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Fashion Photography as a Battleground

POSTED BY , ON July 16, 2014, 2 COMMENTS

Relatively recent films and television shows like Pret á Porter, Ugly Betty, and The Devil Wears Prada offer extreme views of publishing in the fashion world. Fraught with danger, conflict, and misadventures, the stakes seem unnaturally high for each glossy issue. And yet, aspects of Edward Steichen’s influential take on modern fashion photography could be said to have originated in the very real, international conflict of World War I. Sharp, Clear Pictures: Edward Steichen’s World War I and Condé Nast Years, a fascinating show now open in the Art Institute’s Galleries 1-4, maps the ways the artist’s outlook on photography changed after becoming deeply involved in establishing an aerial photography program for the U.S. military during World War I.

Steichen started out the early twentieth century as an Alfred Stieglitz protégé, perhaps most memorably photographing Auguste Rodin in Paris in an evocatively lit haze, sitting in profile opposite his statue of The Thinker. This image is nonetheless a key opening to Sharp, Clear Pictures, as Rodin had a connection to the important album of aerial photographs Steichen assembled after the war, and which makes up about half of the exhibition. Indeed, Steichen inscribed this book of over 80 views of artillery-damaged European towns to a friend whose family included some of Rodin’s major patrons.

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The book has been disbound, so visitors can see all the album sheets with his handwritten captions in the order Steichen assembled them in 1919. This was just after he left his position as commander of the Photographic Section for the United States Army Expeditionary Forces Air Service. The approach varies, from comparisons between oblique and vertical shots of bombed-out locations with “practically not a roof left in the town,” to masked-out and collaged negatives honing in on specific enemy locations and airport installations. In several cases, the images have been juxtaposed and spliced together, often out of necessity to give the illusion that planes could fly high enough to take in larger expanses, with jagged edges rimmed with black borders. Although Steichen and his colleagues borrowed this technical approach from the French and British, he also seems to have utilized the same idea of image construction in publishing later on. In two intriguing instances in the show alone, he produced a double spread for a magazine by taking two separate pictures with a similar center, which allowed him to splice them together and crop the overall image to his liking. It also allowed him to reuse his favorite models on both sides of the page, or as in a fashion shoot from a biblical musical show, double the cast of singers by reorganizing them from the left to the right in the second half of the image. Interestingly, one of the few sheets in the album that is not aerial photography taken under his command is a fashion plate of sorts, involving a caricature of officers making fun of each others’ uniforms. Its inclusion may have been arbitrary, or an attempt at comic relief, but it would be in fashion that Steichen found his next muse.

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Similarly honing his skills, Steichen made several self-portraits over the years, including one from 1917 before heading to war-torn Europe.  Although he probably did not in the end act as a photographer on live missions, here he posed himself with his camera in a self-assured and more matter-of-fact manner than an earlier one developed gradually in painterly strokes. The result is also more cinematic, even bearing a striking resemblance to a 1990s Aidan Quinn and so to modern eyes, suggestive of his future in celebrity portraiture.

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Many of the actors and playwrights he would portray had enlisted in World War I, even if they had not necessarily seen live combat. Nöel Coward was one of those given an early honorable discharge. Steichen poses him here in gloriously modern attire and a feline grace within a sleekly abstract architectural interior in 1932 for Vanity Fair. Coward was by then the successful playwright, actor, and songwriter of the titillating Private Lives, which had already been turned into a Hollywood film. Oozing glamor with each puff of his cigarette, Steichen’s evocation of Coward as the man of his age is absolutely seamless, just like his rethinking of photography.

Image Credits:

Photographic Section, US Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), and Major Edward J. Steichen, ASA. In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces, 1918. Gift of William Kistler. © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Edward Steichen, Self-Portrait with Camera, 1917. Restricted gifts of Brenda and Earl Shapiro and the Smart Family Foundation; Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition, Comer Foundation, The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment funds; restricted gifts of Sidney and Sondra Berman Epstein, Karen and Jim Frank, Marian Pawlick; Ethel T. Scarborough, Hugh Leander and Mary Trumbull Adams Memorial Endowment, Betty Bell Spooner funds; restricted gifts of Vicki and Thomas Horwich, Robin and Sandy Stuart; Samuel A. Marx Purchase Fund for Major Acquisitions, S. DeWitt Clough, Photographic Society, Irving and June Seaman Endowment, Morris L. Parker funds,  © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Edward Steichen. Noel Coward, 1932. Bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House. © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


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Monet Goes Digital

POSTED BY , ON July 09, 2014, 3 COMMENTS

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Monet_TheBeachatSainteAdresse

On July 1, the museum quietly released Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, a scholarly catalogue covering 47 paintings and drawings by the famous French Impressionist. “No big deal,” you might be saying right now. “The Art Institute is known for their Monet collection, and they publish books all the time. This seems like normal news,” you might follow up with.

Think again, wise guy. First of all, this is no standard book. It’s a digital scholarly catalogue accessible on any computer or iPad with an internet connection. Funded by the Getty Foundation and the David and Mary Winton Green Nineteenth-Century Research Fund, Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago is our first complete volume for the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI), started in 2009 by the Getty. At the end of July, we’ll release a volume on Renoir; volumes on Pissarro, Manet, Gauguin, and our Roman art collection will follow in 2015.

But back to Monet. Now, if this were a standard printed book (which we still love!), we estimate it would be at least 1,300 pages. Moving to an online platform isn’t just a matter of size, though. It also allows us to include a range of tools and features that would be impossible on a sheet of paper. Entries on each artwork include high-res imagery that readers can zoom into close enough to see the artist’s brushstrokes. “Slider” images allow a reader to move smoothly between, say, a standard view of Monet’s The Beach at Sainte-Adresse (the second image pictured above) to an infrared reflectogram of the same painting (the first image) to gain a deeper understanding of Monet’s process and techniques. With this technology, you can see that Monet once intended to have a group of people walking along the water near the bottom right corner of the painting. Those people were painted over in the final version.

Of course, we’ve also included everything you would find in a printed book—in-depth curatorial entries, impeccably-detailed conservation reports, an expansive glossary, loads of comparative and archival images, footnotes galore, and comprehensive biographies of the collectors who helped build the Art Institute’s collection. Plus, the volume is peer reviewed and fully citable (we don’t take the “scholarly” in OSCI lightly).

Finally, remember that theoretical 1,300-page book I mentioned? It would weigh at least 15 pounds and would probably cost hundreds of dollars. Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, on the other hand, is completely free and, as mentioned, available right now on your computer or iPad.* So, what are you waiting for?

*Use the latest versions of Chrome, Safari, or Firefox for best results!

Image Credit: Claude Monet. The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection.

 


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Celebrity Doppelgängers

POSTED BY , ON July 02, 2014, 1 COMMENTS

Rembrandt Giamatti

One thing you might not expect to find while browsing Rembrandt van Rijn’s prints is a doppelgänger for the veteran actor Paul Giamatti. But that’s just what I found in the midst of an intensive Rembrandt project!

The print in question is a 1641 etching depicting the Dutch Mennonite preacher and cloth merchant Cornelis Claesz. Anslo. A celebrated citizen of his time, Anslo was not only memorialized by Rembrandt in print form; he and his wife were the subjects of a 1641 double portrait painting, also by Rembrandt. In the print, Anslo is shown at a desk with several heavy tomes, looking up from his reading, perhaps addressing a congregant outside of the composition.

As far as the celebrity resemblance goes, it is easy to see something of Paul Giamatti, best known for his performances in The Truman Show, Sideways, and Cinderella Man, in the face of this 17th-century figure. Particularly, Paul Giamatti’s be-hatted, bearded look as Chief Inspector Uhl in The Illusionist (2006) is a pretty good ringer for the stoic, similarly attired Anslo.  Additionally, the intensity in their eyes and their close facial structures lend to this celebrity doppelganger comparison.

Though he doesn’t have the same Chicago pedigree as our first doppelgänger, Bill Murray, Giamatti has been recognized by our own Chicago Film Critics Association for many of his supporting roles.   Additionally, The Negotiator (1998), a thriller featuring Giamatti in a supporting part, is set in the Windy City.

Although Rembrandt’s “Giamatti” is not currently on display, there are other wonderful prints by the artist in Gallery 208A.  And anyone can book an appointment to come see this fascinating  doppelgänger etching, and many other works on paper in The Jean and Steven Goldman Study Center.

—Deborah Krieger, Summer Intern in the Department of Prints and Drawings

Image Credit:

Rembrandt van Rijn. Cornelius Claesz. Anslo, Preacher, 1641. Clarence Buckingham Collection.


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Members on Magritte

POSTED BY , ON June 23, 2014, 1 COMMENTS

Magritte Member Previews

Members of the Art Institute can always count on being the first to explore every major exhibition, and Magritte: Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 is no exception. With three preview days (that are still going on as I write this!), members gain exclusive access to the first major museum show to focus on Magritte’s most profoundly inventive and experimental years. During the previews, we also host three exclusive Member Lectures for a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibition.

Since members are some of the museum’s best ambassadors, it’s always exciting to see how they’ll react to a new exhibition. Starting on Saturday, they made their way through the unconventionally-designed galleries filled with René Magritte’s extraordinary and indelible works and the response was both positive and surreal. “The galleries are so lush and amazing, the dark rooms really draw you in,” one member described. Many members also took advantage of the member lectures given by Senior Lecturer, Annie Morse, and Exhibition Research Associate, Elizabeth McGoey. One member said she “loved Annie’s sense of humor which made the concept of surrealism very approachable.” Members really embraced the theme of the weekend, offering us some of their favorite surreal sayings, like “the earth is blue, just like an orange.”

Our member previews end today, but the perks don’t stop here. Members have the chance to catch mid-exhibition lectures on Thursday, August 28 and Saturday, August 30, as well as closing lectures on Sunday, October 5, Tuesday, October 7, and Thursday, October 9. Click the dates above to make your reservations now. Want to take part in these member exclusives? Join today!

— Courtney G., Manager of Events and Programs for Member Experience


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Calling All Artists!

POSTED BY , ON June 20, 2014, Comments Off

Threadless

René Magritte’s unexpected treatments of ordinary objects in the first half of the 20th century influenced the next generation of artists, including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Ed Ruscha. And now. . . you.

We’ve once again teamed up with Threadless to create a design challenge inspired by our upcoming Magritte exhibition. We’re asking you to reach deep into the darkest recesses of your imagination and create an original—and very surreal—t-shirt design.

And did we mention there are prizes? In addition to your shirt being printed by Threadless, you’ll also receive $2,000, a $500 Threadless gift card, and the ultimate art book library. Plus, your t-shirt will be showcased at an upcoming event at the Art Institute.

For Chicagoans, we invite you to check out the exhibition for some inspiration. Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 opens to members tomorrow and to the public on Tuesday.

Happy creating!


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