Victorians of the Desert

13/03/2013 § 5 Comments

Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten Jim Naughten

Photographer Jim Naughten‘s amazing portraits of the Herero people of Namibia are currently on display at Margaret Street Gallery in London, as part of an exhibit called “Conflict and Costume,” which you definitely should not miss, should you be in the area. It looks to be an exceptionally thought-provoking examination of the intersection of colonialism, culture, tradition, fashion and identity. The beautiful portraits, starkly posed against the barren Namibian desert, closely focus on the tribe’s unique costume — Victorian era dresses for the women, German paramilitary uniforms for the men. Adopted from their colonizers, and slowly personalized with ethnic textiles and the “cow horn” headdresses you see on the women (the Herero people are pastoralists and place high value on their livestock), the Herero tribe honors their warrior ancestors by continuing this sartorial tradition to present day.

Luckily, for those of us unable to make it to London,
you can purchase Naughten’s book here.

Jim Naughten: Conflict and Costume
Runs through April 13, 2013
Margaret Street Gallery
63 Margaret Street

**UPDATE**  I’ve just been alerted that there is a simultaneous NYC Naughten exhibit at the Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn, running through May 4, 2013!  In fact, the opening reception is tomorrow night (Thursday, March 14, 6 to 8pm)!  Considering that the price for me to view these portraits just dropped from a transatlantic flight to subway fare, there’s no chance I’ll be missing them!

Jim Naughten: Conflict and Costume
Klompching Gallery
111 Front Street, Suite 206

On The Docket: Ezra Stoller at the Yossi Milo Gallery

30/01/2013 § Leave a comment

Ezra StollerTWA Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, Eero Saarinen, New York, NY, 1962

Recently opened and simultaneously placed on the docket, the Yossi Milo Gallery in Chelsea is currently showing a collection of photographs taken by Ezra Stoller (American, 1915 – 2004), one of the most influential photographers of modern architecture.  Entitled “Beyond Architecture,” the exhibit highlights the photographer’s range by juxtaposing Stoller’s rarely-seen images of industry and transportation alongside his well-known architectural photography.  Initially I most looked forward to Stoller’s photos of iconic modern New York buildings like the UN and the TWA Terminal, but I find that I am increasingly drawn to the narrative quality of his photos of working class Americans, their places of work or business, and their homes.  The exhibit is a fascinating look at a mid-century America through Stoller’s inestimably talented eye, and I won’t be missing it.

Ezra Stoller: Beyond Architecture
January 24–March 2, 2013

Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Avenue

Ezra StollerEzra Stoller Ezra Stoller Ezra StollerUnited Nations, International Team of Architects Led by Wallace K. Harrison,
New York, NY
, 1954 Ezra Stoller Ezra Stoller Ezra Stoller Ezra StollerGuggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright, New York, NY, 1959 Ezra StollerSeagram Building, Mies van der Rohe with Philip Johnson, New York, NY, 1958 Ezra StollerPepsi Cola Building, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, New York, NY, 1960 Ezra StollerCBS Columbia, Long Island City, NY, 1954Ezra StollerOlivetti Underwood Factory, Louis Kahn, Harrisburg, PA, 1969 Ezra StollerDuplan Silk Mills, 1943  Ezra StollerJohn Hancock Chicago construction, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill,
Chicago, IL
, 1967 Ezra Stoller Ezra StollerJohn Hancock Building, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Chicago, IL, 1970

All images by Ezra Stoller, via Yossi Milo Gallery.

On the Docket: George Bellows at The Metropolitan Museum

15/11/2012 § 2 Comments

Very excited that the retrospective George Bellows, the first comprehensive examination of the great American realist painter’s career in nearly fifty years, opened today at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Perhaps best known for his depictions of boxers and early 20th century New York, Bellows has long been a favorite of mine.  I’ve included here some of the iconic works on display (which you can click through to appreciate in greater detail), but I am most looking forward to making new discoveries in his oeuvre, particularly in the area of lithography.

Of the nearly 120 works on display at the exhibition, approximately a third are devoted to scenes of New York.  Some, like the Cliff Dwellers (1913) below, offer insight into tenement life in Lower Manhattan with rich detail — did you notice the street car on its way to Vesey Street?  Bellows was a member of the Ashcan School, a realistic artistic movement in direct response to American Impressionism and its celebration of light.  Darker in tone and unafraid of dealing with the harsh realities of poverty and the unsavory characters of urban life, Ashcan School art challenges the viewer with its journalistic pursuit of truth.  Fittingly, Bellows’ canvas Up the Hudson (1908) holds the distinction of being the first Ashcan painting acquired by the Metropolitan, in 1911.  The artist was only 29 at the time, making him one of the youngest artists represented in the museum’s collection.

George Bellows is on display at The Metropolitan until February 18, 2013, after which it will travel to the Royal Academy of Arts, London (March 16 – June 2013).

New York by George Bellows

George Bellows
November 15, 2012 — February 18, 2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York City by André Kertész

26/09/2012 § 2 Comments

“I write with light.”
— André Kertész

How I adore The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of
André Kertész photographs taken in New York.

Study: Wintry Contrast

07/11/2011 § Leave a comment

President Theodore Roosevelt, 1903, by John Singer Sargent.

The descent of nearly three inches of snow on New York on Halloween, had me snowbound and bundled in my bed for a good few hours, watching the swirling flurries fall from the darkened sky.  This wintry contrast was echoed when I took in a performance of 69°South at BAM this week, a dramatic interpretation of the ill-fated Endurance Expedition headed up by Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1914.  The show was an remarkably creative retelling of an amazing story of perseverance and survival, set on the barren ice floes of Antarctica. Fittingly, the stage was almost entirely white, with the dark woolens of the marionettes standing out in stark contrast.  The show immediately made me want to see the actual pictures from the expedition, taken by its official photographer, Frank Hurley.

Hurley photographing the Endurance.

Hurley’s pictures of the ship Endurance are among the most interesting to me.  The juxtaposition of the dark, hulking ship, trapped and ultimately claimed by the ice, are striking.  Everything is darkness and light.  Desperation and the stubborn emergence of life.  Snow and ice everywhere.

Initially outfitted with a full retinue of camera equipment, when the Endurance was abandoned Hurley was required to strip down his gear to the essentials.  He was left with a single vest pocket Kodak camera and three rolls of film.  He took only 38 photographs throughout the remainder of the expedition, which lasted over two years.  They, along with the 120 glass negatives he saved, document the long, difficult trip back to civilization.

Shackleton.  All Hurley photographs via State Library of New South Wales.

The wintry contrast also reminded me of one of my favorite American painters, John Singer Sargent (January 12, 1856 – April 14, 1925), and his luxurious Edwardian portraits.  Sargent, an American expat born in Italy with deep familial roots in New England, was a fabulously successful portraitist during his lifetime, capturing some of the most important figures in American and European society.  Emerging from a yawning, darkened background, Sargent often draws the viewer’s attention to a gleaming shirt collar, a bit of lace or a flash of porcelain skin…  Not unlike snow I saw, silently falling on Halloween or the vast ice floes in Hurley’s photographs.  Life emerging.  Light emerging.  Darkness and light.

The story of the impending winter months…

Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, 1888.

Caspar Goodrich, 1887.

Henry James, 1913.

Elizabeth Winthrop Chanler (Mrs. John Jay Chapman), 1893.

Edith, Lady Playfair (Edith Russell), 1884.

Homer Saint-Gaudens and his Mother, 1890.

Mrs. Joshua Montgomery Sears, 1899.

Spanish Dancer, 1880

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) is noted for his lyrical style and was the most famous poet of his time.  Born in Portland, Maine, he no doubt was well familiar with the stark beauty of snowy winters.  I love the image of the snow as shaken from the garments of  “Air,” represented as a mythical woman in his poem Snow-flakes — so quietly sad, yet beautiful.

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Out of the bosom of the Air,
      Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
      Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
            Silent, and soft, and slow
            Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
      Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
      In the white countenance confession,
            The troubled sky reveals
            The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
      Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
      Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
            Now whispered and revealed
            To wood and field.

Portrait of Madame X, 1884.

Thus, these men who were the most important in their fields — polar exploration, portraiture, and poetry — in their lifetimes, all have me thinking about the winter months that are to come.

Re-Mastered {Yves Saint Laurent, 1999}

07/10/2011 § 3 Comments

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
Edouard Manet, c. 1862

This classic Yves Saint Laurent campaign that echoes several iconic paintings, photographed by Mario Sorrenti in 1999, is a favorite of mine.  Yes, Christian Louboutin also had a more recent campaign along this same theme, but those photographs were merely exacting reproductions of the originals, with a stiletto thrown into the mix.  Pretty to look at, but not much more.  Appropriately coming from the House of Le Smoking, the YSL images are much more interesting for their deft play with the concepts of gender and gender roles.  My absolute favorite image is this first one above, based on Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (one of my first stops whenever visiting the Musée d’Orsay in Paris).  I’ve always wondered why the ladies were naked whilst the men were so very buttoned up.  What kind of luncheon is that?  Extra points for Kate Moss in a suit, of course…

Even more interesting is the image based on Fragonard’s Le Verrou, where a image of sex, violence and male domination is flipped on its head.  Again, with Kate Moss at the helm, it is she who is clutching a lithe youth who is shown naked — he is given no courtesy of a layered gown like the woman in the Fragonard painting — and overwhelmed.  It is Kate who is reaching up to secure the bolt on the door.  It is a woman who overpowers here, a woman who who dominates.  (Yes, we do have to cast aside the crucial fact that he very well could reach the bolt if he wanted to, unlike the woman in the Fragonard painting.)

But, wait...

Do you feel the instinct — as I do — to cast the scene differently when looking at Kate?  Do you interpret her furrowed brow as concern?  That she is she opening the door and not closing it?  That something else is happening?  Something tender?

Is this merely because the antagonist is a woman…?
Look again.  Compare the two.  How different are they, truly?

And that is why I will always, always, always prefer this campaign over a few pictures of pretty models, classically styled, with a few shoes placed at strategic intervals.

But that’s just me.

Le Verrou
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c.1780

Edouard Manet, c. 1863

Jeune homme nu assis au bord de la mer
Hippolyte Flandrin, c.1836

Le sommeil
Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet, c.1866

La baigneuse de Valpincon
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, c.1808

Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters
School of Fontainebleau, c. 1594

Vénus à son miroir
Diego Velazquez, c.1647-51

Les Trois Grâces
Jean-Baptiste Regnault, c.1799

Magdalen with the Smoking Flame
Georges de la Tour, c. 1640

La Gioconda
Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1503–1519

YSL campaign images via The Style Registry.

Burning Bright

28/09/2011 § Leave a comment

Dreams of Rousseau’s  jungle scenes and Blake’s tyger.
Is it all this talk of travel and adventure…?

French painter Henri Julien Felix Rousseau (May 21, 1844 – September 2, 1910) is the most celebrated of the naïvist artists.  Largely ridiculed in his lifetime for his simplistic style, Rousseau’s fame came posthumously.

“Picasso could never have painted Guernica without that gentle innocent, Henri Rousseau.” (See: When Henri Met Pablo)

From the verdant density of the jungle, to the wide eyes of the wild cats, to the streaming mane of the woman, of the gypsy, of the horse…it is like Rousseau has a secret window into my sleeping mind.  Rousseau paints my dreams, dreams that are always just slightly too surreal to be real…

Rousseau’s final masterpiece, The Dream (1910).

[Rousseau’s] …best known paintings depict jungle scenes, even though he never left France or saw a jungle. Stories spread by admirers that his army service included the French expeditionary force to Mexico are unfounded. His inspiration came from illustrated books and the botanical gardens in Paris, as well as tableaux of “taxidermified” wild animals. He had also met soldiers, during his term of service, who had survived the French expedition to Mexico and listened to their stories of the subtropical country they had encountered. To the critic Arsene Alexandre, he described his frequent visits to the Jardin des Plantes: “When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands, it seems to me that I enter into a dream.

Rousseau’s big cats have been stalking my mind.
The leopard, the lion, the tyger…

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake, 1794

Like Rousseau, English poet William Blake (November 28, 1757 – August 12, 1827) was largely unrecognized during his lifetime.  He has since been recognized as an important member of the Romantic Movement.

Dior Illustrated: René Gruau and the Line of Beauty

23/12/2010 § 1 Comment

While I was in London, I had the good fortune to catch the René Gruau exhibition at the Somerset House.  If you are able to make it there before it closes, you must go!  Gruau was a renowned fashion illustrator who was a creative collaborator and close friend of Christian Dior.  Gruau’s campaigns for the Dior perfumes are among his most notable work as an artist.  Gruau’s style was modern, elegant and frequently a bit mischievous.  His haute couture illustrations for the pages of magazines like Marie Claire, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar changed the way that fashion designers and their designs were publicized.  Today’s fashion editorials owe a deep debt to illustrators like Gruau.

Unfortunately photography was forbidden inside, but the Somerset House has posted a brief film about the exhibition, which is the first showing of Gruau’s work in London.

Runs through Jan 9.
Somerset House – Strand London WC2R 1LA – Tel: +44 (0)20 7845 4600

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