Posts Tagged ‘Man Ray’

Photography | A Surreality Check

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Man Ray, Rayograph (Spiral), 1923
Photogram on silver gelatin paper
© Man Ray Trust / 2015, ProLitteris, Zurich

Real Surreal
− Masterpieces of Avant-Garde Photography
The New Look 1920 > 1950
Museum Bellerive
Zürich | Switzerland
1 April  > 24 July 2016

František Drtikol, Circular segment (Arc), 1928
Pigment print
© František Drtikol-heirs, 2015

So familiar are we with the classic artworks of the surrealist era – lobster telephones, bowler-hatted men with apples floating in front of their faces, and fur cups and saucers – that with a little dexterity, we can easily create entertaining images inspired by them ourselves on our computers or tablets and even on our phones. But, perhaps we’ve allowed our idea of what surrealism was, or indeed is, to be confined to just a few stereotypes, while the thinking on which surrealism was founded provided a point of departure for infinitely diverse imagery.

As World War I raged, the Dada movement threw out all the established conventions of what constituted art. Forming in their wake, the surrealists – originally a literary movement established in 1924 that would, after initial reluctance, welcome painters, then photographers – found new inspiration in founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud’s theories about the unconscious and the interpretation of dreams. Taking Freud’s fundamental rule that his patients must be absolutely honest, and never leave anything out, even if it is unpleasant to expose, together with his interest in the internal mental conflicts that kept experiences buried deep within the mind, as the basis for their explorations they would produce art that was unfettered by rules and conformed to no previously-established formulae.

Grete Stern, The Eternal Eye, 1950
Photomontage on silver gelatin paper
© Estate of Grete Stern
Courtesy Galeria Jorge Mara,
La Ruche, Buenos Aires, 2015

Genia Rubin, Lisa Fonssagrives.
Dress: Alix (Grés)
, 1937

Print on silver gelatin paper
© Sheherazade Ter-Abramoff, Paris

Innovative technical developments that emerged in photography at the time rendered the medium far more accessible, allowing the surrealist photographers to be prolific and move rapidly from one experiment to the next. Man Ray would contrive new ways of looking at and presenting subject matter and invented innovative dark room techniques such as solarisation that allowed him to produce prints that were like nothing that had been seen before. He experimented with multiple exposures and produced photograms in the darkroom without a camera.

Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy also produced radical surrealist photography, and there is a long list of photographers including Eugène Atget, Herbert Bayer, Hans Bellmer, Brassaï, Florence Henri, Germaine Krull, Herbert List, August Sander and Umbo, among others, some of whom were associated with the movement from its early days, and others who produced surrealist photographs afterwards and right up into the 1950s, each of whom interpreted surrealism from their own individual viewpoint. Real Surreal is an exhibition of the extraordinary work of these photographers, among which certain stylistic approaches to mood, lighting and sometimes propping was common, and form a discernible link, but that bristles with unparalleled innovation in terms of ideas that combine to form the influential and enduring legacy of the movement.

Albert Renger-Patzsch, Self-portrait, 1926/27
Print on silver gelatin paper
© Albert Renger Patzsch Archiv /
Ann und Jürgen Wilde, Köln / 2015,
ProLitteris, Zurich

From the 1960s up until his death in 1991, the French fashion photographer Guy Bourdin, who had first-hand inspiration from Man Ray himself, produced powerful, often shocking and incredibly stylish images, borne out of a surrealist mindset, without ever falling into the trap of aping his hero’s work.

It’s apparent in the work of contemporary fine art photographers such as Cindy Sherman, who approaches her compelling self-portraits from a standpoint which asserts that identity lies in appearance, not in reality, that it remains possible to create work from a unique surrealist perspective. Younger photographers, too, like Amsterdam-based Viviane Sassen, who, having looked hard at the original surrealist imagery then put it to one side, are creating fresh and intense, original work – the stuff that dreams are made of.

Previously shown at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany, Real Surreal − Masterpieces of Avant-Garde Photography is showing around 220 works from The Dietmar Siegert Collection.

Related event
Neues Sehen Photographs of
the 1920 and 1930s
from the
Ann und Jürgen Wilde Collection

Pinakothek der Moderne
Munich | Germany
Until 30 September 2016

All images courtesy Museum Bellerive

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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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Art | Man Ray + Sugimoto = Objects + Equations

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Man Ray, Mathematical Object, 1934-35
Gelatin silver print.
The J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
© Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society
(ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Man Ray – Human Equations:
A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare
The Phillips Collection
Washington DC | USA
7th February > 10th May 2015


Hiroshi Sugimoto:
Conceptual Forms and Mathematical Models
The Phillips Collection
Washington DC
7th February > 10th May 2015

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Surface of
Revolution with Constant Negative Curvature
(Conceptual Form 0010), 2004
Gelatin silver print.
Collection of the artist, New York

In bringing together the work of Man Ray and Hiroshi Sugimoto, in two separate but connected exhibitions under the same roof, The Phillips Collection, which first opened its doors to the public in 1921, and refers to itself proudly as America’s ‘first museum of modern art’, has done something very clever and very appropriate.

The museum’s policy of stressing the continuity between the art of the past and of the present, by combining works of different nationalities and periods, offers a broad-based, experimental approach to 20th and 21st century art. And, while in each case, the pieces brought together in these two new shows would easily warrant exceptional stand-alone exhibitions, their being shown simultaneously at the same venue, prompts comparison and contrast, each gaining by virtue of proximity to the other – Man Ray (American, 1890 > 1976) representing the old avant garde – Sugimoto (Japanese, b 1948), inspired by the former, the more contemporary.

Man Ray, Mathematical Object, 1934–35
Gelatin silver print.
Collection L Malle, Paris.
© Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society
(ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Mathematical Object: Curvature Circles
at a Point of Negative Curvature
, c 1900

Brill-Schilling Collection.
Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris.
Photo Elie Posner

Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation,
Twelfth Night
, 1948

Oil on canvas.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden,
Smithsonian Institution.
Gift of Joseph H Hirshhorn, 1972
© Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society
(ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015.
Photo Lee Stalsworth

Legendary surrealist, muti-media artist, Man Ray was a pioneer in the exploration of the intersection of art and science that defined a significant component of modern art in Europe and in America, at the beginning of the 20th century. He created his Shakespearean Equations – a series of paintings that he considered to be the climax of his creative vision – in the late 1940s. Drawing upon photographs of 19th-century mathematical models he had produced in the 1930s, the series was a culmination of 15 years of experimentation.

The Phillips are showing more than 125 Man Ray works, side by side with the original plaster, wood, papier-mâché and string models  – made in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to illustrate geometrical properties for the investigation and teaching of algebraic equations – from the Institut Henri Poincaré (IHP) in Paris, accompanied by the artist’s photographs of these strikingly odd forms. ‘Although nearly every significant Man Ray exhibition since 1948 has included at least one of the Shakespearean Equations, no exhibition or publication has ever brought all three components together for an in-depth study,’ says Man Ray – Human Equations: A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare curator, Wendy Grossman. ‘In fact, Man Ray never witnessed the triangle of mathematical object, photograph, and painting displayed as an ensemble.’

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Surface of Revolution
with Constant Negative Curvature
(Mathematical Model 009), 2006
Aluminum and mirror.
Pace Gallery, New York

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Dini’s Surface:
A Surface of Constant Negative Curvature
Obtained by Twisting a Pseudosphere
(Mathematical Model 004), 2006
Aluminum and iron.
Pace Gallery, New York

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s career has defined what it means to be a multi-disciplinary contemporary artist, blurring the lines between photography, painting, installation art, and most recently, architecture. Featuring five photographs and three sculptures Hiroshi Sugimoto: Conceptual Forms and Mathematical Models at The Phillips Collection is the first exhibition to juxtapose his photographs of 19th-century mathematical plaster models, with his own aluminium or stainless-steel mathematical models.

‘There is a deep connection between mathematics and photography that originated in the invention of photography itself, a tradition that has carried into the 21st century,’ says exhibition curator Klaus Ottmann, ‘Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work exemplifies this tradition, and this exhibition reflects the artist’s desire to combine a ‘very craft-oriented’ practice with making ‘something artistic and conceptual’.

Inspired by Man Ray, in 2004, Sugimoto photographed forty four 19th century mathematical and mechanical models, from two collections in Tokyo. Also made in Germany – at around the same time as those Man Ray had photographed in the 1930s – they had been produced as visual aids for students’ understanding of complex trigonometric functions. Demonstrating his engagement with 19th-century craftsmanship, empirical philosophy, and conceptual art, Sugimoto gave his series of photographs the title Conceptual Forms. The following year, he began manufacturing his own mathematical models using precision computer-controlled electronic milling machines. Several metres tall – paying tribute to the work of another pioneer of modernism, one of the most influential sculptors of the early 20th-century, Constantin Brâncuși – Sugimoto’s ‘endless’ structures are minimal representations of highly complex mathematical equations of infinity. Made from aluminium, they either project upward as twisted columns from iron bases or rise as cones from thin, mirrored discs into infinity.

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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you.

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 whatsoever, fall due must be borne by the source supplier

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Auction | Playing with the Female Form

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Modern & Contemporary Photographs
Hotel Drouot, Paris, France
Auction: 30th October, 2013
Private previews: by appointment until 25th October, 2013
Exhibition: Hotel Drouot
29th October & 30 October, 2013

Above, Purple Nude. Erwin Blumenfeld, New York, 1940

Distorsion #159. Andre Kertesz, Paris, 1933

The works about to go on show in Centre Pompidou’s Surrealism & the Object (30th October 2013 – 3rd March 2014) demonstrate that objects were the main preoccupation of the surrealist movement. The human body was another, but often, as in Man Ray’s photograph The coat-stand (1920) – one of the exhibits – the body, almost invariably female, was itself objectified.

Ray’s image of Jean Cocteau, showing the artist with his sculpture Débourre-pipes (1928, not shown), the floating, decapitated head of a woman sculpted in wire, is one of almost 300 lots in a varied sale of Modern & Contemporary Photographs at Hotel Drout in Paris, in which an array of early travel photography, modernist interiors, Parisian and American street life, glamour portraits, and portraits of a good number of other famous artists, will be auctioned.

A total of 44 photographs by André Kertesz, from a Swiss collection, exude a strong presence amongst the list of lots. In 1930, Carlo Rim, the editor of the magazine VU, asked Kertész to take his portrait. Kertész, who was already experimenting with distortion, persuaded Rim to do it at the hall of distorting mirrors at Luna Park fun fair in the Bois de Boulogne. Shortly after, a pair of portraits of Rim – one with an overly tapered body, the other making him appear dwarfed – appeared together in VU.

The idea of using distortion in art probably had its genesis in the African and Polynesian wood carvings that had begun to appear in Europe in the late 19th century, the influence of which was absorbed and first exploited by Picasso and later by, among others, Henry Moore, as well as the surrealist sculptor, Giacometti. For many artists, exploring distortion was also a way of dealing with the atrocious mutilations that were the legacy of the Great War.

During the early years of the new century, women had begun to demand, and had won, greater freedom for themselves. Parisian women, during the 1920s, were the first to be released from the corset by Coco Chanel and, in the same decade two-piece bathing costumes, which were little more than a bra and skimpy shorts set, began to appear on the French Riviera. Nudes, as the subjects of ‘tasteful’, artistic photography were becoming less taboo, which led to magazine editors in France becoming more daring. And, impressed by the distorted portraits he saw in VU, the editor of the rather racy Le Sourire (Smile) magazine asked Kertész to make a series of distorted nude images of two female models. However, the editor didn’t – or was not allowed – to publish them, and it wasn’t until 1976, when they appeared in the book André Kertész Distortion (Editions du Chêne Paris), that they became one of the photographer’s most famous series. A number of images from this series, including the bizarre and disturbing Distortion #159, (above), and some of Kertész’s earlier, experimental prints are also included in the sale.

Les Jeux de la Poupée. Hans Bellmer, 1935

Nu blanc. Jeanloup Sieff, Paris, 1967

Gog et Magog. Pierre Molinier, c 1965

As a child, in Germany, Hans Bellmer, (1902-1975) found refuge from an oppressive family atmosphere in a secret garden decorated with toys and visited by young girls, who joined in sexual games. In the 1920s he became involved with the Dada movement, and in 1933, built his life-sized Puppe (Doll) sculpture, a representation of his yearning to escape from the reality of Nazi Germany. In 1934, he published ten photographs of this work accompanied by a prose poem in which he demonstrated how the seemingly innocent pastimes of his childhood had developed into the sexual fantasies of an adult. Acclaimed and adopted by the Parisian surrealists in 1935, he published a French translation of Die Puppe – La Poupé. That summer he altered the sculpture giving it ball-joints to allow for increased mobility – the stomach became a large sphere around which two pelvises could be articulated, each with its own legs and feet – pushing it into the area of distortion. The auction includes a hand-tinted print, made in 1970, entitled Les Jeux de la Poupée (1935, above), and dedicated to Man Ray.

Meanwhile, in a theatrical form of distortion, former landscape painter, who quickly turned to fetishistic/erotic photography, Pierre Molinier’s (1900-1976) Gog et Magog photomontage (1965, above) typically, placing her in a sexy stage set, removes his model’s body, reducing her to a head at the crux of four stockinged legs, each terminating in patent and pointed stilletto-heeled shoes. With something akin to Molinier’s staging, for Jean Paul-Goude’s Grace Jones Revised and updated (1978, not shown, a print is included in this sale), each of the black singer’s limbs, as well as her neck, are slimmed down, stretched and given a highly-polished finish, so that she resembles a life-size, semi-naked, art-deco-inspired, carved mahogany figure.

Nude. Weegee (aka Arthur H Fellig) New York, c 1940

One of the surprises in the Hotel Drout event is a sensitive nude study (above), shot in the studio around 1940, by Weegee (aka Arthur H Fellig) – better known for his stark black and white New York street scene photojournalism. In the 1950s Weegee experimented with distortion, producing nudes, including Nude (easel trick and plastic lens) c 1953-6, which appeared in the book Weegee’s Women, (Showplace, first published, July 1956), in which the model appears to have extremely long, giraffe-like legs, and Marilyn Monroe (plastic lens) c 1960, where a beautiful initial image of MM pursing her lips, eyes closed, as if waiting for the camera to kiss her, is altered in a succession of distortions, rendering her unrecognisable.

Rare examples of male distortion, two of Philippe Halsman’s (1906-1979) famous images of Salvador Dali (not shown), from the photographer and artist’s 1954 collaboration ‘Dali’s Mustache’, will also go under the hammer.

Lot #175, Jeanloup Sieff’s (1933-2000) thin, twisted and angular Nu blanc (1967, above) might be a template for the figure of the modern woman that has proliferated via women’s fashion magazines since the 60s, whereas Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969) who is represented in the sale by Purple Nude (1940, top) proves that the visual dismemberment of a female model need not invoke feelings of revulsion, but rather that by careful and sympathetic reconstruction, a sphisticated image of subtle and elegant female beauty can be created.

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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 | Meret Oppenheim

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Meret Oppenheim Retrospective
Berlin, Germany
16th August – 1st December, 2013

On a visit to Berlin this spring I went to the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum to see their tremendously well staged Kosmos Farbe exhibition, in which the two Swiss-born Bauhaus masters Johannes Itten and Paul Klee’s work was carefully arranged to allow for comparison and contrast. The same venue will host Meret Oppenheim: Retrospective, the first ever major retrospective of the Berlin-born (1913) artist, brought up in Switzerland.

Oppenheim studied in Basel, where she saw an exhibition of Bauhaus work that included some by Paul Klee that inspired her to produce a series of pen and ink drawings in a school notebook – her own first surrealist work – which proved to be the catalyst for her move to Paris in 1932 to attend the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Meeting André Breton gained her the entré she had sought to the surrealist circle, with whom she would exhibit her own work for the first time the following year; a year which would see Man Ray posing her nude with an etching press, in a famous series of photographs that includes Erotique voilée (1933, above).

Named after Meretlein, a wild child who lives in the woods in Gottfried Keller’s novel Der Grüne Heinrich (The Green Henry), Oppenheim was quickly adopted by the group whose members, including Alberto Giacometti, (Jean) Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Francis Picabia and Dora Maar, identified her as the perfect embodiment of the surrealist woman, the femme-enfant through whose youth, naivety and charm, they believed had direct access to the world of dreams and the unconscious. Produced decades later her self-portrait, Skull and Ornament (1964) – an x-ray image of her head in profile, complete with large, ringed earrings – might be interpreted as the artist allowing us a glimpse of this mythical inner persona.

Oppenheim returned to Basel in 1937, entering a period of personal and artistic crisis, during which she worked sporadically, destroyed much and even went back to art school. When she began working in earnest again in the 1950s, she produced works based mainly on earlier sketches. Her painting Schwarze Strich-Figur vor Gelb, (above), produced between 1960 and 1981, is a clear reference to her original inspiration, Paul Klee’s work.

Linking her firmly to her surrealist friends, her humorous treatments of everyday materials in odd combinations, often suggestive of metamorphosis, would become some of the distinctive features of her work. However, Oppenheim wasn’t in it just for laughs. She became well-known for her emancipatory, non-conformist attitude and her critical approach to gender stereotyping, making her a central role model for 20th century women artists. ‘Freedom isn’t given to you – you have to take it’, she said, summing up her stance in 1975. And, right up to her death in Basel in 1985, the artist’s work courted controversy. When the city of Bern, famous for its traditional fountains commissioned her to design her Tour-fontaine (in Waisenhausplatz), inaugurated in 1983, and produced when she was already entering her seventies, residents queued up to sign petitions demanding its removal.

Celebrated by the surrealists as ‘the fairy woman whom all men desire’, much of Meret Oppenheim’s better known pieces are loaded with latent erotic content, which might provide some explanation as to why, when I was at the tender age of 15, in 1970, perhaps unsure of whether he should be showing us it, our very bright and progressive art teacher, closed the door firmly and pulled down the window blinds – it was a winter evening and already dark outside – prior to projecting Oppenheim’s iconic Objet (1936), the fur cup, saucer and spoon, on to a wall, introducing our single sex class to surrealism. Art critic Robert Hughes called it ‘the most intense and abrupt image of lesbian sex in the history of art.’ Years later, when I was studying graphics at London’s Royal College of Art, in a clever and poignant reminder of Objet, my contemporary, the late John Hind – who began working at British Vogue before he’d even finished the course, and would within a few short years become the magazine’s art director – in homage to the artist, made a fur purse as a container for a lipstick, the bright red tip provocatively poking out.

Images from top
Man Ray photograph f
rom the series Erotique voilée  mit handschriftlich
markierten Ausschnitten des Künstlers
, 1933
Galerie 1900–2000, Paris
©Man Ray Trust, Paris / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2013

Meret Oppenheim, Pelzhandschuhe, 1936
Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland
Photo Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zürich
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2013

Meret Oppenheim, Schwarze Strich-Figur vor Gelb, 1960–1981
Private collection, Bern
Photo Peter Lauri, Bern
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2013

Margrit Baumann photograph,
M.O. mit Sechs Wolken auf einer Brücke, 1977, Bern 1982
©Photo Margrit Baumann
Archiv Christiane Meyer-Thoss, Frankfurt am Main

Meret Oppenheim, Eichhörnchen, 1969
Private collection, Montagnola
Photo Peter Lauri, Bern

©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2013

Meret Oppenheim. Retrospective
Hatje Cantz Verlag
Editors: Heike Eipeldauer, Ingried Brugger, Gereon Sievernich
312 pages, 364 images
Museum edition €25

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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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Photography | Bill Brandt

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light
The Museum of Modern Art
New York City, USA
Until 12th August, 2013

Enormously influential, Bill Brandt’s work was the backbone and beating heart of mid-20th century British photography. His high-contrast, pioneering explorations, ranging across every aspect of the medium from reportage and portraiture to nudes and landscape, are indispensable to the notion of Britishness during that era.

Yet Brandt (1904-83) was German-born and had cut his heels in Man Ray’s Paris studio before moving to the UK in the 1930s, where he quickly became established as a documentary photographer of the extreme social contrasts prevalent in his adopted country. He photographed London’s glitzy West End, the suburbs and the slums. He recorded everything that went on in the life of a wealthy home: cocktail-parties in the garden; formidable parlourmaids laying elaborate dinner tables and preparing baths for the family, then he took his camera a working-class family home, where several children shared the same bed while their mother sat knitting in the corner of the room.

But Brandt has said that by the end of World War II, his main themes had disappeared, that documentary photography had become ‘fashionable’. His reaction was to change his style completely and return to the ‘poetic’ aspect of photography that had inspired him in his Paris days. While the earlier, gritty output would inspire later photographers such as Don McCullin, the new work – nudes, portraits, landscapes – made him an ingredient as essential to the establishment of British modernism as the sculptures of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and the paintings of Ben Nicholson.

Bringing together over 150 works from an artist who sited influences as diverse as Eugène Atget (1857-1927) and Orsen Welles (1915-1985), MoMA’s Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light retrospective exhibition analyses each chapter in Brandt’s 50 year career.

Bill Brandt photographs from top
Jean Dubuffet, 1960
Gelatin silver print
The Museum of Modern Art
John Parkinson III Fund

Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, c 1942
Gelatin silver print
The Museum of Modern Art
Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa Alcock Bronfman

London, 1954
Gelatin silver print
The Museum of Modern Art
Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa Alcock Bronfman
and Richard E Salomon

Evening in Kenwood, c 1934
Gelatin silver print
The Museum of Modern Art
Acquired through the generosity of David Dechman and Michel Mercure,
and the Committee on Photography Fund
All images © 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Limited

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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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All Categories | Past Forward

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Christian Marclay – The Clock
New York City, USA
Until 21st January, 2013

David Bowie Is
Victoria & Albert Museum
London, UK
23rd March – 28th July, 2013

As we look forward to the David Bowie Is retrospective at London’s V&A in 2013, Christian Marclay’s film, The Clock, ticks away the remainder of 2012 at MoMA in New York, where it opened last week.

Completed in 2010 – already three years old – a monumental icon of contemporary art, The Clock, for which Marclay won a Golden Lion for best artist at the Venice Film Festival in 2011, is cleverly constructed from 24 hours-worth of clips from the past 100 years of cinema, almost all including a clock or a watch. Perhaps the film and the Bowie show can be taken as signs of the times. Certainly, referencing and re-assessing the past was a theme during 2012 and indications are that the trend is set to continue.

If we pause to consider, true innovation is a pretty rare thing and, while there’s no current lack of it, the flow remains uneven by nature. In comparison, art and design history – recent and ancient – is vast and has left an enormous, carefully refined legacy, much of it eminently worthy of our attention, reconsideration and reinterpretation, some of it recyclable.

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum reopens its doors in April 2013 following an ambitious 10-year renovation programme. Already launched, the very forward-thinking Rijks Studio initiative, makes a digital collection of 125,000 items from the museum’s historical collection accessible to all for free. Members of the public are invited to create their own works of art by downloading high-resolution images and using them in a creative fashion, copyright free.

Editor of the British edition of Harper’s Bazaar, Justine Picardie is the author of several acclaimed books including Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life (HarperCollins, 2010). Talking about her first proper issue (January, 2013), she explains her preoccupations with Chanel, Vreeland, Dior, et al, as an exploration of how understanding the past is a way to move forwards. And it’s important to get it right. Opinions differed on the October launch of Hedi Slimane’s debut collection for Saint Laurent – the label’s original inspirational concepts still present, but updated and made inimitably Slimane’s own, were seen by some as underwhelming.

The (London) Royal Academy’s Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 ran over into January, 2012. Reviewing it, The Guardian reminded us that the Russian avant garde which emerged out of the futurist cafés and cabarets of the mid-1910s was probably the most intensive and creative art and architectural movement of the past century. Sergei Tchoban (with partner Sergei Kuznetsov) of SPEECH Techoban/Kuznetsov, designed the astonishingly futuristic and much-praised Russian Pavilion that caused such a stir at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale in August. The entirely QR-coded environment – an homage, conscious or otherwise, to the square: architectural cornerstone of a few thousand years standing, but currently out of favour in a world of curvilinear structures – addressed the country’s future while referencing early 20th century influences. Italian Futurism, 1909-44, will run at The Guggenheim in New York from in 2014. When it appeared, in 1909, the original Futurist Manifesto, that had inspired the Russians, called for the demolition of museums and libraries; Foster + Partners recently mooted $300 million renovation of the New York Public Library in Manhattan, intended to begin with the eviction of 1.2 million books, provoked more adverse reaction than it bargained for. Similarly, London’s uncompromising tall and dynamic Shard, inaugurated in July, caused an immediate sensation, but earned a chilly reception from some quarters for its apparent lack of sensitivity towards the existing cityscape.

Steeped in ancient tradition, the Olympic Games has brought the modern world some its most daring, groundbreaking and well-considered architecture, product design and graphics. The London 2012 Games – modest in terms of scale by comparison to recent predecessors – didn’t fail to deliver more of the same. Among other items, the event’s Olympic torch designed by Barber Osgerby, was buried in a time capsule as part of the ground breaking ceremony for the new Design Museum that will be installed in the former 1962-built Commonwealth Institute, after its rigorous but nevertheless sympathetic redevelopment by John Pawson. Elsewhere, Herzog & de Meuron, architects of the Beijing 2008 Olympics‘ astonishing ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium, and designers of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 (with Ai Weiwei), recently completed the Parrish Art Museum at Southampton on Long Island. ‘Our design for the Parrish is a reinterpretation… of the traditional house form,’  said Jacques Herzog, ‘…something very specific, precise and also fresh.’

This month at Christie’s in New York a lacquered and painted wooden screen made by Eileen Gray in the 1920s, sold for over $1.8 million. Paris, where Gray spent most of her life, hosts a retrospective of her unique work at the Pompidou Centre, starting in February. American photographer, Man Ray, also spent the greater part of his life in Paris. Man Ray’s Portraits is at London’s National Portrait Gallery in February, while Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light will run from March to August at MoMA. It takes Inspired curating with a new and interesting perspective, combined with creative presentation to make exhibitions and events based solely on archival content current and vital.

Frieze Masters was launched in October by Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, co-founders of Frieze. The new fair, coinciding with, and within walking distance of Frieze London, in Regent’s Park, was based on the idea of applying a contemporary approach to selling pre-21st-century art, from ancient to modern. The inaugural six-day event, in which 90 galleries from 18 countries took part, was attended by around 28,000 international visitors and was a massive hit. Sales were brisk; one of the most significant reports was of widespread contemporary collectors’ interest in historical work and vice versa. Not surprisingly, Frieze Masters will happen again in 2013 and is set to become a regular fixture.

The apposite title of the V&A’s forthcoming show, David Bowie Is, recognises that the David Bowie phenomenon, so influential over the past 40 yearts, is important historically but also as a source of inspiration for today’s and tomorrow’s innovative thinking. Set in motion, sequences from it cast out on to the internet, it’s unlikely that The Clock will ever stop.

Images from top
Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997,
Frank W Ockenfels 3

Union Jack coat designed by Alexander McQueen in collaboration with
David Bowie
© Frank W Ockenfels 3, 1997

Video still from The Clock, 2010, Christian Marclay
Single-channel video with sound, 24 hours
©Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

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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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Photography | Auctions | Portraits of Women

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Modern & Contemporary Photographs
Yann Mouel
Paris, France
Sale: 9th November, 2012

Paris, France
Sale: 16th November, 2012

Paris, France
Sale: 16th & 17th November, 2012

Modern & Contemporary Photography
Villa Grisebach
Berlin, Germany
Exhibition: 23rd–27th November, 2012
Sale: 28th November, 2012

Are real women, as portraiture subjects for photography under-represented? Maybe. A glance through the catalogue of today’s Yann Le Mouel auction of Modern & Contemporary Photographs in Paris – one of four major European photography auctions this month – reveals that of the 261 lots some 42 are portraits of well-known 20th century male figures or groups, among them: politician Fidel Castro, artists Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, musicians Johnny Hallyday, Serge Gainsbourg, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, Billy Idol, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, and photographer Donald McCullin. Although many unidentified females appear, often nude, partially-clothed or in a couple of instances, pornographic poses, famous or even identified women are rather less in evidence. Of the few labeled ladies, Princess Diana in tiara and pearls, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier, Colette by Janine Niepce and Weegee’s Norma Devine at Sammy’s Bar, New York, 4 December, 1944, strike a bold presence.

To mark the 65th anniversary of Magnum Photos, Sotheby’s Paris is offering a unique set of 65 images dedicated to the nude – an unusual subject for this co-operative, whose photographers are better known for chronicling world events – a very mixed bag of works in which images by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eve Arnold are included alongside those from the younger generation of Magnum photographers, such as Paolo Pellegrin and Harry Gruyaert. Jane Mansfield and Marylin Monroe are amongst the mainly female subjects, of whom few others are identified. Elsewhere in the same sale, there’s an unusual full length photograph of Lizica Conreanu, Romanian dancer and member of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes posed in a dance position, in the artist’s studio, by sculptor Constantin Brancusi, together with a stark, asymmetrical, untitled head and shoulders portrait of a woman by Dora Maar. Diane Arbus offerings include Woman with a Briefcase and Pocketbook, N.Y.C., 1962 and topless, Waitress, Nudist Camp, N.J., 1963. Bold, explicit images from Helmut Newton’s Big Nudes series, each identified by first name only, are also on offer.

A print of Peter Lindbergh’s The Wild Ones, shot in New York in 1991 that features super-models, Cindy Crawford, Tatjana Patiz, Helena Christensen, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Karen Mulder and Stephanie Seymour is included in the Christie’s sale in Paris, next weekend. There’s a couple of pictures of Kate Moss, too, and hot American art photographer Alex Prager’s Eva, from the series Week-end, 2009. All beautiful, but do models really count as famous people? Perhaps a few, like Kate Moss, transcend their clothes-horse role and become celebrities, in the process taking on tangible personality. Striking close-ups by Man Ray of mannequins push female anonymity to the limit, however his striking, uncompromising profile of the surrealist artist, Bona, 1955 – who, with a little research, it was possible to discover is Bona de Mandiargues – has profound substance. Peter Beard’s Karen Blixen in Rungstedland for the End of the Game, Dec. 3rd, 1961 is up close and feels very personal. Here too, Cecil Beaton’s multiple-exposure, portrait of actress Beatrice Lillie, shot around 1930, makes a strong statement. Interestingly, (always referred to as ‘first wife of László Moholy-Nagy‘) Lucia Moholy’s 1926 portrait of artist Lily Hilderbrandt, is one of the few images of named women, in these four November auctions, photographed by a woman. Another is Annie Liebovitz’s remarkable Louise Bourgeois, New York, from 1997, being sold at Berlin’s Villa Grisebach, where 184 lots are on offer, varying in content from recent architectural photography by minimalist photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, Boring Photographs, 2000, 468 C-type prints by Martin Parr, and works by Daido Moriyama, to 1950s and 60s images by Will McBride and much earlier stuff from photography pioneers such as Karl Blossfeldt. Images of identifiable women, again, are few in number but there is a very sensuous, sexually-liberated, colour portrait of Marilyn Monroe, shot in 1962, from the man who surely captured her character and vivacity better than any other, Bert Stern – a snip at an estimated €1.000-1.500. There’s also a characterful and beguiling, 1976 close-up by Robert Lebeck of Romy Schneider in a tweed flat cap, smiling, with a cigarette in the corner of her mouth. Jackie Kennedy and her Sister at the Funeral of Robert Kennedy, New York, 1968, by the same photographer and showing the grieving sisters, kneeling side by side, hands clasped in prayer, draws the emotions in another direction. Milton H Greene’s 1952 portrait of Marlene Dietrich – recognisable from her swathe of blonde hair and perfectly-shaped legs – whose face isn’t shown, cleverly turns the negative aspect of anonymity on its head.

Anonymity itself is of course compelling and single names – probably often invented, sometimes with the intention of obscuring the the identity of the sitter or of adding exotic cachet – tantalising. Full, real names, however, lift the veil and bring the viewer into direct contact with the subject, whatever the sex, allowing us the privilege of intimacy and them the dignity of existence and perhaps a deserved place in history.

Images from top
From the Villa Griesbach sale:
Louise Bourjois, New York, 1997
Annie Leibovitz
Gelatin silver print

Marylin Monroe, From ‘The Last Sitting’, 1962
Bert Stern
C-Print, 1978. Kodak-Paper

Marlene Dietrich, 1952
Milton H Greene
Vintage gelatin silver print with gouache

From the Christie’s sale:
Karen Blixen in Rungstedland for the End of the Game, Dec. 3rd, 1961
Peter Beard
Gelatin silver print mounted on cardboard, enhanced with ink, gouache
and blood

Kate Moss, Little Nipple, 2001
Archive Lambda print

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Exhibition | Ralph Gibson’s Selective Eye

Friday, June 15th, 2012
Ralph Gibson
Camera Work, Berlin, Germany
16th June – 4th August, 2012

American photographer, Ralph Gibson’s Leda, 1974, is simply one of the most erotic pictures I’ve ever seen. But is it a game? Is it meant to be humourous? Or is it for real? The ambiguity itself is tantalising. As with many of his pictures, nothing is explained; the viewer is left to draw whatever conclusion he/she chooses. Leda was the very first Gibson image I was shown when I was introduced to his extraordinary work in the late 90s by a female photographer friend, who was already a big fan. And I could see why: glimpses of a mysterious and secret world, many of Gibson’s pictures appear to exude a close understanding of female sensuality and sexuality.

British editorial art director/curator, David King’s maxim has been described as: ‘If you can crop any more off a picture then you haven’t cropped it enough.’ Not refuting the accuracy of the description, King later clarified his doctrine by explaining that, obviously, if it’s a fantastic picture then you leave it alone, but most photographs are enhanced by cropping. As a magazine art director, myself – often praised for the skill of my cropping, reviled on the odd occasion (by sensitive photographers) for its insensitivity – I was immediately struck by the impact of Gibson’s images that are the product of his highly selective eye and absolute economy of crop. Could anyone, other than perhaps fashion and beauty photographer, Hiro, who throughout the 1960s to 1990s produced many closely-cropped, elegant images for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and French Vogue – have come close to the graphically succinct statement of Gibson’s Mary Jane, 1980?

Born in 1939 in Los Angeles, California, Gibson, whose work is in the collections of over 150 international museums and galleries, assisted American documentary photography icons Dorothea Lange – and later – Robert Frank before embarking on his own freelance career as a photographer in the late 1960s. He crops, as they did, as Henri Cartier Bresson, as Eugene Richards does and as most other great photographers do or have done – in camera. Like Cartier-Bresson, Gibson uses only Leica cameras and, among a long list of other, major commendations, won the Leica Medal of Excellence Award in 1988.

Gibson’s early close-ups – Umbrella and Car, 1954 – of sections of cars are reminiscent of Paul Strand’s (1890–1976) early, modernist-inspired photography – Wire Wheel, New York, 1917 – that hover on the edge of the abstract. But, whereas Strand’s images, in line with prevailing modernist preoccupations of the time, remain objective studies, Gibson’s are enigmatic, hinting at a story – something beyond the picture area that the viewer must invent, imagine for himself. In this way they come closer to the surrealist photographs of André Kertész and Man Ray. Often his female nudes – Untitled, 2008 – subjected to strong natural light, are reduced to a series of light, sensual, softly-toned areas crossed by heavy geometrical shadows. At the brink of abstraction – Torso Palms, 1973 – they hold back, and it’s at that point the viewer is forced to stop and think: is it me, or does the shape of the breasts really resemble the underside of a phallus?

Images from top
Leda, 1974 © Ralph Gibson
Christine, 1974 © Ralph Gibson
Umbrella and Car, 1954 © Ralph Gibson
Untitled, 2012 © Ralph Gibson

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Exhibition | Picasso & Lacroix in Arles

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Within the framework of the ongoing Act V exhibition,
which opened at the beginning of the year:

Act V, Scene 2, The Arles Picassos
Act V, Scene 3, with guest, Christian Lacroix
Musée Réattu, Arles, France
Until 30th December, 2012

The second and third stages of this ambitious and mammoth, year-long exhibition opened last week at the Musée Réattu, the formidable late 15th century, former Grand Priory of the Order of Malta in Arles – the building itself, idiosyncratically, listed as the first item in its own collection. ‘This was where my parents, in the mid-1950s, took me to see my first Picasso exhibition, explains couturier Christian Lacroix – born and based in the city – in the preface to the catalogue, ‘From that day on, I knew that art belonged to life…’, from which, I suppose, one may glean that he felt art shouldn’t be hidden away but rather shown and made accessible to everyone – incidentally, his first perfume, launched in in 1990 was called C’est La Vie — ‘Then came the highlight, the fabulous late Picassos, so very vigorous – and the wave of emotion when we learnt they were to stay in the museum.’ Act V draws upon the whole of the museum’s collections in the run up to next year’s 40th anniversary of Picasso’s 1971 gift of fifty-seven drawings to the Réattu.

While Act V, scene 2 is dedicated to Picasso’s link to Arles, which began with his first visits to the city with Georges Braque, that led to his Arlesienne drawings of 1912 and his revisiting the same themes in 1937, when the work was inspired by the captivating looks and drive of model, photographer and famously, Man Ray’s lover, Lee Miller. On loan from Paris’s Musée Picasso, the artist’s famous 1937 Portrait of Lee Miller en Arlésienne – produced in the same turbulent year as Guernica – is included in the exhibition along with, among many others, his 1923 painting of his mother, Maria Lopez. A large number of archive photographs by leading photographers, including others Robert Doisneau and Willy Ronis, documenting Picasso’s life and in the company of his other muses, Jacqueline Picasso and Françoise Gilot, have been drawn together and are also on show.

Showing concurrently with Act V, Scene 2, Scene 3 casts son of Arles, Christian Lacroix, who, in 2008, exhibited his master patterns for seven of his 2009 couture dresses here, as costume designer. His Molière Best Costume Award-winning, fantastical creations for theatre, opera and the bullfighting ring, are being shown in specially designed, extravagent room sets, within the labyrinthine structure. The 16th century chapel becomes the Comédie Française for the occasion, as the whole cast of Lacroix’s Phèdre takes over the nave, one costume from the production having been made from a patchwork of embroidered jeans, reworked in the style of the 17th century, with a nod to the great master Picasso’s musketeers.

From top
Lucien Clergue, Picasso, Cannes, 1956. Collection Musée Réattu

Christian Lacroix, Costume for Les caprices de Marianne, by Alfred de Musset, directed by Lambert Wilson in 1994 for the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Collection Christian Lacroix/Centre national du costume de scène

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Photography | Giuseppe Cavalli: Master of Light?

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Giuseppe Cavalli: Master of Light
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London, UK
18th April to 17th June, 2012

Italy spawned great film directors, the names of whom: Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, Franco Zeffirelli, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sergio Leone and Roberto Benigni, spring effortlessly to mind. But, try to to conjure up a list of the Italy’s great photographers to put alongside French, American, German and English ones, as well as the odd Brazilian and Japanese and it’s a different story.

Wikipedia lists 92 Italian photographers, the majority of whom I’ve never heard of with the exceptions of Romano Cagnoni, the reportage photographer, still life photographer Piero Gemelli, fashion photographer Marco Glaviano and the only ones I regard as worthy of being called great: Paolo Roversi, Oliviero Toscani and Gian Paolo Barbieri. The Magnum photographer, Ferdinando Scianna, isn’t on the list, nor does it mention the great eccentric architect and furniture designer, Carlo Mollino, who produced some interesting photographic images. For the record: Mario Testino isn’t Italian and was born in Lima, Peru into a family of Irish, Spanish and Italian origins. There’s also the prominent fashion photographer Mario Sorrenti, I suppose, who is based in New York but Italian-born and has certainly produces interesting work for many up-scale clients – but can he be ranked as as great?

In it’s modest way and while the name of the photographer, who is the subject of its current exhibition, Giuseppe Cavalli (1904-1961), is entirely new to me, North London’s Estorick Collection is to be applauded for making a tremendous effort to draw elements of Italian photography out of the darkness and into the light. In this context, who better to choose than Cavalli, evidently one of Italy’s key figures in 20th century photography, who chose light, over content, as the subject of his simple, thoughtful, occasionally almost abstract compositions. Born into a family of artists but opting to study law at Rome University – after which he practised for nine years as a lawyer – from 1935 he worked as a freelance photographer in the pleasant seaside town and port, Senigallia, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, north of Ancona, in the Marche region. Founding member of what are regarded as three of the country’s most influential photographic groups, Giuseppe Cavalli was the recipient of numerous international awards for his work, the constant gentle theme of which developed out of a reaction against the overblown imagery of Fascist era Italy. In the post war years, in marked contrast to the neo-realist aesthetic of directors such as Robert Rossellini that began to dominate Italian cinema and engaged with social and political themes, Cavalli and his companions rejected the perception of photography as a documentary tool in favour of their belief that the medium was an art form. All well and good but when set against those of his international, contemporary and accepted greats, for example: Brassai, Kertész and Man Ray, for me, Cavalli’s pallid prints, pale that little bit further.

Photographs from top
Untitled, undated
Gelatin silver print
35.2 x 28 cm

Composition, undated
Gelatin silver print
20.2 x 17.2 cm

The Little Ball, 1949
Gelatin silver print
30 x 24 cm

Waiting, 1948
Gelatin silver print
17.6 x 28.6 cm

The Black Pipe, 1951
Gelatin silver print
24 x 18 cm

All photographs by Giuseppe Cavalli (1904-1961) from the Prelz Oltramonti Collection, London

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