Photography | Who was Who in 20th Century Art

Jeff Koons, 1993
Vera Isler
© VG-Bildkunst,
Bonn 2018

Artist Complex.
Photographic Portraits from
Baselitz to Warhol
Museum für Fotografie
Berlin | Germany
29 June > 7 October 2018

Most of us know what Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso looked like. But, until the Renaissance, when the likes of Michaelangelo began surreptitiously inserting images of themselves into their own paintings, few outside their close circle of family, friends and patrons were able to identify them. That isn’t to say that people wouldn’t have been curious, however, the situation changed little until the invention of photography in the 19th century, when the first photographs of artists such as Edgar Degas, were produced. Coincidentally, the photographic portraits included in this forthcoming exhibition at Berlin’s Museum für Fotografie are restricted to the period from 1917, when Degas died, to the year 2000.

Would you recognise the German artist George Baselitz? If you saw a picture of Sonia Delaunay would you know it was her? A portrait of Jean Arp is included in this exhibition but do you know what his equally-talented wife, the artist, painter, sculptor, textile designer, furniture and interior designer, architect and dancer, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, looked like?

Alberto Giacometti,
Paris 1960,
Christer Strömholm
© Christer Strömholm /
Strömholm Estate

Marina Abramovic, 1994,
Thomas Adel
© Thomas Adel

Not content to admit that the images going on show will simply satisfy visitors’ superficial curiosity about the 20th century artists whose work they are familiar with but whose faces they may not know, the curators of Artist Complex are at pains to explain that their aim is to establish that what an artist looks, or looked like, matters. Taking the idea of the artist as often being associated with ingenuity, creativity and freedom of composition and linking it to the theories of Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, who defined a ‘complex’ as ‘a structure of feelings, thoughts and memories that determine our thoughts and actions,’ might be over-intellectualising things just a bit, though, when, in many cases, the artists’ complex and/or debauched lifestyles and their interactions with peers would have had an equally-influential effect upon their own appearance. The personality and point of view of the photographer, as well as the relationship between the photographer and the artist – for example, that between Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe – undoubtedly had a very significant bearing on the resulting portraits, too.

Jean Arp, 1958,
Pablo Volta
© Pablo Volta

Georg Baselitz, 1989,
Jérôme Schlomoff
© Jérôme Schlomoff, 1988

Featuring around 160 works, Artist Complex. Photographic Portraits from Baselitz to Warhol at the Museum für Fotografie features portraits of world-famous artists such as Salvador Dalí, Frida Kahlo, Jeff Koons, Marina Abramović and Max Beckmann, as well as some less-familiar names, produced by a broad range of international photographers including Berenice Abbott, Brassaï, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Gisèle Freund and Arnold Newman, and again, some more obscure ones. All of the portraits on show are from the extensive collection of Angelika Platen, who is well-known in Germany for her own photographs of artists.

All images courtesy Museum für Fotografie and The Platen Collection

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