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Friday, November 2, 2012

Sex and serials at the National Gallery of Art

Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, probably 1918, National Gallery of Art, Alfred Stieglitz Collection

Pictures tell a thousand words, but in some instances, far fewer words come to mind.

Come and see the picture serials show at the National Gallery of Art which is all about the use of the camera to interpret and record effects of relationships and life on one person by photographing the same individual over and over a period of time.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) whose works begin the show, said a single photograph of one person "is as futile as to demand that a motion picture will be condensed into a single still."  (Said Earl A. Powell III, the National Gallery's director, "it is fitting" to open the exhibition with Stieglitz since it was Stieglitz who essentially started the National Gallery's photography collection with the donation of his "key set.")

The exhibition is entitled "The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years." 

That the National Gallery owns more than 300 photographs made by Stieglitz of his wife and artist Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) made it difficult to narrow and determine choices for the display which includes 153 works by 20 artists, said Sarah Kennel, the curator.
The "dynamic relationship" between Stieglitz and O'Keeffe began in New York in 1916 although he was married at the time and 23 years older.  He was captivated by O'Keeffe, an attraction made stronger with the knowledge another artist and competitor, Paul Strand (1890-1976), was romantically involved with her.

In the first gallery are sensual portraits Stieglitz made of O’Keeffe and of another artist, too, another woman, Rebecca Salsbury Strand, wife of Paul Strand.  The Strand photos were made when Stieglitz and "Beck" vacationed together at the Stieglitz summer home at Lake George, N.Y. Paul Strand and O'Keeffe were both conveniently away at the time.  (O'Keeffe, gone to New Mexico where she took annual summer sojourns to work alone and escape the Stieglitz family.) (Where is the book on this menage a quatre?  I would like to read it.) 

Hanging beside the Stieglitz pictures are three photographs of Beck, made by Paul Strand, which capture "sexual tensions," said Ms. Kennel. Two were made the same year that Stieglitz photographed Beck at the lake house. (Which or who came first?) 

Paul Strand, Rebecca, 1922, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Southwestern Bell Corp. Paul Strand Collection, copyright Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive

Another husband and wife combination in the same gallery are photographs from 1963 to 2002 of "Edith," wife of Emmet Gowin (b. 1941).  Many were taken in Danville, Virginia, where Emmet Gowin was born.  One interpretation says the Gowin works are not quite as invasive as Stieglitz's shots of O'Keeffe.  Gowin recently retired from Princeton University and lives with Edith in Pennsylvania. 

Emmet Gowin, Edith, Danville, Virginia, 1971, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons' Permanent Fund, copyright Emmet and Edith Gowin, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

Gowin was influenced by Harry Callahan (1912-1999), another featured photographer whose works also hang in the first gallery. 

Last winter Callahan had his own show at the National Gallery of Art where pictures of his wife, Eleanor, and daughter, Barbara, were primary subjects, but Eleanor claims the stage today.  Before she died last February, she and Barbara gave many more of Callahan’s works to the National Gallery. 

In the next gallery a viewer finds serials made by Milton Rogovin (1909-2011), whose occupation was optometry, but whose passion was photographing the lower and working classes around the world, a passion he was able to pursue after his eye business declined when he refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1957.

Although he was never convicted of any crime, Rogovin was designated a person with “dangerous and irresponsible” views (Wikipedia).  Today, he would be a hero.

Rogovin's son, Mark, and daughter-in-law were in Washington for the opening of the photography show, and Mark remarked that his father "would be so overtaken by all of this," happily surprised to know he had pictures hanging at the National Gallery of Art. 
Indeed, the hearings permitted Rogovin's photography skills to "blossom" since they opened up the pathway to fulfillment of a dream, said Michelle Melin-Rogovin.

Mark Rogovin with his father's Appalachia (Working People series) 1981 or what Michelle Melin-Rogovin called the "poodle lady portrait." Dr. J. Patrick and Patricia A. Kennedy gave it to the National Gallery of Art/Patricia Leslie

In his pictures, Rogovin reveals human change, some over three decades. The photographer was an Army veteran, deeply affected by the Great Depression and the poverty he witnessed. 

Across from Rogovin's works and facing viewers as they enter the second gallery are the famous Brown sister portraits, shots taken every year of four sisters, Heather, Mimi, Bebe, and Laurie, between 1975 and 2011 by Nicholas Nixon, husband of Bebe.  It is an injustice to pass these by quickly without study, for an appraisal brings recognition of the different postures, distances, expressions, appearances, and change between and of the foursome which produces a measure of comfort and identity with their emotions, likely experienced by each one of us at one time or another towards our own family members, and those we love (and may hate).

This response enables self-tolerance. See what you think.

Nicholas Nixon, The Brown Sisters, 1975, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons' Permanent Fund, copyright Nicholas Nixon, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

Nicholas Nixon, The Brown Sisters, Truro, MA, 2010, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert and Elizabeth Fisher Fund, copyright Nicholas Nixon, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

And there's lots more.

Curator Sarah Kennel talks about Ilse Bing's Self-Portrait with Leica, 1931, a gift to the National Gallery of Art from Ilse Bing Wolff/Patricia Leslie

Other photographers who have works in the exhibition are Ilse Bing, Lee Friedlander, Francesca Woodman, Vito Acconci, Blythe Bohnen, Ann Hamilton, Nikki S. Lee, Gillian Wearing, André Kertész,  Arnulf Rainer, Nan Goldin, Tomoko Sawada, and Vibeke Tandberg.

Francesca Woodman, Self-deceit #1, Rome, 1978, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection
But back to O'Keeffe and Stieglitz for just a moment:  During "the most prolific part of his life," says Wikipedia, Stieglitz photographed O'Keeffe more than 350 times between 1918 and 1925.  Ms. Kennel noted their "intensely passionate relationship, especially in the early years," which drifted into something "attenuated" in the 1930s.  O'Keeffe spent a lot of time every year in New Mexico. 
Returning from her trip that summer when her lover, Stieglitz, and Beck Strand mingled, O'Keeffe was immediately suspicious but chose to ride out the storm which didn't last long anyway.  Two years later in 1924 she married Stieglitz, and five years later, enjoyed her own relationship with Beck Strand, says Wikipedia. 

Complementing the exhibition are talks, films, and a magnificent 35-page digital brochure available at the National Gallery's website or here , a great substitute if you can't get there.   

Filmmaker James Benning will be in Washington December 8 and 9 for presentation of three of his creations.

Films will be screened in the East Building Auditorium where seating is first come, first served.

The Fancy and The Woodmans
November 28, 29, and 30, 12:30 p.m.
The Fancy is a short work completed before the recent scholarly interest in Francesca Woodman’s work. (Elizabeth Subrin, 2000, 36 minutes) The Woodmans investigates the legacy of photographer Francesca Woodman through interviews with her parents and brother, all artists themselves. Francesca committed suicide in 1981 at age 22. (C. Scott Willis, 2010, 82 minutes)

Twenty Cigarettes
with James Benning in person
December 8, 2:30 p.m.
Using advanced digital technology, James Benning, centers this film around the life of a lit cigarette for each subject in a series of portraits. One pack, 20 people: framed and alone with the camera for as long as it takes to smoke one. (2011, HD, 99 minutes)

small roads
with James Benning in person
December 8, 4:30 p.m.
Presenting 47 shots of roads crisscrossing the United States from the Pacific coast to the Midwest, this film is best described, according to Benning, “by making a list of the roads in question and the cars that drive on them.” (2011, HD, 103 minutes)

Two Cabins
with James Benning in person
December 9, 4:30 p.m.
The two cabins built by Benning are replicas of Henry David Thoreau’s at Walden Pond and Ted Kaczynski’s (the Unabomber) in Montana, used as foundations for reflection of “utopian and dystopian versions of social isolation.”  A discussion follows the screening (60 minutes).

Gallery Talks

The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years
November 2–4, 28–30, noon
Adam Davies
West Building Rotunda
60 minutes

Bread and Roses: The Photographs of Milton Rogovin
November 7, 15, 17, 19, noon
Maryanna Ramirez
West Building Rotunda
20 minutes
The National Gallery's Ksenya Gurshtein assisted in production of the exhibition made possible by the Trellis Fund.

What:  The Serial Portrait: Photography and Identity in the Last One Hundred Years
When:  Every day from now through Dec. 31, 2012, from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday - Saturday; 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday, and closed on Christmas Day

Where: The National Gallery of Art, West Building, Ground Floor, photography galleries. (The closest entrance is on Seventh Avenue, NW.) The National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden is located at the National Mall along Constitution Avenue and between Third and Ninth Streets.

How much:  Admission is always free
For more information:  (202) 737-4215

Metro station: Judiciary Square, Navy Memorial-Archives, or the Smithsonian
1-800-PetMeds Private Label

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