Apparitions: the photograph and its image

This week the Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University (Wellington) opened the exhibition Apparitions: the photograph and its image (14 October – 17 December 2017). Curated by Geoffrey Batchen and Victoria University art history honours students, the exhibition considers the reproducibility and circulation of photographic images during the early years of the medium. What you see on display in Apparitions is a diffuse reading of the photograph through the 19th century, largely through engraving and lithographs produced after a photographic source.

The first objects you seen in the exhibition are a series of 19th century copies of the Portland Vase by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd. It’s a clever conceit. Thomas Wedgwood (1771-1805), one of Josiah’s four sons, was an early pioneer of photography and his father’s efforts to copy the famed object demonstrate the industry and commerce that was similarly involved in the development of photography.

One of the key works in Apparitions is Noël Marie Paymal Lerebours’ publication Excursions daguerriennes: vues et monuments les plus remarquables du globe (1841-1864). Lerebours (1807-1873) was a Parisian optician involved in popularising the daguerreotype technique, reproducing images of monuments and landscapes from around the world made using this new technology. The unique nature of each daguerreotype image made them unsuitable for easy or large scale reproduction so Lerebours’ developed a technique of tracing the image from a daguerreotype onto paper for transfer to an engraving plate. Soliciting images from daguerreotypists, Lerebours was able to promote the exciting new view of the world captured by this new photographic technology in numerous volumes of the Excursions daguerriennes.

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Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet, ‘Beirut’ (1840), from ‘Excursions daguerriennes’

One photograph from my own collection was included in Apparitions, a 1840 view of Beirut by Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet (1806-1893) and appears in Excursions daguerriennes. This photograph is notable for several reasons. It is recognised as the first photograph to document Beirut and is one of the few photographs published by Lerebours to acknowledge the photographer as a author of the image.

Being so far removed from the localities of 19th photographic innovation, New Zealand is a difficult place in which to mount such an exhibition. However, loans from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Library of New Zealand and Auckland Museum illustrate there is a surprising depth to New Zealand’s photography collecting. Batchen’s previous exhibition, Emanations: the art of the cameraless photograph, similarly brought together a wealth of photographs one wouldn’t expect to find so close at hand from Australasian collections, proving that New Zealand audiences can see some expertly produced exhibitions given the right attention and resourcing.

Weekend Reading

Dayanita Singh is interviewed here discussing her Pocket Museum publication, a miniature version of the Museum Bhavan exhibition published by Steidl.

Some listening for a change. Last month 95bFM broadcast an interview with Erika Balsom as part of their Artbank programme. Balsom is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London and was visiting New Zealand as part of the Govett-Brewster At Gallery’s International Film Curator in residence programme. Balsom covers her visit to New Zealand (and Australia) in this month’s Art Monthly magazine (unavailable online).

There’s a lot of talk around Alexander Calder lately, principally around he Whitney Museum’s exhibition, Calder: Hypermobility. This piece from Hyperallergic covers the performative aspect of Calder’s motor driven works in the Whitney show. The article includes several videos from the Whitney’s channel which lead me on the Calder Foundation’s own videos. Here’s Calder Foundation chairman and grandson of Calder, Alexander S. C. Rower, demonstrating motion in Calder’s work.

The other exciting news in the Calder world is Jed Perl’s new biography, an excerpt  published here by the Smithsonian.

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WYNDHAM LEWIS: A BATTERY SHELLED (1919)

The Imperial War Museum North’s Wyndham Lewis exhibition gets a review in the London Review of Books, reviewer Jon Day observing Lewis’ best work was his war paintings:

In fact, the pictures are still shocking: war gave Lewis a subject which was equal to his anger. He pays as much attention to the angle of a rack of shells as he does to the bodies of the men around them. Unlike some of his peers, he wasn’t interested in the dynamism of war – there are no explosions, his war paintings are strangely static. Nor did the war do much to strip him of the schoolboyish contrarianism of Blast. But it did give him a way of applying Vorticism to the real world, providing a context for what Read called ‘the geometry of fear’. Lewis’s work can still feel more modernist than any of his peers’.

Weekend Reading

This week I’ve been starting to work in earnest on a forthcoming exhibition concerning experimental cinema so it was timely to see  the Village Voice wrapping up with a great interview with filmmaker and critic Jonas Mekas.

Still in film, the British Film Institute has launched a the BFI Filmography which boasts of being ‘a complete history of UK feature film, explorable and shareable’.

There’s been lots of noise in recent about the Barbican’s exhibition Basquiat: Boom For Real. The two reviews that caught my attention most were from Waldemar Januszczak (‘shallow, uneducated, disingenuous’) and Michael Glover (‘fame-frothy noise and visuals’). Edward Lucie-Smith is kinder to the exhibition. Laura Cumming says it’s charming. Looking at the gift shop offerings, you can choose from a range of Basquiat triptych skateboards (open edition) for a touch under 400 quid  (wheels are extra). Surely the most bizarre exhibition gift shop merchandise ever devised!

Meanwhile (enjoying my Mondrian and De Stijl socks I bought recently from the Stedelijk) I read Nina Siegal’s account of a fake Mondrian and the fraught issues of expertise and authentication.

Staying with museums, Xavier Salomon recently followed in the footsteps of D. H. Lawrence, tracing the writer’s steps in his travel account Etruscan Places (1932). Recounting Lawrence’s perspectives on Etruscan art and civilisation Xavier recalls the following opinion on museums:

‘Museums anyhow are wrong. But if one must have museums, let them be small, and above all, let them be local. Splendid as the Etruscan museum is in Florence, how much happier one is in the museum in Tarquinia, where all the things are Tarquinian, and at least have some association with one another, and form some sort of organic whole’
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Etruscan vases

 

And in the spirit of museums being wrong, this is why I avoid things like ‘ask a curator’ day and twitter back and forth with the public.

 

 

The Long Dream of Waking: New perspectives on Len Lye

The last year has been very productive in terms of publishing and research. Beside overseeing the long overdue publication of Robert Graves and  Len Lye’s 1941 essay Individual Happiness Now, I was thrilled to be have the opportunity to bring together Lye’s photogram work in the Shadowgraphs publication. On the research front, I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of a co-authored essay concerning the conservation of kinetic art through the Getty Conservation Institute and presently working on another co-authored piece concerning Lye’s experimental cinema and advertising.

The big event of the year however is a new collection of writing on Lye arriving in November 2017, published by Canterbury University Press and edited with Wystan Curnow and Roger Horrocks. I’ll follow with more detail once we have a press release in hand but, for now, here’s the cover (a 1979 portrait by Robert Del Tredici) and a list of contributors.

LYE_Cover and spine

 

The Long Dream of Waking features contributions from the following: Scott Anthony (Nanyang Technological University), Geoffrey Batchen (Victoria University Wellington), Paul Brobbel (Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre), Rex Butler (Monash University, Melbourne), Wystan Curnow (Len Lye Foundation and Professor Emeritus of the University of Auckland), Sarah Davy (Len Lye Foundation and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision), A.D.S. Donaldson (National Art School, Sydney), Alla Gadassik (Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver), Shayne Gooch (University of Canterbury), Malcolm le Grice (Professor Emeritus of the University of the Arts, London), Roger Horrocks (Len Lye Foundation and Professor Emeritus of the University of Auckland), Aaron Kreisler (University of Canterbury), John Matthews (Len Lye Foundation), Peter Selz (Emeritus Professor of the University of California, Berkeley), Luke Smythe (University of Otago, Dunedin) and Evan Webb (Len Lye Foundation).

Weekend Reading

There is a couple of week’s reading to catch up on as I have been preoccupied with a several new Len Lye exhibitions, notably the new exhibition opening at Christchurch Art Gallery, Stopped Short by Wonder (on until 26 November). Curated by CAG’s Lara Strongman, the exhibition is the largest survey of Lye’s work held in Christchurch for several decades and includes requisite works like Universe and Fountain. However, it’s great to see CAG have selected a range of rarely seen paintings by Lye, particularly God of Light (1978), and a large number drawings previously unexhibited. There’s also Big Blade performing in a gallery setting for the first time. The Press previewed the exhibition here with some video of the sculpture in performance.

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Henri Matisse, 1933

The exhibition in Christchurch is accompanied by Henry Matisse: Jazz, an exhibition of Matisse’s portfolio of prints issued in 1947. It’s a nice connection to Lye, sitting in the gallery adjacent to Lye’s proto-MTV experimental films with their jazz sountracks. Interesting then to read this piece this week from Edward Lucie-Smith on the Matisse exhibition at the Royal Academy and its discord with multiculturalism. You can also read Jonathan Jone’s criticism of that same exhibition too.

Just finished this piece today from the New Yorker on Solomon Shereshevsky, a Russian afflicted with synaesthesia and a resulting ability to remember everything. Well not quite, as the article uncovers. But it lead me to reread this older New Yorker piece on Henry Gustave Molaison, the American who couldn’t remember anything. It also brought me back to this recent and fascinating piece on our sense of colour from from Maria Michela Sassi at Aeon, The Sea was Never Blue, exploring the ancient Greek understanding of colour.

 

 

 

Weekend Reading

Controversy this week in Australia over the awarding of the Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture to Justine Varga for a cameraless photograph produced by the action of the artist’s grandmother writing and spitting on to the negative. The Sydney Morning Herald lead the charge with a couple of pieces and plenty of quotes from disgruntled photographers – their main criticisms here. They raise the question of whether the work is a photograph, whether it’s a portrait, and finally if it was even authored by the artist. With those issues hanging over it, it’s a wonder why the bile hasn’t been more directed to the awards organisers for including the work rather than the typical sexist dismissal of the artist on social media and the hate mail (!) to judge and NGA curator Shaune Lakin. Check out photographer Jack Picone’s social media discussion on the matter to see responses from the dead heart of Australian photography – at best, it’s surprising how few professional photographers can define a photograph.

Hyperalleric reposted an article on Duchamp’s Optical Experiments, something I’m thinking over a bit this week as we install our next Len Lye exhibition at the Govett-Brewster, considering the famous 1961 exhibition of kinetic art Rörelse i konsten/Bewogen Beweging which included the likes of Lye and Jean Tinguely alongside Duchamp. More in this in the coming weeks.

And to end, Jerry Saltz likes the new MoMA renovations.

Recent Travels: North America

I’m back from a very quick trip across North America, taking in Toronto, Hamilton and Vancouver in Canada and Buffalo, Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco in the United States. Here’s a quick review of the highlights.

McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) in Ontario was my principle museum of interest on this trip and a museum I had not previously visited. My connection to MMA came via a painting in their collection by Ben Nicholson with an inscription from Nicholson on the verso dedicating the work to Len Lye. The two became friends shortly after Lye arrived in London in the mid 1920s and Lye subsequently exhibited in the Seven and Five Society at Nicholson’s invitation. Including Nicholson’s painting in our recent On and Island exhibition was inspired by the letters written between the friends during Lye’s visit to Majorca in 1930 (the letters are in the Tate Archives, not the Len Lye Foundation’s).

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Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Bird Bath (1914/1994)

A visit to MMA turns up some thrills to be hand in their collection. There’s Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s bronze Bird Bath in front of the museum commissioned for Roger Fry and completed posthumously. MMA have the maquette which you can see in this video. Inside, several new acquisitions gifted by the artist Takao Tanabe were a highlight as I was ending my trip in British Columbia, a landscape that defines Takao’s practice.

The MMA collection is largely defined by the significant collection of (close to 200 works) donated to the museum by benefactor Herman H. Levy (alongside a CAN$15.2m endowment). The MMA will soon open the exhibition A Cultivating Journey: The Herman H. Levy Legacy (1 September – 9 December 2017) which will include works by Corbet, Matisse, Monet, Pissaro, Turner and van Gogh.

Following the MMA I had just a afternoon to enjoy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY., which is unfortunate for what is my favourite museum in North America. The sheer quality of their collection and the scale of what is on display make it such a joy to visit. It was a chance to again see their Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing # 1268: Scribbles: Staircase (AKAG), conceived 2006 (executed 2010). Looking forward too towards the bequest of Marisol’s estate to the Albright-Knox.

I had more time in Chicago, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago to see their exhibition celebrating the work of Hugh Edwards – curator at the Institute for 30 years (’59-70) – and the Museum of Contemporary Photography for their re:collection exhibition. The latter was a fairly standard collection show but having worked on the recent Emanations exhibition it was great seeing several interesting cameraless works by Kei Ito and Binh Danh (more on Danh in a future post).

The big exhibition in Chicago however was at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the large Takashi Murakami survey The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. Here’s a local review of a show that was the talk of the town.

 

I had a quick trip to California to visit Berkeley Art Museum and SFMOMA, the latter showing Soundtracks, an exhibition exploring sound in contemporary art with wonderful works by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot and Camille Norment. The exhibition is sadly without a printed catalogue, however there is a reasonable online publication here. SFMOMA was also an opportunity to see a strong collection of works by an artist I’m thing of a great deal lately, Alexander Calder.

 

I’ll follow up on a few of these exhibitions in more detail in future posts.