Posts Tagged ‘Urformen der Kunst

06
Feb
22

Exhibition: ‘Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940: The Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, New York’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 14th September 2021 – 13th February 2022

Curated by Sarah Meister, former Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York and Quentin Bajac, Director, Jeu de Paume, with Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961) 'Lotte (Eye)' 1928

 

Max Burchartz (German, 1887-1961)
Lotte (Eye)
1928
Gelatin silver print
30.2 × 40cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Acquired through the generosity of Peter Norton © 2021 Max Burchartz/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Germany
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

A huge posting today that took hours to compile and all I can think of to say is – wow, I want them all in my collection!

If I had to specify one era of photography that is my favourite it would be the experimental, avant-garde photographs from the interwar period. There was such freedom, revolution and danger in the air which encouraged artists to produce radical art that defined a generation (and which ideological others found offensive and degenerate).

The tremendous diversity of “modern” photography is on show in the different sections of the exhibition – from portraiture to perspective, from science to magic realism, from interiority and surrealist dreams to new objective visions of self and the landscape – the works investigating how photographs transcend their conventional function of documentation through their social, psychological, and metaphysical implications.

I have added relevant biographical details and salient book covers and pages from the exhibition catalogue to enhance the viewing experience. My particular favourites in the posting are Willi Ruge’s vertiginous Seconds before Landing (1931, below); Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz’s unforgettable portrait of Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane (1911-1912, below); Lyonel Feininger’s almost-there, atmos/sphere Bauhaus (February 26, 1929 below); and Gertrud Arndt’s masterpiece, At the Masters’ Houses (1929-1930, below).

I hope you enjoy your Sunday looking at these stunning images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

 

Kate Steinitz (American born Poland, 1889-1975) 'Backstroke' 1930

 

Kate Steinitz (American born Poland, 1889-1975)
Backstroke
1930
Gelatin silver print
26.6 × 34.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Reprinted with permission of the Steinitz Family Art Collection
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Record' 1926

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Runner in the City (Experiment for a Fresco for a Sports-Club)
1926
Gelatin silver print
26.7 × 22.4cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Lotte (Charlotte) Beese (German-Dutch, 1903-1988) 'Untitled (Bauhaus Weavers)' 1928

 

Lotte (Charlotte) Beese (German-Dutch, 1903-1988)
Untitled (Bauhaus Weavers)
1928
Gelatin silver print
8.4cm (diam.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984) 'Test for the Film "Culte Vaudou," Exposition 1937' 1936

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984)
Test for the Film “Culte Vaudou,” Exposition 1937
1936
Gelatin silver print with cellophane sheet
29.3 × 23cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984) 'Untitled (Self-Portrait with Roger Parry)' c. 1936

 

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984)
Untitled (Self-Portrait with Roger Parry)
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 × 6 5/8″ (23.5 × 16.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

Roger M. Parry (French, 1905-1977)

Born and educated in Paris, Roger Parry was originally interested in painting and worked as a draftsman after graduation. In 1928 he met Maurice Tabard, who taught him photography and for whom Parry worked as a darkroom assistant. Parry published his photographs in Art et Métiers Graphiques, a photographic annual, and Banalités, a book of poems. These publications gained the attention of André Malraux, with whom Parry became associated around 1930.

Parry worked for Malraux and the Gallimard publishers for more than forty years. In 1934 Gallimard published Parry’s photographs of Tahiti. During World War II Parry was a photography war correspondent for the news agency L’Express. He eventually became head of photography and art director for the Gallimard publication Nouvelle Revue Française.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website [Online] Cited 25/01/2022

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990) 'Franz Lederer' c. 1929

 

Lotte Jacobi (American, 1896-1990)
Franz Lederer
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
21.3 × 15.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Grace M. Mayer Fund
© Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Francis Lederer (November 6, 1899 Prague – May 25, 2000) was a Czech-born American film and stage actor with a successful career, first in Europe, then in the United States. His original name was Franz (Czech František) Lederer.

 

Unknown photographer / Press-Photo G.M.B.H. 'Untitled (Cover illustration from 'Here Comes the New Photographer')' c. 1928-1929

 

Unknown photographer / Press-Photo G.M.B.H.
Untitled (Cover illustration from Here Comes the New Photographer)
c. 1928-1929
Gelatin silver print
21.9 × 16.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Edward Steichen, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Masterworks of MoMA

Introduction

In 2001 and 2017, The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired more than 350 photographs from the collector Thomas Walther. This collection, which is now one of the pillars of MoMA’s modern collection, is presented for the first time in France in an exhibition of some 230 images.

Comprising iconic works from the first half of the twentieth century, the exhibition provides a history of the European and American photographic avant-gardes. Through the works of a hundred or so photographers, from Berenice Abbott to Karl Blossfeldt, from Claude Cahun to El Lissitzky, from Edward Weston to André Kertész, this fusion of masterpieces and lesser-known images traces the history of modernity in photography. Mixing genres and approaches – architecture and urban landscapes, portraits and nudes, reportage, photomontage, experimentation, etc. – the exhibition delves deep into the artistic networks of the inter-war period, from the Bauhaus to Surrealist Paris, via Moscow and New York.

In their visually radical inventiveness, these images capture perfectly the utopian spirit of those who wanted to change images in order to change the world; now we fully understand the words of the photographer and theoretician Lázló Moholy-Nagy who, a century ago, stated that “the illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the camera and the pen alike.”

 

The Exhibition

Life as an artist

While it is true that throughout the 20th century photographers took great pleasure in portraiture, the Thomas Walther Collection also illustrates the spirit of freedom that characterised the lives of these artists and the circles they moved in.

Marcel Duchamp once described the Paris of the 1920s as home to the first truly international community of artists. The body of photographs by André Kertész assembled by Thomas Walther offers a fine summary of the photographer’s affinities, empathies and networking during his Parisian years, while also reflecting his interest in abstract and post-Cubist art and the play of light on highly geometric volumes.

The period between the two World Wars saw the affirmation of a collective artistic adventure most strikingly evidenced by the Bauhaus – one of the main axes of the Thomas Walther collection. From Florence Henri to Lotte Beese and Umbo, many of the artists represented in the collection spent time there; and all of them practiced photography without necessarily being photographers. Thus the works relating to the Bauhaus here are essentially snapshots of documentary interest. Lázsló Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy were both very active photographers, but while Lázsló’s work attracted considerable critical attention, this is less true of his wife, who, although not an official member of the school, took numerous photographs of architecture and portraits.

Similarly, Lyonel Feininger, a trained painter and head of the engraving workshop, and Gertrud Arndt and Lotte Beese, students in the weaving workshop, acquired skills through an intense photographic activity that went far beyond the official teaching.

Experiments with night photography, high- and low-angle shots, multiple exposures, distorting reflections: a large part of the vocabulary of the avant-gardes can be found at the Bauhaus.

The third body of work in this section documents these artistic networks and communities in a different way. The self-portrait plays a predominant role here, revealing the shaping of a new identity for the photographer via an emphasis on the camera that underscored photography’s mechanical character – an aspect often skirted by the art photographers of the previous generation.

Now, whether on a tripod or in the hand, the camera was omnipresent, to the point where it merged completely with the user as an artificial extension of the eye.

El Lissitzky redefined photography as a mental activity and the photographer as a “constructor”, a producer of images who must unify the work of eye and hand, in a context of photography become inseparable from graphics.

 

Here comes the new photographer!

Photography was the ideal medium for catching the feel of modern life in the aftermath of the First World War: looking both up and down – from planes, bridges and skyscrapers – photographers discovered unparalleled views and a new, dynamic visual language, free of convention.

A new thirst for photographic images took hold of the illustrated press between the wars, a period that saw the advent of reports and magazines built entirely around the photographic image. Another feature of this period was its passion for sport and speed. Advances in the sensitivity of photographic film and paper and the development of more manageable cameras allowed artists to capture movement as never before.

Totally unexpected points of view were thus created. One of the most famous is doubtless the aerial view, where the aviator embodies this new sporting modernity, as does the racing driver.

A sense of weightlessness and lightness is found in the images of Kate Steinitz and John Gutmann, both influenced by Dada and European Surrealism. Alexander Rodchenko’s images of divers emphasise the space that the body travels through as well as the athlete himself.

Their out-of-kilter framing, pushing the bodies into the corners of the image, attempts to summarise a rapid, complex movement in a single still image. While using an overtly avant-garde photographic grammar – high-angle, low angle – the themes of these photographs seem to be fully in line with the political context of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Lissitzky too was fascinated by the figure of the athlete: his photomontage Rekord (Record), a model of a project for the photographic decoration of a sports club in Moscow, offers a modernist yet dreamlike vision in which the entire illuminated metropolis mutates into a sports arena.

Finally, this exaltation of a new humanity underlies in a much more literal way Leni Riefenstahl’s images of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Armed with impressive technical and financial resources, photographer / filmmaker Riefenstahl directed Olympia, commissioned by the Hitler regime to hymn the new Aryan type. In images markedly avant-garde in style, one finds many features of the aesthetics of the Third Reich, from the references to antiquity to the celebration of the athlete-hero and the geometrisation and perfect synchronisation of figures in movement.

 

Discovering photography

In 1925, László Moholy-Nagy asserted that although photography had been invented a hundred years earlier, its true aesthetic potential had only just been discovered when he and other members of avant-garde circles adopted the medium. With their brief history and no connection to traditional fine arts disciplines, photography and film became true modernist instruments.

Moving away from the efforts of the art photographers of the previous generation, out to obscure the mechanical nature of the photographic print through various subterfuges – timeless subjects, use of blur, etc. – the photographic avant-gardes of the early 20th century drew on images from non-art spheres: X-rays, astronomy, medicine and science provided them with representations of the invisible; photojournalism revealed forms in motion, improbably frozen by the snapshot; amateur photography offered a repertoire of strange viewpoints and aberrations of perspective. See differently, that was the maxim.

They experimented every which way, playfully and undeterred by reversion to archaic forms and processes. The photogram is probably the best illustration of this new language. This camera-less technique, which simply prints images of objects directly onto sensitised paper that has been exposed to light, is the origin of photography. It was practiced by all of photography’s pioneers before falling into disuse except as a mere laboratory exercise. It was only after the First World War that it was rediscovered by a few enthusiasts and became a major avant-garde gambit.

Appreciated for its simplicity, playfulness, and undeniable visual impact, it also became a much appreciated tool in the field of applied photography. Moreover, in addition to the photogram as such, advertising, Industry, and publishing were becoming broadly receptive to the new avant-garde photographic language, just as photography was gradually beginning to oust graphic techniques in their respective fields.

At the same time the laboratory began to function as a venue for exploration of both the negative and the print. The stretching of exposure times, with the resultant blurring of movement, allows the representation of time to be modified by embedding duration and movement in the still image. In some cases – think Albert Renger-Patzsch and Jean Painlevé – the precision of a simple close-up framing a particular being or thing as closely as possible, sufficed to imbue the subject with fresh presence and reality.

Last but not least, the avant-gardes revelled in the construction of composite images, notably through collage and photomontage, using all the resources made available to them by the illustrated press and publishing of the time. To these image games we should add the multiple exposure, long considered as no more than a photographer’s failure. In this sense, this generation was the first to practice borrowing and reusing images and forms on such a scale, attesting to the – already – rapid circulation of images within the European avant-garde.

 

Magic Realisms

In the mid-1920s, members of European art movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity moved away from a realist approach, seeking instead to highlight the strangeness of everyday life or to bring together dreams and unusual states of consciousness. Echoes of these preoccupations, centred on the human figure, can be found throughout the Thomas Walther collection.

The images in this section hijack two traditional photographic genres, the portrait and the nude, with the aid of various processes: close-ups, inversion of negative-positive values through solarisation, photograms, overprints. Many of the techniques employed by photographers close to Surrealism aimed to transform reality by pushing technique to the point of destroying the human form. The diffuse influence of Surrealism is of course particularly evident among Parisian photographers, as can be seen in the numerous, often virtuoso laboratory games of commercial, advertising or fashion photographers like Maurice Tabard or Aurel Bauh, and even André Kertész in the early 1930s. The “distortions” Kertész produced, using the countless optical possibilities offered by deforming mirrors, are part of a photographic tradition that goes back to the 19th century, but also remind us of the representation and deformation of the human body undertaken by Picasso and Dalí in the same years.

The press of the 1920s was fond of optical visual games, transforming the human body in line with a certain objectification: loss of scale and reference points, oddness induced by a detail or the texture of skin. Of all the parts of the body, it was undoubtedly the eye, the organ of sight, that attracted the attention of distinction between the real and the fantastic – and created interplay between the animate and the inanimate by approaching the human body through substitutes such as dolls, mannequins, or masks.

 

Symphony of a Great City

Like the cinema, photography in the first half of the 20th century achieved a fragmentation and recomposition of an increasingly insistent urban reality. In an era of rapidly advancing urbanisation, the big city was the stamping ground par excellence for photographers and filmmakers.

The period saw the emergence of a large number of films that treated the city as a living organism: Paul Strand’s Manhattan, Charles Sheeler on New York and Berlin, Walther Ruttmann’s Symphony of a Great City. Often consisting of short, rapidly edited shots, these films have obvious links with the photography of the time: the German photographer Umbo was involved in the making of Ruttmann’s film. The four images on display here play on some of the optical games dear to the avant-garde: the derealisation effected by the bird’s-eye view and cast shadows, the simultaneous transparency and reflection of store windows, and the repetitive geometry of certain urban spaces.

The advent of an architecture of mobility was exactly contemporary with that of the first Kodak-type cameras, which allowed the operator a hitherto unknown freedom and mobility. Photographers would take full advantage of all the new possibilities open to them by favouring symbols and places emblematic of the contemporary: factory chimneys and industry at work; the iron architecture of buildings like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Brooklyn Bridge in New York; subjects and objects in movement, such as cyclists caught in urban traffic; newly pullulating public spaces; and, of course, the omnipresent street. The city was indeed this dynamic organism, the locus of human encounters, of incongruous objects and visual signs, captured at random in its streets. Constantly on the lookout, the pedestrian-photographer of the inter-war period appears as a modern version of the Baudelairean flâneur of the preceding century. With its unprecedented vertical extension, the modern city offers a multitude of new points of view, high-angle or low-angle, magnifying the impression of vertigo or crushing weight.

The city allowed for all kinds of new visual and optical experiments. Iron architecture, by erasing the boundaries between interior and exterior, offered countless possibilities for framing, as in the work of Germaine Krull, a photographer particularly attentive to these exercises in “framing within the frame”. Night shots, which gave pride of place to lighting effects, renewed the experience of nocturnal vision to a point of near-abstraction, simple luminous inscriptions of objects in movement.

But the fragmenting dear to Walter Benjamin is probably nowhere more perceptible than in photomontage, with its fantasised, idealised or monstrous version of the urban and industrial universe. The visual chaos of Paul Citroën’s Metropolis, composed of some two hundred images pasted together, is a perfect example. Citroën evokes a city not in ruins but in pieces, a cacophonous space, all the elements piled up in an incoherent spirit close to Dada.

 

High fidelity

At a time when, in Europe, experimentation was being put forward as a core concept by the photographic avant-gardes, the Americans seem to have put more emphasis on a search for a truth of the world through exact representation. “High fidelity”, a term borrowed from the world of acoustics, was used to designate this approach and its taste for a clear and faithful image.

Pure photography is a discipline in search of perfection and technical mastery at all stages of the production of the image. It is in this near-contradictory tension between the “highly detailed” and the “abstract”, between the use of a large format camera combining an almost hyper-realistic rendering with simplified shooting strategies, that lies one of the main characteristics of a certain American modernist approach. It seems logical, then, that this aesthetic of attention to object, texture and form, quickly pervaded various spheres of American commercial photography of the time.

At Film und Foto, the flagship exhibition of the international photographic avant-garde, some people remarked on the extent to which the American section, with its “refined technique that can rightly be described as cultivated”, contrasted with the more raw work of the Europeans.

However, while straight photography remained a very American movement, it also had ramifications in Europe. In Germany, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, voices began to be raised in photographic circles against the expressive experiments of the previous decade, urging respect for reality and greater objectivity. Karl Blossfeldt’s direct and unmanipulated approach to plants, produced for documentary purposes as part of his teaching at the Berlin School of Applied Arts, was praised. At the same time, it was the sweeping aerial views of Germany taken by balloonist Robert Petschow that aroused the enthusiasm of avant-garde circles, which exhibited them and celebrated both their quasi-abstract singularity and their informative content, blended in the manner of a topographical survey.

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980) 'View of Berlin's Department Store Karstadt' 1929

 

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) (German, 1902-1980)
View of Berlin’s Department Store Karstadt
1929
Gelatin silver print
23.7 × 15.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© ADAGP, Paris, 2021
© 2021 Umbo/ Gallery Kicken Berlin/ Phyllis Umbehr/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Cover study for America: The Development of Style in New Buildings in the United States (New Ways of Building in the World)' 1929-1930

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Cover study for America: The Development of Style in New Buildings in the United States (New Ways of Building in the World)
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
10 1/4 × 7 5/8″ (26 × 19.4cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Henri Cartier-Bresson, by exchange
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Fifth Avenue, Nos. 4, 6, 8, Manhattan' March 20, 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Fifth Avenue, Nos. 4, 6, 8, Manhattan
March 20, 1936
Gelatin silver print
38.6 × 49.5cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Mr. Robert C. Weinberg, by exchange
© 2021 Estate of Berenice Abbott
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Pitmen's houses in Essen, Stoppenberg' 1929

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Pitmen’s houses in Essen, Stoppenberg
1929
Gelatin silver print
10 3/4 × 14 13/16″ (27.3 × 37.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of James Thrall Soby, by exchange
© 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Summer Swimming' 1925-1930

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Summer Swimming
1925-1930
Gelatin silver print
17.8 × 20cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Bequest of Ilse Bing, by exchange
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Aurel Bauh (Romanian, 1900-1964) 'Untitled' 1929-1932

 

Aurel Bauh (Romanian, 1900-1964)
Untitled
1929-1932
Gelatin silver print
29.4 × 23.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) 'Acanthus mollis (Soft Acanthus, Bear's Breeches. Bracteoles with the Flowers Removed, Enlarged 4 Times)' 1898-1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Acanthus mollis (Soft Acanthus, Bear’s Breeches. Bracteoles with the Flowers Removed, Enlarged 4 Times)
1898-1928
Gelatin silver print
29.8 × 23.8cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933) 'Ficus elastica' 1926

 

Aenne Biermann (German, 1898-1933)
Ficus elastica
1926
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 × 11 1/8″ (37.5 × 28.2cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

 

 

John Gutmann (American born Germany, 1905-1998)
Classe (Marjorie Gestring, championne olympique 1936 de plongeon de haut vol)
Class (Marjorie Gestring, 1936 Olympic champion in high diving)

1935
Gelatin silver print
22.3 x 19.2cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
© 2020 The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko. 'Girl with Leica' 1932-1933

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Girl with a Leica
1932-1933
Gelatin silver print
30 x 20.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Collection Thomas Walther
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© ADAGP, Paris 2021
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984) 'Exercise' 1932

 

Wanda Wulz (Italian, 1903-1984)
Exercise
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 1/2 × 8 5/8″ (29.2 × 21.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections-Studio Wulz Archive, Florence

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American born Russia, 1900-1968) 'Henri Cartier-Bresson' 1935

 

George Hoyningen-Huene (American born Russia, 1900-1968)
Henri Cartier-Bresson
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 11/16 × 7 11/16″ (24.6 × 19.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941) 'Self-Portrait' 1924

 

El Lissitzky (Russian, 1890-1941)
Self-Portrait
1924
Gelatin silver print
5 1/2 × 3 1/2″ (13.9 × 8.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

The essence of New Vision photography is pointedly expressed in this picture, commonly known as The Constructor, which puts the act of seeing at center stage. Lissitzky’s hand, holding a compass, is superimposed on a shot of his head that explicitly highlights his eye: insight, it expresses, is passed through the eye and transmitted to the hand, and through it to the tools of production. Devised from six different exposures, the picture merges Lissitzky’s personae as photographer (eye) and constructor of images (hand) into a single likeness. Contesting the idea that straight photography provides a single, unmediated truth, Lissitzky held instead that montage, with its layering of one meaning over another, impels the viewer to reconsider the world. It thus marks a conceptual shift in the understanding of what a picture can be.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012 – April 29, 2013

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956) 'Demonstration' 1932

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (Russian, 1891-1956)
Demonstration
1932
Gelatin silver print
11 5/8 × 9″ (29.6 × 22.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966) 'The Octopus' 1909

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882-1966)
The Octopus
1909
Gelatin silver print
22 1/8 × 16 3/4″ (56.2 × 42.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© George Eastman House

 

Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965) 'Lightbulb' 1928-1933

 

Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965)
Lightbulb
1928-1933
Gelatin silver print
7 3/16 × 9 7/16″ (18.2 × 23.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Willys P. Wagner and Mrs. Gerald F. Warburg, by exchange
© Estate Franz Roh, Munich

 

Hans Finsler (Swiss, 1891-1972) 'Incandescent Lamp' 1928

 

Hans Finsler (Swiss, 1891-1972)
Incandescent Lamp
1928
Gelatin silver print
14 1/2 × 9 3/4″ (36.9 × 24.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© Stiftung Moritzburg, Kunstmuseum des Landes. Sachsen-Anhalt

 

Jaroslav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990) 'Untitled' 1923-1925

 

Jaroslav Rössler (Czech, 1902-1990)
Untitled
1923-1925
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 × 8 9/16″ (22.1 × 21.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel
© 2022 Sylva Vitove-Rösslerova

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Les Lunettes et la Pipe de Mondrian, Paris' 'Glasses and Pipe of Mondrian, Paris' 1926

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985)
Les Lunettes et la Pipe de Mondrian, Paris (Glasses and Pipe of Mondrian, Paris)
1926
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 3 11/16″ (7.9 × 9.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

André Kertész (Hungarian, 1894-1985) 'Chez Mondrian, Paris' 1926

 

André Kertész (American, born Hungary. 1894–1985)
Chez Mondrian
1926
Gelatin silver print
4 1/4 × 3 1/16″ (10.8 × 7.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Grace M. Mayer Fund and gift of the artist, by exchange
© 2022 Estate of André Kertész

 

Gertrud Arndt. 'At the Masters' Houses' (An den Meisterhäusern) 1929-30

 

Gertrud Arndt (German, 1903-2000)
At the Masters’ Houses
1929-1930
Gelatin silver print
8 7/8 × 6 1/4″ (22.6 × 15.8cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985) 'Untitled' 1927-1928

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)
Untitled
1927-1928
Gelatin silver print
9 × 6 1/4″ (22.9 × 15.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© Estate Germaine Krull, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

 

Germaine Krull (Dutch born Germany, 1897-1985)

Germaine Krull was a pioneer in the fields of avant-garde photomontage, the photographic book, and photojournalism, and she embraced both commercial and artistic loyalties. Born in Wilda-Poznań, East Prussia, in 1897, Krull lived an extraordinary life lasting nine decades on four continents – she was the prototype of the edgy, sexually liberated Neue Frau (New Woman), considered an icon of modernity and a close cousin of the French garçonne and the American flapper. She had a peripatetic childhood before her family settled in Munich in 1912. She studied photography from 1916 to 1918 at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen (Instructional and Research Institute for Photography), and in 1919 opened her own portrait studio. Her early engagement with left-wing political activism led to her expulsion from Munich. Then, on a visit to Russia in 1921, she was incarcerated for her counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler. In 1926, she settled in Paris, where she became friends with artists Sonia and Robert Delaunay and intellectuals André Malraux, Jean Cocteau, Colette, and André Gide, who were also subjects of her photographic portraits.

Krull’s artistic breakthrough began in 1928, when she was hired by the nascent VU magazine,the first major French illustrated weekly. Along with photographers André Kertész and Éli Lotar, she developed a new form of reportage rooted in a freedom of expression and closeness to her subjects that resulted in intimate close-ups, all facilitated by her small-format Icarette, a portable, folding bed camera. During this period, she published the portfolio, Metal (Métal) (1928), a collection of 64 pictures of modernist iron giants, including cranes, railways, power generators, the Rotterdam transporter bridge, and the Eiffel Tower, shot in muscular close-ups and from vertiginous angles. Krull participated in the influential Film und Foto, or Fifo, exhibition (1929-1930), which was accompanied by two books, Franz Roh’s and Jan Tschichold’s Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) and Werner Gräff’s Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!). Fifo marked the emergence of a new critical theory of photography that placed Krull at the forefront of Neues Sehen or Neue Optik (New Vision) photography, a new direction rooted in exploring fully the technical possibilities of the photographic medium through a profusion of unconventional lens-based and darkroom techniques. After the end of World War II, she traveled to Southeast Asia, and then moved to India, where, after a lifetime dedicated to recording some of the major upheavals of the twentieth century, she decided to live as a recluse among Tibetan monks.

Introduction by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator, Department of Photography, 2016, text from the MoMA website [Online] Cited 01/02/2022

 

Paul Citroen (Dutch born Germany, 1896-1983) 'Metropolis' 1923

 

Paul Citroen (Dutch born Germany, 1896-1983)
Metropolis (City of My Birth) (Weltstadt (Meine Geburtsstadt))
1923
Gelatin silver print
8 × 6″ (20.3 × 15.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Paul Citroen/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pictoright, Amsterdam

 

César Domela-Nieuwenhuis (Dutch, 1900-1992) 'Hamburg, Germany's Gateway to the World' 1930

 

César Domela-Nieuwenhuis (Dutch, 1900-1992)
Hamburg, Germany’s Gateway to the World
1930
Gelatin silver print
Dimensions
15 7/8 × 16 1/2″ (40.3 × 41.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© 2022 César Domela/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940 book

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book cover

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

'Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940' book pages

 

 

The creative possibilities explored through photography were never richer or more varied than in the years between the two world wars, when photographers tested the medium with unmatched imaginative fervor. This moment of inventive approaches to documentary, abstract, and architectural subjects is dramatically captured in the more than three hundred and fifty photographs that constitute the Thomas Walther Collection at The Museum of Modern Art. The Museum acquired these photographs from Thomas Walther’s private collection, which includes exceptionally striking prints by towering figures in the field alongside lesser known treasures by more than one hundred other practitioners. This exhibition also highlights the artists whose work Walther collected in depth, including André Kertész, Germaine Krull, Franz Roh, Willi Ruge, Maurice Tabard, Umbo, and Edward Weston. Made on the street and in the studio, intended for avant-garde exhibitions and the printed page, these photographs provide unique insight into the radical objectives of their creators. The transatlantic circulation of ideas, images, objects, and people stimulated vibrant dialogues concerning the transformation of vision, and the varied uses and capacities of photography. Organised to explore thematic connections between the works, the exhibition testifies to the dynamic experience of modernity through genres such as portraiture, expressions of the urban experience, and techniques of estrangement and experimentation, including unfamiliar points of view and distortions.

 

Purisms

Beginning in the 1890s, in an attempt to distinguish their efforts from those of the growing ranks of professionals and the new hordes of Kodak-wielding amateurs, “artistic” photographers referred to themselves as Pictorialists. They embraced soft focus and painstakingly wrought prints to encourage an awareness of the preciousness of their photographs as objects, often emulating strategies from contemporary fine-art prints and drawings and choosing subjects that underscored the ethereal effects of their methods. Before long, however, some avant-garde photographers came to celebrate precise and distinctly photographic qualities as virtues, and by the early twentieth century, photographers on both sides of the Atlantic were transitioning from Pictorialism to Modernism – and occasionally blurring the distinction. Modernist photographers made exhibition prints using precious platinum or palladium, or, particularly after World War I, matte surfaces that mimicked those materials. These techniques are in evidence in the work of Edward Weston, whose suite of prints in the Walther Collection suggests the range of appearances achievable with unadulterated contact prints from large-format negatives.

 

Edward Weston (United States, 1886-1958)

In 1922, en route from his home in Los Angeles to New York City, where he planned to meet Alfred Stieglitz, Weston stopped to visit his sister in Ohio. There he made a series of pictures of the Armco Steel factory that signalled a break from the ethereal portrait practice that characterised his early professional work and an embrace of pure, industrial form. The following year Weston relocated to Mexico City, where he expanded his modernist vocabulary in the company of his apprentice, lover, and muse, the photographer Tina Modotti. In 1926, Weston returned to the United States, where he received increasingly international recognition for the formal rigour of his distilled subjects and the expressive luminosity of his prints.

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Shells' 1927

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Shells
1927
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/2″ (24.1 × 19cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Purchase
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Books and Magazines

The extraordinary fecundity of the photographic medium between the First and Second World Wars can be persuasively attributed to the dynamic circulation of people, ideas and images that was a hallmark of that era in Europe and the United States. Migration, a profusion of publications distributed and read on both sides of the Atlantic, and landmark exhibitions that brought artistic achievements into dialogue with one another all contributed to a period of innovation that was a creative peak both in the history of photography and in the field of arts and letters. Overall, only a small number of European photobooks made their way to the United States, but their significance was evidently appreciated by those Americans who encountered them. These publications signalled a recognition of the artistic potential of photography while also cementing its centrality in the popular imagination, as well as providing the opportunity to discover photographic works no matter the artist’s place of origin. Photographs also circulated in Europe and America through various types of publications such as avant-garde magazines and more widely circulated periodicals. The vast majority of magazines and reviews founded in the 1910s and 1920s did not survive the economic crisis of the end of the decade. This is not to say that the era of photographs in magazines was over – far from it. Life was founded in 1936, and its extraordinary success was followed, if not matched, by dozens of other magazines in the United States and Europe. These, however, did not embrace the experimental artistic and literary practices that had flourished on the pages of magazines and journals in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

 

László Moholy-Nagy, 'Painting, Photography, Film' 1925

 

Cover of László Moholy-Nagy (Hungarian, 1895-1946)
Painting, Photography, Film (Malerei, Fotografie, Film)
Munich: Albert Langen Verlag, 1925

 

 

Malerei Photographie Film (Painting Photography Film) marked the beginning of an explosively creative and influential decade of photography books. The book features the work of Walther Collection artists Paul Citroen, Georg Muche, and István Kerny in addition to Moholy-Nagy, and was the eighth in the Bauhausbücher (Bauhaus Books) publications series, which was edited by Moholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius, the German art school’s founding director. Although photography was central to the thinking of Moholy-Nagy and his fellow Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers, and each incorporated it into the school’s preliminary course, the medium was not formally made a part of the curriculum until 1929, when the Bauhaus hired photographer Walter Peterhans. Peterhans balanced a rigorous attention to technical detail with the reputational benefits of having his work circulate in publications and exhibitions, and he was responsible for teaching a significant number of Walther Collection photographers – from the Argentine Horacio Coppola to the German Umbo.

 

In 1922, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy published the short article “Produktion-Reproduktion” in the Dutch journal De Stijl, identifying the potential for the relatively new mediums of photography and film to transcend their conventional function of documentation. He advocated for their creative application – through multiple exposures, typographic interventions, montage, and oblique perspectives – to produce “new, as yet unfamiliar relationships” in the visual field. In the first half of the twentieth century, publications featuring photography were one of the primary outlets for expressing these new ways of seeing. Viewing these books and journals today provides a richer understanding of modernist photography and its impact on other mediums.

Text from the MoMA website

 

Werner Gräff. 'Es kommt der neue Fotograf!' (Here comes the new photographer!) 1929

 

Cover of Werner Gräff (German, 1901-1978)
Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here comes the new photographer!)
Berlin: H. Reckendorf, 1929

 

 

Es kommt der neue Fotograf! (Here Comes the New Photographer!) features eleven artists (and four artworks) of the Walther Collection, and was likewise designed as a primer for those interested in but unfamiliar with the experimental front lines of its medium. “The purpose of this book is to break down barriers, not create them,” wrote the author of the book Werner Gräff. He declared his bias in favour of “unconventional photographs,” including photomontage, which is featured in a dedicated section.

 

Cover of Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold. 'Foto-Auge: 76 Fotos der Zeit' (Photo-eye: 76 photos of the time) Stuttgart: F. Wedekind, 1929

 

Cover of Franz Roh (German, 1890-1965) and Jan Tschichold (German, 1902-1974)
Foto-Auge: 76 Fotos der Zeit (Photo-eye: 76 photos of the time)
Stuttgart: F. Wedekind, 1929
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

Foto-Auge (Photo-Eye) features on its cover El Lissitzky’s work Self-Portrait (The Constructor), a complex photomontage that collapses pictorial and graphic space, merging image with text, geometry with human form, and the act of seeing with, as the title suggests, constructing. In 1931, just two years after it appeared, Foto-Auge was recognised as a vital publication by the American photographer Walker Evans. Evans wrote, “Photo-Eye is a nervous and important book. Its editors call the world not only beautiful but exciting, cruel, and weird. In intention social and didactic, this is an anthology of the ‘new’ photography; yet its editors knew where to look for their material, and print examples of the news photo, aerial photography, microphotography, astronomical photography, photomontage and the photogram, multiple-exposure and the negative print.”

 

Cover from August Sander and Alfred Döblin. 'Antlitz der Zeit. Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen Des 20. Jahrhunderts' (Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth-century Germans) Munich: Transmare Verlag, 1929

 

Cover from August Sander (German, 1876-1964) and Alfred Döblin (German, 1878-1957)
Antlitz der Zeit. Sechzig Aufnahmen Deutscher Menschen Des 20. Jahrhunderts (Face of our time: Sixty portraits of twentieth-century Germans)
Munich: Transmare Verlag, 1929

 

 

By the mid-1920s, August Sander had fixed on a wildly ambitious (if not intentionally impossible) goal of publishing a synthetic portrait – Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century) – comprising hundreds of individual portraits of his fellow Germans. Although this project of capturing “an absolutely faithful historical picture of our time” would remain unrealised in his lifetime, Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), published in Munich in 1929, distilled his vision into a suite of sixty photographs accompanied by an essay by novelist Alfred Doblin.

 

Cover of Albert Renger-Patzsch. 'Die Welt ist schön' 1928

 

Cover of Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Die Welt ist schön
1928
Munich: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966) 'Die Welt ist schön' 1928

 

Pages from Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897-1966)
Die Welt ist schön. Einhundert photographische Aufnahmen (The world is beautiful: One hundred photographic images)
Munich: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1928
The Museum of Modern Art Library, New York
© 2014/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

Left: Albert Renger-Patzsch. Kauper, von unten gesehen. Hochofenwerk. Herrenwyk (Cowper, Seen from below. Blast furnace plant. Herrenwyk).
Right: Albert Renger-Patzsch. Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation (Iron shoe for fabrication).

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) .Urformen der Kunst' (Art forms in nature). Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth, 1928

 

Cover from Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Urformen der Kunst (Art forms in nature) with original dust jacket
Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth, 1928
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Ford Motor Company Collection. Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell
© 2014 Karl Blossfeldt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932) .Urformen der Kunst' (Art forms in nature). Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth, 1928

 

Pages from Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Urformen der Kunst (Art forms in nature)
Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth, 1928
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Ford Motor Company Collection. Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell
© 2014 Karl Blossfeldt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Left: Adiantum pedatum. Haarfarn
Right: Acanthus mollis. Akanthus. Bärenklau

 

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch’s Die Welt ist schön (The World Is Beautiful) and Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) both appeared in 1928, published in Munich and Berlin, respectively. Renger-Patzsch and Blossfeldt represented two threads of the New Vision: the former was committed to unadulterated photographic depiction as the essence of a modern way of seeing, while the latter explored the intersection of mechanical processes and natural form. Neither chose the path of experimentation that Moholy-Nagy had defined earlier in the decade with Malerei Photographie Film, but in their embrace of the camera’s mechanical capacity, their work resonated with avant-garde practices.

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch was one of the most important promoters of modern photography in Weimar Germany. Die Welt ist Schön (The World is Beautiful) is his most well-known book, and the one that has come to define his career. It contains 100 closeup photographs of natural and man-made objects which are sequenced in progression from plants, animals, people, and the natural landscape, to turbines, girders, and other elements of industry before ending with a pair of hands clasped in prayer. The book was hugely popular at the time but received some criticism, particularly over the title which has contributed to a possible misreading of the work. In A Short History of Photography, Walter Benjamin wrote: ‘Therein is unmasked a photography which is able to relate a tin of canned food to the universe, yet cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which that tin exists.’ Renger-Patzsch himself maintains that he would have preferred to have used the title Die Dinge (Things), which is more in keeping with his straight documentary approach. He maintained that his aesthetic arose from an interest in the precise nature of scientific photography and an interest in the composition of visual structures of the outside world, rather than from a desire to create a harmonic universal design. In a 1930 letter to Franz Roh he expressed his concern that Die Welt ist Schön was being interpreted philosophically, holding it up instead as his declared belief in optimism. To the end of his life Renger-Patzsch rejected any attempts to push photography toward total abstraction. He maintained his belief that photography was not an art but a means of documenting and recording, and that any attempt to compete with the graphic arts would cause photography to lose it own inherent characteristics of nuance and detail.

Text from the Oliver Wood Books website [Online] Cited 26/01/2022

 

Artist’s Life

Photography is particularly well suited to capture the distinctive nuances of the human face, and photographers delighted in portraiture throughout the twentieth century. In the Thomas Walther Collection, portraits and self-portraits of artists – as varied as the individuals portrayed – are complemented by works that convey a free-spirited sense of artists’ lives and communities, generously represented here through photographs made by André Kertész in Paris, and by students and faculty at the Bauhaus. When the Hungarian-born Kertész moved to the French capital in 1925, large sheets of photographic paper were a luxury he couldn’t afford. Choosing less expensive postcard stock instead, he made intimate prints that function as miniature windows into the lives of his bohemian circle of friends. The group of photographs made at the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s, before the medium was formally integrated into the school’s curriculum, includes playful and spontaneous snapshot-like pictures, as well as more considered compositions in which students explore their relationship to the architecture of the school and other aspects of their coursework.

 

Lucia Moholy (European, 1894-1989) 'Florence Henri' 1927

 

Lucia Moholy (European, 1894-1989)
Florence Henri
1927
Gelatin silver print
37.2 × 27.9cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2021 Lucia Moholy Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

Between 1924 and 1930, Moholy photographed dozens of Bauhaus students, masters, and their families, creating often startlingly close views with her large-format camera. Within very narrow parameters, Moholy conveys her sensitivity to her sitters. Having printed many enlargements for her husband, László Moholy-Nagy, she was well aware of the visual impact afforded by large prints, and she had the experience and talent required to produce them.

The glass plate negative from which this image was made is the largest Moholy used, exposed in a large wooden camera on a tripod. The advantage to working with these fragile and cumbersome glass plates is their exceptionally high resolution, as well as the possibility that one could retouch directly on the negative. Indeed, this print reveals extensive retouching, both in the negative and on the print.

 

Lyonel Feininger (German-American, 1871-1956) 'Bauhaus' February 26, 1929

 

Lyonel Feininger (German-American, 1871-1956)
Bauhaus
February 26, 1929; print 1929-1932
Gelatin silver print
7 × 8 1/2″ (17.8 × 21.6cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

 

At the Bauhaus in Dessau, all members of the Feininger family (Lyonel, his wife, Julia, and their sons, Andreas, Laurence, and Theodore Lux) were active photographers. In 1927, Andreas built a darkroom in the Feininger basement. The year after, his father also took up photography, initially as an activity to enliven his long, solitary evening walks. Bauhaus is a view of the workshop wing of the school, carefully trimmed, retouched, and inscribed on the verso with the time and place it was taken. Feininger chose a matte paper that invites the eye to sink into the velvety blacks and allows the gradual discrimination of degrees of darkness within this nocturne.

 

In 1926, Lyonel Feininger, accompanied by his wife, Julia, and their adolescent sons, Andreas, Laurence, and Theodore Lux, moved into one of the double Masters’ Houses at the Dessau Bauhaus. In the other half of the house – designed by Walter Gropius, the director of the school – lived the photographer Lázsló Moholy-Nagy with his wife, Lucia Moholy, a skilled professional photographer. Moholy-Nagy enthusiastically advocated photography as the essential modern language, a message he broadcast in his influential book Malerei, Fotographie, Film (Painting, Photography, Film), which was published by the school in 1925 and reprinted in 1927. Feininger initially considered Moholy’s vigorous embrace of camera optics, new perspectives, and recombinant techniques to be outside the realm of art, but after a few years of living in the same house he changed his views: Moholy’s ideas and vitality had proved irresistible not only to the painter but to his three sons as well.

From the Feininger basement, where Andreas built a darkroom in 1927, emerged lively photographs of Bauhaus theatre productions, of the Bauhaus jazz band in which T. Lux and other students played, and of their friends involved in all manner of events. To enlarge their images, the young Feiningers fabricated a projector from a wood box, four lightbulbs, and a camera lens. They secured a glass negative to the front of the device and projected the negative’s image onto sheets of unexposed photographic paper pinned to an easel. The only signs of this procedure in the prints are the tiny white lines of shadow cast by the pins, which blocked the paper’s exposure to the light.

Prior to his arrival at the Bauhaus, in 1919, Feininger had shown his paintings with the artist group Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider), at the Galerie der Sturm and at the Galerie Dada. Because of these and other accomplishments, Gropius deferred to the somewhat older master and let him give up teaching and devote himself entirely to painting. In 1928 Feininger also took up photography, initially as an activity to enliven his long, solitary evening walks. Bauhaus is a view of the workshop wing of the school printed from a 4.5 by 6 centimeter (1 3/4 by 2 3/8 inch) glass-plate negative using the projection technique worked out by his sons. Feininger carefully trimmed, retouched, and inscribed this large print on the verso with the time and place it was taken.

In making his prints Feininger drew from his experience as a printmaker who knew the critical role of craft and materials – of inks and papers – and Lucia Moholy’s fine printing may also have made him especially attentive to print quality. Feininger chose a thin matte paper with a high rag content, which instead of reflecting light, as glossy papers do, absorbs it. This invites the viewer’s eye to sink into the velvety blacks and allows the gradual discrimination of degrees of darkness within these meditative nocturnes.

Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg on the Object: Photo MoMA website [Online] Cited 26/01/202

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910–1989) 'Untitled (Self-Portrait)' 1931

 

Hajo Rose (German, 1910-1989)
Untitled (Self-Portrait)
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 7/16 × 7 1/16″ (23.9 × 17.9cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Hajo Rose/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

 

 

Trained first as a graphic artist and introduced to photography only upon enrolling at the Bauhaus in 1930, Rose applied his talents with both disciplines to generate this superimposition made from two different negatives: the distinctive facade of the Bauhaus in Dessau circumscribed by a self-portrait. Photography was formally integrated into the Bauhaus curriculum with the appointment of Walter Peterhans to the faculty in 1929, and this image may have been Rose’s response to a Peterhans assignment. Like the school’s curriculum, the picture weaves together photography, graphic design, and architecture into a unique, instructive whole, suggesting the collective nature of the school and the inculcation of Constructivist ideals in the individuals that made up the student body.

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (French, 1892-1972) 'Untitled' 1921-1922

 

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (French, 1892-1972)
Untitled
1921-1922
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 5 7/8″ (23.7 × 15cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Leon Dabo, by exchange
© 2022 Estate of Claude Cahun

 

 

Lucy Schwob was a writer, actress, and outspoken member of the lesbian community of Paris between the two world wars. She and her half-sister, Suzanne Malherbe, became partners in life, love, and art, and took the ambiguously gendered pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore for their theatrical and photographic works. These mostly depict Cahun, and sometimes Moore, in a variety of masculine, androgynous, and feminine personas in minimally staged scenes in their home. This cropped image shows just Cahun’s head. In the full negative she appears full-length as a dandy in a man’s evening suit, her stance brazen, with hand on hip and improper cigarette in hand.

 

Lucy Schwob was a writer, actress, and outspoken member of the Parisian lesbian community between the two world wars. She and Suzanne Malherbe, her stepsister, became partners in life, love, and art, and took the ambiguously gendered pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore for their collaborative theatrical and photographic works. The images they made mostly depict Cahun, and sometimes Moore, in a variety of masculine, androgynous, and feminine personas set in minimally staged scenes in their home.

This print is an enlargement from a negative that was cropped to frame Cahun’s face and torso; the full-length image reveals a dandy in a men’s evening suit, her stance brazen, with hand on hip and cigarette in hand. Cahun erased the visible traces of her femininity by shaving her head, wearing masculine clothes, and avoiding jewellery and makeup. Through her wide variety of self-portrayals, she undercut the notion of a fixed identity and challenged the concept of a strict gender binary. Cahun and Moore’s writings – particularly their 1930 book Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), where this photograph was reproduced – also explored a shifting, malleable concept of personhood. Cahun considered their self-imaging project to be never-ending, explaining, “Under this mask another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces.”

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

 

Cover of Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux Non Avenus
Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

 

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) 'Aveux Non Avenus' Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

 

Pages of Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) (French, 1894-1954)
Aveux Non Avenus
Paris- Éditions du Carrefour, 1930

 

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (American, 1890-1976) 'Three Heads – Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp' 1920

 

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) (American, 1890-1976)
Three Heads – Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp
1920
Gelatin silver print
8 1/8 × 6 3/16″ (20.7 × 15.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

In 1920, collector-philanthropist Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp cofounded the Société Anonyme, an organisation intended to promote and exhibit modern European and American art in New York. Various other artists assisted in this enterprise, including Man Ray, who photographed the art and artists for publicity and postcards, and the Italian Futurist Joseph Stella, who helped to select and hang the early exhibitions.

The presence of Stella and Duchamp together on the couch in this image reflects their close association with Dreier at this moment. Stella contrasts in joviality and girth with the monkish intensity of Duchamp; combined with the photograph of the woman smoking on the wall (an image also taken by Man Ray) this incidental pairing was just the sort of delicious, lightly barbed nonsense that delighted Man Ray. He referred to portrait photography, with which he would earn his living in Paris, as “taking heads”; that he considered the picture of the woman an essential part of this image is indicated by his title, Three Heads.

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964) 'High School Student' 1926

 

August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
High School Student
1926
Gelatin silver print
10 3/16 × 7 3/8″ (25.8 × 18.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Edward Steichen, by exchange
© 2022 Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne / ARS, NY

 

 

Around 1910 Sander began producing his monumental project, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the Twentieth Century): a photographic catalogue of the German people that traces the country’s transformation from agrarian society into modern industrialised nation, organised in seven categories: farmers, workers, women, professionals, artists, urbanites, and the “last people,” or those individuals on the fringe of society. In 1929, he published Antlitz der Zeit (Face of Our Time), a group of sixty of these photographs that outlined his ideas about the existing social order, but the project’s incompatibility with Nazi ideology eventually caught the attention of Third Reich censors, who destroyed the printing plates in 1936. This portrait appeared in Antlitz der Zeit, and was classified in Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts as a representative image of a modern high school student.

 

Atelier Stone. Sasha Stone (Russian, 1895-1940) and Cami Stone (born Wilhelmine Schammelhout, Belgian 1892-1975) 'Woman Smoking' 1928

 

Atelier Stone. Sasha Stone (Russian, 1895-1940) and Cami Stone (born Wilhelmine Schammelhout, Belgian 1892-1975)
Woman Smoking
1928
Gelatin silver print
23 1/16 × 16 5/16″ (58.6 × 41.4cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Committee on Photography Fund

 

 

Atelier Stone was a photography studio founded in Berlin by Sasha and Cami Stone, a married couple who collaborated professionally. Their pictures were disseminated in German magazines throughout the 1920s, and in 1929 their photographs were included in the exhibition Film und Foto. This large-scale print was almost certainly made for display, rather than reproduction. Oozing cool confidence, the figure portrayed here is emblematic of the Weimar-era “neue Frau,” or “new woman,” a social type whose independence, feminist outlook, and daring style challenged traditional gender expectations.

 

Magic Realisms

In the mid-1920s, members of European artistic movements ranging from Surrealism to New Objectivity shifted away from a realist approach, instead seeking to highlight the strangeness of everyday life or to mingle dreams and conscious states. Echoes of these concerns, centred on the human figure, can be found throughout the Walther Collection. Some photographers used anti-naturalistic methods – capturing hyperreal, close-up details, playing with scale, or rendering the body as landscape – to challenge the viewer’s perception. Others, in line with Sigmund Freud’s definition of “the uncanny” in 1919 as an effect resulting from the blurring of distinctions between the real and the fantastic, offered plays on life and the lifeless, the animate and the inanimate, engaging the human body through surrogates in the form of dolls, mannequins, and masks. Photographers influenced by Surrealism, such as Maurice Tabard, subjected the human figure to distortions and transformations by experimenting with photographic techniques while capturing the image or developing prints in the darkroom.

 

Maurice Tabard (France, 1897-1984)

Although he started out as a more conventional portrait photographer in the United States, Tabard made his name internationally as a magician of solarisation – a method that creates a hybrid image (part negative, part positive) by interrupting the development process to expose the image to an additional flash of light – and other darkroom manipulations. From 1928 to 1931 he was director of the photography lab at the Parisian type foundry Deberny & Peignot, which was at the forefront of the printing, advertising, and magazine trades, bringing him into contact with leading writers and artists of the day.

 

Herbert Bayer (American born Austria, 1900-1985) 'Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer (American born Austria, 1900-1985)
Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)
1932
Gelatin silver print
38.9 × 29.3cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Acquired through the generosity of Howard Stein
© ADAGP, Paris, 2021
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

In the case of the Germans Herbert Bayer and John Guttman, it is the photographer’s own body that is the object of this doubling. In his Humanly Impossible – part of a series of photomontages titled Man and Dream – Bayer calls up the themes of the double and the ancient. Mingling disbelief and horror, the photographer watches himself performing his own amputation. The reflection in the mirror shows him his own body turned into a statue, his own flesh transformed into marble, and the present reverting to antiquity.

 

From 1925 to 1928 Bayer led the workshop in printing and advertising at the Bauhaus. In 1928, he relocated to Berlin, where he became the art director of the German edition of Vogue magazine and of Dorland Studio, an international advertising agency. It is at that time that he started creating dramatic montages, including this one, in which Bayer observes his reflected double in a mirror. A slice of his arm is severed from his torso. Although the picture is playful, reflecting both Dada humour and Surrealist dream states, the horror on Bayer’s face could reflect something darker, perhaps the physical and psychological traumas of World War I and the growing fears that such a cataclysmic nightmare might recur.

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971) 'Untitled' February 1931

 

Raoul Hausmann (Austrian, 1886-1971)
Untitled
February 1931; print 1931-1933
Gelatin silver print
5 3/8 × 4 7/16″ (13.7 × 11.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2015 Raoul Hausmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Pari

 

 

A key Berlin-based Dadaist, Hausmann exhibited assemblage sculptures, collages, and photomontages made with magazines and newspaper clippings between 1918 and 1922. By the late 1920s he had taken up photography in earnest, making straight camera-based images of landscapes and plants before turning to more experimental works on light and optics. Hausmann made this untitled image during these years of intense focus on photography. The model is his second wife, Hedwig Mankiewitz-Hausmann. The reflection in the shaving mirror magnifies the organ of vision, the eye, a strategy popular in avant-garde photography of that period. The round mirror becomes a metaphor for the camera’s mechanical lens, which enables the operator to see the world literally larger than life.

 

Jindřich Štyrský (Czech, 1899-1942) 'Untitled' 1934-1935

 

Jindřich Štyrský (Czech, 1899-1942)
Untitled
1934-1935
From Na jehlách těchto dní. On the Needles of These Days
Gelatin silver print
3 9/16 × 3 3/8″ (9 × 8.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange

 

 

Štyrský – an avant-garde poet, photographer, editor, painter, and collagist – was among the many avant-garde artists between the two world wars who were interested in the mannequin motif. Like the Surrealists in France, he was drawn to the bizarre, erotic, and morbid, and to the symbolic forms in which they appeared in popular culture. Štyrský trawled the streets of Paris and Prague, looking for such subjects. In 1941, in occupied Czechoslovakia, he published a clandestine edition of On the Needles of These Days, a book of photographs accompanied by Jindřich Heisler’s poems. This print of a mannequin in the window of a Prague shop comes from a maquette for the book.

 

“Na Jehlach Techto Dni (On the Needles of These Days)” published by Fr. Borovy v Praze, Prague in 1945 was preceded by the extremely scarce clandestine self-published edition of 1941 with original tipped-in silver gelatin prints. In “The Photobook: A History”, Parr and Badger write, “This remains a haunting photobook, 50 years after the war. It is a prime example of one of the photobook’s great truths – it’s not necessarily the individual pictures that count, but what you do with them”. Commenting in the book, “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century”, Vince Aletti states, “On the Needles of These Days” is a Surrealist meditation on war and resistance the book’s aura of alienation, repression, and anxiety not only captured the war’s home front theatre of the absurd, it anticipated the depth of postwar pessimism.” Cited in all three reference books on photobooks: “The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century” by Andrew Roth and “The Photobook: A History”, by Parr and Badger, and “The Open Book” by Andrew Roth.

Text from the Abebooks website

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian born Germany, 1910-1985) 'The Secret Gathering' 1938

 

Raoul Ubac (Belgian born Germany, 1910-1985)
The Secret Gathering
1938
Gelatin silver print
15 5/8 × 11 11/16″ (39.7 × 29.7cm)
Thomas Walther Collection
Abbott-Levy Collection funds, by exchange
© 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

At the time of his association with Surrealism in the 1930s, Ubac distinguished himself with deft darkroom manipulations, creating complex photographs through multiple experimental techniques. This image is from a series that has come to be associated with the legend of Penthesilea, the mythical queen of the Amazons. To construct this picture, Ubac carefully lit and posed his wife, Agui, and a friend in the studio. The resulting images were collaged into a new composition, which he rephotographed and solarised (exposed to an additional flash of light) to partially annihilate their forms. Recalling the transformative rituals of secret societies, the tangled mass of naked flesh and hair evokes unconscious sexual and aggressive drives, while the title suggests secret societies and subterfuge.

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939) 'Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane' 1911-1912

 

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Polish, 1885-1939)
Anna Oderfeld, Zakopane
1911-1912
Gelatin silver print
6 11/16 × 4 3/4″ (17 × 12.1 cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Mrs. Willard Helburn, by exchange

 

 

Writer, painter, and philosopher, Witkiewicz made extraordinary close-up portraits of himself, his parents, and his friends, including this elusive portrait of his lover, Anna Oderfeld. This photograph is an intimate record of a young man’s romantic obsession, yet the blurred image and extremely tight cropping look nothing like a traditional portrait of a sweetheart. As evidenced by the dark oval left by a negative clip in the top right corner, this is a contact print, and the light source – a paned window – is reflected in the dark of the subject’s eyes. Witkiewicz’s embrace of these technical “flaws” was not merely a signal of creative license; he was keenly attuned to their social, psychological, and metaphysical implications.

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987) 'Articulated Mannequin' 1931

 

Iwao Yamawaki (Japanese, 1898-1987)
Articulated Mannequin
1931
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 × 6 13/16″ (23 × 17.3cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
© 2022 Makoto Yamawaki

 

 

Trained in architecture at the Tokyo School of Arts but disenchanted with architectural practice in his native country, Yamawaki applied to study architecture and interior design at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Once in Germany, however, he turned to photography, creating images of architecture, people, furniture, and objects. This image is a prime example of the exquisite sculptural quality Yamawaki could achieve in his photographs. Involved in designing and producing theatre and dance at the school, Yamawaki employed theatrical lighting to emphasise the voluminous forms of a commonly available artist’s mannequin.

 

Experiments in Form

In 1925 László Moholy-Nagy asserted that although photography had been invented one hundred years earlier, its true aesthetic possibilities were only then being discovered, as he and others in his avant-garde circles adopted the medium. As products of technological culture, with short histories and no connection to the old fine-art disciplines, photography and cinema were truly modern instruments with the greatest potential for transforming visual habits – a key goal of the New Vision, the movement of young photographers synthesised through Moholy’s writing. These ideas were distilled in widely circulated publications by Moholy-Nagy, Franz Roh, and others who deployed innovative combinations of text and image. From the photogram to solarisation, from negative prints to double exposures, New Vision photographers explored the medium in countless ways, rediscovering older techniques and inventing new ones. Echoing the cinematic experiments of the same period, their emerging photographic vocabulary was adopted by the advertising industry, which was quick to exploit the visual efficiency of its bold graphic simplicity.

 

Franz Roh (Germany, 1890-1965)

Roh was an art historian and a pioneering critic of the twentieth-century avant-garde, with a special interest in photography. In 1927, encouraged by his friend László Moholy-Nagy, whom he had visited at the Bauhaus in Dessau the year before, he started making his own experimental photos. Some of Roh’s favourite techniques were photomontage, which he often used to combine shots of nudes and of architecture in nonsensical compositions; negative printing; and sequenced contact prints that suggest a film-like narrative. He coauthored the seminal photography book Foto-Auge with the Dutch graphic designer Jan Tschichold in 1929 and launched Fotothek (Photo Library), a short-lived series of small books about new photographers, in 1930.

 

Florence Henri (European born America, 1893-1982) 'Composition No.19' 1928-1930

 

Florence Henri (European born America, 1893-1982)
Composition No.19
1928-1930
10 5/16 × 14 3/8″ (26.2 × 36.5cm)
Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Shirley C. Burden, by exchange
© 2022 Florence Henri, Galleria Martini e Ronchetti, Genova, Italy

 

 

Henri arrived at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1927 as a painter and left a few short months later as a photographer. Back in Paris in 1928 and influenced by Lucia Moholy’s ideas about photography, Henri started a series of still lifes with mirrors, playing with photography’s usual perspective. Every adjustment of mirrors and objects yielded fascinating new perceptions in this elastic environment. These images circulated in avant-garde magazines and major photography exhibitions of the day, including the 1929 exhibition Film und Foto.

 

“With photography, what I really want to do is compose the image, as I do in painting,” the artist Florence Henri has said about her artistic approach. “The volumes, lines, shadows and light should submit to my will and say what I would like them to say. All of this under the strict control of the composition, because I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.” …

Henri turned to photography after spending a semester at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, in 1927. Even though photography wasn’t introduced into the curriculum until 1929, it had already been used on campus for documentary, publicity, and experimental purposes for years. Henri’s professor, László Maholy-Nagy said, “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today… Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.”

Though photography is a medium that uses light to capture the surfaces of physical objects, she manipulated light and manipulated objects to create a dialogue between realism and abstraction. Henri frequently experimented with mirror, angling them to create surreal still lives and self-portraits marked by spatial ambiguity. She also manipulated her images via photomontage, multiple exposures, and negative printing. This experimental work exemplified the New Vision movement (a term coined by Moholy-Nagy), and it earned its place on the walls of the prominent international photography exhibitions of the time, including Fotografie der Gegenwart (1929), Film und Foto (1929), and Das Lichtbild (1930).

In 1929, Henri established her own successful studio in Paris, and she taught photography to artists such as Gisèle Freund and Lisette Model. During the Nazi occupation, photographic supplies became difficult to acquire, and Henri’s experimental style was in danger of being deemed “degenerate” by the regime. Henri returned to painting, but it was her photographs, taken mainly between 1927 and 1940, that left lasting impressions on her contemporaries and later generations alike.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography. “Florence Henri,” on the MoMA website Nd [Online’ Cited 292/01/2022

 

The Modern World

Even before the introduction of the handheld Leica camera in 1925, photographers were avidly exploring the unique experience of capturing the world through a camera’s lens. Photography was ideally suited to express the tenor of modern life in the wake of World War I: looking both up and down (from airplanes, bridges, and skyscrapers), photographers found unfamiliar points of view and a new dynamic visual language, freed from convention. Improvements in the light sensitivity of photographic films and papers meant that photographers could capture motion as never before. At the same time, technological advances in printing resulted in an explosion of opportunities for photographers to present their work to ever-widening audiences. From inexpensive weekly magazines to extravagantly produced journals, periodicals exploited the potential of photographs and imaginative layouts to tell a story. It wasn’t just photojournalists like Willi Ruge whose work appeared in magazines and newspapers; the illustrated press was a primary means of distribution and circulation for most photographers of this era.

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003) 'Schönheit im Olympischen Kampf'. Berlin: Deutschen Verlag 1937

 

Leni Riefenstahl (German, 1902-2003)
Schönheit im Olympischen Kampf
Berlin: Deutschen Verlag 1937

 

 

Having enjoyed success as a dancer and actress, Riefenstahl pivoted to directing films in the 1930s. Although never a formal member of the Nazi Party, she infamously made propaganda films for the Nazi Party and cultivated a close personal and professional relationship with Hitler. With the assistance of various cameramen Riefenstahl extensively documented the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in both still photography and film, using her technical virtuosity to craft an image of German triumph for an international audience. The resultant 1938 film Olympia broke ground with its innovative cinematography, and many photographs of the games taken by her and her team, including this one, were compiled in the 1936 multilingual publication Schönheit im Olympischen Kampf (Beauty in the Olympic Games) [above]. During post-war denazification proceedings, Riefenstahl was classified as a Nazi sympathiser.

 

Willi Ruge. 'Seconds before Landing' (Sekunden vor der Landung) 1931

 

Willi Ruge (German, 1892-1961)
Seconds before Landing
1931
From the series I Photograph Myself during a Parachute Jump
Gelatin silver print
20.4 × 14.1cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
Digital Image © 2021 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

 

In 1931, the photojournalist Willi Ruge took a series of photographs during a parachute jump over Berlin, using a camera attached to his waist. The reportage was backed up by a number of more conventional shots from another plane and from the ground. The story was published in the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, at the time Germany’s leading magazine using photography. Such was the success of the story that it was subsequently picked up by other magazines ranging from England to the United States.

 

Oscillating between documentation and entertainment stunt, this series depicts a parachute jump made by press photographer Ruge in 1931 from the Staaken airfield, near Berlin. In addition to the photographs Ruge made during his descent using a camera strapped to his belt, published accounts included pictures made from a second plane, and by at least one other photographer on the ground before and after the jump. The images Ruge produced while jumping echo many of the concerns and qualities put forward by New Vision photographers, including taking a more personal and almost amateur approach; unusual, dynamic vantage points; unexpected cropping; fractured, collage-like images; and the exaltation of modern sporting heroism. Distributed by the Berlin-based press agency Fotoaktuell, the pictures were published in a variety of magazines, first in Germany and then in Great Britain.

 

 

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11
Oct
15

Exhibition: ‘Karl Blossfeldt. From Nature’s Studio’ at Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

Exhibition dates: 24th July – 25th October 2015

Curator: Simone Förster

 

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Four Herbariums with groomed Thistels and Delphinium' undated

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Four Herbariums with groomed Thistels and Delphinium
Undated
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

 

 

Karl Blossfeldt’s photographs have been associated with Modernism (Bauhaus), Surrealism and New Objectivity / New Vision.

“Blossfeldt’s factual yet finely detailed imagery was praised by Walter Benjamin, who declared that Karl Blossfeldt ‘has played his part in that great examination of the inventory of perception, which will have an unforeseeable effect on our conception of the world’. He compared him to Maholy-Nagy and the pioneers of New Objectivity, and ranked his achievements alongside the great photographers August Sander and Eugene Atget. The Surrealists also championed him, and George Bataille included his images in the periodical Documents in 1929.” (Wikipedia)

Hailed as a master for discovering a hitherto ‘unknown universe’ and for his exemplary technical feats as a photographer Blossfeldt’s work is, nevertheless, decidedly subjective as author Hanako Murata notes in her excellent essay on the artist Material Forms in Nature: The Photographs of Karl Blossfeldt (2014). “Not only did he carefully select, arrange, and in some cases physically modify his specimens, but his meticulous attention to detail and image refinement continued throughout each step of production, beginning with his negatives.” Blossfeldt uses the logic of the plant and the logic of his mind to achieve his final vision. A/symmetry as art form.

It was Blossfeldt’s conception of the world that created this inventory of perception. He was the human being who recognised these structures, who used the photographs as teaching aids, who saw them as art and a way of restoring the link between man and nature. His vision and his alone. Nothing was left to chance, everything was controlled. You only have to look at his Self portrait, Rome (1895, below) to see that here is a determined man. His body points one way in suit with braces and stiff, high collared shirt, hand clenched at waist while his head snaps towards us with the most incredible stare, almost piercing the viewer with its ferocity. You can still feel that stare after all these decades.

Ranking his photographs alongside that of Sander and Atget is a big call. Personally, too big a call. If I had to put my finger on it, what they lack for me is any form of context in relationship to an externalised nature. They rely on the form of the plant and not its relationship to the world in which it lives. To discover those forms in science and then transfer them to the field of art is a truly inspiring vision that only Blossfeldt had. He manipulated reality to achieve his beautiful, formal re/presentations. But do they take me to the places that Sander and Atget’s photographs do. No. Here is the thing itself, and not what else it can stand for. Despite their call to Surrealism, their attention to detail leaves the images little room for rumination. Perhaps he took each step of that image refinement too far. Sometimes you need a little chaos in your world order, for the world of pattern cannot exist without randomness and mutation.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Download Hanako Murata’s essay Material Forms in Nature: The Photographs of Karl Blossfeldt (2.3Mb pdf)

 

 

“If I give someone a horsetail he will have no difficulty making a photographic enlargement of it – anyone can do that. But to observe it, to notice and discover its forms, is something that only a few are capable of.”

“My botanical documents should contribute to restoring the link with nature. They should reawaken a sense of nature, point to its teeming richness of form, and prompt the viewer to observe for himself the surrounding plant world.”

“The plant never lapses into mere arid functionalism; it fashions and shapes according to logic and suitability, and with its primeval force compels everything to attain the highest artistic form.”

.
Karl Blossfeldt

 

“The striking uniformity of Blossfeldt’s photographs suggests an excellent mastery of studio technique, and indeed, for all the prints’ subsequent associations with New Objectivity, Blossfeldt’s work was decidedly subjective, insofar as he was not shy about modifying his subjects or his images to achieve his final vision. Not only did he carefully select, arrange, and in some cases physically modify his specimens, but his meticulous attention to detail and image refinement continued throughout each step of production, beginning with his negatives.”

.
Hanako Murata Material Forms in Nature: The Photographs of Karl Blossfeldt 2014, p.2

 

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Self portrait, Rome' 1895

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Self portrait, Rome
1895
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Self portrait, Rome' 1895 (detail)

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Self portrait, Rome (detail)
1895
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Nature study (chestnut)' 1890s

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Nature study (chestnut)
1890s
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Papaver orientale. Oriental Poppy' before 1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Papaver orientale. Oriental Poppy
Before 1928
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

 

The photographs of plants by the university professor and amateur photographer Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) are among the milestones in the history of 20th-century photography. To mark the 150th anniversary of Blossfeldt’s birth, the Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich is staging a comprehensive exhibition on his life and work.

Focal points of the exhibition are Blossfeldt’s early training as a modeller, his work together with the reformer Moritz Meurer, the photographer’s own handcrafted designs and his teaching at the Königliche Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin. The preliminary works he made for his seminal publication Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) of 1928 and the reception it received at that time, for example at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1929, form an additional aspect.

The exhibition comprises some 120 photographs, including numerous large-format, historical exhibition prints. Collages of his work, drawings in the artist’s own hand, drafts, archival material and documents render the concept behind Blossfeldt’s teaching and work visible.

The Ann and Jürgen Wilde Foundation manages the Karl Blossfeldt Archive with its unique holdings of original photographs, negatives and documents by Karl Blossfeldt. Together with a large volume of photographs in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, an exceptionally high-quality presentation of Karl Blossfeldt’s photographic work can now be staged and its development shown by means of historical documents and archival material that have hardly ever been seen by the general public.

Text from the Pinakothek der Moderne website

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Adiantum pedatum. Maidenhair Fern' before 1926

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Adiantum pedatum. Maidenhair Fern
Before 1926
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Eryngium bourgatii. Bourgatis Eryngo' before 1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Eryngium bourgatii. Bourgatis Eryngo
Before 1928
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. Heracleum sphondylium. Hogweed' 1898-1932

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Heracleum sphondylium. Hogweed
1898-1932
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

 

Karl Blossfeldt (June 13, 1865 – December 9, 1932) was a German photographer, sculptor, teacher, and artist who worked in Berlin, Germany. He is best known for his close-up photographs of plants and living things, published in 1929 as, Urformen der Kunst. He was inspired, as was his father, by nature and the way in which plants grow. He believed that ‘the plant must be valued as a totally artistic and architectural structure.’ Among his students at the Berlin Arts and Crafts School was Heinz Warneke. From 1924, he was professor at the Vereinigte Staatsschulen für freie und angewandete Kunst (United State School for Fine and Applied Art) in Berlin.

Blossfeldt made many of his photographs with a home-made camera that could magnify the subject up to thirty times its size, revealing details within a plant’s natural structure. Appointed for a teaching post at the Institute of Royal Arts Museum in 1898 (where he remained until 1930), he established an archive for his photographs. Blossfeldt never received formal training in photography. Blossfeldt developed a series of home-made cameras that allowed him to photograph plant surfaces in unprecedented magnified detail. This reflected his enduring interest in the repetitive patterns found in nature’s textures and forms.

In Berlin from the late nineteenth century until his death, Blossfeldt’s works were primarily used as teaching tools and were brought to public attention in 1928 by his first publication Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature). Published in 1928 when Blossfeldt was 63 and a professor of applied art at the Berliner Kunsthochschule (Berlin Academy of Art), Urformen der Kunst quickly became an international bestseller and in turn, made Blossfeldt famous almost overnight. His contemporaries were impressed by the abstract shapes and structures in nature that he revealed. Swiftly regarded as a seminal book on photography, Blossfeldt’s factual yet finely detailed imagery was praised by Walter Benjamin, who declared that Karl Blossfeldt ‘has played his part in that great examination of the inventory of perception, which will have an unforeseeable effect on our conception of the world’. He compared him to Maholy-Nagy and the pioneers of New Objectivity, and ranked his achievements alongside the great photographers August Sander and Eugene Atget. The Surrealists also championed him, and George Bataille included his images in the periodical Documents in 1929.

In 2001 Urformen der Kunst was included in “The Book of 101 Books” as one of the seminal photographic books of the twentieth century.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Blumenbachia hieronymi. Blumenbachia' 1898 - 1932

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Blumenbachia hieronymi. Blumenbachia
1898-1932
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Dipsacus laciniatus. Cutleaf Teasel' before 1927

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Dipsacus laciniatus. Cutleaf Teasel
Before 1927
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Equisetum hyemale. Winter Horsetail' before 1929

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Equisetum hyemale. Winter Horsetail
Before 1929
Stiftung Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Pinakothek der Moderne, München

 

 

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23
Oct
13

Exhibition: ‘Flowers & Mushrooms’ at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria

Exhibition dates: 27th July – 27th October 2013

 

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

 

 

Giovanni Castell. 'Tulpomania 3 / Vergissmeinnicht' 2009

 

Giovanni Castell (German, b. 1964)
Tulpomania 3 / Vergissmeinnicht
2009
C-Print/Plexiglas (Diasec)
130 x 160cm
Courtesy the artist

 

Peter Fischli / David Weiss. 'Mushrooms / Funghi 18' 1997-98

 

Fischli/David Weiss
Peter Fischli
(Swiss, b. 1952) and David Weiss (Swiss, 1946-2012)
Mushrooms / Funghi 18
1997-98
Inkjet print with Polyester Foil
73.8 x 106.7cm
Bavarian State Painting Collections Munich – Pinakothek der Moderne
Acquired by PIN, Friends of the Art Gallery of modernity for the Modern Collection Art
© The artists; Gallery Sprueth Magers Berlin, London; Galerie Eva Presenhuber Zurich; and Matthew Marks Gallery New York

 

Michael Wesely. 'Still life (29.12. - 4.1.2012)' 2012

 

Michael Wesely (German, b. 1963)
Still life (29.12. – 4.1.2012)
2012
C-Print, UltraSecG, Metallrahmen
100 x 130cm
Courtesy Galerie Fahnemann, Berlin
© VBK, Wien, 2013

 

Marc Quinn. 'Landslide in the South Tyrol' 2009

 

Marc Quinn (British, b. 1964)
Landslide in the South Tyrol
2009
Oil in canvas
168.5 x 254 x 3cm
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris. Salzburg
Foto: Ulrich Ghezzi

 

Pipilotti Rist (Swiss, b. 1962) 'Sparking of the Domesticated Synapses' 2010

 

Pipilotti Rist (Swiss, b. 1962)
Sparking of the Domesticated Synapses
2010
Video installation; Projector and Media Player, miscellaneous
Objects, Regal, Quiet
Video: 5:34 min
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Zürich
© The artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine, New York
Foto: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich

 

 

For some time now, there has been a renaissance of flowers and mushroom themes in fine art. The comprehensive exhibition Flowers & Mushrooms explores the clichées and the various levels of meaning and symbolism of flowers and mushrooms in art. Current social and aesthetic issues are discussed on the basis of a selection of works from the fields of photography, photo-based paintings, video and sculptures/installations.

Today flowers are primarily associated with their decorative function. They also have a symbolic meaning both at weddings, where they represent freshness and fertility, and at funerals, where they represent transitoriness and death. An in-depth exploration of the varied symbolic meanings of flowers in cultural history reveals further levels of meaning, many of which refer to the ambivalence and abysms of human existence. Contemporary art adopts and continues the historical and complex pictorial tradition of flowers and mushrooms by adding new, contemporary perspectives. The exhibition was inspired by the multi-part work series Ohne Titel (Flowers, Mushrooms) by the artist duo Peter Fischli / David Weiss. The Swiss artists have been preoccupied with the role of clichées and common subjects for many years. Different slide projections with a comprehensive series of inkjet prints and Cibachromes included cross-fadings of flower and mushroom motifs.

At the beginning of the exhibition, a historical section shows photographs from the 19th and early 20th century. In particular the new medium of photography developed a special relationship with flower motifs. Photographs of the great variety of different plant and flower species serve as a kind of substitute for the traditional herbarium or as natural models, as “prototypes of art” for ornamental design lessons. From the early beginnings of photography, scientific interest motivated pioneers such as William Henry Fox Talbot or Anna Atkins to capture amazing pictures of plants.

Later on, the affirmative exaggeration of the decorative character of the flower inspired none other than Andy Warhol to take up a simple, photographically reproduced flower motif in his work Flowers (from 1964); through serial repetitions he ironically exaggerated the motif and conferred iconic status on banal everyday objects. Artists such as David LaChapelle and Marc Quinn continue the baroque symbol for opulence with the aggressive colourfulness of their impressively grand flower arrangements, but also emphasise the simultaneously existing threatening moment, when the boundlessness can take on a devouring character.

For some time now, there has been a renaissance of flowers and mushroom themes in fine art. The works of leading “portraitists” of flowers and mushrooms, such as Peter Fischli / David Weiss, David LaChapelle, Marc Quinn, Sylvie Fleury, Nobuyoshi Araki or Carsten Höller, continue the multi-faceted and long pictorial tradition of flowers, which is unparalleled in the history of art. At the same time no other motif is so easily suspected of trivialism. The question arises of how a subject that is frequently accused of being trivial and shallow has been able to gain ground in a field of art that is generally regarded as serious and sophisticated. The picture of a flower is too easily associated with the idea of harmless beauty and the mushroom with cliché-like hallucinogenic states of consciousness. Nevertheless many artists increasingly adopt these motifs, adapt them and find individual ways to put them into the context of socio-critical, feminist, political and media-reflexive art.

It is only at first glance that David LaChapelle and Marc Quinn continue the baroque symbol for opulence with their impressively grand flower arrangements that reveal a threateningly devouring character upon closer inspection. Female artists such as Vera Lutter, Paloma Navares and Chen Lingyang reflect upon flowers in a specifically female way, using them as a symbol for their own identity-defining sexuality, but also for their vulnerability and exposure and thus elevate the flower to a socio-critical and political level. With almost scientific interest, Andrew Zuckerman and Carsten Höller take an analytical view of the morphological characteristics of flowers and mushrooms in their photographs and installations which create an impressive immediacy. The erotic photographs by Nobuyoshi Araki and Robert Mapplethorpe draw parallels between a blossom and the male and female body and create a field of tension between still life and nude. The wilting flower as a classic symbol of vanity is depicted by Michael Wesely in his long-exposure photographs, which accompany the life of a flower from full bloom to its wilting while emphasising their beauty to the very end. Contrastingly, the monstrous, towering plants of the “desolate” video installations created by Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg are devoid of any loveliness and have a menacing effect. They depict violence and abuse give flowers a particularly irritating and disconcerting touch by breaking with their generally positive connotation.

Flowers and buds symbolise eroticism in general, their appearance creating associations with the female and masculine gender (sexual organs) specifically and thus have a sensual appeal. Imogen Cunningham and Robert Mapplethorpe have a reputation as early forerunners of this sexualised and yet apocalyptic perception of flowers. They both implemented this special perception – erotically charged and aloof at the same time – in their photographs by drawing analogies to the human body in their sculptural treatment of the flower. Female artists such as Vera Lutter, Paloma Navares and Chen Lingyang reflect upon flowers in a specifically female way, using them as a symbol for their own identity-defining sexuality, but also for their vulnerability and exposure and thus elevate the flower to a socio-critical and political level.

Thanatos, or death, is closely related to Eros. The wilting flower as a symbol of vanity is depicted by Michael Wesely in his long-exposure photographs, which accompany the life of a flower from full bloom to its wilting while emphasising their beauty to the very end. The flower monstrosities of the “desolate” video installations by Nathalie Djurberg, which deal with violence and abuse, are devoid of any loveliness and even have a threatening effect.

Both in their natural environment and in cultural history, mushrooms are on the shadow side. Mushrooms are mainly associated with dubious alchemism and witchcraft, are desired and feared as hallucinogenic and have become an integral part of art and literature. Similar to flowers, mushrooms have a long tradition in art history and appear frequently within the context of artistic productions. Sylvie Fleury, for example, controls space with a “forest” of over-dimensional mushrooms, whose surface is covered with car paint, thus increasing their intrinsic character of a foreign body. Their over-dimensional size, and glittering appearance evokes scenes from “Alice in Wonderland”, where the protagonist eats from a mushroom to makes her grow or sink. Carsten Höller, by contrast, explores mushrooms with almost scientific interest and documents their individuality and uniqueness in detailed colour photographs or converts them into larger-than-life-size, large-scale sculptures and display cabinets.

The particular appeal of this exhibition organised by the curators of the MdM SALZBURG lies in the comparison and confrontation of the different levels of meaning of images of flowers and mushrooms and their controversial positions in contemporary arts. The title of the exhibition has been inspired by the series of C-prints by the Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli / David Weiss with the title “Flowers, Mushrooms”. Flowers & Mushrooms presents a selection of important works from the fields of photography, photo-based paintings, video and sculpture/installation art with floral motifs, spanning the time from the early beginnings of photography to the immediate presence. Selected works on loan accentuate the focal points and main themes of the exhibition by raising current social and aesthetic issues and thus allow a closer inspection of the multi-faceted symbolic use of flowers and mushrooms. At the same time, new levels of meaning are opened, referring to the ambivalent and mystical dark side of human existence. The exhibition shows how contemporary art adopts and continues the historical and complex pictorial tradition of flowers and mushrooms by adding new, contemporary perspectives. A historical section with photographs from the 19th century and of Classical modernism complements the exhibition and shows, how photography as a new medium has developed a special relationship with floral motifs.

The exhibition features works by Nobuyoshi Araki, Anna Atkins, Eliška Bartek, Christopher Beane, Karl Blossfeldt, Lou Bonin-Tchimoukoff, Balthasar Burkhard, Giovanni Castell, Georgia Creimer, Imogen Cunningham, Nathalie Djurberg, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Peter Fischli / David Weiss, Sylvie Fleury, Seiichi Furuya, Ernst Haas, Carsten Höller, Judith Huemer, Dieter Huber, Rolf Koppel, August Kotzsch, David LaChapelle, Edwin Hale Lincoln, Chen Lingyang, Vera Lutter, Katharina Malli, Robert Mapplethorpe, Elfriede Mejchar, Moritz Meurer, Paloma Navares, Nam June Paik, Marc Quinn, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Zeger Reyers, Pipilotti Rist, August Sander, Gitte Schäfer, Shirana Shahbazi, Luzia Simons, Thomas Stimm, Robert von Stockert, William Henry Fox Talbot, Diana Thater, Stefan Waibel, Xiao Hui Wang, Andy Warhol, Alois Auer von Welsbach, Michael Wesely, Manfred Willmann, Andrew Zuckerman.

Press release from the Museum der Moderne Salzburg website

 

Paloma Navares. 'Vestidas de Sede' 2009

 

Paloma Navares (Spanish, b. 1947)
Vestidas de Sede
2009
C-Print on Diasec
125 x 125cm
Courtesy MAM MARIO MAURONER Contemporary Art, Salzburg-Vienna
© VBK, Wien, 2013

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Flower' 1988

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Flower
1988
Silver gelatin print
71.1 x 68.6cm
© The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, New York

 

Robert Mapplethorpe. 'Thomas' 1987

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Thomas
1987
Silver gelatin print
71.1 x 68.6cm
© The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, New York

 

Luzia Simons. 'Stockage 104' 2010

 

Luzia Simons (Brazilian, b. 1953)
Stockage 104
2010
Scannogramm
Lightjet Print / Diasec
100 x 100cm
Courtesy ALEXANDER OCHS GALLERIES BERLIN ǀ BEIJING
© VBK, Wien 2013

 

Katharina Malli. From the series 'Dead nature' 2012

 

Katharina Malli
From the series Dead nature
2012
Digtal C-Print
40 x 60 cm
KUNSTIMFLUSS; eine Initiative von VERBUND

 

 

Flowers & Mushrooms exhibition texts

The title of the exhibition refers to the name of different slide projections and comprehensive photo series created by the Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli / David Weiss, which show cross-fadings of flowers and mushrooms. Fischli / Weiss began with photo series of everyday motifs back in 1987, and ten years later they used 2400 pictures from their extensive archive to make a cross-fading video with a duration of eight hours. Their general aim was to present the entire visual world they had encountered and documented on their excursions or long travels. Ten years later, the seemingly endless impressions of sights and attractions of the old and new world became limited to flowers and mushrooms, whose pictures overlap in double exposures and appear as a kind of hybrid: as newly created “living beings” between the world of flowers, associated in art history with all kinds of christological and erotic symbolism, and the world of mushrooms, which are not plants and are mainly known for their toxicity. Peter Fischli and David Weiss made the representation of flowers and mushrooms, which had mainly been restricted to calendars and trivial photo books respectable and presentable in contemporary visual arts. The time was ripe for this, even though pictures of flowers and mushrooms had experienced a kind of renaissance in contemporary art before: The ongoing interest in artistic productions dealing with different plants and mushrooms seems to confirm this.

Nevertheless the question arises, how the “flower image” which was frequently accused of triviality in the past, has been able to gain ground in sophisticated and serious art. Pictures of flowers could too easily be associated with the idea of harmless beauty and those of mushrooms with cliche-like, hallucinogenic states. For some years, many artists have nevertheless adopted these motifs, adapted them and found individual ways to put them into the context of socio-critical, feminist, political and media-reflexive art.

Many of the artists represented here in this exhibition deliberately continue this multi-faceted tradition which testifies to a respectable history the “flower picture”: Integrated into the context of Christian iconography in late antiquity and the Middle Ages until the Renaissance period, it timidly began to develop an autonomy during the Baroque period as a result of the newly arising scientific interest in the morphology of flowers and the related wish to classify them encyclopaedically. The rise of the “flower image” to a significant motif that appeals to the audience came to a temporary standstill in the 19th century, when it became an empty academic shell. It re-gained importance only during the Art Deco and New Objectivity period and even became a model for some contemporary forms of expression. While flowers have always been used as photographic motif all over the world due to their beauty and their specific shapes, which are frequently associated with human genitals, mushrooms seem to have inspired most artists who used them in their works due to their sculptural potential and possibly their hallucinogenic effect.

Our exhibition wants to present the use of flowers and mushroom in contemporary art photography, slide and video projections, installations, sculptures and photo-based paintings in all its different faces and assign the works to different themes for better understanding, however without clear boundaries between the individual categories. In a kind of art-historical prologue with the Latin title Species Plantarum we want to show, how scientists and artists have dealt with the representation of plants and blossoms and more rarely of mushrooms since the mid-19th century – parallel to the invention of photography – in photographic studies and “still lifes”. Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose shows that even seemingly trivial photographs of a flower or a mushroom viewed with disinterested pleasure can and should no longer be regarded as neutral and is linked with connotations of everyday experience and cultural education. Les Fleurs du Mal focuses on cryptic and unfathomable, abysmal aspects hidden in flower motifs. The works presented in the section Garden of Earthly Delights establish connections between gender, eroticism and sexuality – but also transitoriness and death – and the symbolism of flowers and associations used by many artists in their works. Nature versus artificiality finally heralds human interventions in nature and the wish to control and experiment with nature and the reflection of this development in visual art.

 

Species Plantarum

The 19th century was marked by social upheavals, which allowed civil society to intervene in many areas, such as politics, humanism and cultural history, but also natural sciences. The publication of Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) Origin of Species (1859) intensified the public interest in forms of nature and increased the significance of natural phenomena. This not only encouraged the scientific curiosity of scientists, but also inspired artists to find new approaches to representing nature.

The newly discovered medium of photography, (further) developed out of the desire for an accurate reproduction for scientific purposes and used for various optical and chemical experiments, expanded the range of artistic forms of expression. Artists with an interest in botany eagerly and enthusiastically applied new techniques -such as nature prints, airbrush techniques or photogenetic drawings – and also embraced the new medium and instantly recognised its potential, inspired by pioneers such as Anna Atkins (1799-1871) and William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877). Early photographic experiments found their expression in the floral Art Nouveau style and in teaching concepts and teaching aids. The most famous collection of designs was Urformen der Kunst / Art Forms in Nature (1928) by Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932). His photographs became incunabula for the representation of plant-derived forms using the precise stylistic means of New Objectivity.

The artistic impulses of the following decades contributed to an exploration of nature through alternative cognitive forms. Photography detached itself from the primacy of representation, dominated by form and surface stimuli, and turned towards visual stimuli for the human power of imagination.

 

Anna Atkins

The botanist and illustrator Anna Atkins (1799-1871) is regarded as pioneer of photography. Her father, the British chemist, mineralogist and zoologist John George Children (1777-1852) aroused her passion for natural sciences. At a time when there was no scientific education for women, ladies from noble families had to content themselves with being “amateur helpers” for their fathers and husbands and worked in the background, compiling herbariums and making drawings. Through her friendship with the physicist John Herschel (1792-1871), who closely collaborated with William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Atkins became familiar with cyanotype, a printing process invented by Herschel, and began to use this new photographic printing process for mapping scientific samples. The first photographic herbarium was published under the title Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions between 1843 and 1854, comprising 12 issues with 389 illustrations. The photograms, which get their characteristic blue colour on the parts of the paper exposed to light from the use of an iron complex, produce particularly accurate representations of the plants. Their special allure is their diaphanous appearance. Anna Atkins’s works, which were forgotten for a long time, are today regarded as a milestone in the history of scientific and photographic illustration and have contributed to the rediscovery of cyanotype as printing technique.

 

Alois Auer von Welsbach

Alois Auer von Welsbach (1813-1869) was an Austrian printer, inventor and illustrator specialising in books on botany. He was head of the “k.u.k. Hof-und Staatsdruckerei” printing company founded in 1804 in Vienna and developed it into a large-scale enterprise that offered all state-of-­the-art printing techniques and methods of representation known at that time. The printing company became renowned for its nature prints developed and perfected by Auer in cooperation with Andreas Worring. Nature printing is a printing process that uses natural objects to produce an image. Dried or pressed objects are placed between a plate of steel and another of lead and drawn through a pair of zinc rollers under considerable pressure to produce in impression in the leaden plate. The printing plate is produced by electrotyping, also called galvanoplasty. Gravure printing is used for plants. The use of several colours in one printing cycle produced polychrome and particularly “authentic” prints. Until today no printing process has been able to surpass the high level of detail of this technique. For Auer nature printing was as important as photography, and he published books to promote this printing process. “Auers Naturselbstdruck” was patented in 1852 and released for general use in 1853. Over the centuries nature printing has been used for decorating everyday objects and for illustrations on substrates such as papyrus, parchment and paper.

 

Robert von Stockert

In the 1890s a small community of aristocrats and upper class people with an interest in arts established the “Club der Amateur-Photographen” (Club of Amateur Photographers) – later re­named “Wiener Kamera-Club”. Their photographs were largely influenced by painting. Members of the club include many famous names such as Heinrich Kühn (1866-1944), but also less famous contemporaries such as Carl Brandis (active around 1885-1900), Franz Holluber (1858-1942) or Robert von Stockert (1848-1918), who specialised in flower still lifes. For von Stockert, nature was an interesting theme for various reasons: He had the ambition to contribute to the “development of photographic art”, benefited from his own gardens and the decorative talent of his daughters and used his photographs for book illustrations. He regularly published his experience in illustrated supplements to the association’s publication “Wiener Photographische Blätter”. His pictorial vocabulary ranges from purely decorative flower arrangements to sophisticated still lifes. To convey the colourfulness of his motifs, von Stockert experimented with various techniques, both with photographic techniques, like the use of various colour filters and sensitive plates, and with reproduction techniques. His favourite printing techniques include platinum print, which provides a particularly rich and intensive range of grey nuances. For colour reproductions he used the new multicolour collotype process.

 

Karl Blossfeldt

The plant photographs of German photographer Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) are milestones in the transitions from the playfully stylising Art Nouveau style to the unemotional, cool spirit of “New Objectivity” and have become incunabula of the history of photography. His motivation behind his imagery and motifs is rooted in his education as sculptor and modeller in an art foundry. At the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin – today the Universität der Künste (University of the Arts) – he collaborated in a project of his art teacher Moritz Meurer and compiled teaching aids for ornamental design. As lecturer for “modelling from plants” he received an official assignment in 1889 which provided further impetus for the production of illustrative material. Blossfeldt became famous for his book Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) (1928); another volume – Wundergarten der Natur (Magic Garden of Nature). A sequel to Art Forms in Nature ­was published in 1932. The photographs here on display are a small selection from a collection of 6,000 pictures, whose clarity, rich contrast and acutance testify to his technical precision, craftsmanship and passion for photography and teaching. Graphic details, structures, forms and surfaces are emphasized by the targeted selection of details, magnified 2 to 45 times. Blossfeldt achieves a sculptural effect by using a monochrome, light background and thus liberates the plants from their natural context.

 

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

What Getrude Stein wrote in the mid-1920s and later became so influential and was often misunderstood, can be used as a motto for the works here on display, but also to point out ironically that the use of flower motifs is trivial only at first sight.

Like portraits or interieurs, flower pictures are part of the repertoire of art history. Even more so: No living being is used more frequently in symbolism than the flower, and few subjects are as complex as the history of the flower motif. In the past, flower still lifes were used to convey encrypted and symbolic messages, most of which are lost to us today. We no longer know the symbolic meaning of the individual flowers or their arrangements. Many artists have used floral themes in their work, as a reaction to the apparent triviality of the century-old flower motif, and have so continued this traditional theme. Today the flower motif has become the basis for new reflections and observations.

The oldest photographers whose works are here on display – Ernst Haas and Balthasar Burkhard – already liberated the flower from its temporal and spatial context and focused on depicting the flower not as a decorative still-life at the height of its beauty, but as a fragile plant subjected to instability and transformation. The American photographer Andrew Zuckerman portrays crystal-clear, razor-sharp images of different blossoms with an accurate eye, capturing the fine details of their surface structure and colour transitions. His strict staging abandons the common understanding of flowers and releases them from their context. As a result, Zuckerman’s pictures assume an almost cool, abstract quality.

Christopher Beane shares a similar love for details. His close-up pictures of petals convey sensuousness and opulence. As a staging photographer he completely restrains himself and entirely leaves the stage to his protagonists, allowing them to unfold their full beauty in exciting, suspenseful intersections, contours and curves. The scannograms by Luzia Simons show an opulence and splendour that reminds us of traditional Dutch still lifes of flowers. The large-format photographs are thoughtful reflections on the proud, but also tragic role of the tulip in the early 17th century Netherlands in connection with the “tulip mania”, which is generally considered the first recorded speculation bubble. In Giovanni Castelli’s photographs, flowers appear as mysterious plants, monumental and unreal at the same time. The artist finds his motifs in nocturnal parks, capturing close-ups of colourful flowers against a jet-black sky. The result are eerily beautiful flower portraits which seem to be from another world and elegantly refute our conventional visual concepts.

 

Carsten Höller

b. 1961 in Brussels/Belgium, lives and works in Stockholm/Sweden

Carsten Höller, who has a doctorate in agricultural science, works at the frontier between art and natural science. Dissatisfied with the restrictive structures of the academic world, he turned his back on it and chose the path of greatest-possible openness: he became an artist. “As an artist I do not have to submit to any formalistic constraints and can develop things as far as I think makes sense in a particular framework, without always having to undergo specialist training in the relevant fields.” Höller has not abandoned his first life, but combines the two disciplines, which appear to be so different from one another, in a highly idiosyncratic and humorous manner. He creates bizarre hybrid forms from a variety of types of mushrooms. He either grows them to a threatening height or exhibits them, like jewels in a glass cabinet, in orderly rows as though in a natural-history museum. Fly agaric is always present. Höller explores this mushroom and its hallucinogenic effects in great detail. In this context he is on the trail of a mysterious potion called soma, which is thought to have been made of fly agaric and was used for ritual purposes as early as the second century BC. Drinking it is said to impart good fortune and riches, the power to be victorious, and awareness and access to the divine sphere.

 

Hans­ Peter Feldmann

b. 1941 in Düsseldorf/Germany, lives and works in Düsseldorf

The large-format photographs of flowers by Hans-Peter Feldmann are at first glance reminiscent of the floral postcards of the 1950s: we see flowers popular at the time, such as roses and lilies, in close-up in front of a neutral, colourful background. The colour aesthetic of flower and background, too, corresponds to the time. Clear and uncompromising, the blossoms present themselves to the viewer in their full glory, while simultaneously appearing distant and artificial. In this respect they do not match today’s ideas of the bourgeois idyll. The magnification makes the kitschy look sublime. The blossom appears like a fetish behind glass, frozen for the next millennium. Feldmann has always been interested in the everyday and the banal. He lives his passion for collecting at flea markets and in his own shop of knick-knacks. He often works with found materials such as postcards and newspaper cuttings. The photographs shown here are not enlargements of these collected objects, however. They were created by Feldmann, based on the aesthetic of the small-format postcards of which they are ironic imitations. Feldmann’s artistic concept includes the practice of not dating and not signing his works: “Bakers don’t sign their rolls either, do they? Art has to taste and smell, one has to be able to experience it.” For Feldmann, one of the first concept artists, the works of art are already there. He considers it to be his job to find them. They should not lose their vitality despite the transformation.

 

Luzia Simons

b. 1953 in Quixadá/Brazil, lives and works in Stuttgart and Berlin/Germany

The tulip is, in the eyes of Luzia Simons, an element that connects cultures, and a symbol of transcultural identity. As a nomad among flowers, the tulip was brought to Europe from Asia, and connects the Orient and the Occident. It is at home both here and there, and has established itself as a virtu despite having been transferred via several different cultures. The tulip conquered the Netherlands in the late sixteenth century, and tulips featuring special colours and patterns commanded exorbitant prices on the market in a rapidly expanding “tulip mania”. Speculation with tulip bulbs led to a speculative bubble. The bubble burst in 1637, with far-reaching social and economic consequences. Simons sets the scene for the majestic and simultaneously tragic character of the tulip, as well as for its long-standing traditions, in her series entitled Stockage. The artist stages the flowers in large-format arrangements in which they surge towards the viewer in bright colours out of a neutral darkness, revealing their beauty and fugacity in sharp focus. Both through the inescapable vanitas concept and in its painterly effect Simons’s oeuvre is reminiscent of Baroque still lifes. Paradoxically, Simons makes use of a very modern method to generate the images, however: the flowers are “read” by a scanner before they are printed using a carbon-printing process, and finally they unfold their vibrant depth effect behind acrylic glass.

 

Peter Fischli / David Weiss

b. 1952 in Zurich/Switzerland, lives in Zurich / b. 1946 in Zurich, d. 2012 in Zurich

The Swiss artist duo Fischli / Weiss began work in 1979 and was highly successful in the spheres of film, photography, sculpture, art books and video installations. Cryptic and playful, often seen as though through the eyes of children, they re-arranged art and the everyday in their work. Their subtly ironic works, which often appear to be imbued with subversive nonsense messages, received numerous international awards. From kinetic experimental arrangements using everyday objects to interpersonal re-enactments using sausage leftovers: Fischli / Weiss transformed the apparently banal and the absurd into art. For this reason the flower motif also entered the work of Fischli / Weiss from 1997 onwards. The Flowers series (1997-98) exists in two presentation forms: colour prints, and a double-slide projection. It shows a chaotic view of nature, as though from an ant’s perspective, using a hallucinatory and intensely colourful technique of superimposition. The arrangement of double and quadruple exposures and the resulting translucent layering of close-ups of flowers, mushrooms, snails and many other things creates the impression of a nature that is unordered and exuberant, unreal and simultaneously beautiful. This playful approach to reality and appearance, the conceptual claim of the visualisation of the world – in this case nature, which is just “there” and is in no need of legitimisation in order to be shown in the context of art – and the interest in the banal, in combination with a more serious artistic interest, constitutes the framework that encompasses the entire oeuvre of die Fischli / Weiss.

 

Les Fleurs du Mal. Reality and Appearance

In his poetry collection Les Fleurs du Mal (1857-1868) the French writer Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) painted a picture of a pessimistic modern city dweller that is characterised by despondency, anger and rebellion against all conformities. Man is torn between Christian morality, the good ideal and virtuousness on the one hand and the reprehensible and yet appealing fascination with the evil and ugly on the other hand, and forced to establish a new position for himself continuously.

What the artists represented in this part of the exhibition and Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal have in common is their questioning of conventional views on beauty and morality, symbolised by flowers which are generally regarded as beautiful, and the deliberate discussion of the transience of beauty as well as socio-­political principles and ethics. In particular the vanity theme is directly related to the “Flowers of Evil”, as it belies the human desire for eternal beauty and eternal life. Bourgeois decadence in the form of Baudelaire’s positive re-interpretation is no longer a common term today, but has a stronger presence than ever in the classic meaning of the decline of a social system, in particular with reference to the frequently heralded fall of capitalism. In the 21st century artists approach this subject in a differentiated way. Works closely related to traditional genres of art history, such as the still life, exist side by side with current series of works dealing with the concept of time as such, for example by intensely visualising the blossoming and withering of flowers or linking this with socio-political issues. The delightful moment of the pictures and materials is sometimes opposed to the subject matter or explicitly border-crossing contents.

 

Marc Quinn

b. 1964 in London/Great Britain, lives and works in London

Marc Quinn’s 2009 paintings Landslide in the South Tyrol and Aleppo Shore from 2010 are based on photographs that he took of model landscapes he himself had composed. To this end he arranged lush and colourful plant ensembles in his studio. Drawing on Baroque bouquets, which are artificial creations and consciously unnatural in their composition, Quinn negates the passing of the seasons and combines plants that do not blossom at the same time as each other. His enormous square compositions confront viewers with paradisiacal gardens bursting with life, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in an apparently idyllic, magical world. Closer inspection reveals that the white surface to which the luminosity is owed is in fact a snowfield, and this causes consternation. The first impression of cheerful colourfulness and light-heartedness dissipates and the scenery that is now perceived as artificial suddenly feels threatening in a very subtle way. In the midst of life we are surrounded by death! The viewer is surrounded not by a lively garden landscape, but by an arrangement of frozen, dead plants. The unnatural brightness of the colours, which knows no soft nuances, points to the artificially generated world, and reveals the difference between beautiful appearances and reality. One senses that critique of civilisation is a driving force: the artist exposes humankind’s reckless approach to nature because we are willing to sacrifice nature for the sake of its perfect beauty.

 

Eliška Bartek

b. 1950 in Nov Jičín/former Czechoslovakia, lives and works in Berlin/Germany and Lucerne/Switzerland

For the series Und Abends blüht die Moldau Eliška Bartek uses highly sensitive film that blurs the contours while simultaneously making details as visible as though they are being viewed through a microscope. As a result the surfaces of the flower petals appear exquisitely delicate and fragile. This feeling corresponds to the traditional symbolism of flowers. They are viewed as the ultimate symbols of the beauty of the moment, which already contains the seeds of transience. The flowers come from a Berlin wholesaler or are cut fresh by the owner of a botanical garden in Pila, a small village in Ticino. Bartek exposes them to particular light influences and in this way alters their colours. In addition to the extreme magnification and closely framed composition of the pictorial subjects it is this intense colourfulness in particular, further enhanced by the dark background and dramatically heightened by unusual light and shadow effects, that creates an extraordinary vitality and releases the pictorial subject from its static nature. For a short time the photo artist breathes an intoxicating beauty into the blossoms, for which the flowers pay the ultimate price: the extreme light burns the delicate petals and destroys the natural splendour. Bartek’s subtle play with reality and appearance, or with artificiality and naturalness, also points to the fallibility of our perception.

 

Vera Lutter

b. 1960 in Kaiserslautern/Germany, lives and works in New York/USA

With the project Samar Hussein Vera Lutter reveals herself to be a socio-critical artist who rescues the civilian victims of the Iraq war from oblivion and creates a memorial to them. More than 120,000 civilians have been killed since the invasion by the American army in March 2003. They are referred to in military jargon as “collateral damage” – an appalling word that downplays the suffering for which it stands. The artist has gathered the names and dates for her work of art from the Iraq Body Count Project. The biggest publicly accessible database of this kind worldwide, it records the civilians who have lost their lives in military and paramilitary campaigns, and documents the collapse of public safety following the invasion. Lutter uses the image of a budding, blossoming and finally wilted and withered hibiscus blossom as a metaphor for the human life cycle. The artist sees analogies between human life with its beauty and fullness, as well as its vulnerability and destructibility, on the one hand, and the tones of this flower, reminiscent of the colour of flesh, and the sensuous shape of its blossom, on the other hand. The names of the dead are superimposed on the printed and projected photographs in chronological order according to the date of death. The first picture is named after Samar Hussein. It is for this 13-year-old girl, the first civilian victim to have been recorded in the database, that the art project as a whole, Vera Lutter’s remarkably poetic and touching elegy for the senseless casualties of war, is named.

 

Paloma Navares

b. 1947 in Burgos/Spain, lives and works in Madrid and Alicante/Spain

Paloma Navares’s oeuvre spans the fields of photography, sculpture, installation and performance, and explores historical female positions in our society. Navares, who suffers from a rare eye condition that will eventually lead to the loss of her eyesight, employs her memory, which she refers to as her “inner eye”, as an artistic device. The multimedia artist uses a poetical pictorial language that aims to draw the viewer’s attention in a delicate and subtle way to existential human questions: might putative mistakes or what society judges to be incapacity lead to recognition after all? The photographs of delicate orchid blossoms tell of the fates of women, and are in some respects symbolic. They stand, for example, for Meerabai, a late-fourteenth-century princess from northern India who wrote love songs and laments, and who, as a devotee of Krishna, vehemently opposed marriage. The pressure exerted on her by society at court forced her to commit suicide by drinking from a poisoned cup. Female Korean entertainers, known as kisaeng, were similarly despised and judged by society for their nonconformity. Navares’s depictions of flowers are homages to great female poets of past eras whose lyrical works were ignored and who, in the face of the contempt with which society treated them, chose to die by their own hands. The images represent a plea for justice and self-determination, and simultaneously stand for grace, strength and beauty.

 

Garden of Earthly Delights

Flowers and blossoms have always held a great fascination for man and are symbolically and culturally linked with love, beauty, youth and sensuality. Opulent flowers are thus instinctively associated with eroticism and seduction, but also inevitably with the aspect of transitoriness. From a biological point of view, the attraction of flowers is due to their signal effect for the purpose of pollination and thus reproduction and survival of a plant species. Not only poems use flowers as metaphor for human desire; the flower as analogy for man and corporeality is also found in fine arts. Artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Nobuyoshi Araki and Rolf Koppel combine nudes with floral still lifes and both in form and context refer to the sensual analogies to the erotic desires of man. Robert Mapplethorpe has made the most explicit comments on the relationship between flowers – in particular blossoms with strongly emphasised seeds such as the calla or anthuria – and the phallus. Mapplethorpe once said that his way of photographing a flower does not differ significantly from his way of photographing male genitals. The natural scientist Carl von Linné (1707-1778), who established the basis for modern botanical and zoological classifications, commented two centuries ago on the relationship between the corporeality of plants, animals and man. “We look at the genitals of plants with pleasure, those of animals with revulsion and our own with wondrous thoughts.” In his writings he poses the question, who is aware that the flowers a man gives to the woman he adores are “cut-off genitals of higher plants” and that the floral splendour must be regarded as “sexual intercourse of plants”? Within the context of cultural history, plants have been used until today as a symbol for the sexuality of man which is still a taboo.

 

Chen Lingyang

b. 1975 in Zhejiang province/China, lives and works in Beijing/China

The subject of Chen Lingyang’s twelve-part series of photographs Twelve Flower Months is the artist’s monthly cycle, which is associated with twelve different flowers. The viewer sees twelve geometric formats that correspond to traditional Chinese window and door shapes. They feature reflections of Chen Lingyang’s vagina, and the menstrual blood that drips from it. The shape of the mirror, too, varies from month to month. The viewer is supposed to feel disturbed by the juxtaposition of flowers – which are the ideal expression of the beauty of nature – and the bleeding genitals. Looking at the mirror, a Western symbol of flirtatiousness and beauty, viewers simultaneously become secret viewers of an intimate depiction. The apparent contrast also reveals unusual similarities, however: Chen Lingyang shows two natural cycles of growth and decay. The artist herself has commented on this work that “in traditional Chinese culture there is the idea of the person who lives in harmony with nature. … To me, ‘nature’ refers most importantly to the laws and rhythms of the universe. And these laws and rhythms are connected to cycles. It is easy for a woman to observe this from monthly physiological and psychological changes.”

 

Nature vs. artificiality

“Planting means to dig holes to force nature to become unnatural (cultural). […] Owing to the gesture of planting man has lived in an artificial world since the Neolithic period”, the media philosopher and communication scientist Vilém Flusser (1920-1991) once said. In this way he descriptively refers to the general circumstance that we can no longer view nature as something “given”, but as something that is “man-made” and constructed and controlled by man. Accordingly, culture has monopolised nature and its original autonomy to a large extent.

The main purpose of fine arts as a cultural manifestation is not only aesthetic edification. Artists, in particular modern and contemporary artists, also serve as introspective seismographs for development processes of civilisation. Their thinking, designs and creations bring about a change of perspective that goes beyond conventional acceptance and reception and thus refers to phenomena that inspire the viewer to reflect and take a closer look. The preoccupation with flower and mushroom motifs also has to be understood in this context. Primarily decorative and trivial at first glance, their meta levels contain far-reaching statements.

The installation of the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist explores socially standardised patterns of behaviour of civilised man. Rist makes these patterns tangible in her works by depicting the way people deal with artfully arranged flower decorations. In a comparable, yet differing way Gitte Schäfer explores nature and its “domestic use” in her flower wall. About three hundred small flower vases with an artistically kitschy design are affixed to a wall of diagonally placed mirrored tiles and filled by the artist with cut flowers in the form of a symmetrical picture.

The transient splendour of the flower arrangements symbolises earthly transitoriness and were a characteristic feature of 17th century Baroque still lifes. The Italian term for this category of painting ­natura morta – also alludes to the notion of vanity. In her four-part work series with the same title, the Austrian artist Katharina Malli shows close-up coloured pictures of crops and ornamental plants against a neutral white background, whose aesthetics deliberately quote the documentary style of Karl Blossfeldt (1865 -1932). Upon closer inspection, they are industrially produced artificial flowers. As perverted products of civilisation they represent this dead nature and at the same time symbolise the notion of immortality. Dieter Huber’s works also focus on artificially generated nature and play with the wishful thought of potential immortality. In his work series he presents apparently “documentary” pictures of plant hybrids that herald a “brave new world”. The works by Nam June Paik and Zeger Reyers create a concrete connection between nature and technology. The instruments used, such as TV sets and record players, symbolically refer to social progress and are an expression of human inventiveness. They emphasize “manmade” things, juxtapose them with naturally occurring objects and thus describe them in relation to one another.

 

Andy Warhol

b. 1928 in Pittsburgh/USA, d. 1987 in New York/USA

By the second half of the twentieth century the flower as an artistic motif had become insignificant. It had become overburdened with the general suspicion of triviality and kitsch. However, Pop Art, which took a deliberate interest in the world of trivial imagery, immersed itself in this subject. Andy Warhol’s Flowers are exemplary of the approach of Pop Art artists. Warhol based his flowers on a folded insert in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography magazine, a reproduction of a colour photograph of seven hibiscus blossoms. The photograph had been taken by the editor in chief, Patricia Caulfield, and was included as an illustration accompanying an article about a Kodak colour processor. Warhol cropped the photograph to alter the pictorial format, number and arrangement of the blossoms. Numerous variations of what was now a square image were then produced using the screen-printing process, differing from one another in colour and size. In total, more than 500 pictures of flowers must have been produced in this way. The Flowers appear to float in a diffuse space, detached from the background and unconnected to their stalks and leaves. In some versions the blossoms and the pictorial ground are painted by hand in DayGlo colours, further emphasising this impression. Warhol presented the prints in such a way that they covered entire gallery walls as though they were wallpaper. In this way he succinctly demonstrated the plant’s natural potential for rank growth as well as its technical reproducibility as a decorative mass subject.

 

Dieter Huber

b. 1962 in Schladming/Austria, lives and works in Vienna and Salzburg/Austria

Since as early as 1986 Dieter Huber has worked with photography that is optimised and altered using computer technology. The three works from the KLONES series, which were executed from 1994 onwards and thus explored genetic engineering and manipulation at a very early date, are doubtless among the pioneering works in computer-generated images. Huber commented on them that “the construction of a world that could be freely disposed of in all respects according to one’s will and imagination was still considered highly vexing at the time.” The three plant studies in the exhibition are – at first glance – razor-sharp photographs of flowers, each before a black background. Well-known types of flowers such as tulips, carnations, narcissuses, daffodils, roses and lilies are reminiscent of a grandmother’s garden. Closer inspection causes consternation, however: various types of flowers grow out of the same greenery, rose stalks are crowned by lily blossoms, and daffodils, lilies and tulips all grow out of the stem of a trumpet flower. Artificially created, impossible-looking crossings have long since found entrance into our real world. Almost all livestock breeds and crop plants used in agriculture were developed through decade-long crossing. Perhaps the surreal floral worlds of Dieter Huber will really exist one day?

 

Christopher Beane. 'Study of fungus' 2004

 

Christopher Beane (American, b. 1967)
Study of fungus
2004
From the Farm House series
C-Print
60 x 50cm
Courtesy of the artist

 

Lou Bonin-Tchimoukoff. 'Rayograph #35 - #75' Paris, 1928

 

Lou Bonin-Tchimoukoff (French, 1906-1979)
Rayograph #35 – #75
Paris, 1928
Gelatin silver print
23.8 x 17.8cm
Courtesy Galerie Johannes Faber, Wien

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Two Callas' c. 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Two Callas
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print
Estate Prints, 2013
21.5 x 17cm
Austrian Gallery, Museum of Moderne Salzburg
The Imogen Cunningham Trust, 2013

 

David LaChapelle. 'Late Summer' 2008-2011

 

David LaChapelle (American, b. 1963)
Late Summer
2008-2011
C-Print
152 x 110cm
Courtesy of the Artist ROBILANT + VOENA, London – Milan

 

 

Museum der Moderne Salzburg
Mönchsberg 32
5020 Salzburg, Austria

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00am – 6.00pm
Wednesday: 10.00am – 8.00pm
Monday: closed

Museum der Moderne Salzburg website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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