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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.”

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

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the Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein (1987)

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I like this title. It was published at the end of the EIghties which finally recognized the historical importance of Pop Art in art. before , in th early Sixties pop art exhibitions were held all over the world including many impotant ones exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Among them a highly important Lichtenstein exhibition, but the difference with the 1987 exhibition at the MOMA museum is that in 1967 in Amsterdam it was NEW and MODERN and in 1987 in New York is was “established” art. A difference of 20 years and now another 33 years later . The quality of the works by Roy Lichtenstein is once again underlined with this exquiste catalogue on his drawings. It shows the metaculous preparation in drawing for all larger works he would create after.

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Aernout Mik (1962)

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Once again a dutch artist. Aernout Mik…. Not that well known in the Netherlands but one look at his biography shows that his fame is truly international. Exhibitions and Video installations all over the world of which the exhibition at MOMA is perhaps his ultimate achievement until this date  (catalogue available at http://www.ftn-books.com). His video installations leave you with a sense of unease.

Look at this video in which Aernout Mik ao. explains the setting of his exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Mik is an artist who can not be explained. You have to look at his videos for yourself and wonder afterwards what the effect of the video has been. another exasmple is this SPEAKING IN TONGUES;

the MOMA Aernout Mik catalogue is available at http://www.ftn-books.com

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William Katavolos (1928)

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Known for his furniture and his presence in the collection of Moma and his architectural tutorials it is almost forgotten that he made some very nicely designed books of which the one he made for the Kwadraat series in 1961 is one of the nicest ones. The cover is spectacular with a cut out pattern and behind it a pale yellow/gold colored title page. These books are wel worth collecting and can still be picked up at reasonable prices. but my guess is they will not be much longer available since the edition size was small and word spreads that these are the ones to focus on within the Kwadraat series.

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Mark Tobey (1890-1976)

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Mark Tobey is a great artist and well ahead of his time with his abstract painting. His works look to be coincidental, but these abstract paintings and drawings are far from accidentally. It is a bit like the painting by Hans Hartung. The sketches he makes are the starting point for the paintings. Tobey has influenced Jackson Pollock with his paintings, but never has become the household name that Pollock became after his death. Still his paintings are impressive and there are always parts to discover and admire. It is a way of modern painting, greatly influenced by Chinese calligraphy,  that never grows old fashioned. It fascinates from beginning to end. Finding Tobey paintings in Europe is a hard job. There are some of them to be found in the Beyeler and Kunstmuseum Basel since he moved to Switzerland in the Sixties with his companion. But his paintings are rare, i am not completely sure, but according to my information, but even the Stedelijk Museum has no works by Tobey in its collection. They had an exhibition with Tobey in 1966, which catalogue was designed by Wim Crouwel and is one of the best Crouwel designed in the Sixties for the Stedelijk Museum (available at www.ftn-books.com), but that is all i could find. Still Tobey is well worth checking out, since he is the natural link between Jackson Pollock and the newest generation of Abstract painters.

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Josef Albers Nesting Tables 1926/27

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This set of tables i first encountered at the Josef Albers Museum in Bottrop where two types of these set were sold. One with colored perspex and one set with original italian fabricated glass. I had to had this and i ordered one set direectly from the manufacturer. These are so impressive and 100% like the original set which was originally designed at the Bauhasu by Josef Albers and thnis reedition from 2010 is one of the best small furniture items ever produced. I checked and this set is still available, but not as cheap as it originally was in 2010, but choose this set and you will have the pleasure of looking at one of the greatest functional Bauhaus designs ever made. Klein und More sells the original authorised set in Europe  and the Moma stora sells a set in their store for the US. Josef Albers is one of the artist of whom ww.ftn-books.com sells many items

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Robert Ryman (1930-2019)

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One of the greats in Abstract Modern Painting died at the age of 88 on the 8th of February 2019. White was his “color” and he painted on every material with his “white”. Impressed by the Rothko paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he was working as a museum guard, he started to paint himself and finding in the process the strength of “white” when used as the only color in his paintings. This approach made him famous within a period of 5 years. After these initial years he had had his first gallery exhibitions and soon after his his first major exhibition at the Guggenheim museum. Rymans paintings are highly recognizable abstract paintings and can be seen as the link between abstract expressionism and minimalism ( btw. Sol LeWitt also started his career as a museum guard). We are lucky to have al large collection of his paintings iin the Netherlands since the Stedelijk Museum started collecting his paintings from the very first years of his career. The result an impressive 11 paintings from all periods of his artistic life. Robert Ryman publications are available at www.ftn-books.com

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Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)

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One of the greatest sculptors from last century for me is Isamu Noguchi. The reason is simple i have been living for half of my life with designs of Noguchi around me. I have sold lamps and stools by the artist and in our own home a stool is ever present in our interior. The sculptures are different . In many cases executed on a scale to large to place inside and nowadays far too expensive for almost all. But sometimes you can exprience the quality of Noguchi as a sculptor in a simple publication. This is the case with the Pace Wildenstein publications which has al the qualities you are looking for in a Noguchi work. enjoy the photo’s. Publication is available at www.ftn-books.com

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Here is the text on the artist from THE ART STORY

Isamu Noguchi, a major American and Japanese sculptor and designer, spent over six decades creating abstract works – largely in stone – based on both organic and geometric forms. Greatly inspired by traditional Japanese art, as well as by the biomorphic style of some Surrealist art, Noguchi became internationally known both for his artwork and his publicly accessible furniture and architecture. His ultimate objective, to create and enhance public spaces through sculpture, provided his career with a distinct direction and established him as a critical figure in the worlds of post-war art, architecture and design.

The overarching concept informing Noguchi’s work was his passionate, career-long desire to create art the public could use in a social space. He realized this goal in myriad ways: mass produced furniture and lamps; theatrical set designs; public projects such as gardens, playgrounds and fountains; and sculptural manipulations of the natural landscape.
Noguchi wanted to call attention to the dichotomies inherent in much of his work: he merged geometric and organic forms, found value in both positive and negative space, and created works that challenged the boundaries of design and art. He also integrated the materials and art forms of both his Japanese and American heritages into his innovative creations.
Noguchi was socially and artistically connected to Abstract Expressionism, as evident not only in his large-scale works evoking abstracted forms but also in his friendships with Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning. Yet, his sculpture retained a distinct sensibility in its use of natural materials and its distinct blend of Surrealist and Japanese influence.
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Bill Brandt (1904-1983)…body parts

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Yesterday….  a blog on Marianne Brandt, today the subject is Bill Brandt. Not related in anyway  and an age difference of some 50 years, but both working with photography. But where Marianne cut up photographs to make some excellent photomontages, Bill Brandt uses the angle of the lens to make some very impressive photographs. For me Brandt is together with Lucien Clergue one of the very best nude photographers from last century. He uses the angle of the lens to photograph parts of the body and with this technique his photos are like the sculptures of Maillol and Moore in which body parts are enhanced and polished into almost abstract sculptures.

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This technique makes him quite unique among photographers and with this quality he stands out. Add the use of Black and White film and Bill Brandt becomes a very recognizable photographer. His nudes are among the very best photographs from the last century and it took me only a minute to find some of the examples that show in an excellent way that what i tried to explain in words. www.ftn-books.com has some Bill Brandt titles avaialble.

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Bertien van Manen (1942)

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Just a little piece of technical information i picked up from an interview with Bertien van Manen who’s works are known, appreciated and collected worldwide. Even the MOMA in New York has a nice selection of her photographs from the early 90’s.

Mrs. van Manen informed her interviewer that she uses the most simple AUTOMATIC camera’s available. Speed, size and ease of use are a key ingredients to take a successful photograph.

This is nice to know, since for us ….simple amateur photographers it is now with all excellent phone camera’s available as easy to take photographs as it is for professional photographers. All you need is a keen eye for the right subject and composition. Bertien van Manen showed us the way and it is now up to us to create our own portfolio’s with ex excellent photographs. www.ftn-books.com has titles by van Men available.