Sunday, July 13, 2014

Looking for Inspiration and rediscovering Art

With assignment 5 now completed, it is time to think a little about where I am, where I have been and where I am going.  This post is not a "formal" reflection on the course, rather it reflects upon a very disturbing realization. During the 2 years it took me to complete SocDoc I did not visit a gallery or engage in any way with the broader world of art.  I became very inward looking and insular, somehow trapped in a soulless cave of introspection and angst. As I look back on the train wreck that my degree studies have become the lack of engagement with the art world stands out.  However, this is something that can be easily fixed and on Friday I started what I hope is a kind of healing process and re-engagement with visual art.

I took a day off and walked across the city to the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich's modern art gallery.  Specifically I went to see the following exhibition:

August Sander was an early discovery for me in my study of photography, a man who created a unique body of work that attempted to catalog the German people through a series of portraits that captured the differing professions and classes present in 1920s Germany. He was vilified by the Nazis who destroyed the plates for the book he created and sadly much of his original work was destroyed by an allied bombing raid.  However, some original work remains and once again it was a thrilling experience to get close to works of art about which I had read so much.

Munich has a group of 5 art museums, 4 of which are co-located and make up an area called the Kunst Arreal.  Each houses a different body of work, generally moving from past to present from museum to museum.  For 90 Euros it is possible to get a pass that gets you into any of them, including special exhibits for a period of a year - good value, but only if you go frequently.  Well, that is my plan.  Next weekend I shall be back as the Brandhorst museum has a major Richard Avedon exhibit.  Not exactly my thing, but fabulous to get a chance to see work by a major artist.

Just visiting the Pinakothek der Moderne is a joy, the building is wonderful and the space is always filled with something or another, this time straw bails littered the lawn outside, but made of plastic drinking straws rather than the more traditional material.  Hard to do justice in a photo, but these objects supplied colour and humor to the museum entrance.

I am also unable to not take photographs of the fabric of the museum, it has featured in a fair number of courses and assignment submissions.

The museum is predominantly focused on modern art of the 20th century, from paintings and sculpture, through to room sized installations, such as the magical light sculptures below.  Created by Dan Flavin, there is something about a sculpture of light that appeals to me as a photographer, I try to capture and describe light, Flavin's work creates it.  The work also had a strange affect on the eyes, leaving the room everything was a rose pink, that over a couple of seconds white balanced back to normality.  The art had not only impressed with its shape and form but it also changed how my brain interpreted colour, questioning reality and revealing that what we see is merely an interpretation of the mind.

Another key benefit of visiting art galleries is to look at how work is presented, how artists assemble their vision for exhibition.  These strangely childlike drawings became more powerful when displayed as a block of images spanning a 10 meter wide wall.  Individually they are a little banal, together they are fascinating.

However, the most marvelous discovery from my visit was finding that the museum has changed its hanging policy for its photography collection.  Mixed in among the sculptures and paintings were small groups of photographs, the ones below are Lewis Baltz.  I always knew that the museum had a strong photograph collection, but not as good as this.  I like the fact that they are not poked away in a side gallery, but hung alongside work by Picasso.  In doing so the gallery gives equal predominance to photography as a medium and provides a through provoking arrangement.

Among the work was Lee Friedlander:

Boris Michailov

And most surprisingly, Diane Arbus.  The photo below has that awkwardness so characteristic of Arbus, people are presented as oddities rather than human beings.

However, the point of the visit was to see original work by August Sander.  Below is my personal favorite and a photo so characteristic of his honest and revealing style.  The subject confronts the camera and is clearly going about his daily work.  The contrast is powerful and the engagement with the subject clearly present.

Accompanying the works by Sanders were photographs by other German artists who have grown up with his influence.  Most obvious of all is the work of the Becher's their industrial typologies echoing Sanders catalog of German people.  Their approach also echos the work of Sanders, very factual, front on imagery that also finds its power in being hung as a series.  Individually these are strong images, but collectively they are more.  They invite inspection and comparison.

In the theme of inspiration, work was also present from the Becher's strudents, Thomas Struth

Thomas Ruff

And a huge surprise, Rhien II by Andres Gursky.  Rhein II was the topic of my Landscape essay and to find it here was a huge surprise.  I knew that Gursky was in the exhibit, but not this piece, still the most valuable photograph (by auction price).  Seeing it on a wall and experiencing the immensity of the print finally brought home its value to me.  Although at face value a very simple image standing in front of it, it is immersive.  It draws you into the landscape and holds the gaze.  There is no where to go, I felt as if I was flowing in the space above the river.  magical...

However, the exhibit was about Sander and his landscape work, which whilst impressive in its own right did not compare to the series of beautiful portraits.  This is a fine example of German farm lads dressed up well for a day in town perhaps.  Living here, I can see the echoes of those faces when I am also in the countryside.  The photo is very candid and honest.

It was good to re-engage with art once more, Friday reminded me of why I was doing this degree and brought a feeling of euphoria in rediscovery.

The day after was another art experience.  Each year in Munich, artists in the Schwabing district open the doors to there workshops and studios, inviting the public to join them and see where they work rather than look at the final product.  Heidi and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering from studio to studio. After seeing the work in the gallery this experience further reinforced the sense of wanting to be an artist and a need to strat making my own work once more.  Quite what is another story, but I feel  I am getting back on track.

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