Workshop in Light and Color: The Legacy of the New Bauhaus| University of New Mexico- Taos | 1 – 15 April, 2016
Harry Callahan.“Ohne Titel (Neon signs, Chicago)”, 1939
Curated by Ashley Lumb and Catherine Troiano
Atrium Gallery, University of New Mexico – Taos, 1157 County Road 110, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico 87557
1 – 15th April, 2016
The IIT Institute of Design, or the New Bauhaus as it was originally called, is a school of design founded in 1937 in Chicago by László Moholy-Nagy. The most important achievement at the New Bauhaus in Chicago was in photography, under the guidance of teachers such as Moholy-Nagy, György Kepes, Nathan Lerner, Arthur Siegel, and Harry Callahan. The photography program, known as the Workshop in Light and Color, grew to play a more prominent role at the school in Chicago than it did in Germany, in part due to more sophisticated mechanical techniques. From the beginning, the prevailing spirit of the New Bauhaus was one of an exploration of the possibilities of form and image as defined by light. The work which flowed from the school reflected concerns which positioned it at an opposite pole from photography as it was conventionally practiced in the United States at the time.
The work of the principal masters of the New Bauhaus featured in this exhibition had its roots firmly in Constructivist photographic practice with its profound belief in the primacy of form. Abstraction- the revelation of pure form was conceived of as a penetration into the essence of visual experience and as forming the basis of an expressive language appropriate to the modern era. The technical practices followed to achieve these ideals were founded on the manipulation of the medium and included images produced with and without a camera. New Bauhaus photographs were the result of experimentation which employed such devices as light projections, elaborate reflective structures, cliche-verre, photography through viscous substances, micro and macroscopic lenses, aerial and worms eye perspectives, solarization, reverse printing and photo-collage.
The exploration of the medium at the New Bauhaus was without parallel or precedent in the photographic art of the U.S. and although little known to the general public at the time, it’s innovations and methods gradually gained a professional audience in large part through the theoretical writings of Moholy-Nagy and Kepes. As with virtually all modernist ideas, the passage of time witnessed their integration into the broad fabric of American photography, notably enriching it.
Until the late 20th-century, photography was not generally acknowledged within the context of modernism as a serious art form. At the New Bauhaus, in the 1930’s, photography was regarded as an important art form and as an essential tool in the development of the artist. But because there was little financial gain associated with photography, it was not seen as a viable career option. Of the initial group of photographers to develop in the school, Kepes, Siegel, Lerner, and Smith, none thought of themselves at the time as professional art photographers. They made virtually no effort to show their innovative work publicly and in many instances, scores of negatives remained unprinted until recently. A few artists, such as Siegel, earned a living through commercial and news photography. Only with the burgeoning of interest in photography as art in the late 20th century did they come to regard their work as influential within a separate tradition of photographic history.
The latter part of this exhibition will explore the legacy of the New Bauhaus in Chicago by presenting the historical work within the same context as contemporary artists. With photography now a fully fledged fine art and ever-growing in popularity it is important to see the influence this focused group had on future generations in Chicago. Looking at the work of contemporary counterparts to the New Bauhaus masters, this show presents work both consciously, and subconsciously, informed by the school. Common themes are light, color, abstraction and a complicated technical process, as we navigate through the varied interpretations of Chicago’s photographic history. The exhibited artists, most of whom are based in Chicago or studied there, are: Doug Fogelson, Amy Yoes, Jessica Labatte, Raquel Ladensack, Christopher Meerdo, Phillip Maisel, and Suzette Bross.
From 1936 to 1946 in Chicago, Moholy-Nagy dedicated himself to teaching as much as to his own work. During this decade, he worked extensively with his Leica camera producing many 35mm Kodachrome slides, many of which did not survive. These free and experimental investigations in color highly engaged the artist in the last years of his career, but since the technology for color printing then available was unable to render the images to the artist’s satisfaction, very few were printed. Moholy considered the dye transfer method, the only method available for printing color at that time, as an interpretive method and longed for a process equivalent to the negative/positive relationship of black and white printing. The process that he desired was Chromogenic printing, which is used most often today. In the (reproduction) color photographs shown in this exhibition, Moholy-Nagy’s study of abstract traces of light are clearly shown. Read More
László Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter, photographer and professor. During his military service in the First World War, he produced his first drawings. After the war, he worked as a painter in Budapest and was associated with the avant-garde group MA. In 1920, he moved to Berlin, where he became involved in Dadaism, Constructivism and the Bauhaus. From 1923-28 he taught at the Bauhaus and began experimenting with photography, which was not included in the curriculum at the time. He left the Bauhaus in 1928, and between 1928-1937 he moved between Berlin, Amsterdam and London, painting, photographing and working on stage design, film and typography. In 1937, he moved to Chicago where he was the director of the New Bauhaus and later founded the Chicago Institute of Design. He died in Chicago in 1946.
Trained as a painter, György Kepes began working with the camera in the late 1920s. He collaborated with Moholy-Nagy in Germany, 1930; a collaboration which would continue to England in 1935-7, and the USA from 1937 until his death. Kepes was concerned with the relevance of artistic practices to broader social frameworks. He explored the relationship between science and art, spending many years working with camera-less techniques and using complicated devices such as X-ray machines to make photographs. On this, he said: “The most convincing artistic forms of our time are inner models of structural vitality and social relevance. They give us confidence that in spite of everything there is still quality to life.”
György Kepes was born in Selyp, Hungary, in 1906. He attended the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Budapest in the mid-1920s, graduating in 1928. He began experimenting with photographic techniques, including photograms and prints he referred to as ‘photo-drawings’. Between 1930 and 1936, Kepes designed for films, the stage and exhibitions in Berlin and London, before emigrating to Chicago. There, he became the Master of Light and Colour Department at the New Bauhaus, which later became the Institute of Design. In 1946, Kepes went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to teach visual design. He founded the Center for Advanced Visual studies at MIT in 1967, of which he was director until 1972. Kepes died in 2001 in Cambridge, MA.
Arthur Siegel was 24 years old and already experimenting with photography when he met Moholy-Nagy in 1937. He briefly took over the school when Moholy died in 1946 and initiated a four-year degree program and a new series “New Vision in Photography” where he invited photographers Erwin Blumenfeld, Beaumont Newhall, Berenice Abbott, Roy Stryker, Weegee and others to speak at the school and take the students out of the lab and into the field. Siegal was best known for his intricate photograms and graphic documentary photography. He used in-camera multiple exposures, building layers of light and shapes, first in the negative and later in the darkroom. He often projected his photograms onto nude bodies, usually using his wife as a model, and treated the nude body as a painters canvas or a blank photographic print. His wildly experimental work strongly bears the tracings of Moholy-Nagy’s teachings, particularly the ideas that photography is a transitional medium that uses both opacity and translucency, movement and stillness.
Arthur Siegel was born in 1913 in Detroit and in 1937 he was awarded a scholarship at the New Bauhaus to study photography with László Moholy-Nagy. He was later hired by Moholy- Nagy to be the director of the newly formed photography department at the Institute of Design, where he worked from 1946-49 and started the pioneering course New Visions in Photography. After nearly two decades pursuing commercial work, photojournalism, and color photography projects, he returned to the Institute of Design when Aaron Siskind re-hired him in 1967 and became chair of the department in 1971. He continued to practice photography until his death in 1978.
“Moholy-Nagy’s textbook Vision in Motion, which presents his pedagogic approach to art and life, was highly influential on the creation of this series of works. In this textbook, which presents approaches to art making he taught at the New Bauhaus at the Chicago Institute of Design, Moholy-Nagy describes ways of thinking about light, space, time, and creative vision. He instructs readers on different techniques for incorporating experimental practices into the photography classroom. As I prepared to teach a black and white darkroom course in 2014, Moholy-Nagy’s writing inspired me to think about ways to use traditional black and white darkroom materials to create works that addressed the color in the visible light spectrum”. Read More
Jessica Labatte (b. 1981) is a visual artist based in Chicago. After obtaining her BFA and an MFA from The Art Institute of Chicago, she has developed her practice with a primary focus on photography. Her work has a marked experimental character, as she explores ways of destabilising spatial perception of two-dimensional images. Labatte typically uses large format cameras to photograph her colourful quasi-sculptural arrangements and then post-processes the images in the darkroom to add an extra layer of perceptual complexity. Her work has appeared as part of group or solo shows at numerous institutions, such as The Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago); Museum of Fine Arts (St. Petersburg); Elmhurst Art Museum (Elmhurst), Golden Gallery (New York) and Western Exhibitions Gallery (Chicago).
László Moholy-Nagy famously said: “The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of ‘how to do.’ The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.” Whilst driven by a set of conceptual concerns specific to the contemporary moment, Christopher Meerdo’s multidisciplinary practice is fundamentally imbued with the same spirit of radical experimentation, which characterised the work of the New Bauhaus masters. In his series Anthology (2007-2014) the Chicago-based artist pushes the notion of light to extremes, making visible the very nature of permutations occurring once photons enter the digital realm.
The photographs in the series have been restored by Meerdo from used memory cards, which he had acquired through online shopping portals, such as eBay and Craigslist. Some of the recovered images appear devoid of any figurative elements, their pronounced geometry evoking the abstract photograms by György Kepes and Arthur Siegel. Meerdo develops and elaborates the New Bauhaus masters’ investigation of the capabilities and properties of the photographic medium. Drawing on the understanding of the crucial role that technology plays in shaping modern vision, an idea central to the New Bauhaus, the artist lays bare the foundations of contemporary visual culture by questioning the nature of digital image.
Christopher Meerdo (b.1981) is an artist and educator based in Chicago. Having received an MFA in Photography from the University of Illinois, Chicago, he is now primarily working within the media of photography, video, and installation; he also teaches photography at the Art Institute of Chicago. He is interested in investigating the nature of contemporary data technologies and his photographic work often explores limits and critical possibilities of digital imaging. Meerdo has exhibited internationally and across the United States; his recent exhibitions include The Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago); Elmhurst Art Museum (Elmhurst); The Hills (Chicago); ITP Space (Jackson); Nightingale Cinema (Chicago); Cabinet Magazine (Brooklyn); Second Street Gallery (Charlottesville); SIM Gallery (Reykjavic).
Philip Maisel’s artistic approach is best described as an ongoing experiment with form and visual perception. In his own words, “formal exploration is a nice constant”. Much like the work of the New Bauhaus masters, who have exerted a significant influence on Maisel’s artistic vision, it stretches the limits of the photographic medium to incorporate elements of sculpture, architecture, collage and performance. For his ongoing series Stacks (2013-) Maisel collects everyday objects and materials, which he then arranges in ad-hoc sculptural installations and then photographs. There is, however, no fixed final form, as the arrangements are continuously readjusted by the artist, resulting in a series of improvised photographs, some of which acquire additional material layers collaged on top of the finished prints. The persistent interest in geometry, composition, texture and the nature of vision, as well as the very transdisciplinarity of Maisel’s approach, strongly resonate with the strategies adopted by the New Bauhaus teachers, such as László Moholy-Nagy and György Kepes, whose work the artist considers particularly relevant to his practice.
Phillip Maisel (b.1981) is an artist and educator, born and raised in Chicago, and currently resides in San Francisco. He obtained an MFA in Visual Arts from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. His practice sits at the intersection between photography, sculpture, collage and installation, however the final work takes the form of photographic prints. Whilst reflecting strong formal and architectural concerns, Maisel’s work is also an exploration of the processual nature of working with materials. He has exhibited at the Gregory Lind Gallery (San Francisco), Document (Chicago), Right Window and Southern Exposure (San Francisco), The William Benton Museum (Connecticut), Heaven Gallery (Chicago), and DeCordova Museum (Massachusetts). Maisel has lectured at the San Francisco Art Institute and California College of the Arts, and currently teaches photography at The Nueva School in San Mateo, California.
“In all of my work I make use of visual conundrums and illusions. I cultivate moments of clarity that can dissolve into questions about scale, materials, and perception. The pleasure arising from a richness in texture and reflectivity can open a conversation about the meaning of style and ornament. At the moment, I am intrigued by the worldwide gravitation towards geometric abstraction. I see this as a positive resurgence of faith in a poetic language that can be deployed in unique and meaningful ways by artists everywhere. I think we are all linked in ways that are difficult to see from our single vantage points. It is very exciting to see the DNA of my own work linked back in time to those who came before. I also feel affection for others in my circle who are dancing around similar aesthetic questions.” Read More
Amy Yoes (b. 1959) Amy grew up in Houston and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has lived in Chicago, San Francisco and, since 1998, in New York. Yoes works in a multi-faceted way, alternately employing installation, photography, video, painting, and sculpture. An interest in decorative language and architectural space permeates all of her work. She responds to formal topologies of ornament and style that have reverberated through time, informing our mutually constructed visual and cultural memory. Her work has been seen in many venues, including the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.; MassMoca, North Adams, MA; the Carpenter Center for the Arts, Cambridge, MA; the Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas; and the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio.
“My series Forms & Records has a direct link to the legacy of the Institute of Design (ID) and the rippling influences it still has today. Photogram imagery was created with vintage 45 rpm records from the 50’s and 60’s as well as architectural shapes and pieces that I recovered from the dumpster at Crown Hall, Mies van der Rohe’s iconic structure at Illinois Institute of Design (formerly called ID). Many of my photograms were created in the same darkroom historically used by students and teachers located in the basement of that building. In fact, my photograms exposed there were the very last project ever made in that legendary analog darkroom before it was reconfigured and disappeared forever. Read More
Doug Fogelson (b. 1970) studied art and photography at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago. His photographic manipulations are included in notable public and private collections such as The J. Paul Getty Center, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Cleveland Clinic, Palm Springs Art Museum and Elmhurst Art Museum. His work has featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions and esteemed galleries and museums since 2004, including The Art Center, Illinois, Chicago Cultural Center, Walker Art Center, Chicago Urban Art Society, Linda Warren Projects, Kasher/Potamkin Gallery, The Arts Club of Chicago, Delta Institute and Museum Belvedere, Netherlands. He is represented by Sasha Wolf gallery in New York.
Raquel Ladensack’s conceptual framework for making images is based around the description for landscape that W.J.T. Mitchell wrote about, that “landscape as a cultural medium has a double role with respect to something like ideology: it materializes a cultural and social construction, representing an artificial world as if it were simply given and inevitable… Landscape always greets us as space, as environment, as that within which “we” find – or lose – ourselves. “
Raquel Ladensack (b. 1979) Raquel is Chicago-based visual artist who makes photographs and 16mm films that explore notions of place, shifting perspectives, and temporal frequencies. Raquel received her MFA in 2011 from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her work has been shown at Alderman Exhibitions, Gallery 400, Roots & Culture, among others. She was an MFA artist-in-residence at Ox-Bow (2010), a recipient of a Provost Award for Graduate Research (2010) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an Artist Grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Illinois Arts Council (2012). In 2012, as a recipient of an American-Scandinavian Foundation Grant, Raquel was a Fellow in the Cultural Geography & Tourism Department at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Suzette Bross’s piece in this exhibition, Walk 5/23/13 Art Institute of Chicago, is from her series Walks which frames the dynamic interplay of body, mind, and surroundings that accompanies the process of finding one’s way. The optical bends and spatial confusion in each neatly organized artwork is a nod to the elasticity of the lone walker’s movements that bend around a more rigid, encircling world. Devoid of familiar points of orientation, such as a horizon line or recognizable landmark, the works prevent viewers from lingering on the familiar. Without points of orientation, Bross leaves viewers to ruminate on the density of individualized experiences available within a single route.
Suzette Bross (b.1969) is a photographer and educator based in Chicago. She received her BS in Television from Northwestern University, Evanston and her MFA from the Institute of Design, Chicago. Her work is in the permanent collections at a number of museums and art institutions, such as The Art Institute of Chicago, The National Gallery of Art (DC), the Cleveland Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago), the Block Museum (Evanston), among the others. Her work has been exhibited internationally and across the United States, including exhibitions at the Zhou B Art Center (Chicago), the Phoenix Art Museum, Jack Geary Contemporary (New York), the Cleveland Museum of Art, Martha Schneider Gallery, the Society for Contemporary Photography (Kansas City) and numerous others.
Curatorial Assistants: Emily Simpson and Ksenia Belash
Curatorial support by Kay Watson
Callahan, Harry. Ohne Titel (3 shots of traffic lights), Chicago 1939–46. 27.9 × 35.6 cm. Licensed by AKG Images.
Kepes, György. Idea Sin Images, Composition II. Photogram, 48.2 x 38.3 cm. Foto: Jozsa Denes © The Museum of Fine Arts Budapest. Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY
Siegel, Arthur. Nude and Projection. 1947. Gelatin silver print, 24.5 × 19.5 cm. Digital Image © 2016 Museum Associates / LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY
Labatte, Jessica. Gel Divination #1 (Red Green Magenta Yellow). 2014. Photogram, 14 x 11 in.
Meerdo, Christopher. Anthology _MG_0701. 2014. Archival digital print, 16 x 22 in.
Maisel, Phillip. Serengeti Green (1836). 2015. Archival pigment print and scrim, 24 x 17 in.
Yoes, Amy. Modifier. 2013. Digital C-print, 20 x 30 in.
Fogelson, Doug. Forms and Records No. 5. 2016. Photogram, 16 x 20 in.
Ladensack, Raquel. Horizon. 2011. Archival inkjet photo, 35 x 35 in.
Bross, Suzette. Walk 5/23/13 Art Institute of Chicago. 2014. Archival inkjet, 17 x 20 in.