Saturday, January 15, 2022

Women photographers 'shoot to kill' at the National Gallery of Art

Grete Stern (German-Argentine, 1904-1999), Sueño No. 1: "Articulos electricos para el hogar" (Dream No. 1: "Electrical Appliances for the Home"), 1949, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Does this remind you of the leg lamp in A Christmas Story? Total Wines sold out of the six-inch cocktail glass modeled after the leg lamp last Christmas. It and this photograph say to me: "Women are only objects, to turn off and on, at will. " What does it say to you?

It is hard to know where to begin to describe in a few words the outstanding picture show now at the National Gallery of Art which features works by 120 professional women photographers from around the globe spanning the 1920s to 1950s.

On these cold days, you can warm up fast with free admission (always) at the West Building and see what feminists from the last century were thinking.  They were more "advanced" and progressive than you might think.

One of my favorites photographs among the hundreds displayed is the "lamp lady" (above) made by Grete Stern, a Bauhaus student who emigrated to London in 1933 (or 1934, depending upon what you read) from Germany following the rise of Nazism. In London she stayed only two years before moving with her husband, Horacio Coppola, also a photographer, to his native Argentina. 

There, the couple's first show has been called "the first exhibition of modern photography in Argentina." Later, among her other achievements, Ms. Stern made 150 photomontages for a magazine column whose authors analyzed women's dreams. (I would like to see them!)

At the National Gallery of Art, October 26, 2021, framed by Tom's, 1974 by Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Calder Foundation/by Patricia Leslie
Ruth Orkin (American, 1921–1985), Ethel Waters, Carson McCullers, and Julie Harris at the Opening Night Party for "The Member of the Wedding," New York City, 1950, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ruth Orkin, the photographer who took the picture above, is, for some reason, missing from the catalog. (Copyright issues?) Her biography says she received her first camera at age 10, and at age 17, Ms. Orkin took a bicycle trip across the U.S., shooting pictures as she went.

In New York, she photographed celebrities and worked for major magazines. During worldwide travels, she met art student, Nina Lee Craig and together they published, "Don't Be Afraid to Travel Alone," about women traveling after World War II.

Ms. Orkin made two films with her husband and filmmaker, Morris Engel; one, Little Fugitive, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1953.
Lucy Ashjian (American, 1907? 1909? –1993), Savoy Dancers, 1935–1943, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Gregor Ashjian Preston.

The daughter of Armenian refugees, Ms. Ashjian, born in Indianapolis, joined the Communist Party in the 1930s and later graduated from the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York City in 1937.  She was an elected officer and editor for several photographers' groups and was one of 10 photographers who helped produce the Harlem Project. For years one of her photographs was erroneously attributed to Aaron Siskind, according to the catalog.

McCarthyism forced her resignation from the Communist Party around 1949.
Hansel Mieth (German, 1909-1998), March of Dimes Dance, 1943, Collection of Ron Perisho.

Ms. Mieth moved to California in 1930 and worked with her husband, Otto Hagel, documenting societal effects of the Great Depression. A story they undertook for Life in 1943 about a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming was never published. The couple's leftist leanings and German background resulted in fewer assignments during World War II and the 1950s.

Germaine Krull (German, 1897-1985), André Malraux, 1930, National Gallery of Art, R.K. Mellon Family Foundation. "Sharing an interest in photography and leftist politics" the novelist and photographer became close friends who met in the late 1920s, according to label copy. 

The travels of Germaine Krull  included stops in Germany, Hungary, the Soviet Union, the Netherlands, Brazil, Bangkok, and Paris where she enjoyed success in fashion and advertising photography.  She was expelled from Munich because of her left-wing activism and imprisoned in Russia for her "counterrevolutionary support of the Free French cause against Hitler," says the Museum of Modern Art. Twenty-five books, portfolios, and albums were part of her legacy.  Nearing the end of her life, she moved to India where she took up residency with Tibetan monks.

Galina Sanko (Russian, 1904-1981), Prisoners, Stalingrad, 1943, printed c. 1960s, Robert Koch Gallery

Ms. Sanko's career as a photojournalist began in the 1930s in Siberia, followed by stents as a nurse, a driver, and a mechanic before she became a war correspondent, according to the catalog.  Later, she was sent to the frontlines to shoot major Russian battles, including the siege of Leningrad in 1944. 

Her "Prisoners of Fascism" was used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials, and her works won international awards, including the title, "Honorary Citizen of the City of Gdov" for her pictures of the city's destruction in 1944 and its liberation from the Nazis.  Gdov lies about 150 miles southwest of St Petersburg.
Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971), Flood Relief, Louisville, Kentucky, 1937, Keith De Lellis, NY, Margaret Bourke-White/The Life Picture Collection via Getty Images

Ms. Bourke-White's name is generally well-known and shares top female photographer's billing with Dorothea Lange (below).  

Henry Luce hired Ms. Bourke-White in 1929 to be the first staff photographer for Fortune.  In 1939 her picture of the Fort Peck Dam appeared on the cover of the first issue of Life where she was named its first female staff photographer, the only photographer there to have her own office, secretary, and lab assistant.  Assignments took her to the Soviet Union, Africa, and Germany for the liberation of concentration camp victims. Her second marriage to the writer, Erskine Caldwell, resulted in their joint book, You Have Seen Their Faces (1937) about sharecroppers in the American South.

It is likely that Ms Bourke-White's interest in industrial photography stemmed from visits with her father to his manufacturing plants and printing presses, starting when she was eight years old.

Flood Relief shows the dichotomy of the happy, make-believe people in the billboard art, contrasted with the standing souls, waiting for aid. 
Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965), Drought refugees from Oklahoma camping by the roadside, Blythe, California, August 17, 1936, National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser.

If members of the public could name a female photographer, Dorothea Lange would likely come to mind first or second (with Margaret Bourke-White). Ms. Lange worked for various World War II offices and the federal government, taking pictures of immigrants, union members, the homeless, and impoverished. The catalog says she "helped define social documentary photography." 

Note the face of anxiety on the young mother above and the man who exhibits hopelessness and weariness.  What do their faces say to you? What happened to them?
Esther Bubley (American, 1921–1998), Young woman in the doorway of her room at a boardinghouse, Washington, DC, 1943, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Kent and Marcia Minichiello

A photographer for Life and Ladies Home Journal who often was assigned to shoot celebrities, like Albert Einstein, Marianne Moore, and Charlie Parker, Esther Bubley better enjoyed capturing everyday people, like she did in the scene above. 

Genevieve Naylor (American, 1915–1989), São Januário Trolley, early 1940s,  National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund.

Before she became Eleanor Roosevelt's personal photographer, Genevieve Naylor worked for the Works Progress Administration and several media outlets. She joined Nelson Rockefeller's Office of Inter-American Affairs whose goals were to strengthen relationships between the U.S. and Latin America where she was based in Brazil, according to catalog copy. When she returned to the U.S., she became the first woman photographer to be honored with a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art which toured the U.S. 1943-44. A visitor who saw the show launched Ms. Naylor's career as a fashion photographer.

She was one of the first women photojournalists to be hired by an American wire service.
Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) Sans titre (Garçon avec un chat) (Untitled [Boy with a cat]), 1934, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Dora Maar was a fashion photographer before she engaged with activist and anti-fascist groups in the 1930s. The catalog describes her fashion work as oneiric, and although some of her pictures were published in the surrealistic publication, Minotaure, and she exhibited works in major surrealistic shows, she was "never" a surrealist. (Huh?) 

Dora, Dora!  How could you fall for Pablo Picasso, the great womanizer?

In 1936 she met him, the sexist who discouraged her interest in photography, "a medium he did not take seriously." (Get lost, Picasso!) She followed his advice, turning to painting which she exhibited in New York and London until the 1990s. 

Like many of Picasso's lovers, she was often his subject who frequently painted her crying, but this is not about him, but about her. (Nevertheless, read more about them at the Frist link below.  He only caused Ms. Maar's nervous breakdown.  What a guy!)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937,  
Musée Picasso/Wikipedia. A different portrait of her by Picasso was featured at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville last year. 
Madame Yevonde (b. Yevonde Cumbers, English, 1893-1975), Lady Bridget Poulett, 1935, National Portrait Gallery, London. Above, the photographer has turned her subject into Arethusa, "a mythical nymph who was transformed into a spring," according to the catalog.  The portrait, part of Ms. Yevonde's series, The Goddesses, included a hand-drawn border of playful fish while streams of aquatic cultures flow from the woman's hair.  This apparel reminds me of the Rodarte exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 2019.

When she was only 17, Madame Yevonde became a suffragette.  In her career, she photographed notables, believing that women were better suited to make portraits, owing to feminine empathy and patience. She was an early practitioner of color photography which brought her fame and fortune.
Marta Astfalck-Vietz (German, 1901-1994), Untitled, 1927, Berlinische Galerie - Landesmuseum fur Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur.  This is a self-portrait which, according to the label, "reveals her exploration of masquerade and the increased personal and sexual freedom experienced by growing numbers of women during the 1920s."

At the National Gallery of Art, October 26, 2021/by Patricia Leslie

I must stop researching and writing about the show and its photographers or I'll still be writing long after the pictures come down (which is January 30!).

The more I learn about the photographers, the more I want to learn and return to see their works and read their biographies and find out more about their enticing, engrossing lives and shout:  "Right on, sisters!"

It was 100 years ago when this period of photographs began, when the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, granting women the right to vote in the U.S. (about 25 years after the UK extended the right, and almost 200 years following Sweden's right to vote which was granted female property owners). 

"Right on, sisters!" 

Look at the independence, the strength, the drive in these pictures, some of my favorites which I have included here. The images are stunning and you will remember some long after you have left the show.  

They are not happy pictures: They are telling, historical; they portray the times, presenting society of the era and place, realistic, stark in many cases, representing hundreds of observances of world events, of everyday lives.  

The portraits excel about the time when the "new woman" was emerging to assume independence and rights, values we still strive to reach today. 

Almost 50 lenders, including Sir Elton John and the California African-American Museum, loaned pictures.

An excellent catalog includes almost 300 pages of mostly black and white pictures, some spread over two facing pages, with enlightening brief biographies of most of the photographers.

Thank you, National Gallery of Art and sponsors, the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation, Trellis Fund, Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art and the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation for another spectacular show which gives me confidence to walk another mile.  "That's what art can do!"

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and curated by Andrea Nelson, associate curator in the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art. 

Also, upcoming this week is a free two-day virtual symposium, "Global Perspectives on The New Woman Behind the Camera," Jan. 19-20, 2022, featuring talks by historians, curators, and artists, made possible by the James D. and Kathryn K. Steele Fund for Photography.  Register here.  

WhatThe New Woman Behind the Camera

When:  Now through Jan. 30, 2022, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., every day

Where: Ground floor of the West Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington

How much:  Admission is always free at the National Gallery of Art.

Masks:  Required of all visitors, ages 2 and above, despite vaccinations. 

Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: (202) 737-4215

Accessibility information: (202) 842-6905

Thursday, January 6, 2022

One more weekend to see 'David Driskell' at the Phillips

David Driskell (1931-2020), Young Pines Growing (detail), 1959, Clark Atlanta University Art Museum.  Driskell entered this work in the 18th Atlanta University Annual juried competition where it won the John Hope Purchase Award for best landscape.  Driskell was then teaching at Talladega College in Alabama.

An exhibition of works by David Driskell, one of the world's leading experts on African-American art, will close this weekend at the Phillips Collection

The Driskill exhibition, titled Icons of Nature and History, is presented in conjunction with a show on Alma W. Thomas, both presentations which engender such enthusiasm that one of my friends is leading a return to the museum to see them again. (Ms. Thomas closes Jan. 23, 2022.) 

The Phillips says its exhibition is the first comprehensive showing of Driskell's art spanning the 1950s to 2000 and includes more than 50 of his works, colorful, modern, uplifting, amazing, to use adjectives mildly. 
David Driskell (1931-2020), Pine and Moon, 1971, Portland (ME) Museum of Art

Driskill was a distinguished emeritus professor at the University of Maryland and taught there from 1976-1998. In 2001 the school established the David C. Driskell Center  for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African-Americans.

With degrees from Howard University (1955), and Catholic University (1962), Driskell was awarded nine honorary doctorates. In 2000 President Bill Clinton presented him and 11 others with a Presidential Medal as one of 12 recipients of the National Humanities Medal. 
David Driskell (1931-2020), Self-Portrait, 1953, Estate of David C. Driskell, Maryland
This is one of many "psychological self-portraits" Driskell painted, this one when he was a student at Howard University.  Compare it to the one below when he was three years older.

David Driskell (1931-2020), Self-Portrait, 1956, Estate of David C. Driskell, Maryland

David Driskell (1931-2020), Upward Bound, 1980, High Museum of Art. Driskell wanted to emulate his mother's quilting but she told him boys didn't quilt so "I slipped behind her back and made quilts. Now I am making them with my canvases." (1997)

In 2005, the High Museum in Atlanta established the David C. Driskell Prize to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African American art and art history.

While mentoring and teaching hundreds of students over his lifetime, Driskell promoted, researched and wrote about African-American art.
David Driskell (1931-2020), City Quartet, 1953, David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland. The label copy says this work shows influences of his mentors, Jack Levine and Lois Mailou Jones. The man on the left may be Driskell who painted this when he was 23.
David Driskell (1931-2020), Black Ghetto, 1968-70, Fisk University (oil and mixed media on canvas). The label copy quotes from a 1999 statement by the artist:  "The composition is an autobiographical reflection on my own childhood, one in which I look out into the larger world from beyond my narrowly confined abode.  Black Ghetto also addresses the issue of having to confront life in America along lines of color and race."
David Driskell (1931-2020), Memories of a Distant Past, 1975, private collection. According to the High Museum:  "This painting repurposes material published in the January 7, 1969, edition of Look—a special issue: The Blacks and the Whites. Driskell used pictorial imagery from the essay titled 'Black America’s African Heritage.'" He often employed collage art in the 1960s and 1970s; Look magazine was a favorite source.
David Driskell (1931-2020), Let the Church Roll On, 1995–96, Bowdoin College Museum of Art.  The label copy says the church's hovering angel is a reminder of Driskell's heritage including that of his father who drew angels and the enduring black church which was an important part of his life.

He curated more than 35 exhibition which featured Jabob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, and others. He advised Oprah Winfrey on her collection and guided the Clintons to the first art work by a black artist to hang at the White House (Henry Ossawa Tanner's Sand Dunes at Sunset: Atlantic City, 1885). 
Driskell was born in Eatonton, GA in 1931, lived for many years in North Carolina and Maine, and died from covid-19 complications in Washington, D.C. in 2020.  

Washington's winter weather should lift this weekend for Driskell's final show at the Phillips, "America's first museum of modern art."
What: David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History

When: Through Sunday, January 9, 2022, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Where: The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St., N.W. at Q St., Washington, D.C. 20009

Admission: $16, adults; $12 for those over 62; $10, students and educators (with ID); free for members and for children 18 and under. Timed tickets are required, but members may walk in at any time. Visitors 12 and over must show proof of vaccination or a same-day negative COVID-19 test upon entry, along with a government-issued photo ID for visitors 16 and over. 

Metro Station: Dupont Circle (Q Street exit. Turn left and walk one block.)

For more information: 202-387-2151

Saturday, January 1, 2022

'Belfast' is an arty film


That Belfast been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture in Drama demonstrates the lack of competitive film choices available now.  (The other titles are relatively unknowns because that's what's on the screens now:  unknowns. Some of the actors and the director Kenneth Branagh have been nominated, too, to make Belfast the recipient of the most Golden Globe nominations [7].)

Throughout the movie, viewers agonize, wondering, hoping none of the stars of the show will be killed or injured in Northern Ireland in its turmoil of the 1960s amidst the time of "Troubles." That's when and where Mr. Branagh was growing up, and compelled, at last by covid to do something, he has made an autobiographical film of the conflict and its social and domestic effects.

Belfast is told from the perspective of a lad (Jude Hill; nominated) who delivers a remarkable performance in the story where the continuing violent conflict plays a secondary, backdrop role to the reality of family circumstances and change.  

Should the family go or stay?

Belfast has long pauses and great music (by Van Morrison), but an action film, it is not. Those who are Spiderman or James Bond fans will not cotton well to this.  

The inclusion of Dame Judith Dench as the almost unrecognizable grandma (who was not nominated) is a redeeming social plus. But, the housewife's role (played by Caitríona Balfe; nominated for supporting role) in her June Cleaver dress and personality is off by ten years and undermines a mother's and wife's importance.