Neger (Nuba) – Gerhard Richter

Negroes (Nuba), Gerhard Richter

Neger (Nuba)

Negroes (Nuba)
145 cm X 200 cm
Oil on canvas
Catalogue Raisonné: 45
Gerhard Richter

Been reading Gerhard Richter, A life in Painting by a biography written by Dietmar Eleger.  This painting was first exhibited at a show named Neue Realisten. included Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, Gerd Richter at Galerie Parnass, Wuppertal, Germany, November 20 1964 – January 01 1965 according to the artist’s information.

Rudolf Jahrling  (Gallery Parnass owner / architect ) – according to the biography – was impressed by seeing the work set up outside on the front garden of the house and gave the visiting artists the opportunity to have a group show – which turned out to be some of the earliest key and important “emerging” opportunities for exhibition for Richter.  There’s a snapshot of “tote”  or Dead, (one of my favorite pictures of Richter’s “photo paintings” propted up against a chainlink fence next to some garbage cans upon which set more paintings…  Imagine…  it puts it all into another perspective  – that of the humble beginings….  Early paintings were a bargained for $400 DM with as little as 1/3 going to artist and some paintings donated to the gallery to cover costs of exhibitions and catalogues…

Hard to imagine given the situation today, Sotheby’s reports that Neger (Nuba) 1964 just sold for a little over $5.6 million – (yeah million) as an key example of early “photo paintings” by Richter.  I wonder what someone like Richter thinks about that…?  I hope the work ends up in a public venue.  See the catalogue here.

The thing about these photo paintings and Richter at a grand scale is not to think of appropriation, but to think about perhaps that it may just be that it takes a painting to be able to really see  a documentary , or so called “objective” photograph ….  The original photograph not incidentally by photographer Leni Riefenstahl… AKA “Hitler’s favorite filmmaker“…..

Caleb Charland – Demonstrations

Picturing phenomena – refreshing.

Circles with matches from the series "Demonstrations" by Caleb Charland

Circles with matches from the series “Demonstrations” by Caleb Charland

I was able to visit Bluesky Gallery, here in Portland  (the new website is great by the way) this last weekend to catch a look at the Caleb Charland show hanging from his series “Demonstrations”.     The large silver gelatin prints were quite beautiful. I say this because a number of the images I would imagine would have been quite difficult to get such a wonderfully large range of tones. To my eye, the prints excelled at achieving this wide range without the frustrating intrusion of having been pushed too far (you know the effect, where you notice “too much contrast” or “too much sharpness” which gets in the way of the absorbing the illusion of the photo… in other words,  the photographs seemed to have a “natural” appearance…  not over worked…  much richer than the images that can be had on the web as usual…

Sparkler through crystal ball from the series "Demonstrations" by Caleb Charland

Sparkler through crystal ball from the series “Demonstrations” by Caleb Charland

However, the more lasting impression for me is what I think the pictures seem to record: the pictures bear witness to a performance of various phenomenon – you might say “law’s of nature”.  We can describe these phenomena perhaps precisely in abstract scientific terms, but it is difficult to grasp until you have some personal experience in some way with the phenomenon.  As I saw the work, I kept having that feeling of “hey look at this!” That’s what was refreshing. To simply witness what happens as various contraptions yield and act in cause and effect.

Skeleton key with copper wires from the series "Demonstrations" by Caleb Charland

Skeleton key with copper wires from the series “Demonstrations” by Caleb Charland

“Demonstrations”, as noted in the show’s introduction, appear as quasi-scientific investigations. They record a happening over the duration of an experiment.  Charland’s contraptions themselves are wonderful sculptural elements, well composed within the picture borders. Often, there are references to famous scientific discovery’s of the past – some of which we might learn about in school as kids. The effect of the series is unpretentious – it tells us nothing in the end, but instead offers hints of how it might be rewarding to simply embrace seeing again with a child-like sense of wonder.

Additional information written up about Charland and an upcoming group show at Micheal Mazzeo.

Olaf Otto Becker at Blue Sky Gallery

Ilulissat Icefjord 09 07/2003 by Olaf Otto Becker

Ilulissat Icefjord 09, 07/2003 by Olaf Otto Becker

I’ve enjoyed viewing the work of Olaf Otto Becker albeit previously through online web work and so I jumped at the opportunity to visit the current (January 2010) hanging at Blue Sky Gallery here in Portland, Oregon.  As always, it is good to see the work in person and it was time well spent.  The work from his series “Broken Line,” is shot in Greenland with 8″ x 10″ camera and the results are as expected loaded with fine crisp detail and a rich pallet of colors.  The prints hanging are “modest” in size at 25″ x 30″ and with the fine detail I found myself practically nose up to the prints in an attempt to take it all in.

579 Oquaatsut, 07/2003 69°20’23’’ N, 51°00’15’’ W by Olaf Otto Becker

579 Oquaatsut, 07/2003
69°20’23’’ N, 51°00’15’’ W by Olaf Otto Becker

705 Nuussuag 07/2006 by Olaf Otto Becker

705 Nuussuag 07/2006 by Olaf Otto Becker

What I found most interesting in terms of viewing the pictures is with a personal question about the problem of describing “a place” through photographs. In this case what sort of impression does Becker’s characterization through pictures of “place” in Greenland leave behind?

Becker’s photographs as assembled in the show reveal a balance between what I would call “natural beauty” as pictured in the more decorative photographs of icebergs and sculpted bays with the images of resident cabins, outbuildings and associated detritus of human inhabitation.  I recall about a 2/3 to 1/3 distribution with natural beauty leading the way…

The pictures of human habitation at first seem to me to keep to a neutral presentation – meaning my assumptions are that the images are simply “what can be found”.  The pictures seperately do not seem to convey an explicit indictment but when coupled together with overtly beautiful images of a potentially devastating environmental situation to me alludes to a larger question of how we choose to live in our surroundings. The human places pictured indicate to me a pretty ugly disregard and disordered inhabitation.  Of course this is completely my own conjecture, but the pictures of local inhabitation chosen to be pictured are what I would call beautiful pictures of ugly things and by transference, I begin to recognize how the “Broken Line” may be much more revealing in general about how we inhabit places and is therefor much more than simply pretty pictures of icebergs. Of course it’s a pretty big jump and a lot of transference to allow the inhabited pictures to speak about “human disregard” of the landscape… but I think it’s there none-the-less.

Thinking about the problem of keeping a body of work together in order to convey (potentially) an intent held within a group of pictures is a problem probably best solved by the photo book – the book containing these pictures The Broken Line by Becker presumably may hold some more answers.  I have not yet had a chance to see the book – but am curious to see if my intuition and assumptions might play out in the book…

Talerua Bay, 07/2005 by Olaf Otto Becker

Talerua Bay, 07/2005 by Olaf Otto Becker

This relates to a couple of posts as well on the potential value of a photobook as a reference item for collectors and is blog and post worth visiting as it is quite nicely elaborated upon by DLK collectors offering another point of view.  The photobook posts might explain a bit more regarding Becker’s work from the same DLK collectors on the new series “Above Zero”….  All of this make me wonder more about the question of “decorative” work as a hook to bring a larger audience towards work that ultimately wants to be more than just beautiful…

“Into the woods” Jitka Hanzlovà

Jitka Hanzlovà “Untitled (Forest series 15)”
2004 c-print, 26.7 x 17.8 cm (10 1/2 x 7 in.)
framed 49 x 37 cm (19 1/4 x 14 5/8 in.),
edition of 8, signed, dated and numbered verso

Jitka Hanzlová – photography / “Into the Woods” – John Berger

An article I noticed in the Orion, November/December 2006 issue articulated in words and pictures a bit of the fear and excitement a sort of calm intensity that, if given enough time to be in the forest, you can get in touch with. I find these qualities delightful and I am eager to explore…

Jitka Hanzlovà “Untitled (Forest series 19)”
2003 c-print, 26.7 x 17.8 cm (10 1/2 x 7 in.)
framed 49 x 37 cm (19 1/4 x 14 5/8 in.)
edition of 8, signed, dated and numbered verso

More here and a wonderful slide show on the Forest series here…

I noticed that the sizes of the works are a very intimate scale – personal and to be looked at alone as an individual – less along the likes of a lot of contemporary wall poster work – to be viewed large – maybe that’s my own projection of perceptions – but there is a level of impersonality in large work – you just can’t be alone and quiet with it….

What is "Becher-like" ?


Bernd Becher
1931 – 2007

The influence upon a couple of generations of photography – quite amazing to learn and follow upon. The Becher’s work was some of the first that inspired me to become more seriously interested in considering the power of perception and “objectivity” in photography…

More here, here, and here….

Posted: 2/2/06

After a comment from a flickr member about the qualities of the barn series… I found this in trying to learn more about what it may mean to be “Becher – like”…. There is something worth looking at – perhaps an “atlas” of barns?

The Bechers’ photographs are exhibited individually, but more commonly in groupings that they specifically arrange. It is their organization of the thousands of images into typologies that encourages further attention to the subtlety and variation of like structures. The apparent simplicity of each photograph is the result of deliberate choices that produce the most legible image; an understanding of the essence of each subject is critical to their approach. Using a large-format camera and confronting their subject head-on in the tradition of nineteenth-century documentation, they produce images of extreme clarity. They prefer overcast skies, intentionally excluding the drama of natural light and shadow:

One tries to be honest and not cheat. It’s very easy to cheat and to make very glamorous pictures with these forms.

They maintain a constant distance from their subject so that distortion does not occur. Each print is always the same size, and each is framed similarly. The similarity of each image encourages comparison of the variation and subtlety within a type. It is the regularity of the format, rather than a sense of repetition, which is critical to the final analysis of their work. While each series remains ongoing, the artists are selective in choosing their subjects; they prefer to find typical examples that fulfill a type, rather than locating a duplicate in a different location. Structures that reveal their function are of greatest interest to the Bechers; this, in part, explains the avoidance of nuclear plants, since these structures conceal, rather than reveal, the reasons for their existence.

Written by: Cheryl Brutvan
Senior Curator
Albright-Knox Art Gallery


More secondhand consideration of “Becher-like”….below (from )

Of Hilla and Bernd:
The Ambivalence of Objectivity *
mr.snow 5/97

The work of Hilla and Bernd Becher is not seen in the architecture of industrial Europe and America. It is not seen in the fine craftsmanship of the photographs themselves. It is not found in one of their exhibitions. And it is not found in their books. The art of the Becher’s is inseparable from their life over the last thirty years, and is only manifest in the relentlessness of their task.

Founders of a new German school of Sachlichkeit , or objectivity1, the uncompromising way they have catalogued the twilight of the industrial era has been seen by many as a homage to, or a glorification of, western industriality. Perhaps. Looking a little further, one can begin to see inconsistencies and slippage2 in a parody3 of a catalogue of the real.

The frontal portraits of the obsoleting leviathans from the machine age that comprise a thirty year career, are preserved in archival silver and rag, destined to last well in excess of a century. Minimalising subjectivity in the elimination of perspective, the removal of context and activity and the suppression of nature, what remains carries the flame of scientific precision. They are not cropped, not manipulated, not fictional in any way. These documents present a true and accurate account of the industriality of post-war Europe and America as embodied by its architecture. Perhaps.

Humankind’s five hundred year obsession with discovering a single unifying law that would describe the Universe, climaxed at the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth century when Einstein collapsed the Universe, Freud cracked the Mind and Darwin conquered Life.

In the photographs of the Becher’s, the most effective and possibly devastating cultural machine to be perfected during the industrial age, the camera, is turned on these signals of a successful and wealthy society. Grouped by species, the buildings, in common with pre-twentieth century scientific and museum practise, present only their objectness , objectified. Nothing can interfere with their proper examination and study. So what can these images tell us of industrial societies? Also nothing. This terminal reduction of information has left us with data so sterile, nothing further can be gained. All we know is that they exist, or did.

“human experience of the structures is irrelevant to the Bechers’ work”4

Context, point-of-view, circumstance, subjectivity .. these are the things that lend meaning to what are otherwise simply objects. These pictures are cropped, from life and context. They are manipulated, though geography and time5.

The Becher’s employ this mimicry of categorisation in order to point out the flaws within that system, and by induction, the flaws in notions of objectivity and truth. They force objectivity until it breaks under its own preconceptions, revealing only inaccuracy and falsehood.

* apologies to Homi Bhabha
1 Reinhard Mucha, Bernd and Hilla Becher
Nobert Messeler Art International, Summer 1990
2 Term drawn from post-colonial discourse, coined by Homi Bhabha in Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse (October , Spring 1984). Although way out of context, this term is useful and descriptive in terms of the Becher’s practise.
3 Industry on Exhibit Frederick L. Quivik
Design Book Review Winter/Spring 1995
4 The Art of Hilla and Bernd Becher Weston J. Naef
Water Towers MIT Press 1988
5 Quivik

Crib [near Rockwell City, Iowa]

A special thanks to FILE magazine for presenting a selection seen here from Portraits: Faces and Profiles of Utility.

More of this may be seen here:

Untitled [Crib, North elevation, East central Iowa]

Untitled [Crib, North elevation, East central Iowa]

Untitled [Crib, North elevation, East central Iowa] 2006 – Matt Niebuhr

Found another crib structure – alone on a hill top. Suppose it was convenient at one time to store ear corn close to where it was harvested. Peeked inside to see a sturdy set of “X” bracing of 2×12’s. The sides of this one have horizontal flipper style doors at the bottom of the bins that would likely have been used to rake out the ear corn upon either feeding time or shelling. The structure appeared in generally good shape – good bones… skin weathered. Somewhat time worn but sturdy for years to come, pending no further attention, I’d imagine this old bruit will be around. Here in east central Iowa, the land is gently rolling – the landscape as depicted in a stereotypical portrayal like Young Corn by Grant Wood.

One in a series entitled Portraits: Faces and Profiles of Utility