Posts Tagged ‘the Factory

17
Feb
17

Exhibition: ‘Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York’ at the Museum of the City of New York, New York City Part 2

Exhibition dates: 7th October 2016 – 26th February 2017

An exhibition showcasing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer artistic life in New York City through the social networks of Leonard Bernstein, Mercedes de Acosta, Harmony Hammond,  Bill T. Jones, Lincoln Kirstein, Greer Lankton, George Platt Lynes,  Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Andy Warhol.

Curators: Donald Albrecht, MCNY curator of architecture and design, and Stephen Vider, MCNY Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow.

 

 

Part two of this monster posting on the exhibition Gay Gotham: Art and Underground Culture in New York at the Museum of the City of New York.

Highlights include photographs by Carl Van Vechten; art work by and of Andy Warhol; a video of the “Panzy Craze” of the the 1920s and 1930s; a photograph of a very young and skinny Robert Mapplethorpe and some of his early art work; some wonderful subversiveness from Greer Lankton; two glorious photographs from one of my favourite artists, Peter Hujar; and a great selection of book covers and posters, including the ever so sensual, German Expressionist inspired Nocturnes for the King of Naples cover art by Mel Odom.

Marcus

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Many thank to the Museum of the City of New York for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Themes

Printing

Foujita. "Helen Morgan Jr. And Jean Malin at the Smart Club Abbey," 'Vanity Fair' February 1931

 

Foujita
“Helen Morgan Jr. And Jean Malin at the Smart Club Abbey”
Vanity Fair
February 1931
Private collection

 

 

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (藤田 嗣治 Fujita Tsuguharu, November 27, 1886 – January 29, 1968) was a Japanese-French painter and printmaker born in Tokyo, Japan, who applied Japanese ink techniques to Western style paintings. He has been called “the most important Japanese artist working in the West during the 20th century”. His Book of Cats, published in New York by Covici Friede, 1930, with 20 etched plate drawings by Foujita, is one of the top 500 (in price) rare books ever sold, and is ranked by rare book dealers as “the most popular and desirable book on cats ever published”.

 

André Tellier. 'Twilight Men' (Greenberg, New York) 1931

 

André Tellier
Twilight Men (Greenberg, New York)
1931
Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University

 

 

First published in 1931, this is an extremely uncommon early novel set in New York City of homosexuality and a young man whose gay tendencies infuriates his father, who attempts to set him upon the “path of normality” by hiring a mistress to seduce him.

“Like many early gay novels, the book does not have a happy ending: the main character becomes addicted to drugs, murders his father, and kills himself. This theme (the gay monster or the gay degenerate) occurs very frequently before the 1960’s. Originally, this was the only way that a book with any kind of gay themes could even be published; that is, it was only palatable – or even legal – to feature a gay protagonist if that person “gets what’s coming to him” in the end.

The February 1934 issue of Chanticleer, a gay literary “magazine,” includes reviews by Henry Gerber of several novels, including Twilight Men. He wrote: “TWILIGHT MEN, by Andre Tellier, deals with a young Frenchman, who comes to America, is introduced into homosexual society in New York, becomes a drug addict for no obvious reason, finally kills his father and commits suicide. It is again excellent anti-homosexual propaganda, although the plot is too silly to convince anyone who has known homosexual people at all.”

Little has been written about the author, Andre Tellier, himself. He wrote other books, including A Woman of Paris, The Magnificent Sin, Vagabond April, and Witchfire; but nothing else is really known about him.” (Text from the Somewhere Books website)

 

Blair Niles. 'Strange Brother' (Horace Liveright, New York) 1931

 

Blair Niles
Strange Brother (Horace Liveright, New York)
1931
Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University

 

 

Strange Brother is a gay novel written by Blair Niles published in 1931. The story is about a platonic relationship between a heterosexual woman and a gay man and takes place in New York City in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Strange Brother provides an early and objective documentation of homosexual issues during the Harlem Renaissance.

Mark Thornton, the story’s protagonist, moves to New York City in hopes of feeling like less of an outsider. At a nightclub in Harlem he meets and befriends June Westbrook. One night they witness a man named Nelly being arrested. June encourages Mark to investigate. This leads Mark to attend Nelly’s trial, where he is found guilty and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on Welfare Island for his feminine affections and gestures. Next Mark researches the crimes against nature sections of the penal code. Shaken up by his findings and the events, Mark confesses his own homosexuality to June.

Mark and June’s friendship continues to grow, and June introduces Mark to a number of friends in her social circle. Various social interactions ensue including a dinner party for a departing professor, a trip to a nightspot featuring a singer called Glory who sings Creole Love Call and attending a drag ball. Despite reading Walt Whitman’s poetry collection Leaves of Grass, Edward Carpenter’s series of papers Love’s Coming of Age, and Countee Cullen’s poetry, Mark is afraid to come out. Subsequently, Mark is threatened with being outed at work. In response to this threat, Mark commits suicide by shooting himself.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Ann Bannon. 'I Am a Woman' (Gold Medal Books, New York) 1959

 

Ann Bannon
I Am a Woman (Gold Medal Books, New York)
1959
Private collection

 

 

The classic 1950s novel from the Queen of Lesbian Pulp. “For contemporary readers the books offer a valuable record of gay and lesbian life in the 1950s. Most are set in Greenwich Village, and Ms. Bannon’s descriptions of bars, clubs and apartment parties vividly evoke a vanished community. Her characters also have historical value. Whereas most lesbians in pulp are stereotypes who get punished for their desires, Beebo and her friends are accessibly human. Their struggles with love and relationships are engrossing today, and half a century ago they were revolutionary.” ~ New York Times “Sex. Sleeze. Depravity. Oh, the twisted passions of the twilight world of lesbian pulp fiction.” ~ Chicago Free Press “Little did Bannon know that her stories would become legends, inspiring countless fledgling dykes to flock to the Village, dog-eared copies of her books in hand, to find their own Beebos and Lauras and others who shared the love they dared not name.” ~ San Francisco Bay Guardian “Ann Bannon is a pioneer of dyke drama.” ~ On Our Backs “When I was young, Bannon’s books let me imagine myself into her New York City neighborhoods of short-haired, dark-eyed butch women and stubborn, tight-lipped secretaries with hearts ready to be broken. I would have dated Beebo, no question.” ~ Dorothy Allison “Bannon’s books grab you and don’t let go.”  ~ Village Voice

 

'The Young Physique' October/November 1964

 

The Young Physique
October/November 1964
Collection of Kelly McKaig

 

 

'Muscleboy' March/April 1965

 

Muscleboy
March/April 1965
Collection of Kelly McKaig

 

Design by Gran Fury for Art Against AIDS/On The Road and Creative Time, Inc. 'Kissing Doesn't Kill: Greed and Indifference Do' 1989

 

Design by Gran Fury for Art Against AIDS/On The Road and Creative Time, Inc.
Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do
1989
Bus poster
Gran Fury, Courtesy The New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division

 

Placemaking: Cruising

Anonymous photographer. 'New York City street photograph' 1960s

 

Anonymous photographer
New York City street photograph
1960s
Collection of Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons, New York

 

Leonard Fink. 'Charley Inside Ramrod' c. 1976

 

Leonard Fink
Charley Inside Ramrod
c. 1976
Courtesy LGBT Community Center National History Archive

 

 

THE RAMROD, 394 West Street, (between Charles and West 10th Streets). Constructed in the 1850’s this building (actually two, that were attached) housed S. J. Seely & Co., a lime dealer, and C. August, (on the corner) a porter house, and private residence. In the late 70’s it was one of the most popular leather bars in New York. Attracting a large motorcycle clientele, West Street always had a plethora of bikes parked out front. The doorman, Rico, had a long black bushy beard, and an ever present black cowboy hat, also he wore on his hand a glove with sharp stainless steel blades attached to it, (sort of a precursor to Freddie Kruger). The bar, and Rico could be very intimidating, if you were new, or “Brown” as the uninitiated were called… referring to the brown leather they wore.

Greenwich Village: A Gay History

 

In June 1993, the Estate of Leonard Fink donated a photographic collection to The Center in New York City through its executor, Steven E. Bing. The materials in the Fink Estate was willed to four AIDS related organisations who gave all of the rights to the photos to the Center Archive. Some of these were signed “Len Elliot,” which might have ben a pseudonym of Fink’s. The collection consists of over 25,000 negatives and images capturing Greenwich Village and much of the spirit of the late 60s and 70s. Some of the most well known images in the collection are Fink’s work at “The Piers” along the Hudson River. Fink documented over 25 years of gay life in New York City but his photography was never exhibited or published in his lifetime. He was self taught and used an old 35mm camera while working out of a homemade darkroom in his West 92nd Street apartment.

Text from the Gay Cities website

 

Leonard Fink was an amateur photographer who documented over 25 years of gay life in New York including parades, bars, and especially the west side piers. He worked in complete obscurity and was apparently very reclusive. His photographs were seen by only a few close friends and were never exhibited or published in his lifetime. He seems to have taught himself photography using an old 35mm camera and a homemade darkroom in his small apartment on West 92nd street. He lived frugally, spending much of his income on photographic supplies which he bought in bulk and stored in his darkroom and his bedroom. He stored the prints and negatives in a file cabinet. By the time of his death, the photos in the file cabinet covered a period from 1954 to 1992. His photographs of gay life begin with groups of gay men photographed in Greenwich Village in 1967. His photographs of Gay Pride parades begin with the first parade in 1970. His earlier photographs are of friends, trips to Europe, and scenes in New York. Leonard Fink was a colourful and ubiquitous character in the Village and at Pride parades, usually appearing on roller skates in short cut-offs, and a tight t-shirt with cameras always around his neck. He sometimes arrived on a bicycle or a motorcycle. He was born in 1930. His father and older brother were both physicians. He worked for many years as an attorney for the New York Transit Authority. He died of AIDS in 1993.

Text from The Center website

 

Posing

 

James VanDerZee. 'Beau of the Ball' 1926

 

James VanDerZee
Beau of the Ball
1926
Gelatin silver print
Donna Mussenden VanDerZee

 

 

James Van Der Zee (June 29, 1886 – May 15, 1983) was an African-American photographer best known for his portraits of black New Yorkers. He was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Aside from the artistic merits of his work, Van Der Zee produced the most comprehensive documentation of the period. Among his most famous subjects during this time were Marcus Garvey, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Countee Cullen…

Van Der Zee worked predominantly in the studio and used a variety of props, including architectural elements, backdrops, and costumes, to achieve stylized tableaux vivant in keeping with late Victorian and Edwardian visual traditions. Sitters often copied celebrities of the 1920s and 1930s in their poses and expressions, and he retouched negatives and prints heavily to achieve an aura of glamour…

Works by Van Der Zee are artistic as well as technically proficient. His work was in high demand, in part due to his experimentation and skill in double exposures and in retouching negatives of children. One theme that recurs in his photographs was the emergent black middle class, which he captured using traditional techniques in often idealistic images. Negatives were retouched to show glamor and an aura of perfection. This affected the likeness of the person photographed, but he felt each photo should transcend the subject. His carefully posed family portraits reveal that the family unit was an important aspect of Van Der Zee’s life. “I tried to see that every picture was better-looking than the person.” “I had one woman come to me and say ‘Mr.Van Der Zee my friends tell thats a nice picture, But it doesn’t look like you.’ That was my style.” Said Van Der Zee.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Carl Van Vechten. 'Anna May Wong' 1932

 

Carl Van Vechten
Anna May Wong
1932
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Carl Van Vechten

 

 

Little known today, Carl Van Vechten was a prolific novelist, critic, photographer, and promoter of all things modern, most actively engaged in the city’s cultural life during the 1920s and ’30s. The City Museum is rich in Van Vechten materials; its collections include about 2,200 photographs taken by him and 3,000 Christmas cards sent to him and his wife, film and theater actress Fania Marinoff. Taken together, they chronicle Van Vechten’s influential circles of friends and colleagues – a hybrid mash-up that defines the modern America at the heart of White’s new book. Images and correspondence in the City Museum’s collection range from Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes to writer Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott), and playwright Eugene O’Neill.

Around 1920 Van Vechten gave up journalism for fiction and over the next decade wrote hotly debated novels about Jazz Age Manhattan. His 1923 book The Blind Bow-Boy, for example, is a classic of gay camp and a public expression of Van Vechten’s sexual orientation; while he and Marinoff were married from 1914 until Van Vechten’s death in 1964, he had numerous homosexual relationships… Van Vechten’s role in the Harlem Renaissance remains a controversial topic. To some he’s a valuable bridge between white and black New Yorkers, to others he’s an outsider who patronised and exploited his African-American subjects…

Carl Van Vechten abandoned writing altogether in the early 1930s and embraced photography, a field he would pursue until his death. All told, it is estimated that Van Vechten took some 15,000 photographs. Because his inherited wealth offered him financial independence, Van Vechten took pictures for his own pleasure, usually inviting local and visiting celebrities to a studio he set up in his own apartment. While Van Vechten was aware of the stylistic artifice of such contemporary commercial photographers as Edward Steichen and Cecil Beaton, he stood apart from them. He used a small-format camera, and his aesthetic, which included deep and dramatic shadows that sometimes obscured his subjects’ faces, resulted in picture-making that was far more immediate and spontaneous than that of his contemporaries. Using this technique, Van Vechten photographed musicians Billie Holiday and George Gershwin, Hollywood actors Laurence Olivier and Anna May Wong, and writers Sinclair Lewis and Clifford Odets, to name only a few. The sum of Van Vechten’s work, according to photography historian Keith F. Davis, “constitutes the single most integrated vision of American arts and letters produced in his era.”

Donald Albrecht. “Carl Van Vechten and Modern New York,” on the Museum of the City of New York website

 

Anna May Wong (January 3, 1905 – February 3, 1961) was an American actress. She is considered to be the first Chinese American movie star, and also the first Asian American actress to gain international recognition. Her long and varied career spanned silent film, sound film, television, stage and radio…

Wong’s image and career have left a legacy. Through her films, public appearances and prominent magazine features, she helped to humanise Asian Americans to white audiences during a period of overt racism and discrimination. Asian Americans, especially the Chinese, had been viewed as perpetually foreign in U.S. society but Wong’s films and public image established her as an Asian-American citizen at a time when laws discriminated against Asian immigration and citizenship. Wong’s hybrid image dispelled contemporary notions that the East and West were inherently different.

See an excellent short biography on the Wikipedia website

 

Carl Van Vechten. 'Hugh Laing' 1941

 

Carl Van Vechten
Hugh Laing
1941
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Carl Van Vechten

 

 

Hugh Laing (6 June 1911 – 10 May 1988) was one of the most significant dramatic ballet dancers of the 20th-century. He was the partner of choreographer Antony Tudor. Known for his good looks and the intensity of his stage presence, Laing was never considered a great technician, yet his powers of characterisation and his sense of theatrical timing were considered remarkable. His profile as a significant dancer of his era was almost certainly enhanced by Tudor’s choreographing to his undoubted strengths and Laing is generally regarded as one of the finest dramatic dancers of 20th-century ballet. He remained Tudor’s artistic collaborator and companion until the choreographer’s death in 1987.

 

Carl Van Vechten. 'Alvin Ailey' 1955

 

Carl Van Vechten
Alvin Ailey
1955
Gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Carl Van Vechten

 

 

Alvin Ailey (January 5, 1931 – December 1, 1989) was an African-American choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. He is credited with popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation in 20th-century concert dance. His company gained the nickname “Cultural Ambassador to the World” because of its extensive international touring. Ailey’s choreographic masterpiece Revelations is believed to be the best known and most often seen modern dance performance…

Ailey made use of any combination of dance techniques that best suited the theatrical moment. Valuing eclecticism, he created more a dance style than a technique. He said that what he wanted from a dancer was a long, unbroken leg line and deftly articulated legs and feet (“a ballet bottom”) combined with a dramatically expressive upper torso (“a modern top”). “What I like is the line and technical range that classical ballet gives to the body. But I still want to project to the audience the expressiveness that only modern dance offers, especially for the inner kinds of things.”

Ailey’s dancers came to his company with training from a variety of other schools, from ballet to modern and jazz and later hip-hop. He was unique in that he did not train his dancers in a specific technique before they performed his choreography. He approached his dancers more in the manner of a jazz conductor, requiring them to infuse his choreography with a personal style that best suited their individual talents. This openness to input from dancers heralded a paradigm shift that brought concert dance into harmony with other forms of African-American expression, including big band jazz.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Larry Rivers. 'O'Hara Nude With Boots' 1954

 

Larry Rivers
O’Hara Nude With Boots
1954
Oil on canvas
Collection of the Larry Rivers Foundation

 

 

“Among Rivers’ portraits of the mid-1950s, the most notable and controversial work for a discussion of the relationship among autobiography, sexuality, and art is O’Hara, which he painted during January 1954 as he re-entered an emotional relationship with the sitter. According to [poet Frank] O’Hara’s biographer, Brad Gooch, Rivers and O’Hara had a relatively short, turbulent romance that began in 1952m but during 1953 the two men became involved in other romantic relationships…. Beginning in 1954, however, Rivers and O’Hara resumed their intimate relationship, which then lasted less than a year…

A nude of a contemporary figure on such a huge scale as O’Hara appeared unusual and even controversial in the 1950s New York art world. Rivers recalled that when the painting was first shown at the Whitney Annual in 1955, a guard often stood in front of it to ensure that the painting would not be defaced or damaged: “There was something about the male nude that seemed to be more of a problem than the female nude.” Some contemporary viewers where shocked by O’Hara, given its depiction of a naked male body with meticulous attention to the genitals.”

Dong-Yeon Koh. Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara: Reframing Male Sexualities Phd dissertation 2006, pp. 196-198.

 

Beauford Delaney. 'James Baldwin' c. 1957

 

Beauford Delaney
James Baldwin
c. 1957
Oil on canvasboard
Halley K. Harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld, New York

 

 

Beauford Delaney (December 30, 1901 – March 26, 1979) was an American modernist painter. He is remembered for his work with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as his later works in abstract expressionism following his move to Paris in the 1950s.

In his Introduction to the Exhibition of Beauford Delaney opening December 4, 1964 at the Gallery Lambert, James Baldwin wrote, “the darkness of Beauford’s beginnings, in Tennessee, many years ago, was a black-blue midnight indeed, opaque and full of sorrow. And I do not know, nor will any of us ever really know, what kind of strength it was that enabled him to make so dogged and splendid a journey.”

 

James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. His essays, as collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th-century America, and their inevitable if unnameable tensions. Some Baldwin essays are book-length, for instance The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976).

Baldwin’s novels and plays fictionalise fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures thwarting the equitable integration not only of black people, but also of gay and bisexual men, while depicting some internalised obstacles to such individuals’ quests for acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, written in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Performing

 

 

New York’s queer cultures gained remarkable visibility on the city’s stages in the 1920 and 1930s. Broadway producers and nightclub owners put on plays and acts exploring gay and lesbian themes. They launched a popular “Panzy Craze,” where minorities where accepted. This period lasted until the mid-1930s when morals and ethics changed because of right-wing pressure. The film code was then in full force to protect society’s “morals” and there was, once more, open hostility towards minorities that latest into the 1970s.

With permission of the Museum of the City of New York for Art Blart

The Museum of the City of New York
Film compiliation
Produced by Cramersound

 

Max Ewing. 'Gallery of Extraordinary Portraits' 1928

 

Max Ewing
Gallery of Extraordinary Portraits
1928
Courtesy Yale University, Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library

 

 

Max Ewing’s Gallery of Extraordinary Portraits encapsulates the exhibition’s wider exploration of queer communities in 20th-century New York. Ewing was a novelist, composer, pianist, and sculptor who created this gallery in the walk-in closet of his Manhattan studio apartment on West 31st Street. His semi-public closet exhibition paid homage to interracial, gay, and artistic communities with images of friends and celebrities plastered floor to ceiling, corner to corner.

 

Sterling Paige. 'Gladys Bentley at the Ubangi Club in Harlem' early 1930s

 

Sterling Paige
Gladys Bentley at the Ubangi Club in Harlem
early 1930s
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY

 

 

1960-1995

Portraits

Andy Warhol

 

Andy Warhol. 'Studies for a Boy Book' exhibition announcement for Bodley Gallery c. 1956

 

Andy Warhol
Studies for a Boy Book exhibition announcement for Bodley Gallery
c. 1956
Offset lithograph Susan Sheehan Gallery, New York

 

Andy Warhol. 'Gee, Merrie Shoes' 1956

 

Andy Warhol
Gee, Merrie Shoes
1956
Hand colored offset lithograph
Susan Sheehan Gallery, New York

 

Andy Warhol. 'Cecil Beaton's Feet' 1961

 

Andy Warhol
Cecil Beaton’s Feet
1961
Black ink on buff wove paper
Philadephia Museum of Art
The Henry P. Mcllhenny Collection in memory of Frances P. Mcllhenny, 1986

 

Cecil Beaton. 'Andy Warhol and Candy Darling, New York' 1969

 

Cecil Beaton
Andy Warhol and Candy Darling, New York
1969
Gelatin silver print
© The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s

 

Candy Darling (November 24, 1944 – March 21, 1974) was an American transgender actress, best known as a Warhol Superstar. She starred in Andy Warhol’s films Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971), and was a muse of the protopunk band The Velvet Underground.

 

 

 

 

Harmony Hammond

 

Liberation News Service #624 July 3, 1974

 

Liberation News Service #624, featuring Harmony Hammond, right, with daughter, Tanya, at the Christopher Street Liberation Day Gay Pride March, photograph by Cidne Hart for Liberation News Service, July 3, 1974
Private collection

 

Harmony Hammond. 'An Oval Braid' 1972

 

Harmony Hammond
An Oval Braid
1972
Charcoal on paper
Courtesy the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York

 

Harmony Hammond. 'Fan Lady meets Cactus Lady' 1981

 

Harmony Hammond
Fan Lady meets Cactus Lady
1981
Lithograph
Courtesy the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York

 

 

Robert Mapplethorpe

 

Judy Linn. 'Robert Gets Dressed at the Chelsea, #3' 1970

 

Judy Linn
Robert Gets Dressed at the Chelsea, #3
1970
Modern digital print
Courtesy the Artist and Susanne Hilberry Gallery

 

'Gay Power', Volume 1, No 16, April 15, 1970

 

Gay Power, Volume 1, No 16, April 15, 1970
Alternative Press Collection, Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Light Gallery invitation' 1973

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Light Gallery invitation
1973
Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles California

 

Ultra Violet modeling Mapplethorpe-designed jewelry, c. 1975

 

Ultra Violet modeling Mapplethorpe-designed jewelry
c. 1975
Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

 

 

Isabelle Collin Dufresne (stage name Ultra Violet; 6 September 1935 – 14 June 2014) was a French-American artist, author, and both a colleague of Andy Warhol and one of the pop artist’s so-called superstars. Earlier in her career, she worked for and studied with surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. Dufresne lived and worked in New York City, and also had a studio in Nice, France…

In 1954, after a meeting with Salvador Dalí, she became his “muse”, pupil, studio assistant, and lover in both Port Lligat, Spain, and in New York City. Later, she would recall, “I realized that I was ‘surreal’, which I never knew until I met Dalí”. In the 1960s, Dufresne began to follow the progressive American Pop Art scene including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist.

In 1963, Dalí introduced Dufresne to Andy Warhol, and soon she moved into the orbit of his unorthodox studio, “The Factory”. In 1964 she selected the stage name “Ultra Violet” at Warhol’s suggestion, because it was her preferred fashion – her hair color at the time was often violet or lilac. She became one of many “superstars” in Warhol’s Factory, and played multiple roles in over a dozen films between 1965 and 1974…

In the 1980s, she gradually drifted away from the Factory scene, taking a lower profile and working independently on her own art. In her autobiography, published the year after Warhol’s unexpected demise in 1987, she chronicled the activities of many Warhol superstars, including several untimely deaths during and after the Factory years…

In 1990 she opened a studio in Nice and wrote another book detailing her own ideas about art, L’Ultratique. She lived and worked as an artist in New York City, and also maintained a studio in Nice for the rest of her life.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Valerie Santagto. 'Robert Mapplethorpe, front, and Jay Johnson in Mapplethorpe designed jewelry' c. 1970-75

 

Valerie Santagto
Robert Mapplethorpe, front, and Jay Johnson in Mapplethorpe designed jewelry
c. 1970-75
Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Jim, Sausalito' 1977

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
X Portfolio with Jim, Sausalito
1978
Black silk clamshell case with gelatin silver print photographs mounted on pure rag board
Designed by John Cheim
Courtesy Yoshi Gallery, New York and Cheim & Read, New York

 

 

Greer Lankton

 

Einsteins installation designed by Paul Monroe for Gay Gotham, 2016

 

Einsteins installation designed by Paul Monroe for Gay Gotham, 2016
Courtesy of Greer Lankton Archives Museum

Greer Lankton
Mini-Einsteins
1987
Cardboard, glass, paint, styrofoam board

Andy Warhol
1990
Fabric, wire, glass, human hair

Teri Toye
1988
Fabric, wire, glass, human hair

Siamese Twins
1988
Paper, wire, fabric

 

Greer Lankton (dolls and photo) 'Einsteins "Circus" window display by Greer Lankton and Paul Monroe' 1986

 

Greer Lankton (dolls and photo)
Einsteins “Circus” window display by Greer Lankton and Paul Monroe
1986
Courtesy Paul Monroe for Greer Lankton Archives Museum

 

 

Greer Lankton (1958 – November 18, 1996) was an American artist known for creating lifelike, sewn dolls that were often modelled on friends and celebrities and posed in elaborate theatrical settings. She was a key figure in the East Village art scene of the 1980s in New York.

Gender and sexuality are recurring themes in Lankton’s art. Her dolls are created in the likeness of those society calls “freaks”, and have often been compared to the surrealist works of Hans Bellmer, who made surreal dolls with interchangeable limbs. She created figures that were simultaneously distressing and glamorous, as if they were both victim and perpetrator of their existence.

In 1981 Lankton was featured in the seminal “New York/New Wave” exhibition at P.S.1 in Long Island City, and began to show her work in the East Village at Civilian Warfare. She gained an almost cult following among East Village residents from her highly theatrical window displays she designed for Einstein’s, the boutique that was run by her husband, Paul Monroe, at 96 East Seventh Street. Besides her more emotionally charged dolls, Lankton also created commissioned portrait dolls. These include a 1989 doll of Diana Vreeland that was commissioned for a window display at Barney’s as well as shrines to her icons, such as Candy Darling.

Critic Roberta Smith described her works in the New York Times as: “Beautifully sewn, with extravagant clothes, make-up and hairstyles, they were at once glamorous and grotesque and exuded intense, Expressionistic personalities that reminded some observers of Egon Schiele. They presaged many of the concerns of 90’s art, including the emphasis on the body, sexuality, fashion and, in their resemblance to puppets, performance.” 

Photographer Nan Goldin said of her work, “Greer was one of the pioneers who blurred the line between folk art and fine art.” She had spots in the prestigious Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale, both in 1995, where her busts of Candy Darling, circus fat ladies, and dismembered heads gained her notoriety…

Greer was friends with photographer Nan Goldin, and lived in her apartment in the early 80’s, often posing for her. She also played muse to photographers like David Wojnarowicz and Peter Hujar.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

“Writing about the wax dolls of German artist Lotte Pritzel (to whom Lankton’s own work bears a strong family resemblance), Rainer Maria Rilke noted: “With the doll we had to assert ourselves, because if we surrendered to it there was nobody there. It made no response, so we got into the habit of doing things for it, splitting our own slowly expanding nature into opposing parts and to some extent using the doll to establish distance between ourselves and the amorphous world pouring into us” [“Dolls: On the Wax Dolls of Lotte Pritzel,” tr. Idris Parry]. This relationship imbues the doll with its “soul,” Rilke writes, arguing that it is the extremity of this attachment that leads us to both desire and reject the doll. Unalterable strangeness: Lankton’s own work is plotted along the rejection-desire axis, granting the work a peculiar levity that hovers between fearsome and friendly…

Lankton’s art is both realistic and unrealistic, a difficult balance that is not unlike Candy Darling’s work as an actor, which often operated at the juncture between self-conscious play and unanticipated reality to evoke, again, unalterable strangeness. Following Douglas Crimp’s description of the superstar as someone whose “self … recognizes otherness already there in itself [and] performs its own self-alienation” [Our Kind of Movie: The Films of Andy Warhol, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012], Lankton likewise performs the double work of representing bodies (hers and others) while asserting their alienation. Darling rehearsed and played herself in order to be someone else. It might be said that Lankton rehearsed and played others in order to be herself.”

Extract from “Unalterable Strangeness: Andrew Durbin and Paul Monroe on Greer Lankton,” on the Flash Art website, March – April 2015

 

Paul Monroe. 'Chanel No. 5 earrings' 1985

 

Paul Monroe
Chanel No. 5 earrings
1985
Glass (actual miniature Chanel products filled with No. 5), 14k gold wire and glass pearls

Candelabra ring
1986
Metal, chain, glass jewels and wax

Paul Monroe and Greer Lankton
Teri Toye necklace
1985
Clay, acrylic paint, gold metal chain and rhinestones

Einsteins promotional cards 1986-1992
Einsteins business card, 1985

 

Nan Goldin. 'Greer Lankton and Paul Monroe wedding' 1987

 

Nan Goldin
Greer Lankton and Paul Monroe wedding
1987
Greer Lankton Archives Museum

 

 

Bill T. Jones

 

Lois Greenfield. 'Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane' 1982

 

Lois Greenfield
Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane
1982
Modern print Courtesy Lois Greenfield Studio

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Studio Portrait (Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane)' 1986

 

Robert Mapplethorpe
Studio Portrait (Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane)
1986
Private Collection of Bill T. Jones

 

Tseng Kwong Chi. 'Bill T. Jones Body Painting with Keith Haring' 1983

 

Tseng Kwong Chi
Bill T. Jones Body Painting with Keith Haring
1983
Silver gelatin selenium-toned print
© Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc., New York. Body Drawing on Bill T. Jones by Keith Haring
© 1983 Keith Haring Foundation

 

Huck Snyder. Small mask from 'Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin' 1990

 

Huck Snyder
Small mask from Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin
1990
Painted cardboard and fabric
New York Live Arts

 

 

Huck Snyder was a visual artist and a designer of vivid stage settings for dancers and performance artists. He created sets and stage furniture that were surrealistic yet extremely simple and almost childlike at times. Imaginative and free in their execution and unmistakably his work, his sets often seemed inseparable from the vision of the performers with whom he worked. Huck had designed stage sets for the performance artist John Kelly beginning with sets for Diary of a Somnambulist in 1985…

Mr. Snyder also created sets for dances by Bill T. Jones and Bart Cook, and for theater pieces by Ishmael Houston-Jones. He conceived, directed and designed his own work “Circus,” a performance-art piece presented in 1987 at La Mama E.T.C. Mr. Snyder’s work has been displayed at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Dance Theater Workshop in New York. His paintings and installations have been exhibited at galleries throughout the United States and in solo and group shows in Europe and Japan.

Text from the Visual AIDS website

 

 

Themes

Downtown

 

'Shazork! invitation, Danceteria' late 1980s

 

Downtown invitations
Shazork! invitation, Danceteria
Late 1980s
Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Carrie Goteiner and Miriam Montaug Ashkenazy in memory of Haoui Montaug

 

Peter Hujar. 'Quentin Crisp' 1982

 

Peter Hujar
Quentin Crisp
1982
Vintage gelatin silver print
© The Peter Hujar Archive; Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Quentin Crisp was born Denis Charles Pratt in Surrey, England, on December 25, 1908. A self-described flamboyant homosexual, Crisp changed his name in his early 20s as part of his process of reinvention. Teased mercilessly at school as a boy, Crisp left school in 1926. He studied journalism at King’s College London, but failed to graduate. He then moved on to take art classes at Regent Street Polytechnic. Crisp began visiting the cafés of Soho, London, and even worked as a prostitute for six months. Crisp was always true to himself and expressed himself by dying his long hair lavender, polishing his fingernails and toenails, and dressing in an often androgynous style. Despite the ridicule and violence often directed toward him, Crisp carried on. He tried to join the army with the outbreak of World War II, but was rejected by the medical board, who determined that he was suffering from sexual perversion. Instead, Crisp remained in London during the Blitz, entertaining American GIs, whose friendliness inculcated a love for Americans.

Crisp held a number of jobs, including engineer’s tracer, life model, and author. His most famous work, The Naked Civil Servant, detailed his life in a homophobic British society. When the book was adapted for television, Crisp began a new career as a performer and lecturer. He moved to Manhattan in 1981, when he was 72 years old; settling in a studio apartment in the Bowery. Upon meeting and spending time with Crisp, Sting was inspired to pen his hit song, “An Englishman in New York.”

Crisp continued to tour, write, and lecture; including instructions on how to live life with style and the importance of manners. Crisp landed a few roles on American television and the 1990s became his busiest decade as an actor. In 1992, Crisp took on the role of Elizabeth I in the film Orlando.

Quentin Crisp died in November 1999, just shy of his 91st birthday, while touring his one-man show.

Text from the Biography website

 

Peter Hujar. 'Susan Sontag' 1975, printed 2014

 

Peter Hujar
Susan Sontag
1975, printed 2014
Pigmented ink print
© The Peter Hujar Archive; Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Peter Hujar (born 1934) died of AIDS in 1987, leaving behind a complex and profound body of photographs. Hujar was a leading figure in the group of artists, musicians, writers, and performers at the forefront of the cultural scene in downtown New York in the 1970s and early 80s, and he was enormously admired for his completely uncompromising attitude towards work and life. He was a consummate technician, and his portraits of people, animals, and landscapes, with their exquisite black-and-white tonalities, were extremely influential. Highly emotional yet stripped of excess, Hujar’s photographs are always beautiful, although rarely in a conventional way. His extraordinary first book, Portraits in Life and Death, with an introduction by Susan Sontag, was published in 1976, but his “difficult” personality and refusal to pander to the marketplace insured that it was his last publication during his lifetime.

Text from the Peter Hujar Archive website

 

Susan Sontag (January 16, 1933 – December 28, 2004) was an American writer, filmmaker, teacher, and political activist. She published her first major work, the essay “Notes on ‘Camp'”, in 1964. Her best-known works include On Photography, Against Interpretation, Styles of Radical Will, The Way We Live Now, Illness as Metaphor, Regarding the Pain of Others, The Volcano Lover, and In America.

Sontag was active in writing and speaking about, or travelling to, areas of conflict, including during the Vietnam War and the Siege of Sarajevo. She wrote extensively about photography, culture and media, AIDS and illness, human rights, and communism and leftist ideology. Although her essays and speeches sometimes drew controversy, she has been described as “one of the most influential critics of her generation.” …

It was through her essays that Sontag gained early fame and notoriety. Sontag wrote frequently about the intersection of high and low art and expanded the dichotomy concept of form and art in every medium. She elevated camp to the status of recognition with her widely read 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp’,” which accepted art as including common, absurd and burlesque themes.

In 1977, Sontag published the series of essays On Photography. These essays are an exploration of photographs as a collection of the world, mainly by travelers or tourists, and the way we experience it… She became a role-model for many feminists and aspiring female writers during the 1960s and 1970s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Printing

 

Liza Cowan (designer) 'DYKE, A Quarterly' c. 1974

 

Liza Cowan (designer)
DYKE, A Quarterly
c. 1974
Flyer
Courtesy Liza Cowan and Penny House

 

'DYKE, A Quarterly Call for poster design flyer' 1976

 

DYKE, A Quarterly Call for poster design flyer
1976
Illustration by Liza Cowan Penny House

 

'Christopher Street' September 1977

 

Christopher Street
September 1977
Private collection

 

'Christopher Street' June 1978

 

Christopher Street
June 1978
Private collection

 

Edmund White. 'Nocturnes for the King of Naples' Paperback edition with cover art by Mel Odom, 1980

 

Edmund White
Nocturnes for the King of Naples
Paperback edition with cover art by Mel Odom, 1980 (originally published 1978)
Private collection

 

'New York Magazine' June 20, 1994

 

New York Magazine
June 20, 1994
1994
Courtesy New York Magazine

 

 

Posing

 

Eva Weiss. 'From left, Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, and Deb Margolin performing as Split Britches in 'Upwardly Mobile Home'' 1984

 

Eva Weiss
From left, Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, and Deb Margolin performing as Split Britches in ‘Upwardly Mobile Home’
1984
Contemporary archival print
Courtesy Eva Weiss Photography

 

Alice O'Malley. 'Melanie Hope, Clit Club' c. 1992

 

Alice O’Malley
Melanie Hope, Clit Club
c. 1992
Vintage gelatin silver print
Alice O’Malley Photography

 

Tseng Kwong Chi. 'New York, NY (Statue of Liberty)' 1979

 

Tseng Kwong Chi
New York, NY (Statue of Liberty)
1979
Gelatin silver print
Muna Tseng Dance Projects Inc.

 

 

Tseng Kwong Chi, known as Joseph Tseng prior to his professional career (Chinese: 曾廣智; c. 1950 – March 10, 1990), was a Hong Kong-born American photographer who was active in the East Village art scene in the 1980s.

Tseng was part of an circle of artists in the 1980s New York art scene including Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Cindy Sherman. Tseng’s most famous body of work is his self-portrait series, East Meets West, also called the “Expeditionary Series”. In the series, Tseng dressed in what he called his “Mao suit” and sunglasses (dubbed a “wickedly surrealistic persona” by the New York Times), and photographed himself situated, often emotionlessly, in front of iconic tourist sites. These included the Statue of Liberty, Cape Canaveral, Disney Land, Notre Dame de Paris, and the World Trade Center. Tseng also took tens of thousands of photographs of New York graffiti artist Keith Haring throughout the 1980s working on murals, installations and the subway. In 1984, his photographs were shown with Haring’s work at the opening of the Semaphore Gallery’s East Village location in a show titled “Art in Transit”. Tseng photographed the first Concorde landing at Kennedy International Airport, from the tarmac. According to his sister, Tseng drew artistic influence from Brassai and Cartier-Bresson.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Chantal Regnault. 'From left, Whitney Elite, Ira Ebony, Stewart and Chris LaBeija, Ian and Jamal Adonis, Ronald Revlon, House of Jourdan Ball, New Jersey' 1989

 

Chantal Regnault
From left, Whitney Elite, Ira Ebony, Stewart and Chris LaBeija, Ian and Jamal Adonis, Ronald Revlon, House of Jourdan Ball, New Jersey
1989
Gelatin silver print
© Chantal Regnault

 

 

Museum of the City of New York
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Opening hours:
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Museum of the City of New York website

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12
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album. Vintage Photographs of the 1960s’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 20th September – 17th December 2012

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“I never made a cent from these photos. They cost me money but kept me alive. These are my photos. I started at eighteen taking pictures. I stopped at thirty-one. (…) These represent the years from twenty-five to thirty-one, 1961 to 1967. I didn’t crop my photos. They are full frame natural light Tri-X. I went under contract to Warner Brothers at eighteen. I directed Easy Rider at thirty-one. I married Brooke at twenty-five and got a good camera and could afford to take pictures and print them. They were the only creative outlet I had for these years until Easy Rider. I never carried a camera again.”

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Dennis Hopper 1986

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“The necessity to make these photos and paintings came from a real place – a place of desperation and solitude – with the hope that someday these objects, paintings, and photos would be seen filling the void I was feeling.”

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Dennis Hopper 2001

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Unlike an earlier posting of photographs by a well known film director (the underwhelming, in fact pretty awful, Wim Wenders: Places, Strange and Quiet), these “lost” photographs by Dennis Hopper are very good. They perfectly capture the social milieu of the time and the pervading ethos of the fracturing of the image plane, a la Gary Winogrand or Lee Friedlander. Nice to see the work full frame as well, meaning that the photographers’ previsualisation was strong in camera; that Hopper had an excellent understanding of the construction of the pictorial frame negating the necessity for cropping of the image. Enlarging the face of Martin Luther King Jr., (below) and then looking into his eyes, I felt I had a connection with this person. Nostalgia, longing, sadness and joy at his life and the feeling that I was looking into the eyes of one of the great human beings of the twentieth century.

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

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Dennis Hopper
Guy With 5 Hogs
1961-67
Location: USA
6.97 x 9.85 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Double Standard
1961
Location: Los Angeles, Ca USA
6.87 x 9.79 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
James Rosenquist
1964
Location: Billboard Factory, Los Angeles, Ca USA
6.81 x 9.68 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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The exhibition shows a spectacular portfolio of over four hundred vintage photographs taken by Dennis Hopper in the 1960s. Tucked away in five crates and forgotten, they were discovered after his death. There can be no doubt that these works are those personally selected by Hopper from the wealth of shots he took between 1961 and 1967 for the first major exhibition of his photography. The pictures themselves document how the works were installed in the Fort Worth Art Center Museum, Texas, in 1970 by himself and Henry T. Hopkins, the museum’s director at the time. None of these works have been displayed in Europe before. The portfolio that has now come to light is a treasure. It consists of small plates, sometimes numbered on the back with brief notes in Hopper’s hand and showing traces of wear. Mounted on cardboard, without frame of glass, they were attached directly to the wall.

The images have a legendary quality. Spontaneous, intimate, poetic, unabashedly political and keenly observed, they document an exciting epoch, its protagonists and milieus. These photographs reflect the atmosphere of an era, being outstanding testimonials to America’s dynamic cultural scene in the 1960s. On the viewer they exercise an irresistible attraction, bearing him away on a journey into the past, often into his own history.

Many of these pictures are icons, such as the portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman and Jane Fonda. They also cover a wide range of subjects. Dennis Hopper is interested in everything. Wherever he happens to be, whether in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico or Peru, he takes in his surroundings with empathy, enthusiasm and intense curiosity. He seeks and savours the “essential moment”, capturing the celebrities and types of his time with the camera: actors, artists, musicians, his family, bikers and hippies. He leaves an impressive photographic record of the “street life” of Harlem, of cemeteries in Mexico, and of bullfights in Tijuana. Hopper accompanies Martin Luther King Jr. on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and, in images of great beauty and serenity, he converts the every day life and the neglected into a picture of beauty and silence as if converting Abstract Expressionism from the language of painting into that of photography.

Between 1961 and 1967 Hopper applied himself intensely on photography.

Hopper’s photographs are legendary images, spontaneous, intimate, and poetic as well as decidedly political and keenly observant – documents of an exciting period, its protagonists and milieus. Many of these photos have become iconic: the portraits of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Paul Newman or Jane Fonda. They also cover a range of topics and motifs. Hopper was interested in everything. Wherever he was, in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mexico or Peru, he was a precise observer, full of empathy and curiosity. He captured the geniuses of his day, the actors, artists, musicians and poets, his family and friends, the “scene”, bikers and hippies. He wandered the streets of Harlem and the graveyards of Durango and watched the bullfights in Tijuana with fascination. Hopper followed Martin Luther King Jr. with his camera on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. And he paid attention to things small, ordinary, and neglected, transforming the “remains of our world” into images of great beauty and tranquility, as if converting Abstract Expressionist painting into the language of photography.

Press release from the Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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Dennis Hopper
Andy Warhol and Members of The Factory (Gregory Markopoulos, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, Jack Smith)
1963
Location: in The Factory, NYC, NY USA
6.57 x 9.87 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Niki de Saint Phalle (kneeling)
1963
Location: USA
6.66 x 9.83 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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The Lost Album

Gelatine silver vintage prints, 1970
Collection of the Dennis Hopper Art Trust

More than four hundred photos came to light after Hopper’s death. He had selected them for his first photography exhibition in 1970 at the Fort Worth Art Center Museum. They show signs of wear: fingerprints, scratches, discoloration, a frayed corner or tiny dent. Mounted on cardboard, numbered on the back with notes in Hopper’s handwriting, they were hung directly on the wall from small wooden strips without frames or glass. The hanging in the Martin-Gropius-Bau is based on the original installation of 1970.

The vintage prints, in portrait and landscape format, are all of a similar size, ca. 24 x 16 cm; twenty of them are in a larger format (ca. 33 x 23 cm). Of the 429 Hopper chose for his first exhibition, eleven are believed lost; they are replaced here by new prints, which will be clearly indicated. In only two cases was it impossible to locate the corresponding negative, and a placeholder with the title is mounted instead. The rediscovered boxes contained an additional nineteen, unnumbered vintage prints along with the 429, which Hopper took with him to Fort Worth but probably never hung in the exhibition. They have been incorporated into the “Album” here (I-XIX).

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Additional information on the photographs

1. Brooke Hayward, Marin Hopper

Brooke Hayward, born and raised in Los Angeles, was at home in the glamorous world of Hollywood through her parents, the film producer Leland Hayward and Hollywood star Margaret Sullavan, and Hopper in turn knew a lot of extraordinary people through his involvement in the acting and art worlds. Hopper and Hayward’s home became the center of an illustrious group of actors, artists, musicians, writers, and film producers. Soon after moving [into their house] they threw a “movie star party” for Andy Warhol to celebrate his second exhibition at the Ferus Gallery (1963).

“Since I was a small child, growing up in L.A., I remember that my dad was always capturing the scene around him through the lens of his camera. What he always described as taking the most pleasure in exploring, or focusing on, much like Marcel Duchamp signing the Hotel-Green-Sign for him on the night of his opening at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963, and Rauschenberg’s practice, was the philosophy that an artist can point to something and claim it’s art because in that moment it is to them.” (Marin Hopper, 2012)

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2. Los Angeles Art Scene

Walter Hopps and Edward Kienholz founded the Ferus Gallery at 736A North La Cienega Boulevard in March 1957. Ferus was very underground, like a crazy club with exhibitions, readings and fashion shows. “The openings were wild, everybody had a blast, and nobody made a penny.” Hopper attended every opening and went to performances and happenings, whether it was Oldenburg’s Los Angeles performance Autobodys in 1963, Robert Rauschenberg’s performance Pelican at the Culver City Ice Rink in 1966, or Allan Kaprow’s Fluids in 1967, when with the help of friends he stacked blocks of ice to form enclosures at different sites in Los Angeles.

In 1966, Claes Oldenburg made a piece of plaster wedding cake (which he stamped on the back) for each guest at the wedding party for Jim Elliot, curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Rauschenberg was wearing this stamp on his tongue when Hopper photographed him at the wedding.

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3. New York

Hopper frequently traveled to New York, strolling through the Museum of Modern Art and the galleries, sometimes in the company of Henry Geldzahler, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and visited Warhol, at whose Factory he encountered Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead or David Hockney. Hopper met Robert Rauschenberg in New York and visited Roy Lichtenstein in his studio.

In London, where he exhibited his assemblages at the Robert Fraser Gallery in 1964, he made the acquaintance of Peter Blake, one of the key figures of British Pop Art, David Hemmings, the star of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow up (1966), and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

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4. Civil Rights Marches

The Selma to Montgomery March: “[Marlon] Brando got me involved [in the march] … He pulled up in his car and said, ‘What are you doing day after tomorrow?’ and I said ‘Nothing’, and he said, ‘You want to go to Selma?’ And I said, ‘Sure, man. Thanks for asking me!’ [Then at the march, police] dogs were biting, and people were being bombed, and it was like, ‘Where are we?'” (Dennis Hopper)

The third march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, began on March 21, 1965, extended for 54 miles, took five days, and involved 4,000 marchers led by Martin Luther King Jr. and allies such as Ralph David Abernathy, Sr. It was the highpoint of the American Civil Rights Movements. Hundreds of ministers, priests, nuns, and rabbis followed King’s call to Selma. “It was like a holy crusade …” Numerous photographers, such as Spider Martin, James Karales, Steve Shapiro, and Bruce Davidson, documented the largest ever gathering of people during the civil rights movement in the South.

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5. Mexico

He was completely obsessed with bullfighting and began attending fights regularly at the Tijuana arena in the 1950s. Hopper went to Mexico as an actor in 1965 when Henry Hathaway surprisingly offered him a role in his film The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).

A Western town was erected in the middle of Durango. Of course, Hopper had his camera with him. He photographed John Wayne and Dean Martin on the set and natives who were part of the crew or who just stopped by to watch, but he also roamed the area and the streets of Durango and Mexico City. In the 1920s and 1930s Mexico had held a great fascination for European as well as American avant-garde painters, photographers, and writers. Edward Weston lived in Mexico City; Henri Cartier-Bresson went there for a year in 1934, befriending the young photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. Their images have shaped our perception of that country, a perception that is also echoed by some of Hopper’s photographs.

Wall texts from the exhibition

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Dennis Hopper
Martin Luther King, Jr.
1965
Location: Montgomery, Alabama, USA
9.2 x 13.6 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Martin Luther King, Jr. (detail)
1965
Location: Montgomery, Alabama, USA
9.2 x 13.6 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
James Brown
1966
Location: USA
9.7 x 6.77 inch
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Dennis Hopper
Paul Newman
1964
Location: Malibu, Ca USA
9.7 x 6.66 inches
© The Dennis Hopper Trust, Courtesy of The Dennis Hopper Trust

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Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
Phone +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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27
Sep
12

Text: ‘The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body’ Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’ at the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Exhibition dates: 25th May – 30th September 2012

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“Perfection means you don’t question anything about the photograph. There are certain pictures I’ve taken in which you really can’t move that leaf or that hand. It’s where it should be, and you can’t say it could have been there. There is nothing to question as in a great painting. I often have trouble with contemporary art because I find it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have to be anatomically correct to be perfect either. A Picasso portrait is perfect. It’s just not questionable. In the best of my pictures, there’s nothing to question – it’s just there.”

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Robert Mapplethorpe

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Written in 1996 (but never published until now), this is one of my earliest pieces of research and writing. While it is somewhat idealistic in many ways, hopefully this piece still has some relevance for the reader for there are important ideas contained within the text.

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The defining of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body

Photography has portrayed the Apollonian and Dionysian ideals of the body throughout its history, but has never fully explored the theoretical implications and consequences of this pairing. Our presentation of the body says precise things about the society in which we live, the degree of our integration within that society and the controls which society exerts over the innerman.1 My research concentrated on how images of the male body, as a representation of the Self/Other split, have been affected by these ideals.

We can clearly define the Apollonian (beauty, perfection, obsession, narcissism, voyeurism, idols, fascism, frigid, constraint, oppression, the defined, the personalised, an aggression of the eye linked to greed and desire) and Dionysian (ecstasy, eroticism, hysteria, energy, anarchy, promiscuity, death, emotion, bodily substances and the universal). In reality the boundaries between these ideals are more ambiguous.

For example, in the work of the American photographer Fred Holland Day we see allegorical myths portrayed by beautiful youths, many of which to modern eyes have a powerful homoerotic quality.

“In close proximity to eroticism associated with homosocial bonding and sexuality, these pictures were infused with desire and anxiety, repulsion and attraction … Day’s male nudes possess the aesthetic trappings of refined art and high culture … but also contain a frisson of impending sexual release and bodily pleasure, to say nothing of their sado-erotic inflection and paedophilic associations.”2

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According to some critics,3 societies acceptance of photographs of Apollonian or Orphic (Dionysian) youths [2 different critical views]4 in that era (the fin de siecle of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century), was based on what was seen as their chaste, idyllic nature. They represented ‘ephebes’ – males who were between boy and man – who posed no threat to the patriarchal status quo. To other critics5 these ‘ephebes’ present a challenge to the construction of heterosexual/ homosexual identity along gender lines, echoing Foucault’s thoughts on the imprisoning nature of categories of sexual identity.6

For Day, physical beauty was the testimony of a transcendent spirit.7 His portraits tried to uncover the true spirit of his subjects, revealing what was hidden behind the mask of e(x)ternal beauty. But what was being revealed? Was it the subject’s own spiritual integrity, his true self, or a false self as directed by the photographer whose instructions he was enacting? Was it F. Holland Day’s erotic fantasies the subject was acting out, or was it a perception of his own identity or a combination of both? These works show Day as both director and collaborator, his idols equally unattainable and available, resilient and vulnerable. In portraying this beauty, was Day embracing a seductive utopia in which this Apollonian beauty leads away from the very Dionysian spirit he was trying to engage with?

At around the same time a Prussian named Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden was also taking photographs of scantily clad local peasant youths, based on Arcadian themes. “In von Gloeden’s perception of the world human figures are not in themselves merely erotic, but become aesthetic objects … a setting in which beautiful things are the content of the image.”8

While this may be true, the focus of the images is always on what Von Gloeden desired, his full frontal nudes drawing our eyes to the locus of sexual desire, the penis. Von Gloeden’s “transformation of ordinary working class boys into the very image of antique legend,”9 the conjunction of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, blurs the distinctions between the two. Both Day and Von Gloeden were wealthy, educated, influential men who had a desire for working class boys. Did they help create an erotic tension across class lines and effect a particular Camp taste when society at that time (the first decade of the 20th century) was beginning to define areas of sexual categorisation that would label gay men perverts and degenerates? Even today, comparing contemporary critical analysis of Von Gloeden’s photographs can produce vastly differing conceptualisations as to the evidence of sexual overtones:

“The distinction between form and sexual attractiveness is tenuously maintained and the expression of the subjects’ face suggests a lofty remoteness rather than sexual availability or provocativeness.”10

“Von Gloeden’s pictures are fairly specific in depicting erotically based encounters between Mediterranean males. In many of them, the gazes shared between young men or the suggestive relationships of figure to figure hint at activities that might take place beyond the cameras range.”11

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For Day and Von Gloeden the need to possess something beautiful, something that was taboo, compensated both photographers for something they had lost – their youth. This transfers their death onto the object of their possession; the beautiful youths ‘captured’ in their photographs. Georges Bataille links eroticism to the inner life of man, the true self, and the eroticism of these photographs opens the way to a viewing of death and allows the photographer the power to look death in the face. According to Bataille, possession of something beautiful negates our need to die because we have objectified our need in someone else.12

What we know and understand about the world is partially built on images that are recorded, interpreted and imprinted in our brains as the result of the experiences we encounter throughout our lives. Our memory is forever fragmenting our remembered reality. It provides us with a point of view of the reality of the world in which we live and on which our identities are formed. When we look at a photograph we (sub)consciously bring all of our social encultration, our hates, our desires and our spirit to bear on the definition of that photograph at the time of viewing (an each viewing can be different!). Inherently embedded in any photograph then, are all these Dionysian stirrings – of desire, of eroticism, of death and of memory. Even if the photograph is entirely Apollonian in content the definition of that photograph can be open to any possibility, by any body.

One photographer who sought to access, and have connection to, fundamental truths was the American photographer Minor White. Studying Zen Buddhism, Gurdjieff and astrology, White believed in the photographs’ connection to the subject he was photographing and the subject’s connection back via the camera to the photographer forming a holistic circle.13 When, in meditation, this connection was open he would then expose the negative in the camera hopeful of a “revelation” of spirit in the subsequent photograph. White feared public exposure as a homosexual and struggled for years to resist the shame and disgust he felt over his sexual desires. Very few of his male portraits were exhibited during his lifetime, his Dionysian urgings difficult to reconcile with or assimilate into his images of peace and serenity, images that urged unity of self and spirit, of yin and yang. In the East yin/yang is both/and, being transformable and interpenetrating whilst in the West black/white is either/or not both, being exclusive and non-interactive. But who is to say what is ugly or what is beautiful? What is black or what is white?

In the work of the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, we can see the formalised classical aesthetic of beauty combined with content which many people are repelled by (pornography, sexuality, violence, power) creating work which is both Apollonian and Dionysian.14 Peoples’ disgust at the content of some of Mapplethorpe’s images is an Apollonian response, an aesthetic judgement, a backing away from a connection to ‘nature’, meaning ‘that which is born’. Mapplethorpe said, “I’ve done everything I show in my photographs,”15 revealing a connection to an inner self, regardless of whether he intended to shock. Those seeking suppression of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, mainly conservative elements of society, cite the denigration of moral values as the main reason for their attacks. However Mapplethorpe’s S&M photographs sought to re-present the identity of a small subculture of the gay community that exists within the general community and by naming this subculture he sought to document and validate its existence. The photograph can and does lie but here was the ‘truth’ of these Dionysian experiences, which conservative bigots could not deny – that they exist.

In the NEA/Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center controversy surrounding Mapplethorpe16 his work was defended on aesthetic grounds, not on the grounds of homoerotic content, of freedom of expression or artistic freedom. The classical Apollonian form of his images was emphasised. As one juror put it, “Going in, I would never have said the pictures have artistic value. Learning as we did about art, I and everyone else thought they did have some value. We are learning about something ugly and harsh in society.”17 Ugly and harsh. To some people in the world S&M scenes are perfectly natural and beautiful and can lead to the most transcendent experience that a human being can ever have in their life. Who is to decide for the individual his or her freedom to choose?

This Apollonian fear of the Dionysian ‘Other’, the emotional chaotic self, was found to involve fear of that which is potentially the ‘same as’ – two sides of the same coin. This fear of ‘the same’, or of the proximity of the same, or of the threat of the same, can lead to violence, homophobia, racism and bigotry. Mapping out sexual identities’ toleration of difference, which is ‘the same as’, recognises that there are many different ways of being, and many truths in the world.

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In conclusion I have determined that the definition of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals in images of the male body are at best ambiguous and open to redefinition and reinterpretation. The multiplicity of readings that can be attached to images of the male body, in different eras, by different people illustrates the very problematic theoretical area these images inhabit. As we seek to ‘name’, to categorise, to nullify the ‘Other’ as a Dionysian connection to earth and nature, it may cause an alienated ‘Self’ to revolt against Apollonian powers of control in order to break down the lived distance that divides people. This creates situations/ encounters/ experiences that are regarded as transgressive and a threat to the hegemonic fabric of society.

But do these experiences offer an alternative path for the evolution of the human race? Not the replacing of one patriarchal, capitalist system with another based on ecstatic spiritual consciousness but perhaps a more level playing field, one based on a horizontal consciousness (a balance between Apollonian and Dionysian), a ‘knowing’ and understanding, a respect for our self and others. My claim as an’Other’ is that these perceived transgressions, not just the binary either/or, may ultimately free human beings and allow them to experience life and grow. Where nothing is named, everything is possible.

Marcus Bunyan 1996

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

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1975
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Derrick Cross
1983
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Thomas
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Two Tulips
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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“A renowned figure of contemporary photography, Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was in his element in a domain defined by conventions and revolt, classicism and non-conformist cultures, where each picture serves as a document of hard-fought identities, as well as inciting and recording social and artistic debates. The Ludwig Museum Budapest features nearly two hundred works by Robert Mapplethorpe, from his early Polaroid photos to pieces from his final years. Realised in collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation New York, this large-scale exhibition is presented to a Hungarian audience for the first time.

Initially, Mapplethorpe had no intention of becoming a photographer. His early collages and altar-like installations incorporated found elements including photos from magazines. Seeking to give these works a more personal and perfect touch, he decided to shoot the photos himself. His major subjects were his immediate environment and personal desires: the alternative circles of the New York art scene, his identity as a homosexual, non-traditional forms of sexuality, and the communities organised around them. The New York of the seventies was a great melting pot of contiguous subcultures, sexual freedom, post-Pop and rock’n’roll. Mapplethorpe’s environment included Andy Warhol and his entourage from the Factory, the superstars of his films as well as the inhabitants of the legendary Chelsea Hotel, who inspired his art and became part of his audience.

His portraits of famous individuals and those longing for fame also positioned their photographer within their circle. He was a renowned artist seeking to establish relationships with people who stand out, one way or another, from the rest of society, without submitting himself to them. Posing for his camera were film stars, musicians, writers and visual artists, the celebrities and central figures of New York in the seventies and eighties, including pornographic film stars and body builders. He made engaging and elegant portraits attesting to his intense attention, humour, and ambition toward a sense of the monumental.

Mapplethorpe developed an increasingly committed and professional attitude to photography. His quest for the perfect image led him to classical compositions and subjects. While precision of forms and a quality of reserve were combined in his works, his intense attention to his models remained unchanged; he photographed torsos and floral still-lifes with the same cool professionalism. His nudes evoke classical Greek statues and Renaissance masterpieces, with their arrangement and sculptural approach to the body dating back to traditions that have existed for several hundred years. Such an incarnation of classical formalism, however, was juxtaposed with shocking new subjects and stark sexual fetishes, resulting in radical re-creations of the approach to tradition.

The perfect image called for the perfect body: his shots of black men, female body-builders and austere flowers seem to articulate his one and only vision, again and again. He almost always worked in the studio, most often in black and white, using increasingly defined tones. With unified backgrounds and balance of forms, his photos remove the subjects from their own realities to relocate them in the timeless, frozen space of the photograph. In terms of their statue-like beauty and rigorous composition of every detail, his pictures continue and renew the classical photographic tradition all at once. Such classical virtues, however, did not make these photos exempt from criticism: both his subject matter and their manner of presentation sparked controversy. Their sexual themes aroused unease, and criticism of the work failed to make a distinction between the statue-like beauty of body parts and torsos, the sexual stereotypes associated with black male bodies, and the objectification of the bodies.

Mapplethorpe’s works created a place for homosexual and S&M identities in the domain of high art, subverting conventions, transgressing unspoken social agreements and revealing prejudices, in line with the artist’s personal desires and self-definition. In the United States, during the eighties, in the first moments of horror in the face of AIDS, the condemnation of homosexuality and the undefined dread of the disease became entwined. Such developments stirred up the already intense controversies around Mapplethorpe’s photos, adding a new overtone to the voice of conservative protesters. (Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, and he died in the spring of 1989 due to complications related to the disease).

The cultural-political debates of the so-called Culture Wars in the late 1980s and 1990s in the United States, fuelled the decision of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to cancel its leg of the travelling exhibition “The Perfect Moment,” which included several thought-provoking photos that the conservative right-wing had denounced as obscene and arrogant assaults on public taste. A long and heated debate was to follow, including both hysterical and absurd commentaries, triggering police actions and a trial against a subsequent venue, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati as well as its director. Though the museum and its director were eventually cleared of all charges, the case continued to shape the cultural-political landscape in the US, which partly concluded in a revision of the public funding of artworks and is still referred to today as an outstanding example of the methodology of censorship.”

Press release from the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ken Moody and Robert Sherman
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Untitled
c. 1973
1987
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Lisa Lyon
1982
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Ajitto
1981
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait
1988
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used with permission

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1. Blain, Robert. The Decorated Body. London: Thames & Hudson, 1979, p.5, Introduction

2. Crump, James. F. Holland Day- Suffering the Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.11

3. Foster, Alasdair. Behold The Man – The Male Nude In Photography. Edinburgh: Stills, 1989, p.9

4. Jussim, Estelle. Slave To Beauty- The Eccentric Life And Controversial Career of F. Holland Day, Photographer, Publisher, Aesthete. Boston: Godine, 1981, pp.175-176; Ellenzweig, Allan. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University, 1992, p. 59

5. Ellenzweig, p.59

6. Weeks, Jeffrey. Against Nature:  Essays on history, sexuality and identity. London: Rivers Osram Press, 1991, p.164

7. Day, F. Holland. “Is Photography An Art?” p.8, quoted in Crump, James. F. Holland Day – Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 1995, p.20

8. Ellenzweig, p.39

9. Leslie, Charles. Wilhelm von Gloeden, Photographer. New York: Soho Photographic, 1997, p.86

10. Dutton, Kenneth R. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 95

11. Ellenzweig, p.43

12. Bataille, Georges. Death And Sensuality. New York: Walker And Company, 1962, p. 24

13. Bateson, Gregory. Steps To An Ecology Of Mind – Collected Essays On Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution And Epistemology. St. Albans: Paladin, 1973

14. Danto, Arthur C. Mapplethorpe – Playing With The Edge. Essay. London: Jonathon Cape, 1992, p.331

15. Interview with Robert Mapplethorpe quoted in Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective. London: Routledge, 1986, p. 286

16. Ellenzweig, p. 205, Footnote 1

17. Cembalest, Robin. “The Obscenity Trial: How They Voted To Acquit,” in Art News December 1990 89 (10): 141 quoted in Ellenzweig, p.208

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Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art
1095 Budapest  Komor Marcell Street 1
Hungary 06 1 555-3444

Opening hours:
Tuesday-Sunday: 10.00-20.00
Closed on Mondays

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art website

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25
Jan
12

Exhibition: ‘Diane Arbus’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 18th October 18 2011 – 5th February 2012

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“There are and have been and will be an infinite number of things on earth. Individuals all different, all wanting different things, all knowing different things, all loving different things, all looking different. Everything that has been on earth has been different from any other thing. That is what I love: the differentness, the uniqueness of all things and the importance of life… I see something that seems wonderful; I see the divineness in ordinary things.”

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Diane Arbus. Paper on Plato, senior English seminar, Fieldston School, November 28, 1939

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“I want to photograph the considerable ceremonies of our present because we tend while living here and now to perceive only what is random and barren and formless about it. While we regret that the present is not like the past and despair of its ever becoming the future, its innumerable inscrutable habits lie in wait for their meaning. I want to gather them, like somebody’s grandmother putting up preserves, because they will have been so beautiful.

There are the Ceremonies of Celebration (the Pageants, the Festivals, the Feasts, the Conventions) and the Ceremonies of Competition (Contests, Games, Sports), the Ceremonies of Buying and Selling, of Gambling, of the Law and the Show; the Ceremonies of Fame in which the Winners Win and the Lucky are Chosen or Family Ceremonies or Gatherings (the Schools, the Clubs, the Meetings). Then they are Ceremonial Places (The Beauty Parlor, The Funeral Parlor or, simply The Parlor) and Ceremonial Costumes (what waitresses wear, or Wrestlers), Ceremonies of the Rich, like the Dog Show, and of the Middle Class, like the Bridge Game. Or, for example: the Dancing Lesson, the Graduation, the Testimonial Dinner, the Séance, the Gymnasium and the Picnic, and perhaps the Waiting Room, the Factory, the Masquerade, the Rehearsal, the Initiation, the Hotel Lobby and the Birthday Party. The etcetera.

I will write whatever is necessary for the further description and elucidation of these Rites and I will go wherever I can to find them.

These are our symptoms and our monuments. I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary.”

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Diane Arbus. “American Rites, Manners and Customs,” Plan for a Photographic Project, Guggenheim proposal

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A fabulous posting, with memorable thoughts and photographs! These archetypal images have become deeply embedded in the collective conscience where conscience is pre-eminently the organ of sentiments and representations. The snap, snap, snap of the shutter evinces the flaws of human nature, reveals the presence of a quality or feeling to which we can all relate. As Arbus states, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated. This is why these photographs always capture our attention because we become, we inhabit, we are the subject. They are the flaw in us all. They are legend.

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.

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Diane Arbus
Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962
1962
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967
1967
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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On Photographs

“They are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they’ll still be there looking at you.”

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Diane Arbus in response to request for a brief statement about photographs, March 15, 1971

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Diane Arbus (New York, 1923–1971) revolutionized the art she practiced. Her bold subject matter and photographic approach produced a body of work that is often shocking in its purity, in its steadfast celebration of things as they are. Her gift for rendering strange those things we consider most familiar, and for uncovering the familiar within the exotic, enlarges our understanding of ourselves.

Arbus found most of her subjects in New York City, a place that she explored as both a known geography and as a foreign land, photographing people she discovered during the 1950s and 1960s. She was committed to photography as a medium that tangles with the facts. Her contemporary anthropology – portraits of couples, children, carnival performers, nudists, middle-class families, transvestites, zealots, eccentrics, and celebrities – stands as an allegory of the human experience, an exploration of the relationship between appearance and identity, illusion and belief, theater and reality.

In this first major retrospective in France, Jeu de Paume presents a selection of two hundred photographs that affords an opportunity to explore the origins, scope, and aspirations of a wholly original force in photography. It includes all of the artist’s iconic photographs as well as many that have never been publicly exhibited. Even the earliest examples of her work demonstrate Arbus’s distinctive sensibility through the expression on a face, someone’s posture, the character of the light, and the personal implications of objects in a room or landscape. These elements, animated by the singular relationship between the photographer and her subject, conspire to implicate the viewer with the force of a personal encounter.

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Biography

Diane Arbus was born in New York City on March 14, 1923, and attended the Ethical Culture and Fieldston Schools. At the age of eighteen she married Allan Arbus. Although she first started taking pictures in the early 1940s and studied photography with Alexey Brodovitch in 1954, it was not until 1955-57, while enrolled in courses taught by Lisette Model, that she began to seriously pursue the work for which she has come to be known.

Her first published photographs appeared in Esquire in 1960 under the title The Vertical Journey. From that point on she continued to work intermittently as a free-lance photographer for Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Show, The London Sunday Times, and a number of other magazines, doing portraits on assignment as well as photographic essays, for several of which she wrote accompanying articles.

During the 1950s, like most of her contemporaries, she had been using a 35mm camera, but in 1962 she began working with a 6×6 Rolleiflex. She once said, in accounting for the shift, that she had grown impatient with the grain and wanted to be able to decipher in her pictures the actual texture of things. The 6×6 format contributed to the refinement of a deceptively simple, formal, classical style that has since been recognized as one of the distinctive features of her work.

She received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and 1966 for projects on “American Rites, Manners and Customs” and spent several summers during that period traveling across the United States, photographing contests, festivals, public and private gatherings, people in the costumes of their professions or avocations, the hotel lobbies, dressing rooms and living rooms she had described as part of “the considerable ceremonies of our present.” “These are our symptoms and our monuments,” she wrote in her original application. “I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary.” 

The photographs she produced in those years attracted a great deal of attention when a selected group of them were exhibited, along with the work of two other photographers, in the 1967 “New Documents” show at the Museum of Modern Art. Nonetheless, although several institutions subsequently purchased examples of her work for their permanent collections, her photographs appeared in only two other major exhibitions during her lifetime, both of them group shows.

In the late 1960s she taught photography courses at Parsons School of Design, the Rhode Island School of Design and Cooper Union and in 1971 gave a master class at Westbeth, the artists cooperative in New York City where she then lived. During the same period she initiated the concept and did the basic research for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1973 exhibition on news photography, “From the Picture Press.”

She made a portfolio of ten photographs in 1970, printed, signed and annotated by her, which was to be the first of a series of limited editions of her work. She committed suicide on July 26, 1971 at the age of forty-eight. The following year the ten photographs in her portfolio became the first work of an American photographer to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale.

In the course of a career that may be said to have lasted little more than fifteen years, she produced a body of work whose style and content have secured her a place as one of the most significant and influential photographers of our time. The major retrospective mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in 1972 was attended by more than a quarter of a million people in New York before it began its tour of the United States and Canada. The Aperture monograph Diane Arbus, published in conjunction with the show has sold over 300,000 copies. Beginning in 2003, Diane Arbus Revelations, an international retrospective organized by The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art travelled to museums throughout the United States and Europe between 2003 and 2006. Major exhibitions devoted exclusively to her work have toured much of the world including, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

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Diane Arbus
Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C. 1967
1967
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Untitled (6) 1970-71
1970-71
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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On Freaks

“There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll go through a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”

“If you’ve ever talked to somebody with two heads you know they know something you don’t.”

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The Gap between Attention and Affect

“You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw. It’s just extraordinary that we should have been given these peculiarities. And, not content with what we were given, we create a whole other set. Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there’s a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you. And that has to do with what I’ve always called the gap between intention and effect. I mean if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic.”

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Other Thoughts

“The thing that’s important to know is that you never know. You’re always sort of feeling your way.”

“Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It’s what I’ve never seen before that I recognize.”

“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”

“For me the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated. I do have a feeling for the print but I don’t have a holy feeling for it. I really think what it is, is what it’s about. I mean it has to be of something. And what it’s of it always more remarkable than what it is.”

“I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

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Diane Arbus
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C. 1966
1966
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963
1963
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963
1963
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Jeu de Paume
1, place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
T: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 12:00 – 21:00
Wednesday – Friday: 12:00 – 19:00
Saturday and Sunday: 10:00 – 19:00
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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