By Susan Froyd
By Byron Graham
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davies
By Josiah M. Hesse
By Bree Davies
By Susan Froyd
By Kate Gibbons
Kertesz came to New York in 1937 and stayed for the rest of his life, though his work was little known in this country until he was rediscovered in the 1970s. His photos from that period continued the poetics of the early years, as can be seen in the second print displayed at the JCC, "Self Portrait With Sculpture Heads," a black-and-white gelatin silver print from 1976. In this photograph, Kertesz has included his own bald head in a line of busts, creating a surrealist effect.
Adjacent to the Kertesz photos is a single piece by T. Lux Feininger, the son of painter Lyonel Feininger. The younger Feininger studied at the famous Bauhaus in the city of Dessau, remaining there from 1926 to 1932, the year the school was closed by the Nazis. It was during these years that he began to embrace photography, even though the Bauhaus offered no formal curriculum in the medium. Kunin has included Feininger's "Bauhaus Students," a black-and-white gelatin silver print from 1928 for which Feininger positioned his camera below a group of young men he had posed to create a diagonal through the frame. This kind of experimentation with both the camera's angle and posed subjects was characteristic of modern photos of the time. (Feininger, who is still living, immigrated to New York in the late '30s and began a long academic career that included stints at New York University and Harvard.)
Lisette Model is also represented by a single photograph, the luscious "Fashion Show, 1940," also a black-and-white gelatin silver print. Model has captured a pair of haughty women sitting at a table and has exaggerated the lights and darks to create a hard-edged abstract composition that in no way detracts from the photo's narrative content. Born in Vienna in 1901, Model began her career as a photographer after moving to Paris in 1922. She was inspired in her decision by her sister, Olga Seybert, a commercial photographer who eventually settled in Denver. After coming to New York in 1941, Model pursued her career as a photographer and taught for decades at the New School for Social Research. She died in 1983.
Two lyrical photographs constitute Kunin's nod to Ilse Bing, who came to this country in 1941 and toiled in obscurity until her work enjoyed a revival shortly before her death in the 1980s. Bing originally took up photography to illustrate the art-history research she was conducting in her native Frankfurt, but after moving to Paris in 1930, she began to make fine-art photographs. The two photos shown here--"Couple, Place de la Concorde" and "Versailles," both black-and-white gelatin silver prints from 1931--are grainy views of figures at leisure. With their blurred details, they recall the impressionism of the late nineteenth century.
Native Austrian Herbert Bayer, who was a member of the faculty at the Dessau Bauhaus, came to New York in 1938 and moved to Aspen in 1946, remaining in Colorado through the 1970s. The noted abstractionist died in 1985 but is now at the center of an orgy of local attention that includes a Close Range show at the Denver Art Museum and another exhibit at the Elizabeth Schlosser Gallery. In keeping with that spirit, Kunin includes five Bayer photographs at the JCC, including two very Bauhaus-looking still-life scenes of scientific notes and clear-glass paperweights. But the real gem is "Man and Architecture," a 1926 gelatin silver print that captures the madcap antics of costumed actors on the roof of the Dessau Bauhaus. Also notable as a key photograph in the development of surrealism is Bayer's black-and-white gelatin silver print "Self-Portrait in Mirror," which reveals Bayer looking in a mirror while he removes a part of his arm.
At least half of Kunin's show is devoted to a portfolio by Hungarian photographer Gyorgy Kepes that surveys twenty years of the artist's work. And here, unfortunately, is one glitch in the installation. In order to see the Kepes portfolio in chronological order, the viewer must go back to the beginning of the exhibit. As installed, the photos go from newer to older, an arrangement that fails to cogently convey Kepes's stylistic development.
Kepes, who now lives in Massachusetts, came to Chicago in 1937 to help establish the New Bauhaus, which later became the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 1946 he accepted a teaching job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he remained until the 1970s. But the more than a score of Kepes photos in the show make it clear he was no sheltered academic. His prints range from street scenes to abstracted landscapes to pure abstraction created through photograms, solarizations and photo montages. A great early example of Kepes's manipulation of imagery through darkroom techniques is "Untitled," a black-and-white gelatin silver print of neon signs that has been double-exposed. Some of these photos are really wild and have been treated with globs of chemicals to create what can only be described as abstract-expressionist photography.
After seeing the disparate works in Photography on the Eve of World War II, it's no surprise to learn that curator Kunin likes to avoid stylistic categorizations. Surely it's not style that links these six photographers. But they are joined forever in a much more meaningful way: They were all hated by the Nazis, and they all had to run for their lives.
Photography on the Eve of World War II and Beyond: Emigres from Central Europe, through November 16 at the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 399-2660.
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