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June 06, 2004

August Sander Exhibition(s), and Yet More Collage

Weekend tidbits:

* Nice article in the New York Times by Michael Kimmelman about an August Sander exhibit, "People of the Twentieth Century: A Photographic Portrait of Germany" currently running at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sander was one of the great portraitists, whose obsessive attempt to document German society through a comprehensive series of portraits, divided into seven categories, has inspired a significant amount of contemporary portraiture. From the NYT article:

"...Sander's project was a failed enterprise because like all of these works it ultimately demonstrates the futility of trying to index the world. Sander's failure was of course also his greatest success because, as everyone notes about his work, his physical typecasting breaks down in the face of such persistent individuality....Social categories dissolve, becoming interchangeable, like outfits. We see circus entertainers, black and white, relaxing between performances, Sander giving them the romantic dignity he also lends to actors, artists and aristocrats.

And those farmers on their way to the dance who traded their denims for suits we know will trade those suits for soldiers' uniforms and march down that same path into the trenches, their roles changed but not their identities. Sander hated the word snapshot for good reason. The slow exposure time of his camera, maybe two or three seconds, inclined sitters to collect themselves, to present something of their personality, which transcended their social role. Henri Cartier-Bresson was once asked how long a sitting would take. 'Well, I don't know," he said. "A little more than a dentist and a little less than a psychoanalyst.' "


Girl in Fairground Caravan, August Sander image

In the past, I've resisted large format portraiture because of the overt stiffness of many of the subjects, but over time I've come to appreciate the details, the texture, and the unexpected pleasures and surprises that can come from even the most staged and still portraits...and certainly, someone with the eye of Sander delivers many such pleasures in his work. There are many places on the web to view Sander's images: here's one, and the NY Times has a short slideshow with well presented images.

The Yancey Richardson Gallery is also staging an exhibition of Sander's photographs of women to coincide with the Met exhibition.

* The Met also happens to do a reasonable job presenting its permanent collection of photographs online...it's a diffuse collection of "greatest hits" from mostly well known artists, but the online presentation provides useful information about many of the pieces (analogous to wall texts in the actual museum) and allows for the opportunity to zoom in (to a limited extent). In my ongoing fascination with collage, I came upon this early 1930s piece by David Smith, an American sculptor who worked extensively with photographs and collage as he made the transition from painting to free standing sculpture...the results are fascinating and it's not surprising to find out (from the Met text) that a prominent colleague of Smith's was László Moholy-Nagy. A bio on Smith is here, and the National Gallery of Art has another image here, and this image in the context of his a few of his sculptures and paintings can be seen here.


Waterfront Scene with Collaged Elements: Reclining Woman, Self-Portrait, David Smith collage

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