

 

  1. Tellgren, Anna. Francesca Woodman: On Being an Angel (50kb pdf). 2015, pp. 13-14
  2. Shadow (psychology) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  3. Mirror stage on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  4. The Imaginary (psychoanalysis) on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  5. Eklund, Douglas. “The Pictures Generation,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History on The Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 04/12/2015
  6. Corey Keller quoted in Cooke, Rachel. “Searching for the real Francesca Woodman,” on The Guardian website, Sunday 31 August 2014 [Online] Cited 04/12/2015

 

 

The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been the object of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world. Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-1978), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of a few hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. Her production includes several self-portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred in such a way that their identity is hidden from the viewer. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Woodman worked in unusual settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass to evoke surrealist and occasionally claustrophobic moods.

Moderna Museet will present some hundred photographs by Francesca Woodman, with a selection from the series and themes she explored. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with Betty and George Woodman and the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
On Being an Angel, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'On Being an Angel #1', Providence, Rhode Island, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman
On Being an Angel #1, Providence, Rhode Island, 1977
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977

 

Francesca Woodman
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From 'Angel' series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978

 

Francesca Woodman
From Angel series, Rome, Italy, 1977-1978
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Charlie the Model # 5', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77

 

Francesca Woodman
Charlie the Model #5, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976-77
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman From 'Eel' series, Venice, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman
From Eel series, Venice, Italy, 1978
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'House #4', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
House #4, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. From the 'three kinds of melon in four kinds of light' series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
From the three kinds of melon in four kinds of light series, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

“The American photographer Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her oeuvre has been shown in number of major exhibitions in recent years, and her photographs have inspired artists all over the world.

Woodman’s photographs explore gender, representation, sexuality and body. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Her production includes several portraits, using herself and her friends as models. The figures are often placed behind furniture and other interior elements; occasionally, the images are blurred and the models hidden from the viewer. Woodman worked in settings such as derelict buildings, using mirrors and glass, evoking surrealist and at times even claustrophobic moods.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods: the early works, her years as a student in Providence, Italy (1977-78), the Mac Dowell Colony, and, lastly, New York from 1979 until she died. The collection she left behind consists of several hundred gelatin silver prints, but she also tried other techniques, such as large-format diazotypes and video.

Francesca Woodman. On being an angel presents 102 photographs and one video, representing most of the artist’s series and themes. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet in association with the Estate of Francesca Woodman. Alongside this exhibition, Moderna Museet presents a compilation of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context and expand the perspective on her oeuvre to the public.

 

Biography

Francesca Woodman was born into a family of artists in Denver, Colorado, on April 3, 1958. Her mother, Betty, was a sculptor, her father, George, a painter and photographer, and her brother, Charlie, was a video artist.

Italy

The family often traveled to Italy and lived in Florence for a year between 1965 and 1966. Then they returned home to Boulder, Colorado, and Francesca continued her schooling. In 1968 her parents bought a farmhouse outside of Florence in Antella, and there they would spend their summers. Italy and its language, culture, and art history were frequent sources of inspiration for Francesca Woodman.

Providence

Woodman started taking pictures as a teenager and had attended a few art courses before she moved to Providence to study at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1975. The college is among the oldest art schools in the United States, and the well-known photographer Aaron Siskind was one of her teachers. While at college, she lived in her studio in an industrial area where many of her pictures from that time were created. Between 1977 and 1978 Francesca Woodman spent a year in Rome as part of the school’s honors program. In the fall of 1978, she earned her BFA and exhibited the series Swan Song (1978) at the graduate show in RISD’s Woods-Gerry Gallery.

New York

Months later, in January 1979, Woodman moved to New York, where she lived at various addresses while looking for work. She spent the summer together with her boyfriend, Benjamin Moore, in Stanwood, Washington. Over the course of the next year, she exhibited her work at a number of smaller galleries and experimented with new techniques such as largeformat diazotypes, and color images. She was a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1980. There, she worked on a series of images exploring the relationship between nature and her body, among other projects. In early 1981, her artist’s book Some Disordered Interior Geometries was published by Synapse Press in Philadelphia. This was one of seven notebooks (including photographs that were glued in) that she worked with from 1976 onwards. Francesca Woodman took her own life on January 19, 1981.

Previous exhibitions

The first major retrospective of Francesca Woodman’s work was produced in 1986 by Ann Gabhart in collaboration with Rosalind Krauss for the Wellesley College Museum. It then toured a number of museums at American universities. Her first European exhibition was held in 1992 by Shedhalle in Zurich and the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster and was shown in the spring of 1993 at The Finnish Museum of Photography, in the Cable Factory in Helsinki. On its way there, it stopped for two months at Kulturhuset in Stockholm. The critic Lars O Ericsson wrote in Dagens Nyheter that the exhibition may have been the most important one to see in the capital at the time. To date, at least fifty separate exhibitions of Woodman’s photography have been held in Europe and the United States.

Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection

In connection to the exhibition with Francesca Woodman, Moderna Museet presents a selection of photographs from the same period from its collection, to show her in context. In Francesca Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms and were pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects.

The United States paved the way in this development, and when many started working more professionally with photography, it was institutionalized. This shift in the field eventually spread to Europe. Major photographic exhibitions were held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, featuring artists such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander, all of whom were influential to many younger photographers.

One of Francesca Woodman’s teachers was Aaron Siskind. His photography is often compared to that of Harry Callahan, since both were active for many years as teachers at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and later at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Another figure in American post-war photography is Minor White, who also had influence as a teacher. White wrote about and taught methods for understanding and interpreting photographs. New Topographics. Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (1975) was a significant exhibition. It was held at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester and one of the featured artists was Lewis Baltz. Other notable photographers in the new American wave were personalities as diverse as Robert Mapplethorpe, Melissa Shook, and Jerry Uelsmann.

But it was also then, from 1977 forward, that Cindy Sherman started working on her break-out series Untitled Film Stills. Sherman is an artist of the postmodern generation, and it is not known if Woodman had been aware of the so-called Pictures Generation. Duane Michals stood for a more conceptual approach. He was one of the photographers who we know interested Woodman.

Diazotypy

In the spring of 1980 Francesca Woodman started working on Blueprint for a Temple, where she was recreating the facade of a Greek temple using models draped in tunics similar to caryatids. The series began with a collection of details from bathrooms in New York, reminiscent of classical motifs. From having worked on a smaller scale, she had now moved on to truly large formats, some several meters in size.

These pictures are often categorized as blueprints, referring to a method of reproduction most frequently used for architectural plans. This is a contact print process on photosensitive paper; white lines on a blue background distinguish the finished product. (Other types of paper produced different background colors.)

The technique Woodman used was diazotypy: a dry photographic process on paper coated with diazonium compounds, which are sensitive to blue and UV light and developed by ammonia vapour. Woodman experimented with this technique. She created the largest of these images by hanging a long sheet of photosensitive diazo paper on the wall of a darkroom. A photographic slide was projected onto the paper from a slide projector, often for hours. The paper was then developed in a diazo processor at a company that made commercial reproductions of architectural plans. The result was a set of magnificent works in blue, purple, and sepia tones.

Text from the Moderna Museet, Stockholm website

 

Francesca Woodman. 'About Being My Model', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
About Being My Model, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Spring in Providence # 2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Spring in Providence #2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Self-deceit #1', Rome, Italy, 1978

 

Francesca Woodman
Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Rome, Italy, 1977-78

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Rome, Italy, 1977-78
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet’s first exhibition this autumn features the American photographer Francesca Woodman, whose oeuvre has been the subject of numerous in-depth studies and major exhibitions in recent years. Her photography has inspired generations of artists and photographers around the world. Woodman has been called a prodigy, and those who met her testify to her as a young woman who was always working and looking for themes and material for her photographs. Examining Francesca Woodman’s aesthetic oeuvre is a challenge and an adventure.

Francesca Woodman’s (1958-1981) photographs explore gender, representation and body. Her aesthetic world reveals surrealist influences, with frequent use of mirrors, doubles, shadows, masks, and sexual symbols, bringing to mind the works of photographers such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun and Man Ray. Woodman’s output includes several portraits using herself and her friends as models. The intimate nature of the subject matter is enhanced by the small formats. Transformation emerges as a theme in many of Woodman’s images, for example in one of her strongest and eeriest series, House from 1976, in which she gradually merges with the walls, the torn wallpaper and the open fireplace.

“Francesca Woodman created a body of fascinating photographic works in a few intense years before her premature death. Her images reference history and the history of photography, but they also reflect their time, while unlocking new interpretations. She is deeply personal, and so her themes become universal. All of this is what On Being an Angel is about,” says curator Anna Tellgren.

Francesca Woodman began photographing in her teens and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1975 to 1978. Her output is usually divided into periods, from her early works, her years as a student in Providence, in Italy (1977-78), at the MacDowell Colony, and, lastly, in New York from 1979 until she died. Analyses of her work are often linked to her biography and chronology. During her active years, Woodman produced thousands of images and she also tried other techniques such as large-format diazotypes, colour photography and video. Some eight hundred photographs have been preserved. The words, short sentences, or quotations she scrawled on many of her prints have since given those pieces their titles.

The exhibition Francesca Woodman. On Being an Angel is comprised of 102 photographs and one video by Francesca Woodman, and selections from most of her thematic groups and series are represented, including Polka Dots (1976), the From Angel series (1977), Swan Song (1978), Charlie the Model (1976-77) and her large Caryatid (Study for a Temple Project) (1980). In Woodman’s active years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography was in a period of transition. Many photographers who had worked with classic black and white photography were experimenting with other forms, pushing the documentary tradition towards more subjective and surrealist projects. Alongside the exhibition, Moderna Museet will present a selection of photography from the same period from its collection, to show Francesca Woodman in context.

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976

 

Francesca Woodman
Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975- 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'From Space2', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

Francesca Woodman
From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-78

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979-80

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979-80
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled', New York, 1979

 

Francesca Woodman
Untitled, New York, 1979
© George and Betty Woodman

 

Francesca Woodman. '(Study for Temple Project)', New York, 1980

 

Francesca Woodman
(Study for Temple Project), New York, 1980
© George and Betty Woodman

 

 

Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

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11
Dec
12

Exhibition: ‘Janina Green: Ikea’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 28th November 28 – 15th December 2012

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Installation photograph of 'Ikea' by Janina Green at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

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Installation photograph of Ikea by Janina Green at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

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“It is necessary to revisit what Walter Benjamin said of the work of art in the age of its mechanical reproducibility. What is lost in the work that is serially reproduced, is its aura, its singular quality of the here and now, its aesthetic form (it had already lost its ritual form, in its aesthetic quality), and, according to Benjamin, it takes on, in its ineluctable destiny of reproduction, a political form. What is lost is the original, which only a history itself nostalgic and retrospective can reconstitute as “authentic.” The most advanced, the most modern form of this development, which Benjamin described in cinema, photography, and contemporary mass media, is one in which the original no longer even exists, since things are conceived from the beginning as a function of their unlimited reproduction.”

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Jean Baudrillard. ‘Simulacra and Simulation’. 1981 (English translation 1994)

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“To apprehend myself as seen is, in fact, to apprehend myself as seen in the world and from the standpoint of the world. The look does not carve me out in the universe; it comes to search for me at the heart of my situation and grasps me only in irresolvable relations with instruments. If I am seen as seated, I must be seen as “seated-on-a-chair,” … But suddenly the alienation of myself, which is the act of being-looked-at, involves the alienation of the world which I organize. I am seated on this chair with the result that I do not see it at all, that it is impossible for me to see it …”

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Jean-Paul Satre. ‘Being and Nothingness’ (trans. Hazel Barnes). London: Methuen, 1966, p.263.

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“It must be possible to concede and affirm an array of “materialities” that pertain to the body, that which is signified by the domains of biology, anatomy, physiology, hormonal and chemical composition, illness, age, weight, metabolism, life and death. None of this can be denied. But the undeniability of these “materialities” in no way implies what it means to affirm them, indeed, what interpretive matrices condition, enable and limit that necessary affirmation. That each of those categories [BODY AND MATERIALITY] have a history and a historicity, that each of them is constituted through the boundary lines that distinguish them and, hence, by what they exclude, that relations of discourse and power produce hierarchies and overlappings among them and challenge those boundaries, implies that these are both persistent and contested regions.”

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Judith Butler. ‘Bodies That Matter’. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp.66-67.

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Fable = invent (an incident, person, or story)

Simulacrum = pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original

Performativity = power of discourse, politicization of abjection, ritual of being

Body / identity / desire = imperfection, fluidity, domesticity, transgression, transcendence

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Intimate, conceptually robust and aesthetically sensitive.
The association of the images was emotionally overwhelming.
An absolute gem. One of the highlights of the year.

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Marcus

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

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Janina Green. 'Waterfall' 1990

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Janina Green
Waterfall
1990
Silver gelatin print on Kentmere Parchment paper, tinted with coffee and photo dyes
58 x 48 cm
Vintage print

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Janina Green. 'Pink vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Pink vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with pink photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Blue vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Blue vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with blue photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Nude' 1986

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Janina Green
Nude
1986
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with blue photo dye
60 x 45 cm
Vintage print

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“My photographs are always about the past.

The Barthesian slogan, “this has been,” is for me, “I was there.” This series of images of a vase from Ikea consists of silver gelatin prints tinted in different coloured photographic dyes; photographs of a simple mass produced vase – its form the familiar vessel which so dominates Art History. “Ikea” for me is symbolic of the useful homely object and of the ideal home. The vase from Ikea no longer exists. The picture of that vase stands in for the vase that once existed. The photograph can be seen now – at this moment. It will continue to exist in the future. Its representation crosses time barriers.

My photographs are always documentations of a private performance.

Every photograph records what is in front of the camera, but my interest is in the occasion and the complex conditions of the making of the photograph – first the negative then the print. Each photograph ends up being a documentation of my state of mind during this intensely private moment as well as something for other people to look at. Because of changing conditions, every one of these prints from that same negative is different. For me each analogue print is an unsteady thing. They are now relics from another era, as is the vase.

As a counterpoint to the repetition of the vase prints, I have selected four vintage works from my archive.”

Artists statement by Janina Green

Janina is represented by M.33

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Janina Green. 'Orange vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Orange vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with orange photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Green vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Green vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with green photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Janina Green. 'Interior' 1992

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Janina Green
Interior
1992
C Type print
38 x 30 cm
Vintage print / edition of 5

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Janina Green. 'Telephone' 1986 reprinted 2010

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Janina Green
Telephone
1986 reprinted 2010
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, tinted with coffee
58 x 48 cm

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Janina Green. 'Yellow vase' 1990 reprinted 2012

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Janina Green
Yellow vase
1990 reprinted 2012
Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, handtinted with yellow photo dye
85 x 70 cm

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Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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06
Dec
12

Public talk: ‘This is not my favourite photograph’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan part of ‘What makes a great photograph?’ at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Fitzroy

Wednesday 5th December 2012

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We were asked to choose our favourite photograph, one that we could nominate as a great photograph. I chose a slightly different take on proceedings.

Many thankx to my fellow speakers for their talks and to Director of the Centre for Contemporary Photography Naomi Cass for inviting me to speak at a wonderful evening. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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This is not my favourite photograph

A minute’s silence…

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865

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Alexander Gardner
Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

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This is not my favourite photograph
Nor may it be a great photograph…
More interestingly to me, it is a remarkable photograph – one that you are able to make remarks on.

It is also a photograph that has haunted me for years.

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Taken by Alexander Gardner in April 1865, this photograph is a portrait of Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Payne or Paine) who was one of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which had happened the same month. The photograph has a background of dark metal, and was taken on one of the ironclads U.S.S. Montauk or Saugus, where the conspirators were for a time confined. Paine was executed in july 1865 just eight short weeks later.

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Alexander Gardner Lewis Paine 26th April, 1865

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Alexander Gardner
Three photographs of Lewis Paine
26th April, 1865

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This is the triptych of photographs by Gardner in the form they are usually displayed, like a three-panel renaissance altar-peice. The left and right hand photographs were taken within minutes of each other, with the camera in the same position, whereas in the centre photograph the camera has been lowered to show more of the body, and the image has been cropped at the top. In the central plate the figure of Paine has been raised up in the frame – almost prematurely brought back to life by his placement.

The centre image is the only one where Paine stares directly at the camera. He surveys the viewer with a gaze I find enigmatic.

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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This is a very modern face, a very contemporary face. His hair is just like Justin Beiber’s.

Who brushed his hair across for this picture, and would it normally be this long, or has it just been ignored because of his fate?

He still has good muscle tone – has he been exercising in his cell?

And finally his clothing – is it navy issue, as his top appears to have been given to him, perhaps the coarse, navy blue wool of the Northern states.

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Hot Dead Guys: Lewis Powell

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Noel Cordle
Hot Dead Guys: Lewis Powell
Posted on September 5th, 2010
Mere Musings blog

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There’s even a web page dedicated to him on “hot dead guys” where there’s that awkward moment when one of lincoln’s conspirators is so sexy its ridiculous…

He wasn’t all bad. Biographers of Powell describe him as a quiet, introverted boy who enjoyed fishing and caring for sick and injured animals. Apparently, Lewis was an intelligent, sensitive, soul with great potential.

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Descriptions of Lewis from "The Life, Crime and Capture"

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Descriptions of Lewis from “The Life, Crime and Capture”

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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Alexander Gardner
Lewis Paine (detail)
26th April, 1865
Albumen silver print from a Collodion glass plate negative

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Could we say that he is left-handed given the different size of his fingers (?)

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Roland Barthes. 'Camera Lucida (La Chambre claire)' 1980

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Roland Barthes
Camera Lucida (La Chambre claire)
1980

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Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida said in Section 39: “He is dead and he is going to die…”
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“The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the studium. But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose, the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.”

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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If we were to place this image within the metaphysical school of photography which peaked with Paul Caponigro and Minor White we could say:

Hovering above his head, has his spirit already begun to leave his body?

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865

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One reading of his gaze is that he is really interested in what the photographer is doing – almost the gaze of an apprentice wanting to apply these skills in the future.

Given his fate is he insane because of his interest?

What is really going on in his mind – what is his perspective?

Another reading could be as looking out to the future in the hope of finding that he will be judged in another way.

And another is the immediacy of his gaze – it is a gaze that is happening now!

The other thing that I find quite mysterious is the distance of the photographer from the subject.

Was it fear that stopped him getting any closer or are there deck fittings we cannot see that prevented his approach?

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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What brought Paine to this place?

Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques through which human beings constitute themselves, “Technologies of the self.” Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of immortality.”1

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As we look into his eyes he knows that we know he is going to die, has already died but the intensity of that knowledge is brought into present time. What Paine emanates is a form of i-mortality.

I wonder, did Gardner ever show him the finished photographs before he died?

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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This is Barthes anterior future, a moment where truth is interpreted in the mind of the photographer, not out there but in here [points to head and heart], where past, present and future coalesce into single point in time – his death and our death are connected through his gaze, the knowledge of our discontinuity. Eons contracted into an eternal moment.

In this moment in time, what we are doing is we are making a list about the human condition when we talk about something that is remarkable. We are moving towards a language that defines the human condition…

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Alexander Gardner. 'Lewis Paine' April 1865 (detail)

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But ultimatley language can never fully describe the human condition, much as it may try… and this is why this photograph is remarkable, because it is ineffable, unknowable.

This photograph inhabits you, it haunts you like few others.

Early Wittgenstein described a world of facts pictured by thoughts. he said, “Don’t Think, But Look!”

I would add “Don’t think, but feel and look”

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This photograph is a memoriam to a young man and his present death.
As such it is a REMARKABLE photograph that haunts us all.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
December 2012

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Postscript

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George Cook. 'Union ironclads firing on Fort Moultrie, S.C.,' 8th September 1863

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George Cook
Union ironclads firing on Fort Moultrie, S.C.,
8th September 1863
Photo courtesy of the Cook Collection, Valentine Richmond History

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George Cook’s photograph of Union ironclads firing on Fort Moultrie, S.C., believed to be the world’s first combat photograph. Monitors engage Confederate batteries on Sullivan’s Island, Charleston, South Carolina. Photographed from one of the Confederate emplacements, the ships are identified as (from left to right): WeehawkenMontauk and Passaic. The monitor on the right appears to be firing its guns. Date is given as 8 September 1863, when other U.S. Navy ships were providing cover for Weehawken, which had gone aground on the previous day. She was refloated on the 8th after receiving heavy gunfire from the Confederate fortifications.

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Kilburn Brothers. 'Four monitors laid up in the Anacostia River, off the Washington Navy Yard' c. 1866

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Kilburn Brothers
Four monitors laid up in the Anacostia River, off the Washington Navy Yard
c. 1866
Ships are (from left to right): USS Mahopac, USS Saugus, USS Montauk (probably), and either USS Casco or USS Chimo
Photo mounted on a stereograph card, marked: “Photographed and published by Kilburn Brothers, Littleton, N.H.”

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Anon. ''Montauk' at left, and 'Lehigh' at right, laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania' c. late 1902 or early 1903

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Anon
‘Montauk’ at left, and ‘Lehigh’ at right, laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania
c. late 1902 or early 1903
U.S. Naval Historical Center photograph

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Anon. 'Saugus, in Trent's Reach on the James River, Virginia' c. early 1865

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Anon
Saugus, in Trent’s Reach on the James River, Virginia
c. early 1865
Note the mine sweeping “rake” attached to her bow
U.S. Naval Historical Center photograph

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Anon. 'Officers pose on deck of the Saugus, in front of the gun turret, probably while the ship was serving on the James River, Virginia' c. early 1865

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Anon
Officers pose on deck of the Saugus, in front of the gun turret, probably while the ship was serving on the James River, Virginia
c. early 1865
Note ship’s bell and other details of the turret and deck fittings
U.S. Naval Historical Center photograph

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1. Foucault, Michel. “Technologies of the self,” in L. H. Martin, H. Gutman and P. H. Hutton (eds.). Technologies of the self. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988, p.18 quoted on Wikipedia. “Technologies of the Self.” [Online] Cited 23/06/2010.

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Centre for Contemporary Photography
404 George St, Fitzroy
Victoria 3065, Australia
T: + 61 3 9417 1549

Opening Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Sunday, 1pm – 5pm

Centre for Contemporary Photography website

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24
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Eugène Atget: Old Paris’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 24th August – 4th November 2012

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“…I have assembled photographic glass negatives… in all the old streets of Old Paris, artistic documents showing the beautiful civil architecture from the 16th to the 19th century. The old mansions, historic or interesting houses, beautiful façades, lovely doors, beautiful panelling, door knockers, old fountains, stylish staircases (wrought iron and wood) and interiors of all the churches in Paris… This enormous documentary and artistic collection is now finished. I can say that I possess the whole of Old Paris.”

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Eugène Atget 1920

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“The first time I saw photographs by Eugène Atget was in 1925 in the studio of Man Ray in Paris. Their impact was immediate and tremendous. There was a sudden flash of recognition – the shock of realism unadorned. The subjects were not sensational, but nevertheless shocking in their very familiarity. The real world, seen with wonderment and surprise, was mirrored in each print.”

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Berenice Abbott 1964

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Spaces That Matter…

[In revelatio, in revelation] the photographers trained eye is perhaps more of a hindrance than may at first be thought. The photographer may struggle with, “a sense of intense inevitability, insofar as this kind of image seems to be one that the photographer ‘could not not photograph’.”Awareness may become a double bind for the photographer. It may force the photographer to photograph because he can do nothing else, because he is aware of the presence of ‘punctum’ within a space, even an empty ‘poetic space’, but this awareness may then blind him, may ossify the condition of revealing through his directed gaze, unless he is very attentive and drops, as Harding says, “memory and imagination and desire, and just take what’s given.”10 The object, as Baudrillard notes,“isolates itself and creates a sense of emptiness … and then it irradiates this emptiness,”11 but this irradiation of emptiness does require an awareness of it in order to stabilise the transgressive fluctuations of the ecstasy of photography (which are necessarily fluid), through the making of an image that, as Baudrillard notes, “may well retrieve and immobilise subjective and objective punctum from their ‘thunderous surroundings’.”12 Knowledge of awareness is a key to this immobilisation and image making. The philosopher Krishnamurti has interesting things to say about this process, and I think it is worth quoting him extensively here:

“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?”13

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Now apply this attention to the awareness of the photographer. If he does not create images that are prejudice, could this not stop a photographer ‘not not’ photographing because he sees spaces with clarity, not as acts of performativity, spaces of ritualised production overlaid with memory, imagination, desire, and nostalgia?

Here an examination of the work of two photographers is instructive. The first, the early 20th century Parisian photographer Eugène Atget, brings to his empty street and parkscapes visions that elude the senses, visions that slip between dreaming and waking, between conscious and subconscious realms. These are not utopian spaces, not felicitous spaces that may be grasped and defined with the nostalgic fixity of spaces we love,14 but spaces of love that cannot be enclosed because Atget made no image of them.

I believe Atget moved his photographs onto a different spatio-temporal plane by not being aware of making images, aware-less-ness, dropping away the appendages of image making (technique, reality, artifice, reportage) by instinctively placing the camera where he wanted it, thus creating a unique artistic language. His images become a blend of the space of intimacy and world-space as he strains toward, “communion with the universe, in a word, space, the invisible space that man can live in nevertheless, and which surrounds him with countless presences.”15 These are not just ‘localised poetics’16 nor a memento of the absent, but the pre-essence of an intimate world space reinscribed through the vision (the transgressive glance not the steadfast gaze) of the photographer. Atget is not just absent or present, here or there,17 but neither here nor there. His images reverberate (retentir), in Minkowski’s sense of the word, with an essence of life that flows onward in terms of time and space independent of their causality.18″

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Excerpt from the paper Spaces That Matter: Awareness and Entropia in the Imaging of Place (2002). Read the full paper…

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Many thankx to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for allowing me to publish the photographs in this posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Eugène Atget
Fireplace, Hôtel Matignon, former Austrian embassy, 57 rue de Varenne, 7th arrodissement
1905
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Boulevard de Strasbourg
1912
Albumen photograph
George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester

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Eugène Atget
Cabaret au Tambour, 62 quai de la Tournelle, 5th arrodissement
1908
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Street vendor, place Saint-Médard, 5th arrondissement
September 1898
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
‘Spring’, by the sculptor François Barois,
jardin des Tuileries, 1st arrondissement
1907
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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“The first comprehensive exhibition in Australia of Eugène Atget’s (1857-1927) work will showcase over 200 photographs primarily from the more than 4000 strong collection of Musée Carnavalet, Paris with the important inclusion of Atget’s work, as compiled by Man Ray, from the collection of George Eastman House, Rochester, USA.

Atget was considered a commercial photographer who sold what he called ‘documents for artists’, ie. photographs of landscapes, close-up shots, genre scenes and other details that painters could use as reference. As soon as Atget turned his attention to photographing the streets of Paris, his work attracted the attention of leading institutions such as Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque Nationale which became his principal clients. It is in these photographs of Paris that we find the best of Atget, the artist who shows us a city remote from the clichés of the Belle Époque. Atget’s images of ‘old Paris’ depict areas that had not been touched by Baron Haussmann’s 19th century modernisation program of the city. We see empty streets and buildings, details that usually pass unnoticed, all presented as rigorous, original compositions that offer a mysterious group portrait of the city.

The exhibition is organised into 11 sections that correspond to the thematic groupings used by Atget himself. They are: small trades, Parisian types and shops 1898-1922; the streets of Paris 1898-1913; ornaments 1900-1921; interiors 1901-1910; vehicles 1903-1910; gardens 1898-1914; the Seine 1900-1923; the streets of Paris 1921-1924; and outside the city centre 1899-1913.

The equipment and techniques deployed by Atget link him to 19th-century photography. He had an 18 x 24 cm wooden, bellows camera which was heavy and had to be supported on a tripod. The use of glass plates allowed Atget to capture every tiny detail with great precision. Also traditional was his printing method, usually on albumen paper made light-sensitive with silver nitrate, exposed under natural light and subsequently gold-tinted. Atget’s vision of photography was, however, an astonishingly modern one. The photographs selected by Man Ray, who met Atget in the 1920s, indicate the immediate interest that the work aroused among the Surrealists because of the composition, ghosting, reflections, and its very mundanity. The first to appreciate his talents and importance as an artist were the photographer Berenice Abbott and Man Ray himself, both of whom lobbied to preserve Atget’s photographs.

As a result, he inspired artists and photographers such as Brassaï, the Surrealists, Walker Evans and Bernd & Hilla Becher amongst many others, and he can also be considered a starting-point for 20th-century documentary photography.”

Press release from the AGNSW website

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Eugène Atget
The former Collège de Chanac, 12 rue de Bièvre, 5th arrondissement
August 1900
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville
1921
Gelatin silver photograph
22.8 x 17.7 cm
Collection Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Eugène Atget
Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville (detail)
1921
Gelatin silver photograph
22.8 x 17.7 cm
Collection Art Gallery of New South Wales

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Eugène Atget
Rue Hautefeuille, 6th arrondissement
1898
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Eugène Atget
Shop sign, au Rémouleur
on the corner of the rue des Nonnains-d’Hyères and rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, 4th arrondissement
July 1899
Albumen photograph
© Musée Carnavalet, Paris / Roger-Viollet / TopFoto

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Endnotes

9. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. (trans. Richard Howard). New York: Hill and Wang, 1981, p.47, quoted in Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “‘Apocalyptic’? ‘Negative’? ‘Pessimistic’?: Baudrillard, Virilio, and techno-culture,” in Koop, Stuart (ed.,). Photography Post Photography. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 1995, p.79.

10. See Endnote 2. I believe that this form of attentiveness to present experience is not the same as Featherstone’s fragmentation of time into affect-charged experiences of the presentness of the world in postmodern culture. “Postmodern everyday culture is … a culture of stylistic diversity and heterogeneity (comprising different parts or qualities), of an overload of imagery and simulations which lead to a loss of the referent or sense of reality. The subsequent fragmentation of time into a series of presents through a lack of capacity to chain signs and images into narrative sequences leads to a schizophrenic emphasis on vivid, immediate, isolated, affect-charged experiences of the presentness of the world – of intensities.”
Featherstone, Mike. Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. London: Sage Publications, 1991, p.124.

11. Baudrillard, Jean. The Transparency of Evil. (trans. James Benedict). London: Verso, 1993, quoted in Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “‘Apocalyptic’? ‘Negative’? ‘Pessimistic’?: Baudrillard, Virilio, and techno-culture,” in Koop, Stuart (ed.,). Photography Post Photography. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 1995, p.80.

12. Baudrillard, Jean. The Art of Disappearance. (trans. Nicholas Zurbrugg). Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art, 1994, p.9, quoted in Zurbrugg, Nicholas. “‘Apocalyptic’? ‘Negative’? ‘Pessimistic’?: Baudrillard, Virilio, and techno-culture,” in Koop, Stuart (ed.,). Photography Post Photography. Melbourne: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 1995, p.83.

13. Krishnamurti. Beginnings of Learning. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978, pp.130-131.

14. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.xxxv.

15. Ibid., p.203.

16. Palmer, Daniel. “Between Place and Non-Place: The Poetics of Empty Space,” in Palmer, Daniel (ed.,). Photofile Issue 62 (‘Fresh’). Sydney: Australian Centre for Photography, April 2001, p.47.

17. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.212.

18. See the editor’s note by Gilson, Etienne (ed.,) in Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p.xvi.

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Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Opening hours:
Open every day 10am – 5pm
except Christmas Day and Good Friday

Art Gallery of New South Wales website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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