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Work of the Week: Walker Evans

POSTED BY , ON November 03, 2014, 2 COMMENTS

Walker Evans

You may be surprised to discover that one of Walker Evans’s most iconic images (Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer’s Wife, pictured above) was rejected by the first publisher it was submitted to. In fact, in 1936 Fortune magazine sent James Agee (as the writer) and Evans (as the photographer) to Hale County, Alabama to document the effects of the Great Depression on tenant farmers. They spent time with three poor families, including the Burroughs family. Evans took this photo of Allie Mae Burroughs during his stay.

Ultimately, Fortune passed on the article and accompanying photos due to length, but Agee later published an adapted version of his writings—with Evans’ photographs—as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. The straightforward Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer’s Wife quickly became the most famous image from the book, showcasing the subject’s quiet dignity mixed with an expression that can be alternately read as shy, bored, or annoyed.

Today marks what would have been Walker Evans’s 111th birthday. Click here to see more of Evans’ images in the Art Institute’s collection.

Image Credit: Walker Evans. Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer’s Wife, 1936. Restricted Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.


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What Were You Doing Exactly 36 Years Ago?

POSTED BY , ON October 31, 2014, 0 COMMENTS

Oct 31 1978

Whenever you see any one of On Kawara’s so-called “date paintings,” you already know the exact day that he created it. Kawara started the series in 1966 and the rule was that he had to start and complete the painting on the date written on the canvas. If not, the painting was destroyed.

The paintings also come with a newspaper, which acts as a verification of the day and location it was painted. And for the diligent viewer, you can also receive some clues about where it was painted by how the date is written. Kawara always wrote the date using the method that people in that country would use. So, for example, if the day comes before the month, the painting is not from the United States.

The series includes over 2,000 paintings and each serves as a reminder of a very particular moment in time. Perhaps this makes you wonder something like, “I wonder what the artist was doing on this day?” Just know that while you’re thinking about that, I’m narcissistically wondering, “what was I doing on that particular day?” Normally, there’s no way of knowing, but since this is Halloween, you might not only know, but you might also have photographic proof! So if you can remember, tell us in the comments what you were doing on October 31, 1978. That is. . . if you were born yet! Happy Halloween, everyone!

Image Credit: On Kawara. Oct. 31, 1978 (Today Series, “Tuesday”), 1978. Twentieth-Century Purchase Fund. © On Kawara. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York.


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Ghosts in the Galleries

POSTED BY , ON October 24, 2014, Comments Off

Kohada Koheiji

Just in time for Halloween, the museum’s Asian Art Department opened a creepily appropriate exhibition called Ghosts and Demons in Japanese Prints. The display showcases some of the most special works in the collection, including images from Hokusai’s series One Hundred Stories (Hyaku Monogatari), from which the woodblock print above is drawn.

According to urban legend, Koheiji, a traveling kabuki actor, was murdered by his wife and her secret lover. After his death, he sought revenge and went on to haunt the pair incessantly. This print features the ghostly spectral of Koheiji pulling down on a mosquito net bed canopy and peering down on the couple. . . or maybe on us.

The tale of Kohada Koheiji was a well-known one and was featured in Japanese fiction and theater, and this image by Hokusai is the most famous version of the story. Although best known for his images of Mount Fuji, Hokusai was no stranger to supernatural themes. In One Hundred Stories, he explored a variety of ghosts, demons, and witches from Japanese tradition.

Happy Haunting!

Image Credit: Katsushika Hokusai. Kohada Koheiji, from the series One Hundred Stories (Hyaku Monogatari), c. 1831–32. Clarence Buckingham Collection.


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Work of the Week: Eastman Johnson

POSTED BY , ON October 10, 2014, 3 COMMENTS

Husking Bee

Eastman Johnson and his wife were riding through Nantucket when they happened upon a scene much like this one, seeing “the yellow corn and husks, the bright chickens running about [and] the old sea captains with their silk hats of better days.” Their excursion inspired this romanticized view of rural life, celebrating hard work, community spirit, and the harvest during a husking bee. Towards the right you can see a young woman holding up a red ear of corn in her right arm. According to folk tradition, this allowed her to kiss the person of her choice.

But what this painting doesn’t show is that scenes like this were becoming more and more rare. Industrialization was revolutionizing American agriculture and small farmers were increasingly being forced to abandon their land and seek work in cities. However, we’ll cut Johnson some slack because the timing of this painting does allow for a bit of nostalgia. Johnson made it in 1876, the year that marked the United States’ centennial, a time when people were celebrating democracy and the American spirit.

Image Credit: Eastman Johnson. Husking Bee, Island of Nantucket, 1876. Gift of Honoré and Potter Palmer.


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On View Now: Sarah Charlesworth

POSTED BY , ON October 03, 2014, 2 COMMENTS

Patricia Cawlings

In 1980, photographer Sarah Charlesworth exhibited a new body of work called Stills, a collection of photographs collected from news wire services and the New York Public Library that showed nearly life-size images of people jumping or falling from great heights. The series was originally limited to seven photographs for a variety of reasons—the cost of printing, the size of the exhibition space—but Charlesworth amassed a much larger collection of these archival images and in 2012, expanded the series to 14 photographs. This exhibition marks the first time all 14 photographs will be shown together.

These images bring up a range of questions: Are the subjects jumping from something? To something? Are they falling? Did they have suicidal intentions? Who are they? What happened to them? We don’t know all of the answers to these questions, but we do know that the outcome is not always as dire as it appears to be.

For example, the image above shows a 15 year old named Patricia Cawlings who jumped (for unknown reasons) from the top of a Zen mission building in Los Angeles. She fell about 20 feet and somewhat remarkably only suffered minor injuries. But because of how Charlesworth has cropped and scaled the source photographs, it’s impossible to tell this by looking at her image. In the words of exhibition curator Matthew Witkovsky, this “absence of closure can seem unendurable” for the viewer.

We invite you to see this exhibition in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing through January 4.

Image Credit: Sarah Charlesworth. Patricia Cawlings, Los Angeles, 1980, printed 2012, No. 10 of 14 from the series Stills. Krueck Foundation and Photography Gala Funds. © Estate of Sarah Charlesworth. Courtesy the Estate of Sarah Charlesworth and Maccarone.

 

 


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