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Jan Groover UntitledJan Groover, Untitled, 2003
Ink jet print
Gift of Jeanne Press and Richard S. Press ’60, P’ 90, P’08, P’12

Jan Groover (1943-2012) began taking photographs with her 35mm camera in the 1960s. Though her early triptychs focused on the exteriority of suburban life, she gained major recognition when she turned her camera towards domestic interiors, most notably her own kitchen sink. In Groover’s kitchen sink photographs, seemingly banal, domestic objects (forks, bell peppers, vases, cake tins) are recast, in close-ups, as outlines, shadows, colors, and volumes in indeterminate space. Her photography is surprisingly surrealist and abstract, imaginative, even, despite its placement within the still life genre. And, perhaps because of her training as a painter, her images have an almost painterly quality.

Groover’s work, though often underappreciated, emerged just as photography was gaining acceptance in the art world, and, according to Times critic Andy Grundberg, her photograph on the cover of Artforum in 1978 acted as “a signal that photography had arrived.”[1] In 1987, her work was presented in a solo exhibition at MoMA—a rarity for female photographers at the time. Groover’s work has often been likened to that of Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Paul Outerbridge, and Alfred Stieglitz because of her use of light and shadow. Like those photographers, she was deeply invested in a formalist ideology. She is often cited as saying, “formalism is everything.”[2] Despite this interest in pictorial composition, her inquiries into the constructed rather than documentarian qualities of photography are more along the lines of those posed by her contemporaries Tina Barney (who produced the film Jan Groover: Tilting at Space), Cindy Sherman, and Richard Prince.

In Untitled (2003), the objects create colorful shapes that indicate volume, but proclaim no relationship to their surroundings. The black background could be a wall or a void, but its lack of depth forces a reckoning with the objects placed in the foreground of this still life. Groover pays homage to the painted still life through her use of the crushed velvet surface underneath the objects and the radiant pear, but the vivid colors seem more reminiscent of an eerie, luminous Technicolor than either a still life painting or a realistic photograph. The bright yellow felt stands in stark contrast to the velvet, placing the viewer in a world both atavistic and anachronistic, and somehow also atemporal.

Instead of documenting the world around her, Groover turned inward to forge her own world through her photographs, using distinctly domestic objects to create floating landscapes nearly bereft of feminine connotation.

 

– Reya Sehgal, Curatorial Assistant

 

[1] Andy Grundberg, “Photography View; Taming Unruly Reality,” The New York Times, March 15, 1987, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/15/arts/photography-view-taming-unruly-reality.html.

[2] Randy Kennedy, “Jan Groover, Postmodern Photographer, Dies at 68,” The New York Times, January 11, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/arts/design/jan-groover-postmodern-photographer-dies-at-68.html.

Melissa Ann Pinney, Portia Tree, Maui, Hawai, 2002/2004 Gift of Jeanne Press and Richard S. Press '60, P' 90, P'08, P'12

Come see our newest exhibition The Girls of Summer: Photographs by Melissa Ann Pinney. The show is hanging in the Bell Gallery Lobby through August 10.

Pinney takes photographs that explore notions of feminity at all ages. Many of the works in this exhibition document Pinney's daughter, Emma, and her friends as they transition from girlhood to adolescence.  Curator, and Bell Gallery Director, Jo-Ann Conklin notes, in these images Pinney "draws our attention to the childhood joy of tree climbing and the exuberance of a soccer match, and to quieter moments of friendship or contemplation."

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Eleanor Antin, Antinova Remembers, 1982, Photo lithograph, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Feldman

 

In Eleanor Antin’s photograph, Antinova Remembers (1982), a woman’s melancholy gaze passes through a restaurant window and emerges as the central point among city lights, as waiters in white jackets turn away in the deep space at the back of a restaurant. The image recalls documentary photography, with its connotations of objectivity, but is a carefully scripted artifact of the performance of Eleanora Antinova, one of the personalities created and embodied by Antin.

Drawing upon early training as an actress, in the 1970s Antin developed a series of fictional characters “capable of calling up and defining” her own identity.[1] She detailed and chronicled the costume, manner, and biographical information of these figures in a blend of artistic formats such as film, photography, text and theatrical performance.

Antinova, first embodied by Antin in the late 1970s, is an aging black ballerina made famous by her work in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company. Antin sets Antinova’s time with the company roughly in the 1920s, a time when Josephine Baker was winning over Paris, and when the Jewish dancer Ida Rubinstein was restricted, but made famous, by the Ballets Russes in Orientalist costume and themes.[2] The artist’s most famous performance as Antinova took place over 20 days in 1981, during which time Antin painted her skin, assumed glamorous costume, engaged in Antinova-appropriate activities and interacted with others as the ballerina, in casual settings as well as in performances at the Ronald Feldman Gallery.

The blackness of the character of Antinova is layered with significance and provocation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the performance “has rendered most critics and historians decidedly silent.”[3] Not only does Antin appear to differentiate between cultural and historical implications of the African American experience, and the word “blackness” as a sign; she also locates the performance of identity within a tradition of Jewish performers assuming blackface, ultimately aligning themselves with whiteness.[4] Antin herself is Jewish, and the child of European immigrants. As Alisa Lebow notes, “the racialized otherness of the Jew in Eastern Europe,” and the “troubled history of Jewish blackface performance on the American stage and screen”[5] in the early 20th century inform her self conscious decisions and language surrounding race. Antin points to this history but confrontationally stages and reproduces some of these dynamics in the present.

Antinova Remembers serves as the cover for Being Antinova, a book documenting Antin’s performance of Antinova. Inside, the artist used a diary format and multi-media images to detail her subjective experience of both performing and being Antinova. Confusion intentionally permeates the project from start to finish: is this written voice stemming from the artist or the ballerina? Antin did not seek a seamless performance, or a veneer of total accuracy, aligning instead with other feminist art in presenting “her subjectivity not as being but as the agency of being.”[6] The sentimental nostalgia and isolation portrayed in the photograph are not truly Antin’s – are they Antinova’s? Problematizing personality, documentation, and narrative is an expansive task, but Antin expresses a strain of idealism as well in the closing passage of Being Antinova. She describes herself as one who “restore[s] histories…or those that should have been.”[7] Readers are left with a complicated definition of history: represented by Antinova, the past is demonstrably incorrect, but derives from pervasive truths, as Antin performs her melancholy to complicate the comfort and seamlessness of the present.

— Rachel Shipps, MA Candidate in Public Humanities ’14

For more on Antin and her multiple identities visit the ICA Boston’s exhibition “Multiple Occupancy: Eleanor Antin’s ‘Selves’” open through June 6, 2014.

[1] Eleanor Antin, “Dialogue with a Medium,” Art-Rite (Autumn 1974) 23-24, quoted in Jayne Wark, “Conceptual Art and Feminism: Martha Rosler, Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, and Martha Wilson,” Women’s Art Journal, 22:1 (Spring-Summer 2001), 47.

[2] Cherise Smith, “The Other ‘Other’: Eleanor Antin and the Performance of Blackness,” in Enacting Others: Politics of Identity in Eleanor Antin, Nikki S. Lee, Adrian Piper, and Anna Deavere Smith (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011) 124.

[3] Smith, 110.

[4] Smith, 98 and 104.

[5] Alisa Lebow,“Strategic Sentimentality: Nostalgia and the Work of Eleanor Antin,” Camera Obscura 22:3 (2007):142.

[6] Wark, 47.

[7] Being Antinova, 85.

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Bernd and Hilla Becher, Framework Houses, 1959-1973/1993, Set of twelve duotone lithographs

The David Winton Bell Gallery is pleased to announce the recent acquisition of a series of twelve photographs by pioneering conceptual photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher: Framework Houses, Industrial District of Siegen from 1959­–1973. These duotone lithograph prints belong to one of two such portfolios the Becher’s printed in the early 1990s.  In 1959 the Bechers met and began meticulously photographing the industrial architecture of their native Germany. They approached the built landscape systematically, identifying and documenting groups of like structures. For each of these “typologies” they serially photographed the buildings in black and white, frontally and centrally framed, and isolated from the surrounding environment by a neutral cloudless sky. The resulting sense of objectivity is echoed by the formal arrangement of each typology into a non-hierarchical grid. The Bechers’ use of seriality as an organizing principle paralleled non-compositional developments in minimalism and conceptual art at the time. Moreover, their procedural approach to photography recalls the essentially mechanical nature of the medium itself.

While many of the Bechers’ typologies document explicitly industrial buildings — such as grain elevators and water towers ­— the Framework Houses reflect the broader landscape of industrial production. This series records the living quarters of Siegen’s many ironworkers. The majority of the houses were built between 1870 and 1914 at the height of iron smelting in the region. In 1977 the Framework Houses were published in an epynonomously titled artists’ book, the Bechers’ first and most well known.

This exciting acquisition represents the first purchase made as part the Bell Gallery’s initiative to expand its collection of documentary photography into the present. The Bell Gallery has exceptionally strong photography holdings from the 1920s to 60s, including significant bodies of work by artists such as Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Danny Lyons, and Larry Clark.  The Framework Houses mark a pivotal moment in the history of photography, representing the transition from the straight forwardly documentary practices to the more conceptually driven work generated by the Bechers and their students.

Here’s a sneak peak at the 250th Alumni Exhibition Part 2, featuring Sarah Morris, Rob Reynolds, and Taryn Simon! Artist Talks and opening are April 11th at 3pm and 6pm respectively.

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Taryn Simon’s photograph The Central Intelligence Agency, Art, CIA Original Headquarters Building, Langley Virginia, 2003-2005, waiting to be hung in the lobby.

 

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Rob Reynolds’ painting Untitled (Daylight 2), 2012, waiting to be uncrated.

White Horse in Fog, 1979

Doug Prince, White Horse in Fog, 1979
Gelatin silver print
David Winton Bell Gallery | Gift of James Barron

 

Inspired by the equine imagery in Paul Ramirez Jonas’s “The Commons”, currently on view in the Bell Gallery’s Alumni Exhibition, we delved into the collections for more equestrian inspired pieces. We were thrilled to find this multi-negative photograph, “White Horse in Fog”, taken by Doug Prince in the fall of 1979 while he was teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design.

The setting of the photograph is unclear, nearly entirely obscured by darkness. The brightly illuminated and completely white horse appears surreal in its truncated posture and unknown environment. The powerful contrast in lighting values falsely implies that the photograph was taken in the dark, perhaps in the dead of night. Prince told us the story of how the photograph was actually taken:

I drove Lee Witkin up to Addison House, in Danbury, New Hampshire, where he was editing his book, 10th Anniversary Salute. While Lee was inside working with the editor, I took my camera and walked around the farm where I found a white horse in a field.  I made a series of photos using my on-camera flash bulbs, which isolated the horse from the landscape. This also denied the delicate fall colors of the foggy landscape in the background…

Coincidentally enough, there is a photograph of Prince taking the photo.

While I was photographing, Lee came out and took a picture of me taking a photograph of the horse. When the flash of his camera went off, the horse turned his head to see where that light was coming from and I was able to capture the contrapposto posture that you see in this photograph. Later that year, going over contact sheets, I found an image of a cloud that I photographed over Moonstone Beach, RI.

white horse witkin, 1979

Doug Prince taking “White Horse in Fog, 1979” by Lee Witkin

Prince practiced this multi-negative method for about four decades. He told us that the process allowed for “new possible realities” and that this image making lent itself to an easy transition into working digitally.

I’ve come to appreciate my monitor as a viewfinder.  The digital work environment is very different from the world of film and darkroom, but the creative process and vision has been rather consistent.

Prince is currently a professor at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

View “White Horse in Fog” in the Bell Gallery’s digital collections database here.

– Liz Crawford, Curatorial Assistant

Berenice Abbott, Magnetic Field, 1982 Gelatin silver print, 18.5 x 23.25 David Winton Bell Gallery | Gift of Michael B. Targoff

Berenice Abbott, Magnetic Field, 1982
Gelatin silver print, 18 1/2 x 23 1/4″
David Winton Bell Gallery | Gift of Michael B. Targoff

Berenice Abbott, 1982

This photograph of tiny metal shards oriented and energized by magnetic fields demonstrates Berenice Abbott’s interests in photography and science. While many of her scientific images are based on an extended exposure with strobe lights flashing on an object as it moves through space and time, this photograph catches a single moment. Even though the image depicts a static point in time, the curving trails of metal arranged by a magnetic pull give a riotous sense of movement and dynamism. By pinpointing naturally occurring geometric patterns and rhythms created by scientific processes, Abbott demonstrates her understanding of the aesthetic value of composition.

While Abbott is more famous for her work documenting New York City, she is widely regarded for the decades she spent documenting scientific phenomena in high-contrast, graphically vibrant photographs. Her goal was to explore and illustrate the beneficial qualities of studying science through art. “There is an essential unity between photography, science’s child, and science, the parent.” After years of producing thousands of photographs on her own, she was hired in 1958 at the age of sixty to continue her research for MIT’s Physical Science Study Committee.[1]

This photograph, along with the thirty others from this series in the Bell Gallery collection, is a timely resource considering the active and ambitious STEM to STEAM efforts on Brown and RISD campuses.[2]

Get a closer look at the rich texture of the metal shavings here. Learn more about STEAM research and events here.

-Liz Crawford, Curatorial Assistant


[1] Melby, Julie. Princeton University, “Graphic Arts.” Last modified 2009. Accessed January 23, 2014. http://blogs.princeton.edu/graphicarts/2009/02/abbott.html.

[2] STEAM is a movement begun by RISD that advocates for collaboration in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Math.

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