Posts Tagged ‘Surrealism’

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

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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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 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, 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 Blog is about art, architecture, gardens, books, design 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, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Art | Picasso in Black & White

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Picasso Black and White
Solomon R Guggenheim Museum
New York City, USA
5th October, 2012 – 23rd January, 2013

Using only black, white and grey with sometimes a hint of ochre or perhaps blue, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was master of the monochrome. And although the Guggenheim’s press release attempts to convince us that this aspect of the artist’s work is frequently overlooked, who among us could forget or have failed to notice Picasso’s austere and sombre Guernica, 1937 – his knee-jerk reaction to the merciless bombing by German and Italian warplanes, at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, of a defenceless Basque village during the Spanish Civil War.

Picasso, who is reputed to have said that colour ‘weakens’ apparently purged colour from his work in order to highlight its formal structure. And while his coloured pieces could sometimes be as brash as Pop art or compete with any of the more outlandishly-hued Van Gogh paintings, in cleverly concentrating solely on Picasso’s black and white output, the exhibition’s curators reveal an understated, often alluringly delicate side to the artist through works that provide insight with regard to his experimental, pioneering investigations into Cubism and his delving into Surrealism.

The Guggenheim’s phenomenal chronological presentation extending across Picasso’s entire 70-year career, includes significant loans—many of which have not been exhibited or published before—drawn from museum, private, and public collections across Europe and the United States, together with numerous works from the Picasso family and includes, among some 118 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, the tortured Head of a Horse, Sketch for Guernica.

Pablo Picasso Images from top
Tête de femme, profil droit [Marie-Thérèse], 1934
Collection of Aaron I. Fleischman
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

L’accordéoniste, 1911
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R Guggenheim Founding Collection, by gift
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph by Kristopher McKay. © The Solomon R Guggenheim
Foundation, New York

Tête de cheval, étude pour Guernica, 1937
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Bequest of the artist
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph, © Archivo fotográfico Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina
Sofía, Madrid

L’homme à la pipe, 1923
Private collection, Courtesy Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso
para el Arte
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph by Eric Baudouin

La cuisine, 1948
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired through the Nelson A. Rockefeller Bequest, 1980
© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph, The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York

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Poster Design | The Magic of Things

Friday, August 17th, 2012

The Magic of Things
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Zürich, Switzerland
29th August, 2012 – 6th January, 2013

Accounts vary but one version of the story is that, in the year 1900, when Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec were at work in Paris, Picasso was entering his Blue Period and Edvard Munch was painting The Girls on the Bridge, Emil Kahn (1883–1972), just seventeen years old – an autodidact who never went to art school – had an argument with his parents, left his family home in Stuttgart and moved to Berlin. He bummed around doing odd jobs and on a whim entered a poster competition organised by the Priester Match Company. He won first prize. His son Karl explained later that Kahn, who changed his name to Lucian Bernhard, believed that the actual facts of his youth had little relevance to his adult work and that he enjoyed toying with the details of his life, revising his stories to suit a particular audience. What is certain and unambiguous is that, at a time when posters were dominated by flowery Art Nouveau and Jugenstil decoration, Bernhard’s bold, stripped down, elegant design signalled the beginning of the modern commercial poster and marked the start of his legendary career.

So precious is their collection of vintage posters – it was started in 1875 – that it can only be viewed by prior appointment, however, the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Switzerland’s leading design and visual communication museum, has delved into its phenomenal archive – roughly 350,000 posters, one of the most comprehensive and important of its kind in the world – and put together The Magic of Things, a celebration of product posters.

Lucien Bernhard, whose work figures prominently in the exhibition had recognised how effective advertising that used a compact blend of product and brand name could be. In a world of unprecedented, booming economies, as yet untouched by the harsh realities of the First World War, his posters pioneered selling to a burgeoning consumer society. During the next two decades he became well-known throughout Europe.

Understandably, in the inter-war period when only the well-off had the means to buy, product posters were aimed predominately at the middle and upper classes. In the 1940s Switzerland experienced a rapid economic upswing which resulted in the dawning of a golden age of the Swiss product poster. Now, with improved printing techniques, Swiss designers – among them, Niklaus Stoecklin, Peter Birkhäuser, Donald Brun and Otto Baumberger – building on Bernhard’s flat style, introduced mood lighting and highlights to lend beguiling sensuality, as well as tactile qualities to illustrations of objects as unglamorous as household cleaning fluid to spark plugs. By introducing additional complementary items – props – the brand name products were made to emanate a seductive emotional draw. Perfect for a country with four national languages – which may have been the underlying reason for the object poster’s prolonged success in Switzerland – copy was practically non-existent. Stoecklin’s posters in particular, included no other copy than that which appeared on the products themselves. The Bauhaus and all the various early modern movements had happened, however, the style of these Swiss poster artists, who absorbed some influences from Art Deco and surrealism, was in essence a continuation of an earlier one and represents a period before strict grids and the Helvetica font become synonymous with Swiss design. More radical and rationalist, his early poster work was entirely different to Bernhard’s, the latter’s influence remains evident in the employment of reduced resources to maximum effect in the output of Josef Müller-Brockmann, whose international reputation would eclipse all those above.

With the democratisation of consumption in the 1960s, the emergence of global products and brands and the general growth of wealth in the western world leading to far greater competition, changes in advertising strategy became necessary. The focus on the product and its brand name no longer sufficed.

Eighty product posters have been selected for the exhibition and will be juxtaposed against photographs of objects, which, in the way they concentrate on the essential aspects of things, accentuate qualities similar to those the poster images project.

Posters from top
Eric de Coulon, Revue, 1941
Museum für Gestaltung Zurich
© The Artist

Lucian Bernhard, Galoschen – die besten Begleiter auf der Welt, 1913
Museum für Gestaltung Zurich, Plakatsammlung
© The Artist

Nicklaus Stoecklin, Sonnenschutz Bi-Oro, 1941
Museum für Gestaltung Zurich, Plakatsammlung
© The Artist

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