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.

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.