Friday, September 21, 2007

Revelations at the Lisette Model show at Aperture

The new show at Aperture is a real pleasure. It's a pleasure partly because one can always find new depths in the work of Model. Certainly part of the pleasure is the intelligent and layered hanging of the works chosen (kudos go to Diana Edkins and Larry Fink, co-curators of the exhibit). But, for me, the most pleasurable aspect of the show was the revelation of the work of her less well-known succesors.

I think most followers of photography are familiar with the opus of Diane Arbus. Followers of fashion work are probably aware of Bruce Weber. But I imagine that the other artists included in the show are not household names except to the most devoted photography lovers. Clearly, this should not be so, and perhaps this show will make headway into changing that.

The work of Bruce Cratsley occupies the entire east wall of the gallery and is the first work I saw as I entered the show. A photograph called "For Lisette" is the curtain opener.

Dark, edgy, mysterious...this is a perfect emblem for the whole show and a clear riff on Model's "Running Legs" series we see later in the show. Cratsley was a brilliant printer. The surfaces and tonal ranges of his prints support and augment the introspective and personal world he illustrates. After looking at just 3 or 4 photos I wondered why I wasn't more familiar with this artist. He seems to have no fear to explore any personal subject. Cratsley seemed to live Model's encomium "Don't click the shutter until the experience makes you feel embarassed". He is present at the sickbed and the deathbed of friends and lovers, and he turns the camera on himself with the same honesty with which he uses to explore extreme close-up portraits. This is wonderful work.

Mr. Cratsley's photos inform some gentle themes that run through the show. I say gentle because Ms Edkins and Mr. Fink present these themes as natural running currents, not as a didactic club. Self portraits are everywhere, but none are more honest and unflinching as Rosalind Solomon's.

Ms Solomon is known more for documentary work and has other powerful images in the show, but this is the one that haunts. Her eyes sear out of the photograph asking and accusing at the same time. Her two fingers censoring her pursed lips reflect onto the title, "Self portrait after 9/11", and make me wonder what combination of horror, anger, and sadness are being held in.

Another theme is portraiture of friends, colleagues, and lovers. This show makes it clear that these artists existed in a community. Peter Hujar photographs Lynn Davis and Gary Indiana, and Bruce Weber photographs Louise Bourgeois; Bruce Cratsley shows his partner from health to last breaths. It was fascinating to make my way through the show multiple times looking for connections and relationships.
Bruce Weber portrait of Louise Bourgeois.

Last on my list of special mention is Leon Levinstein. Mr. Levinstein delights in showing us the strange that resides in the normal and the normal that resides in the strange. We've experienced this perspective before because Lisette Model put it into our culture's visual cortex and then her most famous pupil, Diane Arbus, burned it in as if we'd looked at the sun without a filter. Still, Mr. Levinstein has his own syntax and adds a little dark humor besides. His untitled rear-view portrait could not be more prosaic or more strange but somehow stays in the mind's eye long after.

It's a fitting coda to an exhibition that shows how beautifully an artistic and pedagogical legacy can enrich and inform a cultural dialogue for generations. This is a remarkable show and a home run for Aperture. If you love photography, don't miss it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Akron Day 3 -- Laura Bidwell collection visit

My 3rd day in Akron I had the chance to view the collection of Laura and Fred Bidwell. The Bidwells were instrumental in making the Akron Art Museum expansion happen, and I knew that they are passionate photography collectors. They had an architect design their home for the optimal pleasure in viewing their collection. As I walked into the foyer of their home, the treasures that Laura first showed me did not disappoint.

First to catch my eye was a photograph that is among my favorites of all contemporary photographs: an Adam Fuss Daguerreotype of a water drop. I love this work and lust after it every time I see it. (The Daguerreotype theme was extended in another room with a haunting and lovely Dag of hands done by New York artist Jerry Spagnoli). Also in the foyer was work of Susan Derges. Those who read my blogs from the London shows know how much I like and admire this artist. A fine example from the "Observer and the observed" series was on view.

Photography fills this home. It is on every wall and catches your eye wherever you look. I could write a laundry list of the artists that fill the collection, but I think it's more important to say something else. I was really struck by how the Bidwells have commited to live with the art that they buy. It fills their home, their eyes, and their thoughts. While there are some "greatest hits" photographs, I was more struck by how personal the collection is. The Bidwells have followed their own muses. Also notable is how they have positioned the art so it creates conversations among the works. There are no real themes at play, but Laura and Fred have found harmonious juxtapositions that really encourage the art to comment on itself. The Dags are one example of this, but there are also interesting threads that include water, statuary, and cityscapes. It was a pleasure to see.

Before I finish, I can't resist mentioning a few more faves. I loved the Abe Morrell camera obscura scene in the front hall as well as the two Tim Lehmachers to the immediate right and left a you walk in. Upstairs are 2 monumental Lynn Davis photos that provide endless opportunity for reflection and meditation in the bedroom. This collection visit was a perfect way to sum up my Akron trip.

When I was a child in Akron, my parents filled our home with art and artists. When I think back, I remember Akron as a place that was ripe with creative people and artistic pursuits. Coming back as an adult, I see it hasn't changed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Akron Day 2 -- In the archives

I am a big fan of the dye transfer photographs of Harry Callahan. There were 3 beautiful ones included in the room devoted to Callahan in the Akron Art Museum's photo galleries. When I commented on how much I loved them, Barbara mentioned that she had had to choose 3 favorites from a group of 21 that the museum owns. I asked if I might be able to take a look. Barbara was most generous in letting me come back the next day to take a look.

Arnold Tunstall, the museum's registrar, met me to lead me down to a room where he had the prints laid out for me to see. We went through three different boxes. Wow, what a treat. I think this is some of Callahan's least known work. Some of it recalls his best known black and white street scenes only now re imagined in layered, deep, dye transfer color. There were two photos that were like photograms or collage constructions. Unusual and hypnotic. The best of these for me, though, were multiple exposures that also often contained reflections in glass. The frame was filled with information. I could see in one moment a brilliant formal study and in another moment a jumble of conflicting metaphoric images. In one moment a surreal study would fill my view, in another moment I could see a crystal clear street scene that was documentary in its voice (a few were eerie premonitions of Philip Lorca di Corcia's work). That all of this philosophical layering was compounded and enriched by the literal layering of the dye transfer process made these photos a complete delight. I just love this kind of work -- work that provides a doorway in and yet provides and endless labyrinth to explore once you walk inside.

I know there's no shortage of books on Callahan and even a few choice examples of his color work. I would love to see a monograph devoted explicitly to his exploration of the dye transfer process. I believe it would yield wonders.

Thanks again to Barbara and Arnie for the Akron Art Museum for giving me the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful work. If you can find examples of this work, check it out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Akron Day 1 -- Akron Art Museum

Ok, I'll confess up front, with pride and a straight face -- I was born in Akron, Ohio. This area that was famous for rubber factories, burning rivers, and skies made rainbow beautiful from the pollution burning off in the lower atmosphere, is nothing like what it was in the days of my youth. Still, then as now, northeast Ohio is filled with fine artists and remarkable cultural institutions.

One institution that has run in a thread through my entire life is the Akron Art Museum. It is where I took my first art classes and learned about primary and secondary colors. It's where my father took art classes and met the community of artists whose work still hangs on his walls. Later, I met director Mitchell Kahan and chief curator Barbara Tannenbaum who came to the museum in 1986 and 1985 respectively. They introduced me to Duane Michals in person and to the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Harry Callahan, and Ralph Eugene Meatyard in the collection. The Peter Keetmans I own I first saw at the exhibition in Akron of the Irmas collection of self portraits. It is one of my favorite all-time shows.

The Akron Art Museum embarked on an ambitious expansion project a few years ago. Last July the project reached its completion with a gala re-opening of a beautiful new space and a dramatic increase in its gallery space. (Read more about the new building, the architects, and the museum at Today, at the invitation of Mitchell and Barbara, my family and I had the pleasure of a private tour of the new museum space and the collection.

Above you can see a few pictures of the new lobby which feature a Claes Oldenberg and a color wall drawing by Sol LeWitt. To those of you who may be surprised to hear the names Oldenberg and LeWitt mentioned in the same sentence as Akron Art Museum, prepare to be genuinely astonished. The Akron Art Museum has some really, really good art. Art that would be at home in any major institution anywhere. And lest you think that Akron is just following in the wake of its bigger city sister museums, one look at acquisition dates on the exhibition cards tells you that this museum has been consistently ahead of the pack.

My favorite example of this refers back to my blog from the Venice Biennial. Remember those massive, byzantine, bewitching wall hangings from El Anatsui? Well, guess what the Akron Art Museum has. I was informed by Barbara that the Biennial catalog needed to use a photo of the one in Akron because they couldn't get photos of the Venice ones in time for the catalog. Cool.

Also, Akron has a stunning display of the work of Chuck Close. Next to a large scale painting of "Linda" are 5 dye transfer "studies" for the painting. Each photo is gridded out in Mr. Close's well-known detailed working method with paint on the margins exploring the palette necessary to match each layer of the dye transfer emulsions. That the artist took the time and care to make a dye transfer for each stage of his working process shows that these photos are not just studies. They also cast brilliant light on the finished painting. It was a treat to see.

Also on view were first rate work by Doris Salcedo, Oscar Munoz, and two sculptural chairs by Yayoi Kusama. Mitchell confided that one of these were donated from a gallery that, at the time(1970), couldn't find a buyer. The other was donated by a collector who had bought it from another collector for whom the work was just too unusual. Mitchell still thinks they're marvelous, but he mused that the fact that they are much sought after now points to the fickle nature of the art market.

Akron Art Museum has long had a reputation for its photographic eye and photo holdings. When the noted photographer John Coplans was its director, he brought many of his colleagues to show at the museum and a few found their way into the collection. Barbara Tannenbaum has furthered and expanded on this history. Some of you will know her from her work on many well known photo books including an important monograph on Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

In 1991, the museum started the Knight Purchase Award for Photographic Media. With a grant from the Knight Foundation, Akron Art Museum was able to collect in relative depth work of a variety of living artists. Often, the purchase of the work from the Knight Fund, spurred local philanthropists to add more work by the same artist. The roster of artists that have been chosen is remarkable not only for the high level of art but also for the fact that there are no weak links. If you look at the roster of prize winners at any cultural institution, one expects to find hits and misses. It's inevitable. I challenge anyone to name the weak link in this roster:

Vito Acconci
Dieter Appelt
Harry Callahan
Sophie Calle
John Coplans
Samuel Fosso
Adam Fuss (including one of my favorite smoke photograms)
Gilbert & George
Eikoh Hosoe
Isaac Julien
Mary Ellen Mark
Richard Misrach
Oscar Muñoz
Robert Rauschenberg
Thomas Struth
Hiroshi Sugimoto
Carrie Mae Weems

As we toured the exhibition space devoted to the Knight purchases, I was struck by the depth represented of each artist -- a room of Callahan, a room of Sugimoto, a wall of Weems, a room of Misrach. This is a fabulous collection. Its been put together with love, intelligence, connoiseurship, and taste. It also points to what can be done with a limited initial gift when it is handled so deftly. One doesn't need to make a Rockefeller-sized gift to me the seed of an important and satisfying collection. Other smaller institutions would do well to study Akron's example.
Though Akron is prettier than it was when I was boy, I still can't say that it's a destination travel locale. But if you want to see a really exciting and satisfying art collection with an emphasis on photography, go to Akron. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Isidro Blasco

I had the pleasure of making a visit to the studio of Isidro Blasco last week. I first became aware of Isidro's work at the booth of DCKT Gallery at SCOPE art fair a year and a half ago. I continue to be intrigued by his work. Isidro was trained as an architect, and he carries a fascination with form, shape and perspective into his art.

His work is a kind of photo/sculpture hybrid. He constructs wooden platforms and facets onto which he decontructs perspective and the two dimensional nature of a photograph. His work reminds me of the polaroid collages of David Hockney in their exploration of the limits of a two dimensional photograph. As they are truly three dimensional works, they are best experienced in person. I encourage anyone interested in a fresh photographic perspective to check him out. His website is:
He is represented by:
DCKT Contemporary
Galeria Fucares