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John Szarkowski (1925-2007)

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Perhaps Szarkowski was more know for being curator at MOMA then for being one of the greatest photographers from last century.  Here is part of the text the Guardian place shortly after he had passed away.

Szarkowski was a good photographer, a great critic and an extraordinary curator. One could argue that he was the single most important force in American post-war photography.

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Like all good critics and curators, Szarkowski was both visionary and catalyst. When he succeeded the esteemed photographer Edward Steichen as director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1962, he was just 36, and must have been acutely aware of the long shadow cast by his predecessor. Steichen had curated the monumental group exhibition, The Family of Man, at Moma in 1955, which he described as ‘the culmination of his career”. Featuring 503 images by 273 photographers, famous and unknown, it had aimed to show the universality of human experience: death, love, childhood. The show had drawn huge crowds to the gallery and then toured the world, attracting an estimated 9 million viewers.

It was, as Steichen had no doubt intended, a hard act to follow. “We were different people”, Szarkowski later said, “with different talents, characters, limitations, histories, problems and axes to grind. We held the same job at very different times, which means that it was not really the same job.”

More revealingly, Szarkowski also said that Steichen and his predecessor, Beaumont Newhall, “consciously or otherwise, felt more compelled than I to be advocates for photography, whereas I – largely because of their work – could assume a more analytic, less apostolic attitude.” That difference in approach would prove to be a crucial one, and it underpinned a new photographic aesthetic that continues to shape our view of the world to this day.

When Szarkowski took over at Moma, there was not a single commercial gallery exhibiting photography in New York and, despite Steichen and Newhall’s pioneering work, the form had still not been accepted by most curators or critics. Szarkowski changed all that. He was the right person in the right place at the right time: a forward thinker who was given control of a major art institution at a moment when his democratic vision chimed with the rapidly changing cultural tastes of the time.

Szarkowski insisted on the democracy of the image, whether it be a formally composed Ansel Adams landscape, a snatched shot that caught the frenetic cut-and-thrust of a modern city or a vernacular subject like a road sign or a parking lot. “A skillful photographer can photograph anything well,” he once insisted.

In his still-challenging book, The Photographer’s Eye (1964), Szarkowski included snapshots alongside images by great photographers, and argued – brilliantly – that photography differed from any other art form because its history had been “less a journey than a growth”. “Its movement has not been linear and consecutive but centrifugal,” he suggested. “Photography, and our understanding of it, has spread from a centre; it has, by infusion, penetrated our consciousness. Like an organism, photography was born whole. It is in our progressive discovery of it that its history lies.”

szarkowski a

www.ftn-books.com has the Szarkowski /Josef Albers Museum available

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A Willem Sandberg Xmas card

I found this picture at the Herb Lubalin center who has this in its collection. A very nice and typical Willem Sandberg card to wish you a Merry Christmas in 1958.

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an old wish, but a new one from me….. a Merry Christmas 2021

 

Many Sandberg and Lubalin items are available at www.ftn-books.com

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10 great and iconic buildings, no. 3

This list is invented to make some quick and easy blogs for this month filled with festivities. I chose the buildings because i think they belong to the most important from all buildings realized in the last 100 years.

So here is no. 3. the Barcelona pavillion by Mies von der Rohe

Barcelona pavillion

Bauhaus inspired and made as the German pavilion for the Barcelona World fair from 1929. It was demolished after the exhibition , but because of its architectural importance rebuild. This is a pilgrimage site for almost all architecture and interior design fans., since this is one of the first projects in which the architect designed the interior as well. The Barcelona chair is a true design classic which is till made.

PS. The Miro museum is nearby too….another absolute must see when you visit Barcelona

www.ftn-books.com has some ncie publications available on Miesz von der Rohe

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Nicholas Nixon (1947)

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I specially went to Bottrop to see the Nixon series on the Brown sisters in 2004 and i was not disappointed ( poster available at www.ftn-books.com).

Nicholas Nixon takes intimate, black-and-white photographs of children, the elderly and infirm, and his own family (as well as cityscapes). Best known for his series “The Brown Sisters”, Nixon began taking portraits of his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters in 1975, and has continued to photograph them annually since.

 

left  the Brown Sisters in 1980 , right the Sisters in 2019

Influenced by the photography of Walker Evans, Edward Weston, and Alfred Stieglitz, among others, Nixon works with a large-format camera; “For me the print is what matters most. Generally the biggest possible negative has the most clarity, presence, and believability,” he has said. Nixon’s images, which include close-up self-portraits of the artist’s bearded face, manifest the humanistic potential of photography, offering moments of tenderness between individuals, and meticulously capturing the minute details of his subjects.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Maja van Hall (1937)

Maja van Hall

In the late fifties of the past century Maja van Hall studied classical sculpture at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten (State Academy of Fine Arts) in Amsterdam, a solid basis for which she remains grateful to this day. For the content of her work she has developed  a  vocabulary of her own, which she feeds with her own experience of life. She uses the expressive potential of stone, clay, bronze and sometimes wood to give form to her own state of mind. Slowly but surely, she is gaining more and more freedom for herself and for her  sculptures.

In the sixties she opted for a more informal, abstract expression in material and gesture. She never entirely foreswore figuration, though, preferring the form to emerge from her subjects. Take the small bronze of a vacuum-cleaning female she made in 1967 with the  derogatory title of ‘Sloof’ (‘Drudge’). As a feminist, Maja van Hall had created a little monument to the housewife. Three decades later this small sculpture will appear as a huge blue monument (‘Filosloof‘) during the international exhibition ‘Role Models’, The Hague  Sculpture 2003.
A polyester version was acquired in 2009 by the Museum of Modern Art in Arnhem in the aftermath of the international exhibition ‘REBELLEArt and Feminism 1969 – 2009.

In 1968, in an abstract-expressive vein, she represented the concept of ‘Battle’ in an eponymous bronze as the aggressive confrontation of two ‘parties’ in form and counterform, light and dark, line and  plane, open and closed. While she is working on a piece it  takes on   colour for her, sometimes quite literally when she treats it with pigments and the colour actually defines the sculpture. Such is the case with ‘Blue Dog’ (1988). Aggressive, as if it had escaped from a  myth, there it stands, as large as life. In her recent  installations she may   also add planes of colour – pure pigment on paper – to emphasize the theatrical character of the spot and the spatial unity of the whole piece.

‘Thoughts’ (1992), which she modelled in plaster but  also had cast in bronze, seems to have been worked on  for so long that the   form is worn away and the surface weathered, as if from centuries of use or misuse. The form of a human head can be discerned. It rests on a satin pillow. This is Maja van Hall’s comment on the aesthetic perfection of Brancusi’s work, except that in  spite of – or thanks to –   the destructive erosion, she has rendered visible and tangible the victory of human strength. Using her personal experience as a source of creativity, she has built up a consistent oeuvre that pays scant heed to trends. She has given her personal  emotions, emotions we all   feel, a place and look of their own in Dutch sculpture.

www.ftn-books.com has several van Hall publications availabel

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Hilla Rebay (1890-1967)

Hilla (von) Rebay

THis blog is on Hilla Rebay, born in Germany but living part of her life in the US. 

The inmportance of this artist is growing by the year and since i have acquired the extremely scarce original 1948 New York catalogue in which she explains what makes her paint in the way she does. The best i can do now is quote the German text which i found on Rebay. Catalogue available at www.ftn-books.com

1948 schreibt Hilla von Rebay im Katalog zur Ausstellung Gegenstandslose Malerei in Amerika in der Städtischen Kunsthalle Mannheim und zahlreichen anderen Städten in Deutschland Folgendes:

„Gegenstandslose Malerei bildet keines der uns auf dieser Welt geläufigen Dinge oder Lebewesen ab. Sie will nichts anderes sein als ein schönes, rhythmisch gegliedertes Gebilde aus Farben und Formen, das durch seine Schönheit allein erfreuen soll. Die Proportionen der Leinwand oder des Blattes selbst bestimmen diese Gliederung, die wie ein musikalisches Kunstwerk kontraproduktiven Gesetzen gehorcht. Das Grundmotiv eines Bildes gibt den Ausschlag für seinen Aufbau, der dann dem Gesetz eines eigenen Rhythmus folgt. Ein solcher Kunst noch ungewohnter Betrachter wird diese Gesetzlichkeit nicht von vornherein erkennen; erst nach längerem Umgang mit diesem Werk wird er im Unterbewussten die Wirkung seiner Schönheit und Vollendung an sich erfahren und seine im Geistigen begründete lebendige Gesetzlichkeit zu verstehen beginnen.
Die gegenstandslose Malerei spricht zu denen, die für reine Schönheit empfänglich sind. Selbst wenn Formen wie Kreis, Viereck oder Dreieck Verwendung finden, Formen, die man in solchen Zusammenhang fälschlich als geometrische bezeichnet, so sind sie hier doch rein künstlerischer Natur. An und für sich betrachtet bestand die reine Form ja schon lange, bevor man etwas von Geometrie wusste, und Geometrie von sich aus war niemals imstande, diese Formen in Kunst zu verwandeln: das ist allein Aufgabe des Künstlers. …

Sicherlich ist es leicht, aus Farben und Formen ein Ornament oder einfaches Muster zu entwerfen; aber wie sich in der Musik eine Sonate durch Melodie, Rhythmus und Kontrapunkt vom einfachen Ton unterscheidet, den jeder anzuschlagen vermag, so ist es auch in der gegenstandslosen Malerei. Nur dass bei ihr, im Gegensatz zur Musik, das Auge als aufnehmendes Organ angesprochen wird. Mag der Betrachter zunächst einfach sein Gefallen am Spiel der Formen empfinden, so wird er allmählich doch dahin gelangen, auch die läuternden und entspannenden Kräfte eines Bildes zu erfahren, dessen Schönheit im Geistigen, nicht im Sinnlichen beruht. …

Vor Tausenden von Jahren gebot uns die Bibel, kein irdisch geschaffenes Bild zu verstehen. Heute endlich besitzen wir die Voraussetzungen, dies Gebot zu erfüllen. Religiös gesinnte Künstler empfanden die innere Verpflichtung als erste; sie verzichteten auf bloße Nachbildung der Natur und suchten dafür nach jener tiefen Konzentration und Selbstdisziplin, die zum Wesen des eigentlich Schöpferischen gehört.“

 

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Tobias Pils (1971)

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I entered the Josef Albers Museum 3 months ago, crossed the treshold and there it was ….on the left at 20 meters, large and totally in black and white…..one of the most impressive paintings i had seen in years. This is how i learned about Tobias Pils. I dit not know of the artist before, but his works have an abstract and graphic quality i had not seen before.

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Working within a palette of blacks and whites and the range of grays that can be made from them, he creates mixed media paintings full of abstract and representational elements. These elements are often arranged so that they flow from one to the next seemingly of their own accord, obeying the dictates of a painterly logic that generates meaning through the accumulation of many small moments. As such, Pils’s works are endlessly captivating as arrangements of textures, flows, and material invention—in a sense, as symphonic, non-objective compositions, even when their mythological content and primal imagery tempt narrative readings. This syncretic approach reflects a mind that revels in contradictions, even as it seeks to suture together contrasting passages with a subtle and virtuosic array of mark-making strategies that are alternately bold, incisive, impressionistic, and completely open to the innate properties of paint medium and support. Pils works at a variety of scales and in different contexts, responding to the urgency of his own intuition and the external constraints of architectural and institutional settings with equal fluency. In each of these forums, he locates the places where the vast and the intimate meet, both in the physical world and the human psyche alike. The Tobias Pils poster for his Josef Albers MUseum exhibition is available at www.ftn-books.com

tobias pils a

 

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On Kawara (1932-2014)

On Karawa

On Kawara is one of the most enigmatic of modern artists. Like his forerunner Marcel Duchamp, Kawara retreated from the art scene, avoiding his own exhibition openings and declining to be interviewed, so that his public persona came to be defined solely through his work. But that work itself seems – at first sight – to offer little more reward to biographers. Instead, it methodically and meticulously documents the trajectory of On’s life, without apparent ornament, an art based on ideas rather than aesthetics which sits firmly within the tradition of Conceptual art associated with Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner. However, the extraordinary duration of Kawara’s process-based projects – one of which, his date-painting series Today, lasted almost fifty years, producing almost 3,000 individual works – and the meditative consistency with which he applied himself to his tasks, sets his oeuvre apart, and links his work to his background in Buddhist and Shinto philosophy. By drawing attention to the minutiae of daily existence, Kawara’s work focuses our attention on the most basic elements of our experience of the world: our location on the planet, and our passage through time.

With projects such as I Got Up and I Am Still Alive – which involved mailing postcards and telegrams to friends and benefactors, at irregular intervals, over several years – On Kawara not only abandoned the artisanal techniques that still defined modern art to some extent in the early 1960s, but, more importantly, outsourced the ‘completion’ of his work to anonymous third parties. In leaving the delivery of his telegrams and postcards, for example – in a sense the final stage of the creative process – to the US postal service and Western Union delivery schedules, On Kawara emphasized the significance of concept over aesthetic form in a far more radical way than modern artists had previously attempted, in line with the most radical tendencies of Conceptual art. For On Kawara contemporaries in Conceptual art please find a nice series of Art & Project publications at www.ftn-books.com

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Fred Sandback (1943-2003)

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A very special Minimal artist definitely is Fred Sandback.

Fred Sandback would stretch lengths of colored yarn taut in a space to make people experience it differently, uniquely, unexpectedly. His ingeniously simple sculptures had no weight or mass, no inside or out.

He described is work eloquently in his booklet A Children’s Guide to Seeing made to accompany his 1989 exhibition of yarn sculptures at the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum. His words for kids provide illumination for adults:
We all need a place for play, whether it’s jump rope, baseball, or making a sculpture. I’m lucky enough to have the whole Contemporary Arts Museum in which to build my sculptures that are made out of knitting yarn.

I need a big space like this because I mean my sculptures to take space and make it into a place—a place that people will move around in and be in.

Knitting yarn is great for making the proportions, intervals, and shapes that build the places I want to see and to be in. It’s like a box of colored pencils, only I can use it to make a three-dimensional sculpture instead of making a drawing on paper.

My knitting-yarn sculpture is a somewhat distant cousin to some other string games. Maybe the one that uses the most space is kite flying. But the one that is the oldest, and the most universal, is cat’s cradle. Indians, Eskimos, Bushmen, and many other cultures around the world have had games like cat’s cradle since before anyone can remember.

Often cat’s cradle is about making a little place—just for yourself, or to share with someone. If you don’t know any of the moves, you can probably learn some from a friend, a relative, or from your mom or dad, if they remember them.

If you ask the attendant here in the Museum now, he or she will give you some yarn to use while you are here and to take home. Your fingers might do some thinking while you wander around and look at my sculptures.

And here are a few cat’s cradle ideas.

Cat’s cradle is nice because you can put it in your pocket when you’re busy with something else, and take it out again when you’re not. Although, as you can see, it’s not so hard to build big things like my sculpture. All it takes is a ball of string. If you were feeling a little adventurous, you could even wrap up your whole house.

http://www.ftn-books is fortunate to have some nice Sandback items available

sandback bottrop a

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Haags Gemeentemuseum ( continued )

In the mid Eighties , financing the museums in the Netherland required some changes. One of the changes was we looked for cheaper printing possiblilties and found these with a Belgium printer and lithographer. Snoeck Ducaju became one of the new partners of the museum together with de Buck for the lithography. Both have become household names in the printing world, but at that time it was a kind of a gamble, since the distance made it much harder ( only telephone and fax were available). Still the first results were excellent. Just look at these 2 timeless beautiful publications , designed by Donald Janssen and printed by Snoek in 1986 and 1987. Many others would follow but these are still standing out and are proof of the quality publications published in those years.

Both are available at www.ftn-books.com