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This series is in progress. It is dedicated to the European artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who saw lines and forms, colors and dimensions in radically new ways. In the process, they challenged long-held assumptions on the nature of art, what it is and can be, and how it is made.
Among the German Expressionists who used color and distorted forms to convey feelings and a deeply subjective vision, Franz Marc stands out for his empathetic treatment of animals. "Is there any more mysterious idea for an artist," he asked, "than the conception of how nature is mirrored in the eyes of an animal?" His goal was to paint the perceptions of animals from their point of view, not ours.
The photograph below is titled Perception. It is a tribute to Marc and, at the same time, an initial experiment in conveying emotion in and of itself in a black and white photograph. Marc's animals are often seen in a state of heightened alarm as they struggle to survive in a menacing world. This photograph was taken on a windy day as shadows from tree branches moved across a wall. It is indebted to Marc for its underpinnings of diagonals interrupted by verticals, which seem to convey a strong sense of anxiety.
Franz Marc, Deer in a Monastery Garden, 1912
The readymades of Marcel Duchamp are ordinary manufactured objects that the artist selected, altered to varying degrees or merely re-positioned, signed and called art. In a single stroke, he challenged centuries of assumptions on what art is and is not. The most scandalous of the readymades was a urinal titled Fountain, signed by Duchamp as R. Mutt (the name is a reference to JL Mott Ironworks, the manufacturer). Duchamp submitted it to the Society of Independent Artists for exhibition in 1917. Although the Society made it known that all submissions would be accepted (“No judge, No Prize"), Duchamp's Fountain was rejected on the grounds that it was not art. It remained in the exhibition space for the duration of the show, behind partitions and likely never seen.
Everyday objects still offer themselves up as readymades.This is an unaltered photograph of a shower head that has conveniently labeled its nose "air" for an otherwise theatrical appearance.
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917
In the summer of 1915, Francis Picabia published four "object portraits" in 291, a literary and arts magazine.Three of the portraits portray creators of the magazine, identified in the works as Alfred Stieglitz, artist Marius de Zayas, and photographer/critic Paul Haviland. Portrait d'une jeune fille américaine dans l'état de nudité, the fourth portrait, was not similarly identified, however, there was a fourth founder of the magazine, collector/poet Agnes E. Meyer. Some have argued by deduction that it is a portrait of her, but there is little to connect her to it.
In this series of photographs, Picabia's work is regarded more broadly as part of a longstanding tradition of distancing a woman from a work of art. The sentiment is echoed back in this photograph, which recasts Picabia's treatment as Portrait d'un jeune homme français dans l'état de nudité.
Portrait d'un jeune homme français dans l'état de nudité
Francis Picabia, Portrait d'une jeune fille américaine dans l'état de nudité, 1915
Paul Cezanne, Basket of Apples, c 1893
Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine, 1887
Paul Cezanne's innovations are the bridge that spans the 19th and 20th centuries. His emphasis on interrupting the content of a single plane and his desire to unite on the picture surface what lies at different depths are seen in his Basket of Apples, where a distorted table seems to have no right angles much less a level top, and in Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine where a tall tree brings everything to the picture surface.
Both concepts are explored in this photograph titled Farm View.
Regarded as one of the precursors of German Expressionism, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch lived and worked in Berlin throughout much of the 1890s where he became part of a provocative circle of artists and writers known as Zum Schwarzen Ferkel (The Black Pig). Cross-currents of industrialization and feminism, particularly suffrage campaigns, had unleashed a wave of new freedoms for women. However, this avant-garde group of mostly men responded with degrees of contempt for the women who embraced these freedoms. This charged image by Munch was originally titled Love and Pain, and renamed Vampire by a friend. While there is much to observe in it, it is the woman's tangled hair, more than her dominant position, that allows her to control the man and the composition. Ensnaring and annihilating, it graphically reflects woman as a destroyer of men.
It was difficult not to think of this work when happening upon a tree entangled by vines. This photograph is titled Love and Pain.
Edvard Munch, Vampire, 1902
Love and Pain
VINCENT VAN GOGH
This photograph is a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh whose frequent use of plunging lines and high horizons destabilized his compositions. They can be seen as a commentary on modern life and the inner turmoil it often creates. Landscape as a state of mind was a powerful aspect of his work.
This photograph was taken at the “Old Watergate” in Washington, DC, where the Marine Band once performed in a floating clamshell sort of stage on the Potomac River. The steps served as audience seating. Their solid, triangular shape contrasts with the ephemeral sky, destabilizing in itself but all the more so in the presence of a steep horizon line.
Vincent Van Gogh, Landscape at St. Remy, 1889
* With special thanks to Norma Broude, whose lectures on this period were an inspiration