Posts Tagged ‘Second World War

07
Oct
18

Exhibition: ‘African American Portraits: Photographs from the 1940s and 1950s’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Part 2

Exhibition dates: 26th June – 8th October 2018

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

“To the eye and spirit, pictures are just what poetry and music are to the ear and heart.”

“With the clear perception of things as they are, must stand the faithful rendering of things as they seem. The dead fact is nothing without the living expression.”

.
Frederick Douglass. “Pictures and Progress”

 

“True art, when it happens to us, challenges the ‘I’ that we are.”

.
Jeanette Winterson. “Art Objects,” in Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, 1996

 

 

Without worry … here ‘I am’

Part 2 of this glorious posting: mainly 1940s, African American “studio” portrait photography. Lets see what we can garner about these “studio” spaces by looking at the photographs.

Firstly, they are very small, usually with bare floorboards, carpet or linoleum on the floor. Some (such as the photography of the man holding his child) are literally just big enough to pose and light the subject. As can be seen in the photograph of the lady holding a large handbag, the painted backdrops can be changed in and out, in this instance the scrim placed in front of another painted background. Notice also the worn lino in this photograph, where so many people have walked in an posed in this studio, in this very spot. Historically, painted backdrops have been used since the earliest days of photography, appearing in ambrotypes and tintypes of American Civil War soldiers. It would not surprise me is some of the studios from that time were still going in the 1940s.

Secondly, we can observe the lighting and depth of field. The lighting seems to be either by one or two lights (probably not moved between clients) that sit on axis, meaning there is a horizontal line between the light, the camera and the subject – a nearly horizontal light source. The depth of field is low, the camera probably pre-focused on the table, chair or pedestal within the studio space. Because of the small studio space, the subject placed up tight against the painted backdrop, and the low depth of field… there is a consequent flattening of the subject within the image plane. The photographs are either full figure standing, sitting or cropped closer at the waist.

While the idyllic painted backdrops add context to these studio portraits, it is the pose of the sitters that is so mesmerising in the photographs. These people were living in anxious, dangerous times – the Second World War, the Cold War, and the ever present racism against African Americans were some of the issues that they had to deal with – and yet they pose quite confidently for the camera, seemingly with no hidden agenda or deception. They are choosing to pose for their own reasons. As Jeff Rosenheim, the Met’s photography curator observes, “In these pictures, we see them in reflection of where they are and what their conditions are.”

I think there are a few things happening at once here. These studios give the impression that they are really joyous places. Is it the staff, or the need to document an important occasion like the birth of a child, a marriage, a graduation, or sisters, or is it something more intangible? The studios seem a great place to be. There is this JOY that seems to radiate off of the sitters and then there is a pride that is not referencing being accepted in a white community, but has layers of self containment / their own self, their friends, and something else.  

“You live the life you’ve got.” So says a character from one of my favourite British TV series Vera. And that is what these photographs picture – the life they are living, the life they have got. In these photographs there is a direct vision, direct seeing… and looking, which is what makes them so powerful and effective. Unlike contemporary popular portraits, blasted over the airwaves on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, etc. there is a direct connection to the lives of these people. While they lived in anxious times, their representation by the camera is clear and focused. Today our anxiety is more prescient, more at the forefront of out consciousness, our identity formation, the way we interact with the world. Who is looking and who is watching, and what is our image. Selfies on sticks or images in front of mirrors step to the front.

When looking at these photographs I have to ask, is there something here that is gone? Something we can remember yet has been sneakily stolen from us?

In contemporary portrait photography what has been stolen from us is the sense of joy, happiness, and intimacy in our own self, and how devolved we have become from the essence of our own being. The “dead pan” looks on people’s faces, the anxiety to get the right shot, the hands in the air with mobile phones to capture anything that is seen as worthwhile (just because you can) has become ubiquitous the world over. We have gone through a recent period of devolution and may need to regain lost ground, for what makes these photographs special – magical in the truest sense sense of the word – is that they just are. No ego from subject or photographer, no prejudice encroaching from the outside world, these people and their photographic trace just capture the essence of their being. Without worry… here ‘I am’.

Marcus

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

 

This exhibition will present more than one hundred and fifty studio portraits of African Americans from the mid-twentieth century, part of an important recent acquisition by The Met. Produced by mostly unidentified makers, the photographs are a poignant, collective self portrait of the African American experience during the 1940s and 1950s – a time of war, middle-class growth, and seismic cultural change.

 

Charles "Teenie" Harris (1908-1998) 'John Davis after being beaten by police officer Dan McTague, in his home at 1303 Wylie Avenue, Hill District, August 1951' 1951

 

Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998)
John Davis after being beaten by police officer Dan McTague, in his home at 1303 Wylie Avenue, Hill District, August 1951
1951
Gelatin silver print

 

Charles "Teenie" Harris (1908-1998) 'Mary Reid holding threatening notes with swastikas and American Nazi Party propaganda, in July 1964' 1964

 

Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998)
Mary Reid holding threatening notes with swastikas and American Nazi Party propaganda, in July 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

African American Portraits: Photographs from the 1940s and 1950s, on view June 26 through October 8, 2018, will present more than 150 studio portraits from the mid-20th century. The exhibition offers a seldom seen view of the African American experience in the United States during World War II and the following decade – a time of war, middle-class growth, and seismic cultural change. Part of an important acquisition made by The Met in 2015 and 2017, these photographs build on and expand the Museum’s strong holdings in portraiture from the beginning of photography in the 1840s to the present. The exhibition is made possible by the Alfred Stieglitz Society.

The portraits on view generally feature sitters in a frontal pose against a painted backdrop – soldiers and sailors model their uniforms, graduates wear their caps and gowns, lovers embrace, and new parents cradle their infants. Both photographers and subjects remain mostly unidentified.

In the wartime economy, photographic studios became hubs of activity for local and regional communities. Some studios were small and transient, others more established and identifiable, such as the Daisy Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Using waterproof direct positive paper rather than film, the studios were able to offer their clientele high quality, inexpensive portraits in a matter of minutes. The poignancy of these small photographs lies in the essential respect the camera offers its subjects, who sit for their portraits as an act of self-expression.

African American Portraits: Photographs from the 1940s and 1950s is organised by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met.

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

SAME STUDIO AND PERSON

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

SAME STUDIO, SAME AND DIFFERENT BACKDROPS

You can tell by the legs of the seat.

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

SAME STUDIO DIFFERENT BACKDROP

You can tell by the curtain at right, and the pedestal.

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print with hand colouring
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

SAME STUDIO DIFFERENT BACKDROP

You can tell by the style of the painting, the positioning of the flowers, and the decoration on the carpet of the stairs.

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Unknown American maker. 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Unknown American maker
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print with hand colouring
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

DAISY STUDIO

 

Daisy Studio (American, active 1940s) 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Daisy Studio (American, active 1940s)
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Daisy Studio (American, active 1940s) 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Daisy Studio (American, active 1940s)
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Daisy Studio (American, active 1940s) 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Daisy Studio (American, active 1940s)
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Daisy Studio (American, active 1940s) 'Studio Portrait' 1940s-50s

 

Daisy Studio (American, active 1940s)
Studio Portrait
1940s-50s
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Twentieth-Century Photography Fund, 2015, 2017
Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

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20
Aug
18

Exhibition: ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 22nd June – 2nd September 2018

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona' 1940

 

Dorothea Lange
Migratory Cotton Picker, Eloy, Arizona
1940
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Damaged, desperate and displaced

I am writing this short text on a laptop in Thailand which keeps jumping lines and mispelling words. The experience is almost as disorienting as the photographs of Dorothea Lange, with their anguished angles and portraits of despair. Her humanist, modernist pictures capture the harsh era of The Great Depression and the 1930s in America, allowing a contemporary audience to imagine what it must have been like to walk along blistering roads with five children, not knowing where your next meal or drink of water is coming from.

Like Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis from an earlier era, Lange’s photographs are about the politics of seeing. They are about human beings in distress and how photography can raise awareness of social injustice and disenfranchisement in the name of cultural change.

#dorothealange @barbicancentre

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

 

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

Dorothea Lange took this photograph in 1936, while employed by the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) program, formed during the Great Depression to raise awareness of and provide aid to impoverished farmers. In Nipomo, California, Lange came across Florence Owens Thompson and her children in a camp filled with field workers whose livelihoods were devastated by the failure of the pea crops. Recalling her encounter with Thompson years later, she said, “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction.”1 One photograph from that shoot, now known as Migrant Mother, was widely circulated to magazines and newspapers and became a symbol of the plight of migrant farm workers during the Great Depression.

As Lange described Thompson’s situation, “She and her children had been living on frozen vegetables from the field and wild birds the children caught. The pea crop had frozen; there was no work. Yet they could not move on, for she had just sold the tires from the car to buy food.”2 However, Thompson later contested Lange’s account. When a reporter interviewed her in the 1970s, she insisted that she and Lange did not speak to each other, nor did she sell the tires of her car. Thompson said that Lange had either confused her for another farmer or embellished what she had understood of her situation in order to make a better story.

Text from the MoMA Learning website

 

  1. Dorothea Lange, “The Assignment I’ll Never Forget,” Popular Photography 46 (February, 1960). Reprinted in Photography, Essays and Images, ed. Beaumont Newhall (New York: The Museum of Modern Art), 262-65
  2. Dorothea Lange, paraphrased in Karin Becker Ohm, Dorothea Lange and the Documentary Tradition (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1980), 79

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London showing Dorothea Lange’s photograph Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California 1936
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.” (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

The images were made using a Graflex camera. The original negatives are 4×5″ film. It is not possible to determine on the basis of the negative numbers (which were assigned later at the Resettlement Administration) the order in which the photographs were taken.

Text from The Library of Congress website

 

Florence Owens Thompson: The Story of the “Migrant Mother” 2014

Thompson’s identity was discovered in the late 1970s; in 1978, acting on a tip, Modesto Bee reporter Emmett Corrigan located Thompson at her mobile home in Space 24 of the Modesto Mobile Village and recognized her from the 40-year-old photograph.[10] A letter Thompson wrote was published in The Modesto Bee and the Associated Press distributed a story headlined “Woman Fighting Mad Over Famous Depression Photo.” Florence was quoted as saying “I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it, she didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures, she said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”[2]

Lange was funded by the federal government when she took the picture, so the image was in the public domain and Lange never directly received any royalties. However, the picture did help make Lange a celebrity and earned her “respect from her colleagues.”[11]

In a 2008 interview with CNN, Thompson’s daughter Katherine McIntosh recalled how her mother was a “very strong lady”, and “the backbone of our family”, she said: “We never had a lot, but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she made sure us children ate. That’s one thing she did do.”

Florence Owens Thompson on the WikiVisually website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'White Angel Breadline, San Francisco' 1933

 

Dorothea Lange
White Angel Breadline, San Francisco
1933
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

 

“There are moments such as these when time stands still and all you do is hold your breath and hope it will wait for you. And you just hope you will have enough time to get it organised in a fraction of a second on that tiny piece of sensitive film. Sometimes you have an inner sense that you have encompassed the thing generally. You know then that you are not taking anything away from anyone: their privacy, their dignity, their wholeness.” ~ Dorothea Lange 1963

Davis K F 1995, The photographs of Dorothea Lange, Hallmark Cards Inc, Missouri p. 20.

 

White angel breadline, San Francisco is Lange’s first major image that encapsulates both her sense of compassion and ability to structure a photograph according to modernist principles. The diagonals of the fence posts and the massing of hats do not reduce this work to the purely formal – the figure in the front middle of the image acts as a lightening rod for our emotional engagement.

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

 

There was a real “White Angel” behind the breadline that served the needy men photographed by Dorothea Lange. She was a widow named Lois Jordan. Mrs. Jordan, who gave herself the name White Angel, established a soup kitchen during the Great Depression to feed those who were unemployed and destitute. Relying solely on donations, she managed to supply meals to more than one million men over a three-year period.

Jordan’s soup kitchen occupied a junk-filled lot in San Francisco located on the Embarcadero near Filbert Street. This area was known as the White Angel Jungle. The Jungle was not far from Lange’s studio. As she began to change direction from portrait to documentary photography, Lange focused her lens on the poignant scenes just beyond her window. White Angel Breadline is the result of her first day’s work to document Depression-era San Francisco. Decades later, Lange recalled: “[White Angel Breadline] is my most famed photograph. I made that on the first day I ever went out in an area where people said, ‘Oh, don’t go there.’ It was the first day that I ever made a photograph on the street.”

Text from the Arts Edge website

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Drought Refugees' c. 1935

 

Dorothea Lange
Drought Refugees
c. 1935
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Family walking on highway - five children. Started from Idabel, Oklahoma, bound for Krebs, Oklahoma' June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange
Family walking on highway – five children. Started from Idabel, Oklahoma, bound for Krebs, Oklahoma
June 1938
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Cars on the Road' August 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Cars on the Road
August 1936
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Dust Bowl, Grain Elevator, Everett, Texas' June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange
Dust Bowl, Grain Elevator, Everett, Texas
June 1938
Silver gelatin print
Library of Congress

 

 

This summer, Barbican Art Gallery stages the first ever UK retrospective of one of the most influential female photographers of the 20th century, the American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). A formidable woman of unparalleled vigour and resilience, the exhibition charts Lange’s outstanding photographic vision from her early studio portraits of San Francisco’s bourgeoisie to her celebrated Farm Security Administration work (1935-1939) that captured the devastating impact of the Great Depression on the American population. Rarely seen photographs of the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War are also presented as well as the later collaborations with fellow photographers Ansel Adams and Pirkle Jones documenting the changing face of the social and physical landscape of 1950s America. Opening 22 June at Barbican Art Gallery, Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing is part of the Barbican’s 2018 season, The Art of Change, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing encompasses over 300 objects from vintage prints and original book publications to ephemera, field notes, letters, and documentary film. Largely chronological, the exhibition presents eight series in Lange’s oeuvre spanning from 1919 to 1957.

Jane Alison, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: “This is an incredible opportunity for our visitors to see the first UK survey of the work of such a significant photographer. Dorothea Lange is undoubtedly one of the great photographers of the twentieth century and the issues raised through her work have powerful resonance with issues we’re facing in society today. Staged alongside contemporary photographer Vanessa Winship as part of The Art of Change, these two shows are unmissable.”

Opening the exhibition are Lange’s little known early portrait photographs taken during her time running a successful portrait studio in San Francisco between 1919 and 1935. Lange was at the heart of San Francisco’s creative community and her studio became a centre in which bohemian and artistic friends gathered after hours, including Edward Weston, Anne Brigman, Alma Lavenson, Imogen Cunningham, and Willard van Dyke. Works from this period include intimate portraits of wealthy West Coast families as well as of Lange’s inner circle, counting amongst others photographer Roi Partridge and painter Maynard Dixon, Lange’s first husband and father of her two sons.

The Great Depression in the early 1930s heralded a shift in her photographic language as she felt increasingly compelled to document the changes visible on the streets of San Francisco. Taking her camera out of the studio, she captured street demonstrations, unemployed workers, and breadline queues. These early explorations of her social documentary work are also on display.

The exhibition charts Lange’s work with the newly established historical division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), the government agency tasked with the promotion of Roosevelt’s New Deal programme. Alongside Lange, the FSA employed a number of photographers, including Walker Evans, Ben Shahn and Arthur Rothstein, to document living conditions across America during the Great Depression: from urban poverty in San Francisco to tenant farmers driven off the land by dust storms and mechanisation in the states of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas; the plight of homeless families on the road in search of better livelihoods in the West; and the tragic conditions of migrant workers and camps across California. Lange used her camera as a political tool to critique themes of injustice, inequality, migration and displacement, and to effect government relief.

Highlights in this section are, among others, a series on sharecroppers in the Deep South that exposes relations of race and power, and the iconic Migrant Mother, a photograph which has become a symbol of the Great Depression, alongside images of vernacular architecture and landscapes, motifs often overlooked within Lange’s oeuvre. Vintage prints in the exhibition are complemented by the display of original publications from the 1930s to foreground the widespread use of Lange’s FSA photographs and her influence on authors including John Steinbeck, whose ground-breaking novel The Grapes of Wrath was informed by Lange’s photographs. Travelling for many months at a time and working in the field, she collaborated extensively with her second husband Paul Schuster Taylor, a prominent social economist and expert in farm labour with whom she published the seminal photo book An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion in 1939, also on display in the exhibition.

The exhibition continues with rarely seen photographs of the internment of more than 100,000 American citizens of Japanese descent that Lange produced on commission for the War Relocation Authority following the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Lange’s critical perspective of this little discussed chapter in US history however meant that her photographs remained unpublished during the war and stored at the National Archives in Washington. It is the first time that this series will be shown comprehensively outside of the US and Canada.

Following her documentation of the Japanese American internment, Lange produced a photographic series of the wartime shipyards of Richmond, California with friend and fellow photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984). Lange and Adams documented the war effort in the shipyards for Fortune magazine in 1944, recording the explosive increase in population numbers and the endlessly changing shifts of shipyard workers. Capturing the mass recruitment of workers, Lange turned her camera on both female and black workers, for the first time part of the workforce, and their defiance of sexist and racist attitudes.

The exhibition features several of Lange’s post-war series, when she photographed extensively in California. Her series Public Defender (1955-1957) explores the US legal defence system for the poor and disadvantaged through the work of a public defender at the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland. Death of a Valley (1956-57), made in collaboration with photographer Pirkle Jones, documents the disappearance of the small rural town of Monticello in California’s Berryessa Valley as a consequence of the damming of the Putah Creek. Capturing the destruction of a landscape and traditional way of life, the photographs testify to Lange’s environmentalist politics and have not been displayed or published since the 1960s.

The exhibition concludes with Lange’s series of Ireland (1954), the first made outside the US. Spending six weeks in County Clare in western Ireland, Lange captured the experience of life in and around the farming town of Ennis in stark and evocative photographs that symbolise Lange’s attraction to the traditional life of rural communities.

An activist, feminist and environmentalist, Lange used her camera as a political tool to critique themes of injustice, inequality, migration and displacement that bear great resonance with today’s world, a prime example of which is her most iconic image the Migrant Mother (1936). Working in urban and rural contexts across America and beyond, she focused her lens on human suffering and hardship to create compassionate and piercing portraits of people as well as place in the hope to forge social and political reform – from the plight of sharecroppers in the Deep South to Dust Bowl refugees trekking along the highways of California in search of better livelihoods.

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing is organised by the Oakland Museum of California. The European presentation has been produced in collaboration with Barbican Art Gallery, London and Jeu de Paume, Paris.

Press release from the Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Left: Dorothea Lange. Displaced Tennant Farmers, Goodlet, Hardeman Co., Texas 1937. ‘All displaced tenant farmers, the oldest 33. None able to vote because of Texas poll tax. They support an average of four persons each on $22.80 a month’. Second left: Dorothea Lange. Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle' June 1938

 

Dorothea Lange
Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle
June 1938
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California
Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Second left top: Dorothea Lange. Mexican field labourer at station in Sacramento after 5 day trip from Mexico City. Imported by arrangements between Mexican and US governments to work in sugar beets. 6 October 1942. Second left bottom: Dorothea Lange. Filipino Field Worker, Spring Plowing, Cauliflower Fields, Guadalupe, California. March 1937. Right: Dorothea Lange. Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma. 1936

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Filipino Field Worker, Spring Plowing, Cauliflower Fields, Guadalupe, California' March 1937

 

Dorothea Lange
Filipino Field Worker, Spring Plowing, Cauliflower Fields, Guadalupe, California
March 1937
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California
Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Damaged Child, Shacktown, Elm Grove, Oklahoma
1936
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland
Gift of Paul S. Taylor

 

Dorothea Lange. 'San Francisco, California. Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School, Geary and Buchanan Streets' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
San Francisco, California. Flag of allegiance pledge at Raphael Weill Public School, Geary and Buchanan Streets. Children in families of Japanese ancestry were evacuated with their parents and will be housed for the duration in War Relocation Authority centers where facilities will be provided for them to continue their education
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-G-C122

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Centerville, California. This evacuee stands by her baggage as she waits for evacuation bus' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Centerville, California. This evacuee stands by her baggage as she waits for evacuation bus. Evacuees of Japanese ancestry will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-G-C241

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. An evacuee is shown in the lath house sorting seedlings for transplanting' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. An evacuee is shown in the lath house sorting seedlings for transplanting. These plants are year-old seedlings from the Salinas Experiment Station
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-GC737

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Manzanar Relocation Center' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California
July 3, 1942
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Paul S. Taylor. 'Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains' c. 1935

 

Paul S. Taylor
Dorothea Lange in Texas on the Plains
c. 1935
Silver gelatin print
© The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Sacramento, California. College students of Japanese ancestry' 1942

 

Dorothea Lange
Sacramento, California. College students of Japanese ancestry who have been evacuated from Sacramento to the Assembly Center
1942
Silver gelatin print
Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 210-GC471

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Installation view of the exhibition ‘Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican Art Gallery, London

 

Installation views of the exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
Photos: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery

 

 

Barbican Art Gallery
Barbican Centre
Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS

Opening hours:
Mon – Sat: 9am – 11pm
Sun: 11am – 11pm
Bank Holidays: 12 noon – 11pm

Barbican Art Gallery website

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21
Jan
18

Exhibition: ‘Jakob Tuggener – Machine time’ at Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur, Zurich

Exhibition dates: 21st October 2017 – 28th January 2018

Curator: Martin Gasser

 

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Fabrik' (book cover) 1943

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Fabrik (Factory) (book cover)
1943
Rotapfel Verlag, Erlenbach-Zurich

 

 

Rare magician, strange alchemist, tells stories through visuals

I am indebted to James McArdle’s blog posting “Work” on his excellent On This Date In Photography website for alerting me to this exhibition, and for reminding me of the work of this outstanding artist, Jakob Tuggener.

The short version: Jakob Tuggener was a draftsman before he became an artist, studying poster design, typography, photography and film. “In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, Tuggerer’s book Fabrik (Factory) appeared. At first glance, the series of 72 photographs without a text contained therein seems to depict a kind of history of industrialisation – from the rural textile industry to mechanical engineering and high-voltage electrical engineering to modern power plant construction in the mountains. An in-depth reading, however, shows that Tuggener’s film-associative series of photographs simultaneously points to the destructive potential of unrestrained technological progress, as a result of which he sees the then raging World War, and for which the Swiss arms industry produced unlimited weapons. Tuggener was ahead of his time with the book conceived according to the laws of silent film.” (Press release)

Fabrik, subtitled Ein Bildepos der Technik (“Epic of the technological image” or “A picture of technology”) pictures the world of work and industry, and “is considered a milestone in the history of the photo book.” It uses expressive visuals (actions, appearances and behaviours; movements, gestures and details – Tuggener loves the detail) to tell a subjective story, that of the relationship between human and machine. While the book was well ahead of its time, and influenced the early work of that famous Swiss photographer Robert Frank, it did not emerge out of a vacuum and is perhaps not as revolutionary as some people think. Nothing ever appears out of thin air.

“German photographer Paul Wolff, often working in collaboration with Alfred Tritschler, produced a number of exceptional photo books through the 1920s and ’30s, at a time when Constructivism and the Bauhaus influenced many with visions “of an industrialized and socialized society” that placed Germany at “the forefront of European photography” (Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. The Photobook: A History Volume I, Phaidon Press, 2005, p. 86). Arbeit! (1937) is particularly noted for its architectural framing and lighting of massive machinery, its striking portraits of factory workers, and is frequently aligned with works such as Lewis Hine’s Men at Work (1932) and Albert Renger-Patzsch’s Eisen und Stahl (Iron and Steel) (1931).” (Anonymous on Bauman Rare Books website)

François Kollar’s project La France travail (Working France) (1931-1934), E. O. Hoppé’s Deutsche Arbeit (1930), Heinrich Hauser’s Schwarzes Revier (Black Area) (1930) and Germaine Krull’s Metal (1928) all address the profound social and economic tensions that preceded the Second World War, through an avant-garde photography in the style of “New Vision” and “New Objectivity” – that is, through objective photographs that question common rules of composition, avoiding the more obvious ways subjects would have been photographed at the time. Obscure angles and perspectives abound in these striking photobooks, making their clinical, objective fervour “the great persuaders” of the 1930s and 40s, Modernist and propaganda books of their time.

What made Tuggener so different was the uncompromising subjectiveness of his work, “photographing the two worlds, privilege and labour.” His direct, strong images of factories and high society use wonderful form, light, and shadow to convey their message, never loosing sight of the human dimension, for they shift “our angle from the boss’ POV [point of view] to those unable to get any respite or distance from the situation,” that of the workers. They are a piece of time and human history, which gets closer to the lived reality of the factory floor, than much of the work of his predecessors. Tuggener portrays the mundanity of the “operational sequence” (la chaîne opératoire) of the machine, where the human becomes the oil used to grease the cogs of the ever-demanding “mechanical monsters.” (See Evan Calder Williams’ “Rattling Devils” quotations below)

Tuggener then adds to this new way of seeing which recorded the multiplicity of his points of view – “a modern new style of photography showing not just how things looked, but how it felt to be there” – through the sequencing of the images, which can be seen in the wonderfully combined double pages of the Fabrik book layouts below. Take for example, the photograph that is on the dust jacket, a portrait of a middle-aged worker with a grave look on his face that says, “why the hell are you taking my photograph, why don’t you just f… off.” In the book, Tuggener pairs this image with a whistle letting off steam, a metaphor for the man’s state of being. Tuggener creates these most alien worlds from the inside out, worlds which are grounded in actual lived experience – the little screws lying in the palm of a blackened hand; Navy Cut cigarettes amongst steel artefacts; man being consumed by machine; man being dwarfed by machine; man as machine (the girl paired opposite the counting machine); the Frankenstein scenario of the laboratory (man as monster, machine as man); the intense, feverish eyes of the worker in Heater on electric furnace (the machine human as the devil); and the surrealism of a small doll among the serried ranks of mass destruction, facing the opposition, the opposing lined face of an older worker. This is the stuff of alchemy, the place where art challenges life.

“As Arnold Burgaurer cogently states in his introduction, Tuggener is a jack-of-all-trades: he exhibits, ‘the sharp eye of the hunter, the dreamy eye of the painter; he can be a realist, a formalist, romantic, theatrical, surreal.’ Tuggener’s moves effortlessly between large-format lucidity and grainy, blurred impressionism, in a book that is a decade ahead of its time.” Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. The Photobook: A History Volume I, Phaidon Press, 2005, p. 144.

James McCardle observes that, “the meaning of Fabrik is left to the viewer to discover between its pictures, its glimpses of an overwhelming industrial whole; it is essentially filmic on a cryptic film-noir level, a revelation to Frank.” Tuggener’s influence on the early work of Robert Frank can be seen in a sequence from the book Portfolio: 40 Photos 1941/1946 by Robert Frank that was republished by Steidl in 2009 (see below). “Like Tuggener, Frank tackles the task of seemingly incongruous subject matter and finds a harmony through edit and assembly. Again and again throughout this portfolio, Frank is not just trying to show his prowess in making images but in pairing them. They define conflicts in life.” Pace Tuggener. At Frank’s suggestion, Tuggener’s work appeared in both Edward Steichen’s Post-War European Photography and in The Museum of Modern Art’s seminal exhibition, The Family of Man, the latter an essentially humanist exhibition which took the form of a photo essay celebrating the universal aspects of the human experience.

McCardle goes onto suggest that Fabrik, as a photo book, was a model for Frank’s Les Américains: The Americans published fifteen years later in Paris by Delpire, 1958. On this point, we disagree. While his early work as seen in Portfolio: 40 Photos 1941/1946 may have been heavily influenced by Tuggener’s photo book, by the time Frank came to compose Les Américains (for that is what The Americans is, a composition) his point of view had changed, as had that of his camera. While The Americans has many formal elements that can be seen in the construction of the photographs, they also have an element of jazz that would have been inconceivable to Tuggener at that time. Grainy film, strange angles, lighting flare, street lights, night time photography, jukeboxes and American flags portray the American dream not so much from the vantage point of a knowing insider (as Tuggener was) but as a visitor from another planet. Not so much alienating world (man as machine) as alien world, picturing something that has never been recognised before. These are two different models of being. While both are photo books and both pair images together in sequences, Frank had moved on to another point of view, that of an “invalid” outsider, and his photo book has a completely different nature to that of Tuggener’s Fabrik.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Word count: 1,366

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

 

For Jakob Tuggener, whose works can be seen within the context of social documentary photography, the individual and the industrial boom of the 19th and 20th centuries were central themes. His often somber, black and white photographs seem to confront this new world with a sense of fear as well as admiration. Will technology help relieve us of physically hard labour or replace us altogether? Tuggener owes his renown to his photo book Fabrik (Factory) that was published in 1943. With an aesthetic approach that was unique for his time, Tuggener explores in his photographic essay the relationship between humans and the perceived threat as well as progress of technology. The labourers depicted are grave, their faces worn marked by deep folds, while a factory building in the background stands strong, enveloped in a vaporous cloud. This “Pictorial Epic of Technology,” as Tuggener himself described it, is today considered a milestone in the history of photography books.

 

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book Fabrik 1943

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Steam whistle, Steckborn artificial silk factory' 1938

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Steam whistle, Steckborn artificial silk factory
1938
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Selection from the book 'Portfolio: 40 Photos 1941/1946' by Robert Frank

 

Selection from the book Portfolio: 40 Photos 1941/1946 by Robert Frank (Steidl, 2009)

 

 

The ‘weightless’ and the ‘grounded’ are two opposing themes that Frank repeatedly uses to move us through this sequence. Three radio transistors in a product shot float into the sky while a music conductor, his band and a church steeple succumb to gravity on the facing page. Even in this image Frank shifts focus to the sky and beyond – the weightless. When he photographs rural life, the farmers heft whole pigs into the air and another carries a huge bale of freshly cut grain which seems featherlight but for the woman trailing behind with hands ready to assist.

Considering this work was made while fascism was on the move through Europe, external politics is felt through metaphor. A painted portrait of men in uniform among a display of pots and pans for sale faces a brightly polished cog from a machine – its teeth sharp and precise. In another pairing, demonstrators waving flags in the streets of Zurich face a street sign covered with snow and frost, a Swiss flag blows in the background. in yet another of a crowd of spectators face the illuminated march of a piece of machinery – its illusory shadow filling in the ranks. These pairings feel under the influence of Jakob Tuggener, whose work Frank certainly knew. Like Tuggener, Frank tackles the task of seemingly incongruous subject matter and finds a harmony through edit and assembly.

Again and again throughout this portfolio, Frank is not just trying to show his prowess in making images but in pairing them. They define conflicts in life. One boy struggles to climb a rope while a ski jumper is frozen in flight. Fisherman bask in sunlight while two pedestrians are caught in blinding snowfall.

Text from the SB4 Photography and Books website December 14, 2009

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Autoritratto, Zurigo [Self-portrait, Zurich]' 1927

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Autoritratto, Zurigo [Self-portrait, Zurich]
1927
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Budenzauber (Charm of the Attic Room) Jakob Tuggener with friends' 1935

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Budenzauber (Charm of the Attic Room) Jakob Tuggener with friends
1935
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Plant entrance, Oerlikon Machine Factory' 1934

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Plant entrance, Oerlikon Machine Factory
1934
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Work in the boiler' 1935

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Work in the boiler
1935
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Running girl in the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon' 1934

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Running girl in the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon
1934
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Façade, Oerlikon Machine Factory' 1936

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Façade, Oerlikon Machine Factory
1936
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book Fabrik 1943

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Nell'ufficio della fonderia, fabbrica di costruzioni meccaniche Oerlikon' [In the foundry office, Oerlikon mechanical engineering factory] 1937

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Nell’ufficio della fonderia, fabbrica di costruzioni meccaniche Oerlikon [In the foundry office, Oerlikon mechanical engineering factory]
1937
From Fabrik 1933-1953
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

 

“Above all, the contrast between the brilliantly lit ballroom and the dark factory hall influenced the perception of his artistic oeuvre,” [curator] Martin Gasser explains. “Tuggener also positioned himself between these two extremes when he stated: ‘Silk and machines, that’s Tuggener’. In reality, he loved both: the wasteful luxury and the dirty work, the enchanting women and the sweaty labourers. For him, they were both of equal value and he resisted being categorised as a social critic who pitted one world against the other. On the contrary, these contrasts belonged to his conception of life and he relished experiencing the extremes – and the shades of tones in between – to the most intense degree.”

 

“Jakob Tuggener’s ‘Fabrik’, published in Zurich in 1943, is a milestone in the history of the photography book. Its 72 images, in the expressionist aesthetic of a silent movie, impart a skeptical view of technological progress: at the time the Swiss military industry was producing weapons for World War II. Tuggener, who was born in 1904, had an uncompromisingly critical view of the military-industrial complex that did not suit his era. His images of rural life and high-society parties had been easy to sell, but ‘Fabrik’ found no publisher. And when the book did come out, it was not a commercial success. Copies were sold at a loss and some are believed to have been pulped. Now this seminal work, which has since become a sought-after classic, is being reissued with a contemporary afterword. In his lifetime, Tuggener’s work appeared – at Robert Frank’s suggestion – in Edward Steichen’s ‘Post-War European Photography’ and in The Museum of Modern Art’s seminal exhibition, ‘The Family of Man’, in whose catalogue it remains in print. Tuggener’s death in 1988 left an immense catalogue of his life’s work, much of which has yet to be shown: more than 60 maquettes, thousands of photographs, drawings, watercolours, oil paintings and silent films.”

.
Book description on Amazon. The book has been republished by Steidl in January, 2012.

 

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Tornos Machine-tool Factory, Moutier' 1942

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Tornos Machine-tool Factory, Moutier
1942
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Navy Cut, Ateliers de construction mécanique Oerlikon (MFO)' [Navy Cut, Machine Shops Oerlikon (MFO)] 1940

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Navy Cut, Ateliers de construction mécanique Oerlikon (MFO) [Navy Cut, Machine Shops Oerlikon (MFO)]
1940
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Pressure pipe, Vernayaz' 1938

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Pressure pipe, Vernayaz
1938
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Grande Dixence power station' 1942

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Grande Dixence power station
1942
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener Foundation

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Laboratorio di ricerca, fabbrica di costruzioni meccaniche Oerlikon' [Research laboratory, Oerlikon mechanical engineering factory] 1941

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Laboratorio di ricerca, fabbrica di costruzioni meccaniche Oerlikon [Research laboratory, Oerlikon mechanical engineering factory]
1941
From Fabrik 1933-1953
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Heater on electric furnace' 1943 (detail)

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Heater on electric furnace (detail)
1943
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Heater on electric furnace' 1943

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Heater on electric furnace
1943
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Worker, Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon' 1940s

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Worker, Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon
1940s
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener Foundation

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) '"Amore", Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon' 1940s

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
“Amore”, Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon
1940s
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener Foundation

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Weaving mill, Glattfelden' 1940s

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Weaving mill, Glattfelden
1940s
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener Foundation

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Lathe, Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon' 1949

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Lathe, Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon
1949
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Lathe, Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon' 1949 (detail)

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Lathe, Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (detail)
1949
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Montpellier magazine. 'Jacob Tuggener at the pavilion popular Montpellier manufactures an epic of industrial photographs of workers' portraits' 1943

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Jacob Tuggener at the popular pavillion Montpellier manufactures an epic of industrial photographs of workers’ portraits
Montpellier magazine
1943
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Forgeron dans une fabrique de wagons de Schlieren' [Blacksmith in a Schlieren wagon factory] 1949

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Forgeron dans une fabrique de wagons de Schlieren [Blacksmith in a Schlieren wagon factory]
1949
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Untitled (Arms of work)' c. 1947

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Untitled (Arms of work)
c. 1947
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) is one of the exceptional phenomena of Swiss photography. His personal and expressive recordings of glittering celebrations of better society are legendary, and his 1943 book Fabrik (Factory) is considered a milestone in the history of the photo book. At the centre of the exhibition “Machine time” are photographs and films from the world of work and industry. They not only reflect the technical development from the textile industry in the Zurich Oberland to power plant construction in the Alps, but also testify to Tuggener’s lifelong fascination with all sorts of machines: from looms to smelting furnaces and turbines to locomotives, steamers and racing cars. He loved her noise, her dynamic movements and her unruly power, and he artistically transposed them. At the same time, he observed the men and women who keep up the motor of progress with their work – not without hinting that one day machines might dominate people.

 

Machine time

Jakob Tuggener knew the world of factories like no other photographer of his time, having completed an apprenticeship as a draftsman at Maag Zahnräder AG in Zurich and then worked in their design department. Through the photographer Gustav Maag he was also introduced to the technique of photography. However, as a result of the economic crisis in the late 1920s, he was dismissed, after which he fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming an artist by studying at the Reimannschule in Berlin. For almost a year he dealt intensively with poster design, typography and film and let himself be carried away with his camera by the dynamics of the big city.

After returning to Switzerland in 1932, he began working as a freelancer for the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon (MFO), especially for their house newspaper with the programmatic title Der Gleichrichter (The Rectifier). Although the company already employed its own photographer, he was entrusted with the task of developing a kind of photographic interior view of the company. This was intended to bridge the gap between workers and office workers on the one hand and management on the other. By the end of the 1930s, in addition to multi-part reports from the production halls, as well as portraits of “members of the MFO family”, one-sided, album-like series of unnoticed scenes from everyday factory life appeared. From 1937 Tuggener also created a series of 16mm short films – always black and white, silent, and representing the tension between fiction and documentation. This includes, for example, the drama about death and transience (Die Seemühle (The Sea mill), 1944), which was influenced by surrealism and staged by Tuggener with amateur actors in a vacant factory on the shores of Lake Zurich. or the cinematic exploration of the subject of man and machine (Die Maschinenzeit (The Machine Time), 1938-70). This ties in with the earlier book maquette of the same name and transforms it into a moving, immediately perceptible, but also fleeting vision of the Tuggenean machine age.

In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, Tuggerer’s book Fabrik (Factory) appeared. At first glance, the series of 72 photographs without a text contained therein seems to depict a kind of history of industrialisation – from the rural textile industry to mechanical engineering and high-voltage electrical engineering to modern power plant construction in the mountains. An in-depth reading, however, shows that Tuggener’s film-associative series of photographs simultaneously points to the destructive potential of unrestrained technological progress, as a result of which he sees the then raging World War, and for which the Swiss arms industry produced unlimited weapons. Tuggener was ahead of his time with the book conceived according to the laws of silent film.1 Neither his uncompromisingly subjective photography nor his critical attitude matched the threatening situation in which Switzerland was called to unity and strength under the slogan “Spiritual Defense”.

Although the book was not commercially successful, Tuggener’s Fabrik was a great artistic success and continued to explore the issues of work and industry. He produced two more book maquettes: Schwarzes Eisen (Black Iron) (1950) and Die Maschinenzeit (The Machine Time) (1952). They can be understood as a kind of continuation of the published book, which the journalist Arnold Burgauer described as a “glowing and sparkling factual and accountable report of the world of the machine, of its development, its possibilities and limitations.” In the mid-1950s, on the threshold of the computer age, Tuggener’s classic “machine time” came to an end. On the one hand, the mechanical processes that had so fascinated Tuggener evaded his eyes. On the other hand, he could not or did not want to make friends with the idea that one day even a human heart could be replaced by a machine.

 

Portrayer of opposites

As early as 1930 in Berlin, Tuggener had begun to take pictures of the then famous Reimannschule balls. He was fascinated by the tingling erotic atmosphere of these occasions, and he found photography in sparsely lit rooms a great challenge. Back in Zurich, he immediately plunged into local nightlife to surrender to the splendour and luxury of mask, artist and New Year’s balls. Again and again he let himself be abducted by elegant ladies with their silk dresses, their necklines, bare back or shoulders in a glittering fairytale world, whose mysterious facets he sought to fathom with his Leica. Although Tuggener’s ball recordings were only perceived by a small insider audience for a long time, many quickly saw him as a “masterful portrayer of our world of stark contrasts,” a world torn between a brightly lit ballroom and gloomy factory hall. Tuggener also positioned himself between these extremes when he stated, “Silk and machines, that’s Tuggener.” Because he loved both the lavish luxury and the dirty work, the jewelled women and the sweaty men. He felt that he was equal and resisted being classified as a social critic.

In whatever world he moved, Jakob Tuggener did it with the elegance of a grand seigneur [a man whose rank or position allows him to command others]. He was an eye man with a casual, loving look for the inconspicuous, the superficial incident; not just a sensitive picture-poet, but the “photographische Dichter römisch I,” as he used to call himself self-confidently. Critic Max Eichenberger wrote of the Fabrik photographs: “Tuggener is able to make factory photographs that reveal not only a painter, but also a poet, and a rare magician and strange alchemist – lead, albeit modestly turned into gold.”

The exhibition Jakob Tuggener – Maschinenzeit includes vintage and later prints from the early 1930s to the late 1950s, which for the most part come from the photographers estate. In an adjoining room the exhibition will also feature a selection of his 16mm short films from the years 1937-70, which revolve around the topic of “man and machine” in various ways. These films were newly digitised specifically for the exhibition (in collaboration with Lichtspiel / Cinematheque Bern).

Press release from Fotostiftung Schweiz

 

  1. The story in silent film is best told through visuals (such as actions, appearances and behaviours). Focus on movements and gestures, and borrow from dance and mime. Large, exaggerated motions translate well to silent films, but balance these also with subtlety (ie. a raised eyebrow, a quivering lip – especially when paired with a close-up shot). (Raindance website)

 

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layout from the book 'Fabrik' 1943

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) Page layouts from the book Fabrik 1943

 

 

Extracts from Shard Cinema by Evan Calder Williams London: Repeater Books, 2017

“All gestures are perhaps inhuman, because they enact that hinge with the world, forging a bridge and buffer that can’t be navigated by words or by actions that feel like purely one’s own. In Vilém Flusser’s definition, a gesture is “a movement of the body or of a tool connected to the body for which there is no satisfactory causal explanation” – that is, it can’t be explained on its own isolated terms.26 The factory will massively extend this tendency, because the “explanation” lies not in the literal circuit of production but in the social abstraction of value driving the entire process yet nowhere immediately visible. We might frame the difficulty of this imagining with the concept of “operational sequence” (la chaîne opératoire), posed by French archaeologist André Leroi-Gourhan, which designates a “succession of mental operations and technical gestures, in order to satisfy a need (immediate or not), according to a preexisting project.”25

26. Vilém Flusser, Gestures (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), p. 2.
27. Catherine Perlès, Les Industries Lithiques Taillées de Franchthi, Argolide: Presentation Generate et Industries Paleolithiques (Terre Haute: Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 23.

 

“Which is to say: we build factories. And in those factories, the process of the exteriorization of memory and muscle becomes almost total, as “the hand no longer intervenes except to feed or to stop” what Leroi-Gourhan, like Larcom, will call “mechanical monsters,” “machines without a nervous system of their own, constantly requiring the assistance of a human partner.”30 But along with engendering the panic of becoming caregiver to the inanimate, this also poses the problem of animation in an unprecedented way. Because if a “technical gesture is the producer of forms, deriving them from inert nature and preparing them for animation,” the factory constitutes us in a different network of the animated and animating.31 It’s a network that can be seen in those writings of factory workers, with their distinct sense of not just preparing those materials but becoming the pivot that eases, smooths, and guides the links of an operational sequence. In particular, a worker functions as the point of compression and transformation between tremendous motive force and products made whose regularity must be assured. The human becomes the regulator of this process, the assurance of an abstract standardization.

30 André Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech, trans. Anna Bostock Berger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), p. 246
31. Ibid., p. 313

 

“… what I’m sketching here in this passage through scattered materials of the century prior to filmed moving images is something simpler, a small corrective to insist that by the time cinema was becoming a medium that seemed to offer a novel form of mechanical time, motion, and vision, one that historians and theorists will fixate on as the unique province and promise of film, many of its viewers had themselves already been enacting and struggling against that form for decades, day in, day out. The point is to place the human operator back in the frame, to ask after those who tended the machine before it was available as a spectacle, and to listen to how they understood what they were tangled in the midst of. But this is neither a humanist gesture of assuring the centrality of the person in the mesh that holds them nor a historical rejoinder to the forgetting and active dismissal of many of these personal accounts. Rather, it’s an effort to show how only with the operator’s experience made central can we see the real historical destruction of such illusions of centrality and, in their place, the novel construction of the human as tender and mender of a flailing inhuman net, the pivot who forms the connective tissue that enacts the lethal animation around her. In short, to see how the real subsumption of labor to capital is not only a systemic or periodizing concept that marks the historical transformation of discrete activities in accordance with the abstractions of value. It also is the granular description of a lived and bitterly contested process by which those abstractions get corporally and mechanically made and unmade, one which we can understand differently if we shift our angle from the boss’ POV to those unable to get any respite or distance from the situation.”

Evan Calder Williams. “Rattling Devils,” on the Viewpoint Magazine website July 13, 2017 [Online] Cited 29/12/2017

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Ballo ungherese, Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurigo, 1935' [Hungarian dance, Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurich, 1935] 1935

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Ballo ungherese, Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurigo, 1935 [Hungarian dance, Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurich, 1935]
1935
From the series Nuits de bal, 1934-1950
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Ballo ungherese, Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurigo, 1935' [Hungarian dance, Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurich, 1935] 1935

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Ballo ungherese, Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurigo, 1935 [Hungarian dance, Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurich, 1935]
1935
From the series Nuits de bal, 1934-1950
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Hotel Belvédère, Davos, 1944' 1944

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Hotel Belvédère, Davos, 1944
1944
From the series Nuits de bal, 1934-1950
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Carlton hotel, St. Moritz' Nd

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Carlton hotel, St. Moritz
Nd
From the series Nuits de bal, 1934-1950
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Palace hotel, St. Moritz' 1948-49

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Palace Hotel, St. Moritz, San Silvestro
1948-49
From the series Nuits de bal, 1934-1950
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988) 'Ballo Acs, Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurigo, 1948' 1948

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Ballo Acs,Grand Hotel Dolder, Zurigo, 1948
1948
From the series Nuits de bal, 1934-1950
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

Jakob Tuggener. 'Ball Nights' 1934-1950

 

Jakob Tuggener (1904-1988)
Ball Nights
From the series Nuits de bal, 1934-1950
Silver gelatin print
© Jakob Tuggener-Stiftung

 

 

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08
Oct
17

Review: ‘Brave New World: Australia 1930s’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th July – 15th October 2017

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 - Australia 1953, Australia from 1886) 'No title (Powerlines and chute)' c. 1935

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 – Australia 1953, Australia from 1886)
No title (Powerlines and chute)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the H. J. Heinz II Charitable and Family Trust, Governor, 1993

 

 

In 1934 BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited) commissioned leading pictorialist photographer Harold Cazneaux to record their mining and steel operations for a special publication to mark their fiftieth anniversary in 1935. Cazneaux’s dramatic industrial images blended a soft, atmospheric focus with a modernist sense of space, form and geometry. In 1935-36 Australia exported close to 300,000 tonnes of iron ore to Japan; however, after Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 fear of its expansionist aims in the Pacific increased and soon afterwards the federal government announced a ban on the export of all iron ore to Japan.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

 

Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGV Australia, Melbourne is a small but stylishly designed exhibition that presents well in the gallery spaces. The look and feel of the exhibition is superb, and it was a joy to see so many works in so many disparate medium brought together to represent a decade in the history of Australia: photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, ceramic art, magazine art, travel posters, Art Deco radios, film, couture, culture, Aboriginal art, and furniture making, to name but a few.

The strong exhibition addresses most of the concerns of the 1930s – The Great Depression, beach and body culture, style, fashion, identity, culture, prelude to WW2, dystopian and utopian cities etc., – but it all felt a little cramped and truncated. Such a challenging time period needed a more expansive investigation. What there is was excellent but one display case on slums or magazine art was not substantive enough. The same can be said for most of the exhibition.

There needed to a lot more about the impact of the Great Depression and people living in poverty, for you get the feeling from this exhibition that everyone was living the Modernist high-life, wearing fashionable frocks and smoking cigarettes sitting around beautifully designed furniture surrounded by geometric textiles. The reality is that this paradigm was the exception rather than the rule. Many people struggled to even feed themselves due to The Great Depression, and it was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. Life for many, many people in Australia during the 1930s was a life of disenfranchisement, assimilation, oppression, social struggle, poverty, hunger and a hand to mouth existence.

“After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two per cent of Australians were out of work… The Great Depression’s impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.” (“The Great Depression,” on the Australian Government website)

New artists and designers may have been emerging, new skyscrapers being built and the new ‘Modern Woman’ may have made her appearance but the changes only affected white, middle and upper social classes. Migrants, particularly those from Italy and southern Europe, were resented because they worked for less wages than others; and only brief mention is made of the White Australia policy in the exhibition but not by name (see text under Indigenous art and culture below). This section was more interested in how white artists appropriated Aboriginal design during this period for their own ends.

With this in mind, it is instructive to read sections of the illustrated handbook (not in the exhibition) produced by the National Museum of Victoria (in part, the forerunner of the NGV) to accompany a special exhibition of objects illustrating Australian Aboriginal Art in 1929:
.

“The subject of aboriginal Art – in this case the Art of the Australian Aboriginal – has to be approached with the utmost caution, for, though it comes directly within the domain of anthropology, it is in an indirect way a very important question in psychology and pedagogies. We possess some knowledge of our own mentality through the kind of offices of psychology; but though we have some – many in certain classes – material relics of our primitive and prehistoric ancestor, the only evidence of evolution of thought and the development of his powers of abstract conception must be derived from his art…

Still it appears possible that the study of primitive man, as represented by our Australian black, will throw some new light on the subject, and even if not more important than the old world pictographs themselves, his art work will enable the efforts of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian artists [cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe] to be better comprehended, and their import understood. But, for that study to achieve even a modicum of success, it is essential that the inquiring psychologist divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man – or of the infant of the present day.”1

.
This is the attitude towards Aboriginal art that pervaded major art institutions right across Australia well into the 1950s. That the white has to “divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man” – in other words, he has to become a savage – in order to understand Aboriginal art. It says a lot that the Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria then decided to reprint the illustrated handbook in 1952 without amendment, reprinting the publication originally used for the Exhibition in 1929. Nothing had changed in 22 years!

 

Australian Aboriginal Art 1962

 

National Museum of Victoria
Australian Aboriginal Art (cover)
1952 (reprint of 1929 illustrated handbook)
Brown, Prior, Anderson Pty. Ltd., Melbourne (publishers)
Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria
39 pages

 

 

Other small things in the exhibition rankle. The preponderance of the work of photographer Max Dupain is so overwhelming that from this exhibition, it would seem that he was the only photographer of note working in Australia throughout the decade. While Dupain was the first Modernist photographer in Australia, and a superb artist, Modernist photography was very much on the outer during most of the 1930s… the main art form of photography being that of Pictorialism. None of this under appreciated style of photography makes an appearance in this exhibition because it does not fit the theme of “Brave New World”. This dismisses the work of such people as Cecil Bostock, Harold Cazneaux, Henri Mallard, John Eaton et al as not producing “brave”, or valuable, portraits of a country during this time frame. This is a perspective that needs to be corrected.

Highlights for me in this exhibition included an earthenware vase by Ethel Blundell; a painting by that most incredible of atmospheric painters, Clarice Beckett (how I long to own one of her paintings!); a wonderful portrait by the underrated Cybil Craig; two stunning Keast Burke photographs; two beautiful stained glass windows of a male and female lifesaver; the slum photographs of F. Oswald Barnett (more please!); and the graphic covers of mostly short-lived radical magazines.

These highlights are worth the price of admission alone. A must see before the exhibition closes.

Marcus

  1. A. S. Kenyon. “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal.” in Australian Aboriginal Art. Melbourne: Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria, (1929) reprinted 1952, p. 15.

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

 

The 1930s was a turbulent time in Australia’s history. During this decade major world events, including the Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe, shaped our nation’s evolving sense of identity. In the arts, progressive ideas jostled with reactionary positions, and artists brought substantial creative efforts to bear in articulating the pressing concerns of the period. Brave New World: Australia 1930s encompasses the multitude of artistic styles, both advanced and conservative, which were practised during the 1930s. Included are commercial art, architecture, fashion, industrial design, film and dance to present a complete picture of this dynamic time.

The exhibition charts the themes of celebrating technological progress and its antithesis in the nostalgia for pastoralism; the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and consumerism; nationalism and the body culture movement; the increasing interest in Indigenous art against a backdrop of the government policy of assimilation and mounting calls for Indigenous rights; the devastating effects of the Depression and the rise of radical politics; and the arrival of European refugees and the increasing anxiety at the impending threat of the Second World War. Brave New World: Australia 1930s presents a fresh perspective on the extraordinary 1930s, revealing some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then and remain so today.

Text from the NGV website

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)
E. M. Vary, Fitzroy, Melbourne (attributed to) (manufacturer) active 1920s-40s

Sideboard
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), painted wood, painted plywood, steel
(a-e) 84.0 x 119.7 x 48.7 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

Side table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), steel
55.7 x 66.0 x 49.2 cm
Proposed acquisition

Tray table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), steel
(a-b) 52.0 x 60.9 x 42.5 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

 

 

A new generation of artists and designers

While modern art was a source of debate and controversy throughout the 1930s, modernism in architecture, interior design, industrial design and advertising became highly fashionable. In Melbourne a small group of designers pioneered modern design in Australia. Furniture designer Fred Ward first designed and made furniture for his home in Eaglemont, where he had established a studio workshop. It was admired by friends and he was encouraged to produce furniture for sale. In 1932 Ward opened a shop in Collins Street, Melbourne. There he offered his furniture, as well as linens and Scandinavian glass. The fabrics for curtains and upholstery were printed by Australian designer Michael O’Connell with bold designs that shocked some but were favoured by a new generation looking to create modern interiors.

More than in most periods, in the 1930s art, design and architecture were closely integrated with the changing realities of contemporary life. It was a time when the last vestiges of the conservative art establishment were swept away by a new generation of artists and designers who were to drive Australian art in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement at left and Ethel Blundell’s Vase centre on sidboard
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Fred Ward was one of the first and most important designers of modern furniture in Australia. He began making furniture around 1930, and in 1932 opened a shop in Collins Street selling his furniture, as well as textiles by Michael O’Connell and other modern design pieces. In 1934 Ward went into partnership with Myer Emporium and established the Myer Design Unit, for which he designed a line of modular ‘unit’ furniture for commercial production. Ward’s simple, functional aesthetic and use of local timbers with a natural waxed finish was in contrast to the luxurious materials and decorative motifs of the contemporary Art Deco style.

The armchair, sideboard and occasional tables were designed by Fred Ward and purchased by Maie Casey in the early 1930s. The wife of R. G. Casey, federal treasurer in the Lyons Government, Maie was a prominent supporter of modern art and design. Moving to Canberra in 1932, she furnished her house at Duntroon in a modern style with furniture by Ward and textiles by Michael O’Connell. The design of Ward’s armchair closely resembles a 1920s armchair by German Bauhaus furniture designer Erich Dieckmann, who was known for his standardised wooden furniture based on geometric designs.

 

Michael O'Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37) 'Textile' c. 1933

 

Michael O’Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37)
Textile
c. 1933
Block printed linen
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1988

 

 

Michael O’Connell pioneered modernist textiles in Melbourne and was an influential advocate of modern design. Working with his wife Ella from his studio in Beaumaris, O’Connell used woodblocks and linocuts to hand print onto raw linens and silks, which were used for fashion garments and home furnishing. O’Connell’s boldly patterned and highly stylised designs were considered startlingly modern. Some of his early fabrics featured ‘jazz age’ scenes of nightclubs and dancing, while later motifs were based on Australian flora and fauna, or derived from Oceanic and Aboriginal art.

 

Sam Atyeo. 'Album of designs: tables' c. 1933 - c. 1936

 

Sam Atyeo
Album of designs: tables
c. 1933 – c. 1936
Album: watercolour, brush and coloured inks, coloured pencils, 14 designs tipped into an album of 16 grey pages, card covers, tape and stapled binding
30.0 x 19.2 cm (page) 30.0 x 20.8 x 0.8 cm (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist, 1988

 

 

Sam Atyeo was a leading figure in Melbourne’s emerging modernist circles in the early 1930s, the partner of artist Moya Dyring and lover of Sunday Reed. He had studied at the National Gallery School, where he was a brilliant and rebellious student. Around 1932 Atyeo became friendly with Cynthia Reed, who managed Fred Ward’s furniture shop and interior design consultancy on Collins Street. After she opened Cynthia Reed Modern Furnishings in Little Collins Street, Atyeo designed furniture for Reed, that was strongly influenced by Ward’s designs.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
32.8 x 25.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2000

 

Ethel Blundell. 'Vase' 1936

 

Ethel Blundell
Vase
1936
Earthenware
17.6 x 16.8 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mrs Margaret Howie, Governor, 1999
© Ethel Blundell

 

 

Utopian cities

Modernity reflected what was new and progressive in Australian urban life. The image of the city became an allegory for this in art, and efficiency and speed became watchwords for modernity. Many artists celebrated the city and technological advancements in works utilising a modern style of hard-edged forms, flat colours and dynamic compositions. The engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932, was an ongoing source of fascination for artists, as were images of building the city, industry and modern modes of transport.

The skyscraper was also a powerful symbol of modern prosperity, especially when the Great Depression cast doubt on the inevitability of progress; hence the advent of tall buildings in Australian cities was hailed with relief and optimism. In 1932, at the peak of the Depression, the tallest building in Melbourne was opened: the Manchester Unity Building at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. With its ornamental tower and spire taking its overall height to 64 metres, the building was welcomed by The Age newspaper as ‘a new symbol of enterprise and confidence, undaunted by the “temporary eclipse” of the country’s economic fortune’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria at left; and Evening dress at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Seventh city of the Empire - Melbourne, Victoria' 1930s

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria
1930s
Colour lithograph printed by J. E. Hackett, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee, 2007

 

 

Percy Trompf’s poster celebrates Melbourne’s first skyscraper, the iconic Manchester Unity Building on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Designed by architect Marcus Barlow in the Art Deco ‘Gothic’ style, it was built at high speed between 1930 and 1932, and provided much needed employment during the Depression. At twelve storeys high and topped with a decorative tower it was Melbourne’s tallest building and contained the city’s first escalators. A powerful symbol of the city’s modernity, it was often featured in images of Melbourne.

 

Unknown, Australia 'Evening dress' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Australia
Evening dress
c. 1935
Silk
144.0 cm (centre back), 36.0 cm (waist, flat)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Irene Mitchell, 1975

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Colour linocut, ed. 3/50
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were leading figures in modern art in Melbourne. In the 1920s they studied with modernist Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School in London, where they learnt to make colour linocuts that followed Flight’s principles of rhythmic design combined with flat colour. In April 1933 Spowers and Syme visited the Yallourn Power Station in Gippsland, which had been opened in 1928 and was the largest supplier of electricity to the state.

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968) 'Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)' 1931

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968)
Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)
1931
Oil on canvas on plywood
44.7 x 49.2 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Purchased 1983
© QAGOMA

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham's 'George Street, Sydney' (1934) from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham’s George Street, Sydney (1934) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After serving in the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War, Herbert Badham studied at the Sydney Art School and began exhibiting in 1927. In his paintings he was a keen observer of everyday urban life: streets with shoppers, city workers on their lunch break and drinkers in the pub were painted in a contemporary, hard-edged realist style.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Rush hour in King's Cross' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Rush hour in King’s Cross
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
41.2 x 40.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Mr A.C. Goode, Fellow, 1987

 

 

During the 1930s the city provided a rich source of imagery for artists working in modern styles, who celebrated the speed and efficiency of modern transport technology and expanding road and rail networks. Yet as car ownership increased during the 1930s, larger cities began to suffer congestion and the rush hour became part of urban life. Throughout the decade the pace and stress of modern life became a topic of public debate, with conservative commentators decrying this transformation of the Australian lifestyle.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Grace Cossington Smith’s The Bridge in-curve at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Grace Cossington Smith. 'The Bridge in-curve' 1930

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia 1892-1984, England and Germany 1912-14, England and Italy 1949-51)
The Bridge in-curve
1930
Tempera on cardboard
83.6 x 111.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1967
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

The slow rise of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above the city was recorded by numerous painters, printmakers and photographers, including Sydney modernist Grace Cossington Smith. Her iconic The Bridge-in-curve depicts the bridge just before its two arches were joined in August 1930, and conveys the sense of wonder, achievement and hope that was inspired by this engineering marvel. By painting the emerging, rather than the complete bridge, Cossington Smith also focuses our attention on the energy and ambition required to create it.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Installation view of Frank Hinder’s Trains passing (1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Trains passing
1940
Oil on composition board
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974

 

 

Frank Hinder was one of the first abstract artists in Australia. After living and studying in the United States, Hinder and his wife, the American sculptor Margel, returned to Sydney in 1934. There they became part of a small avant-garde group that included Grace Crowley, Rah Fizelle, Ralph Balson and the German sculptor and art historian Eleanore Lange, all of whom were interested in Cubist, Constructivist and Futurist art. Hinder later said that this work was inspired by seeing Lange, sitting next to him on a train, reflected in the windows of a passing train.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Commuters' 1938

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Commuters
1938
Tempera on paper on board
Private collection

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976 'The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress' 1937

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976
The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress
1937
Booklet: colour photolithographs and letterpress,
12 pages, cardboard cover
printed by Queen City Printers, Melbourne
20.8 x 26.8 cm (closed)
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Launched in November 1937, The Spirit of Progress express passenger train was a source of immense pride to Victorians. Built in Newport, Victoria, the train featured many innovations, including all-steel carriages and full air-conditioning. Designed in the Art Deco, streamlined style by architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the passenger carriages were fitted out to a level of comfort not previously seen in Australia, and included a full dining carriage. The train ran between Melbourne and the New South Wales state border at Albury, the longest non-stop train journey in Australia at that time, at an average speed of 84 kilometres per hour.

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis' 'Speed!' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis’ Speed! from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924) 'Speed!' 1931

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924)
Speed!
1931
Colour process block print
Art Gallery of South Australia
Adelaide South Australian Government Grant 1986

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s 'Night gown' c. 1938

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s
Night gown
c. 1938
Silk (a) 166.0 cm (centre back) 38.9 cm (waist, flat) (dress) (b) 121.0 cm (centre back) 38.0 cm (waist, flat) (slip)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs A. G. Pringle, 1982

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross left and Frank Hinder’s Jackhammer third from right and Margel Hinder’s Man with jackhammer second right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934) 'Man with jackhammer' 1939

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934)
Man with jackhammer
1939
Cedar
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of J. B. Were & Son, Governor, 2001

 

 

American-born Margel Hinder was one of Australia’s leading modernist sculptors. She had studied art in Boston, where she met and married Sydney artist Frank Hinder. In 1934 they moved to Australia and became an important part of Sydney’s small modern art scene. In Man with jackhammer Hinder has simplified and contained the figure within a square frame, the strong diagonal form of the jackhammer creating a sense of compressed energy and force. Man and machine have fused in this celebration of industry and progress.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Jackhammer' 1936

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Jackhammer
1936
Airbrush on black paper
52.0 x 38.0 cm
Private collection, Sydney
© Enid Hawkins

 

 

Modern Woman

In the 1930s the new ‘Modern Woman’ made her appearance as a more serious and emancipated version of the giddy 1920s ‘flapper’. A woman who worked, she often lived alone in one of the new city apartment buildings, visited nightclubs and showed less interest in traditional marriage and child rearing. A lean body type became fashionable and was enhanced by the lengthened hemlines and defined waists introduced by French couturier Jean Patou in 1929. This slender silhouette was supported by form-fitting foundation garments by manufacturers such as Berlei.

The Modern Woman became one of the most potent images of contemporary life, being celebrated in women’s magazines such as the ultra-stylish Home and the Australian Women’s Weekly, launched in 1933. While such magazines were congratulating her and promoting new consumer goods to the Modern Woman, at the same time she was criticised by conservative commentators. In 1937 photographer Max Dupain wrote: ‘There must be a great shattering of modern values if woman is to continue to perpetuate the race… In her shred of a dress and little helmet of a hat, her cropped hair, and stark bearing, the modern woman is a sort of a soldier… It is not her fault it is her doom’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Peter Purves Smith’s Maisie left, Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Peter Purves Smith’s Lucile at  top right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Lina Bryans The babe is wise at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Maisie' 1938-39

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Maisie
1938-39
Gouache
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Bequest of Lady Maisie Drysdale 2001

 

 

In 1937 the striking, auburn-haired Maisie Newbold was a student at the George Bell School in Melbourne, where she met fellow student Peter Purves Smith and his best friend Russell Drysdale. Maisie and Purves Smith were married in 1946, only three years before latter’s premature death from tuberculosis. Purves Smith painted this portrait at the start of their relationship. It depicts Maisie as a stylish woman wearing the latest fashion, the angularity of her features contrasted by the soft fur of her collar and feathers of her hat. Many years later Maisie married Drysdale.

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig's work 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig’s work Peggy c. 1932
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 - Australia 1909, Australia from 1902) 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 – Australia 1909, Australia from 1902)
Peggy
c. 1932
Oil on canvas
40.4 x 30.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1978
© The Estate of Sybil Craig

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910)
The babe is wise
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962

 

 

Lina Bryans’s portrait of author Jean Campbell is titled after Campbell’s 1939 novel The Babe is Wise, a contemporary story set in Melbourne and in which the main protagonists are European migrants. A well-known figure in Melbourne’s literary circles, Campbell was noted for her ‘quick and slightly audacious wit’. Bryans had begun painting in 1937 with the support of William Frater. In the late 1930s she lived at Darebin Bridge House, which became an informal artists’ colony and meeting place for writers associated with the journal Meanjin.

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Lucile' 1937

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Lucile
1937
Oil on board
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 2011 with funds raised through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37) 'Self-portrait' 1932

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37)
Self-portrait
1932
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Acquired with the assistance of the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2011

 

 

During the first decade of her life as a professional artist, Nora Heysen completed numerous self-portraits. In many of these she depicts herself in the act of drawing or painting, holding a palette and brush or with other accoutrements of the artist, and thereby asserting her professional identity. Yet these are also highly charged works in which Heysen scrutinises herself (and the viewer) with an unflinching and unsmiling gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Arthur Challen’s Miss Moira Madden above chair
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Arthur Challen 'Miss Moira Madden' 1937

 

Arthur Challen
Miss Moira Madden
1937
oil on canvas
89.8 x 77.4 cm (framed)
State Library of Victoria
Gift of Mrs S. M. Challen, 1966
© The Estate of Arthur Challen

 

 

Body culture

The terrible physical losses and psychological traumas of the First World War changed Australian society and prompted anxious concerns about the direction of the nation. For some this meant an inward-looking isolationism, a desire that Australian culture should develop independently and untouched by the ‘degenerate’ influences of Europe.

The search for rejuvenation frequently involved explorations of the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the human body. In the hands of artists, corporeal forms came to symbolise nationhood, most often expressed through references to the art of Classical Greece and mythological subjects. The evolution of a new Australian ‘type’ was also proposed in the 1930s – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by time spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.

This art often has a distinctive quality to it, which in the light of history can sometimes make for disquieting viewing. With the terrible knowledge of how the Nazi Party in Germany subsequently used eugenics in its systematic slaughter of those with so-called ‘bad blood’, the Australian enthusiasm for ‘body culture’ can now seem problematic. Images of muscular nationalism soon lost their cache in Australia following the Second World War, tainted by undesirable fascistic overtones.

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Harvest' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Harvest
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph (25.6 x 30.5 cm)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2000

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Discus thrower' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Discus thrower
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
38.5 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Souvenir of Cronulla' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Souvenir of Cronulla
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of National Australia Bank Limited, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1992

 

 

In the 1930s Max Dupain responded to Henri Bergson’s book Creative Evolution (1907) in which he considered creativity and intuition as central to the renewed development of society, and the artist as prime possessor of these powers. Vitalism, as this philosophy was termed, was believed to be expressed through polarised sexual energies. In this work Dupain focuses on the sexually differentiated ‘energies’ of men and women, associating women with the forces of nature.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Daphne Mayo’s A young Australian in foreground
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25) 'A young Australian' 1930, cast 1931

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25)
A young Australian
1930, cast 1931
Bronze, marble
(a-b) 51.0 x 35.2 x 18.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1930
© 1982 by The Surf Life Saving Foundation and the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust (Q.)

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes and Resting Diana at left; Tom Purvis’ Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations (wall print) at centre rear; and Jean Broome-Norton’s Abundance on plinth at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959) 'Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations' c. 1938

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959)
Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations
c. 1938
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill's 'Neo-classical nudes' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 - Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929) 'Resting Diana' 1931

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 – Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929)
Resting Diana
1931
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

The invocation of the Classical body as a modern prototype was a powerful idea in the 1930s. The Graeco- Roman goddess Diana, the virgin patron goddess of the hunt, was popularly invoked as an ideal of female perfection, and represented with a slender and athletic physique. Dorothy Thornhill’s Diana is a remarkable visualisation of such a ‘modern Diana’, her angular body and defined musculature reflecting the masculinisation of female bodies at this time. She is a formidable presence, the quiver of arrows slung nonchalantly across her shoulders a trophy of her victory over the male gender.

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002) 'Abundance' 1934

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002)
Abundance
1934
Plaster, bronze patination
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of ICI Australia Limited, Fellow, 1994

 

 

“High-rise buildings, fast trains and engineering feats such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge jostled against the Great Depression, conservatism and a looming Second World War during the 1930s, one of the most turbulent decades in Australian history. The major exhibition at the NGV, Brave New World: Australia 1930s, will explore the way artists and designers engaged with these major issues providing a fresh look at a period characterised by both optimism and despair. The exhibition will present a broad-ranging collection of more than 200 works spanning photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and decorative arts as well as design, architecture, fashion, graphics, film and dance.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, commented, “Brave New World explores an important period of Australian art history during which Abstraction, Surrealism and Expressionism first emerged, and women artists arose as trailblazers of the modern art movement. It will offer an immersive look at the full spectrum of visual and creative culture of the period, from Max Dupain’s iconic depictions of the Australian body and beach culture to a vast display of nearly 40 Art Deco radios, which were an indispensable item for the Australian home during the 1930s.”

Presented thematically, Brave New World will show how artists and designers responded to major social and political concerns of the 1930s. The Great Depression, which saw Australia’s unemployment rate rise to 32% by 1932, is seen through the eyes of photographer F. Oswald Barnett in his powerful images of poverty-stricken inner Melbourne suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood and Carlton, and in the works of Danila Vassilieff, Yosl Bergner, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker who were among the first artists to depict Australia’s working class and destitute.

In contrast, many other artists at the time chose to focus upon the vibrant city streets, cafes and buildings of contemporary Australian cities, such as renowned modernist Grace Cossington Smith with her energetic canvasses of flat colours and abstracted forms. Other artists featured in Brave New World including Hilda Rix Nicholas and Elioth Gruner concentrated on more traditional scenes of the Australian bush, which was seen as a place of respite from the frenetic pace of modern city life.

The exhibition will explore artists’ responses to the growing calls for Indigenous rights during the 1930s, which was accompanied by a rising interest in Aboriginal art and particularly the work of Albert Namatjira, the first Indigenous artist of renown in Australia; and the rise of the ‘modern woman’, a female who favoured urban living, freedom and equality over marriage and child rearing.

The 1930s also saw the idea of the ‘Australian body’, a tanned, muscular archetype shaped by sand and surf, come to the fore of the Australian identity. Artists who engaged with this idea, including Max Dupain, Charles Meere and Olive Cotton, will be presented in Brave New World. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 212-page hardback publication, featuring essays by leading writers on each of the exhibition themes. A series of public programs will also be offered including a major symposium, an Art Deco walking tour of Melbourne and a dance performance, recreating Demon machine (1924) by the Bodenweiser company that toured Australia in the late 1930s as well as an original solo by the choreographer, Carol Brown (NZ).

Press release from the NGV

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937) 'Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D'Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour' 1939-40

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937)
Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D’Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour
1939-40
Gelatin silver photograph
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection. Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

The expressive body: dance in Australia

If modern art encapsulated the ideals and conflicting forces of the early twentieth century, then modern dance embodied its restless vitality and the quest for a different kind of subjectivity and expression. To many, modern dance is the pivotal art form for a mid twentieth century concerned with plasticity, the expressive body and tensions between the individual and its collective formation.

The decade of the 1930s is framed by the 1928-29 tour of Anna Pavlova’s dance company and the three tours of the remnant Ballets Russes companies (1936-37, 1938-39,1939-40) that excited many aspiring modernist artists. These tours sowed the seeds for subsequent ballet narratives in Australia, because the eruption of war in 1939 meant that Ballets Russes dancers, including Helene Kirsova and Edouard Borovansky, stayed in the country and established ballet companies. While trained in Russian dance technique, these artists were also influenced by the aesthetics of change in European art and dance that included new bodily techniques, dynamic movement patterns and modern technologies. It was the individual dancers of modern dance, however, including Louise Lightfoot and Sonia Revid, who produced the expressive intensity of a more autonomous art of movement.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA featuring a wall print of Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach c. 1935 by an unknown Australian photographer
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Australia, Unknown photographer. 'Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach' c. 1935

 

Australia, Unknown photographer
Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach
c. 1935
Courtesy of State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Sonia Revid was one of the leading proponents of modern interpretative dance in Melbourne. Born in Latvia, she studied with the great dancer Mary Wigman in Germany before coming to Australia in 1932. Revid is credited with introducing the ‘German Dance’ to Australian audiences, and in the mid 1930s established the Sonia Revid School of Art and Body Culture in Collins Street. She composed her own dances, one of the best known being Bushfire drama (1940), based on the 1939 Victoria Bushfires.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
44.5 x 33.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20) 'Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet' 1936-37

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20)
Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
24.8 x 19.4 cm
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

Choreographed by Léonide Massine in 1933, Les Presages (Destiny) was a popular and avant-garde work during the Ballets Russes tours to Australia in 1936-37. It was one of the first contemporary ballets to be choreographed to an existing musical score, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Portrayed in this picture are two principal dancers from the Monte Carlo Ballets Russes: Hélène Kirsova, who remained in Australia and formed her own ballet company in Sydney in the early 1940s, and Igor Youskevitch, who became a leading American ballet dancer, appearing here in the role of the Hero.

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s 'Dress for Slavonic Dances' 1939

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s
Dress for Slavonic Dances
1939
Cotton, silk (velvet) (appliqué), elastic, metal (zip) for a production of the Bodenwieser Ballet, choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Bodenwieser Collection. Gift of Barbara Cuckson, 2000

 

 

The Slavonic Dances were choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser to represent what she described as the ‘vigour and passionate feelings of the Slavonic people’, and toured with her first company in Australia in 1939. Loosely using folk-dance motifs, this ensemble work would have been a stylish crowd-pleaser in contrast to more serious dances. The appliqué and colourful flower motifs on this dress are similar to designs by Natalia Goncharova for the Ballets Russes, although the simplified appeal of its ‘red bodice, long, swirling skirt, and gathered white sleeves’ were probably designed by one of the company dancers, Evelyn Ippen.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Tamara Tchinarova in Presages' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Tamara Tchinarova in Presages
Published in Art in Australia, February 15, 1937
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Shaw Research Library

 

 

Australia Tunes Into The World

These radios comprise a selection of Australian designed and manufactured tabletop models from the 1930s at a time when this new method of communication became an integral part of every home. They reflect the rapid spread of the streamlined style to Australia from the United States, England and Europe, where industrial designers applied machine-age styling to everyday household appliances. The use of new synthetic plastics (Bakelite) and mass production helped to make radios affordable for ordinary people, even in the depths of the Depression, and radio transmission brought the world into every Australian home. As cheap alternatives to the expensive wooden console in the lounge room, these small, portable radios allowed individual family members to listen to serials, quizzes and popular music in other rooms such as the kitchen, bedroom and verandah, as well as in the workplace.

Radios of the 1930s are now appreciated as quintessential examples of Art Deco styling, and one of the first expressions of art meeting industry. These colourful and elegant radio sets were one of the first pieces of modern styling in the Australian home. They were also a symbol of modern technology and a new future.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer) 'Mullard' 1938

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (white)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (speckled green)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (black)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA 'Egg crate' (various colours)' 1938

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA ‘Egg crate’ (various colours)
1938
Bakelite
21.0 x 33.0 x 19.0 cm (each)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA Radiolette 'Empire State' and cigarette box (green)' 1934

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA Radiolette ‘Empire State’ and cigarette box (green)
1934
Bakelite
(a) 28.0 x 27.0 x 15.0 cm (radio) (b) 8.0 x 8.0 x 4.5 cm (cigarette box)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Sun and surf

The beach was a complex location in the Australian creative imagination. It was a democratic site in which the trappings of wealth and position were abandoned as people stripped down to their bathers. It was a place of hedonistic pleasures that offered sensuous engagement with sun and surf, and a primitive landscape where natural forces restored the bodies of those depleted by modern life. It was a playground for the tourist that was considered distinctively Australian. As war loomed again in the late 1930s, it was also a pseudo-militaristic zone in which the lifesaver was honed for ‘battle’ in the surf.

The lifesavers that helped protect the beach-going public were regularly praised as physical exemplars who could build the eugenic stock of the nation. As the Second World War approached, the connection of these trained lifesavers to military servicemen also became painfully apparent.

Male lifesavers were used by artists in promoting Australia to tourists: a poster commemorating the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 positioned the lifesaver as the quintessential representative of Australian manhood. Douglas Annand and Arthur Whitmore’s virile lifesaver proudly gestures towards the new bridge, his muscles as strong and protective as the steel girders that span the harbour.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'On the beach. Man, woman, boy' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
On the beach. Man, woman, boy
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
39.2 x 47.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Showing a naked family on the beach, Max Dupain’s work is a perfect illustration of social concerns of the times. As Australia moved closer to engagement in another world war, fears about the poor physical fitness of the population were debated, with a ‘national fitness’ campaign instituted by the government in 1938. Dupain’s father, George, was one of the country’s first physical educationalists, opening the Dupain Institute of Physical Education and Medical Gymnastics in 1900 and writing extensively on the subject of health and fitness. Max Dupain attended the gym and was well versed in contemporary concerns about fitness.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Male lifesaver, window' and 'Female lifesaver, window' (both c. 1935)

 

Installation view of Male lifesaver, window and Female lifesaver, window (both c. 1935) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Male lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Male lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.5 x 40.8 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by C. J Dennis

 

 

‘On golden and milky sands, bodily excellence is displayed the year round, clearly defined by the sun in an atmosphere as viewless and benign as the air of Hellas as described by Euripides.’

J. S. Macdonald, 1931

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Female lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Female lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.0 x 40.9 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by Councillor R. T. Bell

 

 

Although much was made of the ‘gods of the golden sand’, as one poet glowingly described lifesavers, lifesaving clubs were not entirely male in membership. Women lifesavers also made their mark, albeit in more limited numbers and with much less recognition. At the Williamstown Lifesaving Club in Melbourne a woman lifesaver was included in this fine and very rare stained glass window that, along with its counterpart featuring a male lifesaver, graced the newly established clubhouse around 1935.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the male and female lifesavers (centre); Max Dupain’s The carnival at Bondi (fourth from right); Sydney Bridge celebrations (second right); and Douglas Annand and Max Dupain’s Australia (right)
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Sunbaker
(1938), dated 1937, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
38.0 x 43.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

 

Taken on a camping trip near Culburra, on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales, in January 1938, Max Dupain’s original version of the Sunbaker was a much darker image that existed at the time only in an album gifted to his friend Chris Van Dyke. Dupain lost the original negative and printed this variant version in 1975 for an exhibition. It is an image that is now considered an icon in Australian photography, and has come to represent key values of the interest in ‘body culture’, celebrating health and fitness in the context of the beach.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'The carnival at Bondi' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
The carnival at Bondi
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

‘The lifesaving teams … are splendid examples of the physique, resourcefulness and vitality of our youth and manhood. They are typical of the outdoor life which Australians lead and they are living testimonies to the value of surfing and the vigor and stamina of our race.’

DAILY EXAMINER, July 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Manly' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Manly
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from funds donated by Hallmark Cards Australia Pty Ltd, 1987

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'The seaside calls - go by train - take a Kodak' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
The seaside calls – go by train – take a Kodak
1930s
Colour lithograph
Printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee

 

 

Gert Sellheim was born to German parents in Estonia, at that time part of the Russian Empire. After studying architecture in Europe he travelled to Western Australia in 1926, before settling in Melbourne in 1931, where he began working as an industrial and commercial designer. Working for the Australian National Travel Association, Sellheim created a series of posters promoting beach holidays, which incorporated Art Deco motifs and typography. His most famous design is the flying kangaroo logo for Qantas, which he created in 1947.

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65) 'Sydney Bridge celebrations' 1932

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65)
Sydney Bridge celebrations
1932
Colour lithograph
47.6 x 63.6 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Australia' c. 1937

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Australia
c. 1937
Colour and process lithograph
105.3 x 68.4 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76) 'Follow the sun - Australia's 150th Anniversary celebrations' 1938

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76)
Follow the sun – Australia’s 150th Anniversary celebrations
1938
Colour lithograph and photolithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

The 1930s were the heyday of the travel poster. Posters were commissioned by railway and tourism groups or shipping companies and airlines to promote Australian holiday destinations, both at home and overseas. The Australian National Travel Association was formed in 1929 to promote Australia to overseas markets. As part of its strategy it commissioned posters from leading graphic artists, such as Percy Trompf, James Northfield and Douglas Annand. From the late 1920s Australia began to actively promote itself to the world by using the beach, sun and surf as motifs.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the work of John Rowell, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Gert Sellheim and Percy Trompf on the far wall, and Robert E. Coates Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) on the projector screen at left
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

The Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair projected an image of Australia as a young and healthy nation, a place of industry, sport and tourism. Designed by John Oldham of Sydney architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the modern design of the building was complemented by Douglas Annand’s interior displays featuring the latest graphic design, and audio-visual and photomontage techniques. These photographs of the Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair were taken by commercial photographer Robert E. Coates.

 

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

 

Installation views of Robert E. Coates’ Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) (digital images, looped)

 

 

Pastoral landscapes

Along with the beach, another national myth evolved around the Australian bush. Although most Australians lived in cities, in the years following the First World War the nation became increasingly informed by a mythology centred on the bush and the landscape. For those who considered the modern city a profoundly depleting force, the bush was a touchstone of traditional ‘values’. It was nostalgically conceived of as an idyllic natural realm whose soil, literally and metaphorically, sustained its people. Both the classical Pastoral ideal of a land in which only sheep and cattle roam, and the Georgic tradition, which celebrated the achievements of agriculture, became dominant themes in landscape art.

Pastoral landscapes were admired above all as representing the antithesis of ‘decadent’ modern life. As art critic and gallery director J. S. Macdonald wrote, such art would ‘point the way in which life should be lived in Australia, with the maximum of flocks and the minimum of factories’. With their emphasis on farming and pastoral industries, such works affirmed white landownership, with Indigenous people largely absent.

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973) 'Blue hills' c. 1936

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973)
Blue hills
c. 1936
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1936

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Spring in the Grampians' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Spring in the Grampians
1930s
Colour photolithograph
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 2000

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The fair musterer' c. 1935

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The fair musterer
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 1971

 

 

As a young artist Hilda Rix Nicholas had a successful career in France before returning to Australia after the First World War. In 1934, several years after the birth of her son, Rix Nicholas returned to painting and depicted her new life living on the family property Knockalong, on the Monaro Plains in New South Wales. Depicting the governess of her young son holding the reins of her horse, dog at her feet, and sheep in the distance, in The fair musterer Rix Nicholas claims for women an active role in the masculine world of pastoral Australia.

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The shepherd of Knockalong' 1933

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The shepherd of Knockalong
1933
Oil on canvas
Collection of Peter Rix, Sydney
Courtesy of Deutscher & Hackett

 

 

Depicting the artist’s husband and young son, The shepherd of Knockalong is a reminder of the traditional importance of the wool industry to the nation’s economy. With his legs firmly connected to the ground and pictured as a large figure dominating the landscape setting, the farmer is the benign owner and ‘shepherd’ of the land spreading out behind him, the presence of his young son ensuring dynastic succession. At a time when Aboriginal people were confined to reservations and denied citizenship, Hilda Rix Nicholas’s painting can also be considered as an assertion of the British colonisers’ right to ownership of Australia.

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Western Australia' c. 1936

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Western Australia
c. 1936
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Indigenous art and culture

During the 1930s Aboriginal people were often pejoratively referred to as a ‘dying race’. The Australian Government continued to enforce a ‘divide and rule’ assimilationist policy. Determined by eugenics, this entailed removing Aboriginal people of mixed descent from their families and reserves, and absorbing them into the dominant society, with consequent loss of their own language and customary ritual practices. Increasingly during this period, Aboriginal people formed their own organisations and agitated for full citizenship rights.

This was also a decade that saw increasing awareness of, and interest in, Indigenous art. Albert Namatjira astonished Melbourne audiences at his first solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1938. Comprising forty-one watercolour paintings, all of his works sold within three days of the opening. The following year the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased one of Namatjira’s works. Indigenous art also inspired non-Indigenous artists, including Margaret Preston and Frances Derham who appropriated design elements in their works. The idea of ‘Aboriginalism’, in which settlers sought an Australian identity in the context of Britishness and the Empire, saw artists travelling to the outback to paint and sketch subjects they believed connected them to Indigenous history.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) Kangaroo and 'Aboriginal motifs' 1925-1940

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo and Aboriginal motifs
1925-1940
Linocut printed in brown ink on buff paper
4.6 x 7.3 cm (image) 12.6 x 10.3 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988
© Estate of Frances Derham

 

 

Best known as a progressive educator and advocate of children’s art, Frances Derham was also an active member of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria, and with potter Allan Lowe shared Margaret Preston’s interest in the appropriation of Indigenous art. From the mid 1920s Derham began to incorporate Aboriginal motifs into her linocuts and in 1929, synchronous with the exhibition Australian Aboriginal Art at the Museum of Victoria, Derham presented a lecture to the Arts and Crafts Society, entitled ‘The Interest of Aboriginal Art to the Modern Designer’.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'Kangaroo (at the zoo)' c. 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo (at the zoo)
c. 1931
Linocut printed in brown ink on Chinese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'The Aboriginal artist' 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
The Aboriginal artist
1931
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19) 'Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales' 1940-1941

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19)
Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales
1940-1941
Oil and gouache on canvas
53.7 x 45.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated from the Estate of Dr Donald Wright, 2008
© Margaret Preston/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

During the 1920s Margaret Preston considered Aboriginal art a source of good design in the decoration of household items. In the 1930s her study of Aboriginal culture intensified, as she developed a greater interest in its anthropological and cosmological elements. In 1940 Preston travelled to the Northern Territory to study Aboriginal art. On her return she developed a more explicit Aboriginal style in paintings featuring earthy tones, strong black outlines and patterns of dots and lines.

 

Unknown Walamangu active (1930s) 'Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)' c. 1935

 

Unknown
Walamangu active (1930s)
Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)
c. 1935
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.), resin
128.3 x 63.9 cm
The Donald Thomson Collection
Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, segregation was the main government policy regarding Aboriginal people. It was re-enforced by the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act, which gave the Aborigines Protection Board the power to control where Aboriginal people lived in New South Wales. In 1937 the Commonwealth Government adopted a policy of assimilation, whereby Aboriginal people of mixed descent were henceforth to be assimilated into white society, while others were confined to reserves. In 1931 Arnhem Land was declared an Aboriginal Reserve by the government and non-Indigenous entry into the region was restricted.

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani Liyagalawumirr active 1930s 'Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story)' 1937

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani
Liyagalawumirr active 1930s
Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story) (installation view)
1937
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.)
The Donald Thomson Collection Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For Yolgnu people, painting on bark or objects is intimately connected with painting on the body, and the Yolgnu term barrawan means both ‘skin’ and ‘bark’. These paintings are transcriptions of the sacred designs that were painted onto men’s bodies and convey the power of the Yolgnu ancestors whose actions created their world. The Wagilag Sisters Dreaming story chronicles the creative acts of the sisters as they travelled across Arnhem Land. Such stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations.

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40) 'Walila, Pintupi tribe' 1934

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40)
Walila, Pintupi tribe
1934
Pencil
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1934

 

 

In 1933, on the invitation of Professor H. Whitridge Davies, Sydney artist Arthur Murch accompanied a research team from Sydney University to Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, south-west of Alice Springs. Murch remained there for six weeks painting the landscapes and making portraits of Indigenous people. These were exhibited in Sydney soon after his return.

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938) 'Thomas Foster' (installation view) 1934

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938)
Thomas Foster (installation view)
1934
Oil on canvas
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Isabelle Leason, 1969
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Thomas Foster was born at Coranderrk Station in 1882, the son of Edward Foster and Betsy Benfield. Foster’s was one of the last portraits painted by Leason as part of the unfortunately titled exhibition The Last of the Victorian Aborigines. These portraits were debuted on 11 September at the Athenaeum Gallery in Collins Street, Melbourne, to great public acclaim. Foster, like most of Leason’s subjects, appears shirtless, his arms folded behind his back, pushing forward his chest and clearly showing his scarification marks.

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Corroboree Australia' 1934

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Corroboree Australia
1934
Colour lithograph printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Australian National Travel Association, 1934

 

 

Dystopian cities

Australia was hit hard by the Great Depression. The worst year was 1932, when unemployment reached nearly thirty-two per cent, and by the following year almost a third of all unemployed men had been without work for three years. With wages cut and unemployment rising, many families were left struggling to survive and this poverty was most evident in run-down, inner-city areas. Two émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner, were the first Australian artists to turn their attention to the plight of the urban poor and the disposed. Their powerful, expressive style was influential upon young artists, including Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Economic hardship fostered bitterness and political unrest, and membership of radical groups on both the left and right increased. Boundaries between political agendas and art production became porous in this decade, and many artists believed, like Bergner, ‘that by painting we would change the world’. The complex enmeshment of the creative and political became a defining feature of the decade, and art in Australia became increasingly political, with the political realm involving itself with art.

By the end of the decade the worsening political situation overseas and a sense that another world war was inevitable contributed to a growing sense of unease. Many artists expressed this anxiety and foreboding in their works.

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90) 'No title (War montage with globe)' c. 1939

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90)
No title (War montage with globe)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.4 x 24.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of Mrs Mem Kirby, Fellow, 2001

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Hot rhythm!' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Hot rhythm!
1936
Silver gelatin photograph
24.7 x 17.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

In this work, Max Dupain has the shadow of a slide trombone seemingly bisect the naked body of a woman in a photograph that, in the context of his known views, is less an erotic celebration of modern jazz culture and nightlife than a comment on the disruptive nature of modernity.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Doom of youth' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Doom of youth
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

In Doom of youth – a title taken from Wyndham Lewis’s 1932 polemical book of the same name – Max Dupain creates an allegorical photograph in which a naked male body represents his vision of modern Australia. Using symbols that suggest disempowerment, Dupain implies that the flywheel of mechanisation has doomed youth (the representatives of a nation’s future) to a bleak fate.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep' 1936-37

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

Referring to Edward Hughes’s 1912 Symbolist work of the same name, Max Dupain has replaced the painter’s dark-winged goddess of the night, who tries to calm the putti (or ‘stars’) that cling to her, with an updated modern version in which city lights replace starlight. The symbolism of the giant breast that towers over the electric lights of the urban landscape suggests an inversion of the natural for the man-made. The personification of night refers to the Greek goddess Nyx, a powerful force born of Chaos, and the mother of children including Sleep, Death and Pain. Given his often gloomy assessment of modernity, Dupain’s invocation of Nyx seems appropriate in the context.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Herbert Badham’s Paint and morning tea second left and Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait third from right
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961) 'Paint and morning tea' 1937

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961)
Paint and morning tea
1937
Oil on cardboard
75.6 x 71.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1937
© The Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker's 'Self-portrait' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the late 1930s Albert Tucker’s contact with émigré artists Yosl Bergner and Danila Vassilieff was to provide important encouragement for him to pursue his artistic vocation and to make art that was responsive to the issues of his time. In 1938 Tucker was a founding member of the Contemporary Art Society, and he became one of the most articulate voices in the often bitter debates between modernists and conservatives. In the 1940s, together with his partner Joy Hester, Tucker was a key member of the group of artists and writers that formed around John and Sunday Reed at Heide.

From 1936 until the early 1940s Albert Tucker chronicled himself with numerous painted and drawn self-portraits. In these works we witness a harrowing disintegration of his physical self, which mirrored the artist’s overwrought emotional state. He recalled: ‘It was a period when the whole world, and all the people I knew, seemed to be seething with ideas and energies and experiences; and my own mind was a seething mess … The highly emotional, overwrought expressionist paintings suited my state at the time’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with work by Danila Vassilieff on the centre black wall including Street scene with graffiti (left), Truth, Woolloomooloo (second left) and Young girl (Shirley) the large painting at right; and F. Oswald Barnett’s photographs of Melbourne slums in the display cabinet
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Street scene with graffiti' 1938

 

Installation view of Danila Vassilieff ‘s Street scene with graffiti (1938) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Truth, Woolloomooloo' 1936

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Truth, Woolloomooloo
1936
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

It is notable that the first artists to depict the poverty of inner-city slums were two recently arrived émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner. Russian-born Vassilieff, who had fought with the white Russian army, first arrived in Australia in 1923 before leaving again in 1929. On his return in 1935 he painted a series of dark streetscapes, depicting the inner suburban areas of Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills in Sydney. Moving to Melbourne, Vassilieff’s expressionist style influenced many young artists, including Lina Bryans, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan.

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Young girl (Shirley)' 1937

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Young girl (Shirley)
1937
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery Society of Victoria Century Fund, 1984

 

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. Rear view of house'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room 48 Palmerston Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne rubbish tip'

 

F. Oswald Barnett (Australia 1883–1972)

Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence
Fitzroy. Rear view of house
North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place
West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion
Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room, 48 Palmerston Street
North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street
West Melbourne rubbish tip

c. 1930-c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph and typewriting on card
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
F. Oswald Barnett Collection
Gift of Department of Human Services, Victoria 2001

 

 

One of the most visible and lasting effects of the Great Depression was the housing crisis in the poor working class areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Many of the nineteenth-century houses had fallen into disrepair, overcrowding was endemic and a great number of families lived in squalid and unhealthy conditions. Throughout the decade ‘slum’ abolition movements in Melbourne and Sydney ran public campaigns to place public housing on the political agenda, leading to the creation of the first state Housing Commissions.

In Melbourne, Methodist layman F. Oswald Barnett led a campaign calling for slum demolition and the rehousing of residents in government-financed housing. He took hundreds of photographs that were used in public lectures and to illustrate the 1937 report of the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board. This led to the creation of the Housing Commission of Victoria in 1938, with its first major project being the Garden City estate at Fishermans Bend. In Sydney a similar campaign led to the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and the construction of the first fifty-six home units at Erskineville. (NGV)

The photographs in the F. Oswald Barnett Collection were taken by Barnett and other unidentified photographers in the 1930s. Many of them were used to illustrate a government report on slum housing and/or made into lantern slides for lectures in a public campaign.  F. Oswald Barnett was born in Brunswick, Victoria. A committed Methodist and housing reformer, he led a crusade against Melbourne’s inner city slums. In 1936 he was appointed to the Slum Abolition Board and from 1938-1948 he was the vice-chair of the Housing Commission. In this position he attempted to shape compassionate public housing policy. He later protested vigorously against proposed high-rise housing (Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th century Australia).

 

 

Scenes from Melbourne during the depression (extract)
c. 1935
Black and white film transferred to media player
1 min. 51 sec. silent (looped)
Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Canberra

 

 

While there is an abundance of newspaper and documentary photographs which document the 1930s shanty towns, slums, relief and charity works, there is very little moving image recordings available. Instead, the moving image medium at the time was primarily focused on providing entertainment that would allow the audience temporary relief from the Depression. This rare footage depicts slum areas of inner Melbourne, and provides great insight into the horrible living conditions that many Australian families experienced.

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30) 'The sundowner' 1932

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30)
The sundowner
1932
Painted plaster
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jack and Zena Cohn, 2016

 

 

Ola Cohn studied sculpture with Henry Moore at the Royal College of Art in London in the 1920s. She returned to Melbourne in 1930, where the following year her solo exhibition established her as a leading proponent of modern sculpture. During the Depression the sight of ‘swagmen’ or ‘sundowners’ became commonplace as unemployed men travelled across the country in order to find work. In 1932 Cohn submitted this maquette of a sundowner to a competition for a full-scale sculpture to be erected in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne: unsurprisingly it was not chosen as the winning entry.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren at centre and Albert Tucker’s The futile city at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith's 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51) 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' 1940

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51)
The advance of Lot and his Brethren
1940
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 2008

 

 

In the early 1930s, artists depicted the city as a modern utopia, a place of triumphant progress and aspiration later in the decades, a new radical iconography of the city as a place of moral decay and corruption appeared. Painted at the start of the Second World War, Lot and his brethren expresses Bernard Smith’s despair at the conflagration that the world had been plunged into. Based on the biblical story of Lot, who fled from God’s destruction of Sodom, Smith depicts Karl Marx as the saviour who leads his people from the burning city.

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60) 'The futile city' 1940

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60)
The futile city
1940
Oil on cardboard
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Melbourne
Purchased from John and Sunday Reed, 1980

 

 

At the start of the Second World War Surrealism was an important influence upon Albert Tucker, as were the writings of T. S. Eliot. The futile city was inspired by Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land (1922): ‘I came on T. S. Eliot, and instantly I recognised a twin soul because here was horror, outrage, despair, futility, and all the images that went with them. He confirmed my own feelings and also became a source … because of the images that would involuntarily form while I was reading the poetry’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner's 'Citizen' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Yosl Bergner was one of approximately 7000-8000 Jewish people, mainly from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, who arrived in Australia between 1933 and 1939 fleeing Nazi persecution. This number included many artists, musicians, architects, writers and intellectuals who were to contribute greatly to Australia’s cultural life. However, government policy remained opposed to large-scale intake of Jewish refugees, and some were met with anti-Semitic sentiments upon their arrival.

 

Yvonne Atkinson (Australia 1918-99) 'The tram stop' 1937

 

Installation view of Yvonne Atkinson The tram stop (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Brave New World' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Brave New World
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 20.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2017

 

 

In 1935 Max Dupain referred to Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World (1932) in his photograph of a woman trapped by technology. Dupain was attracted to this biting satire on the ethical dilemmas of social engineering because it appeared to endorse his own fervently held ideas of how modernity was affecting the individual and national body. At the time his choice to directly reference this book was surprisingly provocative: Brave New World had been banned by the Australian customs department, with existing copies rounded up and burned. Dupain returned again to the theme in 1938, producing this variant version.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Brave New World (wall print) at centre rear with Sideboard and Chest of drawers at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Sideboard and Chest of drawers from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Sideboard' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Chest of drawers' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

Working-class people were the most affected by the high levels of unemployment during the Depression. By 1932 more than 60,000 men, women and children were dependent on the susso, a state-based sustenance payment that enabled families to buy only the bare minimum of food. Many families unable to pay their rent were evicted from their homes. For those suffering economic hardship, ‘making do’ became a way of life, and furniture would be constructed from found items such as kerosene tins and packing crates.

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer) John Long (publisher) 'Upsurge' 1934

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer)
John Long (publisher)
Upsurge
1934
London, March 1934
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Censorship of books was vigorously pursued by federal and state governments during the 1930s. Australia was one of only two countries in the world to ban Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when it was first published in 1932. Australian author J. M. Harcourt’s novel Upsurge (1934) was the first book to be banned following a recommendation by the newly established Book Censorship Board in 1934. Portraying the lives of Western Australia’s working class during the Depression, it was described by one customs official as ‘thinly disguised propaganda on behalf of Communism and social revolution’.

 

Activism

During the 1930s a small number of artists became active in the militant working-class struggle through their involvement in social and cultural organisations affiliated with the Communist Party, such as the Friends of the Soviet Union, the Workers’ Art Club and the Workers’ Theatre Group, which were formed in Sydney, Melbourne and other metropolitan centres. A number of these artists were also involved with a variety of mostly short-lived radical magazines, helping with their production, as well as providing covers and illustrations. Linocuts were a preferred medium for these artists, as the materials were inexpensive and the images reproduced well.

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980) 'Masses' 1932

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980)
Masses
Cover illustration for Masses, vol. 1, no. 1, printed by Bright Printing Services, published by the Workers’ Art Club, Melbourne, November 1932
1932
Linocut printed in red and black ink
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock's cover illustration for 'Strife', vol. 1, no. 1

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock’s cover illustration for Strife, vol. 1, no. 1 (1930) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Edited by eighteen-year-old communist Judah Waten, with Herbert McClintock as art editor, Strife declared itself ‘an organ of the new culture, destructive and constructive’. The first issue was due for release in October 1930; however, a blasphemous poem by Brian Fitzpatrick published in the magazine prompted a police raid on the Strife office and the editor’s hasty destruction of (most) copies of the issue.

 

Installation view of cover illustration for 'Proletariat', vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator

 

Installation view of cover illustration for Proletariat, vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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24
May
17

Exhibition: ‘Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 9th March – 29th May 2017

 

This is the last posting for a while as my hand operation is tomorrow… so let’s make the most of the occasion!

 

“…the life of spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being.”

.
George Wilhelm Frederich Hegel 1807 ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, Preface (trans. A. V. Miller 1977), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 10

 

 

This is an interesting pairing for an exhibition but the connection between the artists is unconvincing. This is because Wearing and Cahun are talking to different aspects of the self.

Wearing’s self-portraits, her mask-querades, her shielded multiple personalities, talk to a “postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self” in which there is little evidence of the existence of any “real” person. Wearing wears her identities in a series of dress-ups, performances where only the eyes of the original protagonist are visible. These identities evidence Jung’s shadow aspect, “an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself.” Rather than an assimilation of the shadow aspect into the self followed by an ascent (enantiodromia), Wearing’s images seem to be mired in a state of melancholia, a “confrontation with the shadow which produces at first a dead balance, a stand-still that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective…tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia.” This is not a confrontation that leads anywhere interesting, by looking the negative in the face and tarrying with it. These split personalities rise little above caricature, an imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are over emphasised, such as in Wearing’s portraits of her as Andy Warhol or Robert Mapplethorpe. To me, the photograph of Wearing as Mapplethorpe is a travesty of the pain that artist was feeling as he neared the end of his life, dying from HIV/AIDS.

Cahun’s self-portraits contain all the depth of feeling and emotion that Wearing’s can never contain. Here, identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade in a constructive way, a deep, probing interrogation of the self in front of the camera. While Cahun engages with Surrealist ideas – wearing masks and costumes and changing her appearance, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation – she does so in a direct and powerful way. As Cumming observes, “She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape [as Wearing is]. Cahun is always and emphatically herself. Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary* these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.””

*Those with nonbinary genders can feel that they: Have an androgynous (both masculine and feminine) gender identity, such as androgyne. Have an identity between male and female, such as intergender. Have a neutral or unrecognized gender identity, such as agender, neutrois, or most xenogenders.*

Cahun had a gift for the indelible image but more than that, she possesses the propensity for humility and openness in these portraits, as though she is opening her soul for interrogation, even as she explores what it is to be Cahun, what it is to be human. This is a human being in full control of the balance between the ego and the self, of dream-state and reality. The photographs, little shown in Cahun’s lifetime, are her process of coming to terms with the external world, on the one hand, and with one’s own unique psychological characteristics on the other. They are her adaption** to the world.

**“The constant flow of life again and again demands fresh adaptation. Adaptation is never achieved once and for all.” (Carl Jung. “The Transcendent Function,” CW 8, par. 143.)**

.
Claude Cahun is person I would have really liked to have met. Affiliated with the French Surrealist movement, living with her partner the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris for the Isles of Scilly and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance.

“Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers. Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazis’ crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing them in soldier’s pockets, on their chairs, etc. Also, they inconspicuously crumpled up and threw their fliers into cars and windows. In many ways, Cahun and Malherbe’s [Marcel Moore] resistance efforts were not only political but artistic actions, using their creative talents to manipulate and undermine the authority which they despised. In many ways, Cahun’s life’s work was focused on undermining a certain authority, however her specific resistance fighting targeted a physically dangerous threat. In 1944 she was arrested and sentenced to death, but the sentence was never carried out. However, Cahun’s health never recovered from her treatment in jail, and she died in 1954.” (Wikipedia)

Undermining a certain authority … while ennobling her own identity and being. Love and respect.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the National Portrait Gallery, London for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For more information please see the blog entry Claude Cahun: Freedom Fighter.

 

This exhibition brings together for the first time the work of French artist Claude Cahun and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing. Although they were born almost seventy years apart and came from different backgrounds, remarkable parallels can be drawn between the two artists. Both of them share a fascination with the self-portrait and use the self-image, through the medium of photography, to explore themes around identity and gender, which is often played out through masquerade and performance.

 

 

“Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

.
Claude Cahun, 1930

 

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror with chequered jacket)
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

 Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1928

 

Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1928
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 9 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

“Once seen, never forgotten: Cahun had a gift for the indelible image. Even when the signals are jammed, and the meaning deliberately baffled, her vision always holds strong. This is partly convenienced by the artist’s exceptional looks. Her long, thin face, with its shaved eyebrows, large eyes and linear nose, takes paint like a canvas. She converts herself into a harpy, a lunatic or a doll with equal ease. In one self-portrait, she even holds her own bare face like a mask…

Peering into these monochrome images, so delicate and small, the viewer might inevitably wonder which is the real Cahun: the woman in the aviator goggles, the pensive Buddhist, the young man in a white silk scarf? But this is not the right question. She is not trying to become someone else, not trying to escape. Cahun is always and emphatically herself.

Dressed as a man, she never appears masculine, nor like a woman in drag. Dressed as a woman, she never looks feminine. She is what we refer to as non-binary these days, though Cahun called it something else: “Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” …

There is little evidence that she ever displayed these photographs, which were forgotten for decades after her death. It seems that her partner was generally behind the lens, but we know almost nothing about how they were made. Of her lifelong project, Cahun wrote: “Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Commentators have taken this to mean that she thought of herself as a series of multiple personalities, and the double exposures, shadows and reflections in her work all seem to undermine the idea of a singular self. Yet Cahun is formidably and unmistakably Cahun, her force of personality registering every time in that utterly penetrating look. Far from some postmodern meditation on the slipperiness of the self, her images are completely direct. They acknowledge the sufferings of a double life and are deepened by them every time; and yet they rejoice in that life too.”

Laura Cumming. “Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask – review,” on The Observer website

 

 

Claude Cahun in collaboration with Marcel Moore. 'Aveux non avenus frontispiece' 1929-30

 

Claude Cahun in collaboration with Marcel Moore
Aveux non avenus frontispiece
1929-30
Photomontage
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

“Cahun appears in enigmatic guises, playing out different personas using masks and mirrors, and featuring androgynous shaven or close-cropped hair – as can be seen in the multiple views of her in the lower left-hand side of this collage. The image also includes symbols made up by the women to represent themselves – the eye for Moore, the artist, and the mouth for Cahun, the writer and actor. Whereas the majority of Surrealists were men, in whose images women appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s androgynous self-portraits explore female identity as constructed, multifaceted, and ultimately as having a nihilistic absence at the core.”

Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)' 1921-22

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (as a dandy, head and shoulders)
1921-22
Silver gelatin print
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Thomas Walther Collection
Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

 

Claude Cahun. 'Studies for a keepsake' c. 1925

 

Claude Cahun
Studies for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin prints
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet

 

Claude Cahun. 'Study for a keepsake' c. 1925

 

Claude Cahun
Study for a keepsake
c. 1925
Silver gelatin print
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
© Musée d’Art moderne / Roger-Viollet

 

Claude Cahun. 'I am in training don't kiss me' c. 1927

 

Claude Cahun
I am in training don’t kiss me
c. 1927
Silver gelatin print
117mm x 89mm (whole)
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Totor (progenitor of Tintin) and Popol are two comic characters by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Castor and Pollux are the twin stars; Pollux and Helen were the children of Zeus and Leda, while Castor and Clytemnestra were the children of Leda and Tyndareus.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)' c. 1928

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask)
c. 1928
Silver gelatin print
116mm x  83mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)' 1928

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (full length masked figure in cloak with masks)
1928
Silver gelatin print
109mm x 82mm
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait
1929
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)' c. 1932

 

Claude Cahun
Je tends les bras (I extend my arms)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (in cupboard)' c. 1932

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (in cupboard)
c. 1932
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

 

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask (9 March – 29 May 2017) draws together over 100 works by French artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and British contemporary artist Gillian Wearing (b.1963). While they were born 70 years apart, they share similar themes of gender, identity, masquerade and performance.

Cahun, along with her contemporaries André Breton and Man Ray, was affiliated with the French Surrealist movement although her work was rarely exhibited during her lifetime. Together with her partner, the artist and stage designer Marcel Moore, the two women left Paris and were then imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Jersey during the Second World War as a result of their roles in the French Resistance. In her photographs she is depicted wearing masks and costumes and engaging with Surrealist ideas. She also changes her appearance by shaving her hair and wearing wigs, often challenging traditional notions of gender representation.

Gillian Wearing studied at Goldsmiths University, winning the Turner Prize in 1997. She has exhibited extensively in the United Kingdom and internationally, including solo exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery and Serpentine Gallery, whilst overseas, recent retrospectives include IVAM Valencia and K20 Dusseldorf. Wearing’s photographic self-portraits incorporate painstaking recreations of her as others in an intriguing and sometimes unsettling range of guises such as where she becomes her immediate family members using prosthetic masks.

Despite their different backgrounds, obvious and remarkable parallels can be drawn between the artists whose fascination with identity and gender is played out through performance and masquerade. Wearing has referenced Cahun overtly in the past: Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face is a reconstruction of Cahun’s self-portrait Don’t kiss me I’m in training of 1927, and forms the starting point of this exhibition, the title of which (Behind the mask, another mask) adapts a quotation from Claude Cahun’s Surrealist writings.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘This inspired, timely and poignant exhibition pairs the works of Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun. These pioneering artists, although separated by several decades, address similarly compelling themes around gender, identity, masquerade, performance and the idea of the self, issues that are ever more relevant to the present day.’

Sarah Howgate, Curator, Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask, says: ‘It seems particularly fitting that at the National Portrait Gallery on International Women’s Day we are bringing together for the first time Claude Cahun’s intriguing and complex explorations of identity with the equally challenging and provocative self-images of Gillian Wearing.’

Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask is curated by Sarah Howgate, Senior Curator of Contemporary Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait as a young girl
1914
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait as a young girl' 1914

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait as a young girl
1914
Silver gelatin print
Jersey Heritage Collections
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)' 1920

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (shaved head, material draped across body)
1920
Silver gelatin print
115mm x 89mm

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Claude Cahun
Self-Portrait
1927
Silver gelatin print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Que me veux tu?' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Que me veux tu? (What do you want from me?)
1929
Gelatin silver print
18 x 23 cm (7 1/16 x 9 1/16 ins)
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait' 1929

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait
1929
Gelatin silver print

 

Claude Cahun. 'Autoportrait' 1939

 

Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1939
Gelatin silver print
10 x 8 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

 

Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)' 1945

 

Claude Cahun
Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)
1945
Photograph – Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Ten things you need to know about this extraordinary artist

1. Her real name was Lucy Schwob.
She was born 25 October 1894 in Nantes, daughter of newspaper owner Maurice Schwob and Victorine Marie Courbebaisse; her uncle was the Symbolist writer Marcel Schwob. Subjected to anti-Semitic acts following the Dreyfus Affair, she was removed to a boarding school in Surrey, where she studied for two years.

2. Cahun’s lover was also her stepsister.
In 1909, she met her lifelong partner and collaborator Suzanne Malherbe while studying in Nantes, in what she described as a ‘thunderbolt encounter’. Eight years later, Cahun’s father married Suzanne’s widowed mother.

3. The couple adopted gender-neutral names.
Schwob first used the name Claude Cahun in the semi-biographical text ‘Les Jeux uraniens’, Cahun being a surname from her father’s side. Malherbe changed her name to Marcel Moore and the pair moved to Paris in 1914, where they began their artistic collaborations and Cahun studied literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne.

4. Cahun was one of the few female Surrealists.
In 1932 she was introduced to André Breton, who called her ‘one of the most curious spirits of our time’. Four years later, Cahun participated in the Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Charles Ratton, Paris, and visited the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London. Whereas in the works of male Surrealists women often appear as eroticised objects, Cahun’s self-portraits explore female identity as constructed and multifaceted.

5. She was first and foremost a writer.
Now best known for her striking self-portraits, Cahun saw herself primarily as a writer. In 1930 she published Aveux non avenus (translated into English as Disavowals or Cancelled Confessions), an ‘anti-memoir’ including ten photomontages created in collaboration with Moore.

6. In 1937 the couple swapped Paris for Jersey.
Cahun and Moore moved to La Rocquaise, a house in St Brelade’s Bay, Jersey, where they led a secluded life. The couple reverted to their given names, Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, and were known by the islanders as ‘les mesdames’.

7. They were actively involved in the resistance against Nazi Occupation.
When the Germans invaded Jersey in 1940 they decided to stay and produced counter-propaganda tracts. In July 1944 they were found out, arrested, stood trial, and were, briefly, sentenced to death (though these sentences were commuted). The couple were imprisoned in separate cells for almost a year before Liberation in May 1945.

8. In 1951 Cahun received the Medal of French Gratitude for her acts of resistance during the Second World War. Suffering increasingly from ill health, she died in 1954 at the age of sixty. Moore died eighteen years later, in 1972.

9. She remained forgotten for half a century
Following her move to Jersey, Cahun slipped from critical attention. After the death of Marcel Moore, much of Cahun’s work was put up for auction and acquired by collector John Wakeham, who then sold it to the Jersey Heritage Trust in 1995. The publication in 1992 of the definitive biography by Francois Leperlier, Claude Cahun: l’ecart et la metamorphose, and subsequent exhibition, Claude Cahun: Photographe, at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1995 encouraged a growing interest in the artist’s work. It was during this time that Gillian Wearing discovered Claude Cahun.

10. She was an artist ahead of her time
Wearing speaks of a ‘camaraderie’ between her and Cahun but she is not the only contemporary artist to have been influenced by her work. Cahun has a dedicated following among artists and art historians working from postmodern, feminist and queer theoretical perspectives; the American art critic Hal Foster described Cahun as ‘a Cindy Sherman avant la lettre’.

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing' 2003

 

Gillian Wearing
Self-portrait as my brother Richard Wearing
2003
Heather Podesta Collection
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Mapplethorpe' 2009

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Mapplethorpe
2009
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar' 2010

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Warhol in Drag with Scar
2010
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Diane Arbus' 2008-2010

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Diane Arbus
2008-2010
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London, Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face' 2012

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as Cahun holding a mask of my face
2012
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Self-portrait of me now in a mask' 2011

 

Gillian Wearing
Self-portrait of me now in a mask
2011
Collection of Mario Testino
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'Me as mask' 2013

 

Gillian Wearing
Me as mask
2013
Private collection, courtesy Cecilia Dan Fine Art
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

 

Gillian Wearing. 'At Claude Cahun's grave' 2015

 

Gillian Wearing
At Claude Cahun’s grave
2015
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

 

 

National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
London, WC2H 0HE

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, Saturday – Sunday 10am – 6pm
Thursday – Friday 10am – 9pm

National Portrait Gallery website

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06
Jan
17

Exhibition: ‘Soulèvements / Uprisings’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2016 – 15th January 2017

Curator: Georges Didi-Huberman, philosopher and art historian

 

 

soulèvement m ‎(plural soulèvements)

  1. the act of raising, the act of lifting up
  2. revolt, uprising

 

I believe this to be one of the most complex, original and important exhibitions of 2016. Conceptually, intellectually, ethically and artistically, the exhibition “Soulèvements / Uprisings” seems to stand head and shoulders above most others I posted on during 2016.

Through the profound curatorship of philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman (a man whose writing I admire), Soulèvements e/merges as a “trans-disciplinary exhibition on the theme of human gestures that raise up the world or rise up against it: collective or individual gestures, actions or passions, works or thoughts” actioned through five themes: Elements (Unleashed); Gestures (Intense); Words (Exclaimed); Conflicts (Flared up); and Desires (Indestructibles), evidenced across mediums: paintings, drawings, prints, video installations, photographs, fiction films, documentary images, writers’ manuscripts, tracts, posters, etc., without hierarchies. Unlike the earlier posting, Intersections: Photographs and Videos from the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where I noted that the self-contained themes of that exhibition seemed purely illusory, here the themes are active and engaging, fluid in meaning and representation (the choice of laterally aligned art works to the themes – dust breeding, waves, sea concertos, banners and capes, red tape, montages, posters etc…), which emphasis resistance, the raising up, the uprising as a desirous and joyful act, one that is performative (hence the wonderful video elements in the exhibition) and transgressive.

As one of the most important mediums of the twentieth century in terms of documenting, promoting, obscuring and forgetting “uprisings” – gestures of resistance and joy of any kind – photography is capable of concealing, denying and sustaining the social context in which we are living … obscuring the ethics and morals of dubious political positions; reinforcing or obscuring the issues behind revolution, rebellion, and revolt; or, through collective amnesia and inertia, through the millions of forgettable images produced each day, overwhelming the authenticity of living that leads to “uprisings” in the first place. Photographs, as people do, cross borders: they are transnational and multidisciplinary. They are global thought patterns that can, in skilled hands, document and sustain alternative ways of seeing the world through a “rising up” of feeling – the “soul” of soulèvement – the act of raising up, the act of lifting ones eyes and one’s spirit from the dire circumstances of oblivion to the hope of a future redemption.

Through photographs, we witness Insurgents killed during bloody week of the Commune (1871, below), where “the exposure of these bodies is transformed by the photographic act. The latter confers on the rebels a particular aura, passing thus from figures of guilty to those of martyrs.” The political act, although a failure in reality in this case, is sustained through time and space by the performance of the documentary image. Their monstration [the act of demonstrating; proof] – the insurgents act of demonstrating; the photograph as an act of demonstrating their death for judicial purposes; and also a certain monstration (proof) that these mostly young, skinny men died for a belief in a better world – is an evidentiary act of transubstantiation. Is the camera looking down on these bodies in cheap coffins from above, or are the coffins propped up against a wall? How do we feel about these people we do not know, who existed in past time now made present, without being that person who tucked a wreath into the hands of the man at bottom right, someone’s brother, father or son.

In “uprisings” (as the hands raise the camera to the face), there is also an acknowledgment of a certain despair at the death of an innocent. In Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s Striking worker, assassinated (1934, below) the young, handsome youth has been killed with a blow to the head. He lies prostrate on the ground, arm outstretched, hand curled, his body and clothes spattered with his own blood his eyes, open, staring at the now invisible sky. A flow of dried blood has discharged from his mouth and nose, coating and matting his thick long hair and running away in rivulets, soaking into the parched d/earth. Bits of dust and earth are still stuck to his arm through the viscosity of his blood. Earlier, he had dressed for the day in a white singlet, put on his trousers and fastened them with an embossed belt, then put on a crisp, stripped shirt and neatly rolled up the sleeves to his elbows. He might have had breakfast before heading of to a meeting outside where he worked. This day he died, protesting his rights – striking worker, assassinated! Assassinated – executed, eliminated, liquidated (to which the congealing blood attests) … slaughtered. For his right to strike, to protest, the conditions of his being. Any human “being”.

And, mortally, I comment on that one photograph, that one evidence of human beings transcending their own lives (knowing they were going to die) for the greater good – the anonymous photograph taken by members of the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp that documents AS PROOF of the reality of the Final Solution: Women pushed towards the gas chamber of crematorium V of Birkenau (1944, below). The risks that these people took to capture this photograph speaks to the power of photography to transcend even the most barbaric of circumstances, to prove to the world what was happening in this place. As Georges Didi-Huberman affirms, “in the depths of this fundamental despair, the “solicitation to resist” has probably detached itself from the beings themselves, who have been promised to disappear, to fix themselves on signals to be emitted beyond the boundaries of the camp.” Among others, the image, this “eye of history”, is then invested with the only hope still possible: to make the hell of Auschwitz visible and therefore imaginable.”

In other words, the solicitation to resist is not singular or human, but collective and eternal, embodied and embedded in cultural thoughts and actions. Even though they knew they were going to die (almost none of the 2,000 prisoners placed in these Sonderkommando units survived to the camp’s liberation), because the have been “promised to disappear”, their spirit flowed beyond the boundaries of the camp into the ether of history, into the elemental upper air, the raising up of spirits: as an observation and representation of the difference between right and wrong. As the world enters a renewed period of right wing promulgation we must resist the rump of bigotry and oppression. Not just for ourselves but for all those that have passed before.

This is why this exhibition is so important. It speaks to the need for vigilance and protest against discrimination and dictatorship, against the persecution of the less fortunate in society. It also speaks to our desire as human beings that our actions and the actions of others be held to account. Intrinsically uprisings are all about desire, the desire to be stand up and be counted, to put your reputation (as Oscar Wilde did) or your life on the line for what you believe in. The courage of your convictions. As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Addendum

Thank goodness for Google translate because otherwise I would have had no text to put under most of these images. This becomes problematic for weak images such as Dennis Adams’ Patriot (2002, below). Without text to support the image you would have absolutely no idea what this image is about… it’s just a plastic bag floating in the air against the azure sky.

The text states: “… considering the serenity that emanates from the photographs of this series, to imagine that they refer to a dramatic event: the attack of the World Trade Center. Located in Lower Manhattan, Dennis Adams’ studio is very close to the twin towers that were destroyed on September 11, 2001. However, rather than rushing to witness the catastrophe, Dennis Adams photographed for three months the roof of his building, the newspapers and the rubbish that fly away from the ruins.”

Who would have thunk it! From a plastic bag floating in the sky!

Such insight proffered months after the event by any plastic bag floating in the air. The image does not invite reverie and meditation because there is nothing to meditate on. It is an example of contemporary photography as graphic art THAT MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! If an image cannot stand on its own two feet, without the help of reams of text to support its substance, its contention, then no wonder there are millions of vacillating images in this world. Including contemporary art.

Outdamned spot! the stain of thy blood cannot be exacted from your feeble representation.

 

Word count: 1,451

Translations of soulèvement

noun
uprising soulèvement, révolte
rising soulèvement, hausse (rise), insurrection, montant, lever, élévation
insurrection insurrection, soulèvement, émeute (riot), rébellion
uplift soulèvement
upheaval bouleversement, soulèvement, agitation, perturbation, séisme, renversement

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

 

 

 

 

Foreword

“For almost a decade, the Jeu de Paume’s exhibition program has been conceived with the conviction that twenty-first century museums and cultural institutions cannot be detached from the social and political challenges of the society of which they are part. To us, this approach is a matter of simple common sense.

The program it has shaped does not monitor market trends or seek complacent legitimacy within the field of contemporary art. Rather, we have chosen to work with artists whose poetic and political concerns are attuned to the need to critically explore the models of governance and practices of power that mold much of our perceptual and emotional experience, and thus, the social and political world we live in.

Because the Jeu de Paume is a center for images, we are aware of the urgent necessity – in line with our societal responsibilities – to revise the analysis of the historical conditions in which photography and the moving image developed in modernity and, subsequently, in postmodernity, with all its alternatives, provocations, and challenges.

Thankfully, the history of images and our ways of seeing and understanding the world through them is neither linear nor unidirectional. These are the sources of our fascination with images that don’t tell everything they show and with images affected by the vicissitudes of the human condition.

Photography, and images in general, represent not only reality, but things that the human eye cannot see; like us, photography is capable of concealing, denying and sustaining. It is only waiting for someone to listen to its joys and its sorrows.

The Jeu de Paume’s programming sites its oblique look at history and contemporaneity in this oscillation between the visible and the invisible in the life of images, creating a space for encounter and the clashing of ideas, emotions, and knowledge, accepting that the coexistence of conflict and antagonism are an essential part of community building.

For these reasons, and from this position, in the superb proposal by the philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman to form an exhibition from his research on the theme of “uprisings,” we found the ideal intellectual, artistic, and museological challenge.

While the notion of revolution, rebellion, and revolt isn’t alien in contemporary society’s vocabulary, the object of its action is replete with collective amnesia and inertia. That is why analyzing the representations of “uprisings” – from the etchings Goya, to contemporary installations, paintings photographs, documents, videos, and films – demonstrates an unequivocal relevance to the social context in which we are living in 2016. […]

Marta Gili, “Foreword,” in Uprisings, catalogue of the exhibition, p. 7-10.

 

 

 

Enrique Ramirez
Cruzar un muro [Franchir un mur] (Crossing a wall)
2013
Vidéo HD couleur, son, 5’15”
Courtesy de l’artiste et galerie Michel Rein, Paris/Brussels

 

A series of images of people in a waiting room is in an unusual place, perhaps in our imagination, or perhaps anywhere. The short by Enrique Ramirez addresses article number 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.

 

Giles Caron. 'Anticatholic protests, Londonderry, Northern Ireland' August 1969

 

Gilles Caron
Manifestations anticatholiques à Londonderry
Anticatholic protests, Londonderry, Northern Ireland
August 1969
© Gilles Caron / Fondation Gilles Caron / Gamma Rapho

 

 

Known for his wartime photoreports, fascinated by liberating acts and the figure of the insurgent, photographer Gilles Caron carried throughout the 1960s an interest in the social conflicts that marked his time. At first he is led to cover is a peasant revolt which takes place in Redon in 1967. Anxious to produce an image which appears to him as a formal translation of the anger of these peasants, he seizes the gesture of a demonstrator sending a projectile in the direction of the forces of order. Photogenic, this suspended gesture gives the insurrections a choreographic dimension and testifies to the violence of the social demands that animate the demonstrators. The “figure of the pitcher” then reappears on the occasion of the events of May 1968 and then of the conflicts that took place in Northern Ireland in 1969. This archetype is part of the tradition of the representation of David against Goliath: the symbol of the power carried by the faith of one who is thought weak in the face of brute force. If there is no question of faith in the images of Caron, it is nonetheless an irrepressible form of desire that animates those bodies which revolt: no matter the imbalance of forces, the insurgents are carried by a feeling of invulnerability and of power in the face of the forces of order objectively much more armed. (Text from the Jeu de Paume website translated by Google translate)

 

 

Introduction

by Georges Didi-Huberman, curator of the exhibition

What makes us rise up? It is forces: mental, physical, and social forces. Through these forces we transform immobility into movement, burden into energy, submission into revolt, renunciation into expansive joy. Uprisings occur as gestures: arms rise up, hearts beat more strongly, bodies unfold, mouths are unbound. Uprisings are never without thoughts, which often become sentences: we think, express ourselves, discuss, sing, scribble a message, create a poster, distribute a tract, or write a work of resistance.

It is also forms: forms through which all of this will be able to appear and become visible in the public space. Images, therefore; images to which this exhibition is devoted. Images of all times, from Goya to today, and of all kinds: paintings, drawings, sculptures, films, photographs, videos, installations, documents, etc. They interact in dialogue beyond the differences of their times. They are presented according to a narrative in which there will appear, in succession, unleashed elements, when the energy of the refusal makes an entire space rise up; intense gestures, when bodies can say “No!”; exclaimed words, when barricades are erected and when violence becomes inevitable; and indestructible desires, when the power of uprisings manages to survive beyond their repression or their disappearance.

In any case, whenever a wall is erected, there will always be “people arisen” to “jump the wall”, that is, to cross over borders. If only by imagining. As though inventing images contributed – a little here, powerfully there – to reinventing our political hopes.

 

Man Ray (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1890-1976 Paris) 'Dust Breeding' 1920

 

Man Ray (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1890-1976 Paris)
Dust Breeding (Duchamp’s Large Glass with Dust Motes)
1920
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 30.4 cm (9 7/16 x 12 in.)
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

One of Duchamp’s close friends and a member of the New York Dada scene, the American photographer and painter Man Ray (1890-1976) was also one of Duchamp’s collaborators. His photograph Dust Breeding (Duchamp’s Large Glass with Dust Motes) from 1920 is a document of The Large Glass after it had collected a year’s worth of dust while Duchamp was in New York. The photograph was taken with a two-hour-long exposure that beautifully captures the complex texture and diversity of materials that lay atop the glass surface. Dust Breeding marks a pivotal phase in the development of Duchamp’s masterpiece. After the photograph was taken, Duchamp wiped The Large Glass almost entirely clean, leaving a section of the cones covered with dust, which he permanently affixed to the glass plate with a diluted cement. (Text from The Met website)

 

Hiroji Kubota. 'Black Panthers in Chicago, Illinois' 1969

 

Hiroji Kubota
Black Panthers in Chicago, Illinois
1969
Gelatin silver print
© Hiroji Kubota/Magnum Photos

 

 

Claude Cattelain
Vidéo Hebdo 46
2009-2010
Vidéo pal, 4/3, couleur, son, 6 min 30 s
Collection de l’artiste
© Claude Cattelain

 

 

Entitled Vidéo Hebdo 46, this work by Claude Cattelain is part of a series of short films made between January 2009 and March 2010, following a weekly rhythm. If many of the films in this corpus play with the conditions of video recording (shooting conditions, sensitivity of the sensor, editing …), the forty-sixth is more like the return of a performance. Executed with great economy of means, its performances follow a precise protocol whose action often resembles an absurd experience of which the body of the artist is the subject. Here, Claude Cattelain tries to raise a chair by interposing one by one the wooden battens – which look singularly like slices of books – under the feet of the said chair without ever going down or putting a foot on the ground. This progressive uprising of the foundation leads inexorably to its overthrow and thus to the fall of the artist. The uselessness of this exercise is commensurate with the concentration and attention with which it applies to try to get to the maximum of its possibilities. Each performance of Claude Cattelain is thus an experience of limits: those of his balance, his strength, his concentration and gravity. By voluntarily avoiding the logics of productivity and productivity, Claude Cattelain invites the viewer to observe a poetic action, a possible metaphor of existential or historical situations. (Text from the Jeu de Paume website translated by Google translate)

 

 

The exhibition

“Soulèvements / Uprisings” is a trans-disciplinary exhibition on the theme of human gestures that raise up the world or rise up against it: collective or individual gestures, actions or passions, works or thoughts.

They are gestures which say no to a state of history that is considered too “heavy” and that therefore needs to be “lifted” or even sent packing. They are also gestures that say yes to something else: to a desired better world, an imagined or adumbrated world, a world that could be inhabited and conceived differently.

These figures of uprising and up-raising will range freely across mediums: paintings, drawings, prints, video installations, photographs, fiction films, documentary images, writers’ manuscripts, tracts, posters, etc., without hierarchies.

The exhibition sequence will follow a sensitive, intuitive path along which the gaze can focus on exemplary “cases” treated with a precision that prevents any kind of generalisation. We will be mindful not to conclude, not to dogmatically foreclose anything. The sequence will comprise five main parts:

  • ELEMENTS (UNLEASHED)
  • GESTURES (INTENSE)
  • WORDS (EXCLAIMED)
  • CONFLICTS (FLARED UP)
  • DESIRES (INDESTRUCTIBLES)

 

 

“All the uprisings failed, but taken together, they succeeded.”

“They rise, but they do not simply stand up – they rise up.”

.
Judith Butler, “Uprisings” catalogue of the exhibition Uprisings

 

 

ELEMENTS (UNLEASHED)

The elements become unleashed, time falls out of joint. – And if the imagination made mountains rise up?

To rise up, as when we say “a storm is rising.” To reverse the weight that nailed us to the ground. So it is the laws of the atmosphere itself that will be contradicted. Surfaces – sheets, draperies, flags – fly in the wind. Lights that explode into fireworks. Dust that rises up from nooks and crannies. Time that falls out of joint. The world upside down. From Victor Hugo to Eisenstein and beyond, uprisings are often compared to hurricanes or to great, surging waves. Because then the elements (of history) become unleashed.

We rise up first of all by exercising our imagination, albeit through our “caprichos” (whims or fantasies) or “disparates” (follies) as Goya said. The imagination makes mountains rise up. And when we rise up from a real “disaster,” it means that we meet what oppresses us, and those who seek to make it impossible for us to move, with the resistance of forces that are desires and imaginations first of all, that is to say psychical forces of unleashing and of reopening possibilities.

Dennis Adams, Francis Alÿs, Léon Cogniet, Marcel Duchamp, Francisco de Goya, William Hogarth, Victor Hugo, Leandro Katz, Eustachy Kossakowski, Man Ray, Jasmina Metwaly, Henri Michaux, Tina Modotti, Robert Morris, Saburô Murakami, Hélio Oiticica, Roman Signer, Tsubasa Kato, Jean Veber, French anonymous.

 

Francisco de Goya. 'Los Caprichos' 1799

 

Francisco de Goya
Los Caprichos
1799
Eau-forte, aquatinte et burin, 2e édition de 1855.
Collection Sylvie et Georges Helft
Photo: Jean de Calan

 

 

Between 1797 and 1799, Francisco de Goya composed a collection of engravings, Los Caprichos [Les Caprices], in which he portrayed in a satirical way the behavior of his Spanish fellow citizens. “Y aun no se van!” (“And yet they do not go away!”) is the 59th engraving of a set of 80. Each time the title constitutes an ironic commentary on the image. This one refers to the group of people represented on the engraving, with the bodies emaciated, folded on themselves, praying, looking scared. One of them tries to prevent the tombstone from falling on them, but all seem helpless, destitute of strength, unable to resist this final ordeal. The use of chiaroscuro, which produces a dramatic effect, as well as the thick slice of the slab that forms the diagonal of the composition, accentuates the desperate character of the scene. Finally, the massive aspect and the weight of the stone, opposed to fragile and denuded bodies, complete their inexorable destiny. This engraving thus seems to illustrate the absolute dejection felt by individuals under certain circumstances. For Georges Didi-Huberman, degradation is one of the conditions conducive to the uprising. The imagination and the critical eye of the artist – a fervent supporter of the Enlightenment – can constitute a force of resistance and struggle for the oppressed. (Text from the Jeu de Paume website translated by Google translate)

 

Léon Cogniet. 'Les Drapeaux' 1830

 

Léon Cogniet
Les Drapeaux (The flags)
1830
Huile sur toile
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans
Photo: François Lauginie

 

 

The Revolution of 1830 led to the overthrow of the government of King Charles X. After the publication of several ordinances, including a restriction on freedom of the press, this episode, which failed to restore the Republic, The tricolor flag, abandoned by the Restoration for the benefit of the white flag, symbol of royalty. This is evidenced by Leon Cogniet’s study of a painting that will never see the light of day.

These revolutionary days, also called the Three Glorious Days, are symbolically represented by three flags caught in the turmoil. The first, white, overhung by a menacing sky, is hoisted on a mast adorned with a fleur-de-lis. The second tears apart and reveals the blue sky as a promise of freedom. Finally, the third, torn and covered with blood, allows the reconstruction of the tricolor emblem created during the Revolution of 1789. Thus the blood poured during these days allows the people to reconnect with the revolutionary ideals. The unleashing of elements, a metaphor for the tempestuous popular revolt, accompanies the transformation of the banished flag of royalty to the national flag. This sketch is repeated and widely circulated at the time, accompanied by an anonymous poem: “To the darkness finally succeeds the clarity / And pale shreds of the flag of the slaves / And of the azure sky and the blood of our brave / The brilliant standard of our freedom is born. ” (Text from the Jeu de Paume website translated by Google translate)

 

Victor Hugo. 'La vague ou Ma destinée (The wave or My destiny)' 1857

 

Victor Hugo
La vague ou Ma destinée (The wave or My destiny)
1857
Plume et lavis d’encre brune, gouache, papier vélin
Maison de Victor Hugo
© Maisons de Victor Hugo / Roger-Viollet

 

This drawing is the witness of Victor Hugo’s fascination with the sea. His pen marries the movements of the ocean, which then becomes the symbol of his exile: “It is the image of my current destiny stranded in abandonment and solitude,” he says. On the drawing he calls ‘My destiny’, it is not known whether the ship, alone in front of the monster of the sea, enveloped by its foam, is carried or precipitated by the immense wave. It is a figure of his destiny, but also of the human condition.

 

Man Ray. "Sculpture mouvante" ou "La France" ("Moving Sculpture" or "France") 1920

 

Man Ray
“Sculpture mouvante” ou “La France” (“Moving Sculpture” or “La France”)
1920
Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, dation en 1994
Negative gelatin-silver on glass plate
9 x 12 cm
Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI
Image obtenue par inversion des valeurs du scan du négatif
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, Paris, 2016

 

 

An active member of the Dada group in New York with Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray joined the surrealists in Paris in 1921. He was interested in questioning the conventions of the world of art and considered photography as a means of expression. It explores all potentialities: experiments, diversions, portraits, advertising applications … The fixation of an element in movement constitutes one of the specificities of photography that fascinates the surrealists because the object thus grasped by the apparatus appears in an unexpected light: the linen which dries, inflated under the effect of the wind, becomes a moving sculpture as the title of the work suggests. This way the title can guide the reception of the passionate photography of Man Ray. This image is also published on the cover of the sixth issue of La Révolution Surréaliste in 1926, accompanied by the legend “La France”. This enigmatic title, rather than helping to understand photography, multiplies the possible interpretations and attests to Man Ray’s desire to subvert the use and meaning of the images. Thus this wind which “transforms” linen into sculpture, appears as a metaphor for the surrealist project, which makes the photographic medium the operator of a true conversion of the gaze. By this image of the “uprising”, Man Ray thus gives a visual form to the aesthetic and political revolution that the members of the Surrealist group called for. (Text from the Jeu de Paume website translated by Google translate)

 

Eustachy Kossakowski. 'Le "Panoramic Sea Happening - Sea Concerto, Osieki" de Tadeusz Kantor (extrait d'une série)' 1967

 

Eustachy Kossakowski
Le “Panoramic Sea Happening – Sea Concerto, Osieki” de Tadeusz Kantor (extrait d’une série)
The “Panoramic Sea Happening – Sea Concerto, Osieki” by Tadeusz Kantor (from a series)
1967
Inkjet pigment print
Owner of negatives and slides: Musée d’Art Moderne de Varsovie
© Collection Anka Ptaszkowska

 

 

In 1967 Tadeusz Kantor with a group of other Polish avant-garde artists delivered Panoramic Sea Happening. They were working in frames of artistic plain-air in Osieki (near Koszalin) organized there every year since 1963. This complex action was in a way a preface to Kantor’s theatre. But it was also parallel to actions of Western artists, which led to the birth of performance art. In this important moment Kantor formulated a category of impossible. It derived from the night dream but as this one was compromised Kantor wanted to use a new word: ‘impossible’. At the same time the very essence of the happening, as he was saying, was to make impossible real. How did he do it? By reenactment, repetition and documentation.

Dorota Sosnowska. From the abstract for “Impossible is Real: Tadeusz Kantor at the seashore” 2016

 

Hélio Oiticica and Leandro Katz. 'Parangolé - Encuentros de Pamplona' 1972

 

Hélio Oiticica and Leandro Katz
Parangolé – Encuentros de Pamplona (Parangolé – Encounters of Pamplona)
1972
Impression chromogène (sur papier et carton)
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid
Photo: Archives Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
© Projeto Hélio Oiticica / © Leandro Katz

 

 

“At the time when he was producing his first Penetrables, Oticica started to design Parangolés, banners and capes printed in a great variety of colors and designs, and occasionally inscribed with mottoes, advertisement lines, or found phrases. Oiticica premiered his (anti)fashion statements in 1965 in what he called a Parangolé Coletivo, in which he distributed his creations among friends and members of the Mangueira samba school – he had joined in 1964 – who paraded wearing them while dancing to samba… He would continue making Parangolés and staging Parangolé events throughout the rest of his life, at times through friends who acted as intermediaries, as in the Pamplona encounters of 1972 in Spain when Argentinean artist Leandro Katz ran a Parangolé event on Oiticica’s behalf.”

Juan A. Suárez. “Jack Smith, Hélio Oiticica, Tropicalism,” in Criticism Vol. 56, No. 2, Jack Smith: Beyond the Rented World (Spring 2014) pp. 310-311.

 

Henri Michaux. 'Untitled' 1975

 

Henri Michaux
Untitled
1975
Acrylic on paper
Private collection
© ADAGP, Paris, 2016
Photo: Jean-Louis Losi

 

Dennis Adams. 'Patriot' 2002

 

Dennis Adams
Patriot
2002
From the series Airborne
C-Print contrecollé sur aluminium.
Prêt du Centre national des Arts Plastiques, Paris, inv. FNAC 03.241.
© Dennis Adams / CNAP / Courtesy Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie

 

 

A plastic bag stands out on the azure sky and floats in the air. Difficult, considering the serenity that emanates from the photographs of this series, to imagine that they refer to a dramatic event: the attack of the World Trade Center. Located in Lower Manhattan, Dennis Adams’ studio is very close to the twin towers that were destroyed on September 11, 2001. However, rather than rushing to witness the catastrophe, Dennis Adams photographed for three months the roof of his building, the newspapers and the rubbish that fly away from the ruins. These images, although directly related to this highly publicized event have nothing of the “shock” images that then invade the press.

They carry neither sensationalism nor exaggerated patriotism, but rather invite reverie and meditation. By adopting this attitude to the antipodes of the media and political enthusiasm that follows September 11, Dennis Adams questions the relationship to temporality in the face of this type of event. He denounces the “greed of politicians and military men who have a definite opinion on moments of history”* and questions the imperative of hyperreactivity not conducive to the analysis and the constitution of a historical consciousness. (Text from the Jeu de Paume website translated by Google translate)

*Dennis Adams quoted by Michel Guerrin, “In Madrid, photographers face history”, in Le Monde, June 15, 2004, p. 30.

 

Roman Signer. 'Rotes Band / Red Tape' 2005

 

Roman Signer
Rotes Band / Red Tape
2005
Vidéo couleur, son, 2’07’”.
Caméra: Aleksandra Signer
Courtesy de l’artiste et d’Art: Concept, Paris

 

Tsubasa Kato. 'Break it before it’s broken' 2015

Tsubasa Kato. 'Break it before it’s broken' 2015

 

Tsubasa Kato
Break it before it’s broken
2015
Video: color, sound, 4:49 min
© Tsubasa Kato / caméraman: Taro Aoishi

 

 

On March 11, 2011, a tsunami struck the Japanese coast and caused a nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The disastrous environmental and social consequences are still impossible to evaluate and the inhabitants, partly neglected by the public authorities, have to face an unprecedented crisis. Many of them have been displaced and most of their income from fishing is reduced to nothing because of the contamination of the ocean. Tsubasa Kato then decides to get involved with them by accompanying them daily in this difficult period. In addition to this support, he decided on November 3rd (03/11) – the day of the celebration of culture in Japan (Bunka no Hi) and date whose numerical writing is the inverse of that of the tsunami (11/03) – to achieve a strongly symbolic performance.

Entitled Break it before it’s broken, the video of this action shows residents of the region invited to overthrow the structure of a house washed away by the tsunami and destroy it definitively. Becoming actors of destruction and no longer passive observers, participants can then transform the event undergone into action. This festival of culture, for Tsubasa Kato, is an opportunity to initiate a unifying artistic moment that testifies to the strength of collective movements and the mobilization necessary to reverse the course of events. He will then reiterate this performance in other parts of the world, which are often subject to delicate social situations. (Text from the Jeu de Paume website translated by Google translate)

 

Mari Kourkouta. 'Remontages' 2016

Mari Kourkouta. 'Remontages' 2016

 

Mari Kourkouta
Remontages
2016
16 mm sur vidéo (en boucle), noir et blanc, silencieux, 4’ 10.
© Maria Kourkouta. Production : Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

 

“Body, mind and soul are uplifted by the divine energy of desire”

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Marie-José Mondzain, “To those who sail the sea…” catalogue of the exhibition Uprisings

 

“To make the world rise up we need gestures, desires, and depths.”

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Georges Didi-Huberman, “By the desires (Fragments on What Makes Us Rise Up)” catalogue of the exhibition Uprisings

 

 

GESTURES (INTENSE)

From burden to uprising. – With hammer blows. – Arms rise up. – The pasión. – When bodies say no. – Mouths for exclaiming.

Rising up is a gesture. Before even attempting to carry out a voluntary and shared “action,” we rise up with a simple gesture that suddenly overturns the burden that submission had, until then, placed on us (be it through cowardice, cynicism, or despair). To rise up means to throw off the burden weighing down on our shoulders, keeping us from moving. It is to break a certain present – be it with hammer blows as Friedrich Nietzsche and Antonin Artaud sought to do – and to raise your arms towards the future that is opening up. It is a sign of hope an