Posts Tagged ‘Abstract Expressionism’

Photography | Saul Leiter’s Fragmented Fashion

Friday, November 25th, 2016

Harper’s Bazaar, Mexico (fashion), 1960



Saul Leiter
Gallery Fifty One Too
Antwerp | Belgium
25 November 2016 > 28 January 2017



Carriage SeriesHarper’s Bazaar, October 1960



You don’t look at a Jackson Pollock painting; you don’t look at a Willem de Kooning. You look into them. The same is true of these titans of abstract expressionism’s contemporary and close associate, Saul Leiter’s photographic work, in which the subject is often fragmented, obscured by reflections, condensed between surfaces, or otherwise obstructed by passers-by and blurred incidental foreground detail.

Drawn to surfaces and textures, to shapes and shadows, and to the fluid expanses between the abstract and the figurative, Leiter, speaking of the ambiguity that runs through his work, once said: ‘I like it when one is not certain what one sees. When we do not know why the photographer has taken a picture, and when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of a sudden we discover something that we start seeing. I like this confusion.’

Self-portrait with Deborah



Untitled, 1950s



Leiter (1923 > 2013), born in Pittsburgh, had moved to New York in 1946 intending to be a painter – in the early days he exhibited alongside de Kooning – and although he continued to paint throughout his life, he became engrossed with the creative potential of photography as an art form. Starting with black and white, by the early 1950s he was successfully experimenting with colour, and in 1953 a substantial group of his colour photographs were selected by Edward Steichen for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

Carol Brown, Harper’s Bazaar, c 1960



Perhaps on the basis of his street photography – for which he is best-known – of New York’s East Village, where he lived and worked for more than 60 years, Leiter has been lumped in with the amorphous ‘New York School of Photography’, which is said to have included, among others, pragmatic photojournalists such as Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, William Klein, Helen Levitt, and Weegee. Leiter, however, who happened to reside in the city over the same period as them, was light on social realism. He possessed a sensibility that was rooted more firmly in fine art, and while stylistically his work was closer to the ‘New York School’ painters, his lyrical treatment of subject matter had much in common with the gentler compositions of an earlier epoch: that of the Impressionists, and with the paintings of French symbolist artist Pierre Bonnard (1867 > 1947), who endeavoured to evoke mystical ideas, emotions, and states of mind via the medium of scenes from everyday life.

Barbara, c 1951



In the late 1950s, recognising Leiter’s unique eye for beauty and elegance combined with a modern edge, art director Henry Wolf commissioned him to photograph fashion, first for Esquire and later for Harper’s Bazaar as well as for Show. Very soon Leiter was working in Europe for the French magazine Elle, and in Britain for Vogue, Queen, and Nova. Nevertheless, the fickleness of the fashion world ensured that his good fortune didn’t last, and he sank into a lengthy period of obscurity. In time, however, his reputation was restored after several exhibitions at New York’s Howard Greenberg Gallery in the 1990s, when his work experienced a new surge of popularity and his colour photography, in particular, garnered wide acclaim. A monograph, Early Color, was published by Steidl in 2006 and was quickly followed by a series of international exhibitions, beginning with In Living Color (2006), at the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Solo shows of Leiter’s photography have since been presented at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, and Diechtorhallen, Hamburg. His work is now included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, among many other public and private collections.

Carmen, Harper Bazaar, c 1960



Saul Leiter at Gallery Fifty One Too in Antwerp, which has regularly shown Leiter’s work, runs concurrently with the city’s FOMU Foto Museum retrospective. The majority of the photographs included in the Gallery Fifty One Too exhibition, however, have never been presented before, and provide insight into less familiar elements of the photographer’s diverse oeuvre, particularly his work for fashion magazines.

All photographs © Saul Leiter Foundation, courtesy Gallery Fifty One


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The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier


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Sculpture | Early Oldenburg

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store
Claes Oldenburg: Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing

14th April – 5th August, 2013
Museum of Modern Art
New York City, USA

Claes Oldenburg
Typewriter Eraser
14th April – 5th August, 2013
Christie’s Sculpture Garden
New York City, USA

Claes Oldenburg’s early work, The Street (1960) – an installation that conjures the gritty and chaotic atmosphere of downtown New York City – and The Store (1961-64) – a large group of handmade, brightly painted sculptures depicting a myriad of commercial products and foodstuffs – redefined the concept of sculpture, putting him on the road to establishing himself as one of the 20th century’s most important artists. Both pieces, along with Mouse Museum and Ray Gun Wing, created in the 1970s as self-contained ‘museums’ to house careful arrangements of the artist’s personal archives of American popular culture, and tests and experiments from his studio, are being put on view, simultaneously, at the Museum of Modern Art.

Born in 1929, in Stockholm, Sweden, the infant Oldenburg was shuttled back and forth between Scandinavia and the US until his parents finally settled in Chicago in 1936. After studying literature at Yale he took art courses in Chicago. In 1953 he became a US citizen and moved to New York City three years later. He soon came into contact with Jim Dine and Tom Wesselman and found himself part of a new group of artists, who were challenging the might of abstract expressionism. The pop artists, as they were later christened, produced figurative and representational images, and used found objects, to create art that was a visual commentary on consumerism.

Produced in 1960, Oldenburg’s The Street is an installation made of bits of newspaper, scraps of sacking, cardboard objects and papier-mâché, cut, torn, crumpled then assembled to create a fragmented panorama of the contemporary metropolis, inspired by New York’s Lower East Side of the 1950s.

Shifting focus the following year, Oldenburg began creating The Store, an environment first presented in a group show at New York’s Martha Jackson Gallery, and afterwards in a real rented storefront on East Second Street, which was filled with sculptures – objects made from plaster soaked canvas painted in layers of enamel paint – representing the products on sale in shops throughout the neighborhood.

He continued to develop The Store up until 1964, creating further versions of it and producing a large selection of Store sculptures and drawing, many of which have been brought together for the Museum of Modern Art show. However, during 1962-63 – a time of experimentation for Oldenburg – he became interested in reinterpreting commonplace objects like light switches, hamburgers, lipsticks and typewriters. He transformed hard things to soft (and vice versa), radically changed scale, and played around with erotic analogies to body parts.

Following on from this, Oldenburg started his fantastic monument projects in 1965. Coinciding with MoMA’s exhibition, Christie’s Private Sales is exhibiting and offering Typewriter Eraser – the once-ubiquitous US office accessory wittily transformed into a large monumental sculpture – executed in 1976 in painted aluminum, stainless steel, ferroconcrete and bronze. In 2009 the same item was sold at Christie’s New York for the world auction record price of £1,460,000/$2,210,500.

Claes Oldenburg sculptures from top
7-Up, 1961
Enamel on plaster-soaked cloth on wire.
140.7 x 99.7 x 14cm (55 3/8 x 39 1/4 x 5 1/2ins)
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution
Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase & Bequest Funds, 1994
©Claes Oldenburg, 1961
Photo Lee Stalsworth

Floor Cone, 1962
Photographed in front of Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles, 1963
Oldenburg van Bruggen Studio
©Claes Oldenburg

Floor Burger, 1962
Canvas filled with foam rubber and cardboard boxes,
painted with acrylic paint
132.1 x 213.4 x 213.4 cm (52 x 84 x 84ins)
Collection Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Purchase, 1967
©Claes Oldenburg, 1962
Photo Sean Weaver

Pastry Case, I, 1961-62
Painted plaster sculptures on ceramic plates, metal platter and
cups in glass and metal case
52.7 x 76.5 x 37.3 cm (20 3/4 x 30 1/8 x 14 3/4ins)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection
©Claes Oldenburg, 1961-62
Photo MoMA Imaging Services

Typewriter Eraser, 1976
Painted aluminum, stainless steel, ferroconcrete and bronze
227.3 x 203.2 x 177.8 cm (89 1/2 x 80 x 70 ins)
Number three from an edition of three
Photo Christie’s Image 2013

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The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Art | Andrew Wyeth in China

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Andrew Wyeth in Beijing & Hong Kong
Yuan Space, Beijing, China
14th April – 12th May, 2012
Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center
24th – 30th May, 2012
Christie’s, New York, USA
Date to be announced, September, 2012

When Snoopy’s dog house burned down in November 1966, sadly his Van Gogh was destroyed along with it, but the strip’s cartoonist, Charles M Schulz, saw to it that the painting was quickly replaced with one by the artist Andrew Wyeth, of whose work he was a great admirer. In 1977 Wyeth was the first American artist since John Singer Sargent to be elected to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. A Wyeth retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006, running over 15 weeks, drew more than 175,000 visitors, the museum’s highest-ever attendance for a living artist. In 2007 he received the National Medal of Arts from George W Bush and in the same year, in the Springfield Up episode of The Simpsons, Mr Burns has a painting of Wyeth’s iconic Christina’s World, 1948 – MoMA Collection, bought in 1948 for $1800 – in his den, except that in his version Burns lanky body replaces the more shapely female figure. The entire neighbourhood of Thunder Hill in the village of Oakland Mills, Columbia in Maryland has street names derived from his paintings. But although Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was one of the most popular and revered artists in the history of American art, perhaps it was for this very popularity that he was also one of its most criticised, especially within the art world. According to Michael Kimmelman, who wrote Wyeth’s obituary in The New York Times: ‘Because of his popularity – a bad sign to many art world insiders – Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject. ‘Kimmelman went on to say that art critics mostly heaped abuse on Wyeth’s work, saying he gave realism a bad name. Hopper’s realism was okay, apparently, but Wyeth’s wasn’t. Some experts regarded him as a facile realist, not an artist but merely an illustrator. Lashing out in all directions and perhaps further isolating himself, Wyeth expressed general disdain for the abstract expressionists. And so the antagonistic situation festered and boiled throughout the latter part of his life.

Andrew Wyeth was born into an artistic family in Chadds Ford, a small town in Pennsylania, about 30 miles from Philadelphia. His father NC Wyeth was a well-known illustrator, whose fame and talent in the 1920s attracted the attention of celebrities such as F Scott Fitzgerald who would come to visit him. NC drove his frail and ailing son – too feeble to attend school – hard, pushing him to develop drawing skills at an early age with the obsessive goal of making him follow in his father’s footsteps and become an illustrator. But Andrew resisted, preferring to paint the deserted landscapes he discovered on his wanderings. He liked the idea that figures could be implicit in his paintings but nevertheless went on to include in them his friends, a black handyman (A Crow Flew By 1949-50), and neighbours Karl and Anna Kuerner. Although he adapted portraits of others to include details of his father, who died in 1945, Wyatt never painted him. His ‘Helga‘ series of more than 200 paintings and sketches came with a whiff of scandal – he didn’t tell his wife about them until they were finished in 1985 – and received national publicity, travelling to major cities throughout the USA. These intimate studies – many of them full figure nudes – of neighbour Helga Testorf, made him very rich.

In Wyeth’s style of painting, that became known as ‘Magic’ Realism, everyday scenes are imbued with a dream-like air of mystery, coupled with barely concealed melancholy. He recorded the arid Pennsylvania and Maine landscapes, rural houses, and rickety shacks with great detail, painting in each tiny blade of grass, individual strands of hair, and every subtle nuance of light and shadow. The Brandywine River Museum, in Chadds Ford houses much of the Wyeth collection.

Wyeth’s work was as rural as Warhol’s was urban, his nudes as earthy as Warhol’s girls (and boys) were dirty, but while the rural can easily look picturesque to the city dweller, and might appear to pander even unintentionally to wide appeal, urban art is by nature of its situation radical and intended for a strictly limited, edgier audience. Ubiquity and the passage of time can render almost any image passé – The Mona Lisa, The Hay Wain, Van Gogh’s SunflowersThe Scream – and perhaps Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World has fallen victim to the same fate. But Warhol’s once iconoclastic Marilyn Diptych has, too – so far to a somewhat lesser extent – and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone LivingDamien Hirst’s shark – will not be immune.

It’s not so surprising, then, that Wyeth’s work as opposed to Warhol’s and Pollock’s was deemed acceptable to the powers that be in 1980s China, where it became immensley popular. The press release for the forthcoming Andrew Wyeth in China exhibitions contains the following quote from Li Xian Ting – often called the godfather of Chinese contemporary avant-garde – academic consultant to the exhibition, who on this occasion may well be toeing the party line: ‘When Wyeth’s work first caught the eyes of artists of this generation, we were mainly under the influence of Socialist Realism from the 40s and (Russian) Peredvizhniki art in which the relation [sic] between the narrative and ideology featured heavily. Historically, young Chinese artists’ classical training was figurative and representational. At the time, the only way to rebel against Social Realism was to embrace Modernism, entailing a complete abandon [sic] of representation. This would have implied, starting from zero to reincarnate a new self under the banners of Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. And just as artists found themselves at this impasse, Wyeth’s works appeared. They were melancholic, poetic, but at the same time they developed on the skills and possibilities of representation. This deeply moved the burgeoning Chinese artists and inspired many to ask themselves the question: is it possible for us to hold on to the artistic training we grow up with, and still create something new that is different from Modernist art? And obviously, Wyeth provided them with such a possibility.’ Perhaps Chinese conservatism isn’t so far removed from Middle America’s. Meanwhile, Chinese conceptual artist, architect, designer and activist Ai Weiwei’s first solo exhibition in Italy wow’s the West at the Lisson gallery in Milan until 25th May, 2012.

Paintings from top
Study for ‘Lovers’, 1981
Drybrush and watercolor on paper
© Andrew Wyeth

Citizen Clark, 1957
Drybrush and watercolor on paper laid down on board
©Andrew Wyeth, Private Collection

Faraway, 1952
(Portrait of the artist’s son, Jamie)
Drybrush on paper
© Andrew Wyeth

The Works of Andrew Wyeth is organized by Yuan Space in cooperation with Christie’s and Adelson Galleries

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